Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Wow! The “justice” system at Guantanamo is so effective that now our enemies are copying it. Or are we copying them?

Eight women and one man convicted of adultery are set to be stoned to death in Iran, activists said Sunday.

Six of the nine were convicted based solely on judges' decisions with no witnesses or the presence of their lawyers during their confessions...

Hmm, sounds suspiciously like what goes on at Guantanamo. Do you think a few U.S. generals, colonels, and present and former attorneys-general might have a second career in Sharia courts? Or are we leasing Iranian Sharia judges to run our own so-called justice system at Guantanamo?

Only asking.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mystic evil fortune teller curses John McCain and Bob Novak with powerful psychic ding

It’s been a while – almost a year and a month, in fact – since this blog last paid a visit to Mme. Galzogorist, the fortune-telling seer on one of Manhattan's grittiest commercial blocks. She's the one who has the power to dispense psychic dings. A psychic ding is the kind of curse that causes less-than-loveable people to feel severe mental anguish.

Or to look stupid.

So when I checked out the TV news recently, and heard about John McCain whining about Barack Obama's foreign travels, I figured Mme. Galzogorist had to be behind it.

Right I was. Here’s a transcript of my latest interview with my local fortune teller, mystic, seer, and bad mojo witch.

CRANK: Good to see you again, Mme. Galzogorist.

MME G: Watch where you’re walking. Don’t step on the dog.

CRANK: Certainly. I’ve come to ask you…

MME. G: Or the cat.

CRANK: Let me get right down to it. Did you give John McCain a psychic ding?

MME. G: Well I certainly didn’t give him a psychic dong. That guy has absolutely nothing that could point this nation out of the war, out of the economic mess we're in, or even out of his own tangled verbal underwear.

CRANK: Why are you taking it out on the poor senator?

MME G: Because he’s a whiner. He whined, whined, whined that Barack Obama had never visited Iraq. Waa waa waa! Then Obama goes to Iraq and McCain whines, whines, whines about Obama’s traveling. I also sense rumors that McCain's sore at Obama getting so much press coverage. I mean, what did he expect would happen? McCain asked for it and he got it. Lie down in dog poop, wake up smelly. He has no right to complain. So I dinged him.

CRANK: Did you ding McCain on the economy, too?

MME G: McCain dings himself on the economy every time he opens his mouth. Not to mention looking like an idiot when he tries to explain the history of the surge. His campaign theme song ought to be a takeoff on that 1958 doo-wop song.

Don’t know much about history
Don’t know ‘bout the economy

Don’t know much about a science book

Don’t know much about the French I took…
You can find all the original lyrics and download them for a Republican ring tone just by clicking on this link. Come to think of it, that could be George Bush’s theme song, too. Or the full verbatim text of the Republican platform.

CRANK: So do you think Obama’s going to win the election?

MME. G: Situation is cloudy. Ask again later.

CRANK: Why has Obama slipped in the polls?

MME G: I could give you a smart-aleck answer, such as, “Americans have an infinite capacity for voting against their own self-interest and wishes.” But all I’ll say officially is, “Situation is cloudy. Ask again later.”

CRANK: Did you also ding Bob Novack, the syndicated columnist?

MME G: You mean the guy who outed an active CIA operative, Valerie Plame, endangering the lives of CIA assets? If you’re talking about his hit-and-run of a pedestrian with his sports car in the nation’s capital, and his claim that he simply didn’t notice hitting a guy so hard that the poor victim ended up with casts on his neck and back, nah, I didn’t cause that ding. It was the pedestrian who dinged Novack’s Corvette, by allowing himself to get hit-and-run by Novack. Vroom vroom.

CRANK: How big is the ding?

MME G: I don’t know. But if Novack put the poor hit-and-run victim in the hospital, I imagine the ding is bigger than a dime. Somebody ought to go out and take a picture of the car before the damage disappears like, oh, a few million incriminating White House e-mails. Where are the paparazzi now that we need them?

CRANK: Will you be dinging any more politicians before the November elections. Say, by causing one of them to make a major gaffe?

MME G: Situation is cloudy. Ask again later.

CRANK: Thank you, Mme. Galzogorist.

MME G: Watch out! How many times do I have to tell you – don’t step on the cat!

Monday, July 21, 2008

This man has a brilliant and thoroughly out-of-the-box plan to save beleaguered Antioch College. Is anybody at all listening?

Antioch College, a once-great institution, is currently in a state of suspended animation, a product of neglect and worse by its trustees, administration and some alumni over the last 20 years. Officially, the college is closed. The alumni have a plan to re-open it, using $18 million in cash and pledges they have gathered – if they can come to agreement with the University trustees.

I’ve already pointed out that with a piddling $18 million its hopeless to try to restore a college like Antioch to greatness.

That $18 million would have to renovate an ailing physical plant with over 20 buildings. It would have to replenish the dwindling faculty with new recruits – not easy for an institution with a now-shaky reputation. Ditto, it would have to attract high quality students – a task that was proving extremely difficult even before the college's parent Antioch University revealed just how shaky the college really was.

And, if Antioch wants only first-rate students, it will have to keep going with a too-small student body until its reputation can be restored and it can attract all the talented students it needs. Nice trick if you can do all that with $18 million.

A reorganization plan that creates
its own income stream

Now it turns out that over a year ago, a 1965 Antioch College graduate had worked out an extraordinarily innovative plan that might actually save the college – and provide an economic stimulus to the adjacent village of Yellow Springs, Ohio, at the same time.

His name is J. David Coldren. His plan works in part by creating an income stream to supplement tuition. At the same time, it reinforces what was special and traditional about the college, including its once-famed work-study plan, its equally pioneering study abroad program, its once-respected insistence on academic excellence, and its tradition of community government.

Other features in Coldren’s plan include a “green” campus, studies in ecology, environmental protection, and urban planning, and “using Antioch’s extensive land holdings for field studies and work projects.” Importantly, Antioch would not do what it has considered doing – sell off any of its land. Instead, the beautiful campus and adjacent Glen Helen would “not in any way cede its properties or inherent powers to any other entity.”

Hidden in plain sight

For just about a year now, Coldren’s plan has been hiding in plain sight on the Internet. I wasn’t aware of it until I accidentally stumbled across it about two weeks ago. You can find it by going here and then clicking on either “Internet Slideshow” or the PDF file link.

The plan has many facets, but as I see it, one of its key factors is what Coldren calls an “intergenerational learning environment.” What this boils down to is constructing a facility on campus that would be part assisted living center for about 250 senior citizens (Coldren calls them "seasoned citizens") and part freshman residence hall. Assisted living residents, he says, would be encouraged to “take certain classes, attend cultural events, and be active in Community Government.”

Coldren believes that “Enriched experiential education will benefit both students and the seasoned citizens,” and that a required core curriculum should include “an extended seminar to help students process their experiences with mature, aging persons.”

This plan harnesses, he told me, two demographic trends: A projected decline of college-age students in coming years, and an increasing number of what he calls “active seasoned citizens.”

And one other thing very much worth noting: A byproduct of the center would be money for the college.

Where’s the income stream?
Also hidden in plain sight.

Coldren’s presentation of his plan notes:

Antioch’s President and administrators should be supremely competent academic leaders and terrific fund raisers. They need not be particularly knowledgeable or adept about food services, residential care, maintenance, security, or telecommunications. Much of that can be contracted for – and should be…

By partnering with a developer to develop an urban village around the college core on Antioch property and by building only the most essential academic and residential facilities for students (such as a single dormitory–like residence hall for 1st year students and co-located with an assisted living center), the college should be able to shed lots of overhead and maximize its revenue stream from leases and rentals.
Coldren is quick to admit that the college will still need an endowment. His estimate of $50 million of endowed startup costs is certainly greater than the $18 million now at the disposal of the alumni, but not beyond reach.

The reaction? Hostility, negativity
and an undertone of fear

You’d think that a plan that gives back to Antioch everything it ever stood for plus one more thing – a new raison d’etre – would be greeted with at least a little bit of enthusiasm. Think again.

Knowledgeable about Antioch and therefore wary of reactions among the Alumni Board of Trustees, the parent university’s Board of Trustees and others, Coldren says:
"I chose to send an earlier version of the presentations to friends on the two Boards plus the Chancellor. They were welcome to circulate it as they saw fit. Apparently some did…. "
But unfortunately, “If there was a favorable reaction I haven’t heard about it,” Coldren told me just before I posted this story. In fact, there was plenty of unfavorable reaction when Coldren posted a presentation of his plan on some of the “Save Antioch” forums.

You’ll find one of those forums here. Keep following that thread to see the plan wildly accused of extraordinary crimes and misdemeanors, from attempting to turn Antioch into a “theme park,” to an attempt to turn it into a “Halliburton franchise,” to a declaration that the plan would try to “sell” Antioch like a product. Heavens to Betsy! How can you attract sufficient numbers of faculty, students and donors to that dead hulk without “selling” the virtues of what it could offer?

There was even an impassioned defense of the graffiti that now defaces many of the buildings on the Yellow Springs, Ohio campus.

All of this tends confirms what Coldren told me next– that when he posted in the forums:
I got so much disparaging and downright hate e-mail that only confirmed for me that there had been – and still was – and illiberal and so-called toxic culture at Antioch College for years. Civility and respect for other opinions had vanished.
If only Coldren were left-leaning
might his plan have a better chance?

Sometimes I wish I could be saved from my own political allies. Certainly that's so in the case of my liberal allies' reaction to the Coldren plan to save Antioch. It may not help a brilliant idea that its parent has leaned toward politically conservative thinking since his college days.

Were Coldren only as "liberal" as, say, The New York Crank, and if he avoided certain liberal rage-triggering words like “outsourcing” in his presentation, the alums might be rallying to his plan instead of disparaging it.

Antioch, Coldren said in his presentation, should not be a “boot camp for the revolution.” In fact, it was no such thing when Horace Mann founded it, nor when Arthur Morgan reinvisioned the college in the 1920s and turned it – at least for the next 50 years – into an experimental but excellent place to get a well-rounded college education.

Unfortunately, some people who usually agree with me on other matters have developed a self-crippling case of doctrine blindness. Throw a word like “outsourcing” or “globalization” into the works and the whole progressive educational machine crashes like an overloaded computer. Mention that a plan that could support and propagate mostly liberal ideas and policies comes from a conservative, and you may as well have dumped 50 pounds of anthrax spores into the local drinking water.

A “breeding ground for revolution”
a breeding ground for educational failure

If the alumni continue to see the college not as a place to propagate educational excellence and innovation but as a breeding ground for revolution – whatever they mean by revolution – their efforts to revive Antioch will fail and I predict the campus will be sold off, quite possibly to some entity that many of the alums will truly hate, such as Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

On the other hand, if they adopt Coldren’s plan, or even just cherry pick the best parts, perhaps the college can survive and become great again.

But don’t hold your breath that the alumni will see the light.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

"Shallow, incurious, indifferent to the facts"

For a moment I thought I was reading about George Bush. But no, the nouns attached to all these adjectives in the headline were "John" and "McCain."

My friend Underbelly has some interesting thoughts about John McCain, George W. Bush, what makes them similar and what makes them different. I recommend that you spend a few minutes here, reading his short essay about what does – and doesn't – make John McCain the worst kind of "old fogey."

Do we really need or want another intellectual dud in the White House?

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

I'm outta here for a few days

I'm traveling, and not even for fun. Just for business.

Hey, there's no way to make even ten cents an hour writing this blog, so a Crank's gotta do what a Crank's gotta do. In my case, that involves getting on an airplane to Chicago and doing some money-making stuff for a few days.

I'll be back end of the week. See you then, or early the week of July 21.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Thanks, Republican economics, for all the poverty – and keep cheerleading for it, John McCain. By the way, I love your dumb hat.

With John McCain essentially promising four more years of the Bush economy, with maybe some draconian budget-cutting measures thrown in to "reduce the deficit," it might be worth taking a look at some recent poverty numbers.

These come from an e-mail sent to me a few days ago by New York State Senator Liz Kreuger. She gets her information from a report from The New York Women's Foundation. It has to do with women but trust me, men and entire families are getting sucked into the same poverty hole.

• In 1989, 87.2% of women lived above the poverty line, but by 2005, only 83.4% lived above the poverty line.

• Today, 15.2% of New York's women live below the Federal Poverty Threshold ($19,806 for a family of four; two adults and two children), and 26.8% of all female-headed households with children live below the poverty line.

Kreuger adds:

The dire economic situation for women in New York and the downward trend are not isolated problems. Poverty creates ripple effects to th detriment of our entire state, impacting whole families, particularly impacting vulnerable children, elderly family members and whole communities.
Mind you, we're talking not about a long-declining rust belt state. This is happening in filthy rich, billionaire-loaded, $15 million luxury apartment-filled New York State. As the middle class slowly sinks into poverty while the super rich grow ever more super and richer, what does John McCain have to say about the economic policies that have brought us here?

Well, root around on his official website and you'll find him supporting heartwarming policies like these:

• He'll make it harder to raise taxes. Umm, he forgets to mention he's talking mainly about taxes on the rich. Warren Buffet, the billionaire investor, has complained that his secretary pays more of her income in taxes than he does.

• McCain will keep the tax cuts for millionaires on their capital gains and dividends. You're a poor jerk who only has $40,000 in a CD? Sorry bub, no tax break on bank interest for you.

•But McCain will cut the corporate tax rate 10% (thus shifting more of the burden to wage earners.)

•He'll also institute "pro-market health care and Medicare reforms." You don't know what that means? It means getting you out of Medicare and into an HMO with the disguising title "Medicare Advantage." Whatever they call it, it's an HMO. Did an HMO ever lower your health insurance rates?

I'd keep on going, but I'm almost ready to puke. Obama may have his faults, but if you don't vote for Obama what you're likeliest to get – if you're still part of the middle class by the time the next presidential term comes around – is impoverished.

P.S. What's with the dumb hat McCain is peddling on his website? Does he want to make us feel like we're all his kids? What's he trying to tell us? If he's the dad, who's the mom? I don't know about you, but I've never been in the same birthing room with Cindy McCain.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Now it turns out Antioch’s incompetent trustees and chancellor closed the college with zero forethought and planning

The situation at what’s left of beleaguered Antioch College keeps on going – from bad, to worse, to unimaginably horrendous. We’ve commented on the disaster there here, here, and here, but the bad news simply keeps on coming.

Back in May, perhaps some skeptics who thought the trustees and chancellor of Antioch University couldn’t be totally irresponsible might have scoffed at this report in a journal called Inside Higher Ed:

Paula A. Treichler, an Antioch alumna who last week left the Antioch board and who is a professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, blasted trustees for refusing to accept the deal [for turning the Yellow Springs college campus over to the alumni-sponsored Antioch College Continuation Corporation instead of closing down the college.] She said last week’s vote “does violence to the college and its alumni, the Village of Yellow Springs, progressive higher education, and acceptable standards for the governance of academic institutions.” She said that the university’s chancellor, Toni Murdock, and “the uncritical trustees who have applauded her every move are living in a dream world of their own making,” engaged in “bullying, fear-mongering, selective presentation of facts and figures, legal intimidation, self-righteous proclamation, and secrecy.”

While the trustees have “won” the right to shut down the college, Treichler said that they will have done great damage to Antioch. “As the full story of these negotiations, hidden agendas, and 
squandered opportunities emerges over the coming months — and it will — we will have to conclude that the actions and decisions of this university administration and this university Board of Trustees have been among the most unethical, academically and economically irresponsible, incompetent, and politically cowardly in the history of American higher education.
Over the top? On the contrary. In light of new reports from Yellow Springs, Ohio, perhaps Treichler’s bitter denunciation was an understatement.

Proceed blindly, with both left feet

Last week, the Yellow Springs News revealed that the college closing, already in progress, is being conducted with all the forethought and attention to facts, detail, costs and law that the Bush Administration devoted to invading Iraq. Or maybe a little bit less.

The Yellow Springs News reported that the way the college was going about the shutdown was violating the local fire code and putting buildings at risk. The problem? The buildings contained flammables, yet the fire protection systems had been dismantled.

• Freezing temperatures during winter could cause the sprinkler system pipes to burst, yet heating the more than 20 institutional buildings – a necessary step if the sprinkler system was to be kept on – involved expenses that the parent university and its underlings at the college evidently didn’t plan for.

• The college fired the physical plant employee who had been in communication with fire officials and who might have been able to communicate his concerns to the University’s hellbent-on-closing management.

"The problem has been the university has not been forthcoming in their plans for fire protection for the buildings,” according to the local township fire chief, Colin Altman, “No one has contacted us.”
 Not forthcoming? They haven’t even been forthcoming with their own alumni, faculty and the press.

• Having created one of the most enormous fire hazards in educational history, the Trustees, Chancellor and senior staff of the university “vanished.” Reported the Yellow Springs News again:
"We’re not trying to violate any kind of code,” he [Vice President for Student Services Milt Thompson] said. There had not been time to remove all furniture and other combustibles from the buildings because “things happened pretty fast,” he said.

 Decisions regarding the shutdown were made by Antioch University Chief Financial Officer Tom Faecke, according to Faecke in an interview several weeks ago.

 Faecke, University Chancellor Toni Murdock and University Board President Art Zucker were not available for comment last week or this week due to family and travel conflicts around the Fourth of July holiday, according to university spokesperson Lynda Sirk. Faecke and Murdock did not respond to calls seeking comment, and Zucker did not respond to an e-mail request.”
“Tear it down,” says a consultant

Meanwhile, the Trustees, who seem to make a habit of listening to bad advice from consultants (it was an outside consultant who originally advised closing the Yellow Springs college) hired yet another consultant who has advised tearing down half the buildings on campus, including the student union, theater arts building, the college gym, several dormitories, the art building and others. Yeah, that'll certainly help the college reopen in the future, the way Chancellor Tulisse Murdoch says she plans.

If they listen to the consultant, the board will be following not only in the footsteps of the Bush administration, but also of the legendary Vietnam combat officer who declared, without any glimmer of a sense of irony, that “We had to burn the village to save it.”

Panicked trustees change direction

Little wonder the trustees, now suddenly panicked, passed a resolution in June “seeking an independent college and asking the alumni board to present a process and a plan for achieving that goal,” according to the Yellow Springs News. This was the opposite of what they had announced earlier, after having turned down an earnestly drafted alumni plan to preserve the college.

The alumni are crazy if they accept the new offer. They have raised $18 million or so in pledges and cash to “save” the college and perhaps they could raise even more. But the mess that Chancellor Tulisse Murdoch and the trustees have created through their gross incompetence can’t be fixed with $18 million.

A sure thing: To repair the campus physical plant, recruit first rate (and rightfully wary) new faculty in every major department and then keep the college going with an insufficient number of students for about 10 years until Antioch College can finally restore its reputation, demonstrate its quality again, and achieve a critical mass of qualified students will cost many multiples of $18 million.

Our own cranky estimate: try half a billion bucks.

P.S. Antioch’s management, which in the past couldn't take yes for an answer when alumni offered a takeover plan to liberate the college from the University, also can’t seem to take no for an answer. In an organized response to the closing, a number of angry alumni wrote to the PR director of the university telling her to take our names off their e-mail list. We didn’t want to hear from the university, or her, ever again.

In violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the CAN-SPAM law, the university's PR flack and the puppet Yellow Springs campus president not only defied our opt-out message by sending us another e-mail, but said they would do so again. It’s further evidence of the panic that has management desperately trying to get the college off their hands before they can be accused of destroying it physically as well as institutionally – an event that increasingly looks inevitable.

Their "opt-out this, buddy" message, sugarcoated with buzzwords like "stakeholders" and "outreach" said:
I am writing to ask that in light of continued discussions between Antioch University and Antioch College alumni regarding the transfer of the college to alumni, that you consider accepting periodic outreach from Antioch University intended to keep all Antioch stakeholders up to date about the college's future.
I respectfully ask this because it is our goal to make sure that the outcome of any actions pertaining to Antioch College are swiftly and accurately conveyed to everyone with a direct interest in the institution.
If it is still your decision to request removal from periodic communication, you may opt out of the news mailing list by selecting the opt out option at the bottom of the next communication.


Andrzej Bloch
Interim President Antioch College
Lynda Sirk
Director of Communications Antioch University

As of July 7th, the college spinmeisters had failed to "swiftly and accurately" convey the chaos over the firetrap they had created, or the consultant's advice to tear down half the college.

P.P.S. Will wonders never cease? The July 10th Yellow Springs News reports that "The water sprinklers had never been turned off," according to the Antioch University vice president for student services, despite his report to the contrary to the local township fire chief, Colin Altman, the previous week. Then, uh, the University VP mentioned that, well, one building is an exception. And he still hasn't said how the University will deal with a pipe-freezing winter now that the heating system has been shut down. Or at least the University's financial vice president is still saying it's shut down. Who knows, given the stumbling by University administrators over what ought to be simple yes-or-no facts.
And still there's more – a move afoot in Yellow Springs to have the village assert its rights of eminent domain and seize the campus. Use the link in the paragraph above for details.  I doubt it will ever happen, but hey, it's Yellow Springs and Antioch. So you never know.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

New York Street Scene: "Sidewalk? Whazzat for? Jaywalkin’? I never even hoid of it."

No question about it, New York is a pedestrian’s town. The tired gag that in New York, “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” signs are “recommendations” doesn’t even elicit a smile from most New Yorkers, just a weary nod of recognition.

Even so, West 32nd Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues earns my cranky nomination for the Epicenter of the Jaywalking Universe.

On this block pedestrians don’t just challenge the right of way. They commandeer it, brazenly defying the little traffic that dares to try navigating that block – mostly an occasional errant taxi and city buses whose routes begin there.

Pedestrians don’t give a Bloomberg's Buzzard for oncoming vehicles. Do they feel impervious or are they merely oblivious? Who knows? But bus drivers have difficulty pulling away from the curb and taxis sometimes have difficulty threading their way through the throngs.

Admittedly, a lot of the people you see in this 23-second clip, recorded on June 30th, aren’t true New Yorkers. They’re suburban commuters, rushing from their offices to New Jersey Transit and Long Island Rail Road trains that depart from Penn Station, just half a block up the street.

But even so, is this a New York scene, or what?