Worth reading, 07/09/13

Sex and the Sorriest Pols (Frank Bruni, New York Times)

… before we go too far in lumping [Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner] together or draw too many conclusions about priapism and punishment, let’s get our bearings.

Eliot Spitzer doesn’t have a quarter of the gall that Anthony Weiner does. He doesn’t have an eighth of it. Out of office for more than five years, he isn’t asking for a restoration of his prior glory. He isn’t even asking for a particularly sexy job. Comptroller of New York City? Most voters don’t know what that is or even if it’s spelled correctly. It doesn’t come with a mansion. It’s not a ticket to parades. It’s drudgery and decimal points. Audit till you drop.

Weiner, meantime, hadn’t been gone from Congress for even two years when he announced his candidacy for mayor of the city, a job exponentially more influential than the one that he’d never done especially well in the first place. He’s angling for a gigantic promotion. In the narrative he’s constructed, his mortification has made him a new man, so we’re supposed to give him an extra measure of our trust and hand him the reins of the most important and most complicated city in the country. I know we like our mayors brash, but we needn’t accept delusional in the bargain….

Already there’s chatter about whose infidelities are more forgivable: Spitzer’s, which were arguably a crime, or Weiner’s, which were creepier? This misses a crucial point. Both men fell as spectacularly as they did not because they got caught with their pants down but because none of their colleagues liked them much even with their pants up.

This is a terrific read. One thing we know for sure, The New York Post and New York Daily News hope Spitzer and Weiner win their primaries, just so they can keep those headlines coming until November. And maybe beyond.

These two guys are a tabloid editor’s dream.

Cosie

Welcome, pilgrim, to Sam’s Bar and Grill, a dive in Geneva, N.Y., where you’ll find neither a Sam nor a grill, though I vaguely recall being able to buy a prepackaged ham and cheese hero that could be heated in some fashion, probably over a Bunsen burner, and then you’d burn your fingers trying to get it out of its cellophane wrap when Cosie plunked it on the counter.

You could also score a long, soft pretzel, slathered with mustard. And there were two giant, grimy, old gallon jars, one of which was filled with enormous pickles and the other with hard-boiled eggs. But for sure, I never saw anyone so much as dare to dip a hand into either.

Not even Cosie.

Let me tell you about Cosie.

Pull up a barstool, kids, and I’ll tell you a story about the greatest bar on god’s earth and the wonderful man who owned and operated it. Not Sam, whoever he was. I’m here to tell you about Cosie. Here he is behind the bar, where he stood for half a century:

Photo by Doug Reilly

But first, we have to roll back the clock to 1969. And we have to deal with the pronunciation issue.

Cosie’s real name was Cosmo Fospero, and that’s why we pronounce Sam’s Bar and Grill “Cozzie’s,” which is how it was known to one and all. From what I can tell, Cosie was born in 1922, which means he was pushing 50 when I got to know him in 1969.

Cosie’s was off a side street in Geneva, a very long walk or a quick drive from Hobart and William Smith Colleges. It was a townie bar, but it was always filled with college students (New York’s drinking age was 18 then) and faculty — and the occasional street drunk.

I should note that there was another, more popular college bar in Geneva called The Oaks, and it was located just down Pulteney Street from the colleges, which meant you could walk there even in the worst weather, and you could stagger home without need of a car. The Oaks, owned and operated by the legendary Dutch Venuti, teemed with jocks and frat guys and gorgeous women. I was none of those.

The Oaks was Ringo. Cosie’s was John. The Oaks was Namath and Unitas. Cosie’s was Marx and Marcuse. The Oaks was Iron Butterfly. Cosie’s was Dylan. The Oaks was a pepperoni pizza, a burger and fries. Cosie’s was an old sandwich in a cellophane wrap.

Dutch kept a shotgun behind his bar; Cosie kept a beat-up old guitar behind his.

Who you were was in some ways defined by where you drank, and I was a Cosie’s kind of guy. I belonged in a place where you could sit in the back with a few dozen cold ones and solve all the problems of the world, one beer at a time.

I was at Cosie’s one night when a political science instructor named Jack Krause leaned across the table, looked me in the eye and told me, in a very serious tone:

“I am your faculty adviser, and I am advising you to have another beer.”

And so I did. Jack always had my best interests in mind.

The walls were tastefully decorated with yellowing clips of Cosie’s patrons that had appeared in the Geneva Times and the Hobart and William Smith Herald. You could walk around and count your pictures on the wall.

There was a large industrial standup fridge at the end of Cosie’s bar that was stocked with beer, and Cosie’s offered a great selection. True, you couldn’t get a Lite, but that was because Lite beer hadn’t been invented yet. Nor could you get a craft beer, for the same reason. And there was no Coors, either, but that was because Coors hadn’t yet found its way east of the Mississippi. Coors in 1969 was sort of like the Sasquatch of beers: We’d heard of it, but only a very few could claim they’d actually seen one.

But there was Schlitz, Miller, Bud, Genessee, Utica Club, Pabst, Schmidt’s, Rheingold, Schaefer, Rolling Rock, Molson’s, Labatt’s and a fancy-schmancy European import called Heineken in that stand-up fridge. And, really, what else did you need?

Well . . . for one thing, you needed to know how to get your hands on one.

Sure, Cosie was behind the bar, but he was way too busy to do something as mundane as get you a cold one. There were pretty young women to be flirted with, jokes to be told, stories to be shared and songs to be sung.

So if you want a beer, pal, go get it. Cosie’s fridge, located just behind the bar, over in the corner, next to the men’s room (where every beer fridge should be) was open to the public. Open the door and grab something cold. There’s a bottle opener under the bar, to your right.

Now, the beer wasn’t free, of course. You owed Cosie 35 cents. Or 45, if you were a rich kid drinking Heineken. But, c’mon  . . . Cosie is way too busy to take your money. Like I said, there were stories to be shared and women to wink at, and that guitar behind the bar was going to come out before long and Cosie would be way too busy strumming it to bother collecting your coin. The night was finite, and Cosie had a lot to accomplish before 2 a.m., when the cops would drive by and flash their lamps to remind everyone to grab their coats and go home.

No . . . Cosie was way too busy for something as mundane as taking  your money.

So here’s how you paid for a beer at Cosie’s:

You walked behind the bar, opened the cash register and put your money in.

If you had a five-dollar bill, you made change. If you had a ten-dollar bill . . . oh come on, who had a ten-dollar bill? If you needed dimes for the bowling machine, you did the same. No problem. Mi cash register es tu cash register at Cosie’s.

This seems as good a time as any to show you some more pictures of Cosie. Here he is doing something he loved, putting a cork with a toothpick jammed into it into a bottle with just a little bit of alcohol at the bottom, and heating it up just right, until that cork would explode out of the top and the toothpick would fly into the ceiling tiles. There were hundreds of toothpicks in that ceiling.

And here he is with the ladies. And if one of them happened to be with you that evening, he’d tell her what a great guy you were, and how she should never let you go. Maybe even go home with you.

Speaking of the ladies, let me tell you about the night Jerry Jeff Walker played at Hobart and William Smith. Jerry Jeff showed up on the Albright Auditorium stage with a guitar and a quart of whiskey and played that baby until the bottle went dry, which was around the time that Fire Commissioner Quigley announced that the concert was over and y’all have to go home now.

But Jerry Jeff was just getting started. I mean, he’d played Mr. Bojangles only four or five times, and that barely met his quota. This was no time to pack up and go home. So Jerry Jeff asked the audience if there was a place where his concert could continue, preferably one with another bottle of whiskey begging to be drained.

We knew just the place.

And so it was that a large group of us found our way to Cosie’s that night, and Jerry Jeff arrived with his guitar and sidled up to the bar, and found a young thang on his right and a young thang on his left, and put an arm around each of them and suddenly realized that he’d run out of arms and his guitar needed tending.

“Here,” Jerry Jeff told me, “take good care of this.”

And so it came to pass that I spent a few hours at a table in the back, playing Jerry Jeff Walker’s guitar till closing time, pausing on occasion only for as long as it took to have another beer. Nineteen years old and I’m playing 12-bar on Jerry Jeff Walker’s guitar. How sweet was that?

I have one more picture of Cosie. This is him with me, at my college reunion in 2007.

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I went with my wife, Linda, and our longtime friends, Kenny and Rachel, in search of Cosie’s. We had trouble finding the joint . . . urban renewal has greatly changed the landscape of Geneva. But we finally succeeded in spotting the Sam’s Bar and Grill sign, and we walked inside.

Behind the bar was an 85-year-old man who didn’t look a day over 70. He looked up, grinned widely and said, “Where you been?”

I went to the fridge and pulled out a few Heinekens, because I couldn’t afford the extra dime in 1969 but I’m Heineken rich now.

“They still 45 cents?” I asked.

Cosie laughed heartily and gave me the 2007 price, and I walked over to the cash register and put my money in.

He put a toothpick in a cork, put the cork into a bottle, heated it up and shot the missile into the ceiling. He told some tales. He pulled out his guitar. He flirted with Linda and Rachel.

Turns out that you can go home again.

But not for long. Cosie closed the joint and retired a few months later. When last I heard, he was 91 years old and enjoying retirement in Geneva. Get that man a beer.

And, please, click here to listen to Cosie himself. And thanks to Jeff Hogue for saving Cosie’s song.

Cosie’s, once upon a time. That sign in front says Sam’s Bar and Grill.

And now it’s gone:

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— 30 —

Eye of the beholder

Christian Preachers Brutally Beaten at Gay Pride Festival (Todd Starnes, Fox News Radio)

Says here that when guys show up at a gay pride festival holding signs reading “Repent or Else” and “Jesus Saves From Sin,” they are provoking the celebrants.

So why doesn’t this headline read:

Bigots/Haters/Hecklers Beaten at Gay Pride Festival ???

How different were these “Christian Preachers” from the scum of the earth who call themselves members of the Westboro Baptist Church?

What’s the difference between “Christian Preachers” who show up to heckle people at a gay pride event and the “church members” who show up at the funerals of American soldiers to say they’re glad they died because “God hates fags”? 

These were not “Christian Preachers.” They are agitators. They didn’t deserve to get beaten, but they also certainly were there to provoke.

They COULD have stayed home. 

It’s all in how you see it, Todd.

They’re watching

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U.S. Postal Service Logging All Mail for Law Enforcement (New York Times)

As the world focuses on the high-tech spying of the National Security Agency, the misplaced card offers a rare glimpse inside the seemingly low-tech but prevalent snooping of the United States Postal Service.

Mr. Pickering was targeted by a longtime surveillance system called mail covers, a forerunner of a vastly more expansive effort, the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking program, in which Postal Service computers photograph the exterior of every piece of paper mail that is processed in the United States — about 160 billion pieces last year. It is not known how long the government saves the images.

Together, the two programs show that postal mail is subject to the same kind of scrutiny that the National Security Agency has given to telephone calls and e-mail.

The mail covers program, used to monitor Mr. Pickering, is more than a century old but is still considered a powerful tool. At the request of law enforcement officials, postal workers record information from the outside of letters and parcels before they are delivered. (Opening the mail would require a warrant.) The information is sent to the law enforcement agency that asked for it. Tens of thousands of pieces of mail each year undergo this scrutiny.

Now that this is out, I’m sure the right is going to pin the blame on Obama. But the program predates him considerably, so let’s not even think of going there.

Nonetheless, the notion that the government is making a photocopy of the front and back of every envelope I put in the mail is more than a little disconcerting. 

“It’s a treasure trove of information,” said James J. Wedick, a former F.B.I. agent who spent 34 years at the agency and who said he used mail covers in a number of investigations, including one that led to the prosecution of several elected officials in California on corruption charges. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with — all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”

I’m going to stick to email. No way anyone would be monitoring that . . . right?

I dare you to match my score

Fourth of July Quiz (Gail Collins, New York Times)

The year is now half over, people! So it’s time to see how closely you’ve been following all the political news of 2013 so far. No cheating!
I don’t know if I should be proud or embarrassed, but — honest to god — I got 11 out of 11.
Take the quiz. And post your score. I DARE you to match me.
And no cheating!

Worth reading II, 07/03/13

Wendy Davis

Wendy Davis shouldn’t be sainted for her filibuster (Kathleen Parker in the Washington Post)

I like Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis. I admire her intelligence, chutzpah and tenacity.

But her elevation to national heroine, essentially owing to her ability to speak for 11 hours straight without a break while wearing (how many times did we hear or read it?) “rouge-red sneakers,” is absurd….

… when the question of whether we should destroy human life at any stage is reduced to theater, leaving many journalists gushing like breathless red-carpet commentators, we have lost more than a sense of decorum.

One may agree with Davis’s principled stand on the Texas bill, which, she argued, tried to do too much. Even so, a little less glee from the bleachers would seem more appropriate to the moment.

This is one helluva read, regardless of where you stand on abortion. Now read it.

Because lots of guns and alcohol are a great mix

Illinois Gov. Quinn triggers backlash after changing concealed-carry bill (FoxNews.com)

Illinois Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn triggered a backlash from his own party as well as the NRA on Tuesday after he unilaterally changed legislation meant to allow the carrying of concealed weapons. 

In a challenge to gun-rights supporters, Quinn moved to cap the number of firearms and rounds that can be carried by Illinois residents and ban guns from any place that serves alcohol. 

Well, yeah, I can understand that. What kind of governor would want to keep me from having multiple rounds of bourbon and bullets?

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam also criticized Quinn’s changes. “Limiting the rights of law abiding people has never been an effective tool in reducing crime. Arresting, prosecuting and punishing criminals is. That’s a simple and straightforward concept that reasonable people grasp,” he said in an email. 

I’m starting to wonder if Andrew Arulanandam has ever been in a bar. In a college town. Because if he has, and if he still thinks all law-abiding people should be allowed to carry multiple loaded firearms into one . . .

Then he’s nuts.

Worth reading, 07/03/13

Widemodern_AR15_070213620x413

Congressman: ‘An AR-15 Muzzle Flash Is the New Torch of Liberty’ (US News & World Report)

Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, is offering the opportunity to grab a free AR-15 “before Obama does.” The winner of the freshman congressman’s semiautomatic sweepstakes will be selected July 4.

 A Tuesday email circulated by Stockman’s campaign organization urged readers to promptly register for the raffle before midnight Wednesday, warning that President Barack Obama plans to rescind the Second Amendment.

“An AR-15 muzzle flash is the new torch of liberty,” the email attributed to Stockman says. “It’s your chance to drive Obama crazy and light a fire for liberty with every trigger pull.”

Just so we’re clear, that’s a U.S. congressman saying that. And for good measure, he adds:

“Obama would love to grab my Bushmaster AR-15 and have it cut into pieces, along with every other gun in America. Well, I won’t let it happen,” Stockman says. “I want to give my Bushmaster AR-15 to you.”

I’m thinking Stockman and Louis Gohmert are neck-and-neck now in the race to replace Michele Bachmann as the Queen of Crazy. (Did I just call Stockman and Gohmert “queens”? Are the teabaggers gonna go all Alec Baldwin on me?)

But seriously . . . How nuts does a congressman have to be to appeal to his base? This is disgraceful.

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I spotted this photo circulating on Facebook. There isn’t a whole lot I can add to this:

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And then there’s this:

shylock

Atlanta Journal-Constitution Publishes Jewish ‘Slur’ In Crossword Puzzle… (Mediaite)

The answer to 32 Down is “JEW.”

And nobody caught this?

Worth reading, 07/02/13

Living With Fire (Alan Dean Foster in the New York Times)

I live in Prescott, Ariz., where a wildfire called the Doce fire is now almost completely contained, after burning 6,767 tinder-dry acres. It started two weeks ago, six miles or so from the house where my wife and I have lived for more than 30 years.

We live in the bottom of a small canyon, and it took a moment for me to realize that the smoke I was seeing from the study window was all wrong. Distant fires, which we are used to, score the blue sky with a thin haze, like a watercolorist’s brown wash. But this cloud was massive, a darker brown, moving too fast, and flush with orange.

I drove to the top of the highest hill behind our house and as I swung around the crest, between homes with neat desert landscaping, a view opened before me that bordered on the apocalyptic. Someone had switched the channel of my life.

This is a riveting op-ed, wonderfully written. A poignant tribute to the 19 heroes who died in Yarnell. And an explanation why, despite the obvious risks, we choose to live in dangerous places.

Be sure to read this one.

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Kirsten Powers: I Don’t Stand With Wendy Davis (Daily Beast)

So no, I don’t stand with Wendy. Nor do most women, as it turns out. According to aJune National Journal poll, 50 percent of women support, and 43 percent oppose, a ban on abortion after 20 weeks, except in cases of rape and incest….

Human-rights movements have traditionally existed to help the voiceless and those without agency gain progressively more rights. Yet in the case of abortion, the voiceless have progressively lost rights at the hands of people who claim to be human-rights crusaders. Abortion-rights leaders have turned the world upside down. They want us to believe that a grown woman is voiceless, that she has less agency than the infant in her womb who relies on her for life. A woman has so little agency, we are told, that she is incapable of getting an abortion before the fifth month of her pregnancy. To suggest she should do so is a “war on women.” It’s an insult to women dressed up as “women’s rights.”

A very compelling piece on the anti-abortion bill in Texas. This is not an endorsement by any means, but it’s important at least to understand both sides of an argument. Be sure to read this.

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What if Hillary Clinton passes on 2016? (Politico)

For Democrats, there is no fallback: It’s Hillary Clinton or probably a long bout of depression ahead of 2016.

With expectations hitting a fever pitch three-and-a-half years out that Clinton is running for president again, every move she makes – a video endorsing gay marriage, a coy line about supporting a woman president – moves the excitement a notch higher. So too do endorsements from former critics – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, among others….

[T]here is no obvious replacement. And the party would be looking at a mad scramble to fill the Clinton void.

“We would be at sea in a lifeboat with no food, no water, and no land in sight,” said one veteran Democratic operative who has worked on presidential campaigns, and who, like most people interviewed for this story, asked for anonymity to speak candidly about the former first lady. “There is no Plan B.”

It seems absurd that with more than three years to go before the 2016 election, it’s already come down to Hillary or Omigod What Now? for President. But there you have it.

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Statement from Edward Snowden in Moscow (WikiLeaks)

One week ago I left Hong Kong after it became clear that my freedom and safety were under threat for revealing the truth. My continued liberty has been owed to the efforts of friends new and old, family, and others who I have never met and probably never will. I trusted them with my life and they returned that trust with a faith in me for which I will always be thankful.

On Thursday, President Obama declared before the world that he would not permit any diplomatic “wheeling and dealing” over my case. Yet now it is being reported that after promising not to do so, the President ordered his Vice President to pressure the leaders of nations from which I have requested protection to deny my asylum petitions.

This kind of deception from a world leader is not justice, and neither is the extralegal penalty of exile. These are the old, bad tools of political aggression. Their purpose is to frighten, not me, but those who would come after me.

For decades the United States of America has been one of the strongest defenders of the human right to seek asylum. Sadly, this right, laid out and voted for by the U.S. in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is now being rejected by the current government of my country. The Obama administration has now adopted the strategy of using citizenship as a weapon. Although I am convicted of nothing, it has unilaterally revoked my passport, leaving me a stateless person. Without any judicial order, the administration now seeks to stop me exercising a basic right. A right that belongs to everybody. The right to seek asylum.

In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.

I am unbowed in my convictions and impressed at the efforts taken by so many.

Edward Joseph Snowden

Monday 1st July 2013

Is he right? You decide. I can see both sides of this argument, and my mind is not made up.

I’ll say this much: He’s clearly 30. In many ways, I miss the days when my focus was so narrow.

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AltaVista. What’s That? (New York Times)

AltaVista, once the most advanced and comprehensive search engine on the Web, is just days away from its last breath.

Yes, like you, I thought AltaVista had been extinguished years ago, but apparently not.

A search engine bites the dust. Just 20 years ago, we would have asked, “What’s a search engine?”