Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Joe Finan, R.I.P.

Yet another Northeast Ohio broadcasting legend is gone as Joe Finan passed away today. He was 79. 1350 A.M. has a tribute up and Ohio Media Watch has a tribute post.

While I was critical of his 1350 show, it did provide a chance for those of us who wouldn't listen to WNIR on a bet to get to know his work. Certainly we saw flashes of his talent and heart. I especially liked his anecdotes about Dorothy Fuldheim.

Sympathies to Joe's friends and family.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Tagged Back In

Bill Callahan emailed me to let me know he had tagged me for a meme. I've been quiet again -- combination of yet another relapse, a kid home on break, busy with work and the holiday crush. So getting tagged was as good a way to get back, in as any.

Like Bill, I'm unclear as to how Dispassionate Lib links the meme to the Time Person of the Year honoring Me (OK, "You," but as a blogger I'm more a part of "You" than any of Them who aren't using the technology that makes You so apparently special.) Anyway, the meme goes like this: Grab the nearest book, find page 123 and reproduce the fourth sentence on the page. Then tag people -- thankfully we don't continue the progression and tag five -- only three.

As it happens, I got the email during a break for a continuing legal education class. (Yes, I report this year and I put it off. Sue me.) As such, no books were in reach. So I went after virtual books here on the laptop. The first downloaded doc of over 123 pages I found was the Dover ID decision. The fourth sentence on page 123 comes in a discussion about how the Dover school board ignored critics of intellectual design theory:

    As Dr. Alters’ expert testimony demonstrated, all of these organizations have information about teaching evolution readily available on the internet and they include statements opposing the teaching of ID.
I tag Redhorse, Village Green and my fellow UU blogger Jamie.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Adoption Day

Four years ago today Kid T officially became part of our family; this is the anniversary of the Giving and Receiving Ceremony in Vietnam.

Here's what we know: On a night in late November 2001, staff at the Tam Ky orphanage heard a noise, went to investigate, and found a five-day-old infant. Cliched and Dickensian as it sounds, plenty of children find themselves into Vietnamese orphanages that way.

About ten months later we were looking for an infant, but, our adoption counsellor called to say he had a referral of a somewhat older child -- close to a year old. I said, email the information, what could it hurt. We got the pictures and, well, just look at those eyes.

I remember when I first got her how she seemed, well, foreign. For about three days. We made a connection and ever since she's been our kid. Four years on, she's a willful, energetic five-year-old obsessed with Dora the Explorer and always looking to scam the next piece of candy.

When Kid Z was born, one of my sisters in law asked "did you ever think you could love anything so much?" It's true. She also said "The amazing thing is, if you have a second, you'll love that one just as much." Also true. And you know what's really really amazing? It's true even when she wasn't born your child.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


This weekend Illinois Senator Barak Obama crossed the Atlantic to appear on the Ed Sullivan show attended a rally in New Hampshire, fanning speculation about a Presidential bid. As a result, we are feeling both an Obama wave and the inevitable Obama skeptic undertow. A review of sources, then a few thoughts.

WaPo’s story about the New Hampshire swing is the current touchstone for all things Obama. Chris Cilizza notes that much of Obama’s staff are Daschle veterans, so the former Senate Majority Leader demurring on his own run is a good thing for Barak. Dickerson writes up a studiously arm’s-length appraisal, but it’s clear he’s excited despite himself.

The best, most clear-eyed case I’ve seen for Obama is this pre-election post on Obsidian Wings about his genuinely impressive legislative record. If you click through one link in this post, make it that one. TNR has been all over his candidacy, with blog posts, a review of the NH performance and name checks in unrelated articles. Closer to home, Staff at BSB takes in an Obama speech and is unimpressed with his take on trade.

So what to make of this. First off, to put some cards on the table, I’m for anyone who can prevent the Hillary train wreck. Personally, I like her, but she will pancake in the general.

I haven't sifted through all of Obama's policy positions, but I like most of what I've seen so far. I especially like that he doesn't fit either a Liberal or Blue Dog mold. His policy positions appear to be based on his assessment of the facts, rather than some score card for A Politician of His Ilk.

Assessing the man himself – as someone who has had the honor of meeting him – he is extravagantly endowed with both intelligence and charisma. He's as good at the podium as working a small room and as good working a room as he is one-on-one. I’ve made the Subodh comparison before – he’s the rare combination of top-tier campaigner and the smartest guy in the room.

All of which is to say that he has the skill set to be President, and probably a great President. But is he sufficiently well seasoned? At this point we can say he has good answers for the experience question. At ODP the answer was "Nobody is prepared to be President." Lately he's been noting that Cheney and Rumsfeld are as experienced as anyone can be and still managed to put the country in a ditch. People are also noting something that I have been saying in private conversations – that the last time a candidate from Illinois with little official experience was elected, it turned out pretty well.

While Obama will be answering questions about his experience throughout the run, fact is, he's probably as salable now as he ever will be. It is notoriously difficult to run for President from the Senate. A legislative record gives opponents a huge trove for oppo research. On the other hand, legislative accomplishment are almost always a mixed blessing. Rarely is legislation necessary because everyone wants the thing to be legislated. Legislation generally sets rules for resolving disputes and makes at least one of the antagonists unhappy.

A governor, or even a vice president not named Al Gore, can point to what happened under his watch and claim credit. A Senator -- one of 100 -- rarely can make that claim stick. Legislative accomplishment is measured in laws being passed. Americans are at best neutral on laws, often finding them an inconveniece or worse.

Obama has shown legislative chops, but probably is most electable now while his oppo file is relatively thin. Alternatively, he could try to run for governor of Illinois, but that's at least four years away, probably more.

My bottom line: I want to know more. BSB points out that his trade stance may be particularly troubling. But he shouldn't be dismissed as a lightweight or as just a face. He's a serious guy who has been preparing himself for this job most of his adult life. He's one of the most gifted leaders of his generation. And he just might be what the country needs.

Monday, December 11, 2006

New Blog for Pho

The two other bloggers in my church have started a church blog. The primary audience is our congregation and other UU congregations. We will be posting events, announcements and sermon snippets. But knowing the folks involved, some general interest information will make it's way onto the blog. In any event, I've signed up and uploaded an introductory post -- not many at church know me as Pho, believe it or not.

I have a couple posts in mind about church-state stuff. Probably I'll either post there and reference here or vice-versa, depending on how abrassive the things turn out.

As I mention in my post, at least one visitor to our church found his way there from reading this blog. If you are similarly curious about what the church is about, check us out.

Pho v. 2.0

I took the plunge over the weekend and switched over New Blogger or Blogger Beta or whatever they're calling it today. So far a mixed bag. Navigating from the dashboard is certainly easier. I like tags, though it will be a while before tagging makes a difference.

On the other hand, I made the apparent mistake of also moving Pho's over to the new template. I read a couple pieces on it, but apparently missed the big red warning label: DANGER! NEW TEMPLATE WILL EAT YOUR BLOGROLL.

I've put a fair amount of time into updating the roll and now it's gone and must be reassembled. Grr. It also ate my banners, MTB ads, everything. I've yet to look into how to add html code in the new set up which is a dumbed-down drag and drop layout page. I'm currently accepting as an article of faith that I'll be able to do all that. In any event, the sidebar will be under construction for some time.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Farewell to Franken . . ?

Friday I listened to the last Al Franken show on Radio Free Ohio and what may be his last live show ever. As Ohio Media Watch first reported, the signs of this have been mounting. First of course there was the Air America bankruptcy filing. Then Jones Broadcasting announced that drivetime talker Ed Schultz was moving to Franken’s noon the three. Then Air America announced it was dropping Franken and airing Schultz live, starting at noon.

As it turns out, Al is heading out to the Mideast for a USO tour this weekend, so Friday's show was officially the last of the season. But speculation abounds that Al won’t be back. What we know is that Air America may be sold soon to a “small company” that is unlikely to afford Al along with the other AirAm personalities.

Al’s official word is – Not tellin’. At this point I’m not sure if he knows what the future holds. Certainly this week has had the feel of a semi-farewell. Earlier this week Melanie Sloan from CREW did a tribute/thank you thing because he’s “going away for a while.” Yesterday he spoke to his on-air sidekick about their plans for fill-in programming and joked that it may be “a way forward.”

Then Friday's show wasn’t billed as a farewell, but it was certainly the farewell show Al would choose. He aired from Brave New Workshop, the theatre in Minneapolis where he and Tom Davis debuted as a comedy team when they were in high school. His original AirAm co-host, Katherine Lampher, joined to reprise “The Oy Oy Oy Show.” He even interviewed a WWII vet who had been on the first show as “A Liberal who hates America.”

So I will miss the show in any event, given that Al won’t air in Akron any longer, and may not even be able to stream him off the website.

Which is a shame. I’ll really miss Al. He’s not hugely popular even among liberals, but I’m a fan. First and foremost, I’m a Franken fan because he was one of the first to tell Democrats to grow a pair in the Nineties. Before he published Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Other Observations, the Left’s prevailing response to Limbaugh was to wring hands and wonder why he’s so mean. Al showed it was OK to hit back.

His show is a mixed bag. I understand why some people don’t get it. The humor bits are decidedly uneven. Where he really shines is in his choice of guests and his rapport with them. While make-do replacement Schultz favors interviews with pols, Al leans toward authors, activists and wonks. His regulars include Sloan, former Senate staffer and West Wing producer Lawrence O’Donnell, columnist emeritus Tom Oliphant and Salon columnist Joe Conason. The format was information plus snark and for me it worked. Something like an NPR show with a less abashed point of view.

And it may be at the end. The why of it will wait for another day. For now, a final gift for any fellow Franken fans who may feel the same. I recorded his appearance in Akron, but didn’t get it edited in time to post it when it made sense to. Al wasn’t at top of the game that day. We remarked afterwards about how he seemed a little low key. I attributed it to the travel schedule at the time, but then discovered that night that Air America had filed. The sour look on his face was the look of a man holding a $300 thousand unsecured debt from a bankrupt estate. But he got in the game when he needed to and busted of a few good bits. Much of it is The Best of Al Franken, but he brought some material specific to the event, particularly in support of Jennifer Brunner.

Just press play.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Sherrod in MJ

H/t Kevin Drum, Sherrod sits down with Mother Jones for a quick four questions on Iraq, drug policy, trade and 'o8.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

We Will Miss Tom Mooney

The state education community is still reeling from the sudden death of Ohio Federation of Teachers President Tom Mooney earlier this week. Services are scheduled tomorrow in Cincinnati.

I didn't know Tom well, but I've met him a few times and certainly learned of his work and reputation. Tom was a tireless advocate for his organization. Being an effective union advocate and being an effective advocate for the greater good are not necessarily the same thing, but Tom did an admirable job of the latter within the constraints of his duty to represent his members.

His work was marked by a subtlety of thought that unfortunately less than universal in the field. When confronting the challenge of charter schools, he did not to denounce them across the board, but demanded accountability and a level playing field for traditional public schools – a happy confluence of good politics and good policy.

Tom also possessed a generous spirit. Before I gained my semi-player status in the advocacy community, I was just a guy who showed up at things in Columbus. Tom always took the time to talk to me and any other freelancers who happened to be around.

You can read testimonials to Tom on the OFT website -- clearly he was a much beloved figure. But one mark of a man is the level of respect held by his adversaries. The Thomas Fordham Foundation -- a free-market, pro-charters think tank that frequently sparred with Tom -- sent out a moving tribute that is among my favorites. One snip:

    Tom Mooney's passing leaves a void in Ohio's education policy arena--a territory seldom marked by his level of intellect, passion and strategic acumen. He will, of course, be missed greatly by his members, his friends and allies, as well as by his grieving family. But he will also be missed by his opponents. He lived by his beliefs, he conducted himself honorably and he had a serious impact on education, first in Cincinnati and then statewide.
Tom's influence on debates over education can be seen in two stories from the past week. Monday the Beacon published a story about yet another sweetheart deal for David Brennan – this time an exception for Life Skills schools from the proposed Ohio Core requirements. Tom was quoted extensively in a story that went to press before his death became public. The quotes were typical Tom: incisive analysis and razor sharp turns of phrase.

Yesterday the Coalition for Public Education which had litigated the constitutional challenge to the charter school system announced that it was dropping further attempts at litigation to concentrate on legislative efforts. State Senator Kirk Shuring and Representative Scott Oeslager announced that they will introduce companion bills aimed at making charters more accountable. The bills will include tributes to Tom; a fitting tribute to him and his life’s work.

The next year will hopefully be a watershed for Ohio’s education system. Our new governor has pledged to fix the school funding system and the education community has laid much of the groundwork for systemic reform over the past few years. I still have high hopes for the effort, but the task will be more difficult without Tom Mooney.

First Steps Down the Road to the White House

Even though I'm Policy Guy more than Politics Guy, I confess to already jonesing for the '08 Presidential nomination. If I had a chance to put it off, that chance was quashed while I was sick and had too much time to watch C-Span, especially this program.

Aside from politics junkiedom, this election will generate endless facination because of the sheer once-in-a-generation singularity of it. For the first time since 1968, we are faced with wide open fields in both parties. Neither party has a presumptive nominee -- that is to say either an incumbent President or a Vice President of the outgoing two-term administration.

Yes, I agree that McCain is the prohibitive favorite in that he was the runner-up last time the Repubs had a primary and among the R's that's the same thing. I think he's a prohibitive favorite, but not presumptively so. Certainly the number of high-profile candidates seriously considering a run indicate his status is less than prohibitive.

A couple questions I'll toss out to my many readers, most of whom haven't come back since my unfortunate absence. Both concern the effect of the impending compressed primary schedule. First, pundits are asking whether there are "Three tickets out of Iowa" as has been traditionally the case, or whether there are now only two." For that matter, does the presence of Vilsack negate the importance of Iowa all together on the Dem side?

Second, because the compressed schedule will require simultaneous campaigning in multiple states, does anything other than money matter for emerging from the pack? Surely, no $20 million dollar candidate is going anywhere this time, but can $50 million beat $70 million, or will resources be the beginning and end of the conversation?

Finally, I leave you with my current assessment of the field. In each race, I see two early favorites, a couple legitimate contenders for the supposed "third ticket" and everyone else. For the purposes here, I'm assuming that everyone who has expressed an interest but hasn't yet bowed out is in.


Hillary Clinton
Barak Obama

Second Tier:
Tom Vilsack
John Edwards
Wesley Clark

Everyone Else:
Evan Bayh
Bill Richardson
Chris Dodd
Joe Biden


John McCain
Rudy Giuliani

Second Tier:
Mitt Romney
Sam Brownback
Newt Gringrich

Everyone Else:
George Pataki
Duncan Hunter
Mike Huckabee

Looking over the lists, I'd say the Dem field is somewhat deeper than the Republicans. Dems have some serious candidates far down the list who are longshots primarily because of who is above. The Republican third tier is a bit of a joke -- only Huckabee could be considered even a semi-serious candidate. Gingrich has to be considered second tier just because of his name recognition and bank, but speculation is that he's more interested in the campaign as an extended book tour than as a real run at the office.

Let the wild rumpus start.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Harry Potter and the Iraq Study Group

The most anticipated book of the season hit stores yesterday -- the Report of the Iraq Study Group. And it's a downer, but with a magical ending. Reading the recommendations, it's as if the seventh installment of the Hogwarts series turned on Harry casting his "Death Eaters See Reason" hex.

Consider me whelmed.

According to the members hitting the chat circuit yesterday, the core recommendations include setting milestones for Iraqi progress toward self-governance, redeploying troops including an increase in the number of American trainers embedded with Iraqi brigades and negotiating with Iran and Syria. Baker et al. made clear their opinion that negotiating with Iran and Syria was essential to the success of the effort.

Which gives the whole thing a monkeys-fly-out-my-butt chance of succeeding. It's true that Iran and Syria have vested interests in a stable Iraq. Unfortunately, it's apparent that both consider it more in their interests to damage the United States. I don't see them helping us when they'd rather see a roiling Iraq that give us a successively more spectacular series of bloody noses.

I have a similarly dim view of the chances that "training" Iraqi forces will do much. The fundamental problem is that the largest and most effective fighting forces on the Shiite and Sunni sides hate us almost as much as they hate each other. And they are embedded within the Iraqi security forces. We're not going to train them to be nice. The best we can do is train them to wage more effective war on each other.

In the end the report is important as a bipartisan declaration that Bush got us into a deep deep hole and we have precious little chance of getting out. As recently as last week we were still hearing from the far right that the media is underreporting "good news" in Iraq and Afghanistan. Perhaps this report has at least a monkeys-fly-out-my-butt of putting the kibosh on that.

Ultimately what I would like to see is a realistic appraisal of our least worst options. The report contains no escape hatch should the recommendations fail. I understand that horrible things will happen no matter what we do. This would have been a good group to analyze the various options and evaluate which does the least damage to the region and to our interests.

Scenes from Fevered Dreams

Well, that sucked.

Over the weekend I took a turn and Monday ended up on antibiotics. I’m doing much better now, though the harsh light of day is shining on everything that didn’t get done while I was sick. I've been trying to catch up the past couple of days.

So, what have I been doing with myself? A little of this, little of that, lot of sitting on my butt. I knew it was time to seek medical intervention when I could no longer beat the computer at Free Cell.

I also caught up on a bit of old TV. I didn’t watch the last season of Angel at the time it aired because I didn’t much like the new story line. In fact, the arc that season was excellent and the series finale much better than Buffy. I also watched a little 24, but still haven’t gotten into it. I will say it’s a much more enjoyable show when you have it on DVR and can fast-forward past all the Kim-in-trouble segments.

Usually I read potboilers when I’m under the weather. This time the only one I made it through was The DaVinci Code. I read it mostly because of the cultural event is supposedly is. Odd to me that it raised the stir it did. First off, Dan Brown’s prose will make you pine for the literary stylings of, say Tony Hillerman. He also uses an annoyingly fluid point of view that shifts within a single scene. Some of my favorite authors consciously and effectively use shifting point of view, but Brown's use of the device just looks inept.

The whole controversy was over the MacGuffin in a fairly by-the-numbers thriller. The basic idea -- that the New Testament is made up of passages carefully cobbled from a variety of selected sources, is fairly old news for anyone who pays attention. The specific idea of Jesus as proto-feminist just sounds cringe-inducingly silly. Brown's protagonist comes off like an insufferable college intellectual trying to pick up feminist coeds at a mixer. Why anyone took this seriously enough to object is beyond me.

Meanwhile, I'm in the process of updating the sidebar. The Akron bloggers list is now the Blogrolling list that I used on GABB. I've added a couple of people to it. Most recently I added Diatribes of Jay which is a platform for extended essays by a very intelligent friend of mine who blogs semi-anonymously to avoid conflicts with his day job. This is yet another example of knowing someone casually for an extended time and neither of us knowing the other is blogging. He's worth a read, but leave yourself some time.

As usual, I have lots of ideas about lots of things going on and no idea when or if I'll have to post. Stay tuned.