No Shutdown, But a Lot of Sellouts

So, the Democratic Party continues its rightward drift. No surprise, but still disappointing.

From John Nichols in The Nation:

If you had asked Franklin Roosevelt or Harry Truman or John Kennedy or Lyndon Johnson or Jimmy Carter or even Bill Clinton what Democrats would defend in a fight over the future of government, there’s no real question that funding for housing, public transportation, community development programs and safe air travel would be high on the list.

Yet, in order to achieve the Friday night deal that averted a government shutdown—for a week and, potentially, longer if an anticipated agreement is cobbled together and agreed to—all of those programs took serious hits.

And to summarize:

In other words, precisely the sort of programs that Democrats used to defend were slashed.

Oslo City Hall

If you’ve already watched Barack Obama’s Nobel acceptance speech today (if you haven’t, at least give it a read), you probably caught at least a glimpse or two of Oslo’s stunning City Hall. I attend an event there each summer, and can’t ever get enough. At first glance, it’s not an inspired piece of architecture from the outside, but it grows on you. Inside is a visual feast.

Everywhere you walk you’ll face fabulously massive murals. The first one below, in a reception room, is one you won’t find in any city hall in the USA. At bottom are two of several reliefs on the exterior near the main entrance.

More pics of Oslo City Hall here, and more pics from Oslo here. A little more about visiting Oslo (last updated in 2007) here.

Oslo City Hall, originally uploaded by pirano.

In defense of war crimes

Remnants of Bush/Cheney (even Cheney himself) infested TV shows over the past few days to demonize the Obama administration for releasing classified documents about the previous administration’s use of torture. (I’m not sure why I even bother to watch these clips.)

That most of this info was already out there and available for awhile seemed of little consequence to those doing the demonizing. That the use of torture is a war crime didn’t seem to matter much either. They weren’t bothered that a civilized society, under Bush/Cheney’s leadership, would utilize these methods. They were only upset that the use of these methods, devised and perfected by the Khmer Rouge and Stalin, were officially made public.

Obama has made clear that those in charge will not be pursued, but pressure is beginning to grow for, at least for now, further investigations. “Nothing will be gained by spending our time and energy laying blame for the past,” he said. In other words, a battle he’s simply chosen not to fight.

So, all we can do is watch Jon Stewart:

Do you really have to waterboard somebody 183 times? I assume after 90 waterboardings the guy’s thinking ‘you’re not really drowning me.’

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Ammo Shortages in the USA

From NPR:

“It started the day that Obama got elected,” Johnny Dury, who owns Dury’s Gun Shop in San Antonio, tells NPR’s Michele Norris. “It is when everything just went crazy in the gun business.”

From The Casper, Wyoming Star-Tribune:

“It’s a political deal. Everybody’s worried about losing their guns and ammo or not being able to get it,” Wagner said. “There’s a huge influx of that right now, but our sales are up in all categories. Our sales are double what they were last year.”

From the Fort Myers, Florida News-Press:

Tired of having to cancel trips to the local gun range because he couldn’t find ammunition to buy, Patrick Naidl went on the offensive last week.

“I called every Wal-Mart from Naples to Port Charlotte and everybody was sold out,” the Cape Coral resident said. “The Lehigh store told me they were selling their last box when I called and that they only had it for two hours.

“Ammunition is very hard to find because everybody is stockpiling. It’s like the paranoia before Y2K.”

From the Detroit Free Press:

At Jay’s Sporting Goods in Clare, salesman Tim McCall said the store had been largely cleaned out of 9mm pistol ammunition and was experiencing massive sales of .40 and .45 caliber ammo.

“Anything for personal protection is selling like crazy,” he said. “They’re also buying a lot of .223 and 7.6×39 Russian.”

Non Violence, originally uploaded by pirano.

Cats, Sick Bags and Paradise: Syros Notebook

Ermoupoli, Syros, Greece — During a ride from Athens Airport to Mati, near Marathon, on Friday, I passed by several smallish packs of what appeared to be wild dogs. They were roaming aimlessly and lazily, on small patches of land, ignored plots of overgrown grass and dry brush that apparently double as informal garbage dumps, between the four lane highway constructed just before the 2004 Olympics and local two lane roads. On Monday afternoon in Ermoupoli I got the impression that stray cats outnumber the population of the Cyclades Islands capital of 13,000 by at least two to one.

They’re everywhere and they’re viciously loud; they wail violently, as if they’re fighting off the evils unleashed from Pandora’s Box. The strong swirling winds accentuate it. At first, I though the painful yelps echoing through the narrow streets were coming from the mouth of a desperately ill child. Less than 15 minutes after I checked into my hotel, at least a dozen, in groups of four, were taking turns aggressively scratching at my balcony door. Why? According to an informal survey of five bartenders, the people of Syros are cat people.  They simply hate dogs. That clearly shows in the long faces of a few dogs I’ve seen.

The celebration continues

The world is still rejoicing. There was an entertainment awards ceremony on one of the Greek networks last night, with little satirical and musical skits interspersed between the presentations. One singer/comic followed up his John Belushi/Blues Brothers thing with an Abba musical ditty, singing, Obama Mia. Like the Michael Stipe lyric that tops the list of things I wish I had written –I look at her and I see the beauty of the light of music– I really wish I could have come up with that.

I’m still amazed at how last Tuesday’s election result has managed to reach and impact even relatively remote corners of the world like this one. Yesterday three people on the morning ferry were wearing Obama t-shirts. Everywhere I stopped and hung out for a bit yesterday afternoon and evening, people were asking me about Obama. Several bookstores had a Greek translation of Audacity of Hope figuring prominently in their window displays.

Getting (t)here

In the off-season, the only mainland departures are from Piraeus. This morning’s 07:35 BlueStar Super Ferry II (one way, about four and-a-half hours) was a fairly bumpy cruise part of the way, rough enough to make two women who flanked me on both sides, some three meters away, spend about 30 minutes with their faces buried in sick bags. I hope it wasn’t me. I’ve offended people in the past, but not to that extent.

There were more passengers than I expected, although I really had no reasonable idea whatsoever of what to expect. Some read, some chatted, but most dozed. I did as well for about an hour before a scratchy ringtone of a nearby co-day sleeper roused me with an Elvis song that’s been following me around since: ‘Wise men say, only fools rush in, but I can’t help…”

Greece remains one of the few last great refuges in Europe for smokers. The second class level was split down the middle to accommodate smokers and non; the smokers, at least this morning, outnumbered the others. One thing can be said about Greeks: they’re apparently not quitters.

26 EUR/one way. Warning: don’t necessarily believe the generic timetables in booking websites. Departure times can vary wildly, particularly in the off-season.


My hotel is called Paradise. Always be wary of hotels whose impression of self is characterized in such glorious terms.

World Music Café

I ducked into about half a dozen cafes and pubs yesterday and this was the only one I returned to. The musical vibe, primarily north and west African along with a peppering of catchy Euro/Arab/African fusion, fits the Mediterranean. At least to me. It’s like my home stereo, but with an immeasurably better sound system. Comfortable, laid back and a very friendly staff. Highly recommended. Tell Nadil that Slovenia sent you. Just a few blocks south of the city hall square.

NOTE: I intended to post this last night, but was sidetracked by a birthday party at this café. Happy birthday Topis!

More pics here.

Syros 012, originally uploaded by pirano.

Obama Wines

Keeping with the St. Martin’s day theme and before I forget, notes on a few wines that were uncorked before the champagne during the election watching party the other night:

First was this 2006 Bonvin Humagne Rouge, made from a little known grape grown in Switzerland which I picked up a little over a year ago in Zurich. I’ve never tried or even heard of it before, but fell for a cute red-headed saleswoman’s pitch when I asked about local reds. I’m glad I did. It reminded me of a good zin, fruity with solid tannins. If anything it was opened at least two years too soon. Drink this with something Sarah Palin and Nicholas Sarkozy might shoot on their next helicopter-hunting trip.

I have no idea on its availability elsewhere, but my guess is that very little, if any, actually makes it out of Switzerland. Price tag was CHF 22.50 (today, EUR 15, USD 19). Nothing’s cheap in Switzerland, so this is definitely worth jumping on if you’re passing through.

Chateau Haut Padernac 2004. I picked this up in Paris on 07/07/07, and although my gut instinct was to wait, I yanked it out of the cellar simply because a Linz, Austria-based radio journalist from France, in town to cover the HAIP Festival, came by for the watching party. And I wanted him to feel at home. It rocks!

Produced by Pauillac’s Chateau Pedesclaux (sorry, don’t feel like googling the estate’s website right now), it’s a solid wine, with delightful layers of fruit and with just enough tannins to last until the next election when you can celebrate the Republicans losing even more seats in the House. By far, the best EUR 11.95 (USD 15.20 today, 16.20 on day of purchase) I spent that fabulous Saturday afternoon.

I’m heading to Greece today for a week, a little work in Athens, and a little play and time for reflection on Syros. I’ve never been. The weather forecast is warm and sunny.


Obama wines, originally uploaded by pirano.

U.S. Election reception, Ljubljana

A few shots from a U.S. Election reception hosted by the U.S. Embassy at the Hotel Union in Ljubljana, Slovenia, on Tuesday night. Above a life-size Obama cut-out.


Foreshadowing? The expression on the McCain cut-out.


Yousif B. Ghafari, U.S. Ambassador to Slovenia.


Katarina Kresal, president of Slovenia’s LDS party.


The last picture of Sarah Palin I ever want to see.