Gregg Phillips Watch Continues
I haven’t been inspired to post anything else on this site lately for two reasons. One is that I’ll be leaving for vacation in two weeks, which will basically consist of an aimless drive around the southwest. There is too much to be done in advance of this, between tying up loose ends at work as well as shopping for needed accessories such as coolers, replacement tent poles, etc.
The second reason is that frankly I’d expected more of a reaction to my posts last week on Gregg Phillips, and was expecting to have something to report in the way of new developments. Suffice it to say that this story hasn’t exactly taken the world by storm, and by this I mean not only the real world of media and newspapers, but the self-contained (and self-referencing) petri-dish world of blogdom.
What I can say is that I have gotten a large number of hits as a result of these postings. This is not the point, of course, since I’m just glad that someone has shown an interest in the information I found. The visits to the Phillips information were largely via two sites that were kind enough to link to it last week, Off the Kuff and Yellow Doggerel Democrat. A fair number of hits have also come about through Google or Yahoo searches, however, which tells me that at some level at least there are people out there who may be looking into this themselves. If this is the case I can only hope that I’ll be seeing these issues referenced in the wider media at some point. Yeah, right.
So far I’ve received absolutely no response from any of the papers I’ve contacted and sent information about Phillips to. Not even a PFO letter. And frankly, what has disappointed me even more is that certain “liberal” Texas bloggers to whom I’ve sent this information (who will go unnamed) haven’t even acknowledged it. As I thought I made clear when I sent the information, I’m not trolling for hits; anyone can link directly to the original sources that I sent. I just find it hard to believe that after reading about the background of the guy who is going to dismantle the social safety net in Texas, people who call themselves Texas liberals can’t be bothered even mentioning it on their websites. Again, you can leave me out of it completely – the important thing is that people find out about this guy and that hopefully at some point someone in the mainstream media will start to pursue it. But I suppose there are more important things to post on your blogs, like pictures of your cats. Give me a break.
Incidentally, a number of the people who have visited my site to check the Phillips information have done so from computers having a “tx.gov” ID. Someone in some government capacity is interested in this. Is that you, Gregg?
The Revolving Door of Gregg Phillips
Following up on yesterday's posting about Gregg Phillips, there is even more news about his background that causes us to wonder why this man was chosen to oversee the reorganization of the Texas HHSC and it's programs. A press release found on the HHSC web site (dated 5/20/03) gives a brief overview of Phillips' background and bio, and his previous jobs.
Deputy Commissioner for Program Services: Gregg Phillips. Phillips plans, develops, and directs policy and operational functions of human services in the Texas health and human services system. Phillips previously has served as Executive Director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services and Chairman of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services. As a Senior Manager at Deloitte Consulting and founder and Chief Executive Officer of Enterject, Inc., Phillips also has advised private businesses and public agencies on developing technology-driven solutions in the administration and delivery of health and human services. Phillips holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
Yesterday I told you about the rather "odd" circumstances surrounding Phillips' departure from his position as Director of Mississippi's Department of Human Services. Specifically, the fact that the very day he resigned that position, he started working for a subsidiary of a company he had previously approved as the recipient of an $875,000 contract with MDHS.
The above biography doesn't mention this, of course. Neither did a profile of Phillips in Sunday's Houston Chronicle. While his actions in Mississippi actions weren't technically illegal, they certainly raise questions about his character, or at the very least his judgement. To try to discern what is in someone's heart is of course, extremely difficult. Ultimately, all you can do is look at patterns of behavior over time and attempt to draw reasonable conclusions. In Phillips case, we know from the way he ran Mississippi's DHS that he has a certain philosophy about the role of government vis a vis social services that liberals or even moderates would find unacceptable. But as for his ethics, the switcheroo he pulled in Mississippi when he went to work for Centec is open to interpretation. Is he just sleazy? Was it just a case of poor judgement? The results of youthful inexperience? Or was it part of a pattern of behavior that tells us a lot about him and what Texans can expect in the future?
Some evidence might be gleaned from examining Phillips' role as founder and CEO of Enterject, Inc. As recently as September of 2002, Phillips was the CEO of this company, based in Marietta, Georgia. I have no idea when (or even if) he ceased playing any role in this company. Apparently, he went straight from being CEO of Enterject, to his current position of Deputy Commissioner in HHSC. But you may be interested in knowing exactly what type of business Enterject does.
The Texas Association of Business (TAB) provides the following description for Enterject, Inc.:
Enterject is the premier provider of corporate tax credit processing services. CreditTrax, Enterject's core application, is a virtually paperless system for the screening, submitting, and certifying of applicants for work tax credits. Enterject's system has been endorsed by the Texas Association of Business as a program designed to enhance profitability, and a way to give to our communities. CreditTrax enables employers to profit from federal and state tax credit programs such as: Welfare to Work, Work opportunity Tax Credit, and EZ/EC/RC Tax Credits.
In case the nature of this company isn't clear, check out the links
here and here.
Of for information from the horses mouth, why not go to Enterject's own website?
Picture this. The next person your business employs could save your business up to $8,500 in tax dollars. Now imagine the impact on your bottom line if many of the people hired by your business are eligible to generate tax credits of even 25% of that amount per new employee. Now imagine being able to take that money back one fiscal year or forward up to twenty years. It sounds almost too good to be true, but it has happened for many private employers and can happen for you too.
Enterject is able to move your organization closer to the realization of the positive impact that tax credits can have on your budget.
Enterject will assist by:
- Helping your company satisfy the requirements of government tax credit programs in order to maximize your company's potential tax savings
- Administration of the program (pre-screening your new hires for tax credits)
- Processing the required government documentation for your potentially eligible new hire
- Submitting all required forms to the appropriate government agencies on your behalf
- Maintaining database records of your cumulative credits as well as hiring information
- Providing detailed reports of guaranteed tax savings to you upon scheduling and request
- Providing adequate technical assistance whenever needed
Let Enterject automate your tax credit administration process so that you can sit back and reap the benefits while we do the work. You reap the benefits.
So to sum up, Gregg Phillips was at one time the Director of Mississippi's Department of Human Services. He resigned as Director to accept a position with a firm that he had previously approved as recipient of a $875,000 contract with MDHS. At some time or another, he founds and becomes CEO of Enterject, Inc. Enterject gets a large portion of it's business by helping private companies get tax credits from federal Welfare to Work (WTW) programs, and various similar schemes that allow governments to cut welfare rolls. Phillips worked in this capacity at least until the fall of 2002. Now he is in a position where one of his primary responsibilities will be to reorganize Texas' social service sector, to make it more "efficient".
How much of this reorganization will involve granting of tax credits to companies that hire long-term welfare recipients?
How much business will Enterject, Inc. receive as a result of these changes?
Does Gregg Phillips still have any role with Enterject, Inc.?
Will he immediately start working for Enterject when he eventually leaves his current position?
Is there anyone out there who thinks this is a conflict of interest?
Why does't anyone know about this?
Does the New Head of Texas HHSC Have Past Ethics Problems?
And why isn’t anyone in the Texas media asking about them?
Gregg A. Phillips is the new deputy commissioner for program services for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission. His hiring comes at a key time, since services are going to be drastically cut, reorganized and to a large extent, privatized. The Houston Chronicle featured a story on Phillips in Sunday’s edition:
Death threats arrived and a brick flew through a window of his family home, Gregg A. Phillips recalls of his first attempt to dismantle and privatize government-run services for the needy.
The man recruited to be Texas' $144,700-a-year leader of the most sweeping social services overhaul in modern Texas history learned some of his lessons the hard way.
After three tumultuous years as former Mississippi Gov. Kirk Fordice's young political choice to lead a major overhaul of that state's Department of Human Services, the embattled executive director could no longer stand the heat. Facing a tidal wave of opposition, he resigned in 1995.
State employees protested privatization of child support collections. Legislators, upset by the issue and at odds with Fordice, threatened to close the agency. Advocates for the poor called Phillips a liar, and a Jackson Clarion-Ledger editorial cartoon portrayed him as Pinocchio.
Phillips will make key decisions on downsizing and consolidating 12 agencies serving the blind, deaf, nursing home residents, abused children, mentally impaired, physically disabled and other needy Texans into only five agencies.
Phillips also will oversee the privatization of eligibility screening for services to sick and needy Texans as part of a new state law designed to shrink government and save $1.1 billion. Instead of the 800 Mississippi state jobs jeopardized by privatization, Texas aims to eliminate 3,600 health and human services workers during the next two years.The ambitious social services overhaul in Texas might take up to six years to complete, Phillips said, predicting the most complex and challenging tasks will be privatizing eligibility screening and splitting mental retardation and mental health services into separate agencies.
He said he no longer believes the argument should be whether privatization saves more money than government-run services. The focus should be to create competition by preventing either public or private monopolies, perhaps splitting tasks among several bidders.
Republican leaders who pushed through the changes in Texas human services predict it will lead to greater efficiencies and better outcomes for the needy and taxpayers. But advocates for the poor who remember Phillips' work in Mississippi, predict his leading role could end in chaos, disaster and perhaps squandering of tax dollars.
Larry Temple, who worked for Phillips in Mississippi before landing at the Texas Workforce Commission as the director of welfare reform, predicted a successful future for his friend in Texas.
"He's no-nonsense, very direct, very focused, extremely loyal," Temple said. "He's a good soldier, the kind of guy you can depend on to carry out any mandates you're given."
Temple said Phillips is the "perfect person" to pull off changes in the landmark legislation, but several civil rights advocates and others in Mississippi disagree.
"Mr. Phillips has been identified as one of those people that can come in and make all those drastic cuts and not feel any compunction about what he's doing to the poor people of Texas," said Wendell Paris of Mississippi Action for Community Education in the poverty-stricken Mississippi Delta. "If he does in Texas what he did in Mississippi, I feel sorry for the poor people of Texas."
Many recall controversial welfare-to-work policies, which reduced welfare rolls by more than 80 percent, sometimes by putting welfare recipients to work in poultry processing plants or casinos. Their benefit checks went to employers to subsidize their low-wage jobs. Phillips described the approach as "tough love," but Paris saw the impact they had in less flattering terms.
"Those Texas legislators ought to research what his history is, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves," he said, noting the state's recruitment of both Temple and Phillips. "They're bringing in that whole crew of these ruthless wolves hiding in sheep's clothing."
This is the story that was told about Phillips in Sunday’s article in the Chronicle. What the article failed to cover was another aspect of Phillip’s tenure in Mississippi, which should have raised warning flags before he was hired in Texas. At the very least, this other, ignored story suggests a lax and attitude towards ethics and conflict-of-interest on Phillips’ part.
The story in question concerns the exact circumstances under which Phillips left his position as Director of Mississippi’s Department of Human Services (MDHS). It seems that the very day that Phillips submitted his resignation from MDHS, he started working for a company called the Synesis Corporation. Phillips signed a contract for a salary of $84,000 per year, and was to make industry contacts and market Synesis products and services. Why is this worth knowing?
Here’s why. Synesis was a subsidiary of a company called Centec Learning. Centec manufactured specialized equipment, and in 1993 they signed a contract with MDHS to convert two vehicles into mobile learning labs for use in the state’s LEAP program (a job training program for welfare recipients). The total value of this contract to Centec was $875,000, which was a third of the company’s entire net worth. Gregg Phillips approved and signed the contract. So in other words, as MDHS Director Phillips signed a contract worth almost a million dollars to Centec, and less than two years later resigned and then immediately went to work for one of Centec’s subsidiaries.
Mississippi’s legislative watchdog committee, PEER, launched an investigation of this activity and filed a report in November of 1995. In part, this report found that Phillips’ actions relative to the contractual arrangement created the appearance of impropriety and could constitute a violation of state ethics laws. The PEER report into his activity also made the following recomendation:
Executive Director of the PEER Committee shall immediately refer copies of this report to the Executive Director of the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General for an investigation of Mr. Gregg Phillips's contractual relationship with a LEAP subcontractor for determination of violation of state ethics laws. If the Ethics Commission and the Attorney General do not determine this to be a violation based on strict adherence to the law, the Legislature should consider making terms of the ethics law more specific to address contracts executed by an executive officer who does not report to a board or commission.
Ultimately, Phillips managed to escape prosecution. However, this incident should be duly noted by all Texans worried about the direction in which the Texas HHSC is apparently headed. It’s bad enough that Texas social services are going to be gutted and handed over to the private sector. But it’s an abomination that the person who will be overseeing this process engaged in highly questionable behavior when he was responsible for managing Mississippi’s human services sector. This is certainly a story that people should know about, and that the media should be reporting as well. I’d suggest writing letters to your local editors and news channels, referring to the links I’ve posted here. Ask them why the dubious background of Gregg Phillips does not merit interest, given the immense power he’s going to have to affect the lives of present and future generations of Texans.
Segway Fails Presidential Test
At least that is way that Drudge describes it in a headline referring to this article, complete with embarrassing pictures. So if Monkey Boy can't seem to manage to use a Segway without falling off, somehow it's the machine's fault, not his? I like that way of thinking -- kind of reminds me of that scene from Blazing Saddles, where the Governor (played by Mel Brooks) is trying to use a paddle ball during a cabinet meeting. After flailing around and somehow missing the ball every time it rebounds back to him, he declares "This frigging thing's defective!" and tosses it aside. At least in the movie, everyone realized the governor was just an idiot.
Country Music Idiots
I read something earlier today rehashing events at some big country music award show last week or the week before. The one where the Dixie Chick's Natalie Maines wore a "F.U.T.K." t-shirt, they were booed, etc., etc. The particular story I read was about an exchange where some singer (I can't remember who) joked about Toby Keith putting a boot up Peter Jennings' ass. That's a nice image to think about before you try to go to sleep, yeah. Anway, I can't track down the story so I am therefore unable to use it as inspiration for a paragraph or two of witty or outraged commentary. In it's place, I'm reposting something I wrote a couple of months ago concerning Clint Black's pro-war song.
In a desperate attempt to cash in on pro-war hysteria and revive a sagging career, Clint Black has released the following song (lyrics available from his website). Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, 'Iraq and Roll'.
Words and Music by Clint Black and Hayden Nicholas
YOU CAN WAVE YOUR SIGNS IN PROTEST
AGAINST AMERICA TAKING STANDS
THE STANDS AMERICA'S TAKEN
ARE THE REASON THAT YOU CAN
So, since previous generations have sacrificed themselves and fought real enemies to our freedoms, please just shut up and stop using them to protest while we take on this fake enemy.
IF EVERYONE WOULD GO FOR PEACE
THERE'D BE NO NEED FOR WAR
So it's a damn good thing that Saddam is threatening us! Whoo Woo!!
BUT WE CAN'T IGNORE THE DEVIL
HE'LL KEEP COMING BACK FOR MORE
Coming back for more what? I don't understand. Did you use 'more' just because it rhymed with 'war'? Not very creative. Couldn't you have used something that was more appropriate in your song, such as, I don't know, 'whore'?
SOME SEE THIS IN BLACK AND WHITE
OTHERS ONLY GRAY
Actually, I see it as a kind of turquoise, with yellowish stripes running along the sides like lightening bolts, but it could just be the drugs.
WE'RE NOT BEGGING FOR A FIGHT
NO MATTER WHAT THEY SAY
WE HAVE THE RESOLUTION
Not from the UN, you don�t.
THAT SHOULD PUT'EM ALL TO SHAME
BUT IT'S A DIFFERENT KIND OF DEADLINE
WHEN I'M CALLED IN THE GAME
Clint, I hate to break it to you, but the only 'game' you're likely to be called in for at this point in your career is filling the top left box on Hollywood Squares when Lance Bass is unavailable.
I RAQ, I RACK'EM UP AND I ROLL
Note the clever use of the redneck 'I' pronunciation of Iraq, so that it would blend seamlessly with the rest of the sentence. Absolutely brilliant! Leonard Cohen would be proud.
I'M BACK AND I'M A HIGH TECH GI JOE
Doesn't really rhyme with 'roll', but I'll let it pass. 'I'm a high tech Billy Joel' would have been a better rhyme but I guess it doesn't quite fit the overall theme.
I PRAY FOR PEACE, PREPARE FOR WAR
AND I NEVER WILL FORGET
THERE'S NO PRICE TOO HIGH FOR FREEDOM
SO BE CAREFUL WHERE YOU TREAD
THIS TERROR ISN'T MAN TO MAN
THEY CAN BE NO MORE THAN COWARDS
Kind of like if they sent missiles at us from hundreds of miles away, or something.
IF THEY WON'T SHOW US THEIR WEAPONS
WE MIGHT HAVE TO SHOW THEM OURS
You show me yours, Clint, and I'll show you mine. Oh, I'm sorry. I forgot you don�t have one.
IT MIGHT BE A SMART BOMB
THEY FIND STUPID PEOPLE TOO
Insert your own joke here.
AND IF YOU STAND WITH THE LIKES OF SADDAM
ONE JUST MIGHT FIND YOU
One of them might also find you if you happen to live in Iran, or Turkey, or are just sitting at home with your family. Actually, from what we know so far, standing with Saddam just might be the safest place to be.
I ROCK, I RACK'EM UP AND I ROLL
I'M BACK AND I'M A HIGH TECH GI JOE
I'VE GOT INFRARED, I'VE GOT GPS AND I'VE GOT THAT GOOD OLD FASHIONED LEAD
Not to mention depleted uranium.
THERE'S NO PRICE TOO HIGH FOR FREEDOM
SO BE CAREFUL WHERE YOU TREAD
Lead, tread, dead.
NOW YOU CAN COME ALONG
OR YOU CAN STAY BEHIND
OR YOU CAN GET OUT OF THE WAY
Wow, there are a surprising number of options available! Thanks, Clint.
BUT OUR TROOPS TAKE OUT THE GARBAGE
FOR THE GOOD OLD U.S.A.
I ROCK, I RACK'EM UP AND I ROLL
IN THE USA
I ROCK, I RACK'EM UP AND I ROLL
I'M TALKIN' ABOUT THE USA
Oh you ARE talking about the USA. For a while there I thought the song was about Luxembourg.
Other songs by Clint Black and Hayden Nicholas (absolutely true):
Burn One Down - 1991
Half the Man - 1993
Put Yourself in My Shoes - 1989
Killin� Time -
No Time to Kill -
Easy for Me to Say -
From the Entirely Predictable News Stories Department
The NY Daily News has a blurb that reveals one of the least surprising developments in recent human history; Dennis Miller will soon begin working for Fox News.
Dennis Miller is heading back to television. The comic-actor, last on HBO's "Dennis Miller Live" and ABC's "Monday Night Football," is expected to join the Fox News Channel as a commentator for "Hannity and Colmes."
An announcement could come as soon as today. Miller is expected to appear once a week on the 9 p.m. show, which pits conservative Sean Hannity against liberal Alan Colmes. Miller, often praised by critics as a perceptive social commentator, is to start next month.
For an example of his perceptive social criticism, let's refer to the transcript of a recent (prewar) appearance on the Tonight Show:
Jay Leno: Let me ask you, war inevitable, what do you got?Dennis Miller: Listen, we have got to do it soon, just - we've got to mark our turf. I think Iraq is like East Korea. I think you got to send a message to these people over there, and I think this build-up to the war is why we're having all this controversy. Because the last one, is it just me or did it seem to happen just like that. Was watching CNN one night, the first Gulf War, they are sitting around in the Baghdad hotel, the No Roof Inn or something, and they're watching "the Bachelor," and it's a little harder for the bachelor over there because it's tough to tell who's hot under the Burqua. They had just ordered some hummuus and smores from room service and all of a sudden a gallaga game broke out. The sky was full.We waited so long here, of course you'll hear a lot of controversy. I think it's time to go in. You think the Elite Republican Guard is really going to stop us? Anybody remember these guys from the last battle? They warned us, you don't want to run into the Elite Republican Guard, they're killing machines. We got 20 miles away from them, all we saw is Roadrunner clouds running off into the distance. They were in Vegas last week opening for Robert Goulet.I think it's time to start the war. My favorite Afghani war story is the Al Qaeda fighter who is crushed to death by the dissenting humanitarian food pallet. Everybody sitting around in the next life at the Psychotic Algonquin Roundtable swapping tales. What happened to you, Khalid? I saw a shadow, looked up, Del Monte cling peaches coming right at my head. I didn't even have the Kevlar turban on that day.Listen, it's time to do something. For God's sake, Saddam Hussein is - well, it kills me that so many people are thinking this man - I hear this revisionist stuff now, that he doesn't deserve to be attacked. It's unbelievable to me. I saw Ed Harris one night speaking at a pro-choice - pro-choice rally. Ed Harris the actor said we shouldn't go to war. I was thinking if you can't get your head around the war, why don't you just think of it as choosing to abort Saddam Hussein. Wouldn't that be a rationale that you could possibly - Listen, we got to take care of ourselves now. I mean who going to protect us?I'm not saying we have to be trigger happy, but let's not be trigger sad either. Who are we going to bank on. You going to rely on the Germans? For god's sake, with the Germans you never know if they're not signing on because they don't believe in it or it's just not on a grand enough scale, you know. The Germans, it's like when Alfred Nobel started giving the peace prize. You know where he made his fortune, dynamite, he invented dynamite. He was so haunted he was going to go to hell, he said at the end, here's 9 million, give out the peace award. That's what the Germans do. They know they've got the skankiest track record on the planet earth so now they'll be obstinate about being pacifists.Even with bad guys, the Russians, I don't know, I think Putin is on a tight leash right now because of that nerve gas disaster they had in Moscow. Really stop to think about it, if they could take out that many friendlies liberating an opera house, do you really want them flying off your wing in a real war? You know something? The Belgians, you knew they'd waffle?That brings us to... well, you know where that brings us, to the French. The French, you might as well gas up the dinghy and go fishing with Fredo because you are dead to me, okay. You know something? These pricks are now putting - they're putting swastikas on our flag in France. You've got all those boys buried in Normandy. And after we had the good taste to chisel the armpit hair off the Statue of Liberty you gave us, you know something, I always thought that tint was oxdized copper. Little did I know it was green with envy.You know something, I say we don't let these guys on the war train now. They don't want to be involved, fine. I say the train pulls out, leave them on the platform and say listen you're not allowed to fight with us now. You guys want to get your hands dirty at this late date, you'll have to run them through your own hair.You know something, everybody's talking about post-liberation Iraq and who should take care of it. Listen, you know they need the oil and you know there's a lot of dirty paper on the French providing reactor parts that we're going to unearth. I'd have a back channel call from Bush to Chirac and I'd tell him, listen, pal, you know who's going to handle the day-to-day necessities of the noble Iraqi, it's you, my friend. Consierge is a French word, isn't it?You know something, if they couldn't - I say we invade Iraq and then invade Chirac. You run a pipe -- you run a pipe from the oilfield right over this Eiffel Tower, shoot it up and have the world's biggest oil derrick. We got a picture of it right here. Yeah. Listen, I would call the French scum bags, but that, of course, would be a disservice to bags filled with scum.I'm just saying listen, I'd like to have allies too. What's happening in this world right now, we have a competency chasm. We are getting real good at what we do and the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket. As that gap gets wider, they'll hate us more and more and more. We are simultaneously the most hated, feared, loved and admired planet - nation on this planet. In short, we are Frank Sinatra and you know something, the Chairman didn't get to be the Chairman lying down for punks outside the Fountainbleu.Now listen, I don't know what I think of George W. Bush when he first got in, but I've grown fond of the man, and maybe it's the times we live in. They say he's not an environmentalist. But every time I see his ranch on TV, it looks pretty nice. You know something, if we all took care of our own, we'd have a great environment.I think he ought to take Saddam Hussein on this debate, I like that idea. Because we can't find the guy anyway. Maybe this is a way to flush him out, huh? He can say... - I hate to go back to the Godfather again, but we just sit Bush down and say, listen, we know where the debate is. Halfway through the opening remarks you say you got to take a pee, go into the bathroom, Rumsfeld will tape a gun up under the flusher. You come out, make sure it's there. Rumsfeld, I don't want my president walking out of there with just his dick in his hand. You put two shots into Hussein's head, you drop the gun and walk out of the restaurant. You do not run.Listen, I do not need a time of war to see peace protestors - and that's fine, peace is fine, dissident is fine, that's the American way, but the Nazi signs have got to stop. If you're in a peace march and the guy next to you has a sign that says Bush is Hitler, forget the peace thing for a second and beat his ass, because he is not Hitler.You know something, this is - this stuff has got to stop, somebody's got to say something good in this community about this man. I'm starting a new web sit, pro-Bush, called www dot w. And you know something, if you're watching tonight, President Bush, and I'm not sure you are because I got a feeling you watch the national network reruns of "BJ and The Bear," but if you're watching, I want to just say, I think you're doing a hell of a job and I'm proud that you're my president. I want to thank you and wish you Godspeed because you got a tough deal of the cards. I think there are a lot more people out here on your side than you would think.You know, Jay, I used to be a liberal. You look at what happens in the State of California with untethered liberalism. Everybody in this state in charge now is a Democrat. It's no longer the Andreas Fault, it's Gray Davis's fault. This is what happens when you elect lawyers. Shakespeare said first kill all the lawyers. I've been doing some some thinking, I think we could get away with it because if you kill all of them, at our murder trial, we wouldn't have adequate representation.
New Musicals for Broadway
I managed to once again successfully miss watching the Tony awards on TV. Apparently musical revisions of old movies, books and cartoons are still the rage on Broadway, since "Hairspray" won about 150 separate awards last night. But I recently had what I consider to be a brilliant idea. I don't know where this inspiration came from, but I decided that someone should create a musical version of "Picnic at Hanging Rock". Any takers?
Permalinks Not Working
I'm still struggling with the permalinks issue, i.e. they don't work. If anyone reading this has any suggestions on how to make blogger permalinks actually work, I'd appreciate hearing from you. Kindly leave a message in the comments section.
Map of Political Blogdom
There has been a minor eruption of confusion, from what I've seen, concerning this map. It purports to represent interconnections among a sampling of popular blogs from the left through the right. The gist of the confusion surrounds why certain people are listed as further left, or right, than they perhaps ought to be, given the nature and contents of their blogs. I posted a comment at Calpundit on this issue, but since then I've come across a few more sites that express similar confusion (e.g, the Sidewhow). I've reproduced those comments here in an expanded version, since I think that I can put some people's minds at rest. I wouldn't want anyone to change their political outlook just because of misinterpreting a graph.
I'm vaguely familiar with the methodology used to create this map, since I have recently had to do some research on whether I need to use similar techniques in my work. I also checked out the rest of the main website it initially came from. As I suspected, the overall layout of the map is fairly arbitrary. To quote from the TouchGrap.com website,
"TouchGraph provides a hands-on way to visualize networks of interrelated information. Networks are rendered as interactive graphs, which lend themselves to a variety of transformations. By engaging their visual image, a user is able to navigate through large networks, and to explore different ways of arranging the network's components on screen".
Put simply, these maps are derived by looking at patterns of connections between nodes (in this case various individual bloggers). The actual layout of the map, once it is created, can be changed, and the TouchGraph software allows one to do this by clicking on a given node and dragging it. To see how this works, imagine a string of Christmas tree lights. The connections between the individual lights are fixed and can't be changed, i.e., that blue light is next to the red light, which in turn is next to a green one, etc. But you can easily place the whole string of lights onto a table and arrange it into any shape you want. In the shape of a square, a circle, criss-crossed, or just in a big jumbled pile.
The political blog map in question is more complicated but the analogy still applies. While connections between individual bloggers must be preserved, you are pretty much free to make the blog-map into whatever shape you desire. The convenience of the representation and the degree of its esthetic appeal matter at least as much as political orientation when you do this. What this graph really represents is a type of social network, basically who knows who and who is speaking to who. A useful and simple introduction to social network analysis can be found here.
An example of just how complicated this process can be is found at Ross Mayfield'sweblog, which includes a demonstration of a social network map covering members of Blog Tribe. In particular, check out these two images here and here. If you are able to look at the expanded version of these images, you'll see a network of blogs that is much more complicated than the one that was mentioned earlier. You should also notice that the relative positions of blog members is arbitrary. Where you sort them out is a matter of taste, and basically what "looks good".
In other words, the "left-right" dimension that seems to have caught everyone's attention in this discussion is pretty meaningless once you consider how such maps are actually supposed to work and how they're generated.
While having nothing better to do late last night, in the middle of one of those periods where you're not tired enough to go to bed but too tired to read, I did some surfing on the web. I don't know what caused it but I started thinking about one of my all-time favorite clubs, back when I was living in Albany, NY. I wondered if it was still there. Not for any functional reason - it’s a pretty safe bet that I'll never be in Albany again in this lifetime, and therefore would never be able to go to this particular establishment again. Not ever. Not even as a tourist, or as an outsider. I suppose that in a way I was hoping that by confirming that it still existed, that I'd be able to preserve some sort of continuity between who I was then and who I am now. Instead of being faced with the stark reality that some places you went when you were younger change, or cease to exist. And you realize that you can't ever go back to the way things were then. There's nothing that will make you realize the passage of time so much as finding out that an old, familiar, and loved hangout isn't there anymore.
I typed in what I thought would be appropriate keywords and before too long came across a local ezine website from the tri-city area (Albany, Schenectady and Troy, for those of you not in the know). Among other things, I found some homages and laments to the very club I was thinking about. It was called the QEII, and was located in a former White Castle hamburger stand. At the time I used to go there, the main section of the structure was still standing, seemingly complete with all the original outside trimmings from some era past (40s? 50s? I had no idea when the place had actually served as a hamburger stand but it looked cool - that was all that mattered). In the rear, a cinder block addition had long ago been added that enclosed a very small stage (which also functioned as a dance floor when bands weren’t playing), as well as am equally small floor space for fans to stand when watching bands. The rear room of the QEII also had a bar, jutting into the middle of the main floor, which in the five years I went there I don't recall ever being open. QEII was small. It was dirty. It was loud. And on a great many nights, for at least some of the time, it seemed like the best place on earth.
To really understand the attraction of the QEII, you have to understand something about Albany. It wasn't then, and probably isn't now, what you would call an interesting town. As far as I know it's famous for only three things. It is the New York State capital. It is the hometown of the group Blotto. And it is the city where the movie "Ironweed" was filmed. As far as the last goes, I learned two things while living there. One is that Albany was chosen as the location for filming because it still, circa 1989 or whenever they shot it, could pass itself off as a depression era American city. Yes, I know that sounds pleasant. The second thing I learned was that the director (or perhaps it was the producer) supposedly referred to Albany as "the armpit of the word". It was the kind of apocryphal statement that, even if no one actually uttered it, turns out to be absolutely true and accurate and correct.
So Albany was not exactly a cultural mecca. Anyone looking for an alternative to the popular music scene circa 1990-1994 had very few options, the best one of which was to get out of town and move to NYC. As I was employed at the time, this option was unavailable. So the dregs and rejects of the night culture, the people who might today be called Goths, or who wear leather, or have tattoos or piercings, or have mohawks or purple hair or no hair or use drugs or are anything other than purely heterosexual, tended to congregate in the drain catcher of humanity known as QEII. Actually that isn't quite true. I think the music was the biggest thing. The owner, her name was Charlene, would book anyone. Punk. Hardcore punk. Hardcore metal. Gospel. Electronic. Folk. And on and on. The only thing many of the bands who played there ever had in common was that they weren't bland or boring enough to get to play anywhere else in Albany. On the weekends DJs took over. The stage in the back room was transformed into a dance floor where the uninhibited could flail around to Siuoxsie & the Banshees, the Cure, or Nine Inch Nails while the more inhibited got to watch them while leaning against the dingy walls.
There's much more I can say about the QEII, and perhaps at some other time I will. But it's all gone now. Oh, the building still exists. And it's still a nightclub of sorts. But there are new owners. The bathrooms now, apparently, are clean enough to eat off of the floor. In the old days you wouldn't even eat inside one of them if you knew what was good for you. An improvement in hygiene no doubt, but on the whole a loss. The QEII has, sadly, been transformed into an "upscale martini bar". Jesus Christ. Kind of like if they turned CBGB's into a Starbucks or a Hard Rock Cafe. Or an upscale martini bar.
This is Better Than Franken vs OReilly
If you followed any of the news coming out of the recently closed Cannes film festival, you probably heard that Vincent Gallo's latest offering, "Brown Bunny", was trashed by just about anyone who saw it. Roger Ebert was particularly harsh, calling the film anti-american, saying (I paraphrase) that it was anti-american to offer "Brown Bunny" as an example of american cinema.
Yesterday, Gallo struck back, calling Ebert a 'fat pig' and threatening (rather oddly) to put a curse on Ebert's colon. Now in a partial rebuttal, Ebert has responded, as cited in the New York Post:
ROGER Ebert is giving a thumb way down to actor/director Vincent Gallo, who in yesterday's PAGE SIX called him a "fat pig" and claimed he'd put a curse on Ebert's colon. Gallo went ga-ga when Ebert, like many other media outlets, reported in the Chicago Sun-Times that Gallo had apologized to a British film journal for his critically savaged flick "Brown Bunny" (Gallo says the British pub fabricated his quotes). Ebert, who was a fan of Gallo's breakthrough movie, "Buffalo 66," tells us he's crafting a reply to Gallo's attack that he'll deliver this weekend on his TV show, "Ebert and Roeper." But for those who want a preview, Ebert says he's lost 30 pounds - "So if Gallo gains 30 IQ points, we'll be even." As for the colon crack, "I don't know what he meant . . . but when I had my last colonoscopy, they let me watch it on a little TV, and it was far more entertaining than 'Brown Bunny.' "
This is Vincent Gallo’s own website, in his own words, in which he explains his policy of dealing with email that criticizes him:
Old messages will be occassionally pruned. However, if I notice any polluted messages, which usually come from bitter, jealous, ugly, poorly-hung men, who are unhappy at work and wished their whole life to be like me, I will remove these unproductive nasty little posts and I would like to say to these twisted queers and half-men, I feel sorry for you. All I ever wanted to do was be me. I hope one day you feel the same about yourself and release yourself from the petty, small-minded urges of polluting this message board and distracting its wonderful members. So go ahead and say whatever you want nasty about me, but know that we will all know by your insults just how small your pecker really is and how miserable your life has always been and how long it's been since any girl under 500 pounds responded to your cheap lines at the local pub.
Yes, the 'occassionally' is Gallo's original spelling. Anyway, if you feel like dropping by and letting Vincent know what you think of him, here is the link. Be nice.
A Just War
What a pleasant way to start the week. Bartcop featured this story from the UK, where a certain Gary Bartlam, 18, has found out the hard way that you should be very careful where you take your personal snapshots to get developed. It seems that the young Mr. Bartlam took photos of some unidentified British soldiers torturing and sexually abusing Iraqi prisoners of war, and had the film developed when he returned to England on leave. Fortunately, Kelly Tilford, 22, called police after developing the film in her photo shop. Bartlam is now in custody, and presumably is receiving better treatment at the hands of his captors than he provided to those Iraqi prisoners. War crimes tribunal, anyone?