The Rittenhouse Review

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2003  


I’ll see you back here in September, after Labor Day. I’m taking the rest of the week off. Just for the heck of it.

In the meantime, visit the blogs listed on the right, maybe buy a few books through (using the link on the sidebar, of course), hit the tip box, and maybe troll through the archives.

Have a great weekend.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Sunday, August 24, 2003  

And It Hurts More Than I Thought

I lost a friend this week. A new friend. A good and close friend? I had hoped and thought so. I was wrong, but I’m often wrong on this issue. Friendship, I mean.

Except for a brief period in the early- to mid-`90s, I’ve never had what one might call a large group of friends in my life. More often I traveled within a small circle of very good, trusted, and loyal friends.

And that was okay. It really was. And it is now, too.

Of course, many of those from the `90s who I thought were my friends are now nearly perfect strangers. And that’s okay too.

But drifting apart from old friends is something quite different from having a nasty falling out with an especially good friend.

The last friend I lost in such manner -- before this week I mean -- I had known for something like eight years.

I was living in Washington, D.C., at the time we met, accidentally and fortuitously, at a Manhattan restaurant known for its respectable food, attractive crowd, and painfully close quarters.

That night I was having dinner with my friend B.A. and shortly after being seated we met the man and the woman, longstanding friends of each other, sitting at the next table, not six inches to my right and to B.A.’s left. It wasn’t all that difficult an acquaintance to make since we could hear every word of their conversation and they could listen in on every word of ours.

I bonded immediately with both of them, particularly the woman, who shall remain nameless. The four of us spent the rest of the evening sharing our plates, telling our life stories, and making each other laugh. After dinner we stayed out until the late hours, hitting several of New York’s then most-popular gay nightspots.

Over time my friendship with the woman grew stronger; it was one of those rare, precious, and somewhat strange instant connections. We found we had much in common. I treasured our friendship. I thought of her often and telephoned her with varying frequency, calls she returned with intermittent regularity. When we did connect, either by phone or in person, our conversations often lasted hours. For years we both fostered the relationship as best we could, given our busy schedules and the geographic distance separating us. My subsequent move to New York helped bring us closer, and I was pleased by that.

Sadly, our friendship ended early in 2000. And the end was ugly. Very ugly. All the more ugly because the termination arose, I believe, in large part through the deceitful machinations of my then ex, a man who left me in January 2000 after a three-year relationship, and who subsequently, I am convinced, set upon a course of destroying this cherished friendship to his own twisted advantage, a not unfamiliar life pattern for him.

Lies were told. Half-truths were peddled. Misconceptions were fostered. Misunderstandings were promoted. I felt abused, mistreated, and powerless, tossed about like a little pawn in an immature children’s game of Chutes & Ladders. And so she, who for so long had been my friend and confidant, much to my surprise and dismay, chose to become his instead.

Well, congratulations to both of you. You deserve each other, assuming, of course, you’re still friends, an assumption in which I place little faith given the shallowness and selfishness of both parties involved.

I learned much from that mess. Perhaps I didn’t learn enough, though, because as I said, this week I again lost a friend, a man who, like some other now-former friends, acted toward me with surprising and unconscionable immaturity, greed, and dishonesty, his actions simply unforgivable. I trust others too easily. And while admittedly misanthropic, I too quickly think the best of others and misguidedly expect the same in return. I let people take advantage of me.

It feels funny to be my age and to still feel so hurt when betrayed by a friend. Frienships aren’t supposed to be all that important to me now. I’m expected to be strong, mature, independent, and self-reliant. But he’s gone now, and, in a weird way -- a way that I will never feel about my ex and my one-time dinner partner and friend -- I wish my newest, or latest, former friend the very best of everything. I truly do. I will miss you, K.R.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, August 22, 2003  

A No-Blogging Friday

It’s Friday, it’s hot, and I don’t much feel like blogging.

So, if you haven’t already, go read Beth Gillin’s article about Philadelphia bloggers in Thursday’s Inquirer.

It’s a great piece and a couple of good friends of mine are featured, getting the attention they deserve for jobs well done.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, August 21, 2003  

She’s Just a Dog, For Christ’s Sake.
Or Is She?
In Defense of the Best Bulldog Ever.

Okay, so I know earlier today I took some mild offense when Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Beth Gillin suggested one of the primary topics of conversation here at Rittenhouse is my Bulldog, Mildred, so it is with at least some sense of sheepishness, I present, herewith, a post about, well, Mildred.

You know, nothing, or almost nothing, pisses me off more than when a stranger, or a near stranger, who sees my beloved Mildred on the street or elsewhere, takes it upon him or herself to issue the verdict, no jury involved, that Mildred is fat.

Now, as I’ve said before, Mildred, throughout her life, has had to deal, as many other women have, with those “pesky extra five pounds,” though, as I’ve also said before, in Mildred’s case, it’s more like those “pesky extra ten pounds.”

Look, she’s dealing with it as best she can, as am I. But I couldn’t care less, as least from an aesthetic point of view. So she’s, uh, full-figured, curvaceous, Rubenesque, if you will. I don’t care. To me, she’s nothing less than gorgeous.

To me, she is the most beautiful thing God ever created. And I sure as hell don’t care when some steroidally über-“masculated” trainer-by-profession who lives in my building calls Mildred “a hippo” [!!!] -- this from a man who is regularly seen walking at least one, and sometimes two, yapping and totally annoying, little Chihuahuas. [Ed.: Note to self: You’re going to get lots of e-mail.]

Remember that beautiful phrase in the Bible about God having numbered every hair on our heads? (Good, because I can’t find it now, though I’m sure an obliging reader will send me the chapter and verse.) I never really understood that statement, despite the fact that it was read from the dais rather frequently while I was away from the Catholic Church and attending Christian Science services.

And yet one night, while trying to get to sleep, I was staring at Mildred, who aways sleeps on my bed, and who was, of course, already sleeping, and, of course, snoring heavily, and I looked at her hands. (Actually, her “front paws,” as one of her veterinarians corrected me when I “mistakenly” referred to a condition as having affected Mildred’s “hands and feet.” Oops!)

Anyway, as I was looking at the underside of her front hands/paws, I noticed the beautiful arrangement of each and every hair on the underside of said hand/paw.

It was, to me at least, a miraculous moment. And the Bible’s talk of numbered hairs suddenly made sense. It was so beautiful, so perfect, so amazing. There is, truly, a God, I thought. And God made Mildred. And God made Mildred perfect, and God made Mildred perfectly, those “pesky ten pounds” notwithstanding.

Sadly, my church teaches that Mildred has a legitimate soul but not an immortal soul, and thus, if they’re right about that, and, sorry, Catholic as I try to be, I believe there’s a good chance they’re wrong, Mildred and I will not share eternity together. There is not a point, a sentence, a phrase, nor a clause in either the Catechism nor the Magisterium that I hope is more misguided or misinformed.

So, there you have it, readers, for what it is or isn’t worth, yet another post about my dog Mildred.

[Post-publication addendum (August 23): This afternoon I found the reference in the Bible to God having counted all the hairs on our heads. Actually, the reference appears in two different places, in slightly different forms, in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. In conveying this particular message, Jesus Christ was teaching his followers about the need to maintain courage in the face of persecution. But in doing so he reminded his listeners that each of them is special, unique, and beloved in the eyes of God:

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Matthew 10:29-31; New American Bible.)

And as conveyed by St. Luke:

Are not five sparrows sold for two small coins? Yet not one of them has escaped the notice of God. Even the hairs of you head have all been counted. Do not be afraid. You are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7; NAB.)

I feel better now. That was really kind of bugging me.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Mainstreaming of the Rough Edges

Remember, way back when, when the inestimable TBogg, who writes from the cultural and intellectual wasteland known as “San Diego,” expressed just a tinge of jealousy over the multitude of intelligent, interesting, and fun Philadelphia bloggers? (No? Well, he did. And well he did.)

As if to give evidence to TBogg’s not-so-latent envy, Philadelphia Inquirer staff writer Beth Gillin today has a brief feature article in the daily magazine section of the Inquirer about local bloggers, “Booming Blogs.”

Gillin rounds up most of the usual suspects, including Adam Bonin of Throwing Things, Susan Madrak of Suburban Guerrilla, “Nicole” of Go Fish, and “Atrios” of Eschaton, among others. Yeah, I’m in there, too, mentioned in passing.

It’s a shame the Inquirer didn’t give Gillin more space for her article. She might have been able to mention my Philo-centric second blog, TRR: The Lighter Side of Rittenhouse, and perhaps something beyond my interest in my dog, Mildred, and my dying bonsai -- both, truth be told, minor subjects at Rittenhouse and TRR -- and on the way have had time to direct readers to all of the other interesting, provocative, thoughtful, even quirky, Philadelphia bloggers who deserve the attention not only of local readers, but of web surfers everywhere.

Gosh, now of whom could I be thinking? Well, there are, in no particular order:

Jesse Taylor of Pandagon

Timothy R. Gray of Pennsylvania Gazette

Jennifer Weiner of SnarkSpot

Karl Martino of Paradox1x

Fred Clark of Slacktivist

Mr. Poon” of Sugar, Mr. Poon?

LilBuchner” of With Karate…

Malcolm Friend of London Chimes

And many, many others.

TBogg’s hypothesis about Philly blogging, as expressed at his site in April, in a post entitled, “Two Bloggers Walk Into [sic] a Bar,” was this: “Apparently there is an impressive number of Philadelphia-based bloggers, caused, no doubt, by the high concentration of smart people combined with truly [expletive deleted] weather that keeps them inside, thinking and seething.”

He was right then, about the “high concentration of smart people,” of course, and about the weather, too. And in light of the horrible winter we had in Philadelphia, the fact we missed spring entirely, and this our miserable summer, he’s correct now, too.

So here we are, we Philadelphia bloggers, individually and collectively, still “inside,” still “thinking and seething,” and still blogging.

I trust and hope you are enjoying our efforts.

Hey, and don’t forget to hit the tip box on your way out.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Dog-and-Pony Show Plays Well With Law Enforcement

U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft took his dog-and-pony show on the road yesterday, launching in Philadelphia a month-long tour to promote the so-called Patriot Act, in Orwellian fashion choosing as his venue the city’s new -- and privately owned not-for-profit -- National Constitution Center -- where he spoke to a carefully selected group of regional law-enforcement authorities.

Thomas Ginsberg reports in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer (“Ashcroft: Patriot Act is Effective“):

Attorney General John Ashcroft went on the defensive yesterday over the government’s antiterrorism laws, telling Philadelphia-area authorities that, without the Patriot Act, “America will pay the price in lost liberty.”

“Make no mistake: Our strategy, our tactics, are working. Our tools are effective,” Ashcroft told about 200 area, state and federal officials at the National Constitution Center. “We are winning the war on terror.”

A strange remark, one would think, given the events of recent days, but no matter, the truth counts for little during Bush administration public relations campaigns, especially those aimed at drumming up the rapidly diminishing support for a rush job like the ill-conceived Patriot Act, a law that, as the Inquirer notes, faces a federal court challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union and that has been the subject of condemnatory resolutions in three states and 150 municipalities, including Philadelphia.

Besides, with the hubristically named “Victory Act” -- or “Patriot II,” which, appropriately, sounds more like a missile than a federal act -- waiting in the wings, it’s time to pull out all stops, even in the heat of August.

Ashcroft and his aides certainly picked the right audience for their dog-and-pony show. As Ginsburg reports:

The audience -- which included suburban and city police officers, Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham, and Pennsylvania Attorney General Mike Fisher -- interrupted Ashcroft once for applause when he congratulated them on their work and ended his speech with a standing ovation.

Yes, that’s Philadelphia’s own Lynne Abraham, the death penalty’s best friend, hooting it up with the rest of the boys.

But some in the gleefully cheering audience apparently were confused by the larger point of the speech, or are at least unfamiliar with the Bush administration’s modus operandi, fully on display in Philadelphia yesterday.

Take, for example, the clueless Joseph Carroll, district attorney for suburban Chester County.

According to Ginsburg, “Several area officials expressed admiration for Ashcroft and gratitude for his ‘pep talk,’ but uncertainty about his goal.”

One of those “uncertain” officials was Carroll, who said, “I expected a little more detail about his proposal” for expanding the Patriot Act.

Sorry, Mr. Carroll, as you may recall, White House marketing executive Andrew Card once said August isn’t really a good month for new product introductions. That’s better left for September, which, as it happens, is also when we’re all supposed to hear about Iraq’s pervasive program to develop and produce “weapons of mass destruction” on a mass scale, said by Prime Minister Tony Blair to be ready for deployment within 45 minutes.

[Post-publication addendum: For a paean to the Patriot Act, see the editorial, “Mr. Ashcroft’s Roadshow,” in today’s “liberal” Washington Post.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, August 18, 2003  

A Gaffe! A Gaffe! A Gaffe!

I don’t know how this story is playing outside Philadelphia. I took a quick look and found a little, and I’ll say that if there’s any hope at all for the American media this “story” is receiving no attention whatsoever. But here in the Cradle of Liberty, it’s being overplayed to the Al and Tipper Gore/“Love Story” hilt. (The talk-radio people, destined for lives on the lower end of AM dial, are the worst.)

Some background. Last week the Sheet Metal Workers Union hosted a forum, moderated by CNN’s Bill Press, that included seven of the declared and expected Democratic presidential contenders at the city’s new National Constitution Center on Independence Mall.

Among those attending was, of course, arguable frontrunner Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), who also happens already to have received the endorsement of the event’s sponsoring union.

Political traditions being what they are, it was no big surprise while in Philadelphia, Sen. Kerry trekked to South Philly to pay a visit to Pat’s King of Steaks for the ritual ordering and eating of a cheesesteak, a Philadelphia gastronomic I-don’t-know-what that most reasonable people get a hankering for about two or three times a year.

Well, if you haven’t heard already, while at Pat’s, Sen. Kerry committed . . . a gaffe!

While placing his order, Sen. Kerry, who may or may not be Jewish and who certainly is neither Irish nor Italian, committed the egregious error of asking for Swiss cheese on his sandwich.

As the Swiss might say, or at least some of them anyway, Mon dieu!, but there being either no readily identifiable or locatable Swiss community in Philadelphia, the local reaction was more along the lines of: “Dork.”

What was he thinking? the local media wise guys and gals are asking, jaws agape, and rushing to report that every Philadelphian is similarly shocked and appalled, and suitably embarrassed for the junior senator from Massachusetts.

After all, everyone knows that when you order a cheesesteak at Pat’s you can get it with or without cheese -- making the very name of the “delicacy” somewhat suspect from the start -- but at Pat’s they serve only one kind of cheese on their cheesesteaks, namely, Cheez Whiz, “a processed cheese food product” from Kraft Foods Inc. that I’m certain was never in my mother’s refrigerators and -- this is saying a lot -- has never been in mine either.

Keep in mind, this is how it works, this is how it’s done: If you visit Pat’s and you want cheese, meaning Cheez Whiz, on your cheesesteak, you say, “Whiz wit’.” Otherwise they laugh at you, mock you, send to the end of the line, post your photograph above their greasy grill, and so on and so forth. All in good fun; har-har-har. It’s considered high hilarity here. Actually, it’s another one of those silly things that either makes Philadelphia great or just plain sad.

Now, as far as socio-political faux pas go, this one probably ranks somewhere around that committed by Kennedy in-law (How else to identify him? Maria’s father?) Sargeant Shriver during the 1976 presidential primaries, also in Pennsylvania, but in Pittsburgh, not Philadelphia.

After a day of campaigning in Pittsburgh, Shriver stopped in a bar at the end of the steelmakers’ day shift, paying a visit to some of the hardest working of the working classes (back when the working classes had things like real jobs, healthcare, and pensions), a beer and boilermaker crowd if ever there were one appropriately assembled, and ordered a Courvoisier. (See the Washington Post’s recent story on cheesesteak-gate, which refers to the Courvoisier incident.)

“We ain’t got that,” the bartender reportedly responded to Shriver’s request. After which, I can only presume some nearly 30 years hence, that he quickly order an “I.C.” In a can. (Assuming, of course, there was a well-briefed handler nearby.)

On the topic of this more recent “gaffe” by Sen. Kerry, Don Russell, writing in the Philadelphia Daily News (“Cheesesteak Bites Kerry: Prez Hopeful Asks for Swiss Cheese!”), goes so far as to say, possibly, but not definitely, tongue in cheek:

[W]e may have just witnessed the unraveling of the Democratic front-runner’s campaign for the White House right here in South Philadelphia, at 9th and Wharton [Streets]. […]

But this is more than just shaking hands and kissing babies. For a pol, eating a cheesesteak is like running the gauntlet -- past the surly counterman, through the variety of toppings, finishing it off without looking lame. […]

Kerry, you may have heard, failed miserably.

He ordered a cheesesteak with Swiss cheese.

Now I suppose in some corners of the world, Swiss is a perfectly acceptable sandwich ingredient. Switzerland, maybe.

But in Philadelphia, ordering Swiss on a cheesesteak is like rooting for Dallas at an Eagles game. It isn’t just politically incorrect; it could get you a poke in the nose. [Ed.: At least that. There’s a reason there’s a municipal judge on hand at every Philadelphia Eagles game.] […]

He got Cheez Whiz instead. The damage, though, was already done.

Worse, as Russell points out, Sen. Kerry not only ordered a cheesesteak, he ordered a cheesesteak hoagie, a monstrosity that typically includes lettuce (shredded iceberg, natch) and tomatoes (at Pat’s, I’m told, usually on the white/yellow side in terms of color, the nearby Campbell Soup Co., of Camden, N.J., apparently getting the first crack at South Jersey’s finest), and sometimes hot or sweet peppers.

(Don’t ask. Don’t ask, because I don’t know the answer.)

Still worse, according Russell, Sen. Kerry didn’t eat the damned thing right! Says Russell, “So the man who would be president of the people was photographed delicately gripping the sandwich with his fingertips like he’s some kind of Boston blue blood playing the piccolo. You half expected him to ask for a silk napkin, Jeeves.” (A “disparaging” photo of Sen. Kerry holding the hoagie accompanies the article at the PDN’s web site.)

By the way, the Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage of this purported political meltdown, “Democrats Join Town Meeting,” was slightly less laden with hysterics and hyperbole.

I have to admit to being a little confused about the whole “controversy.” I don’t think I’ve ever had a cheesesteak from Pat’s. I think I had one at Jeno’s about 10 years ago, and, if memory serves, that sandwich was laden with Cheez Whiz. But on those increasingly rare occasions when I head out for a cheesesteak, I go elsewhere, someplace closer by, and I’m not asked to specify my choice of cheese -- I’d like to see the reaction at Pat’s if I asked for Brie or Gouda, but that’s a story for another day. -- and what I usually get on my cheesesteak, without specifying or being asked to specify, is something white, I’m guessing provolone, definitely not the distinctive yellow-orange color we all recognize as Cheez Whiz at its heavily processed finest.

So what the hell is the big deal?

Nothing, I suppose. Just a local story running locally rampant, I hope.

However, I can’t help but conjure up images of idiotic harpie Margaret Carlson -- latest ranking for Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House: 81,401 -- picking up selected bits and pieces of this pedestrian incident, blowing it completely out of proportion, and repeatedly screeching, groundlessly, recklessly, and cluelessly, “He doesn’t know who he is! He doesn’t know who he is!”

[Post-publication addendum (August 19): Reader C.M. writes in to clarify that provolone is an option at Pat’s, making me wonder why all the fuss about Cheez Whiz, and to clarify that “Whiz wit’” translates to wanting one’s cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz and “wit’” onions.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Saturday, August 16, 2003  

“Balanced and Fair”

Is there a trademark attorney in the house? Or at least among the Rittenhouse readership?

What with “Fair and Balanced” apparently already taken, and so grotesquely abused, I’m interested in acquiring the trademark for the phrase, “Balanced and Fair,” assuming of course, that it’s available.

If you think you can help, drop me a line.

I also had thought to make a run at “Let’s Roll!” but that generic phrase, in prior use for decades, is being claimed, vociferously and viciously, by über-September 11 widow, Lisa Beamer. And given her phalanx of aggressive and woefully misguided attorneys, I’ve decided just to give up on that one.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Any Assault Charges Pending?

Uh-oh. It looks like the Pugilist of Provincetown needs to adjust the dosage of his testosterone treatments.

By way of Vaara’s Silt, you’ll learn of a recent post at P’Town Without Pity, “It’s My Birthday!! Drinks Are On ME!!” that begins:

What freshly-40, Bush-loving, Brit bully got a drink thrown right in his mug during a foggy full moon?

It just gets uglier and more disturbing from there.

Can’t help but wonder: Are there any assault charges pending for any of the participants in this pathetic melee?

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, August 15, 2003  

Here at The Rittenhouse Review
We’re “Fair and Balanced”
At Least on “Fair and Balanced Friday”!

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Fair and balanced.

Okay, you get the point.


Come and get me, Rupert.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Killing Them Softly With My Incompetence
Killing Them Softly . . .

In the past I’ve mentioned -- twice (see no. 59) -- my bad luck with Bonsai.

In the past three years I’ve killed no fewer than 11 Bonsai.

I now have one left. Actually, it’s a “grove” of three beautiful little trees with a fourth making its brave way into the world.

Sadly, however, the entire grove is on the edge of death.

I’m so ashamed.

I feel like a monster.

If these guys go, I’m giving up on the whole enterprise.

God, what if I kill Mildred, too? I just have to remember to feed and water her regularly.

(By the way, the title of this post is a refence to a song performed years ago by, I think, Roberta Flack.)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, August 14, 2003  

And Received With Sincerest Gratitude

At the risk of sounding self-aggrandizing and self-referential (that latter remark coming from my Canadian lover), and in case you missed the news over at my other blog TRR: The Lighter Side of Rittenhouse, TRR earlier this month was named Pennsylvania Destination of the Day, from a site that, in their words, not mine, has been highlighting the Commonwealth’s best web sites since early 1997.

Again, I’m very honored and I appreciate the recognition.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Laura Schlessinger, Meet Robert Bork
Robert Bork, Meet Laura Schlessinger

This is interesting. I learned today via TBogg that talk-radio shock whore Laura Schlessinger’s much proclaimed and vociferously exclaimed attachment to Orthodox Judaism has turned out to be, well, a little on the spindel side.

It appears the nation’s nastiest taskmaster -- and most repulsive internet amateur porn star -- is having something of a crisis of faith, at least according to a report in last week’s Forward.

I’m sorry to say I missed the radio program in question, but apparently on August 5 Schlessinger said she “will no longer practice Judaism.” She still considers herself Jewish but added, “My identifying with this entity and my fulfilling the rituals, etc., of the entity -- that has ended.”

Somehow I’m betting Schlessinger’s ritual fatigue has nothing to do with the monthly mikvah.

Notably, Schlessinger is not entirely pleased with the response of her (apparently quite few) Jewish listeners. She says: “From my own religion, I have either gotten nothing, which is 99% of it [sic], or two of the nastiest letters I have gotten [sic] in a long time. I guess that's my point -- I don’t get much back. Not much warmth coming back.”

What did she expect?

Perhaps Schlessinger’s faith has been shaken by the recent unfortunate -- and so long unnoticed -- death of her mother?

Nah. I doubt it.

But the big question is this: Is Schlessinger headed for a conversion to Christianity? I wouldn’t be surprised, frankly, if she did so. It could do wonders for her sagging, uh, career.

Meanwhile, this week’s National Catholic Register -- the mysteriously unacknowledged and cleverly concealed house organ of Fr. Marcial Maciel’s Legion of Christ and Regnum Christi, neither to be confused with the even more disturbingly extremist sect known as Opus Dei, the latter confab created by the inexplicably canonized Josemaria Escriva -- reports that Judge Robert Bork recently converted to Catholicism (“Judge Bork Converts to the Catholic Faith,” by Tim Drake).

Bork, it’s worth noting, is just the latest “infidel” to be brought into the fold by Fr. John McCloskey of the Catholic Information Center, a little storefront near the White House from which McCloskey serves as the house confessor of, and spiritual adviser to, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and the halls of Congress as well. (And the web site of which, by the way, prominently features information about Fr. Escriva, no surprise given Fr. McCloskey’s attachment to the cultish Opus Dei.)

Among other prominent Washingtonians taking the plunge, so to speak, under Fr. McCloskey’s direction: Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), pundit Robert Novak, soi-disant economist Lawrence Kudlow, and former abortionist Dr. Bernard Nathanson.

Good Lord, who’s next? The Podhoretzes? I think they’re influential enough to fall into Fr. McCloskey’s gun sights.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Out With the Convicted, In With the Fixated

It’s often a good thing when someone leaves the Bush administration. Case in point: The unlamented departure -- by resignation, alas, he should have been fired -- of John M. Poindexter.

It was Poindexter, you will recall, who aspired during his tenure to collect just about everything about just about everybody, the better, I assume, to engage in particularly astute terrorism-futures trading through that brilliant scheme known as “FutureMap.”

Poindexter’s resignation from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency takes effect on August 29.

So, it’s out with Poindexter . . . And in with Daniel Pipes.

Based on God only knows whose recommendation -- possibly Pipes’s own -- the Bush administration earlier this year unsuccessfully sought to appoint Pipes to board of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Pipes’s paper trail, which is a mile long and a millimeter thin, sparked considerable criticism of the proposed appointment in Washington, including in the Senate, which confirms nominees to the Peace Institute’s board of directors.

No matter. Forget “advise and consent.” According to the Philadelphia Inquirer (“Phila. Scholar Set to Join Peace Board,” by Thomas Ginsberg, Pipes is in:

Congressional sources told Reuters news agency yesterday that Bush intends to install Pipes as early as this week using a recess appointment. That means Pipes could serve without Senate approval, but only for about 16 months rather than for a full, four-year term.

A White House spokesman, Jimmy Orr, declined to confirm the report, saying only: “When we have something to announce, we'll announce it.”

And in what surely must be a first, the Inquirer reports: “Pipes declined to comment.”

Maybe someone could explain the point of adding Pipes to the board for 16 months rather than a four-year term. Yet another enhancement to the resume of which Pipes is so inordinately proud? A little something -- still more, really -- for the “oh we’re really not very influential” neoconservative crowd?

[Post-publication addendum: The membership of the board of the U.S. Institute of Peace is, to be fair, reasonably balanced, but it’s hardly lacking representation from the neoconservative contingent, to wit: Chester A. Crocker and Seymour Martin Lipset, chairman and vice chairman of the USIP, respectively, and Harriet Zimmerman.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, August 13, 2003  

My Language Proficiency Exam Results

All in all, on the Transparent Language exams, not too bad:

English: 100% (Advanced)
German: 98% (Advanced)
Italian: 97% (Advanced)
French: 90% (Advanced)
Dutch: 72% (Intermediate)
Swedish: 37% (Beginner)

Hey, I’m no Vaara -- By the way, did you know that “Vaara” means “jeopardy” in Finnish? I did. -- but pretty darn good, overall, I think.

And, in keeping with Vaara’s comments on his own results, please note that I have never had formal classroom instruction of any kind in Dutch or Swedish. That’s all self-taught.

And for what it’s worth, I haven’t had classroom instruction in German or Italian since 1984, nor in French since 1980. English? Well, I was born into that.

So for what that’s worth, if anything, this is nothing more than a pat on the back. And I needed one this week.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Tuesday, August 12, 2003  

Killing My Income So Softly

Not much blogging at Rittenhouse today, as you’ve surely noticed.

That’s because my home -- and, uh, “office” -- were adversely affected by an electrical blackout caused by, from what I’ve heard, an explosion at an electrical substation at 9th and Christian Streets late this morning.

The power is back on now, after an eight-hour outage.

Imagine working from home and losing eight hours of productivity.

Thanks, Philadelphia Electric Co., or PECO Energy Inc., or Exelon Corp., or whoever among you might possibly own up to responsibility for this absurdly lengthy meltdown.

It’s been a great day.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


And the Canadian Blogger Who Hates It

Coin wrapping . . . Yes, one of the most pressing issues of the day.

One that a certain Canadian Jewish boy, and would-be blogger, who obviously has a major crush on me -- with an obsession that’s just this side of criminality (He’s even sent me mashy e-mail! And posted photographs all over the web of what he dreams I might look like!) -- thinks is sooooo boring. (Pot . . . kettle . . . black).

(By the way, I generally love Canadian Jewish boys.)

For more on coin wrapping, see a Rittenhouse reader’s observation published on the letters page (“The Head Teller & The Coin Counter.”)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, August 11, 2003  

Test Your Language Proficiency

While perusing the always interesting, often stimulating, blog Silt, written by my thoughtful and generous friend “Vaara,” I was directed to the foreign language proficiency tests offered on the web by Transparent Language.

Vaara, who is a professional, and obviously gifted, linguist, recorded impressive scores on nine of TL’s exams (French, Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, Polish, Dutch, Japanese, and English), his results good enough to share publicly with deserved pride.

Although I’m only an amateur and not-so-gifted linguist, I’m feeling challenged. So when my head is a little less foggy -- long, ponderous, and hilarious, yet shamefully alcohol-laden, phone conversation with Lisa English of Ruminate This last night -- I’m going to test my proficiency in German, Italian, French, Dutch, and Swedish. (Oh, and English, too.)

I can’t promise I’ll share the results. I mean, what if I do badly? Could my infamous ego handle the blow? We’ll see.

[Post-poublication addendum (Augsut 12): She -- Lisa English -- said it, I didn’t. But I might have. Under the mildest of duress.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Six of One, Half Dozen of the Other

TBogg’s recent story about his obviously painful experience at Blockbuster -- “Great Moments in Retail” -- reminded me of a not so dissimilar experience I had several years ago at my then bank, J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., an encounter I blogged about at TRR. For those of you who missed it, I’m republishing “the transcript” below.

This really happened to me. It occurred during a tough time during my life, after the magazine and its related web sites for which I had worked ceased publication. Gathering up years of spare change was neither the proudest nor the happiest moment of my life, particularly since I so recently had been viciously taken advantage of, but that’s another story. Anyway, you do what you have to. And I’ll tell you, when people say Manhattan is expensive, they mean it. Especially when you don’t have a job.

(Unless of course you’re one of those people who by virtue of the city’s one-party rule have been granted something close to a divine right to live in Manhattan for the rest of your natural life -- and that of your children, and their children, etc. -- in a rent-controlled apartment for which you pay a mere fraction of market value, thereby taking advantage of what was intended to be a temporary, war-time, emergency measure that now dates back some 60 years.)

But I digress. Anyway . . . back to the bank.

Below is the post-facto transcript of a telephone conversation between a J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. customer service representative (CSR) and me.

CSR: “Good morning, this is J.P. Morgan Chase, may I help you?”

J.C.: “Good morning. What would a branch be able to do for me if I were to bring in a significant amount of coins?”

CSR: “I’m not sure what you’re asking. Could you be more specific?”

J.C.: “Would the teller be able to have it counted for me before depositing it into my account?”

CSR: “Count it? No, we don’t count coins.”

J.C.: “You don’t count coins. Then how would I deposit coins?”

CSR: “If you’re just bringing in coins they have to be wrapped.”

J.C.: “What if I wrap the coins and there are some left over?”

CSR: “Well, you can deposit the excess along with the wrapped coins.”

J.C.: “What if I wanted to deposit paper currency along with a few coins?”

CSR: “You could do that.”

J.C.: “How many coins are allowed?”

CSR: “I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

J.C.: “Is there an upper limit on the number of coins the average J.P. Morgan teller can count?”

CSR: “I don’t think that matters. The tellers have a machine that counts coins.”

J.C.: “A machine! Oh, so could I bring in all of my spare change, have the teller count it by running the coins through the machine, and deposit the money into my checking account?”

CSR: “Oh no, you couldn’t do that. We don’t accept coins that haven’t been wrapped.”

J.C.: “But you just said I could deposit coins along with paper money.”

CSR: “Yes, as part of a deposit.”

J.C.: “What if I wanted to deposit all of my spare change and just a one-dollar bill? Could the teller count the coins then?”

CSR: “Sir, we don’t accept coins that haven’t been wrapped by the customer.”

J.C.: “Why not? There’s a machine created for just this purpose.”

CSR: “The teller can’t use it if you’re just bringing in a lot of spare change.”

J.C.: “I understand that. I said I would be depositing a one-dollar bill and my spare change.”

CSR: “Look, sir, you can’t just bring walk into a bank with all your loose change.”

J.C.: “Why not?”

CSR: “We just can’t handle that.”

J.C.: “Logistically or emotionally?”

CSR: “I’m sorry?”

J.C.: “Nothing. Can I use the teller’s machine to count the coins myself?”

CSR: “No.”

J.C.: “Why not?”

CSR: “It’s against our policy.”

J.C.: “So what should I do?”

CSR: “Stop by any J.P. Morgan branch and ask the teller for coin wrappers and then return them -- filled -- to the branch and then we will deposit the money into your checking account.”

J.C.: “But how will you know if I counted the coins correctly?”

CSR: “I’m not sure what you’re asking.”

J.C.: “I might make mistakes when I wrap them up.”

CSR: “Well, the teller will run the coins through the machine.”

J.C.: “With the wrappers on?”

CSR: “No, of course not.”

J.C.: “So the teller will take the coins out of the wrappers and run them through the machine to make sure the value of the deposit is correct?”

CSR: “Yes.”

J.C.: “Then why can’t we just skip the wrapping part?”

CSR: “Sir, it’s against our policy. You have to bring your coins in wrapped.”

J.C.: “Well . . . okay.”

CSR: “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”

J.C.: “Yes, I’d like to open a $100,000 certificate of deposit.”

CSR: “Okay. For that you’ll need to stop by a branch . . .”

J.C.: “Lady, I just told you I’m counting my spare change. Why would I be doing that if I had $100,000?”

CSR: “Sir, I’m sure people with large CDs have change too.”

J.C.: “Yeah, but I’ll bet they came up with the $100,000 first.”

CSR: “Yes, they probably did.”

J.C.: “What if I wanted to open a CD with my spare change?”

CSR: “Sir . . . please.”

J.C.: >>>Click!<<<

God, I love CSRs. They’re really special people, aren’t they?

[Post-publication addendum (August 12): See “The Head Teller & The Coin Counter” on the letters page.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Thursday, August 07, 2003  

Uncovering, Overcovering, Undercovering,
Recovering, Discovering, Miscovering . . .

I think, but I’m not quite sure, I like the way the Philadelphia Daily News is covering the sexual assault charge against NBA star Kobe Bryant: ad nauseum.

The lead article on the subject in today’s Daily News, by William Bunch, carries an unintended -- I think -- bit of irony or sarcasm. Entitled “Two Words: Brace Yourself,” its message, in case you couldn’t guess, is that “the media” is certain, eager in fact, to go overboard in its coverage of the Bryant trial.

“There were more journalists seeking access to . . . Bryant’s perfunctory courtroom appearance yesterday -- 500 -- than there were seconds in the hearing itself -- roughly 420,” Bunch frets. Only the circus sideshow known as “the O.J. Simpson trial” could possibly be bigger than this case, we are told. It’s all just too much, Bunch implies.

Not to be outdone, however, the Daily News today treats readers to four additional articles about Bryant (plus a splashy front cover): “Synopsis: It Took 7 Minutes,” by Jim Nolan; “On This Court, Everyone’s a Visitor,” compiled by Nolan; “TV Filled Time With Whole Lot of Nothing,” by Ellen Gray; and “Street Talk,” by Regina Medina, consisting of the observations of Philadelphia-area residents.

Bunch may turn out to be wrong. The public may tire of this story sooner than he expects. And from early indications, the Bryant trial lacks the deep line-up of freaks the Simpson trial brought into our living rooms and our very lexicography. Frankly, I’m not sure there’s enough there there.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Wednesday, August 06, 2003  

No . . . Lower Than That
No . . . Think Even Lower!

Imagine being so little, so small, so emasculated, so insignificant, so disgusting, so Canadian, and such a Meryl Yourish ass kisser (As if that were a noble endeavor!), that you thought you had the strength, wisdom, intelligence, and perspicacity to go after the likes of someone like Teresa Nielsen Hayden, of Making Light, a brilliant woman, one of the best bloggers ever, and one whose feet you are unworthy of scrubbing.

Such is, or was, the delusion today of the part-time (thankfully!) and presumably completely unemployed, thoroughly disgraceful, and mysteriously espoused blogger widely known around the blogosphere, as the “sewer rat.”

Imagine being so poor a writer, so unoriginal a “thinker,” so pathetic a human being -- and I’m being generous there -- that one would feel proud of oneself for going half-cocked -- and I mean that -- about a woman who has more original thoughts before breakfast than you’ve had in your entire dopey life, and then, of all things, stealing and reproducing her own photograph, with no credit provided whatsoever.

It’s true. The sewer rat did that.

As my sister Connie says, “I hate talk radio. It gives a voice to people who don’t deserve one.” To which I responded, “Yes, but so does blogging.”

Blog away, sewer rat. Sadly, I guess we’ll all have to live with it.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, August 04, 2003  

And The Area Code I Love

Regular readers of The Rittenhouse Review and TRR know, or might at least be vaguely aware, that before I moved to Philadelphia I lived for several years in New York. I left Manhattan nearly two years now (though I’ve not yet been in Philadelphia for a year -- a mysterious gap there, in case you didn’t catch it), and as I much as I love New York, I can’t say I miss it all that much.

I’ve made my break from New York gradually and not always consciously: by not renewing certain magazine subscriptions, by falling out of touch with friends and colleagues (and they likewise), by checking in at the web sites of New York Post and the New York Daily News with diminishing frequency, and by caring less and less about the latest derangements of Mayor Michael “Wow! Am I out of my league, or what?” Bloomberg (R).

The final break, for I can think of nothing else to break anymore, came today, when I bought a new cell phone and got a new cell phone number.

For two years, despite leaving New York, I had been relying upon my longstanding “917” cell phone number for reasons both professional and personal. But it’s gone now. And my new cell phone number screams “Philadelphia!”

How so? Well, the pleasant fellow at the cellular-phone shop, apparently having sized me up pretty well during our encounter, didn’t even try to pawn off one of those stupid new “267” numbers on me.

Thus, my brand new Philadelphia cell phone number, just like my still fairly new Philadelphia home phone number, begins with the venerable and cherished area code, 215.

And that’s a simple fact -- a small thing, if you will -- that makes this rather old-fashioned, increasingly cranky, and persistently neurotic man very, very happy.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


No, This is Not an Obsession

I don’t think I’m obsessed with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Instead, I’m just irritated as hell with her.

Nor do I, today at least, have anything new to say about Rice, so I’ll turn this post over to a few people who do, like: Bob Somerby, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) [Link via Somerby.], Madeleine Begun Kane, Timothy Noah, and Rush Limbaugh.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Saturday, August 02, 2003  

Jennifer Weiner

Okay, so it’s not scripture. It’s “just” In Her Shoes, the latest worldwide best-selling novel by Philadelphia author, mother, and blogger, Jennifer Weiner (of SnarkSpot), who happens, by the way, to be married to Philadelphia attorney (no, not the creepy one) and blogger Adam Bonin, of Throwing Things (who I hope will pass me his incredibly well situated seats in the Linc in the extremely unlikely event he finds himself bereft of other takers on a given Sunday).

Weiner will be reading from In Her Shoes at Borders Books & Music, Broad and Chestnut Streets, Philadelphia, on Tuesday, August 5, at 6:00 p.m.

Be there. I will.

Either way: Buy the book!

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Friday, August 01, 2003  

And What He’s Not Telling

What Andrew Sullivan doesn’t know about economics could fill the Bodleian, the Royal Archive, and the Provincetown Public Library. Twice. Including double-shelving in the men’s rooms.

But, as ever, that won’t stop him from trying to go head-to-head with Princeton University economics professor and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, even without having any facts to support the vague insinuations underlying his bitter invective.

In a post over at the supreme vanity site, one entitled “Hey, Big Spender,” Sullivan today writes:

In one quarter, federal spending jumped 25 percent. As often, wars are good for economies. . . . Poor Krugman. It doesn’t get much worse than this, does it?

The reference is not, as Sullivan implies, to the most recent federal budget data, but rather to the report on second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP), released yesterday by the Commerce Department.

It’s a report Sullivan fails to mention is known among practicing economists, financial and market analysts, and academicians as “the advance report” on GDP. As such, yesterday’s report is subject to future revision: twice in the next two months, with the release of the preliminary and final estimates of second-quarter GDP, “final” estimates that will, in the future, undergo numerous so-called benchmark revisions.

The advance report estimated the U.S. economy grew at a seasonally adjusted (Any clue what that means, Sullivan?) annual rate of 2.4 percent in the quarter, significantly higher than the consensus of economists’ pre-announcement forecasts, which called for economic growth of around 1.7 percent.

So, yes, the report was both surprising to economists and was greeted as good news by the financial markets. But the report is subject to further review and, more important, has less to do with federal spending from a budgetary (i.e., fiscal policy) perspective, than it does with contemporaneous government purchases of goods and services.

(At this point I will spare you a long, complicated, but extremely relevant explanation of the different ways and different time periods the same federal expenditures appear in different government reports, to say nothing of corporate-profit announcements. Accrual accounting, anyone? Andy? Do you know what that means?)

Besides, the gains in stock prices generated Thursday, which may or may not have had much to do with the much-vaunted GDP report at all -- I’m an EMH type myself (Still with me, Sullivan?) -- were all but erased by this morning’s disappointing report on the employment situation. I suppose what Sullivan giveth himself, the market shall taketh away.

Naturally, Sullivan, with his newly found ursine pride and all-around snarkiness, couldn’t resist this little thorn, referring to Krugman: “He’ll be really bummed if people start getting jobs again.”

Now that statement is one thing, and one thing only: a calumny. To hear the underemployed Sullivan claim Krugman takes cheer in the job market’s persistent and well documented sluggishness, and in unemployment rates not seen in nearly a decade, is nothing less than grotesque.

As for Sullivan’s simplistic notion that “wars are good for economies,” on this subject can we all, the Prussian of Provincetown included, just try to think a little bit beyond the level of knowledge needed for a “gentleman’s C” in Economics 101? (And, no, that’s not a barb aimed at President George W. Bush. The hell it isn’t.)

Yes, “wars are good for economies,” particularly stubbornly constipated economies like ours. But spending on wars, particularly wars fought thousands of miles away, is helpful to the associated economy only in the short run. Long wars, e.g., World War II, while they may create the impression of a strong economy, are actually economically disruptive. And lengthy wars lawmakers refuse to fund through taxation generally have been destructive, e.g., the Vietnam War and, it’s becoming increasing apparent, the latest war on Iraq.

“Wars are good for economies” because they provide a much-needed fiscal stimulus to the aforementioned stubbornly constipated economies. (“Dr. Keynes, please call your office.”) But they are not necessary to generate that fiscal stimulus. Tax cuts, the holy grail of selfish and shortsighted right wingers, can achieve the same effect, though tax cuts are most effective when they put money into the hands of citizens most likely to spend it. And government spending can provide a far better short- and long-term stimulus to the economy when it is invested -- here at home -- in such things as public works, construction, roads, public transit, education, job training, and the like.

I thought everyone knew that.

I can’t resist departing from this post, already having referenced Sullivan’s bizarre and self-evidently embarrassing piece at today, “I Am Bear, Hear Me Roar!,” in which he -- Mr. Monogamy -- praises, albeit through the words of an anonymous stranger in a bar -- at closing time, no less -- his very own “pot-belly,” which, best I can gather, has nothing to do with his oft-stated love for marijuana, without asking just one question: Whatever happened to that 32-inch waist he used to brag about?

Okay, just one more thing: Sullivan, in a separate post today, means to say “One Fewer Catholic” not “One Less Catholic.”

And in case you’re interested, and you’re probably not, here’s Sullivan as a “leather man”:

Photo: Gay City News
Macho Man

Any caricatures around depicting Sullivan’s current bearish persona?

[Post-publication addendum (August 2): On Sullivan’s lack of knowledge of economics, see Semi-Daily Journal, the weblog of the indispensable real-life economist Brad DeLong of the University of California, Berkeley. Oh, and also Elton Beard’s take at Busy, Busy, Busy. BBB Bonus: Photo of “Shut-in von Clausewitz.”]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Making a Fortune Uncreatively

The latest issue of Fortune arrived here the other day.

It’s the annual “Power Issue,” featuring the “25 Most Powerful People in Business.”

Pictured on the cover: Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc., and Bill Gates, chairman of Microsoft Corp.

Gee. There’s an article I’ve never read before.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |