Category Archives: Politics

Is Nixon Underrated?

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Today is Nixon’s 100th birthday. I wrote this piece about him about 5 years ago and think you might dig it.

Much has been made of Nixon’s gross errors, paranoid delusions, and chicanerous deceptions. But it is unfair to judge his entire presidency by his mistakes. There were numerous successes and some visionary policies. In fact, in some ways, he was one of the most succesful presidents in American history. He is the only man to ever be elected President twice and Vice President twice, and his victory in 1972 was one of the biggest landslides in American history. He was President when man first walked on the moon. Relations with Russia and China were both greatly improved during Nixon’s tenure. He was an impressive compromiser, able to succesfully push numerous bills through a Democratic Congress.

“If liberals were pressed to say something nice about Nixon, they’d probably mention his creation of the Environmental Protection Agency, Occupation Safety and Health Administration, and support for the clean water act, school desegregation, and affirmative action,” says Kevin Arceneaux, a political science professor at Temple. “By current-day standards, Nixon’s domestic policies would be considered centrist, if not left-of-center.” In fact, renowned left wing activist Noam Chomsky once called Nixon, “Our last liberal President.” And Hunter S. Thompson, who despised Nixon all his life and who worked feverishly to assist George McGovern in 1972, offered him faint praise a few years ago. “Richard Nixon looks like a flaming liberal today, compared to a golem like George Bush. Indeed. Where is Richard Nixon now that we finally need him?”

As for conservatives? “Conservatives, on the other hand, would probably point to Nixon’s foreign policy as his positive side,” continues Arceneaux. “Neo-conservatives are especially pleased with his willingness to expand the powers of the presidency to pursue aggressively U.S. foreign policy goals, even if it meant keeping Congress in the dark or treating concerns for civil liberties as secondary.”

Hunter Thompson said this about him in an otherwise scathing obituary in 1994. “He had the fighting instincts of a badger trapped by hounds. The badger will roll over on its back and emit a smell of death…It is a beast that fights best on its back: rolling under the throat of the enemy and seizing it by the head with all four claws.”

He was a fighter, a compromiser, the son of an impoverished grocer who rose to be the most powerful man on Earth. He was also a crook. But to paint his entire Presidency with the broad brush of the Watergate fiasco is simply not fair.

Stu Bykofsky Defends Blackface


Another Mummers Parade has come and gone, leaving those of us with a modicum of common sense and common decency both bewildered and embarrassed (I wrote a piece defending the Mummers a few years ago. I made some fair points, but after what I saw yesterday, I was wrong.)  The Mummers decided to really amp up the racism this year, and the result was embarrassing for the city. But Daily News writer Stu Bykofsky thinks we just lack a sense of humor if we don’t find blackface or mockery of Native Americans funny.

Out there in the twitverse – that’s not a typo – some donkey sees blackface in the Mummers Parade and - kazaam! – as many as nine people on a couple of different “platforms” are finding other forms of “racism” in the parade, drawing insipid conclusions from their aggressive ignorance.

In other words, Stu Bykofsky thinks it’s not only perfectly acceptable in 2013 to have a float called “Bringin’ Back Those Minstrel Days” in a downtown parade in one of America’s largest cities, complete with giant wooden depictions of blackface (seen below), but that those of us who don’t “get it” are ignorant. He continues.

If you’re offended, here’s a buck. Try to buy a sense of humor.

See, here’s the problem with your simple logic, Stu: there is a very hard and fast rule in comedy…if you’re going to say or do something making fun of a race that isn’t your own, IT BETTER BE FUNNY. That’s the social contract that anyone doing comedy has with their audience. You can say whatever you want when it comes to race, but it better be funny or the crowd will probably turn on you and you’re going to look like a total jackass. I’ve seen comedians walk both sides of that line, and it is remarkable to see the people who are good at it pull it off, to the degree that the people they’re making fun of are laughing their heads off. It is an amazing skill, one that very few comics are capable of. And it is cringeworthy when the others can’t make it work, and the crowd turns, and the comic is up there all alone, twisting in the wind because their joke was some idiotic, simple lampooning of race.

In other words, race and culture and class and America’s history of racial and social conflict are all on the table for comedy and satire in the Mummers Parade. All of it. But here is what is truly so offensive about the Mummers: they’re not funny. Mocking call centers in India, then confusing Native Americans with Indians…not funny. Mocking people by posting giant wooden caricatures of blackface…pathetic and simple. Why can’t the clowns be funny? Why can’t a string group as obviously talented as the Ferko’s (Who have finished in the top 5 a whopping 83 times) express themselves creatively without “bringin’ back” to life something the country pretty much agreed was overtly racist over 100 years ago? That doesn’t mean that these groups need to appeal to my personal aesthetic, or even anything close to it, but for the love of God is it too much to ask that they stop trying to appeal to Mississippi rednecks of the 1950s?

And don’t come after me for not appreciating Philly’s history and tradition. I love this city’s history and tradition. I run a freaking website about Philly’s history. But appreciating history doesn’t mean we have to keep repeating it. Blackface was wrong. There’s a reason it stopped being socially acceptable. And if a Mummers troupe in 2013 isn’t creative enough to do a production without incorporating it, then they shouldn’t be in a major parade in one of America’s great cities. It’s really that simple.

If you find blackface funny, or that skit above funny, you are quite simply anti-social. That humor is not funny. It’s simple and it’s lame. If you want to know why blackface isn’t funny, pick up a U.S. history book. If you still want to defend it, Stu, go right ahead. But just be aware that you’re on the other side of that line, the one where no one is laughing. You’re just twisting in the wind, joking about blackface in a room of people who think that you just don’t have a clue.

Would Richard Jewell Have Been Tortured Under NDAA?


On July 27th, 1996, one person was killed and 114 were injured when a terrorist set off a bomb at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. The disaster would have been much worse if not for one American hero. A security guard named Richard Jewell saw the suspicious bag, contacted the police, and moved people away from the area. His quick thinking doubtless saved many lives. And thanks to the utter incompetence of the American media and FBI, his heroic actions made him a villain. The FBI made him a prime suspect, and the piranhas in the national media instantly attacked, assuming that Richard Jewell was guilty until proven innocent. Fortunately, Richard Jewell had the right to an attorney. Fortunately, the FBI was forced by law to do a more comprehensive study. After a few months, it was obvious that Richard Jewell was a hero, not a criminal. He was exonerated by the FBI, though not by the nation. His rightful place as an American hero was denied, but he was found innocent of the false charges against him.* 9 years later, the actual bomber, Eric Rudolph, would be found.

If such a thing happens again, people like Richard Jewell would be best served to not tell anyone about a suspicious package. Because if they are seen as a suspect, the incompetence of CNN will be the least of their worries. If someone sees a suspicious package and tells the police, and if the FBI thinks that makes them a suspect, there will be no reason to investigate further. There will be no trial, nor will there need to be. Thanks to President Obama signing the most horrific law of his Presidency, the next Richard Jewell won’t be scapegoated to save the Olympics, then exonerated a few months later. The next Richard Jewell will be stripped of his American citizenship, then shipped off to Guantanamo Bay, where he will either be held indefinitely with none of the rights he was born with under the Constitution, or be tortured until he tells his torturers what they want to hear.

So despite the Sixth Amendment’s guarantee of a right to trial, the Senate bill would let the government lock up any citizen it swears is a terrorist, without the burden of proving its case to an independent judge, and for the lifespan of an amorphous war that conceivably will never end.

President Obama has, with one stroke of his pen, made the concepts of “guilty” and “innocent” archaic. Now, there is only “dangerous” and “non-dangerous” and you better get in line on the right side. Bush famously said, “You’re either with us or against us in the war on terror.” He was speaking to nations. Obama has just said the same thing, except he was speaking to every American citizen. Of course, it doesn’t matter if you are “with us” or “against us”, it only matters if the government thinks you are against them. It is almost as if Obama is honoring Kim Jong-il by enacting a law that you would think would only be allowed in a totalitarian state.

As we saw with Richard Jewell, in determining the right from wrong, the black from the white, mistakes are sometimes made. It no longer matters. Those mistakes will simply disappear into the black hole of secret prisons, never to be heard from again. The next American hero who is the wrong place at the wrong time will simply disappear. The flight from Atlanta to Guantanamo is a short one. George Orwell was off by 28 years.

*Perhaps it makes me a conspiracist, but I’ve always thought that the FBI knew all along that Jewell was innocent, but wanted people to think they had the bomber in custody so they’d feel safe at the Olympics, by far the most corporate-laden Olympics in history. There was far too much money on the line for the stands to be empty.

A Few Thoughts on the Death of Joey Vento

Quite a few years ago, I went down to Mexico to do some work at a dolphin facility. The vast majority of the employees were Mexican, and it was probably pretty obvious to them that I was getting paid quite a bit more during my few weeks there than they were. I worked hard and I tried to earn their respect, though they had every right to begrudge me.

A few nights after arriving, I went out for drinks with a few guys on the staff. We went to a small beer stand that had all of its seats outside. The guys I worked with ordered the first round of beers and we sat around and chatted. At one point I went up to grab a couple of brews. When I came back, one of the Mexican guys I was working with who spoke fluent English (and didn’t demand that I speak fluent Spanish) asked, “How much did you get charged for those?” I told him $2.50 each. A more than reasonable price, I thought. He was apoplectic. He stormed toward the counter, screaming in Spanish. It turned out that the bartender had charged everyone else $1.50, but had charged me a buck more. He went up one side of the bartender and down the other, then came back to the table and said, “Come on, let’s get out of here. Nobody is going to treat a friend of mine like that.”

I still get goosebumps when I think about that. A guy I had only known for a few days had seen me as more than just some gringo coming in to make some money. He had stuck up for me when I got treated like shit by a bartender for the crime of not being from that country, and for not speaking that language. My friend didn’t see me as an American coming in to make money for a month and then blow out of town. He simply saw me as another human being, a fellow man who was deserving of respect.

And that’s perhaps why I personally found Joey Vento so infuriating. He took the complete opposite approach from my friend. He saw people working their asses off to make less money than he and his friends, but showed no respect for them. He saw them not as fellow humans worthy of his respect, he saw them as “invaders” who were “murdering like 25 of us a day…molesting like 8 of our kids a day.” He took the debate from a reasonable one about how to deal with illegal immigration and turned it into a race war, bashing Mexican “anchor babies” and “drug dealers”every step of the way. Furthermore, he ripped the immigrants inability to speak English, calling them “morons” .

All of this without a hint of irony, despite the fact that his own English was highly suspect. And though he admitted that his first-generation grandparents never mastered the English language, he simply couldn’t understand why current first-generation Mexicans failed to do so, and mocked them for it. His supreme lack of irony would have been amusing had it not been so spiteful.

At the time Joey Vento opened Geno’s Steaks,  his father was in jail for committing murder, while his brother was imprisoned for drug dealing. Undoubtedly, there were many Americans who at the time would have held the Vento family up as an example as to why America needed to stop admitting so many Italians into this country, and why Joey Vento didn’t deserve a chance to start his own business. (Make no mistake, there was until recently ample anti-Italian sentiment in this country.)

But anyone who did so was wrong. Joey Vento was his own man. He was not his brother, he was not his father. He was an individual, a human being. And because this is America, he got a chance. By working his ass off, he made the most of it. He turned a $2000 investment into the most famous cheesesteak restaurant on earth. He was the very embodiment of the American dream.

He walked and talked with a swagger, and he had every right to. In business, he became what every American who has started a business with little more than the change in his pocket and a dream in his head wanted to become. He had built more than a success, he had built an institution, and he had done it all through his own blood, sweat, and tears.

But when immigrants came to his neighborhood, some legally and some illegally, most with the same dreams that Joey’s grandparents had…not coming with the hopes of striking it rich, but coming with the hopes that perhaps their grandchildren would have an opportunity to have a better life than they had…he treated them the way his grandparents had been treated by so many small minded Americans 100 years ago. He had risen from humble beginnings into a position of power, and then used that power to oppress people because they spoke a different language, came from a different culture, and were a slightly different shade than his ancestors.

In his view, they (his most commonly used phrase in every speech I’ve heard him make was “those people”) were not people trying to make things better for future generations that they might not even live to know, like Joey’s family had. “Those people” were “criminals” and “child molestors” and “drug dealers” and “murderers”. His appreciative audiences roared, and he was feted as a patriot by 1210 AM and FoxNews.

It was Thomas Jefferson’s dear Italian friend Philip Mazzei who wrote to Jefferson in the early 1770s that it was his belief that “All men are created equal.” Because Thomas Jefferson co-opted the phrase (Mazzei originally wrote it in Italian, but instead of insisting that he “Speak English”, Jefferson decided to translate it from the Italian) and used it in the greatest document ever written, Joey Vento got a chance in this great nation to make his dreams come true. He made the most of that opportunity, and his family and friends have every right to be proud of his incredible achievements. He not only ran an internationally renowned cheesesteak joint, Joey donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to charitable causes, $60,000 a year to a local hospice alone. In a city probably populated by more characters than any other city on earth, he was as colorful as anyone, and in the terrific documentary This is My Cheesesteak, he came off as hilarious, charming, and unique. If it wasn’t for the xenophobia, I have a feeling I would have really liked the guy.

I offer condolences to his family and hope that he Rests in Peace. But I regret that he became a hero for a small group of people who are looking for simple answers to complex problems, instead of a hero for a whole city. He was a remarkable man. It’s a shame that instead of being remembered solely for his business acumen, his gregarious nature, and his charitable heart, his legacy will also be that he seemed to believe that some people deserved to be treated differently because of their culture, language, and country of origin. It is worth noting that there is a bartender in Mexico who feels the exact same way.

Johnny Goodtimes is a quizzo host, contributer to Comcast Sports, and founder of Phillysportshistory.com. To follow him on twitter, click here.

The Raelians Want You to Go Topless

This week we had the question, “What cult of nutjobs claimed to have created a human clone in 2002?” Strangely, almost no teams got this except at the Black Sheep, where most teams got it. The answer was the Raelians. Here is an article about that cloned baby, appropriately named Eve.

The Raelians eventually hope to develop adult clones into which humans could transfer their brains, Rael said. “Cloning a baby is just the first step. For me, it’s not so important,” he said. “It’s a good step, but my ultimate goal is to give humanity eternal life through cloning.”

So these people are obviously bat$hit crazy, but they’re not all bad. One of their big causes is topless rights for women. According to a website they operate called GoTopless.org,

“As long as men are allowed to be topless in public, women should have the same constitutional right. Or else, men should have to wear something to hide their chests.”

We couldn’t agree more. They are holding a National Go-Topless Day on August 21st to support the cause. A number of cities are participating, including New York, DC, and Chicago. But thus far, no Philly. I think somebody needs to pick up the torch here. I would do it myself, but something tells me the wife would hit me over the head with a frying pan. So if you’re out there, and you believe in freedom, contact the Raelians immediately.

Andy Reid Supports Steve-O


Anyone who is a registered Republican and lives in Philadelphia, please go to the polls tomorrow to vote for Steve Odabashian and only Steve Odabashian. Those of us who have been lucky enough to know Steve are well aware of the fact that he is not a seasoned politician. If we was, we probably couldn’t stand him. Instead, Steve is a caring, thoughtful, and compassionate human being who is running for this office not for money, glory, or power, but because he loves this city and he wants to help it reach its potential. Not to mention that he has won 3 Quizzo Bowls with an intellect that, quite frankly dwarfs most of his opponents (who combined have won 0 Quizzo Bowls.) Please get out to vote tomorrow, and please vote Steve-O. Furthermore, if any of you are free and want to help Steve out tomorrow, please contact him on facebook.

Steve-O vs. Abe Lincoln


As most of you know, Lambda star Steve-O is running for City Council. As you may not know, he has enlisted our good friend Chip Chantry to help with the campaign. The results are predictably insane. Here is Steve’s campaign website.

RELATED: Chip and Johnny star in Dr. Hank’s Used Catheter Emporium.

Want To Stop City Council from Raiding City’s Coffers? Help Get Steve-O Elected.

steveoAnyone who has played my quizzo regularly for the past few years knows Steve Odabashian. He is not only a member of 3-time Quizzo Bowl winners Lambda, he is also an Andy Reid impersonator and a terrific piano player. Steve has decided to throw his hat into the ring and run for City Council this year, and I can’t think of a better person to run for office.

Anyone who knows me knows that I do not identify with Republicans on most if not all social issues, but if it helps get Steve on the ballot, I am happy to switch my affiliation for this election. Many of the city’s Democrat leaders have become complacent, and the only way to shake them out of their complacency is for the people of this city to let them know that they are willing to look at the other side of all issues instead of just blindly voting D. Here is an interview with Steve about his campaign, how he wants to elimate wasteful spending in the city, and whether he’d run on a Milton Street ticket. -ed

Steve-O, what inspired this run for City Council?

Over the last 4 years, Philadelphia government has found itself in the news more frequently.  Sadly, it is rarely for anything good.  I feel like Philadelphia leadership has developed a real sense of complacency.  Hundreds of millions of dollars in accounts receivable go uncollected or even worse, turn up “missing” way more than should be tolerated.

Meanwhile, elected officials take advantage of loopholes which allow them to raid the city’s coffers.  DROP is a program that allows city employees to set a retirement date 4 years in advance.  During those 4 years, they continue to collect salary, while their pension payments draw interest (at a ridiculously generous rate of 4.5%) over the next 4 years.  They then collect that lump sum on retirement date.  Elected officials have been retiring for one day, and then unretiring and running for reelection.  If you ask me, this is nothing short of raiding the bank account of a city that is in a serious budget crunch. It is unconscionable that any council person (including my opponent, Frank Rizzo, Jr.) would break a promise to retire and take advantage of a financial sinkhole of a program when the city needs that money more than ever.  No more, I say. If I am going to complain about the city’s complacency, then I can’t just watch it happen and be complacent myself.  Even if I lose, at least I am drawing attention to some of our biggest problems.  Philadelphia is quickly on its way to becoming the next Detroit if the city doesn’t stop spending beyond its means.  And that scares and saddens me.

I don’t know your personal politics that well, but I will admit I was a bit surprised when I found out that you were running as a Republican. Why are you running as a Republican?

I am very independent thinking.  My platform is mostly centered on Philadelphia’s fiscal irresponsibility, and that message will tend to fire up the Republican party more (especially when the one incumbent Republican, Frank Rizzo Jr., is enrolled in DROP and will collect a nice 6-figure lump sum payment and break his promise to retire).

Have you ever considered running on a Milton Street-Steve Odabashian ticket?

No, but if Philadelphia were ever to host a celebrity boxing type event, I think I could take him.

What kind of change do you, a political outsider, really think you can bring to City Hall?

You just answered the question yourself.  I am a political outsider, and that’s a good thing in this era of corrupt Philly politics.  The public is dying to get a new guy in there.  I am learning this by canvassing the various neighborhoods of Philadelphia.  They are sick of politics as usual, just as I am.  Many council members have been in there for over 10 years. They have gotten way too comfortable with their old (and non-efficient) ways of not getting things done.

What can people do if they want to help the campaign?

My most urgent need is for people to register to be Republican. It takes about 5 minutes if you go down to 520 N Delaware Ave (near Delilah’s, I kid you not).  They are open from 8:30 to 5 on weekdays. Several lifelong Democrats I know have done this, and I am humbled.  They tell me that they vote for candidates and not for parties.  It sounds like message is resonating strongly with people on both sides of the political spectrum.

I need well over 1000 signatures by March 8, and we are at about 600.  Once you are registered Republican (and a Philly resident), people can help me get signatures from other Philly resident registered Republicans.  If we can get about 20-30 people that each get about 20-30 names (that takes about 2-3 hours), it will get me on the ballot for the primary.

If you are a Republican, please contact me (odabashian@yahoo.com) so that I can get you to sign the petition. This campaign is as grassroots as it gets, and each and every signature counts. I need to get about 600 more signatures in the next week, or my hope of making Philly’s fiscal irresponsibility a major theme in the upcoming campaign will not come to pass. Thank yo

u!


A mere one week after declaring his candidacy and entering the field as a virtual unknown, Steve recently came in 6th out of 10 candidates in a straw poll of Philadelphia Republican Committee members that attended a candidates forum this past Saturday. The top 5 Republicans will advance from the primary. Steve has a real shot of advancing, but he has to get signatures. Please contact he or I if you are interested in either switching parties for this election or are a Republican and want to sign the petition to get him on the ballot. Please click “Like” below to help spread the word. Grassroots, folks! Let’s do this!


Sarah Palin Has a More Limited Vocab Than Paris Hilton

palinI was reading this piece about Sarah Palin in Vanity Fair, and got to this text of a speech she gave in Missouri about how smart she and her followers are: “They talk down to us. Especially here in the heartland. Oh, man. They think that, if we were just smart enough, we’d be able to understand their policies. And I so want to tell ’em, and I do tell ’em, Oh, we’re plenty smart, oh yeah—we know what’s goin’ on. And we don’t like what’s goin’ on. And we’re not gonna let them tell us to sit down and shut up.”

I couldn’t help but notice that a staggering 62 of the 72 words (86%) in that paragraph were exactly one syllable long. And 3 of the “big words” were goin’, goin’, and gonna. Don’t let anybody tell you and your followers that they are simple, Sarah. After all, you do know a 4 syllable word (especially). I don’t exactly hang out with rocket scientists, but I can’t imagine any of my friends using almost exclusively one syllable words. Hell, I can’t imagine that if I had a discussion with my 3 year old niece, 86% of her words would be one syllable long.

Well, this experiment isn’t exactly scientific, but I thought, “Why don’t I check out the last 72 words Paris Hilton has written on twitter?” Palin can’t possibly have a more limited vocab than Ms. Cocaine Gum herself, right? Wrong. Of the last 72 words Paris has written on twitter (not including @s, links, people’s names, or xoxo), 55 of them were one syllable long (76%). Dunno if this means anything, but it looks like these geniuses who follow Sarah Palin would be a bit overwhelmed if Paris “Big Words” Hilton took the stage.

Why Confederate History Month is Wrong

mcdonnellA few days ago, Virginia’s recently elected Governor Bob McDonnell decided to renew something that was begun in Virginia under George Allen in the 1990s: a month to honor the Confederacy. To make matters worse, he made no mention of slavery in the proclamation that ushered in April as Confederate History Month. But what had me seeing red was his subsequent defense of leaving slavery out of the initial proclamation: “there were any number of aspects to that conflict between the states. Obviously, it involved slavery. It involved other issues. But I focused on the ones I thought were most significant for Virginia.“

There are few things that get under my skin worse than bullshit revisionist Civil War history. I am no expert on the Civil War, but I know enough to know that it was fought for one primary reason: because the South wanted to expand slavery into the West, and the North wanted it to die a natural death, and knew that it would not do so if it expanded. The South wanted the citizens of the new states to determine if they were to be slave states, and the Federal government wanted to say that they did not have that choice. Therefore it was on some level a state’s rights issue: but by far the most important right the South wanted the states to have was the right to buy and sell human slaves. The “state’s rights” cause was a means to an end, not the issue itself. To say that slavery wasn’t one of the “most significant issues” to Confederates in Virginia is simply not true. It was THE issue, and anyone saying otherwise is either lying, ignorant, or racist. Slavery was the root cause of the Civil War. Period. There is nothing I have ever read or heard (and keep in mind, I grew up in Virginia, so I’ve heard plenty of the “State’s rights” and “self-government” theories) that has led me to even have one shred of doubt as to this fact.

I admire many things about Robert E. Lee, and I have no problem with honoring the Civil War dead. I myself lost Confederate ancestors in the War. I appreciate the fact that the memory of the war is kept alive. It is important for any country to remember what once tore it apart. But to try to rewrite history, to deny that slavery was not only one of the issues, but the overriding issue that caused the South to form a Confederacy and for the Civil War to occur, is akin to denying the Holocaust or claiming that 9/11 was an inside job. You can line up the facts however you want to to make your point, but at the end of the day, you are on the wrong side of the facts.

When the governor of a state says that slavery was not “a significant issue” in the Civil War, it is beyond wrong. It is dangerous. It encourages his constituents to accept something that is false as the truth, and encourages them to belittle the evils of the institution of slavery, and to not claim the responsibility of their ancestors. Slavery was accepted by almost all of the civilized world as being an evil practice in 1860, and therefore while we those of us in the South can still love and appreciate our ancestors, we must also acknowledge the mistake they made in fighting for an unjust cause.

Though the whole episode is a disgrace and has certainly caused me embarrassment as a native of Virginia, McDonnell’s apology and addition to the proclamation are impressive enough to make me forgive him, though I certainly won’t forget why it came to this.

“The proclamation issued by this Office designating April as Confederate History Month contained a major omission. The failure to include any reference to slavery was a mistake, and for that I apologize to any fellow Virginian who has been offended or disappointed. The abomination of slavery divided our nation, deprived people of their God-given inalienable rights, and led to the Civil War. Slavery was an evil, vicious and inhumane practice which degraded human beings to property, and it has left a stain on the soul of this state and nation.”

Slavery led to the Civil War. The Confederacy fought for it, not only so that they could own slaves, but so that people in other states and in future generations could suppress the freedom of an entire race of people as well. The Confederacy should certainly be duly noted, but neither celebrated nor applauded. As Frederick Douglass said in 1878, “There was a right side and a wrong side in the late war, which no sentiment ought to cause us to forget.”

I grew up in the South. My ancestors have lived in Virginia since the 1600s. I am extremely proud of my Southern heritage and of my Virginian heritage. I am not proud of my Confederate heritage. I think it is important for forward thinking people in the South to acknowledge and people in the North to understand: though they have been often claimed by fringe groups as being one and the same, Southern heritage and Confederate heritage are two remarkably different things. One is the result of hundreds of years of wonderful culture, delicious food, pride in much of our shared history, and generation after generation of people who are taught manners, kindness, and respect for their fellow man. The other lasted four and was born of an unjust cause. There are some in the South who are proud of both. I am not one of those people, and I think it is reprehensible and embarrassing that Virginia’s governor is.

Flash Mobs: Settle Down, White People

Picture 4For the past few days, there has been lots of talk about flash mobs. Some of it has been constructive, but most of it idiotic drivel. And my question is: is this thing being blown a bit out of proportion? As far as I can tell,  the end result of the flash mob on Saturday was one fight. Thousands of people descend on South Street, and the end result is one fight. There was almost a fight at Quizzo Bowl. And yet there are all these people posting on Philadelphiaspeaks that we need to call in the dogs, that the city is seized by fear, and that they are thinking about moving out of the city. 

A bunch of teens descended on South Street. I suspect that most of them were doing the exact same thing you did when you were 16:  looking for the party. The party was on South Street. They went. Yes, it was on a public street, and therefore it is a public nuisance, but it’s not exactly the biggest problem in Philly right now, only the latest fad in things to be horrified by. (H1N1, anybody?) 

Of course, when you have any large crowd, you’re going to have a few bad apples who were raised by wolves and they are going to spoil the fun for everyone else (ever been to an Eagles game, folks?) That is the problem with flash mobs, and I understand the fear that eventually someone is going to get shot. I’d be all for a return to mounted police on South Street for crowd control, and I hope that these things are broken up more quickly in the future. 

Yes, there have been big fights at previous flash mobs, and innocent people have gotten hurt. But again, there are numerous fights at every single Eagles game and it doesn’t seem to be a major cause for civic concern.  I suspect that 98% of the kids out on South Street on Saturday night were merely exercising their right to go where-ever all the members of the opposite sex were, not looking for trouble.

As for a simple act of civil disobediance such as holding up traffic on a street where everyone in their right mind knows not to drive on Saturday night anyway, well, it doesn’t really signal the apocalypse for me, especially since it broke up peacefully as soon as the cops showed up. 

Is it a bit scary when a large group of teenagers congregate without any sense of order? Sure. But I think that a couple of officers with a twitter account could nip these things in the bud pretty quick, and once the kids realize that their mobs will always be greeted by police, it’s going to be seen as a waste of time and get old quick. And then us old white folks can go back to complaining about the important things, like that dumbass Cliff Lee trade.

How the Other Half Lives


Last week, I asked the question, “A Jacob Riis Eye Opening expose, photographed and written in 1890, its title is heard in the INXS song Devil Inside. What is it?” The answer was, “How the Other Half Lives.”

The book can be found online, and what I’ve read of it is fascinating. People back then were dealing with many of the same issues that we deal with today. Invasion of privacy, rights of government over people’s lives, high rates of juvenile crime.

The situation was summed up by the Society for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor in these words: “Crazy old buildings, crowded rear tenements in filthy yards, dark, damp basements, leaking garrets, shops, outhouses, and stables converted into dwellings, though scarcely fit to shelter brutes, are habitations of thousands of our fellow-beings in this wealthy, Christian city.” “The city,” says its historian, Mrs. Martha Lamb, commenting on the era of aqueduct building between 1835 and 1845, “was a general asylum for vagrants.” Young vagabonds, the natural offspring of such “home” conditions, overran the streets. Juvenile crime increased fearfully year by year…In that year the Board ordered the cutting of more than forty-six thousand windows in interior rooms, chiefly for ventilation–for little or no light was to be had from the dark hallways. Air-shafts were unknown. The saw had a job all that summer; by early fall nearly all the orders had been carried out. Not without opposition; obstacles were
thrown in the way of the officials on the one side by the owners of the tenements, who saw in every order to repair or clean up only an item of added expense to diminish their income from the rent; on the other side by the tenants themselves, who had sunk, after a generation of unavailing protest, to the level of their surroundings, and were at last content to remain there…The basis of opposition, curiously enough was the same at both extremes; owner and tenant alike considered official interference an infringement of personal rights, and a hardship. It took long years of weary labor to make good the claim of the sunlight to such corners of the dens as it could reach at all. Not until five years after did the department succeed at last in ousting the “cave-dwellers” and closing some five hundred and fifty cellars south of Houston Street, many of them below tide-water, that had been used as living apartments. In many instances the police had to drag the tenants out by force.

Of particular interest is the chapter on The Color Line in New York, a fascinating (and remarkably liberal for its day) look at race in New York City in 1890. As for the book itself, here is the lowdown. Riis was a big Dickens fan, and it shows in his work. Anyhow, just a reminder that there is usually a lot more to a simple trivia question than an answer!

Bala Cynwyd Native Alexander Haig Dies

haigYou knew that Haig was Reagan’s Secretary of State, but did you know that he went to St. Joe’s Prep and Lower Merion High School and worked at Wanamakers? Haig is a fascinating political figure. He worked for MacArthur in the Korean War and essentially ran the country when the Nixon presidency crumbled in 1974. He then had a brief, controversial reign as Reagan’s Secretary of State. Here is his obit in the New York Times.

Jim Jones’s Son Talks about the Jonestown Massacre


It was on this date 31 years ago that Jim Jones ordered his followers to “drink the Kool-Aid”, and over 900 people died. Above is an interview with one of Jim’s sons, Stephan, who was on the Temple’s basketball team and thus out of town when the massacre occurred. He talks about his father’s madness, how he and his brother once conspired to kill their father, and how he has come to grips with his father’s legacy. Here is an interview with Stephan back in 1978, almost immediately after the tragedy.