How to Unite the Country


President Obama’s approval ratings are polling in the low 40’s and that’s not very good for Democrats as the midterm elections approach. It’s hard for me to understand why he isn’t polling better.  Do people really think less of him because he hasn’t agreed to a boxing match with Vladimir Putin?  Come on folks, he’s made good on a lot of promises.  Look, he’s delivered on Health Care reform that a majority of Americans originally supported.  He’s made some progress on Immigration reform (not enough and some of it by executive order), kept the country out of wars and is backing a minimum wage increase. And realize that the administration has taken strong stands on voting rights issues and gun control.  Most of the issues are not controversial or shouldn’t be, although of course, they’ve been politicized and have had the effect of polarizing the country.  But one of the most polarizing topics, and one that should concern everybody is the health of our planet.  However, there are some political “scientists” with an agenda that don’t give a flip about mother earth and most, don’t even believe what they are saying.  They’ve been bought out by “big oil” and are the darlings of the political right who champion them as experts, “experts” who represent the 1% of “scientists” worldwide who profess the view that climate change is a natural occurrence and nothing whatever to do with the actions of men, women, business and governments.  And even conservatives who are vulnerable to this kind of corporate propaganda have begun to see a connection between natural disasters and climate change and accept the fact that the globe is warming.  Some even view it as inevitable and a message from God.  Their idea of action is to pray.  But we may need more than prayer.  Unless we do something about it NOW, it may be too late for the next generation of folks who inhabit our planet.

And this is the issue that the Obama administration ought to be leading on.  This is the stuff of legacy.  Climate change could be the one that defines the Obama administration.  The President was elected on a campaign of hope and optimism for change.  The expectations were high.  He was thought to be a new kind of world leader who could change the world for the better.  And he still can, but first he’s got to do something to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.  Now the U.S. isn’t the worst offender in this regard, but we still offend and depend way too much on the burning of fossil fuels.  The government has not done enough to promote alternative clean energies like wind, electric and solar.  Our power grids are still antiquated.  Instead, there’s a stubborn refusal to stop drilling for oil and natural gas.  And of course as long as we continue to rely on fossil fuels, there will be a need for conveyance by pipelines that are not equipped to handle nasty stuff like tar sands from Canada.  Just look at what happened in 2013 in Mayflower, Arkansas.  This small southern town is still reeling from a burst Exxon pipeline that produced a sludge spill that flooded the community.  People are still suffering health problems one year after the leak.  And the cruel irony is that just last week Mayflower was essentially destroyed by a series of tornadoes.  It has become a victim of our nation’s energy policy and attitude toward climate change.

President Obama doesn’t need a PowerPoint to demonstrate the problem.  There’s plenty of proof that a problem exists. And it’s widespread.  Killer tornadoes just ripped through Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.  Northern Florida is practically underwater, having received 20+inches of rain over the course of a few days.  Hurricane Sandy’s impact was felt all the more because of the rising sea levels.  Severe droughts and wildfires in the West are daily events.  West Virginia and Pennsylvania residents have a unlimited supply of flammable drinking water thanks to hydraulic fracturing.  So what can President Obama do?  For starters, the administration could draft a sensible and sustainable clean energy plan that would restore the reputation of the EPA.  He could put a stop to the Keystone XL pipeline.  He could commit the country to reducing CO2 emissions even more and could put pressure on India and China to do the same.  He could fine energy companies substantially and require them to clean up their mess.  He could also forbid drilling and fracking on federal land.

That climate change is due in part to human activity is no longer debatable.  Preserving the planet ought to be our top priority and were it a higher priority for the Obama administration, his poll numbers might be higher.  By the way, why don’t the pollsters start polling on the preservation of the planet?  And to really put pressure on our political leaders to vote for legislation that seeks to help the environment and to vote against legislation that would do it harm, why not publicize more widely The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) ratings it gives politicians?  Gun loving politicians take pride in their NRA ratings and use it to secure votes.  Why wouldn’t planet loving politicians take pride in their LCV ratings?  Unfortunately, environmental causes are too closely connected to progressives and too often discredited by conservatives who have been purchased by corporate interests who don’t want any regulations that might cut into profits.  In their view, profits are more important than our planet.  Let’s take take politics and profit out of the equation and do what’s best for the planet for a change.

GA Gun Bill Good For Turkeys

Wild Turkey

Georgia, the home state of Ray Charles, President Jimmy Carter, Jasper Johns, Deforest Kelly, Martin Luther King Jr, Alice Walker, Burt Reynolds, Otis Redding, and Hulk Hogan, became the first in the country to allow residents with gun permits to pack heat just about anywhere – in bars, houses of worship, schools, and even airports.  Dubbed the “guns everywhere” bill, it passed the Georgia state legislature by 112-58 in the House and 37-18 in the Senate, despite majority opposition from Georgians.

As outrageous as the law sounds, it does have some restrictions.  A house of worship would have to authorize “armed” services.  I’m not sure how many priests, pastors, imams and rabbis would invite worshipers to bear arms inside their institutions, but no doubt a few would – “praise the lord and pass the ammunition”.  Maybe they would have a shotluck dinner at the conclusion of services.  Do rest assured that pub owners would also have to approve of guns and “shots” before an armed patron could enter the establishment and proceed to get “loaded”.  I am not sure that guns and drinks mix, but if the saloon owner doesn’t mind the place being shot up every Saturday night, I suppose that is his or her own business.  As for armed schools, it would be up to the local school or school board to decide who, if anyone, would be allowed to carry a gun on the premises.  Frankly, I think a “militarized” public school zone with metal detectors, armed security guards, loudspeakers, cameras and microphones would confuse kids into thinking they are in a prison rather than an educational institution.  And the thought of an armed teacher is too much to bear.  I can imagine the principal having to come around on occasion and take away some teachers’ bullets for accidentally discharging the weapons in class, kind of like Sheriff Taylor had to do with Barney from time to time – take away his one bullet.  While it may seem extreme that a licensed gun owner can carry a weapon to a Georgia airport, including Atlanta Hartsfield, the world’s busiest, know that guns would only be permitted in areas outside security checks.  But why would anyone bring a gun to an airport unless they had bad intentions?  From a practical standpoint, I guess it would give him a built in advantage in a long line say at the coffee shop, but it could cause a confrontation and blood to spill rather than coffee.  The law should be amended so that there would be an express line for gun holders.  One piece of advice to cashiers:  if the gun holder says he gave you a $50 dollar bill, HE GAVE YOU A $50 DOLLAR BILL.  According to the new law, airports would need to have signs indicating where guns are and are not permitted.  I can see the sign now – one with a pistol and another with a pistol and a line through it.

I don’t know who wrote the bill, probably some attorney for the NRA, but it is poorly written with gaping holes and inconsistencies.  First, the fine for shooting big game out of season or turkeys with the wrong caliber weapon is now $250, and the gun owner’s license would be revoked for 3 years.  By comparison, the fine for being caught with a weapon at a security checkpoint at an airport would be a misdemeanor with a fine of $100.  Actually, a gun wielding traveler with a permit could say that he “forgot” that he had “packed” a weapon and could simply leave the area to be screened elsewhere and not be charged with a misdemeanor or a fine.  Interestingly, law enforcement personnel cannot ask to see someone’s permit to carry.  One would think to keep everybody honest, police would be allowed to do periodic spot checks.  Lastly, the law appears to make it easier to obtain a permit to carry.  It provides a long section of relief from licensing exceptions including giving the superintendent of a mental institution the power to approve a request for a license made by former patients.  Also, residents who have had their licenses revoked can reapply after 4 years.  And 18 year olds who are in the military can apply for a license.

Any law that promotes gun ownership benefits the NRA and gun manufacturers.  And any candidate running for public office who supports gun “rights” will have the full support of the NRA to help them get elected and stay in power.  And while the NRA and Georgia Republicans argue that the new gun law is a victory for the 2nd amendment (which doesn’t say anything at all about the right of an individual to brandish a loaded gun in the public town square), it appears that the real victors here are big game, including bears, alligators and deer, oh, and the spirited wild turkey.



Venezuela, July 1990 Travelogue


Airport at Baraquisimeto, Venezuela

Back in the summer of 1990, I traveled to Venezuela with some friends whose close friends lived there. These friends lived in a remote, sleepy province Southwest of Caracas.  There wasn’t much to do there so we traveled quite a bit to various spots from Merida to Caracas.  It’s all a bit of blur for me now and I don’t have many surviving pictures to remind me of the adventure, but I did stumble across a travel journal I kept on the trip.  Some of my notes are unintelligible, and some, silly and immature, but what the heck, I thought I would post a few of my musings of nearly 25 years ago, lightly edited.

  • There is a town close to San Felipe called Moron.  I wonder if the locals are called Morons?
  • Altura maxima permitida 3.9m – I’m not sure if that means duck, or no worries. I should have learned the metric system.
  • The buses here look like customized bread trucks.
  • Everywhere I look, green, green, green, everything is green and they say it’s winter here.
  • Many tree trunks are painted white to protect against bugs.  Back home, I thought painting trunks was some kind of patriotic display.
  • The sun is more intense closer to the equator, make no mistake about it – we are closer to the equator.
  • For $50,000 U.S. dollars, a person could buy a mansion here.
  • The Texas Rangers are called the Texas Rancheros.  And Philadelphia is spelled phonetically – Filadelfia, the way it should be.
  • Hours after watching the World Cup championship match in which Alemania defeated Argentina 1-0, 4 of us were sitting around a table talking and out of the blue, one of Juan’s friends said. “You look like Klinsmann!”  (Jurgen Klinsmann, the West German footballer). I wasn’t sure if it was an insult or compliment.
  • The backs of all trucks read: Carga Larga.
  • Juan bought a sack of empanadas de pescado for 100 Bolivares, or about $2.00 U.S. Dollars.  Had there been more, I would have eaten more than 2.
  • Polar is the Venezuelan champagne of beers; Belmont Extra Suave, the Venezuelan Marlboro Light.
  • There sure are some nice arboles along these roads with curvas peligrosas.

Me, August 1990


Jurgen Klinsmann courtesy Wikimedia CCA Share Alike 3.0

Ribbie on Evolution, Student Loan Debt, Women in Politics and Other Issues


Ribbie recently appeared on the Joel Hibernia show, a fictional radio broadcast featuring obscure bloggers.

JH: What do you think about income inequality?

Rib: I’m not a fan.  The government should increase the tax rates on the wealthiest, close corporate loopholes, raise the minimum wage, allow the IRS to do the filer’s taxes for free if the filer so pleases and allow people to pay higher taxes if they wish.  Last, I would cut military spending significantly even beyond the scheduled sequester cuts.

JH: Students are drowning in student loan debt.

Rib: This is true. Some of those loans should be forgiven if a student enters the field of public service upon graduation. This would include teachers, social workers, government workers, counselors, librarians, musicologists, ethnographers, anthropologists, bloggers, writers, birders, wine critics, environmentalists and all English majors.

JH: English majors?

Rib: Sure.  They should be drowning in literature, not debt.

JH: Is climate change a hoax?

Rib: Only to those who don’t believe in science. I happen to believe in science.

JH: What are your thoughts on the polar vortex?

Rib: I like it actually.  I have a coat made out of polar vortex and I tell you it’s much warmer than goose down or thinsulate.

JH: On the issue of science and religion, should creationism be taught alongside evolution?

Rib: Creationism is a religious question, so I would say that only evolution should be taught in science class.  I think creationism should be discussed in Sunday school or in an elective course on creation myths.  In high school, I would recommend that the play, “Inherit the Wind” be taught in English class and the questions of religion and science be critically discussed and debated.

JH: Is America ready for a woman to be president?

Rib: Well, we should be.  And I don’t know why it has taken so long.  As we speak, 19 women are presidents or prime ministers of countries, countries such as Germany, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, Bangladesh, South Korea, Norway, Jamaica, Malawi, Denmark and Thailand.  And many more countries in the past have elected or appointed women as heads of state like Panama, England, Iceland, Ireland, Nicaragua, Switzerland, India, Indonesia, and Liberia, to name a few.

JH: What would you do about Vladimir Putin?

Rib: I would broker a deal so that Russia would withdraw from Ukraine in exchange for its pledge not to join NATO.  And Putin would be invited to be a guest host of Saturday Night Live with special musical guests, the band, Pussy Riot.

JH:  That would be a riot.

Rib: And that was a joke.

JH:  Putin doesn’t like jokes.

Rib: True, in his way of thinking, jokes are a sign of weakness and designed to disarm, something he is not likely to do anytime soon.

JH:  What do you think about the world cup?

Rib:  Not much.  A sport in which hands are not permitted strikes me as odd.

JH:  Well, it is called football.

Rib: It is true to its name, except that you can also use your head.

JH: Good point.

Georgetown Wins the NDT…AGAIN!

Here’s a trivia question you might not be able to answer.  What is the fastest “sporting” competition in the world?  Ping Pong? Wrong.  Formula 1 racing? Not even close.  Here’s a hint.  500 per minute.  Do you give up?  Try speaking 500 words a minute.  No, it’s not a spelling bee of auctioneers.  The answer is college debate, policy debate to be exact.  Unless you are part of the debate community at the high school or collegiate level, you may never have heard a “proper” debate.  They aren’t televised very often if at all.  You’ll not hear one on the radio dial.  And they are nothing like the presidential debates, in fact they are far more demanding and intellectual stimulating if you can follow or as debaters might say, flow the arguments.  The problem isn’t that an average educated American couldn’t understand the arguments, although they are often nuanced and developed.  The problem is that the average American could not understand someone speaking 500 words a minute.  Yes, 500, that’s not a typo. That’s some Fast Talk indeed and I’m not sure which is more impressive – someone who can speak that fast or someone who can understand someone speaking that fast.  In any event, it’s not gibberish – debaters make sense to one another and the judges evaluating the rounds, who most often are debate coaches who themselves once debated competitively.

So, what’s up in the debate world these days? Well, this:  the Georgetown team of Andrew Arsht and Andrew Markoff (the Andrews as they are called), also known as Georgetown AM, won their second National Championship in the last three years at the National Debate Tournament, the most prestigious, invitation only, collegiate tournament in the United States.  Who did they beat? A formidable opponent from the University of Michigan – Ellis Allen and Alex Pappas, who earlier in round 7 of the prelims defeated Georgetown AM.  These teams were evenly matched and had each defeated the other in their two previous meetings.  Georgetown AM defeated Michigan AP in quarters at Georgia State University and lost to them in prelims at Dartmouth.

Like the NCAA basketball tournament, the NDT has brackets, seedings and the like, only they start with 80 teams and play more games or rounds as they are called.  In fact, preliminaries consist of 8 rounds over the course of two days.  The teams with the best records advance to the break rounds  where it is one and done from there on out: doubles, octofinals, quarterfinals, semifinals and the final round.  This year, the debate final four consisted of teams noted for their research and prowess at the podium:  Oklahoma, Harvard, Michigan and Georgetown.

With three teams qualifying for the tournament, team Oklahoma dominated in the preliminary rounds.  The tandem of Rashid Campbell and George Lee went 8-0 in prelims, actually beating the eventual champs, Georgetown AM, in Round 8. Rashid Campbell went on to win the top speaker award of the tournament and earned a perfect score of 30 points on three of the 24 ballots awarded during prelims.  Campbell and his partner, George Lee, advanced to the semifinal round. By the way, a ballot is the judge’s scorecard of the debate. There are three judges in each of the prelim rounds.  Campbell and Lee won 23 of 24 ballots in their first 8 rounds, a fairly spectacular feat.  To put the perfect scores in perspective, each of the 160 debaters in the tournament receive speaker points from each of the three judges in each of the first 8 rounds.  All told, there were approximately 3,840 scores given to all the competitors and there were only 7 perfect ones awarded.  Vida Chiri from Liberty earned 2.  She finished as the 27th best speaker and she and her partner advanced to doubles,the first break round after preliminaries. Eric Lanning of Houston received a perfect score too in one of his rounds. He was recognized as the 7th best speaker of the tournament.  He and his partner advanced to the quarterfinals.  And Ameena Ruffin from Towson, earned 1.  She finished as the number 13 speaker and with her partner Korey Johnson, advanced to doubles. Impressively, Ruffin and Johnson won the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) national championship earlier in March becoming the first all-female African American team to do so in CEDA history.

Back to Oklahoma domination.  Get this: they had three qualifying teams that won more debates in preliminary rounds than any other team – 18 and won 53 judges ballots. Harvard also had three teams in the tournament and won 16 debates in prelims and 46 ballots; Northwestern had 16 wins and 45 ballots.  Georgetown qualified only two teams but won 12 rounds in prelims and 36 ballots.  One could argue, and I will,  that they were the most efficient and effective squad in the tournament with a team advancing to octofinals and another winning it all.

Dartmouth qualified 2 teams and only won 3 debates in prelims and just a total of 12 ballots.  Dartmouth last won the NDT in 1993 and had a Copeland winning team in 2001-2002.


  • John Spurlock, top speaker and winner of the 2013 high school Tournament of Champions (TOC) finished as the 22nd best speaker of the 2014 NDT tournament, debating for Cal Berkeley.
  • Liam Hancock, one half of the 2012 TOC winning team from Iowa West, finished as the 85th speaker as a sophomore debating for Iowa.  Iowa advanced to octos.
  • Michigan’s Ellis Allen, 2014 NDT runner up won the TOC in 2010 and 2011 with partner Daniel Taylor, who debates for Harvard and also advanced to octos with partner Anna Dimitrijevic, the top TOC speaker in 2010.






Blood Moon and Mushrooms


I looked for the blood moon this morning, but all I found was an orange sky, which could have been a product of industrial pollution and not the lunar eclipse.  So I went back to bed.

Blood moon.  Makes me think of a blood orange, which I didn’t even know existed until just a few years ago.  My first encounter with one left me bruised and traumatized.  I thought someone had injected the orange with blood.  I threw it away as if it were medical waste and repeatedly washed my hands.  On the subject of oranges, I like them ok, but don’t much like peeling them.  You know why?  The juice from the orange peel gets inside my finger nails and stains them, making me look like a heavy smoker or a man with a fungus issue.

Speaking of fungus, I used to despise mushrooms, but I have room for them now that I’m a little more cultured.  I especially like them stuffed or marinated.  I’m not a shroom snob though.  I couldn’t tell you much about the morel, or a truffle other than they are deliciously expensive.  But I do know that some mushrooms can kill you and others can make you fly and at least a few have medicinal properties.

The blood moon, the blood orange, and the mushroom that the Spanish speaking sometimes refer to as el champinon or simply el hongo, are on my mind this rainy tax day morning.

2014 Fairly Fun Final Four Facts For Fans

You may be wondering which team has had the easiest path to the Final Four.  Or you may not be wondering which team has had the easiest path to the Final Four.  Either way, Florida has had the easiest path by far coming out of the South region.  Kentucky, out of the Midwest had the roughest trip to the big dance, followed by CT out of the East and Wisconsin from the West region.

From Smooth Sailing to Turbulent Skies

  • FL combined total of seeds to victory out of the South: 40 – Albany (16), Pitt (9), UCLA (4), Dayton (11)
  • WI combined total of seeds to victory out of the West: 29 – American (15), Oregon (7), Baylor (6), Arizona (1)
  • CT combined total of seeds to victory out of the East: 19 – Saint Joseph’s (10), Villanova (2), Iowa St. (3), Michigan St. (4)
  • KY combined total of seeds to victory out of the Midwest: 16 – Kansas St. (9), Wichita St. (1), Louisville (4), Michigan (2)

Who gave Whom Fits

  • Some teams simply had the others’ number during the 2013-14 season.  SMU beat UConn twice.  Louisville beat UConn three times.
  • Arkansas gave Kentucky fits, beating them twice in OT.  The Gators devoured the Wildcats three times during the season.  The last game was a one point squeaker in the SEC championship game.  They could meet again in the NCAA championship game.

The Edge

  • Home town/state advantage:  Kentucky.  Lexington is closest to Arlington and the Wildcats have three players from Texas.
  • Home court advantage:  Connecticut.  Even though Storrs is the farthest from Arlington, the Huskies are the only team that has played a game this year near Arlington in a loss to SMU in Dallas.
  • Battle tested team:  Kentucky who beat a 1 and a 2 seed and the 4th seeded Louisville Cardinals that beat UConn three times.
  • Underdog:  Kentucky – unranked in the AP Top 25.
  • Toughest Team Nickname:  Wisconsin Badgers.
  • Latest championships: KY (2012), UConn (2011), FL (2007), WI (1941)


More Obscure 2014 Final Four Facts

  • Number of states players represent on Final Four rosters: 19
  • State breakdown:  FL (8); KY (6); WI (6); IL (5); NY (4); TX (3); CA (2); CT (2); MA (2); NC (2); NJ (2); OH (2); TN (2); IA, KS, MD, MI, MN, VA (1)
  • Number of players under 6 feet:  2
  • Shortest player: 5-9 Brian Long of Kentucky
  • Number of players from Brooklyn, NY: 4
  • Number of players on rosters from an opposing team’s state:  1 – CT player from Wisconsin
  • The Final Four was last held near Arlington (in Dallas) in 1986.
  • Number of Kentucky players from Texas: 3
  • Connecticut lost to SMU in Dallas on January 4, 2014.

2014 Fun Final Four Team Roster Facts



Final Four appearances by coach.  Bold = championships:

  • John Calipari: 5 (1996, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2014)
  • Number of teams Calipari has taken to the Final Four: 3 (UMass, Memphis, Kentucky)
  • Number of appearances vacated by NCAA violations: 2 – (1996, 2008)
  • Billy Donovan: 4 (2000, 2006, 2007, 2014) all with Florida
  • Bo Ryan: 1 (2014) Wisconsin
  • Kevin Ollie: 1 (2014) UConn
  • Number of 7 footers at the big dance:  4 – Kentucky (2), Wisconsin (1), UConn (1), Florida (0)
  • Team with most homegrown players:  Florida (8)
  • Team with most International players:  UConn 4 (Ghana, Jamaica, Germany (2))
  • Teams with no international players: Kentucky and Wisconsin
  • Team with 3 players from Brooklyn:  UConn
  • All American team: Kentucky with 9 players from different states.
  • Only team to finish 1st in conference play:  Florida (SEC)

Let the dance begin!