Friday, August 31, 2007

From this week's LEO:

When coming down is a good thing
Kentucky, which helped OxyContin earn the nickname “hillbilly heroin,” got the surprising news from the Drug Enforcement Administration last week that its national ranking in prescription-painkiller purchases has dropped to 43rd. While experts hailed the trend, the monkey isn’t exactly sliding off the commonwealth’s back: Purchases aren’t down; rather the rate of increase in purchases dropped.

Thanks in part to pharma-to-physician payola, sales of painkillers like OxyContin, Vicodin and morphine increased here 62 percent between 1997 and 2005, compared to 88 percent for the nation as a whole, proving that Americans are roughly as high as Samuel Taylor Coleridge at the pleasure-dome’s after-party. War-on-Drugs officials cautioned that painkiller abuse is still widespread in Kentucky, but they did agree to drop the alert status from “Elvis” to “Limbaugh.”
From this week's LEO:

Kentucky seeks eye-replacement eye
Dr. Ernie Fletcher took a well-deserved break from hating gambling last week to spend some time hating killing. And what better way to show revulsion for killing than by signing a death warrant? With a jaunty wink at his Hippocratic Oath to “never deliberately do harm to anyone,” Dr. Fletcher signed the death warrant for Ralph Steven Baze, who is convicted of the 1993 murder of two Powell County policemen. Barring appeals, Kentucky will kill Baze on Sept. 25, six weeks before Election Day.

Baze’s execution would be the first in Kentucky since 1999, which makes the commonwealth downright civilized compared to Pentateuchian, Texas. Them boys just offed their 400th prisoner since 1982, almost single-handedly keeping the U.S. among the world’s elite eight in executions, behind China, Iran, Pakistan, Iraq and Sudan. Lest you think Republicans are the only pro-death party, note that Democrat Attorney General Greg Stumbo asked Dr. Fletcher to sign the Baze warrant and that Democrat gubernatorial candidate Steve Beshear dashed out a statement supporting the death penalty for “certain specific crimes.”

Meanwhile, another Kentucky death-row inmate wants his conviction set aside because prosecutors lost DNA evidence. Convicted murderer Brian Keith Moore claims DNA on missing pants would prove he is innocent of a 1979 murder. The pants-less prosecutors contend Moore is trying to get off on a technicality, but more than 100 death-row prisoners have been released nationwide in recent years, 13 of them because new DNA tests proved their innocence.

But wait, there’s more. Yet another death-row inmate is making headlines in Kentucky. Convicted child-killer Marco Allen Chapman asked the Kentucky Supreme Court to uphold his death sentence, despite defense arguments that anyone asking for death is incompetent by default. The court sided with Chapman, perhaps suggesting that his death wish is the sanest argument of the week.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Anti-war protest
This is so sweet.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Prepare to believe.
A new museum is coming!

Friday, August 24, 2007

"Smart" might be a stretch
Is it just me or is the Smart Car's fuel mileage underwhelming? Yes, it's cool looking and yes, it goes 90 miles per hour and yes, if you lock your keys inside you can pick it up and put it in your pocket and walk home, but still: 40 mpg? WTF? My Jetta gets 30. How can that tiny Smart Car "fortwo" possibly get only 40? I mean, I am totally down with downsizing. And I love the look of the thing. But why isn't there a 200 mpg car? Now, that would be Smart. Where are the poindexters devilishly handsome, charming engineers without whom we'd be in quite a pickle when it comes to fuel efficiency? We can remove mountaintops to get the coal out, we can dig into the earth's crust to sequester greenhouse gasses, we can fly Stealth bombers into other countries to steal the oil out of their deserts, we can make fuel out of pee, why can't we make a fucking automobile that gets great mileage? And why does anybody need to go 90 miles per hour in any car, let alone a Smart Car, which is essentially two Big Wheels and a Mercedes engine welded together inside an M & M? Going 90 in one of those babies must be like riding on the Hellevator, horizontally. Slow down, smell the tire fires, ride a bike, take public transportation, walk -- and you poindexters devilishly handsome, charming engineers without whom we'd be in quite a pickle, get off your imagination-challenged asses and build a car that makes some sense for the next century before even Smart Cars won't have anything to run on. Please.
Back-to-school schadenfreude
Another Welp's Louisville is available for your viewing pleasure. Elsewhere in LEO, Stephen George has an amazing list of items Louisville could have gotten for its portion of the Iraq War cost:

• Healthcare for 186,821 people
• 13,438 more elementary school teachers
• Renewable electricity in 542,429 houses
• 7,847 new units of affordable housing
• 74 new elementary schools

Jesus. And don't miss Phillip Bailey's cover story, which really brings home to Louisville the food crisis we're facing.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Further evidence that mankind was a bad idea
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the plastic tire swing. Better named "The Anti-recycler," this bad baby not only mocks nature by modeling a new piece of unbiodegrabable trash on an old piece of unbiodegradable trash, it sets an example for the toddler set that this world is ours to plunder and destroy. I saw one of these in the 'hood today and had to do a cartoon doubletake. This plastic tire swing is not and never was an actual tire. I hate to be a party pooper, my little toddler friends, but if the tire swing in your back yard isn't made out of an old tire, you are officially the offspring of assholes.
Old people don't read, except when they do
Here's some helpful information from the Associated Press, in a story about reading habits in America: According to the story,

"One in four adults read no books at all in the past year, according to an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Tuesday. Of those who did read, women and older people were most avid…"

Later in the story:

"Who are the 27 percent of people the AP-Ipsos poll found hadn't read a single book this year? Nearly a third of men and a quarter of women fit that category. They tend to be older…"

So, what we know for sure is that people who took the poll who say they read tend to be older, whereas people who took the poll who say they don't read tend to be older. Thanks, AP!

Friday, August 17, 2007

From this week's LEO:

Blown awake: Young Republicans with spunk
When Hoosier republican Glenn Murphy Jr abruptly resigned from his posts as chairman of both the Clark County Republican Party and the Young Republican National Federation, bloggers nationwide dashed to their online thesauri for clever oral sex synonyms. That's because Murphy apparently didn't resign to take a new job (after "praying with his family"), as he claimed in a statement, but because of another kind of job altogether: The Clark County Sherriff's Department is investigating Murphy for alleged "criminal deviate conduct" after a 22-year-old young republican accused chairman Murphy of fellating him while he slept.

Murphy, 33, has not been charged with a crime, but the widely googlable police report details the accusation: After a raucous night of drunken republican debauchery, Murphy and his young republican friends went to sleep. The victim later awoke to find Murphy "doing things" to his young republican penis. From there, the report gets much worse. Murphy contends the sex was consensual, presumably at least until the man woke up. Murphy, who was Clark County Republican chairman for seven years, was charged with a similar allegation in 1998 by a 21-year-old male, who also claimed Murphy assaulted him in his sleep. Those charges were dropped.

In other republican fellatio news, Florida representative Bob Allen completed the neat trifecta of infuriating African Americans, homosexuals and republicans in one fell swoop. Allen refuses to resign after being arrested for offering $20 to an undercover police officer to allow him to perform oral sex on the officer in a public park men's room. Allen is charged with solicitation for prostitution.

Taking a bad situation and making it much worse, Allen claimed he offered the officer money and sex because he was afraid of him because he was black. Further digging in, the ample-chinned Allen said that because there were other black men in the park, he expected to be robbed. Oral sex plus 20 bucks seemed like the smart way out.

Allen, who until his arrest was John McCain's campaign manager in Florida, is a longtime foe of gay rights and a staunch supporter of a state amendment to ban gay marriage. He also opposed a bill that would curb bullying of gay students. Perhaps most poetic of all, he sponsored a bill to strengthen Florida's ban on public sex. If he is convicted, he faces up to a year in prison, partly on the strength of his own legislation.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Dad becomes a video star
While you're marveling at Born Again Floozies' Joey Welch's guitar playing, see if you can spot my dad in this video, a role the critics are hailing as an "Elvis-Costello-lookalike" and "Best use of pinkie in a tea party in a supporting role." Just a little taste of what's in store for you Saturday night at The Jazz Factory:

Born Again Floozies at The Jazz Factory

The one, the only Born Again Floozies are making a rare Louisville appearance at the one, the only Jazz Factory this Saturday at 11 PM. You really don't want to miss the world's most born-again Floozies (most floozies struggle to be born at all, let alone twice) tapping and tuba-ing in Louisville's best room and you really, really, really don't want to miss Joey Welch's guitar playing, which experts have called "marvelous stuff" and "voluptuously surreal" and "what the fucking hell was that?"

See you there:

The Jazz Factory
815 W. Market Street
Louisville, KY
free parking across the street
From last week's LEO:

Pop Quiz Guy entertains the neighbors
Sugar and I ran into Pop Quiz Guy on our morning stroll and he taught us that the first Model T Ford sold in Louisville changed hands on Shelbyville Road in St. Matthews. This seems like fate, since the area has been an auto-sales wasteland ever since. Imagine if that first customer had walked away.

Sugar hates it when Pop Quiz Guy stops us -- we're on a "walk," not a "talk" – but I love seeing him because I always learn something. Pop Quiz Guy is that insane-in-a-good-way elderly gentleman no neighborhood should be without. He is charming, witty, and steeped in trivia that often blossoms into wisdom. Unlike the Common Old Coot seen on sidewalks all over Metro, Pop Quiz Guy likes to impart his wisdom via the pop quiz, which he blurts out to passersby in lieu of hello.

His quizzes might be local (What did John B. Castleman's detractors say upon the unveiling of his statue in Cherokee Triangle? Answer: "Either way you approach it, you'll see a horse's ass."), national (Which founding father believed a daily nude "air bath" was critical to thinking? Answer: Benjamin "Buttcheeks" Franklin) or international (By law, any heir to the British throne must not be married to someone of which religion? Answer: Catholic*). They are sometimes easy (What Louisville movie star famously squealed like a pig? Answer: Ned Beatty) and sometimes obscure (What was the actual title of an 1880 Louisville burlesque parody of the play Ben-Hur? Answer: "Bend-Her.").

Sugar was getting impatient on the leash and the air outside felt like John Belski had wrapped hell in dirty socks and microwaved it, so I bade farewell to Pop Quiz Guy and moved on, daydreaming of someday taking over the mantle. How cool would it be to stand on the corner and belt out questions to passersby? Stuff like:

If you could slap one billionaire, would it be Oracle founder Larry Ellison for owning a yacht so big it has its own Jeep or Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page for buying their own personal Boeing 767? Answer: Yes.

What storied baseball record is Barry Bonds pursuing? Answer: None. He's a cheater.

In a moment of poetic gall, what excuse did the Department of Veterans Affairs recently use to deny help to thousands of Iraq-war veterans for post traumatic stress disorder? Answer: "You were crazy before you joined the military."

What blockbuster book recently sold 10 million copies in 24 hours? Answer: "Harry Potter and the Sleepy Sheep Who Shut The Hell Up And Do What They're Told."

Why is it good that Rupert Murdoch bought The Wall Street Journal? Answer: The Journal is the paper of record for, by and about America's corporate ruling class. Until now, the Journal cloaked its plutocratic perspective in a mink stole of credible journalism. Murdoch's media properties aren't so clever. Once the Journal assumes the cartoon subtlety of Fox News, any country-club capitalist with a speck of ethics will take it for what it's worth. Consider that until now, a bright, young Biff coming out of the business academy in search of a promising career as a robber baron might pick up the Journal and read a story praising, say, KFC, for their third-quarter earnings, while completely overlooking the fact that the increased earnings came at the expense of mom-and-pop chicken joints in Indonesia, tossing fuel on the fire of terrorism. Reading old-mink-stole Journal, Biff bites into a croissant and nods approvingly at the third quarter earnings and schedules a racquetball court for 6:30. Reading the new Fox-stole Journal, Biff still bites the croissant and reserves the court – and eventually goes on to a storied career in corporate crime - but feels a tiny, nagging pinprick of guilt knowing that his life is a sham. Guilt that can only be assuaged with a case of 1998 Cheval Blanc and a gram of blow, which eventually explode his heart and melt his liver, the end.

Why will there soon be fewer morbidly obese children in Louisville who have unibrows and excessive neck and ear hair? Answer: Because Kroger announced it will no longer sell milk with bovine growth hormones.

Consider yourself warned, Pop Quiz Guy. There's a new game in town.

* Even though it's the only path to salvation.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

From last week's LEO:

Rich kids count
Once again, those pesky researchers at the Annie E. Casey Foundation have shone a light on the way children live in America and once again, Kentucky's kids' ranking came in near the bottom. The "Kids Count" study, which reported data from 2005, ranked Kentucky 40th, up from 42nd the previous year. But several key measurements actually worsened slightly, including low birth weight and the overall teen death rate. Still, a two-point improvement is a two-point improvement. Keep this up and we'll be number one in 2027! Woo-hoo!

The study is another reminder that it sucks to be poor. In Kentucky, 22% of children live in poverty. Fully 38% of children live in homes where no parent has full-time employment. Even if you factor out the idle rich, that leaves a lot of Kentuckians scraping by in a country that now has over 1000 billionaires.

To fix this problem, Kentuckians are going to have to pull together and fund education, reduce dropouts, provide jobs, make roads safer, and provide better access to health care, right? Um, yes. But guess what experts say the single-most effective strategy to improve the well-being of children would be: Yep, raise the cigarette tax. Not only would it help fund health care, reduce disease and freshen breath, but it would dramatically impact this shocking statistic: currently one out of every four pregnant women in Kentucky smoke.
From last week's LEO:

Henhouse hires fox
Both agencies that oversee public education in Kentucky are finding it impossible to hire leaders, possibly because it's not a lot of fun doing the impossible with the unfunded for the thankless. Both the Kentucky Department of Education, which oversees K-12 schools, and the Council on Postsecondary Education, which oversees public colleges, have seen candidates for their top jobs vamoose faster than free-and-reduced lunches at the poor kids' table.

Accordingly, both agencies have resorted to the I-word -- "interim" – in hopes of buying some time until new suckers… er, leaders can be headhunted. But The Council on Postsecondary Education might have found its man in Ernie Fletcher's budget chief Brad Cowgill. The council hired Gowgill as its interim president last week and hinted he would make a great candidate for the $275,000-per-year job permanently. And why not? It's impossible to ponder the prospect of the Fletcher administration's top spreadsheet guy struggling to oversee starving universities without the word "karma" coming to mind. The consolation prize for Cowgill: if he takes the job permanently, he'll be employed next year.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mencken, McCarthy, Lama, Pessl
Does anything go together better than books and vacation? What can top the guilt-free indulgence of reading for 10 hours at a stretch? It's like drinking liquor in the morning, clicking Send after typing the flame-mail and losing your religion: maybe you shouldn't do it, but fuckabunchathat, it sure is fun.

I read a few books on vacation that individually aren't life changing but collectively might just make you take off all your clothes and run naked through the mall, singing mondegreens like "Tempted by the fruit of your mother" or "The girl with colitis goes by."

First, I recharged my sarcasm with "The Vintage Mencken," gathered in 1955 by future Masterpiece-Theater smartypants and Bobby-Kennedy-assassination-witness Alistair Cooke. H. L. Mencken left behind a legacy of nearly a half century of brilliant journalism, most of it written for the Baltimore Sun in an era when people got all of their news from newspapers. Cooke likens Mencken to Jonathan Swift, but he seems too American for that comparison. He seems to me more like journalism's Twain. Alas, Mencken was something of a racist and that breaks my heart. And he sometimes displays other biases of his era, but those mostly seem just historically interesting. Otherwise, he's a pure joy. The man practically breathes quotable quotes: "Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign that he expects to be paid for it" and "Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard."

But even when he's not being funny, he's totally kicking ass in a way that makes you pump your fist. Here's Mencken writing about a man of the cloth, whose book he was forced to read as a child:

"I have since learned that some of them are very pleasant and amusing fellows, despite their professional enmity to the human race, but the one who wrote that book was certainly nothing of the sort. If, at his decease, he escaped Hell, then moral theology is as full of false alarms as secular law."

Here he is on sports:

"All that the Y.M.C.A.'s horse and rings really accomplished was to fill me with an ineradicable distaste, not only for Christian endeavor in all its forms, but also for every variety of calisthenics, so that I still begrudge the trifling exertion needed to climb in and out of a bathtub, and hate all sports as rabidly as a person who likes sports hates common sense."

Sometimes Mencken can tingle your spine because it sounds like he's writing about today:

"What one beholds, sweeping the eye over the land, is a culture that, like the national literature, is in three layers - the plutocracy on top, a vast mass of undifferentiated human blanks at the bottom, and a forlorn intelligentsia gasping out a precarious life between."

Here, he writes about George W. Bush (oh, no, wait. He was talking about Woodrow Wilson):

"The important thing is not that a popular orator should have uttered such vaporous and preposterous phrases, but that they should have been received, for weary years, by a whole race of men, some of them intelligent."

To read Mencken is to study history, criticism, journalism, commentary, and sarcasm. He not only informs most pundits today, he seriously picks them up and kicks their scrawny asses across the decades.

I also read "The Road," Cormac McCarthy's post-apocalyptic novel about a man and his young son. McCarthy fucked-up dude. The story dreadful and worse. His sentences short and clipped. The world poison. And I absolutely loved it, especially once my eyeballs got adjusted to McCarthy's sentence fragments. The novel, of course, is heartbreakingly sad, and [spoiler alert] I cried when [OK, I won't spoil it] something really sad happened. But it's one of those precious novels that take you completely away from your surroundings, like some magic carpet ride to another – in this case – far shittier world. Naked purple mermaids with dayglo nipples could have swum up to me while I was reading The Road and I wouldn't have noticed. And that's all the more impressive because I wasn't even at the beach. And don't we, the People Who Have The Power To Destroy Everything, need books like The Road? Yes, we do. And isn't it amazing when someone creates art that is both incredibly beautiful and horrifying? Yes, it is.

Another man desperately trying to help us avoid apocalypse is His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I read his book on science, "The Universe in a Single Atom." I absolutely adore the DL. If we could somehow put him, Oprah, and Al Gore inside a bun and make them the Sandwich In Charge of the World, I'm convinced the whole clusterfucked shebang would be spruced up in about 18 months, tops. If you are willing to read only three DL books, read "An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life" three times. But if you are willing to read more, read them all, starting with this one. He is not only an amazing thinker but also a brilliant writer. And even though I already hang on his every word, I was impressed with his love of and open mind toward science.

In "The Universe in a Single Atom," Mr. Lama discusses relativity, quantum physics, the big bang, the beginningless universe, infinite universes, universes coming from each other, universes dry humping each other, universes collapsing on the couch and mindlessly watching old reruns of The Wonder Years, evolution, karma, reincarnation, consciousness, ethics and genetics in a way that is not only clear and understandable, but will make you say "wow" right out loud, as if Charles Darwin were gently massaging your genitalia while Albert Einstein tenderly nibbled on that spot on the back of the neck you like so much. You will be amazed at the science you can learn from a Buddhist guru.

And perhaps it's the Buddhism that makes the magic. For a recovering western Christian, it's almost impossible to not be floored by open-minded paragraphs like this:

"By taking this personal journey into science, I suppose I have stuck my neck out. My confidence in venturing into science lies in my basic belief that as in science so in Buddhism, understanding the nature of reality is pursued by means of critical investigation: if scientific analysis were conclusively to demonstrate certain claims in Buddhism to be false, then we must accept the findings of science and abandon those claims."

Wha? WTF? did he just say "abandon those claims?!" The very fact that that statement sounds so audacious says a lot about how Christianity and Islam have gripped our world. And check out this shnizit:

"At its root the philosophical problem confronting physics in the wake of quantum mechanics is whether the very notion of reality - defined in terms of essentially real constituents of matter - is tenable. What the Buddhist philosophy of emptiness can offer is a coherent model of understanding reality that is non-essentialist. Whether this could prove useful only time will tell."

Can you imagine any other religious leader saying of his tenets "whether this could prove useful only time will tell?!" But wait. There's more:

"… in Buddhist thought … it is said that to defy the authority of empirical evidence is to disqualify oneself as someone worthy of critical engagement in a dialog."

OK, DL, now you're just talkin' smack. But you know what? That's one thing the man just never, ever does. Here he is at his gooey crunchy yummiest:

"The earth is our only home. As far as current scientific knowledge is concerned, this may be the only planet that can support life. One of the most powerful visions I have experienced was the first photograph of the earth from outer space. The image of a blue planet floating in deep space, glowing like the full moon on a clear night, brought home powerfully to me the recognition that we are indeed all members of a single family sharing one little house. I was flooded with the feeling of how ridiculous are the various disagreements and squabbles within the human family. I saw how futile it is to cling so tenaciously to the differences that divide us. From this perspective one feels the fragility, the vulnerability of our planet and its limited occupation of a small orbit sandwiched between Venus and Mars in the vast infinity of space. If we do not look after this home, what else are we charged to do on this earth?"

Can I get a hell yeah?

My last vacation book was a novel, "Special Topics in Calamity Physics" by Marisha Pessl. I dare you not to like this book. The book's narrator is that really, really smart person you know who's brilliant on all topics and Will. Not. Shut the fuck up. Fortunately, I like that kind of person. Both the character Blue – an impossibly smart and well read high-school senior – and her father are unforgettable characters.

Here's a taste:

"Dad was a devotee of Sturdy Eye Contact, but what Dad never addressed was that staring directly into a person's eyes was nearly impossible at close range. You had to choose an eye, right or left, or veer back and forth between the two, or simply settle for the spot between the eyes. But I'd always thought that was a sad, vulnerable spot, unkempt of eyebrow and strange of tilt, where David had aimed his stone at Goliath and killed him."

And another:

"A. Boone continued to chew the coffee stirrer and stared at me. He was what Dad commonly called a 'power distender,' a person who seized the moment in which he/she possessed a marginal amount of power and brutally rationed it so it lasted an unreasonable amount of time."


"She was standing on the right, at the very end, a woman with a sizable crooked nose, and all other features crowded around it as if trying to keep warm on her arctic white face."

Here's Blue relating one of her father's monologues about Americans:

"'…they loathe anything left to the imagination – we're talking about a country that invented spandex – but also because they are a confident, self-assured nation. They know family. They know Right from Wrong. They know God – many of them attest to daily chats with the man. And the idea that none of us can truly know anything at all – not the lives of our friends or family, not even ourselves- is a thought they'd rather be shot in the arm with their own semiautomatic rifle than face head-on. Personally, I think there's something terrific about not knowing, relinquishing man's feeble attempt to control. When you throw up your hands, say, 'Who knows?' you can get on with the sheer gift of being alive, rather like the paparazzi, the puttane, the cognoscenti, the tappisti…' (Around here, I always tuned Dad out, because when he went on in Italian he was like a Hell's Angel on a Harley; he loved to go fast and loud and for everyone to stop in the streets and stare at him.)"

Like 90% of books written today, this book is about 1/3 too long. For the first 50 or so pages, I wasn't sure I had it in me. But by the time it was over, I was sorry to see it end. Pressl is a talented writer. I won't go on, because you should read a review by a talented professional, who wisely notes that "Physics" is not "The Secret History" but that it is still damned fun reading.