The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Friday, February 28, 2003  

From the Strange People Who Bring You Andrew Sullivan

Here's a quick round up of some of ink and newsprint wasted within the last week by the Washington Times:

"Conference Stresses Family Stories," by Cheryl Wetzstein, in which appears wing-nut Maggie Gallagher, one of The Wall Street Journal's favorite lunatics:

Those who support the institution of marriage are often portrayed as "bigoted" against single persons or unwed parents, while those who support cohabiting without ceremony are presented as broad-minded and inclusive. Similar framing of the national debate occurs in discussions over whether legal marriage should be extended to homosexual [sic] persons, she said.

Also quoted in the story: the Times's own Wesley Pruden and Jong-Won Ha, "professor of mass communications and journalism at Sun Moon University in South Korea." Moon. Sun Moon. Sun Moon? Where have I heard that name before?

Then there's "Court, States Consider Same-Sex Unions," also by Wetzstein, where a reader finds this:

An even bigger audience is expected March 4, when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court hears arguments on a lawsuit many believe could affect marriage on a national basis.

The lawsuit, Goodridge v. Massachusetts Department of Public Health, is brought by seven same-sex couples who say they were unfairly denied the right to marry. They are represented by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the Boston law firm that won a similar lawsuit in Vermont that led to the creation of civil unions.

If the Massachusetts high court legalizes same-sex unions for its residents, it's inevitable that some couples will seek marriage recognition in other states. Homosexual [sic] activists also are expected to use a favorable Massachusetts ruling to challenge the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which restricts federal spousal benefits to married couples.

Then there's a heavily edited piece from Agence France-Presse, republished as "Mugabe 'At Home' During French Summit," which includes this text:

British homosexual [sic] and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell filed a complaint with the French courts seeking a warrant for Mr. Mugabe's arrest for purported rights abuses. But it was dismissed yesterday.

Then, of course, there's the "Weekly Dish," contributed by homosexual and right-winger Andrew Sullivan, last seen sporting a chubbie over a snow sculpture in Cambridge, Mass.:

The question is not whether Koufax is gay or not; nor is it whether disdain of homosexuals [sic] fuels opinion in the sports world. The question is simply about whether a newspaper should run blind items trashing people's private lives, and impugning their personal integrity. End of conversation.

Maybe a kind reader will remind me why The Advocate, the homosexual weekly, prints Sullivan's spew.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Really Kool Kidz Is Doin' It For Themselves

Jeanne d'Arc of Body and Soul has the goods on Fred Rogers, parenting, and making me cry and stuff.

Lisa English of Ruminate This has the goods on getting the goods.

Brooke Shelby Biggs of the Bitter Shack of Resentment has the goods on Brave Hearts, Rebel Spirits. That's her new book. Pre-order it now.

Max Sawicky has the goods on the complete and utter non-controversy about Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) that I'm-Not-a-Blogger-Unless-You-Invite-Me-To-Your-Panel-Discussion-and-I-Don't-Read-Blogs-Anyway Joshua Marshall (and Atrios, of all people) tried to get going this week.

BuzzFlash has the goods on Ari Fleischer. (Via Kim Osterwalder's Free Pie, which, as the name implies, always has the goods.)

Michelangelo Signorile (a quasi blogger, see has the goods on sportswriters' homophobia.

Rob Humenik of Get Donkey! has the (apparent) goods on the Houston Chronicle having dropped Paul Krugman. What's up with that?

Anne Zook of Peevish has the goods, the good kind of goods, on Molly Ivins.

Andrew Northrup of the Poor Man has the goods, which in his case, is not good, on going on hiatus. (Damn! And Andrew Edwards of Sketch is making off with the goods, too.)

Tarek of the Liquid List has the goods on the Dr. Strangelove-like editorialists at the Washington Post.

Elton Beard of Busy Busy Busy has the goods on "calumnyst" Michael Kelly.

Alex Frantz of Public Nuisance has the goods on the free ride the Bush family is getting from the media.

Robert Byrd of Byrd's Brain has the goods on our country's total detachment from the war we are about to wage upon Iraq.

Steve of No More Mister Nice Blog has the goods on Michael Savage.

Emma of Late Night Thoughts has the goods on blogger Jay Caruso. And, for the most part, I think she's right.

Gaythwaite of, well, Gaythwaite, has the goods on "supporting our troops."

The Watchful Babbler of Doxagora has the goods on George Will's ignorance of the Constitution.

Vaara of Silt has the goods on the Department of Homeland Security.

BlissPuppet has the goods on Scripting News, which Geppetto calls "the oldest blog continuously in operation (or one of them)." I first heard of Scripting News earlier this week. I really do miss a lot.

Hesiod of Counterspin Central has the goods on the right-wing's "I hate public school teachers" campaign.

Drew of So Far, So Left has the goods on Gov. Howard Dean (D-Vt.), but he's being nice about it, so it's okay.

Mark of Minute Particulars has the goods on the Pope, September 11, war, and Susan Sontag.

SullyWatch has the goods on Andrew Sullivan's latest cup-rattling. (By the way, Sullivan picked up yet another check from the Washington Times this week, his risible "Weekly Dish" having made its regular appearance on that paper's op-ed page today. Has he no shame whatsoever? None at all? Are condo repairs in Provincetown that pricey?)

Getting back to people with real names, Avedon Carol of The Sideshow has the goods on just about everybody anyone ought to have the goods on.

Roger Ailes has the goods on the Virgin Ben.

Nathan Newman has the goods on the National Budget Simulation project. Yes, kids, you can pretend to be Mitch Daniels! Parental supervision not required.

Mary Beth Williams of WampumBlog has the goods on déjà vu all over again. Again.

Matt Bivens of the Daily Outrage has the goods on the dangers -- And I mean that! -- of one-party rule.

Douglas Anders of The Agora has the goods on cats and laptops. Get a dog, my friend! Better yet, get a Bulldog!

Teresa Nielsen Hayden of Making Light has the goods on, well, I'm not sure what. "I’m neither a millennialist nor a dispensationalist, I consider the pretribulational rapture a deviationist non-scriptural novelty," she writes. Yeah. Me too. What she said.

Kip Manley of Long story; short pier has the goods on his wisdom teeth.

Dwight Meredith of P.L.A.: A Journal of Politics, Law, and Autism -- No ampersand, Barrister Meredith? -- has the goods on the Hall of Fame, located in my old stomping grounds, Cooperstown, N.Y.

Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft has the goods on just about every two-bit prosecutor, Justice Department flunkie, police-state advocate, and Constitution-pisser-on in America. I'll bet there are a lot of creeps out there who are afraid of her. Goods. I mean, good.

Stand Down, the No War Blog, has the goods on the impending 21st Century Crusades.

Morgan Pillsbury of Ruthless People has the goods on John Fund. Big time. (Fund, by the way, is still employed by The Wall Street Journal. He really is. Look here. Didn't wife-beater John Fedders lose his job in the Reagan administration over similar acts of violence? I mean the Reagan administration, that was like a really low bar and everything, wasn't it? I saw a movie about that once. Okay, several times, I admit, but Lindsay Wagner gave the performance of, uh, a lifetime, didn't she?)

Neal Pollack has the goods. Just generally has 'em. All the time. And he'll probably make a dirty joke out of that.

Oh, and Devra of Blue Streak has the goods on me. [Links to her site, from here, anyway, are whacked. If this link doesn't work, or doesn't appear, visit her site and scroll down to February 24. And if that doesn't work, send me an e-mail and I'll fill you in. Someone, something, somewhere, lurking between Devra and me doesn't like her or the name of her web site or something. I don't know. Beats the hell out of me.]

Gee whiz, I'm never doing that again. It seemed like a good idea at the start, but it took forever.

[Post-publication addendum (March 1): My apologies. A friend writes to remind me that in the Norah Vincent spit spirit of "full disclosure" (This is the article in which I take Vincent to task for recklessly and irresponsibly smearing The Rittenhouse Review without having disclosed our online fisticuffs to her editor or her readers, an egregriously unprofessional act for which neither Vincent nor the Los Angeles Times has yet to apologize.), I am obligated to state, once again, for the record, that Michelangelo Signorile, or "Mike," is a friend of mine.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


It's Never Too Late To Call

Amazing. The nation's print media actually gave decent coverage to Wednesday's highly successful Virtual March on Washington. Even such right-wing bastions as the Washington Post and the Washington Times -- but not, as best I could tell, the New York Post -- gave the event their begrudging attention.

I feel bad that I neglected to promote this protest in advance. However, I did participate, sending faxes to Pennsylania's U.S. senators, Sen. Arlen Specter (R) and Sen. Rick Santorum (R) -- also known as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, respectively -- on Wednesday afternoon, and, since the phone lines were so busy that day, by calling both Republicans on Thursday.

It's not too late to call, you know. In fact, it's never too late to call. And there's never a reason not to, even, as in my case, i.e. represented in the Senate by two brain-dead men, when the effort appears hopeless.

And here's a little secret that will negate even the last excuse you've come up with to avoid doing so: You can call your senators and representatives toll free at 1 (800) 839-5276.

Do it!

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


More Great Stuff from the People at InterMute

I don't know if you've ever heard of InterMute, but these people rock!

Several months ago I urged readers to buy InterMute's AdSubtract Pro, the best ad-, banner-, cookie-, and pop-up blocking software I've ever used.

Today I'm urging you to buy InterMute's SpamSubtract Pro, the best spam-blocking software I've ever tested.

This thing is amazing. And you can try free for 30 days.

Trust me. It's the smartest $19.95 you will ever spend.

(And, no, I don't get a cut of InterMute's sales. This is purely a public service announcement.)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Property of Pandagon's Jesse Taylor

Jesse Taylor of Pandagon has the headline of the week.

I won't spoil the surprise. You will have to trek over to Taylor's blog to read it for yourself.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Spanish Government Says: "Muzzle Him!"
German Relatives Say: "We're Embarrassed!"

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld may get Ann Coulter, Laura Ingraham, and Kennedy all hot and bothered -- an effect he apparently has on President George W. Bush as well, to say nothing of Wolf Blitzer, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, Michael Kelly, Mickey Kaus, Howard Kurtz, Andrew Sullivan, Mark Steyn, and George Will -- but he's apparently disgusting pretty much everyone else who comes across his path.

The Spanish government, which has been largely supportive of the Bush administration's impending 21st Century Crusades, has had enough of Rumsfeld's tiresome shtick.

The Wall Street Journal ("Spain's Aznar Tells Bush: Allies Need Political Cover," by Frederick Kempe and Carlta Vitzthum) reports:

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, one of America's staunchest allies on the United Nations Security Council, said in an interview that he has urged President Bush to help European leaders withstand the mounting political pressures they face over possible war with Iraq, including muzzling Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Mr. Aznar, who met with Mr. Bush over the weekend in Crawford, Texas, said: "I did tell the president that we need a lot of [Secretary of State Colin] Powell and not much of Rumsfeld," who has become a lightning rod for growing European opposition to the U.S. position against Baghdad. . . .

"Ministers of defense should talk less, shouldn't they? The more Powell speaks and the less Rumsfeld speaks, that wouldn't be a bad thing altogether," Mr. Aznar said.

And The Telegraph (London) earlier this month reported that Rumsfeld's German relatives, who once proudly welcomed the defense secretary into their homes, have disowned him.

The Telegraph's Tony Paterson writes ("Rumsfeld Family Tie is First Victim of War"):

The Rumsfelds of Weyhe-Sudweyhe, an unremarkable red-brick suburb of Bremen, were once proud of their long-lost cousin, America's secretary of state for defence [sic] -- but no longer.

Like many Germans, they are appalled by Donald Rumsfeld's hawkish attitude to military action against Saddam Hussein. About 18,000 anti-war demonstrators marched through Munich yesterday to protest at his presence at an international security conference -- chanting slogans such as "No room for Rumsfeld!"

"We think it is dreadful that Donald Rumsfeld is out there pushing for a war against Iraq," Karin Cecere (nee Rumsfeld), 59, said . . . last week. "We are embarrassed to be related to him," she told The Telegraph.

Margarete Rumsfeld, her 85-year-old mother, was equally dismissive: "We don't have much to do with him anymore. Nowadays he's just the American defence [sic] secretary to us, but for God's sake, he'd better not start a war," she added.

And so, in the event that Secretary Rumsfeld one day needs to find a home in exile -- Why is that we Americans don't send our disgraced politicians and government officials into exile? -- it looks like Spain and Germany are out of the question.

Paraguay, anyone?

[Note: Access to the Journal article requires a subscription. However, by my understanding of copyright laws, I can share this article with my friends on an individual basis. If you're my friend and you would like to read the article in its entirety, send me an e-mail and I will gladly send it with you.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, February 27, 2003  

Mayor Street to Reopen Chestnut Street

Victory at last!

In a blow to the paranoid management of the National Park Service, Philadelphia Mayor John F. Street (D) announced today that the 500 block of Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, would reopen as normal on April 1, the Philadelphia Inquirer is reporting this afternoon. ("Mayor to Reopen Chestnut Street," by Linda K. Harris.)

"I have looked at this issue. I took a great personal interest in it. . . . There is one inescapable conclusion that I think almost any reasonable person has to reach and that is, simply closing off Chestnut Street does not do a whole lot to preserve and protect Independence Hall from people who might be determined to destroy it," Mayor Street said.

Yes, Mayor Street took a "great personal interest" in this issue, visiting the closed block of Chestnut Street earlier this month for the first time since September 2001, 17 months after the city, in conjunction with the National Park Service, closed the short but crucial block to pedestrian and vehicular traffic in response to perceived potential terrorist threats to the historic area, which includes such national treasures as Independence Hall, Independence Park, Congress Hall, Old City Hall, and the Liberty Bell Pavilion.

Regardless, this nonsense is over.

The campaign to reopen Chestnut Street, spearheaded by the Free Chestnut Street Coalition, and an issue about which the Review reported on February 18 and February 4, and about which TRR: The Lighter Side of Rittenhouse reported on January 21, has been a resounding success, a victory not only for the city of Philadelphia and its residents but for the entire nation.

Could this a sign that the tide of national insanity is turning?

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Inquirer Profiles Senators Dumb and Dumber

Just in case you missed it, the Philadelphia Inquirer recently published a rather unremarkable piece about Pennsylvania's two thoroughly unremarkable U.S. senators -- Sens. Arlen Specter (More-R-Than-You-Think) and Rick Santorum (More-R-Than-Almost-Anyone) -- the paper following up unawares on a post published here on February 5.

Now that I look at it again, I see that the article was published in the Inquirer's Sunday edition, making it, I suppose, a "thought" piece of some kind, as they say in the business.

Reporter Peter Nicholas writes (in "Pennsylvania Senators Are Uneasy Allies"):

[T]hey are by no means close. In his 574-page memoir, Passion for Truth, published in 2000, Specter barely mentioned Santorum and offered no opinion of the state's junior senator, good or bad. In contrast, Specter wrote that he and his former Pennsylvania colleague, the late Sen. John Heinz, enjoyed a "close working relationship and friendship."

That paragraph has me wondering two things: First, how on earth did I miss the great publishing event of 2000? And second, how in the world did Specter come up with 574 pages about himself? Oh, and a third question: Who, if anyone at all, bought this stupid book?

Here's another choice quote from Nicholas, one that speaks volumes about both lawmakers:

In his 1996 presidential bid, Specter won the endorsement of a single senator: Santorum.

And then there's this:

On some of the most high-profile issues coming before the Senate, the two have taken polar positions. They've clashed on abortion. They disagreed on [former President] Bill Clinton's removal from office (Santorum for; Specter against); on President Bush's 2001 tax-cut package (Specter favored more modest cuts); on cloning embryonic stem cells for medical research (Specter for; Santorum against); and on a campaign-finance overhaul (Specter for; Santorum against).

"Specter has said repeatedly that he and Santorum agree on 85 percent of the issues," said [a] former Specter aide. "Well, that other 15 percent covered a lot of ground."

This month, the nonpartisan National Journal analyzed the voting patterns of senatorial "odd couples."

Of 36 states whose senators belong to the same party, only Arizona Republicans Jon Kyl and John McCain compiled a more disparate voting record than Specter and Santorum.

Appropriate enough, I suppose, for a state that has been described as "Philadelphia on one end and Pittsburgh on the other, with Alabama in between," a characterization that I've yet to decide is slanderous or generous with respect to that southern state, and one that strikes a casual equivalence between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that I find dubious at best.

Nonetheless, the residents of the great Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, whether they reside in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or that vast and varied swath in between, deserve far better than these two.

And for reasons not clear, Nicholas did not refer to Sens. Specter and Santorum as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum. Perhaps those labels ended up on the editor's floor. I don't care. I for one am sticking with them: I know they're going to catch on eventually. And to the rest of America I say, on behalf of all thinking Pennsylvanians: I'm very, very sorry.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Cracking Down on Dangerous Shutterbugs

"It's been a tough month for people taking pictures in Philadelphia," reports Daniel Brook in the latest issue of Philadelphia City Paper. ("Shoot to Kill?", February 27-March 5 issue.)

Brook writes:

On Mon., Feb. 24, Iman Radito, an Indonesian Muslim, was sentenced to six months in prison and fined $5,000 for overstaying a student visa and possessing false documentation, including a forged "green card" and Social Security card. Meanwhile, a number of Haverford College students were interrogated by police after shooting photos of Suburban Station for an urban studies class assignment.

Radito was picked up by an agent from the Philadelphia Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) on Sept. 11, 2002, at Delaware Avenue and Vine Street in Old City after being observed taking photographs of the Ben Franklin Bridge. Radito, who was led into the courtroom wearing a green prison jumper and handcuffs, pled guilty.

There are some complexities to the situation addressed in Brook's article that warrant a closer look.

As for the crisis at Suburban Station:

On Sat., Feb. 8, a South Asian Haverford College urban planning student was detained for questioning by the SEPTA transit police after he was observed making sketches and taking photographs of Suburban Station. After verifying that the student was enrolled in Bryn Mawr College's "Form of the City" class and was completing an assignment to observe the station during off-peak hours, SEPTA police released the student.

Joseph Disponzio, the course's professor, says the individual looks South Asian. Though other students were questioned, only the minority student was detained. "My gut feeling is that the student was profiled," Disponzio says via e-mail. The student in question did not respond to City Paper's request for an interview.

Gary McDonogh, the department chair, also hints that the police were practicing racial profiling, mentioning that the cops "actually helped other students take photographs. The difference is quite troubling."

Only to people who care about continuing to live in a free and open society, a number that each day appears to me to be alarming small -- and shrinking -- and that as the 21st Century Crusades are about the begin in earnest.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, February 26, 2003  

Follow the President's Example

Maybe, in the face of the insane Crusade on to which President Bush and his pals are dragging this country, we should all just get drunk.

This is, I assure you, an act of loyalty and support for the President. If anyone asks, just say you're following the President's lead.

"But get drunk on what?" you ask.

French wine! Or German wine!

Buy some tonight.

(Boycott Australian wine! Boycott British w- . . . Never mind.)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Our Comic-Book Foreign Policy

The latest leaks from the White House are in this morning's papers and they are as scary as they are depressing.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The U.N. Security Council is likely to spend the next two weeks debating war with Iraq, but the issue has already been decided: President Bush intends to go to war with or without U.N. support.

His goal is a top-to-bottom regime change, an outcome not mentioned in any U.N. resolution. Bush and his advisers contend that the only way to remove the threat of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons in Iraq is to remove Saddam Hussein and his entire power structure. . . .

Even as U.S. diplomats struggle to line up votes at the United Nations to support war, Bush has made it clear that he does not much care how the vote turns out. U.S. officials say they are going back to the Security Council largely at the insistence of British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other U.S. allies who are under strong antiwar pressure at home.

Here are the vomit graphs:

Hawkish administration officials argue that ousting Hussein and his regime could remake the Middle East and help safeguard the world from the specter of international terrorists armed with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

In their best-case scenario, regime change in Baghdad would trigger the spread of democracy and freedom throughout the Mideast. Awed by America's power, Muslim support for terrorism would evaporate; Palestinians and Israelis would make peace; and global anti-American sentiment would evolve into gratitude and goodwill. [Emphasis added.]

The article does not outline the administration's worst-case scenario. I wonder if they have even considered what that might be. I'm inclined to say President Bush and the gang have been reading too many action comics, except that by doing so I would be slighting an entire genre that is written with greater nuance than this crowd can handle.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, February 25, 2003  

Who The Hell Does Neil Stein Think He Is?

Last week an envelope arrived in the mail bearing the return address of the Internal Revenue Service.

I still haven't opened it.

Why not? Because I'm afraid to.

You see, I've been self-employed for almost a year now and I'm still getting my bearings, not only with respect to generating income but also to paying the requisite taxes when due.

Regardless of my worries and insecurity, I'm certain that even the most cursory examination of my records would reveal that I have no cause for concern. I try, as best I can, to pay all taxes due to federal, state, and city -- yes, Philadelphia has its own income tax, believe it or not -- authorities in the amounts expected and on time.

And I do that not only because I am generally a law-abiding guy, the laws of certain backward Southern and Midwestern states notwithstanding, but because I don't like getting in trouble and I don't like getting yelled at, even by way of a form letter. Hence the still-unopened envelope.

So when I read an article like this one -- "Restaurateur Has Tough Tax Bill to Swallow," by Sono Motoyama in today's Philadelphia Daily News -- I wonder: What the hell is wrong with me? Why should I care?

According to the article, restaurateur Neil Stein, proprietor of Philadelphia's Striped Bass, Avenue B, Bleu, Rouge, and the defunct Fishmarket, is behind in paying his taxes. Behind to the tune of an estimated $1,360,000.00.

And that's just taxes owed to the city. The article makes no mention of his status with state and federal authorities.

And so again I wonder: "How does this happen?" "Why do people do this?" And, more important, "Why do some people get away with it for so long?"

Stein is, best I can tell, a happy man. Striped Bass, which is packed every night of the week, will celebrate its 10th anniversary next month. And despite a slow start, Avenue B, just blocks from my home, appears to be doing well.

Of course, Stein has leverage: his restaurants employ 400 people, a number that obviously impresses Philadelphia officials, even though most of those employed by Stein's firm -- the aptly named Meal Ticket Inc. -- are probably making less than ten dollars an hour.

According to the PDN's Motoyama, Stein says he has "received numerous expressions of support." To which Stein himself added, "I have all the confidence we'll get through this thing."

Well, good for you, Neil Stein! But who the hell do you think you are? Leona Helmsley?

In a city hell-bent on keeping 400 mostly at-best minimum-wage jobs, I'll bet you're feeling pretty high and mighty. Congratulations on your obvious amorality and complete lack of civic responsbility.

Me? I'm nobody. I don't have a payroll. It's just me and my Bulldog here. But you know what, Neil Stein? I'm not stepping foot in any of your restaurants again -- and I have visited three of your four restaurants currently in operation in just the last few months -- until your tax bill is paid in full.

[Post-publication addendum (February 26): Atrios has signed on to the boycott. Blogroots activism at its best.]

[Post-publication addendum (February 26): Contact information.

Meal Ticket Inc.: Phone: (215) 732-6560; Fax: (215) 732-6863; Neil Stein, owner.

Striped Bass: Phone: (215) 732-4444; Fax: (215) 732-4433; Ed Murray, general manager.

Avenue B: Phone: (215) 790-0705; Fax: (215) 790-0688; Gabe Marabella, co-owner; Keren Ini, general manager.

Rouge: Phone: (215) 732-6622; Fax: (215) 732-0561; Jan Bass, general manager.

Bleu: Phone (215) 545-0342; Fax: (215) 545-9318; Seth Biederman, general manager.]

[Post-publication addendum (February 26): Reader T.G. was correct. The contents of the envelope from the I.R.S. were harmless: simply my quarterly payment coupons for 2003.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


What the Kooler Kidz are Saying

GOTCHA' LITTLE MICKEY: I really get a kick out of "lowly" bloggers sticking it to, well, "highly" bloggers, as was the case today with Roger Ailes taking little Mickey Kaus to task for the latter's unduly self-satisfied stab at the New York Times.

Kaus's latest snit was sparked by his observation that the Times web site features "sponsored links" to sites that promote the diet drug and ersatz amphetamine ephedra and vacations packages for the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., while at the same time the paper publishes articles and editorials asking (in my opinion, reasonable) questions about the safety and lax regulation of ephedra (Thank you, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), ephedra's best friend in the U.S. Senate!) and the sexist membership policy of the Augusta National Club.

Aside from the fact that Kaus is apparently totally unfamiliar with the term "editorial independence," Ailes quite rightly notes Kaus's enthusiastic -- it must be enthusiastic because he's been upbraided on and off the web for this -- endorsement, indicated by his psychotic blogroll, of the oh-so-noble efforts of the likes of heinous and haggish Lucianne Goldberg, hers the only site specifically mentioned by Ailes, and one to which I would add Kaus's demented blessings upon the similarly heinous and haggish Steve Chapman, Ann Coulter, Peggy "The Loons! The Loons!" Noonan, and Andrew Sullivan.

Good God, Mickey, who's next? Michael Savage?


DOING GOD'S WORK -- ONE PHARMACEUTICAL INDUSTRY LIE AFTER ANOTHER: On a related note, I like seeing the "woman next door" (that's like an "everyday Joe," only female, and this one's anything but ordinary) proving, without even breaking a sweat, that the latest "news" about the latest "research" on one of the most widely distributed childhood vaccines is full of crap.

M.B. Williams of WampumBlog continues to do God's work here on earth. I trust it's appreciated.


OUR ERRATIC COMMANDER-IN-CHIEF: Uggabugga has an informative graphic about the president's erratic experience with the Air National Guard, among much else that is great and good.


BACK FROM THE DEAD -- OR FROM IRRELEVANCY: Gee whiz, I guess I thought maybe Bernadette Devlin was dead or something. It's not as if she's pulling down the headlines lately. Figures John Ashcroft (also known as Attorney General Short Stick) hadn't forgotten about her. Among the bloggers, Lisa English and Max B. Sawicky have the sorry details.


SO SHOOT ME: Kieran Healy's "Public Service Announcement" has been up on his blog for nearly a week. That doesn't mean you shouldn't go read it. I'm the disorganized procrastinator, not you.


THIS IS GETTING PERSONAL: What is it about Atrios (of the blog Eschaton) that gets Jay Caruso of the Daily Rant so riled up? (And when will Jane Finch insist upon equal billing, at the very least within that blog's URL?)


GET BACK HERE!: Damn it! TBogg has left the building. Get back here and start blogging!


[Note: If you "get" the headline to this post, let me know. I'd appreciate it.]

[Post-publication addendum (February 26): Many readers, more than I expected, understood the headline of this post to be the Latin present-tense conjugation of the verb blogare, to blog. What surprised me, maybe a little bit, was that none suggested the assumed form of the infinitive should be bloggare, which would have resulted in the conjugation: bloggo, bloggas, bloggat, bloggamus, bloggatis, bloggant. I debated this with myself for a time yesterday and in the end opted for the single-g form. Now I have my doubts. I assume there is a solid justification for one form or the other; I just don't know what it would be.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Recent Additions to the Blogroll

Please welcome these blogs, all recent additions to the blogroll -- published in the sidebar at right under the heading, Better Blogs & Such -- and visit them early and often.

ActNow (Peter Rothberg)

Balkinization (Jack M. Balkin)

Charen Watch

CNN Lies

The Complete Bushims (Jacob Weisberg) [If only because Andrew Sullivan once called this endeavor a "waste of bandwidth" in a post that can no longer be found at Sullivan's vanity site.]

The Daily Outrage (Matt Bivens)

Howard Dean 2004 [Note: This is not an endorsement nor a statement of position or support; though I would like to see Dean give it a shot.]

Late Night Thoughts

My DD (J.B. Armstrong)

Peace Tree Farm

Political State Report

Opinionated Views

So Far, So Left

Sugar, Mr. Poon?

The Talking Dog (Seth Farber)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Latest in My Growing Collection

A cardinal rule for bloggers: Don't expect the reader to get the joke or even an implied reference in anything you post to your blog. For some readers, at least, you really do need to s-p-e-l-l i-t a-l-l o-u-t.

I learned this soon after I posted a piece I entitled, "Making the Rounds: I Think I'm Catching This One Early," on Thursday, February 13.

In that piece I republished a brief essay of sorts about French military history that had just begun making the rounds on the internet. Doing so I happened to mention, "I've never been a Francophile," a statement arising from the inhospitable nature of the French during my stay there many years ago, together with what I believe -- And save your e-mails, okay? -- are exaggerated but widely accepted notions regarding the purported supremacy of the French in the fields of art, literature, music, and cuisine.

I rushed -- and that's probably the best word for it -- to republish this piece not, in the crude characterizations offered by scattered offended readers, to "bash France" or to "give aid and comfort to fascist warmongers," but because, as I implied in the title of the February 13 post, I am usually among the very last to receive these popular globally distributed missives, a failing, if one could call it that, about which I have commented in the past. What the hell? Why not be among the first this time?

Yes, I was having a little fun. And having a little fun at France's expense. Am I a France-basher of the ignorant Jonah Goldberg type? I don't think so. Or of the barely slightly more sophisticated Charles Krauthammer sort? I hope not.

I agree with and appreciate the position of the current French government with respect to the Bush administration's reincarnation of the Crusades. Can I do so while smirking a bit at French history, just as I do at American history? Apparently not, according to some of my more humorless readers.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


And Women

The March 3 edition of the New Republic arrived in the mail today.

It's billed as a "special issue" on the subject, "Liberalism and American Power."

The contributors:

Peter Beinart, Paul Berman, John B. Judis, Lawrence F. Kaplan, Robert D. Kaplan, Charles Krauthammer, Azar Nafisi, Martin Peretz, Samantha Power, Jeffrey Sachs, and Leon Wiseltier

I suppose one could argue that's a fair group to ponder the subject. I think I see a few liberals in there. And two women. Maybe "The New Republic Needs Liberals and Women" would have made a better title.

[Post publication addendum: I see now that Eric Alterman commented on TNR's March 3 issue at Altercation yesterday. I'm falling behind in my reading, I guess. Call it "Slacker Monday."]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, February 24, 2003  

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

The right-wingers are correct; maybe they have been all along: The web, like television, particularly cable television, really is a sewer.

[Thanks to reader John Curran for the alert.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Sunday, February 23, 2003  

A Great Big Sphincter Smooch for the Bush Family
Liberal Media, My Ass -- Or Theirs

Whatever happened to the Washington Post? Once a sleepy company-town rag, the paper exploded upon the national scene during the 1970s, continuing throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s to set the pace for imitators and aspirants nationwide. The Post raised the bar for its peers and published some of the best journalism not only of its own history but of American history as well.

Times change. Oh, do times change. The Post is not the newspaper it briefly was, not by a long shot. Now it's just a vehicle for Bush family propaganda. Liberal media, my ass.

The latest evidence: "The Patience of Jeb," by Mark Leibovich, in today's edition of the Post.

Reading this piece I scarcely know whether to laugh or cry, so I'll do both. I know one thing: The American media truly reached an all-time low today.

Here's a choice quote from the early portion of this 4,000-word onanistic tribute to one of the lesser lights of the collection of dim bulbs that make up the Bush family:

He [Gov. John Ellis Bush (R-Fla.)] is the Bush with the angst gene, who seems to labor through even his pinnacle moments. His capacity for public tears is impressive even by the weepy standards of the Bush family. He cried four times at his inaugural events last month -- one fewer than he did during "Forrest Gump."

Touching. Really touching.

Here's another:

It is, or should be, such a sweet scene. America's Little Brother, decisively reelected, gets sworn in on the same Bible his brother and father used in Washington. George and Bar sit point-'n'-waving at the front of the stage. Four F-15s scream overhead, and a National Guard unit fires 19 cannon blasts. George P. Bush, Jeb's 26-year-old son and the program's master of ceremonies, talks like he's already in Congress. The 41st president introduces Jeb. The 43rd president couldn't make it, but he's a busy man.

"George and Bar"?! Gee whiz, Mark, can you spread their cheeks any farther apart?

And I love this: "The 43rd president" -- that would be George W. Bush for those of you playing with the trading cards at home -- "couldn't make it." That's no doubt a phrase that will ring strangely familiar to those men who served in the National Guard -- without going A.W.O.L. or deserting the U.S. armed forces -- during the Vietnam War.

And just when you thought your disgust-triggered episode of vomiting had come to an end, Leibovich offers this emetic observation:

He is a shy public man who seems destined to suffer in the open. He is the Bush who has acknowledged marital strife, who cries while discussing his daughter's drug problems on the "Today" show -- the same show that repeatedly broadcast her mug shot after her arrest on drug charges -- whose wife's [Ed: Columba Bush] ill-fated Paris shopping spree made her a [Jay] Leno punchline and whose handsome oldest son is a People magazine idol. And this doesn't include the famous family Jeb Bush was born into -- or, for that matter, the infamous election he was thrust into.

Wait! He's not done. Try this:

In the Bush family shorthand, Jeb was the anointed one: the driven big-thinker who started kindergarten a year early and graduated from the University of Texas in 2 1/2 years.

Wow! Some kind of genius, no doubt.

Oh, what the hell, I've already pissed you off, so I'll give you some more of Leibovich's bunghole cleaning:

Jeb Bush can be warm and approachable. But compared with the Georges, he keeps a discernible distance. He almost never grants face-to-face interviews and has particular disdain for the national media. They focus, inevitably, on his daughter, his wife, his brother, his father, 2000 or 2008.

Or worse, what Jeb deplores as "navel-gazing" themes, a powerful allergy in the Bush family. . . .

He declined to be interviewed for this article, though a spokesman suggested questions by e-mail, the governor's preferred medium -- Bush gives out his Internet address to crowds ( and invites citizens to write.

In dealing with the media, e-mail suits the governor's need for control. He picks what he wants to answer, can edit freely and "cc" whom he wishes. E-mail is also easy to ignore.

Watch, now, as Leibovich falls for the lamest -- and most obvious -- spin in American political history:

The Washington Post's trial e-mail to Bush concerns e-mail itself: When did he start using it? How often does he use it? What kinds of business does he use it for? It seems a harmless way to open a conversation. And Bush answers within an hour.

Thank you for writing. I started using email post 1994 but have been an active user since then. I use it now to keep me connected to friends and constituents. I learn from email from folks. I discount the organized email campaigns but I am respectful of the cause. I don't let the press go around our process (once anda while journalists get around them :) ) It is a huge productivity tool that allows me to be focused on the little things that are important all the while I stayed focused on my larger agenda. Happy New Year.

Jeb Bush

In three follow-up e-mails (which Bush also answers promptly), the governor reveals: He has three e-mail accounts, receives 200 to 300 a day on and reads most of them. He guesses that 25 percent of the e-mails come from colleagues, 50 percent from constituents, 10 percent from family and friends and 15 percent from junk mail and list mail. The risk, he says, is in relying too much on e-mail, at the expense of face-to-face nuance. "There is always [the] threat of invading family time!" he writes.

He likes talking about e-mail. But when questions veer into other areas, the door closes. "I am skipping all of the questions," he writes. "I apologize." National attention, he reiterates, is a distraction. "My interest is Florida, Florida, Florida," he writes, and the e-mail proceeds in one long paragraph that concludes:

If you want to write an article about career service reform, I can lend a hand so long as it is not about me. If you are interested in how a state can reduce drug use, I am interested. You might be interested in how governments are embarking on major technology projects, in which case you might want to look at what we are doing. Did you know that we are the first state to outsource the hr function of government? No profiles.

Jeb Bush

That little computer smiley face is just too precious, isn't it? A real man of the people.

Oh, and get this! Jeb is a devoted family man, so rare in American politics today, don't you know? Jeb even loves . . . his mother!:

George W. calls Jeb my "big little brother" during appearances (Jeb is five inches taller), and Jeb dutifully plays the goofy sidekick. He introduces George as "my older, smarter and wiser brother."

Like George W., Jeb loves to tout his admiration for his mother -- which is also smart politics, given her popularity -- but in a way that can occasionally be treacly. At his inaugural prayer breakfast, Jeb turns to his mother, shakes his head and lowers his voice. "When I came into the world and woke up, there I was, lying right next to Barbara Bush."

He was not as mischievous as George W., but could be bold and unpredictable. "Jebby is going to need some help I am sure," his father wrote in 1971. "He is a free and independent spirit and I don't want him to get totally out of touch with the family."


There is one word for Leibovich's performance and the Post's enabling thereof: A disgrace. If he's not embarrassed by this article, then I'll be embarrassed for him.

I wonder if Leibovich and his bosses know that the entire Bush clan, and their despicable minions in Congress, the Republican Party, and the conservative media writ large are laughing their asses off at his gullible little show.

We are living in what I have begun calling the Age of Unseriousness. Americans wake up and every day read "news" written by clowns who either don't know, or don't care, that they are being used and treated as such by lawmakers at every level of government.

Worse, too many Americans have swallowed -- hook, line, and sinker -- the pervasive lie that the media is populated by radical, left-wing, anti-American zealots intent upon destroying the heart and soul of this country. With once-great newspapers sinking into still deeper depths of obsequiousness, we all lose, and we lose much, including those who are ignorantly unwilling or unable to see the degradation -- the debasement and defiling -- of democracy that is occurring all around us, and with alarming frequency and intensity.

I once thought the phrase "free press" referred to the media's central role in supporting democracy through an adversarial relationship with lawmakers -- with power -- that enabled the particularly well informed and well positioned to ask the kinds of questions -- and demand answers to them -- that if posed by the average citizen would be ignored or dishonestly answered.

No, I don't mean that the media must cynically and cruelly criticize everyone and everything. But are we as citizens of a free republic well served by newspapers and broadcasters and cable networks run and populated by people who think the term "free press" means "a free ride"? I don't think so. And I've had enough.

[Post-publication addendum (February 26): A reader writes suggesting I've missed Leibovich's joke; i.e., that the article was written "tongue in cheek." What do you think?]

[Post-publication addendum (February 28): By the way, have you bought your copy of Eric Alterman's What Liberal Media?. No? What the hell are you waiting for?]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


At This Point, Who Cares?

I have to hand it to Salon. Even as critics write epitaphs for this once-promising venture, the online "magazine" continues to drift haplessly, trying one ill-considered maneuver after another. Still searching for its voice, Salon lately appears to be grasping at each and every half-baked idea thrown up by even the most junior members of its editorial staff during what were no doubt countless "brainstorming" sessions during the past seven or eight years.

It's almost painful to watch. Just when you think Salon can't become any less relevant, any more ridiculous, any less coherent, or any more laughable, the editors throw still more jetsam and flotsam over the side. To wit:

An interview with Chris Matthews, the hardest blowing of Washington's blowhards: "Must-viewing," Salon's Joan Walsh writes of Matthews's show, "Hardball."

An interview with -- or extended soliloquy by -- Camille Paglia, "It Girl" circa 1990.

"Idiocy of the Week," contributed by Andrew Sullivan, a regular column culled from the depths of his weblog that, believe it or not, is not autobiographical. (Here's a tip, Mr. Talbot: Don't hire writers who have gleefully and gratuitously trashed you in the past. They're unlikely to deliver you their best work.)

Amy Reiter's bizarre fixation upon one Rebecca Romijn-Stamos: 30 cites!

I could go on. And on. And on.

I can't for the life of me imagine how Salon can call itself a "magazine." This is a site that never found its voice, its niche, its purpose, nor even its reason for being. "Let's be everything to everyone," seemed to be the closest thing to a mission statement these people ever came up with. "It's the web! The world is our audience. If you post it, they will come!"

You know, people believed that tripe back in 1998 and 1999, possibly even into the early months of 2000, but they don't any longer. And they are all the wiser for it.

The writing has been on the wall for months, years even. These prescient words about Salon were written last June by Neil Morton in Shift:

It [Salon] was once one of the more relevant and influential sites on the web. It was once the place to go to find the most intelligent, original, lively stories. It was once, as they say on their site, a "unique and irreverent voice." It was once a must-read.

But even though Salon is still read by millions -- tens of thousands have signed up for its premium service -- and even though it's still getting awards, if you talk to people who've read it over the years, not too many will disagree with the fact that the site has lost its way of late. No longer do you arrive in the office and hear a colleague say, "Hey, did you see that piece that ran on Salon today?" No longer do you find daily links to Salon's articles on your favourite [sic] weblog or portal.

Morton's was a harsh, but fair, assessment, though one that was a bit too generous, including, as it did, this regrettably eager notice of an upcoming Salon "publishing event," one that turned out to be, well, little more than desperate hype:

[E]very once in a while, Salon does still come through with a zinger -- like the long-planned electronic book by John Dean that will supposedly unmask the real Deep Throat on the 30th anniversary of the Watergate break-in. But now it's the exception, not the rule.

Supposedly being the key word here.

What's most interesting about Morton's June 2002 critique is how clearly he saw the future and the forces that foretold Salon's now-imminent demise:

[I]t comes down to is this: Salon can either continue to move in the direction they're moving -- which is nowhere -- or they can return to their roots. It's not a question of having to re-invent themselves, it's a question of getting back the zest for journalism they had only a couple years ago. . . .

As things stand now, there's a pile of weblogs -- yes, weblogs -- that are doing a lot more relevant, thought-provoking stuff than the stale Salon. And they're doing so with zero staff, zero resources, zero dollars. Salon should be doing far more with what they have.

The web needs Salon, but not in its current state, which, contrary to what Talbot et al. might think, isn't hip and isn't much fun. The site can make a difference again -- there are plenty of compelling untold stories to be told in this day and age -- but something has to give.

Or maybe the powers-that-be are happy to carry on the site in its current state. If that's the case, some of us would just as soon see Salon fold up the tent and call it a day. So what's it going to be, Mr. Talbot?

Morton was right about the blogs then, and his observations are even more to the point today, even if he didn't follow them to their logical conclusion. Off the top of my head I can count a dozen bloggers whose work I prefer over the "pundits" published -- or, in some cases, more accurately, republished -- by Salon, and even over the highest-paid pundits peddled by some of the nation's leading newspapers and syndicates.

It's a shame, really, perhaps even an embarrassing disgrace, that Salon, which tried to latch on to the blogging phenomenon by setting up a "pay to" site for those who caught the bug, failed to search that same blogosphere for the fresh, creative, and original voices that could have generated, well, fresh, creative, and original content -- that is, content not of the rehashed variety -- for its own pages.

In the event the enterprise known as Salon does come to an end, I'd like to say on its behalf that it will be remembered fondly. But I can't. Salon will be so remembered by precious few and by even fewer who never collected a check from its indiscriminate coffers. In fact, I suspect several years from now the only people who will remember Salon at all are the company's unfortunate shareholders and the lesser writers who milked the site for everything they could.

These are the ways of the publishing business, as I know from firsthand experience: I worked for a magazine that went under some 18 months ago. It's not pleasant, even when, as in the case of Salon, the demise is so richly deserved. We'll all carry on just fine, I think, but let's not rush to rank Salon with the great and glorious, but now no longer, magazines of yesteryear. It hasn't earned that lofty status.

[Note: See also, Atrios, at Eschaton: "An Open Letter to Salon."]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Saturday, February 22, 2003  

When Blogging Takes Over Your Life

I'm beginning to wonder whether I've been blogging for too long. Or at the very least, whether blogging occupies too large a portion of my life. Or whether I'm just some obsessive-compulsive nut. Read on.

Earlier this evening I went to hear the Philadelphia Orchestra in a performance in Verizon Hall at the still rather new Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts.

On the program:

Wolfgang Rihm, Spiegel und Fluss, Postlude and Prelude for Orchestra. (U.S. premier.)

Jean Sibelius, Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47. Soloist: Midori.

Arnold Schoenberg, Pelleas und Melisande, Op. 5.

A foggy winter night. A beautiful hall. A full house. A terrific program. Choice seats. What more could I ask for? A clear head, for one thing. Despite the wonderful surroundings and beautiful music, I repeatedly found my mind wandering, not to the mysteries of musical genius, nor to the night's awesome displays of artistic expression, but to what I might blog about the experience.

I tried, I tried very hard, to stop thinking about my rinky-dink web sites, my little soapboxes for the world, or that small portion of the world that has made its way here one time or another. Nobody really cares what I think. And, after all, I'm hardly an expert on the subjects at hand. And yet the little voice came back to me again and again: Blog this . . . Blog this. I started forming sentences, even full paragraphs, in my head. A particularly good line, one that has since escaped me, had me checking my pockets, in vain, for a pen.

I noticed my mind drifting during the opening piece by Rihm, but I thought little of it. Spiegel und Fluss ran about 20 minutes and, as is often the case with contemporary compositions, it held little appeal for me. This is not to say that Rihm's is not a brilliant work. It very well may be. It's just that I was lost after the first 10 or 15 seconds, the first measures of the work which conductor Christoph Eschenbach, during his introductory remarks, described as a wood block acting as a metaphor for a ticking clock. To me it sounded more like heavy raindrops -- I suppose the irregularity of the supposed "ticking clock" threw me -- and I couldn't resolve the contradiction.

On, then, to Sibelius. The Violin Concerto (Op. 47) is not a work with which I am familiar, though I may have heard it previously. It is truly a masterpiece, and I was pleased to hear Midori performing as solist. Midori is in her early 30s now, which surprised me. Time surely flies. She's not the child prodigy who made her professional debut in 1982 with the New York Philharmonic, but she remains an impressive performer.

Midori played standing, and without benefit of sheet music, of course. To me she appeared to join the composition itself, bobbing, weaving, bending, swaying, and coursing to the strains of Sibelius's masterpiece. When Midori puts the bow to her Guarnerius del Gesù "ex-Huberman" (1794) -- actually, it's not really her instrument: it's on "lifetime loan" to Midori from the Hayashibara Foundation -- she seems to enter a parallel, or perhaps über, universe that mere mortals like me will never know.

As for Verizon Hall, it's beautiful. It is a wonderful place -- at least from a visual perspective -- to hear the orchestra. That said, and I'm quick to add that I am by no means an expert on the finer, or even the most basic, points of orchestral acoustics, I was a little disappointed. I thought the orchestra sounded muffled, subdued, artificially restrained. Granted, this was the first performance I attended at Verizon, so I wasn't going to rush to judgment, particularly as I consider myself unqualified to render one.

Still, I wondered. So I did what any good blogger would do: I Google'd it.

And I come to find out that my amateurish misgivings about the acoustics in Verizon Hall were the subject of considerable discussion, albeit in more sophisticated and learned language, in the initial reviews of the hall late in 2001. More recently, even after some adjustments were made, Verizon's acoustics were still found wanting, particularly -- Just my luck! -- for someone sitting in, well, the seat I had:

"The most poorly balanced sound is found near the cellolike curves of the walls. Beware, too, of the seats in the rear of the orchestra, facing the conductor. They're instructive for observing the mechanics of a performance, but don't provide a balanced sound picture," wrote Peter Dobrin and David Patrick Stearns last fall in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Figures. But that's fine, really, because now that I've been to the hall I have a clearer understanding of the seating options. I'll make a better choice next time. And, yes, there definitely will be a next time, but I probably won't blog about it.


A few miscellaneous blogger-type observations and/or questions arising from the performance:

Why do orchestras tune off the oboe? Of all instruments, the oboe? I played the oboe for a few years in junior or senior high school, or straddling the two, I can't remember now, and I considered myself lucky to honk out a decent "A" for my own satisfaction, let alone for the rest of the band to match up with. Perhaps Madeleine Kane, herself once a professional oboist, can answer this question?

[Post-publication addendum (February 23): And so she did. (I knew she was hours away from retiring for the day.) Madeleine Begun Kane, oboist, lawyer, comedian, writes: "Orchestras tune to the oboe these days out of tradition. But the original reason was that the oboe was considered the least adjustable instrument of the orchestra. String players almost invariably claim the oboe A is too low, no matter whether it's an A 440, 442, 444, etc. [Ed.: Uh-huh.] And most violinists tend to tune a shade higher than the oboist, because a higher pitch sounds brighter, which they consider preferable. [Ed.: Uh-huh. Excuse me? No, but keep going.] As you can imagine, many a concertmaster and first oboist have nearly come to blows over tuning." (Actually, Mad, the preferred term for the horrific scene you just described, at least around the Review's offices, is "fisticuffs." [See second item.])]

I often look at violists with amazement. Particularly the men. No, not the men generally, but the men with really thick fingers. You see, about ten years ago, in a brief and misguided attempt to pursue one of many roads not taken in my life, I rented a violin and began taking lessons. (My apologies, once again, to my friends and neighbors.) Let me tell you, the violin, once it's in your hands and under your neck, is much smaller than you think. And those strings are amazingly close to each other. So how is it that men (and, presumably, at least some women) with fingers twice the width of mine can navigate the same strings that my skinny fingers found so perplexing?

Is there some sort of union rule that the timpani can only be played by a man with long hair? This has been the case with virtually every American orchestra I have heard during the past 20-plus years. (I should clarify with regard to this evening: I was only wearing one contact lens, so my vision was impaired. The timpani player may have been a woman. But I'm pretty sure I saw a tuxedo jacket and tie back there.)

[Post-publication addendum (February 26): A review of the Philadelphia Orchestra's concert by David Patrick Stearns, based on the performance of Thursday, February 21, was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer on February 22: "Eschenbach Gives Color to Rihm."]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Just Not My Social Security Number

I admit it. On the subject of my Social Security number I am a full-fledged crank. I am asked for the number too often. I am asked for the number by persons, businesses, and organizations that have no immediately recognizable use for it other than their own convenience. And I refuse, as a matter of principle, to provide my SSN in such situations.

Here's a good explanation, albeit not comprehensive, of the use and misuse of the SSN from Privacy Rights Clearinghouse:

Do I have to provide my Social Security number to private businesses?

Usually you are not legally compelled to provide your Social Security number to private businesses -- including private health care providers and insurers -- unless you are involved in a transaction in which the Internal Revenue Service requires notification. . . .

There is no law, however, that prevents businesses from requesting your SSN, and there are few restrictions on what businesses can do with it. But even though you are not required to disclose your SSN, the business does not have to provide you with service if you refuse to release it.

If a business insists on knowing your Social Security number when you cannot see a reason for it, speak to an administrator who may be authorized to make an exception or who may know that company policy does not require it. If the company will not allow you to use an alternate number, you may want to take your business elsewhere.

What brings up this issue now?

A recent visit to the veterinarian.

I took Mildred to a local vet to check on a few minor medical problems. As this was our first visit to this particular office, I was asked to fill out a form to provide the vet with the usual information: name, address, phone number, dog's medical history, and so forth.

Near the top of the form, this jumped out at me:

Social Security Number:

I assumed -- correctly, it turns out -- they were asking for mine, not Mildred's.

Like hell. What conceivable reason does a veterinarian have for asking for my SSN? I couldn't think of one, so I left that space blank.

After reviewing the form, the receptionist called me to the desk.

"We need your Social Security number," she said.

"What for?"

"For our records," she said.

"Oh, I'm sorry. Are there tax implications to this visit of which I'm not aware?"

"Huh?" she asked. And that's a direct quote.

"Why do you need my Social Security number?"

"So that we can find your records in our files," she offered.

"Isn't that why you asked for my name?"

"Yes, but more than one person can have the same name," the receptionist said.

[At this point I interject. The office in which I was standing is, I assure you, the world's smallest veterinary clinic. Or at least the smallest I've ever encountered. It's not even open every weekday. The place isn't exactly overflowing with patients. (Which, I would add, shouldn't necessarily reflect poorly on the vet in question, since he is one of the best I've met in my life.) The notion that someone sharing my name would soon pay a visit is so remote as to be ridiculous on its face.]

"Well, I really don't feel it's necessary."

"It will make things easier for everyone," she pleaded.

"I'm sorry. No."

She relented. And so, rather than typing in a nine-digit number the receptionist can from now on type in a nine-digit last name: C-a-p-o-z-z-o-l-a. Fine.

That was the end of it. Or so I thought.

When it came time to pay for the visit I noticed that my last name was misspelled on the bill, and hence, in the vet's records: C-a-p-p-o-z-o-l-a.

I foresee endless frustration ahead.

I wonder if she did it on purpose.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


How Not to Proselytize

I'm a fairly religious guy -- lately, at least -- and the quintessential "cafeteria Catholic," if you will, and I won't feel badly about that no matter what the likes of William Bennett, William F. Buckley Jr., Rod Dreher, and their ilk may say.

(I'm sure by now at least some readers have heard about Bennett cheating on the pop quiz recently given him by CNN's Wolf Blitzer. If you missed it, Charles Pierce has the goods. The Pope was not speaking "ex cathedra," Bishop Bennett asserted, no doubt impressing Blitzer and most of the audience -- watching and cheering, as is the case with virtually any program on CNN these days -- at the Pentagon. What I'd like to know is whether Bennett actually believed what he was saying -- in which case, he can no longer, to the extent he ever was, be taken seriously on matters Catholic -- or whether he knew he was fudging -- in which case, he's just another right-wing liar.)

Several articles I've read in various Catholic books and periodicals over the past few months suggest that I have been woefully inadequate in evangelizing, sharing my faith with others, and urging friends and colleagues to examine Catholicism with an eye toward perhaps one day converting.

Guilty as charged. Look, it's just not my thing. I believe everyone will find his own way in his own time, led not by his fellow man, but by God.

Twice this week I was reminded of my discomfort with proselytizing, at least as it is most commonly practiced in contemporary American society.

At a certain intersection in Center City Philadelphia there stands a middle-aged woman, all day, and all day alone, pressing religious tracts upon passersby. Although I admire, in an odd way, the strength of faith that motivates her, I have doubts about her effectiveness.

And, frankly, I wonder about her sanity. (To be fair, I often wonder about my own.) With her eyes glazed over, she constantly mutters under her breath -- including several words that I doubt her Lord would be pleased to hear -- and expresses righteous indignation, nay, contempt, toward some who cross her path. I feel safe in assuming that hers is not a church to which I would care to belong.

And yesterday, while taking care of some errands I was stopped by a young woman who appeared to want to ask me for directions or the time. I was wrong.

"Do you know Jesus?" she asked me.

I paused, and, not having blogged anything particularly snarky that day, my sarcastic streak emerged: "You mean the guy who owns that electronics store on Walnut Street?" I responded.

She was not amused. But then, neither was I.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Sullivan's Professional Suicide Continues Unabated

For his own sake, I hope Andrew Sullivan has stowed away the $80,000 his readers frittered away in his direction, because if he keeps at it he'll never be published anywhere -- at least not anywhere respectable again.

Here's Sullivan, on Thursday, burning yet another of his britches bridges, this one going by the name of Tina Brown:

Imagine if a male writer used similarly sexist language to describe, say, Tina Brown's administration at the New Yorker. Imagine sentences like this: "Wouldn't it be better if there had been more men at the New Yorker in the `90s? And I don't mean Tina's neutered gay male flunkies. Brown's flitty attention span, bouts of editorial PMS, hysterical responses to criticism[,] and general whorishness toward publicists and celebrities made for a very menstrual management style." It would never be written. It should never be written. It's sexist, dumb[,] and almost meaningless. But in all those respects, it's indistinguishable from Tina's latest column.

Yes, let's imagine someone writing sentences like those. It would never happen! It should never happen!

And yet it just did.

But Sullivan was merely establishing a hypothetical, you say. It's not as if he were actually saying those things. Yeah, right. If you buy that I have a used copy of Slander for you. This isn't just his latest bout of the "maidenly vapors." Sullivan ratcheted up the insults using some of the most venomous, bilious, and misogynist language I've encountered in years.

One can't help but wonder what's causing Sullivan's seemingly uncontrolled rage. Could it be . . . ? Nah.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, February 21, 2003  

Critical Thinking on the American Right

Slate, the happy little home of cranky little Mickey Kaus, recently asked a group of presumably well-informed and for the most part newsworthy Americans whether they support or oppose a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Here's my personal favorite:

Charles Murray is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

I'm in favor, for the reasons that the administration argues.

I guess that's why they call A.E.I. a think tank.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, February 19, 2003  

The Latest Evidence

Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge today urged Americans to assemble an emergency kit including a three-day supply of food, flashlights, batteries, medicine, and other supplies -- Don't forget the duct tape and pre-measured plastic sheeting! -- in preparation for a possible chemical- or biological-weapons attack.

Proving Secretary Ridge is as irrelevant as he looks, President Bush on Saturday urged his fellow Americans to "go about their lives," lives that, last I checked, rarely if ever included trips to Home Depot for third-rate protection against anthrax and ricin.

Question: My building forbids residents to cover their gigantic windows with plastic sheeting of any type. Is this rule suspended by fiat in the event of a terrorist attack? Or must I wait for approval from building management following the monthly meeting on rules, regulations, and rants?

May I install such sheeting, without the building's permission, when the president's morning flash card is ORANGE or must I wait until the eagerly anticipated RED card has been dealt?

Or must I wait until confirmation that such an attack has occurred?

Just asking. Trying to be prepared, you know.


Andrew Sullivan is calling the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), the "Baghdad Broadcasting Corporation."



Fodder for TBogg.


Matthew Yglesias, precocious undergraduate, issues his determination that Pope John Paul II is actively collaborating -- Actively collaborating! -- with the Iraqi government. (To be more specific, the phrase used in the post was "collaborate actively.")

A Goldhagen wannabe, I guess.

There are reasons adults pay no attention to college kids.

[Post-publication addendum (February 20): I did it again. I broke one of my cardinal rules of blogging: Don't blog while angry. I wasn't angry at the blogger in question when I wrote this; I reserve anger for serious matters, in this instance, my eyes. Yes, I was angry with my eyes, which have been beset by a mysterious and extremely painful infection that has me blogging without either my contact lenses or my eyeglasses. (I'm so nearsighted I can't find them. If you're in the neighborhood and care to search my apartment for me, please do.) There's nothing like writing with one's face two inches from the monitor to spark intolerable levels of frustration. Anyway, I realize now I was a tad harsh with young Matt, so I've toned it down a bit. Unfair of me to change course now? Perhaps. If you want to read the original text, let me know.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, February 18, 2003  

The Road From Baghdad Leads . . . Pretty Much Everywhere

The U.S. has yet to wage its holy war upon Iraq and already we're being prepped for the next three wars. The road from Baghdad, it is now beyond clear, runs next to Tehran, then to Damascus, and then to Tripoli.

An astute reader of the New Republic, Commentary, and the op-ed pages of the New York Times and Washington Post, already knows this, of course. Nonetheless, it is alarming, to say the least, to hear the drumbeats of war being thumped with such mindless aggression before the first warheads have been dropped on those Iraqi targets so bloodthirstily selected by the most crazed elements within the Pentagon and the National Security Council.

And it will come as no surprise that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is exhorting the Bush administration to shift its current hawkish stance toward one more closely resembling wholesale insanity.

Jerusalem's Ha'aretz today reports ("Sharon Says U.S. Should Also Disarm Iran, Libya") that the Israeli leader told visiting American lawmakers that once we -- the U.S., that is -- are done with Iraq, our focus must move to Iran, Libya, and Syria.

"These are irresponsible states, which must be disarmed of weapons mass destruction, and a successful American move in Iraq as a model will make that easier to achieve," Sharon said.

And in a meeting with U.S. Undersecretary of State John Bolton on Monday, Sharon relayed Israel's concerns about Iran, emphasizing that its security concerns regarding the Tehran regime should not be disregarded while American attention was focused on Iraq.

"Bolton, who is undersecretary for arms control and international security, is in Israel for meetings on preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," Ha'aretz reported with what may or may not have been unintentional irony given Israel's refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Among Washington's happiest happy warriors, Bolton assured Sharon that Syria would be offered the opportunity to prove it is not a threat to other nations -- Where have we heard this before? -- and that dealing with the threat from North Korea is not being ignored, only postponed. That's the fourth war to come, I suppose.

Apparently eager to hear from Israelis representing a wide range of opinions, Bolton also met with Foreign Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Housing and Construction Minister Natan Sharansky. This is a joke, right?

Will someone please put this guy on a leash? Or, dare I ask, is he already on one?

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


World News Anchor Has a Savitch Attack

I don't really know why I'm blogging this, but earlier this morning I was listening to the World News Bulletin, an online broadcast from the BBC World Service. (Go listen sometime. The program is informative and concise -- it lasts about five minutes -- and simply by listening to the BBC you're thumbing your nose at scores of wing-nuts and warbloggers.)

Anyway, near the end of the broadcast the anchorwoman had some kind of a Jessica Savitch-like meltdown. I couldn't tell if she was crying or perhaps just needed to sneeze really badly or what, but her voice quivered, she paused repeatedly, and it took nearly 30 seconds for her to regain her composure and finish the program.

It was very strange and I felt sorry for her.

What I can't understand is why the BBC left the broadcast, of a program that is updated at least once an hour, archived on its web site so that more and more people could hear the anchor's unfortunate performance.

Maybe it was nothing. Regardless, the broadcast has been removed by the BBC and I didn't catch the anchor's name.

I'm sure you all found this fascinating, so I'll be certain to do some follow-up reporting on the situation.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Defining Decency Down

"We are living in a time and a country where boundaries of decent behavior are collapsing all around us." -- Bill O'Reilly of Fox News, writing in Monday's New York Daily News.

Click here for more about collapsing boundaries of decent behavior brought to you by the very same Bill "Shut up! Shut up! Cut his mic! Cut his mic!" O'Reilly.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Washington Post Takes Notice of Philadelphia Travesty

The travesty being wrought upon Independence Hall and Independence National Park by the National Park Service, joined, at least initially, by the administration of Mayor John F. Street (D), is beginning to draw attention beyond Philadelphia.

"Independence Behind Bars in Philly," by Robert Strauss, in Monday's edition of the Washington Post, is the first article I've seen about the controversy in that newspaper or in any major newspaper outside this city. (Unfortunately, the photo that accompanies the article barely hints at the mess the Park Service has made.)

A few excerpts:

"The shrine of liberty and freedom [Independence Hall], and it looks like Beirut in the Lebanese civil war," said Maria Butler, a retired history teacher from Indiana who returned to Philadelphia expressly to see the historic area. "What are they thinking?"

It is not only visitors to Independence Hall, but also neighbors and politicians in the crowded area surrounding it, who are upset by Mayor Street's decision last December to close the block of Chestnut Street between Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell Pavilion to all motor and foot traffic.

That decision came at the behest of the National Park Service, which administers Independence Hall and historic buildings around it as Independence National Historical Park. The Park Service said a security analysis had determined that a car bomb detonated on the street would cause "heavy to severe damage [and] significant loss of life."

But those protesting the move say that the mayor and Park Service may have slightly different agendas and that, at any rate, the metal and concrete barriers hardly enhance the security of the historic building where the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were debated and signed.

"Functionally, what they have done is shut down the most important symbol of freedom we have for no good reason," said Judge Edward R. Becker, chief of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit, whose office a block away overlooks Independence Hall. "Tourists think it looks awful. Locals think it is scary. . . ."

Although Washingtonians may debate the closing of 16th Street N.W., at least the White House lies outside major commercial or residential neighborhoods and is near other wide avenues.

But Center City Philadelphia, where Independence National Historical Park lies, is a warren of narrow streets and narrower alleys. Thousands of people live and work in the area surrounding the park. The one-way traffic patterns and the streets that stop for a block and then pick up again are baffling enough for locals, let alone visitors, and the closing of that block of Chestnut Street has been a nightmare for business owners, residents and even the city transit system.

Ann Meredith, a local businesswoman interviewed by the Post, notes the ironies: Philadelphia recently spent $14 million to improve traffic on Chestnut Street, and both Fifth and Sixth Streets, on the east and west sides, respectively, of Independence Hall and only a few yards from the building, remain open to traffic, leaving the site equally vulnerable to an attack as it would be from the closed section of Chestnut Street.

Many Philadelphians wonder whether closing Chestnut Street is part of a larger agenda of the National Park Service, which has advocated closing all streets surrounding Independence Park. "But this isn't Yellowstone. It's a real city. That's what the charm of it is. I don't think the Park Service understands that," the Post quotes Kevin Meeker, a local restauranteur.

Mayor Street last week visited the neighborhood for the first time since September 11, 2001. (Yes, for the first time, and it's all of eight blocks from his office.) Some local residents and business owners who spoke with Mayor Street during his tour believe he was swayed by their arguments in favor of reopening Chestnut Street.

"It is the mayor's decision whether to close the street," the Post notes, "and he is being urged to overturn it by Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who lives in the city, and Gov. Edward G. Rendell (D), a former Philadelphia mayor who said of the barriers: 'It looks like we are cowering in dread. It looks like al Qaeda has won.'"

Hell, the place looks so bad, I'd almost say it looks like Al Qaeda has come and gone.

Contact information:
Mayor John Street: (215) 686-2181; e-mail
Sen. Arlen Specter: (202) 224-4254; e-mail
Gov. Edward G. Rendell: (717) 787-5962; e-mail

[Thanks to Julia of Sisyphus Shrugged for bringing the Post article to my attention.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, February 17, 2003  

Maybe It Was Just a Myth All Along

Gov. Sonny Purdue (R) last week, on Lincoln's Birthday no less, announced his (sort of) promised plan to submit the design of the state flag to Georgia voters.

"Georgia is a somewhat divided house on what symbol represents it on the flag. This is an issue that should be healed as soon as possible," Gov. Purdue said.

The governor's proposal would put two questions to Georgia voters during the March 2004 presidential primaries: one asking whether the current flag, adopted two years ago, should be changed, the second allowing them to express their preference for the flag dating from 1956 (this is the flag with the Confederate battle emblem prominently displayed) or the version that preceded it.

The results of the referendum would not be binding; a change would require the approval of the Georgia General Assembly.

Gov. Purdue, masterfully speaking -- as he has in the past on this issue -- out of both sides of his ass mouth, said, "I think it's in the best interest of Georgia to deal with this issue as soon as possible. I would really hope we as Georgians can remain open-minded on both sides of this issue." [Emphasis added.]

I know. They talk funny down there, don't they?

In response to Gov. Purdue's announcement, the Savannah Morning News launched an online poll asking readers to select their preferred design.

Guess which version of the Georgia state flag is carrying the day in the Morning News poll?

Maybe the Freeper crowd is stuffing the "ballot box." Maybe malfunctioning "voting booths" have spread north from Florida. Or maybe the modern and progressive "New South" was just a myth all along.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |