The Rittenhouse Review

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

Sunday, February 29, 2004  

Today is Moving Day

As today is moving day and because I’m not sure how long it will take to get myself settled and my computer and internet connection up and running again, let me just say it’s time for a short break.

I’ll be back as soon as possible, hopefully Tuesday or Wednesday.

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Saturday, February 28, 2004  

The New York Times

Remember a while back when I wrote something nice about the New York Times? No? You don’t? Well, I did.

I take it back.

Forget I said anything.

(Link via Atrios. And I’ve seen that turtleneck.)

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Federal Judge Dismisses Fanciful “Securities Fraud” Allegation

A nice, but far from complete, victory for publisher Martha Stewart yesterday: U.S. District Court Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum dismissed count nine of federal prosecutors’ indictment against Stewart, issuing an opinion in which she said “a reasonable juror could not, without resorting to speculation and surmise, find [guilt] beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Judge Cedarbaum wrote in her dense but narrowly drafted opinion:

I have concluded that no reasonable juror can find beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant lied for the purpose of influencing the market for the securities of her company. Another way of putting it would be that in order to find the essential element of criminal intent beyond a reasonable doubt, a rational juror would have to speculate.

According to the New York Times (“Most Serious Charge Against Stewart Is Dismissed,” by Jonathan D. Glater), “Judge Cedarbaum will probably instruct the jury to disregard the securities charge and not to read anything into its absence, lawyers said, although several noted that jurors may or may not pay attention to the order. The judge will probably also prohibit lawyers from trying to lead the jury to draw conclusions from the absence of the charge.”

Although it’s true, as the Times reports, that “until yesterday morning when the judge told lawyers for Ms. Stewart and Mr. [Peter] Bacanovic about her decision, there was no hint that she would dismiss the securities charge,” Judge Cedarbaum previously had alluded to her skepticism, referring to the prosecution’s indictment as “inartfully drawn,” and at one point nearly scolding government attorneys, in remarks that must have stung, “I hope at some point it’s going to be clearer to me what you are charging. There are a lot of things in this indictment I don’t know whether you are or are not charging.”

Moreover, the delay in announcing her decision on the matter, which she took under advisement a week earlier, may have raised some questions. If nothing else, the interim period, in retrospect, gave the judge and her clerks ample time to draft the 23-page opinion.

With U.S. Attorney Karen Seymour’s novel, to say nothing of fanciful, charge of securities fraud dismissed (charges many observers have questioned repeatedly), jurors now will focus more closely on the remaining charges of conspiracy, obstruction, and false statements. Although they carry less severe penalties, these are serious charges. And while Stewart and her attorney, learning of Judge Cedarbaum’s decision, reportedly headed to Chinatown for a celebratory lunch, she can’t be sleeping easily, even for a woman who is said to live on four hours of z’s a night.

The Times reports closing arguments will begin Monday. Instructions to the jury are to be read on Wednesday.

[Post-publication addendum: By the way, why is it so hard for people to call Stewart “a publisher,” as I generally do, or a similar term, rather than something stupid and subtly demeaning like “domestic doyenne” or “style maven”?]

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Are You an Ornithologist?

I like this weekend’s terror alert status photo. It’s a remarkable image and I apologize for its less than picture-perfect quality. (I had to shrink it to fit within the sidebar.)

The photo reminds me, as many things do, of my bulldog Mildred. (Listen, buster, if you’re tired of hearing about Mildred, just scroll down or go away, okay?)

I’ve told already the story of choosing Mildred. In the event you missed it, or if you’re just dying to hear it again, see item number 100 in “100 Things About Mildred” (TRR: The Lighter Side of Rittenhouse, March 25, 2003).

She’s an often shy, hesitant, even timid, and sometimes skittish, little girl, and this little-duckling photo reminds me not only of the day I chose Mildred but of her general temperament -- “Hey, I want to get up there!” -- and her physical limitations, about which see item number 78 in the aforelinked piece.

The photo also raises a question, namely, Why are ducklings so different in coloring from how they will look when they are older?

Human infants have perfect skin, a condition from which we know from experience lasts only so long and from there it’s strictly down hill. (And that’s saying nothing about errant and unwanted, and it’s really all unwanted, nose and ear hair.) But the difference in coloring, when it comes to ducks, is remarkable.

Is there an ornithologist in the audience?

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A Brunch Gone Horribly Wrong

I gratefully received a timely gift yesterday. Two books: Why I am a Catholic by Gary Wills, and The Funny Thing Is by Ellen DeGeneres. (Thanks, P.S., a reader from Iowa!)

It being Friday, or more specifically, Friday night, and not really having anything else to do, I went first for the DeGeneres book, ignoring, at least for the evening, the two dozen volumes that had staked claim to my nightstands long before she came along.

Besides, like all good cafeteria Catholics, and we are legion, I save my devotional reading -- a category in which I include Wills, if only because it really ticks off my friend Bill Buckley (and I can say that, because I still have two letters he wrote me years ago) -- for Sundays.

That’s not a hard and fast rule, of course, because on some Sundays I write. On others I watch football or Lifetime TV. On still others I might go to a museum or just take a long nap, or worse, from the whole seven-deadly-sins perspective, engage in gluttonous behavior (see, by way of parallel, “Pizza: Because I Ran Out of Xanax Again,” by Meghan Cox Gurdon).

I’m glad I did, choose the DeGeneres book, I mean, because I needed it.

Like all humor books, The Funny Thing Is is a little uneven, but just a little. It comes with the territory. Even funny people can’t be perfectly funny all the time, not even me. Not even Professor Pinkerton. And she’s really funny. And for a professor, she’s like insanely, almost inappropriately, funny.

But when DeGeneres is funny, as she is throughout this book, she is very funny. And when she’s very funny, she’s hilarious.

My favorite chapter is chapter two, “The Brunch Bunch,” in which DeGeneres relates her customary Sunday tradition of devotional reading. No, not really, I’m just kidding, it’s about her weekly brunches.

At this particular brunch, DeGeneres’s guests included her regulars, Paula Abdul, Diane Sawyer, Gloria Steinem, Donatella Versace, Ed Begley Jr., and Eminem.

But Sawyer brought a guest, “Siegfried or Roy (I’m not sure which one),” DeGeneres writes. And so did Abdul: her dry cleaner. As did Begley Jr.: Tara Lipinski, dressed for skating.

It was too many people for Ellen’s table, raising the dreaded prospect, which so many of us remember from our childhoods, of “the kids’ table.” And it only got worse from there.

A brief excerpt, just to tempt you:

For the first twenty minutes we ate in silence, with the exception of the dry cleaner remarking, “The gazpacho is heavenly.” He pronounced “gazpacho” with a soft “g,” (“jazpacho”), not a hard “g,” the way it should be pronounced. I don’t care where you’re from (and I’m pretty sure he was from Canada), there’s no reason you can’t get it right.

Every time he said it (I think nine times in twenty minutes), I thought Eminem was going to explode. It was almost as if the dry cleaner was mocking Em’s gazpacho -- and it’s his special recipe! He brings it every week. After the third or fourth time the dry cleaner said “jazpacho,” I said, “It’s good gazpacho” saying it correctly with the hard “g,” hoping he’d realize his stupid mistake, but he just kept on as if I was saying it wrong. Even Donatella Versace says it right and she says everything wrong.

Well, when conversation finally began to flow, it was not pleasant. It started harmlessly enough with Siegfried or Roy asking why Paula hangs out with her dry cleaner. Were they friends beforehand and now he just happens to dry-clean her clothes? Did they start chatting when she went to pick up her “outfits,” as he called them? And if so, why wouldn’t her assistant pick up her “outfits”? Paula just stared at Siegfried or Roy with this kind of knowing smile, like she was “onto him” -- you know, the way Paula does. Well, this unnerved everyone and I think the dry cleaner got a little defensive on Paula’s behalf. He started questioning Siegfried or Roy on his own “outfits” and from there it led to why Tara Lipinski was wearing her “outfit.” Tara didn’t understand what he was talking about. It’s all she ever wears.

Okay, just one more:

Tara Lipinski called this morning to see if she had left her purse. I told her she hadn’t come with a purse, and she argued she had indeed come with a purse. I said, “No, you didn’t. We all commented on your skating attire like you were getting ready to perform or something, remember?” […]

A few minutes later I found a purse in my kitchen and felt so bad that I had been so adamant about her not having brought one. I opened it, hoping to find a phone number for her but when I found the driver’s license it was Gloria Steinem’s -- only her real name is Debbie! Oh, the secrets we keep. . . .”

Fair’s fair, now you have to go buy the book. Don’t just go to Barnes & Noble and read chapter two in the aisle. (I know how you think.) After all, the laborer, even if merely a writer, or, lesser still, a comic, is worthy of his or her hire, right?

(The previous sentence paraphrases a verse from the Bible, but you knew that. Surely Susan Sanford did. Before you unpack your concordance, Susie, it’s Luke 10:7.)

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Who Cares About the Children,
What About the Divorce Courts?!

Here’s a novel -- novel in the sense of being both invented and inventive -- argument against gay marriage. It was published in the Philadelphia Inquirer as part of the newspaper’s ongoing but intermittent “Voicebox” series (think talk radio but on paper), and it comes from Esther Kurtz of Elverson, Pa., who it appears assembled her thoughts not with pen and paper or with fingers and PC, but with a broken Dictaphone:

Gay marriage will further burden divorce courts already overloaded with issues related to custody, communication breakdowns, and abuse. Then the judges will be asked to step in and become legal caretakers, and that’s not good, either, for the government to do. I suspect the gay revolution is fueled not necessarily by love, hope, and righteous indignation but by financial and dependecy [sic] issues. But, as many of us know, marriage doesn’t help solve these problems. So I think we should wait for the laws to be made in light of the crisis we already have with marriage and families.

Yep, that’s us. Just in it for the money. And to wreak havoc upon divorce courts.

[Note: For a wiser, and more humorous, look at the subject, see “Will Gays Prove to be the Saviours of Marriage?” by Tim Ferguson, The Age (Melbourne), hence “saviours,” February 23. (Thanks to reader H.F.)]

[Post-publication addendum: If you have a few minutes -- And really, when you think about it, who doesn’t? -- why not wander over and check out, oh, I don’t know, Dear Mary?]

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This Week on Saturday

(Note: Since “Tina Brown Thursday” lately has appeared here most often on Fridays, I’m technically only a day late this week, and while my excuse is valid -- I’m packing here, moving tomorrow -- my apologies nonetheless.)

Two weeks ago Tina Brown needed a 40-word warm-up before getting down to her customary business: name-dropping and party-hopping.

This week, Brown dispensed with that formality entirely, beginning her column, “A Welcome Diversion for Democrats,” this way:

Jon Bon Jovi’s last big gig was in front of 70,000 people at Giants Stadium, but on Monday night in Manhattan he was playing a dining room.

The occasion was a VIP donor party for John Kerry in an elegant apartment at the Dakota, that legendary West Side pile, hosted by TriBeCa Productions executive Jane Rosenthal, her husband and TriBeCa Film Festival co-founder Craig Hatkoff, and Infinity Broadcasting CEO John Sykes. Eighty big-ticket Democrats from Wall Street and the entertainment world got to mingle over cocktails with the front-runner.

Graciously, Brown allows her readers into the room for a moment, enabling us to catch a bit of the wise and worldly chatter that occurs at the seemingly endless stream of really smart Manhattan parties she attends with that city’s purported power brokers. Example: “My advice to you, senator: Stay strong!”

The rest of the column consists mostly of useless prattle about Ralph Nader. “One can only imagine the extent of Nader’s simmering rage as he watched the rise of [Howard] Dean on the flickering black-and-white TV in his Spartan apartment,” she writes, leading one to wonder whether she’s been having cocktails chez Nader, though, in keeping with his carefully cultivated and closely guarded image, I suspect Nader would more likely serve apple cider in jelly-jar glasses. (And how does Brown know Nader’s place is “Spartan”? I know we’re supposed to believe it’s ever so humble, but I also thought nobody had ever been there.)

Brown ends the column on an odd note -- no, not the sneering tone, that comes with the package -- one that raises, once again, questions about Brown’s mindset regarding gay men. (Remember the “prancing stockbroker”?):

On Tuesday, thanks to the mayor of San Francisco’s nuptial offensive, the president seized the opportunity to change the subject from job loss to gay marriage. This one will prove thornier to Kerry than Ralph Nader. Veterans in drag, where are you?

“Offensive.” That’s subtle.

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Friday, February 27, 2004  

Carmen Miranda, Where’s Togo?

You’re Togo!

Small, quiet, and very insecure, you could hide in just about any crowd. Even a crowd of one or two people. Even though you’re virtually anonymous anywhere you go, you could have been wealthy if people hadn’t mistreated you and taken your money. This is probably most of why you’re insecure. But some people who study you hard think you’re cute, so maybe you should try to open up a little.

(Take the Country Quiz at the Blue Pyramid. Link via Waremouse.)

That’s eerily accurate.

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Michael Eisner’s Unbearably Cushy Seat

Executives of the California Public Employees’ Retirement System said in a statement yesterday they have lost “complete confidence” in Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Office Michael Eisner and the pension plan will not support the re-election of Eisner at Walt Disney’s annual meeting, to be held on Wednesday, March 3, in Philadelphia.

According to a Bloomberg News story published early this morning, the California State Teachers Retirement System, the New York State Retirement Common Fund, and funds in New Jersey, Connecticut, Virginia, and Massachusetts will also oppose Eisner’s reelection.

It’s good to see more aggressive postures on the part of institutional investors, but the decisions may have little practical effect.

The same story reports Eisner “can’t be voted off the board as long as he receives a single vote.”

Eisner surely plans to vote for himself, don’t you think?

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Thursday, February 26, 2004  

An Author’s Query

In the previous post, below, I wrote, for the second time in as many months, about Bess Myerson, Miss America 1945.

Although I’m inclined here to be rather vague, I recently have been engaged in considerable research about American culture in the immediate post-World War II era, the larger aim, of course, being a book of some sort, or maybe at least a decent article or two. (Or more.)

Myerson is to me an important icon of this period. As such, I would greatly appreciate hearing from readers who remember Myerson’s crowning as Miss America nearly 60 years ago. (For those not aware, Myerson -- a/k/a, which here stands for “almost known as,” Betty Merrick, -- was the first, and still remains the only, Jewish woman to win the title.)

If you have a few moments, please take the time to sit down and write out your thoughts, assuming you have any, and whether you are Jewish or not, or male or female, about Myerson, and what, if anything, you thought of her, what she meant to you, or any experience or contact you may have had with her. (Heck, you can just tell me you thought she was hot.)

I am particularly interested in hearing from then residents of the Bronx, N.Y.

And please, rest assured, all remarks, comments of any stripe, positive or negative, will be held in confidence.

You may send your notes to me here.

Please include, if you would, your mailing address and telephone number in order to facilitate future contact, should that prove desirable or necessary.

[Post-publication addendum: I’m also looking for photos of Miss Myerson circa 1985-1990.]

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On Martha Stewart and Bess Myerson

The time I’ve not spent writing and job-hunting during the last few days I instead have spent packing.

This is the chore to end all chores, but during the past 20 years I have performed it with an alarming frequency. I’m getting used to it.

In so doing, this time around, I have become intimately reacquainted with my book collection, which, if not impressive, is at least characteristically idiosyncratic.

Strange, though, how even if one owns, I don’t know, a thousand books, even the inability to find a stray title or two can cause considerable anxiety.

I’m having exactly that experience with respect to two books: Just Desserts, by Jerry Oppenheimer, an unauthorized biography of Martha Stewart, and When She Was Bad, by Shana Alexander, concerning the infamous “Bess Mess” of the 1980s, which ensnared, among others, and to varying degrees, Bess Myerson, Hortense Gabel, Sukhreet Gabel, Nancy Capasso, Andy Capasso, and Ed Koch.

My inability to locate these volumes is driving me crazy. I’ve checked with friends and relatives, all of whom either have disclaimed possession of one or both books, or, more suspiciously, have not responded to my queries.

If you can help with my replacement strategy, please let me know.

(And before you send me an e-mail, I know that is, justifiably, on labor’s crap list due to its affiliation with Borders Books & Music. Several bloggers and readers have scolded me for my links to Although I don’t feel great about this, I’ve decided I don’t feel awful about it either, and the links are staying. In my meager defense I offer this: When authors and writers, writ large, individually or collectively, have arranged for to no longer sell their books I will then delete any and all links thereto and completely disassociate Rittenhouse from that enterprise. Until then, yes, I’m still on labor’s side, but there are plenty of people with more at stake in this than me, and I think it’s fair that I wait for them to act first.)

[Post-publication addendum (February 28): My copy of Just Desserts has been located. A dilatory sibling ’fessed up late yesterday.]

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But I Appreciate the Sentiment

Over at Eschaton a reader offered some comments about me, my current situation, and my op-ed piece in the Philadelphia Daily News.

In case you didn’t see it, I thought I would share:

[I]t simply defies belief this man has no job and no one to come home to.

I sorta understand being unemployed, but there have to be 5,000 Philadelphia women who would fight to get into his door. They just don’t know he’s there.

It’s just so [expletive deleted] wrong, to have this brilliant man not ply his skills for pay and to be alone. […]

Thanks for the blog link. The piece was not like his usual style at all, and it was good to get the background.

You know, I get that a lot. The whole let-me-fix-you-up thing. I really do.

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A Continuing Series

Fortune is out with its annual list of “America’s most admired companies.”

In the number-one slot, and for the second year in a row: Wal-Mart Stores Inc.


A few other items from the survey:

Alcoa Inc. is ranked second in the social responsibility category. No wonder Paul O’Neill felt out of place in the Bush administration.

United Parcel Service Inc. is number one according to this criterion. I don’t really know why.

Altria Corp., parent of Philip Morris Inc., is ranked number eight in social responsibility. Even as a smoker, and of Benson & Hedges, a Philip Morris brand, that ranking has my right eyebrow climbing of its own accord. I’m paying $5.20 a pack for that junk. (At least when I’m not buying “Basics,” which I have been lately, and which are every bit as awful as they sound.) Not very sociable, is that? The company’s charitable donations, maybe?

But getting back to Wal-Mart, I suspect many thinking people are concerned about this ranking. They should be. Fortune’s survey, conducted by the Hay Group, solicited the opinions of 10,000 executives, board directors, and securities analysts, the “in-the-know” people.

And these saps, looking at the dense and varied fabric that is American capitalism, picked Wal-Mart above all others.

If they would have their way, this would be your future. Enjoy.

[Post-publication addendum: Reader A.E. writes: “Philip Morris, from what I hear, has a very high level of women and minorities in key management positions. They also are very popular with small businesses. They often pick up the legal fees for small businesses fighting government regulations. (In New York, from what I'm told, the bar owners went to Philip Morris to get them to pay for the lawyers to fight the smoking ban.) The angle they are going to take is to sue New York for violating OSHA regulations because only OSHA can regulate the workplace. I know one bar owner and a convenience store owner who have nothing but praise for them.”]

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Wednesday, February 25, 2004  

I Keep Telling Myself to Stop Using That Word

“Idiot.” “What an idiot.” “He’s an idiot.”

I say that, or things like that, and then I tell my mean-spirited self, again, “Stop using that word.”

So I do. I stop. And then I go and do something really stupid -- idiotic, even -- and read Andrew Sullivan or someone of like mind, and the word comes back to me.

It happened again this evening.

Via Atrios I read an unbelievable collection of avian droppings in the Daily Mountain Eagle, Jasper, Ala., written by Susan Sanford, the bird-cage liner’s copy editor.

I love copy editors. Some of my best friends are, or have been, copy editors. I’ve been copy editing on and off, officially or otherwise, for, I don’t know, something like 18 years, even, occasionally, here at Rittenhouse.

When they’re good, copy editors, I mean, they’re very, very good. But when they’re bad, not only are they very, very bad, some of them still draw a paycheck. Miss Sanford, at least in her incarnation as an editorialist, apparently falls into the latter category.

In “Sodom and Gomorrah Revisited,” Miss Sanford inquires:

My first question is, do these people not read the Bible?

Speaking only for myself, Miss Sanford, yes, I read the Bible regularly, and I have read the Bible for years, and I will go chapter-and-verse with you any day of the week.

(Let me just interject here with a message to those who mock or criticize me for my continued adherence to Catholicism and Christianity: Can you meet Miss Sanford on her “own” ground? No? Would you have me, us, therefore concede that ground to her?)

Then, with incomparable originality of thought and doctrine, Miss Sanford adds:

Have they forgotten Sodom and Gomorrah?

No, Miss Sanford, but may we put the purported events in those two tiny villages of millennia gone by within their proper theological, historical, and cultural context, or is that just too complicated for you?

Miss Sanford adds:

[W]e should be worried that this group and their [sic] supporters have worked diligently to have themselves [sic] -- common sinners, according to God’s word -- declared a special minority.

Excuse me, this woman is a copy editor? Even more, she is the copy editor at the Daily Mountain Eagle? I think I’m being generous in asking who had the night off.

And “common sinners,” that’s a nice touch. Before she throws around stupidity like that I would like Miss Sanford to swear and affirm -- as an oath, like, on the Bible -- that she herself never has had an errant, unapproved, “nice touch,” self-inflicted or otherwise.

Thereafter follows some drool about creationism, Leviticus (though no mention of not being allowed to eat rabbit or pork), all the usual stuff, including some words from noted closet case St. Paul, Miss Sanford’s dribble ending with this pathetic exhortation: “The battle for souls has begun.”

Just now? What the hell have you been doing for the last 20 years?

Bring it on, Susie.

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Wishing Her, Diana, Not Miss Thing, the Best of Luck

I extend my best and my highest hopes to Diana Moon of Letter From Gotham as she heads to court tomorrow to face her contemptible landlord.

You know, until Miss Thing, my landlord’s agent and the building manager, tried -- unsuccessfully -- to haul me into court, I had little grasp on how intimidating such situations can be.

And that is the whole point: The landlord, developer, banker, what have you, knows he is intimidating, threatening, and scaring you. That’s why he has lawyers. That’s why his lawyers are passing out processes. That’s what he’s paying them for.

Regardless how unjustified or frivolous is his complaint -- and the reason Miss Thing’s attorney said she didn’t withdraw the suit, even after I brought my account up to date, was because I was “rude to one of the doormen” -- he knows he is is likely to have more resources on his side.

Diana, if you can summon even half the intellect and forensic agility you recently marshaled to pummel Ann Coulter, you’ll do just fine.

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Why is That a Difficult Question?

It’s an unwritten rule at Rittenhouse -- unwritten in no small part because Rittenhouse consists of just one man and his computer, rendering unnecessary the writing of style manuals and the distribution of memoranda -- that there are not to be published here, at any time, for any reason, or under any circumstances, vulgarities or coarse language of any kind.

One might think for such a “mean-spirited” guy, which, at least according to some readers, I am, this would be a challenge. Truthfully, it isn’t. I’m that way in person, too. At least I try very hard to be. Nothing embarrasses me more than walking down the street -- or worse, sitting in a restaurant -- with a friend who’s throwing out this and that crude word within earshot of innocent bystanders. Besides, I firmly believe writers who resort to and rely upon such terms are leaning a little too hard toward the uninventive.

But thinking, as I have been for a few weeks now, about the murder of Faheem Thomas-Childs, and more specifically about the unsuccessful efforts of Philadelphia police to find some half-dozen suspected participants in the gun battle that took that 10-year-old’s life, it’s hard to restrain myself. The words, phrases, and epithets that are coursing through my brain surprise even me.

I have no children. I do, however, have 16 nieces and nephews. As I wrote to a reader recently, I would give my life, without hesitation, for each, any, and every one of them. Put a gun to one of their heads and say to me, “Your life or the kid’s,” I have no doubt whatsoever what my answer would be.

And these are not my children.

So I do not understand how anyone with his or her own children, living anywhere near T.M. Peirce Elementary School, who might know even the slightest thing about the despicable shoot-out there that killed Faheem, would hesitate for a moment before telling the police anything and everything that might pertain to what, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, is the search for at least six additional suspects in this heinous crime. (Already two suspects, Kareem Johnson and Kennell Spady, have been arrested and charged with Faheem’s murder.)

“Stop the violence!”

Yeah, sure, and stop the slogans. Step up to the plate. Take some responsibility. Take control of your lives and your neighborhoods.

Easier for me to say, I know, but, please, these are your children. The risk to those speaking to the police may be, and probably is, after all, entirely exaggerated. Nonetheless, will you not risk your life for your child?

[Post-publication addendum (February 27): Elmer Smith of the Philadelphia Daily News expresses a somewhat different view in his column today, “Faheem Was Not the Only Victim,” and also provides important information I previously had not heard about neighbors’ cooperation with the police on this case.]

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Faheem Thomas-Childs Laid to Rest

Yesterday morning I trekked to North Philadelphia to attend the public viewing of Faheem Thomas-Childs, the 10-year-old boy recently killed in the cross fire of an apparent drug-dealers’ turf war.

I didn’t go with the intention of writing about it. Rather, and for reasons unclear, Faheem’s story hit me hard, gripping me from the first I heard of it, and readers will remember that I posted several items about the shooting and his death. Like many others at Deliverance Evangelistic Church yesterday, I suppose I was looking for some closure, much as I despise that word.

The experience was far more emotional than I expected. I hadn’t given much thought to whether the casket would be open or closed; kind of silly since the term “viewing” at the very least implies one will be seeing something. Perhaps because Faheem was reported to have been shot in the face, I was thinking this would not be the case.

Until yesterday I had never before in my life seen a dead child. It is truly a shocking sight, horrific even. Although Faheem was not short, his little body didn’t take up even half the casket. Should you ever find yourself heading into a similar situation, I strongly advise that you not go alone.

I’m not sure why, but I noticed Faheem’s feet and shoes immediately. Maybe it was because one approached the casket from that side. Or maybe, I thought later, it’s because I can’t recall ever having seen the feet of the deceased. Are they normally covered?

I admit it: I cried, a lot. I cried there, on the way home, and now and then for the rest of the day. My head was spinning. By evening, I was worn out, and eventually I had a long, hard sleep.

When I arrived home, having no one here to talk with and my usual phone contacts not answering, I did what I suppose most writers would do: I sat down and starting writing. What emerged was an impressionistic essay incorporating the indelible images of the morning, a mix of subtle and obvious allusions, symbols, and connections quite different from my usual style.

The essay appears on the op-ed page of today’s Philadelphia Daily News as “A Day of Death, With Little Blue Sneakers & Unexplained Seagulls.”

Reading the coverage and looking at the photos in this morning’s papers brought back all of the same emotions. (See “Community Says Goodbye to Faheem,” by Dan Geringer, Philadelphia Daily News, and “2,500 Mourn Boy Killed Outside N. Phila. School,” by Vernon Clark and Dwayne Campbell, Philadelphia Inquirer.)

Geringer’s article is outstanding. A few excerpts:

Faheem lay in his pearl gray casket, wearing sneakers, blue jeans, a skull cap, and a shirt covered with colorful images of his brothers and sisters.

The photograph of Faheem’s sweet, soulful face that has become ingrained on the city’s collective consciousness since the shooting lay next to him, and was reproduced on the “Home Going Service” programs and on “Rest in Peace Faheem” shirts worn by many of the 150 attending family members, especially the children.

The photo, taken from the waist up, makes Faheem look bigger than he really was. In his casket, he looked so thin, so vulnerable and so very, very young that, despite the peaceful organ music and the choir’s comforting hymns, the unspeakable horror of the wanton killing hit people hard.

Grown men and macho male teenagers walked away from the casket weeping openly, making no attempt to hide their tears. Children still young enough to believe in Santa Claus sobbed inconsolably as their parents hugged them but allowed them full expression of their grief. […]

Faheem’s third grade teacher, Robert Cunningham, said, “His angelic face told so much about the goodness and virtue within him. . . . If ever there was an innocent bystander, he was the most innocent of bystanders.”

I arrived early and left early, so I was pleased to read reports estimating the number of mourners at more than 2,500. Acel Moore, a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist, today noted the diversity of those in attendance. My impression differed, most likely because I was there with people from the neighborhood, while others, including numerous public officials, came later in the morning. (See: “Honoring a Child Tall Among His Peers.”)

Finally, I learned from today’s Inquirer that Faheem was called “Poppy” by his family. Poppy. That’s what we called my maternal grandfather, Martin, whose name is my middle name. Maybe in some unknown, mysterious way, that was the connection I felt but wasn’t able to see.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2004  

Some Actually Spoken Out Loud

My hands are starting to look like old-man hands.

Let’s not talk about my bony legs. This may be the summer I stop wearing shorts.

Did you know potato chips cost 27 cents an ounce? I did the math. I think I remember silver trading at that price at one time.

Someday, someone, somewhere will sell dry dog food in a bag that’s easy to open.

I will never be this kind of writer. I promise. (Link via SnarkSpot, the weblog of Jennifer Weiner, who is not that kind of writer, and who, by the way, is enjoying continued success, the kind of success that makes me want to pull my hair out with envy cheer for a local, yet worldwide best-selling, author.)

In my new house, there is no smoking allowed inside. This is a good thing. [Post-publication insertion: By which I mean, I’m hoping this will help me quit.]

Mildred is gnawing on a hoof of some sort that is filled with peanut butter or a peanut-butter-like substance. Two gigantic burps already. I cannot get her attention. Mildred is in the zone: glazed eyes, Homer Simpson-style gurgling, and everything.

I saw “Miss Thing” today. She wasn’t very friendly. Strange, that. Strange, she.

I have to finish packing. Light blogging ahead.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Turning the Corner

“On the whole, I’d rather be in Philadelphia.” -- W.C. Fields

I’m relieved to tell you today that I believe I finally have turned a corner, a sharp corner veering off the side of a huge rocky cliff, no less.

Thanks to the recent and continued generosity of readers from around the country and overseas (Oh, and I can’t forget Canada here.), The Rittenhouse Review is staying in Philadelphia for the foreseeable future.

“It is as it was” or “it is as it is” or “it is as it should be,” or something like that. (Regardless, Peggy Noonan still has a lot of explaining to do.)

Of course with Rittenhouse staying in Philadelphia that means I’m staying here too. (Actually, that’s primarily, or basically, what this means. The blog is, perish the thought, secondary in all of this, due in no small part to the fact it can be published from anywhere.)

Better, thanks to the good offices of a local reader, I have secured an incredibly attractive housing arrangement beginning later this week.

Even better, I sold an article today. A small piece and there is no guarantee that it will be published. But, heck, I got paid for it.

Best of all, as I walked down Walnut Street this afternoon the phrase “spring in your step” came to mind. I haven’t heard that in my head in a long time. And it feels really good.

Thanks, every one.

And now, or still, I must find a job.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


To the Koufax Awards Winners

Belated congratulations to all of the winners of the second annual Koufax Awards, especially -- I say especially because he won the award in the category for which I was nominated, namely, best writing -- Billmon of Whiskey Bar.

I guess it’s time I found out where that blog is and what exactly he’s up to, the little sneak.

Just kidding. Congrats, pal.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


The Misguided and the Misdirected

Junk mail -- oh, sorry, “direct mail” or “targeted marketing” or whatever -- can be so much fun, especially when it’s thoroughly misguided and misdirected.

Recent selections from my mailbox:

Sender: Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-Colo.)
Subject: Horrors of gay marriage.
Speculative Source: My since-lapsed subscription to Commentary, my last view into the dark side.
Verdict: Misguided. Despite my ambivalence on the issue, Rep. Musgrave will find no quarter here.

Sender: Geico (Government Employees Insurance Co.)
Subject: Auto insurance.
Speculative Source: Former customer.
Verdict: Misguided. I sold my last car four years ago.

Sender: ING Direct
Subject: Savings accounts.
Speculative Source: No idea.
Verdict: Misguided. Savings? Not just now.

Sender: Providian Financial Corp.
Subject: Ample credit.
Speculative Source: No idea.
Verdict: Misguided. Whoever at Providian arranged for me to have a pre-approved credit line of up to $30,000 ought to lose his job.

Sender: Lufthansa
Subject: Travel to Europe at a two-for one rate.
Speculative Source: Merely living in the “gayborhood.”
Verdict: Bulls eye. The 9-by-6-inch postcard features two handsome twentysomething young men, both sporting sleeveless black t-shirts and well-defined arms, in an embrace that might best be described as “frolicking.” (Relax, Mrs. Musgrave, even you can handle it.) Lufthansa is spreching my language.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Monday, February 23, 2004  

Check Rio de Janeiro

“Page Six” of the New York Post today reports, under the headline, “We hear . . .”: “That Liza Minnelli, Gisele Bundchen, and Mike Tyson -- plus the Queen Mary 2 -- are expected in Rio de Janeiro next week for Carneval, the Brazilian version of Mardi Gras.”

Next week?

Shrove Tuesday is tomorrow. Ash Wednesday is the day after. That means Carneval is this week, Mr. Johnson.

In fact, Carneval already has started. Besides, according to other media reports, the Queen Mary 2 arrived in Rio on Saturday.

A ship that big doesn’t just go missing, does it?

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Sunday, February 22, 2004  

How Much Does a Manicurist Earn?

Not quite sure what to make of this. This being “A Prettier Jobs Picture?,” by Virginia Postrel, in today’s New York Times Magazine.

It’s a modest little essay about jobs and the purported undercounting of the bountiful same, and as expected, it’s replete with the favorite slogans of the rigidly doctrinaire, including “productivity,” “efficiency,” “ ‘outsourcing’ ” (her scare quotes, not mine), “entrepreneurs,” “self-employed,” “partners,” and “unincorporated businesses.”

Postrel writes:

Many of the jobs that disappeared in the recent recession have indeed vanished forever, according to a recent study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Those workers will not be recalled as the economy improves. New jobs will have to be genuinely new, created in new or expanding enterprises.

But where will they come from? In a quickly evolving economy, in which increased productivity constantly makes some jobs redundant, we notice the job losses. It is much harder to spot where new jobs are emerging. Our mental categories tend to be behind the times. When we think of jobs, we see factories, secretarial pools, police officers, lawyers. We forget all about jobs we see every day.

Postrel would have us believe there’s a veritable economic boom in our midst, we’re just too stupid, too uncreative, to notice. She complains the Bureau of Labor Statistics is of no help in understanding what’s really happening in the economy:

The bureau is good at counting people who work for large organizations in well-defined, long-established occupations. It is much less adept at counting employees in small businesses, simply because there are too many small enterprises to representatively sample them. The bureau’s occupational survey, which might suggest which jobs are growing, doesn’t count self-employed people or partners in unincorporated businesses at all. And many of today’s growing industries, the ones adding jobs even amid the recession, are comprised largely of small companies and self-employed individuals.

So we’re on the lookout for the abundance of truly new jobs. “New new jobs,” I’ll call them.

What and where are these new new jobs? In Robotics? Nanometrics? Molecular biophysics?

No need to think so grandly! Think creatively, argues the author of The Substance of Style: How the Rise of Aesthetic Value Is Remaking Commerce, Culture and Consciousness.

Helpfully, Postrel provides some examples of the great and plentiful -- and creative, let’s not forget creative -- jobs already created in the new new economy: Granite counter-top fabricators (Just $30,000 for the equipment!). Facialists, or givers of facials, or spa workers, or something, it’s not entirely clear. Massage therapists. Manicurists.


I am not making this up.

If this is someone’s idea of a joke, I wonder exactly who’s laughing.

Not me. At Postrel’s urging, I’m packing up my manicure set and heading off to beauty school.

[Post-publication addendum: I dropped a quick note to Daniel Okrent, “public editor,” or “ombudsman,” of the New York Times, about Postrel’s piece, expressing my outrage on behalf of the millions of unemployed and underemployed Americans, of which we are legion and whose aspirations, while they are likely to include the noble profession of filing fingernails, just might reach a tad higher. Did you?]

[Post-publication addendum (February 23): See also Max Sawicky and Brad DeLong.]

[Post-publication addendum (February 24): See also Seth Farber.]

[Post-publication addendum (February 25): See also Michael Bérubé.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


War Crimes, the Toledo Blade, and the “Major Media”

Granted, it’s a tired metaphor and an irritating hypothetical, but let’s ask anyway: If a major news story is published in a small- or mid-sized newspaper but the “major media” fails to pick it up, was the report ever published at all?

Despite the question’s hackneyed tone, it’s a fair inquiry and one recently explored by Scott Sherman in The Nation (“The Other My Lai,” March 1).

Sherman’s article addresses a stunning four-part series about possible war crimes in Vietnam written by reporters Michael Sallah and Mitch Weiss, published last October in the Toledo Blade that, for all the attention the articles warrant nationwide, might as well have ended on the newsroom floor. (Links to the series can be found here.)

Sherman writes:

Despite its explosive findings, the Blade series . . . was not a front-page story in leading American newspapers, most of which printed truncated summaries published by the Associated Press and Scripps Howard. (Only the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Arizona Daily Star[,] and a handful of others deemed the wire stories worthy of page 1.) National television greeted the series with silence. [Seymour] Hersh, writing in the November 10 New Yorker, lamented that this “extraordinary investigation...remains all but invisible.” Prodded by Hersh, ABC jumped on the story with two fine segments by Peter Jennings and Ted Koppel, but for the most part the silence continued. The list of major news organizations that have yet to acknowledge the Blade series includes NBC, CBS, CNN, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report[,] and The Wall Street Journal.

Readers of the New York Times waited eight weeks to hear about the Blade investigation, at which point they encountered, on page A24, a meandering article by John Kifner -- a piece that confirmed the essential facts of the Blade investigation but failed to convey the depth and emotional power of the series itself. […]

No mention of the Blade series appeared on the Times editorial page, a fact that was true for almost every other American newspaper as well. For passion, clarity and good sense, one had to turn to the editorial page of the Bangor [Maine] Daily News . . . Declared an Austin [Texas] American-Statesman editorial, “The army now must come clean about what happened and release all available reports, files and information.” It says much about the timidity of our press that newspapers in Bangor and Austin -- and not the New York Times, Washington Post[,] or Los Angeles Times -- had to take the lead in demanding further investigation into the behavior of soldiers who, by their own admission, committed horrific atrocities in Vietnam.

It’s just another reason, as if you needed one, to vary one’s news sources to the greatest extent possible, something blogs are helping thousands of readers every day. (See, ahem, below.)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Philadelphia Inquirer: February 22, 2004
Stuff Worth Reading

ON CURRENT CONTROVERSIES:Union to Union,” an op-ed on marriage by Kermit Roosevelt III. . . . “Study: Great Barrier Reef Could Collapse by 2100,” an article from Reuters about damage to the reef possibly the result of global warming. . . . “Specter, Toomey Differ Sharply on Issue of ‘Pork’ in Politics,” by Patrick Kerkstra, sparking the question, Has Rep. Pat Toomey (R) forgotten he wants to represent Pennsylvania in the U.S. Senate? We live for pork here. Sometimes it seems like our only hope. (Just kidding.)

ON “THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST”:Gibson’s Gethsamane,” by Steven Rea, an interview with the film’s director, Mel Gibson. . . . On the same subject: “‘Passion’ Stirs Fervor,” by Jim Remsen, the paper’s faith life editor, on the response of religious groups to the film’s upcoming release; “When Sacred Goes Cinematic, Passions Flare,” by Carrie Rickey; and “Historically, Jesus’ Crucifixion Still a Mystery,” by Peter Enav (Associated Press).

ON CRIME: Mourning Yet Another Youth,” by Leslie A. Pappas, on the murder of Raymond Dawson, 18, Philadelphia . . . “Changes Sought in Witness Relocation,” by Thomas Ginsberg, addressing the “lack” of witnesses generally, and to the murder of Faheem Thomas-Childs, specifically. . . . Likewise, “Among Fearful Witnesses, a Forced Silence,” by columnist Tom Ferrick Jr.

ON STEEL: Dreams Replace Steel’s Nightmare,” by Diane Mastrull, on what to do with abandoned steel mills in Bethlehem, Pa. . . . Also by Mastrull, “Pittsburgh Steel Mills Remade into Malls.”

ON LIFE AND WORK: Towers Wouldn’t Just Alter Skyline,” by Henry J. Holcomb, on the latest developments in Philadelphia’s skyscraper wars (it’s about a lot more than architecture). . . . “Happy to Give Away Millions,” by Patricia Horn, on efforts by local philanthropists Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest to unload an excess of $1 billion. . . . “Cooking Up a New Career,” by Caitlin Francke, on a reporter’s foray into the culinary arts. . . . “Expiring Before Retiring,” by columnist Karen Heller, on working until you die. . . . “Before Lent’s Fast, the Fastnacht,” by Rick Nichols, on baking German doughnuts for Shrove Tuesday at Haegele’s in the Mayfair neighborhood. . . . “A Small-scale Powerhouse Hits 100-year Mark,” by Edward J. Sozanski, on the centennial of the Reading Public Museum, Reading, Pa.

ON SPORTS: St. Joe’s Remains Perfect,” by Ray Parrillo, on the victory of St. Joseph’s University men’s basketball over local rival Temple University. . . . “Hawks Close in on Big Five History,” by Don McKee.

[Note: Thanks to reader R.Y. for correcting my misassignment Rep. Toomey's party affilication. He's a Republican, not a Democrat. The text above has been corrected.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |

Saturday, February 21, 2004  

Or Not

“The Boondocks,” the indispensable comic strip produced by Aaron McGruder, this week took up the theme “Most Embarrassing Black People,” affording the cartoonist and his readers yet another opportunity to have some fun at the expense of Michael and Janet Jackson, along with a certain “R. Kelly,” a frequent and recurring McGruder target.

Although I’ve been reading “The Boondocks” since, well, a long time, this morning I finally decided it was high time I learned exactly who this R. Kelly person is.

So, as you might expect, I “Googled” him.

It turns out R. Kelly is somehow involved in the music business. As to his importance within, and influence upon, said business, I still have no idea. Why he so ticks off McGruder, I also still have no idea. I guess McGruder’s word is good enough for me, though I’m at least a little curious.

Clueless about popular music again. Or still. Probably forever.

[Post-publication addendum: Already the Fighting Democrat, more popular-culturally aware than I, writes to advise: “Google R. Kelly and molest.” Okay. I can do that. Oh. Well that’s a whole new ballgame.]

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Suddenly Temple is Interested, as is Albert Einstein

Back in December I took to blogging about Tenet Healthcare Corp.’s proposed closure of the Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital, located in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia, Tenet’s roughshod (to say the least) treatment of striking nurses there, and its complete and utter disregard for the hospital’s entire staff and the community the facility purports to serve.

Well, MCP is back in the news this week (“Temple Health System Mulling MCP Buy,” by Michael Hinkelman, Philadelphia Daily News, February 20):

Temple University Health System is in “meaningful” discussions with Gov. [Ed] Rendell’s office about possibly acquiring the Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital from Tenet Healthcare Corp., a Temple spokesman said yesterday.

The discussions have been going on for about a month and include Temple Healthcare’s senior management, said spokesman Andy Smith. […]

Sources said at least one other Philadelphia-based health-care system has expressed interest in MCP. But Susan Anderson, deputy director of Rendell’s Office of Health Care Reform, would not identify any other potential suitors.

Meanwhile, Anderson and Tenet continued to negotiate on a deal that would keep MCP open beyond its scheduled closing date, March 31, in hopes of giving Tenet time to find a buyer.

“I have every reason to believe we have enough of an agreement that we’re extraordinarily close, and we’ll have something to announce [this] morning,” Anderson said.

Said Margaret Shiver, a spokeswoman for Tenet, “These things just take time, but we’re very close and quite confident everything is going to be worked out.” […]

Meanwhile, Philadelphia Common Pleas Judge Matthew D. Carrafiello yesterday postponed until Monday further action on a lawsuit that seeks to stop the closure of MCP.

Now, wait a second. Last we heard, Tenet was telling everyone and anyone -- its staff, its patients, lawmakers, community leaders, shareholders -- that it just couldn’t find a buyer for MCP, and, as a result, there was no other option available to the company but to close the hospital by March 31.

Hmm. Looks like somebody -- Tenet -- didn’t try very hard, considering the potential buyer, Temple University Health System, is just down the road.

Ah, but there’s more. In today’s Daily News Hinkelman reports (“Deal Delays Closing of MCP Hospital,”):

Gov. Rendell and Tenet Healthcare agreed yesterday to keep the Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital in East Falls open until June 30 -- in hopes of finding a buyer.

And Hinkelman today reveals the second potential buyer: Albert Einstein Healthcare Network.

Moreover, the Daily News reports:

The Temple University Health System has been talking with the governor’s Office of Health Care Reform about MCP for a month, and has submitted a “wonderful” proposal, said Susan Anderson, the office's deputy director and Rendell’s point person in the negotiations.

Tenet has also been negotiating separately with several other health-care entities, Anderson said. “The plan is for Tenet and the state to sit down with the various proposals and all the parties and see what we can work out,” she said. [Emphasis added.]

Call me cynical, but does this not smell funny to anyone else but me?

Someone -- Tenet -- is playing games here. No surprise, that, given the current “free market” business climate in Philadelphia. To cite just one example, we have Comcast Corp. holding out its hand out for more than $100 million in city and state subsidies for a building, still in the development stage, that might become its new headquarters in Center City. Who could blame Tenet for gaming the system to its best advantage?

What’s worse is that it’s not entirely clear the politicians involved in the talks over MCP think anything of this -- or even have thought about it at all.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Donations to the Memorial Fund

Donations to the Faheem Thomas-Childs Memorial Fund may be sent to the Philadelphia NAACP at 1619 Cecil B. Moore Ave., Philadelphia, Pa., 19121.

As previously noted here, Faheem Thomas-Childs, 10, Philadelphia, an A-plus student, died on February 18 after having been shot in the face, caught in the cross fire -- a malicious hail of bullets the count of which ranges from 50 to 100 -- of a suspected drug gang shootout in front of his school, T.M. Peirce Elementary, on the morning (8:30 a.m.) of February 11.

Related links:

Services Set for Boy Killed in Cross Fire,” by Vernon Clark, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 21. (I’m going to the public viewing [Deliverance Evangelistic Church, 2001 West Lehigh Avenue, Philadelphia]. I don’t care if I have to walk the whole way. There have to be some advantages to being unemployed.)

One of the City’s ‘Worst People’ Surrenders,” by Nicole Weisensee Egan, Philadelphia Daily News, February 21.

$105,000 Reward in Faheem’s Killing,” PDN, February 20. (To contribute to the reward fund write: Peirce School Dragnet, Citizens Crime Commission, 1218 Chestnut St., Suite 406, Philadelphia, Pa., 19107.)

Feds Join Hunt for Faheem’s Killers,” by Weisensee Egan, PDN, February 20.

Street Vows to Increase Security Near Schools,” by Mark McDonald and Mensah M. Dean, PDN, February 20.

Fatal Bullet Tied to Suspect,” by Weisensee Egan, PDN, February 19.

Fatal Bullet Linked to Suspect,” by Thomas J. Gibbons Jr., Philadelphia Inquirer, February 19.

New Rewards Offered: $10,000 Each in Faheem Killing,” by Dan Geringer, PDN, February 19.

Oh, and by the way, for those of you interested in, or at least able to pay slight attention to, more urgent and pressing matters, the HBO series, “Sex and the City,” ends on Sunday night. Sorry to have bothered you with this.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Life on the Edge

Believe it or not I don’t like writing about myself, particularly when doing so reveals too much and especially when the associated revelations reflect poorly upon me. Not only does it “not look good,” no matter how hard I try it seems always to end up looking like a pity party.

But as I’ve said before, I write this blog for myself more than anyone else, though I do so also with an eye toward my regular readers: I think I’ve learned over the past nearly two years what they like to read from me and what they don’t.

And so, even with that in mind, this post is about me and more for me than it is for anyone else. If you care little or nothing about the subject, read no farther.

Things are bad here. Really bad. I have at this moment, to my name, exactly $190 in liquid assets and liabilities almost immeasurable. (Talk about your starving, and uninsured -- since September 2001 -- writers. How I will pay for the next round of Zoloft and Klonopin is beyond me.)

This is embarrassing. This is humiliating. This is a disaster.

I don’t know how this happened. I know I’ve been terrible with money my entire life, though, remarkably, things have improved on this point in recent years. For example, I haven’t used a credit card in four years. Can you say that about yourself? Still, I wonder whether I can truly be trusted to manage my own affairs, financially speaking at least. (And I mean that, “at least.”)

Were it not for the generous efforts and support of a sibling, along with a new-found friend, the outpouring of support from Rittenhouse readers, and the indispensable assistance of the aforementioned Philadelphia attorney Lionel Artom-Ginzburg, at the end of this month I would be homeless.

Homeless. I swear, I am not exaggerating. Well, not too much, anyway.

Sure, I can point to this or that uncontrollable happenstance that helped bring me down yet another rung in life, a slide that dates back -- completely unfairly, even nastily and selfishly, on his part -- to a relationship that ended in January 2000, but ultimately this is my fault. I know that. I did this.

But can you imagine how surprised I am, smart guy that I pretend to be, that here is where I sit? Wondering from one day to the next where I will live in a week’s time? And how I will get there? And what I will do when I arrive?

Maybe this is a warning to all of us. Prepare for the worst. Save more. Spend less. Live cheaply. It’s better to be married (or, legal inanities taken into consideration, “partnered”).

Just don’t go here.

Above all else, don’t think you’re immune. Some of you are closer to me than you would rather believe.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


I Don’t See Any Here

You all know I hate my landlord, and that I detest its sometimes-big-haired agent, “Miss Thing,” even more.

She friggin’ tried to take me to court for crying out loud. Given that experience -- favorably resolved thanks, again, to Lionel Artom-Ginzburg -- I do not entertain happily, by any means, the notion of going to court with her/them again.

Nonetheless, it struck me this week that I cannot recall ever having seen a black tenant, African-American or otherwise, in this rather large apartment building. And I’ve been living here for 18 months. And it’s a high-turnover building.

Now, the population of the city of Philadelphia is more than half black. One would think, I think, that a building like this one, in the heart of Center City, even one that describes itself as “upscale” and “contemporary,” which some prospective tenants might read as code words, would have at least a few apartments set aside, apartheid-like, for non-white residents.

I admit, I haven’t scoured the tenant list, one I’m sure Miss Thing would be reluctant to provide me, but still, I’m a pretty observant guy, and I’ve spent my tenure here working at home, meaning I’m around a lot, and almost everyone I see coming in and out of the building, except for the doorpeople (not the maintenance staff, who are uniformly white or Hispanic/Latino), the stray home-healthcare worker, and the occasional delivery person, is not black. The tenants are, presumably, and overwhelmingly, Europeans or European-Americans, along with a smattering of Asians or Asian-Americans.

Seems a little odd.

More odd because the other day I overheard one of the (black) doorpeople/security guards almost actively discouraging a black man from securing contact with the rental agent.

Hey, what you public interest attorneys in Philadelphia do with all this is entirely up to you.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


With Gratitude and Appreciation

Reader C.P., who recently wrote to The Rittenhouse Review to express concern the site temporarily had neglected to inform readers of the nation’s “terror alert status” -- Concern? C.P. was almost distraught: “How can I prepare for the day without knowing?” -- writes again:

Whew, thank you. I can go on with my day.

After September 11, 2001 some friends here were questioning whether something like that could happen in Savannah[, Ga.]. I agree with you that we hardly meet the profile for a terrorist target. I pointed out that even General William Tecumsah Sherman didn’t burn the city. Why would al Qaeda?

I thought that was clever of me.

Indeed, as “they” say, thinking that particular bon mot, in and of itself, to be so wise an observation.

I promise you, C.P., and the multitudes who depend upon Rittenhouse each and every day for a status report on their very ability to go about their business: I will not let you down.

(Oh, and, uh, by the way, I still need more yellow photos. JPG format, please.)

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Asking for More

A short while ago The Rittenhouse Review -- oh, let’s not be so grand -- a short while ago I, in a Dickensian moment, that a nice contrast to my recent Dr. Seuss moment, wrote to the author of I Am Eating My Husband’s Soul:

Please, ma’am, may I have some more? Some more of the most hilarious writing on the web today? Please?

I’m never sure what to do with I Am Eating My Husband’s Soul. Should I check the site every day hoping for a daily dose of laugh-out-loud humor? Or should I resist that powerful temptation and sort of store it up, that in order to spend an hour or so falling off my chair?

Either way it’s great, and if you’re not reading it, you’re missing out. Big time.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Is “Overseen” a Word?

(This post is a variant of the much loved “Overheard” series I used to post at TRR: The Lighter Side of Rittenhouse, my “other” blog that recently was folded into The Rittenhouse Review.)

Overseen, in Center City Philadelphia, Friday, February 20, at approximately 9:30 p.m.:

A young woman, 28-ish, wearing strappy, red, sparkly, high-heeled sandals as evening footwear. In Philadelphia. In February. With the ambient temperature at 42 degrees.

Please explain.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Hello, Accomplished Writers, Artists, Musicians, Businesswomen?

Judging from the relentless attention of the media, one would think the nation were up in arms, incipiently revolutionary, or at least thoroughly and irredeemably distraught, unconsolable, adrift, and losing the collective will to live.

No, you wise and faithful Rittenhouse readers, this distress results not from a pervasive and generalized alarum provoked by the Bush administration’s profligate militarism and reckless foreign policy, nor the plight of the poor and unemployed, nor, well, you know.

Instead the hysteria surrounds the impending demise or dissolution or desuetude of that most horrendous of television series, “Sex and the City.” (See, for example, “No More ‘Sex,’” by Ellen Gray, Philadelphia Daily News, February 20, and “Miss Matched,” by Karen Heller, Philadelphia Inquirer, February 21.)

Far too much ink has been spilled and too many trees have fallen -- to say nothing of the 0s and 1s wastefully transmitted hither and yon on the subject -- agonizing over the end of the show and the four remarkably, and uniformly, unattractive (psychologically speaking, of course) women who formed the core of the show’s story lines.

I say: Good-bye, sluts. Good riddance. Don’t let the sheets hit your asses on the way out.

Does the end of “Sex and the City” portend something potentially greater? The broader culture’s sudden collective interest in accomplished women writers, artists, musicians, and businesswomen? (No, sorry, sit down Camille Paglia, Cindy Sherman, Sheryl Crow, and Carly Fiorina, the key word here is accomplished.)

Sadly, this probably is not a key turning point because the show was still quite, and rather inexplicably, popular. Getting (out) while the getting (it) is good, I suppose.

Call me sexist, call me patronizing, call me popular-culturally ignorant (Please!), but I think women deserve better than “Sex and the City.”

And yes, I know, “my people” are no better. It’s sad that, for all of their purported cultural superiority (e.g., “opera queen”), too many gay men know more about, and even idolize, porn stars -- witness: steroid abuse, tattoos, full-body waxing and shaving -- than they do the writers, artists, musicians, and businessmen in their midst and among their cultural heritage.

But that’s just me.

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Friday, February 20, 2004  

Lou Peluso on Michelle Malkin

Lou Peluso of Philadelphia writes to the Philadelphia Daily News in response to syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin’s deranged adoration of guns, rifles, and all the men associated with firearms. (Uh, Dr. Freud, please call your office, Dr. Freud.)

An excerpt from Peluso’s letter, published today:

Michelle Malkin, the news media’s plastic centerpiece for the right-wing midgets of the NRA, asks, “Isn’t it time for gun-owning entrepreneurs, tourists[,] and voters to take their business elsewhere?”

That sentiment, if spoken by some liberal, would most likely be termed “treasonous” by Ms. [sic] Malkin.

But such name-calling is expected from our little Ms. [sic] Malkin -- we’ve come to expect that from her. It’s time she got out of that room of mirrors and entered reality. Life isn’t as black-and-white as is her clouded perception of reality.

Ouch. A well deserved ouch.

Somebody get that man a blog!

[Note: Michelle Malkin is married, presumably with the full and complete blessing and recognition, respectively, of both church and state, to one Jesse Malkin. I can only assume, based on her past “work,” that she would prefer the honorific “Mrs.,” perhaps in that most traditional of appelations, one I intend not here to disparage, “Mrs. Jesse (Michelle) Malkin.”]

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Let’s see, you decline to seek advice, and subsequently are denied consent. What to do? Toss the whole process in the toilet. After all, it’s only the Constitution of the United States of America.

The latest trashing of the strict intent of the authors of the Constitution (Where have I heard that before?): President Peek-a-Boo today resorted to truly desperate measures -- a recess appointment -- to put Alabama Attorney General William H. Pryor Jr. on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit (Atlanta).

Without approval of the Senate, the clock will tick relentlessly over Pryor’s head while he serves the Bush administration on the court. Happily, if one can find anything remotely satisfying about this disgrace, Pryor will be looking for a job by the end of next year.

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Thursday, February 19, 2004  

Yellow? Orange? Brown? Black?

Reader C.P. writes:

I was at the Rittenhouse website this morning and saw no terror alert status report.

How can I prepare for the day without knowing?

My apologies, C.P.

Rest assured, if you can: The nation’s terror alert status remains Yellow.

Can you say that? Yellow.

I believe that means “elevated.”

Can you say that? Elevated.

And I say all this knowing you, C.P., live in a small city that ranks kind of not so high on the list of terrorists’ potential hit sites, and that nonetheless, or rather therefore, military and civil authorities in your area should be as well prepared as those in such places as Washington and New York, and therefore are free, or obligated, to incur any and all necessary related expenses, payment by whom it is not for us to ask.

The truth is that thankfully, I guess, we have been on Yellow alert status for quite some time and, as a result, I was starting to run out of appropriate photographs.

I’ll do better going forward knowing you, and who knows how many others, are relying on Rittenhouse to prepare your day, each and every day.

[Post-publication addendum: See new terror alert color status report at right.]

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On Thursday for a Change

Let’s skip the Washington Post column (“Girls Night Out: The True Joy of ‘Sex’,” pretty self-explanatory anyway, done 100 times already) and go straight to the videotape.

Lloyd Grove writes in today’s New York Daily News:

Buzz-zzzzzz: I’m told that [sic] the ratings slide of Queen of Buzz Tina Brown’s weekly CNBC talk show is Topic A among the chattering class. According to figures released yesterday, last Sunday’s 8 p.m. installment of “Topic A With Tina Brown,” featuring Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein as the guest, drew only 20,000 viewers -- a 67% plummet from the previous Sunday’s debut and a rating so low that it barely registers on the buzz-o-meter.

Typically Tina, that: thinking anyone cares what her business associate Weinstein thinks about anything.

You know, there are blogs, though not this one, that consistently draw more “viewers” than Brown’s “program,” and these blogs are “on” every day, not just once a week.

(Thanks to reader A.E. for the Daily News tip.)

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Wednesday, February 18, 2004  

All of Her Own Accord
And Then the Daycare Thing

It’s amazing, I think, when my bulldog, Mildred, who is nine cents short of a dime, knows, without any indication from me whatsoever, that’s she’s in the proverbial doghouse.

Earlier this morning Mildred engaged in an extremely rare act of disobedience: She apparently pulled a food bag out of the cabinet, spilled its contents onto the kitchen floor, and sat down for a little binge.

I didn’t witness the event, but I saw plenty of evidence, and Mildred knows better. And I know Mildred knew she misbehaved because when I arrived at the scene she was sitting in her self-imposed “time out” chair, not the chair she prefers.

In the absence of eyewitness testimony, I thought it was inappropriate to scold her or punish her, so I decided to ignore her. Eventually she made her way to the bedroom, and later I went in to lift her up on to the bed. (It’s very high; she can’t make the jump on her own.)

Now here I am in my office, not 50 feet away, eating potato chips (yes, at 10:30 a.m.), and I know Mildred can hear me eating them, and I know she knows what I’m eating, and I know she knows that she really likes them, and I know she knows that she always gets at least two or three bits of almost everything I eat, and she has yet to emerge from the bedroom.

And, no -- and this is to those who really know Mildred, either in person or through the blog -- she is not sleeping. I checked. Twice. She’s in the doghouse, and she knows it, and yet I didn’t put her there.

One more thing: That whole “let’s switch Mildred back to the diet dog food” thing I was talking about? Project abandoned. It was just too much. Way too much.

By the way, saying Mildred is “nine cents short of a dime” reminds me of her days in a certain uptown Manhattan daycare center.

After Mildred had attended the carefully preselected preschool for more than a year (that’s how things “work” there), a new student, André, I believe his name was, entered the class.

Like Mildred, André was a bulldog. Like Mildred, André was mostly white in coloring. And like Mildred, André apparently wasn’t very bright.

During the early weeks after André’s initial enrollment the teachers told me Mildred, as is her wont with the little guys, took to André immediately. Mildred graciously took him under her wing, so to speak. André was pleased by the attention and happy to learn the ways of the world from so elegant an older woman. “Mildred’s showing him around,” they said. “She’s teaching him the ropes.”

I said, through my teeth, “Really? That’s wonderful!”

But I thought to myself, “Oh, this can’t be good.”

And indeed it wasn’t.

André’s parents owners soon discerned what was happening, and not long thereafter Mildred came home with a note. (Now, I should say that Mildred bringing a note home is a really big deal, not only because she is extraordinarily well behaved but also because she lacks opposable thumbs, making the transport of such a note rather complicated, to say the least.)

The note read, in relevant part:

It has been suggested to us that the proper and appropriate physical and mental development of one of our new students, namely André, would be best pursued without the, shall we say, interference of your daughter pet, Mildred.

Parents Owners have asked questions about her developmental and occupational status and potential. Moreover, issues of hygiene also have been raised.

Having known, worked with, and instructed Mildred in, well, the lesser of our vocational arts for more than a year, we must say that we concur with the parents’ owners’ assessment.

As such, be advised we shall henceforth discourage and, if necessary, disrupt, any and all contact between André and Mildred.

And do you know what? Stupid, naïve idiot that I was, I bought into the whole thing. I felt horrible and guilty, not for having subjected Mildred to such absurd and unwarranted scrutiny, but rather for having delayed André’s incipient development into some sort of brilliant champion show dog.

New York does that to people. Even to dogs. And that’s why I live in Philadelphia.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Faneuil’s Friends to Testify

Oh, this ought to be something.

Judge Miriam Goldman Cedarbaum, presiding over the trials of publisher Martha Stewart and her former stockbroker Peter Bacanovic, yesterday said she would allow friends of prosecution witness Douglas Faneuil to testify about conversations they had after Stewart sold shares of ImClone Systems Inc. through Faneuil (“Setback Seen for Broker in Stewart Judge Ruling,” by Constance L. Hays).

According to the Times, “The ruling permits jurors to hear evidence of Mr. Faneuil’s conversations with his friends, in which he apparently told them he had done something wrong and was worried about it.”

Why might this be “something?” Well, after overcoming initial jitters, Faneuil last week displayed a distinct flair for the dramatic during his appearance in U.S. District Court. His theatrics, which reportedly grew more pronounced following the apparent appreciation of some jurors, went so far as to draw an objection from Stewart’s lead attorney, Robert Morvillo. “I’m going to object to the acting,” Morvillo said, but was overruled.

I know, I don’t know these guys, Faneuil’s friends. But believe me, I know these guys. And the whole thing has me almost wishing I were in New York for a chance to watch what’s likely to be quite a performance.

I also know I wouldn’t want to be around Faneuil’s friends the night beforehand: “What are you going to wear?” “I don’t know, what are you wearing?” “I just don’t know!”

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Or Just a Dose of Reality?

It looks like former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill isn’t the only Bush administration official who doesn’t buy the White House line.

The New York Times today reports (“Bush Officials Offer Cautions on White House Jobs Forecast,” by Edmund L. Andrews):

Treasury Secretary John W. Snow distanced himself on Tuesday from the Bush administration’s official prediction that the nation would add 2.6 million jobs by the end of this year.

That prediction, which is far more optimistic than that of many private sector forecasters, was part of the annual economic report released last week by the White House Council of Economic Advisers and was immediately echoed by Mr. Bush himself.

But on a tour through Washington and Oregon to promote the president’s economic agenda, Mr. Snow and Commerce Secretary Donald L. Evans both declined to endorse the White House prediction and cautioned that it was based on economic assumptions that have an inherent margin of error.

“I think we are going to create a lot of jobs; how many I don’t know,” Mr. Snow said, adding that “macroeconomic models are based on a lot of assumptions” and are “not without a range of error.” […]

To create 2.6 million jobs by the end of this year, the nation would have to add more than 230,000 positions each month from now until January. But many if not most economic forecasters expect a more modest upswing, largely because the nation’s productivity has been climbing so rapidly that companies have been meeting higher demand without adding workers.

Selling a product in which you have no confidence. That’s the Republican way.

The Rittenhouse Review | Copyright 2002-2006 | PERMALINK |


Music, Sports, Activism

Daniele Gatti of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, in Naples, Fla.

Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers, in Denver.

Bruce Friedrich of Peta, in Slaughterville, Minn.

[Post-publication addendum February 20: Reader L.F. writes to correct me. Slaughterville is a town in Oklahoma, not Minnesota. My apologies.]

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The Murder of Faheem Thomas-Childs

Below are links to articles in today’s local newspapers about the murder of 10-year-old Faheem Thomas-Childs, Philadelphia, caught in the spray of a drug-gang-related gun battle -- somewhere between 50 and 100 bullets were fired, and this at 8:30 a.m. -- in front of his elementary school a week ago today.

(The A-plus student’s death was noted here Tuesday.)

In the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Death of 10-Year-Old Hits at School’s Heart,” by Vernon Clark and Susan Snyder.

Another Life Lost to the Guns,” by columnist Acel Moore.

For a Safer World, Let’s Invest in All Children,” by columnist Lucia Herndon.

And an editorial, “Protecting Children.”

In the Philadelphia Daily News:

Con Men, Pretending to Collect [Money] for Faheem’s Kin, Stole It Instead,” by Barbara Laker, in which we read: “This is a city with no shame. […] [W]hile he was on life support for five days, con men with cans in their hands, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with his photograph, walked his neighborhood collecting money for themselves. […] To ensure that all donations go to the family, the NAACP has established a memorial fund to pay for Faheem's funeral and to provide scholarships for Faheem’s eight surviving brothers and sisters.”

Peirce Principal Vows to Use Slaying to Bring Change to School Community,” by Mensah M. Dean

Gunplay Ends a Child’s Play,” by columnist Elmer Smith

And an editorial, “Philadelphia in the Cross Hairs: Guns Hold the City Hostage.” Pull quote:

Thanks to the pro-gun forces in Harrisburg, Philadelphia has been prevented from passing effective gun-control legislation. […] The only ones who can step in are Gov. [Ed] Rendell and the state Legislature. We expect nothing from the Legislature. What matter the death of a child when there’s all that political muscle from the NRA to tap? But Rendell is apparently not interested either, despite making a lot of noise about suing gun manufacturers when he was mayor. When did he lose his moral compass?

Good question. Probably sometime in January 2003, somewhere along I-76 West.

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Tuesday, February 17, 2004  

Shorter Peggy Noonan

Shorter Peggy Noonan:

“I perform much better when I write off the top of my head than when I have to answer real questions from real people.”

If I might borrow from Noonan’s own words:

“Not impressive.”

“You can find the transcript of the . . . interview all over the Web. It reads better than it played.”

“[She] seemed tired, unsure and often bumbling. [Her] answers were repetitive, and when [she] tried to clarify them [she] tended to make them worse. [She] did not seem prepared. [She] seemed in some way disconnected from the event.”

“But [her] supporters don’t really expect to be inspired by [her] interviews.”

“So [Ms. Noonan] will have a few bad days of bad reviews ahead of [her].”

“[She] couldn’t remember [her] talking points. [She’s] a non-talking-point [gal].”

“I’ve never been able to stick to a talking point in a TV interview in my life.”

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I Think If You Poke Him
You’ll See That He’s Done

The reelection campaign of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) is underway. Specter filed the necessary papers with the state election commission (See John Baer’s excellent column in today’s Philadelphia Daily News, “Abstinence Lands on Arlen’s Agenda”), and his campaign is running its first television advertisements, prepared not in anticipation of the general election, but ahead of the Republican party primary challenge from Rep. Patrick Toomey.

I haven’t seen the ad, but the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday published one of its brief “Ad Watch” pieces summarizing and analyzing the spot:

Images and words: Pennsylvania’s other senator, Rick Santorum, faces the camera and says: “I’ve heard people say that they think Arlen Specter is a liberal. But let me tell you as a member of the Senate leadership, Arlen Specter was the key vote, not just in supporting the President’s tax plan that created jobs that has revived this economy, but in getting the votes necessary to make that passage possible. Arlen is with us on the votes that matter to move our agenda forward for this president and for the country. I am proud to endorse Arlen Specter.”

Specter is briefly shown with the President, and the words “Arlen Specter cast the deciding vote for the Bush tax cut” appear.

Analysis: It is not clear in which Bush tax cut Specter played a decisive role. A spokesman says it was the May 21, 2003, passage of a 10-year $350 billion cut that passed the Senate 50-50, with Vice President [Richard] Cheney’s breaking the tie. Any of those on the winning side could have been said to have cast the deciding vote.

Wow. Slow start. Unimpressive.

Should he win the party primary, Specter in November still will face a very strong challenge from Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D).

Hoeffel’s campaign received an added boost this week when it brought on staff Philadelphia attorney and blogger Adam Bonin.

Bonin writes:

This is a Democratic state -- our governor is a Democrat, our largest cities are run by Democrats, and we voted Democratic in the last three Presidential elections. It’s about time our Senate delegation reflected these trends, and the polling suggests that as more voters learn who Joe Hoeffel is, we will. Arlen Specter is vulnerable, and we can beat him.

And Bonin reminds everyone, Pennsylvanians or not, that defeating Specter is going to take money, and plenty of it. So please add Joe Hoeffel to your list of very worthy causes this year. You can donate on line or you can download the contribution form at the same site and then mail a check to Hoeffel for Senate, 1528 Walnut St., Suite 950, Philadelphia, Pa., 19102.

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