Monday, March 31, 2008

Well, if we can't find Osama bin Laden, the least we can do is bomb Britain. So that's what we just did.

Okay, okay – it was actually just an itsy-bitsy mistake.

Even so, you'd think we'd be a little more careful about where we drop our weapons. Oh, wait a second, I'm talking about people who work for the Bush Administration. Sorry it even occurred to me to act surprised.

Dropping lethal ordnance on the Brits goes perfectly with every other ham-handed, blunder-headed, dimwitted, incompetent bollixup committed by the Republican Bush Administration, from Iraq to the current attempts to screw up the already-screwed financial system.

But hey, what do I know? I'm only a crank.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Who killed Antioch College? Is it a tale of secrecy, incompetence, and sinister skulduggery?

Since this was originally posted there have been some major and very positive changes at Antioch. Go here for my latest report on the subject.

Antioch College is scheduled to close in June of this year. This is by now old news. Or is it?

The news has usually been blamed on the decay of the college’s physical plant, the narrowing of political diversity among the students and faculty, and a laughable policy on student sexual relations. The right wing blogs have not-undeservedly been having a vitriolic field day. Example here.

Surprising new twists

But recently, the causes of right-wing glee have begun to seem a bit superficial. It turns out – to my own surprise – that there's much more to the story. And the "much more" isn't very pretty.

It all has to do with a conflict between the 156-years-old college in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and the parent “university” which, in addition to residential liberal arts Antioch College, contains a bunch of far flung college-ettes — essentially narrowly focused community continuation and adult education schools of no great fame or formidable distinction.

I’m an Antioch College graduate from the days when an Antioch degree commanded a certain amount of respect and I’ve always assumed that the right-wing folks were for once completely correct: the problem was slow decay of the physical plant, a campus culture turned too far and too rigidly left wing to attract lots of students, a downward spiral in applications and an enfeebled endowment. The the situation seemed to be feeding on itself. The worse any one thing got, the worse everything else got.

Not entirely so, according to information leaking out of Antioch College that seems to indicate truly ugly and heretofore hidden skulduggery.

Secret meetings by trustees who
threaten to sue people
who expose their proceedings

I say the information has been “leaking” because that's the only way it can get out. The Antioch University’s Board of Trustees, the very same body that declared it was shutting down the university, is now insisting that its proceedings are subject to “lawyer-client confidentiality.”

That's pretty weird for an institution supported primarily by its alumni and supplemented, as all private college are, by government and tax-exempt foundation funds. In fact, the trustees are threatening to sue a journalist who exposed what ought to be a public record of their activities.
( I'll get you to all the appropriate links a bit further on.)

One of several possible reasons for the secrecy: there appears to be some evidence that the trustees deliberately undermined the college’s finances and growth plan. And that they deliberately rebuffed, on vague technical grounds, the alumni who had raised $20 million in three months to help save the college, as well as an earlier attempt by one individual to make a $10 million dollar donation.

Tangled, creepy and upsetting:
a “moonie” PR man, Abu Gharaib
land-grabbing entrepreneurs

The story is tangled, creepy, and upsetting – and I don’t need to retell it here in detail. You’ll find the broad outlines here. Notable in this story is an incident in which the trustees rejected a donation that might have kept the college going shortly before they announced the closing.

Then, for a bit of blood-boiling shock-and-awe you might want to go here to read a tale that includes allegations that the parent university, in the course of bringing down the college

•hired a former PR man for Sun Myung Moon to spin what was going on

•invited in a Department of Defense contractor associated with the notorious Abu Gharaib prison in Iraq

•and may be welcoming the possibility of a land grab of Antioch campus property by local entrepreneurs, in connection with changes at Wright Patterson Air Force Base. (Two of the university board members are connected to those interests.)

Did George Bush help plunge
a knife into Antioch’s heart?

Oh and by the way, the last link also leads to a suggestion that the administration of George Bush is playing a part in destroying the institution.

Finally, go here to download some of the documents that seem to authenticate much of what's leaking out of Antioch. On the same web page, if you have about 12 minutes, watch the film that shows the campus and library turning into an exercise ground for a SWAT team doing a Homeland Security exercise.

The team laughs, jokes, and starts waving assault rifles while a library staff, mourning the death of one of their colleagues and in shock from the previous day’s news that the college closing will put them all out of work, try to carry on.

Major national media: please send your investigative reporters digging.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Quick: Which of these men got more Americans killed?

Huffington Post’s Jon Soltz comments today on the 4,000 Americans (there may be even more by the time you read this) who have perished in Iraq since the George W. Bush administration decided it would be cool to invade and have the natives strewing rose petals at our feet.

One of the excuses for the Iraq invasion, according to George W. Bush, was that, "Saddam Hussein is a man who is willing to gas his own people, willing to use weapons of mass destruction against Iraq citizens. " (link)

Well, I suppose you can get picky here. George W. Bush didn’t gas American soldiers. He simply put them (and continues to keep them) in harm’s way, where 4,000 of these courageous young people have been fatally shot and bombed.

The death count after 9/11, excluding the hijackers, was 2,998. Which means George Bush has gotten roughly 1,000 more Americans killed than Osama Bin Laden.

And still he sticks to keeping us in that damned war.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

“Well, I will if you will. But if you won’t I won’t. But if you will and I’m not nominated, or if I’m nominated and you’re not nominated, or… reports that John McCain has taken a step toward accepting public financing in the general election.

The Politico article also reports:

Last year, McCain pledged to participate in the public financing system if he won his party’s nomination and the Democratic nominee did the same. 

The vow came in response to similar positioning by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama. The Illinois senator subsequently has backed away from committing to the program, however, as it has become clear his record-setting fundraising operation likely will be able to bring in significantly more than $84 million for the November general election.
There are more potential eye-crossing, headache-inducing permutations inherent in this one than I care to shake a rattlestick at. For example: Barack wins the Democratic nomination, and then backs off from campaign financing because he realizes he has more dough in the till than McCain and can beat McCain’s pants off by using contributed money...

Or Barack accepts campaign financing, but then McCain gets a huge infusion of mega-cash from panicked corporate donors who fear Obama might lower the boom on their predatory ways of doing business...

Or both accept campaign financing, but then so-called “independent” advertisers start supporting the candidates with so-called “issue ads.” You know the kind of thing I’m talking about: “Don’t stand for it. Tell Barack Obama to stop oppressing one-eyed widows who want to wear water wings...”

Or Hillary beats Obama in the primaries and lobs so much money at McCain that he’s crushed by a tidal wave of meaningless emotional advertising...

Or vice-versa. Or the other vice-versa

Or the Dems go into a deadlocked convention and the delegates pick Biden or Edwards as their presidential candidate, totally bollixing up the Republican plans for a negative advertising campaign aimed at Obama or Clinton...


Please stop me. I’m giving myself a headache.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Dr. Crank’s step-by-step, creepy-crawly, totally-paranoid nightmare scenario for fellow nervous Democrats

1. Hillary gets completely shut out of primary votes that might go her way in Florida and Michigan. (Already happening.)

2. Barack wins nomination as Democratic Party’s candidate for President.

3. Hillary refuses to give up without a fight and goes to the “stare decicis” U.S. Supreme Court, which decides, “Stare schmarey – we’re taking over the election.” By a 5-4 split they declare Barack’s nomination null and void.

4. Democrats discover there is no longer time to hold a primary and new convention before the election. They apply to the Supremes for a delay in Election Day.

5. Supreme Court says, “Hey, stare decicis, dudes! Election Day has already been decided upon as the first Tuesday in November since forever. To assure the smooth and fair functioning of our democracy, we cannot change the date of Election Day, even though we’ve decided the Democrats have no legal candidate. How many times do we have to tell you guys, 'Don't mess with Florida?'”

6. The United States gets a one-party election. By some odd coincidence, McCain becomes President.

As I said, this is only an paranoid nightmare. It's unfounded.

Or is it?

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Hey, New York Times: here's what inquiring minds really want to know about the Eliot Spitzer hooker scandal

I noticed with some interest that a New York Times blog is doing a running Q&A about Eliot Spitzer, the New York Governor who just resigned after getting caught patronizing a high-priced hooker. Yes. I'm talking about the once-dignified New York Times, now evidently the scandal sheet of record. The entire op-ed page for two days in a row has been all-hooker-all-the-time. As was the lead editorial yesterday.

Anyway, I’m usually too cranky to deal with tabloid-style scandals, but this one is different. It's raising questions that are unanswered because nobody has been alert enough to ask them. Well, hardly anybody. Anyway, these five don’t appear on the Gray Lady’s blog, at least as of this posting:

1. Am I mistaken or do we have a war in Iraq, a war in Afghanistan, a nose-to-nose presidential nomination race and a national economic collapse going on that ought to be taking up most of the news these days – instead of what the now ex-governor shelled out for hookers? Oh, sorry I asked. As you were.

2. What’s with the price Spitzer is reported to have paid for sex – the $4,300? I can understand him paying four grand. I can understand him parting with $300. But $4,300? Sounds weird, unless…

3. Was the $300 a tip? If so, is Spitzer as cheap a bastard as I’m thinking? Cabbies in this town expect 15%, and please round it up to the nearest dollar. Waiters get at least 15%. In really upscale restaurants it's routinely 20% or more. Yet on a $4,000 hump, Spitzer tips the hooker seven and a half percent? Sheesh! His criminal lawyer had better demand payment in full upfront to avid getting stiffed, too..

4. The hooker in question has been reported to have two working identities with similar-but-different names. Under one name, she got $4,000 a throw. Under another, only $1,000. If this is so, may I extrapolate that the only difference between, say, a $5,000 hooker and, say, a $5 hooker is $4,995?

5. If our government is so deep in the national debt hole, and out to cut waste, how come the Feds spend their valuable time checking out governors who are into hookers instead of terrorists who are into bombs? Could it be that they only check governors who are Democrats?

Only asking.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Guess what the dunces at AT&T do when a victim of rape threats calls for help?

The Republican Bush presidency will forever be known as the Age of Incompetence. I did a rant on this last May, showing how incompetence starts with the incompetent dunce in the White House and trickles down to virtually every level of society. But hey, it’s gotten worse since then.

This morning I opened an online trade publication called Directmag, which talks to people who spend their lives selling things by mail, TV and over the Internet, and with “managing” customer relations. And there it was again – a glaring examples of American incompetence – this time relating to Big Telephony and rape threats.

As reported by Directmag columnist Richard H. Levey, a woman had been receiving threatening phone calls from a man who knew “her name, her address and her apartment number. And that last bit was especially disturbing because the caller threatened to rape her.”

So what does the woman do? Probably what your or I would recommend that a loved one do – she calls the police. And what do the police tell her? Essentially, “Rape threats? Not my department.” Specifically:

The police told Sue to contact her phone company–AT&T–and have the incoming number traced.
What? The cops don't talk to telephone companies? Gimme a break.

Maybe if she just said, “I’ve got some Al Queda recruiters calling and asking me to plant bombs,” she might have gotten some serious attention from law enforcement, which seems ready to tap the phones of American citizens without a warrant on the basis of – well, who knows what basis?

But hey, if somebody only wants to rape you, you’d better be prepared for do-it-yourself police work. So she calls AT&T. And guess what they do?

Nope, try and guess again.

Wrong again. Let me tell you what AT&T – the company that’s seeking a legal shield for allowing warrantless wiretaps requested by the Bush Administration – does when a woman calls in to ask for trace on calls from a would-be rapist.

Right. This time you got it. Before finally connecting her to the presumably appropriate person, they try to sell her more phone services.

And when the reporter had the temerity – the sheer gall – to e-mail five different AT&T people in media relations to ask for comment:
Of the five people in media relations I e-mailed, only one responded. His message simply said “We are looking into the details of this situation and will address it appropriately.

“We value our relationship with the customer and apologize for any inconvenience.”
Yeah, but they don't value her nearly as much as they would if she'd stop bothering AT&T about rape threats and instead just shut up and buy more stuff from AT&T.

With apologies like that, what we really need is some legislation to let irate customers sue AT&T back to the stone age

Thursday, March 06, 2008

“…passed, after a long and valliant battle with something or other…”

Eventually, people start getting weird at the breakfast table. If you’re under 60 or so years of age, you’re going to have to trust me on this; one day you won’t be able to put down your coffee cup and head out the door until you’ve finished reading the death notices in the morning newspaper.

There are all kinds of reasons for this, many of them social.

What if Harry's now a corpse?

At a certain stage of life you don’t want to ask Harry’s wife how good old Harry is feeling if there’s a chance Harry dropped dead from fatal stroke yesterday. What does it say of you if you commit a major faux pas simply because you were too lazy to check the death notices?

Even later in life, reading the death notices is a way of keeping up with your friends.

Personally, I got into reading the habit of reading death notices in my early 40s. It started after I called my insurance agent to ask why he hadn’t responded for more than a week to some request I’d made. His sister growled at me over the phone, “Our father just died, that’s why.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling – pardon the expression – mortified, “I’m terribly sorry. I didn’t know.”

“How could you not?” she snarled, “It was in the New York Times!

Since then I’ve regarded reading death announcements a requisite act of citizenship, sort of like voting and paying my taxes.

The language of death

So it’s amazing that in all these years I never took particular notice of something until it began bugging my beautiful girlfriend. I’m talking about the curious language of death notices.

“Passed, after a valliant battle with cancer,” is a typical phrase. So is “after a courageous struggle” and even, “a lifelong fighter who fought his disease to the very end.”

As the beautiful girlfriend points out, you don’t and can’t battle a disease. You go to a doctor. He radiates your tumor. Or cuts it out surgically. Or gives you a transfusion of the latest chemotherapy agent. Or you get moved to a home where people feed you oatmeal with a spoon after Alzheimer's renders you so helpless that you can’t even remember who you are. Then they change your diapers.

Dying – or getting cured or treated to prolong your life for a while – is by its nature a passive experience.

What’s brave and what’s not?

The 105-pound little old lady who fights off a 6-foot, 250-pound mugger with her umbrella – she just had a brave battle. The little old lady who lies there while they start an intravenous drip is just lying there because the doctor said to lie there.

Having survived an often-fatal form of cancer (at least so far), I can crankily boast that I was neither brave nor a fighter. I went to the doctor and he said, “Here’s what you have to do.” I said, “Okay.” I wasn’t brave. I was numb with fear. I lay down on the operating table because I was ordered to. When I woke up a few hours later, the cancer was out. That was several years ago. So far, so good.

Incidentally, I’ve also noticed that in some small town newspapers dead people “respose.” For example, “He is reposing at the Ajax Funeral Home on Main Street.” What this is intended to communicate is, his corpse is lying there in a box and you can go there to see it and offer sympathy to his family. Nobody in the death business says what they mean.

The passing of gas

While I’m on the subject of death notices, what’s with the euphemisms for death? Why is it that animals die, but people “pass?” Pass what? And why does anyone say that someone else “passed away?” Where is away? And what do they do while they’re passing there – turn the steering wheel? Hit the brakes? Stomp on the accelerator? Do they use hand signals or their blinker lights?

I’m in no rush to be dead, but when I die I’d like people to say of me, “He died,” and not that “He passed.” First of all, I went through life trying to get more than a passing grade. If you tell people I passed, they might get the idea that I nearly failed.

Don’t even get me started on New Age phrases like, “He moved on to the next stage.”

If society keeps on going with ridiculous euphemisms for death, pretty soon simply saying that somebody died will become politically incorrect, a paranoiacally perceived insult to those who believe in life after death, or life with 72 virgins after death, or life after removal from a cryronic freezer after death.

We have turned into a world of people who fear to say what we mean, whether in matters political, religious, ethnic, racial, or sexual. Why did people who used to be one sex or another now have to be one gender or another? But I’m getting off the topic of death here.

A personal death pact?

Personally, I’m thinking of making a cranky pact with my beautiful girlfriend: Whomever drops dead first will put on the other’s tombstone, “Died after a valiant battle with hyperbole.” Except that I’m also thinking of not having a tombstone. If I get cremated, my ashes can be distributed and everybody can have a piece of me. Some people have been wanting a piece of me for years.

In any case, we’d all better do something about this death hyperbole business fast. This means you, pal. Because, as the beautiful girlfriend – a medical doctor who therefore has some authority in these matters – often reminds me, “Nobody’s getting out of here alive.”

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Yo, heads up San Diego Union-Tribune, Orange County Register, San Clemente Sun Post News, San Clemente Times: Stop snoozing! Here’s a story for ya.

Imagine that you’re home when suddenly you hear a pounding on the door. Under threat of arrest if you fail to comply, you have to pack up and get out – immediately. Except you don’t get to pack up everything. Some of your property gets seized.

Your landlord has obtained a court eviction order. But you’ve never heard anything about the order until this moment. You’ve never been given an opportunity to show up in court and fight the eviction. And when you go to the municipal court to file a motion to quash the eviction, the clerk of courts refuses to accept the papers and writes “Cancelled” across your motion.

Michael K. Riley, a disabled film maker who was living at 222 Avenida Cabrillo in San Clemente, CA, claims this is what happened to him during a Kafkaesque series of events that led to his being put out of his apartment and left powerless to challenge the eviction in his local courts. Further, he says, his protest to that court decision was denied by the California Court of Appeal, 4th Appellate District.

Disabled guy fights back

Now, in papers Riley tells me he and his former roommate Michael D. Wilson filed yesterday in U.S. District Court, Central District, California, and the day before with the California Supreme Court, Los Angeles branch, he’s fighting the eviction by Cabrillo Investors, the landlord, on several grounds – not least of them that Riley has been denied access to court papers ordering his own eviction.

The case is complex. Michael D. Wilson, no longer lived in the apartment at the time Riley was evicted, Riley told me. In addition, Riley claimed in telephone conversations with me that the landlord was evidently hostile to projects that Riley was conducting as a documentary film maker; that there was harassment by the landlord; and that Riley complained to the local buildings department that the landlord “had built a unit on the premises without obtaining a permit.”

Why does Southern California news
have to get covered by a
cranky old guy in a cubicle in New York?

I’m not getting any deeper into any of that. The “newsroom” here at the New York Crank consists of one part-time cranky old guy in a cubicle who’s putting out this blog a couple of times a week while trying to do other things that actually put food on the table.

This needs a local reporter in California who has the time and nexus do all the usual reportorial things like calling up the landlord and the clerk of courts to get their sides of the story, talking to Riley’s former roommate, obtaining background from experts in California landlord-tenant law, and following the case to its conclusion.

Are you listening, any of you Orange County reporters and editors? Why does some cranky old guy sitting in a cubicle in New York have to dig up your damn stories for you? Get off your fat, lazy duffs!

A few samples of the horror story

Just to whet your appetite, though, let me share a few random paragraphs from one of Riley’s self-written court briefs:

This seizure of property occurred 1) based upon a Notice to Vacate from Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona who is no longer Sheriff; 2) based upon a Notice to Vacate setting the date for eviction that had long since expired; 3) under a purported judgment entered by a clerk as a clerical error in plain excess of jurisdiction; 4) in a case in which no cause of action was stated; 5) in a court which never acquired jurisdiction through the service of any party interested in the defense; 6) by a court which denied Plaintiffs their right to file a defense; 7) by a court that refused Riley’s right to file a defense under the American Disabilities Act.


Cabrillo Investors has no right to seize or hold the property taken unlawfully. As attorney for Cabrillo Investors, Gary Gough is now using that property to impair the ability of Riley and Wilson to present their defense. He is holding that property hostage to force them to drop all litigation.


The denial of access by members of the public to “public” records of actions filed in public court violates the constitutional rights of all persons. A right necessary to the preservation of all other rights is deemed fundamental. This right is fundamental as it is necessary to redress of grievances under the First Amendment. Due to the nature of the right, any member of the public has standing to complain of those provisions in order to uphold the rights of all.


And though Wilson did everything Cabrillo requested of him, at the end of the day, Cabrillo sued him any way. And although he was the only named defendant in the unlawful detainer, Cabrillo never served him with process. And now Cabrillo has a judgment against Wilson for thousands of dollars in a case Cabrillo never had a right to file under state law to file. Cabrillo had no right to file an unlawful detainer against a person they knew was no longer in possession.


When Riley attempted to file a motion to allow him to file an opposition to the unlawful detainer before the entry of the default, Michael McCartin of the Municipal Court wrote “cancelled” across a clerk’s stamp in violation of petitioner’s rights under ADA and refused to allow him to appear. So the claim by Gough and Cabrillo that Riley is somehow to blame for not filing an appearance before the entry of the default is utterly fraudulent.
Okay, members of the southern California press. Over to you, if you wouldn't mind terribly waking up today.