Friday, August 31, 2007

The Warrantless Blogtapping Program

BLOG UNDER SURVEILLANCE: Right Wing News and Cassy Fiano ...
Issue: Their Trashtalking New Orleans

Conservative blogger John Hawkins of Right Wing News has a column over at, which he cross-references on his own blog, and his blogger sidekick, Cassy Fiano, has her own piling-on posting relative to the topic.

Well, I tried to leave an extended comment on the Townhall comment boards, but they limit comments to 2000 characters, and mine went way over. So here's what I wrote in full. It applies to Hawkins primarily, but it also certainly can be said to his acolyte, Cassy Fiano, too. Here's what I had to say:

That fraud Hawkins is so easy with the condemnations. He loves to throw them around left and right when he knows nothing about it. I'd bet Hawkins hasn't even been to New Orleans ever in his life. If he had, he might at least respect the historical value of the city to shaping this great country.

As a native New Orleanian, let me tell Hawkins a few truths about my hometown and the people who live here.

First, the people here love their homes. Generations of families are rooted here. Matriarchs and patriarchs, aunts and uncles, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and even children are buried here. Everything my family has ever had and earned and been has come from living in this great City. To tell me that I'm stupid for living here, and to get over the tremendous loss we have faced here, is callous in the extreme. And I'd even say typically conservative. How would he react if I said that his home in North Carolina is a pissant little nothing, devoid of anything meaningful in life, so why would anybody live there? I bet he'd be a little ticked. Rightly so. One does not just throw away tradition so cavalierly and easily. One would also think that a conservative would understand this.

Second thing: Hawkins smears every person in New Orleans, heroes every one, who has come back here and rebuilt a life on the ruins of destruction without getting so much as a passing glance from the Government. There are thousands upon thousands of people who are the epitome of the "picking yourself up by the bootstrap" mantra conservatives are so fond of. In fact, knowing how much of a coward Hawkins is and how quickly he folds under the mildest of intellectual and psychological challenges, I don't think Hawkins has a half-an-ounce of what it takes to weather such a calamitous experience. He'd probably wither like a prune if he and every single member of his extended family left their hometown and everything they owned one day and found out the next day that it was all gone, everything, and faced the prospect of having to start over completely with nothing except the clothes on his back and whatever he managed to save in his bank account.

Sure there are some people who are all too willing to play the eternal victim and who are living on the dole in New Orleans. But I dare say that there are plenty of such people in Hawkins' town, too. The fact is that there are exceedingly more people in New Orleans who aren't playing the eternal victim and who are managing to thrive on their individual courage, their ingenuity, and their strong sense of neighborliness and community.

Finally, I find it incredibly rich that Hawkins drools over Iraqis with purple fingers, and never has a beef about throwing US taxpayer money at them over there, and that he laments the incessant negative media coverage of the Iraq war, but that he can't even find a single thing of worth ever to write about New Orleans and its people. As I said before, there is heroism abounding in New Orleans these days. I wish Hawkins would find a little bit of that here to highlight. But it would take him a herculean effort to be human, instead of a conservative ideologue, and I'm not sure that Hawkins can do it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

2nd Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina

Here's what I wrote on my blog two years ago in the immediate wake of Hurricane Katrina.

There's a lot more Katrina reflection on the blogosphere today, too. And, of course, the Times-Picayune has a wide spread of Katrina anniversary stories.

Frankly, though, I must say that I'm wearied by the Katrina coverage and don't have all that much interest in rehashing and revisiting the moment. I'd much rather go about my day as routine and normal. Perhaps it's Katrina coverage fatigue, perhaps it's some deep psychological pain-avoidance thing. Who knows? But, it is what it is. For me, at least. I hope all who need to remember and revisit and rehash find value in it. But, I think, this year, I'm planning to leave myself out of it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Quote of the Day

"As you go through life, my friend, whatever be your goal,
Keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole!"
(Anonymous, via "Pops" Huck)

Light posting over the next week or so because the semester is gearing up and I'm consumed by it. Fear not, though! I shall return!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Conservatives, Islamic Fundamentalists, and a Hillary Presidency

I have been pondering something quite intriguing about a potential Hillary Clinton Presidency. Let's say Hillary Clinton wins the next presidential election. What do U.S. conservatives do when Islamic Fundamentalist regimes throughout the world begin to hurl the inevitable aspersions at the United States for having a female President? An even more intriguing question is what do U.S. conservatives do when the male leaders of such Islamic Fundamentalist regimes and other fundamentalist movements like the Taliban and Al Qaeda inevitably attack President Hillary Clinton as a weak and worthless leader for no other reason than that she's a woman, and a socially degenerate woman at that because she wears pantsuits and makeup? Do conservatives defend their President from such attacks, do they stay silent because they are loathe to defend Hillary no matter what kinds of indignities she suffers, or do they basically voice their agreement with such assessments of their President?

You know how conservatives like to declare that liberal opposition to Bush and his policies emboldens the enemy? You know how conservatives like to sometimes even go so far as to declare that opposition to Bush on his war policy and his anti-terrorist programs equals support for terrorists? Ever heard conservatives casually throw out the term "Defeatocrats"? Well, I wonder whether conservatives have set themselves up for an unpleasant dichotomy if Hillary Clinton is the next President. Do they swallow their pride and declare their patriotic support for a President Hillary Clinton's war policies and anti-terrorist programs because not to do so will "embolden and serve the interests of the enemy" as it divides and weakens a unified American resolve? Or do they swallow their pride and take a cue from Democrats, and publicly oppose President Clinton, seemingly reinforcing our enemies' perceptions of our weak, ineffective, female leader in so doing, and defend their opposition on the grounds of a patriotic duty to oppose what they think is a wrong-headed leader with a wrong-headed policy?

I think the support-the-wartime-President-at-all-costs-lest-you-be-a-terrorist-fifth-columnist attitude of conservatives will become an embarrassing conundrum for conservative rightwingers if faced with a Hillary Clinton Presidency.

This scenario is a thought that, I must admit, amuses me and even gives me a bit of smug satisfaction, especially when I think of what this will inevitably do to blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter. Imagine Ann Coulter having to say something in support of Hillary Clinton (or to remain damnably silent) when Osama bin Laden says that Hillary Clinton is an affront to civilization and to God, and that the American people are a Godless people who can elect a woman to be their leader.

I hope to see that day when conservatives have to declare their unconditional loyalty to President Hillary Clinton in the face of insults by misogynistic Islamic fundamentalists, or else be labeled traitors to America if they don't.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Confidential to President_Friedman

I noticed the effort. Thanks for trying again, even though I'm all but forgotten over there. And by the way, your question about Ron Paul was great. I, too, am baffled by the amount of hostility establishment conservatives direct at Ron Paul. The only reason I can think of for the viciousness Paul gets from such folks is that what Paul says cuts a little too closely to the bone regarding conservative principles and the fact that many modern establishment conservatives really don't hold to such principles. That, and the fact that he could very well be an electoral spoiler for the GOP this election cycle. But, who knows? The Greeks fed Socrates the hemlock because they thought he was radicalizing the youth. Maybe this very same impulse is at work with regard to establishment conservatives and Ron Paul.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

With Friends Like These ...

who needs enemies?

Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, orchestrated into power by the Bush Administration, responded this way about his erstwhile patron and Bush's mild rebuke:

Al-Maliki, on a trip to Syria, reacted harshly when asked about the earlier comments from U.S. officials.

"No one has the right to place timetables on the Iraq government. It was elected by its people," he said at a news conference in Damascus at the end of the three-day visit to Syria.

"Those who make such statements are bothered by our visit to Syria. We will pay no attention. We care for our people and our constitution and can find friends elsewhere," al-Maliki said.
Now, Bush is planning to backtrack on his comments because he is afraid to hurt al-Maliki's feelings. The sad thing is that Bush has painted himself into this corner and has given al-Maliki the upper hand in the relationship. Bush needs the Iraqi government to succeed, even if it is an ineffective and counterproductive one, because he has so much invested in having Iraq seem less like the basket case that it is.

In the past, such testy and whiny comments by proxy surrogates would be met with an even sterner rebuke and a harsher dose of truth-talk, rather than a meely-mouth cave-in.

Bush is reaping what he has sown.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Can You Catch the Irony?

Barack Obama has called for an easing of restrictions on some elements of the Bush Administration's Cuba policy. A critic of Obama's position had this to say about it:

Mauricio Claver-Carone, a spokesman for the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Pact, which supports full sanctions, said Obama's statement could hurt U.S.-Cuban relations at a crucial time.

"I'm sure he's well intentioned," Claver-Carone said, but he added that with the death of Castro possibly approaching and the potential for change on the island, such a statement could send the wrong message.

"It entrenches the regime at this historic time," Claver-Carone said.
Notice anything ironic about this last comment by Claver-Carone? Let me give you a hint: The Castro regime is coming up on 50 years in power. In fact, the Castro Regime is older than Barack Obama by almost two years! I doubt that anything Obama says is "entrenching" the Castro regime. Any honest person would have to admit that the regime is pretty much entrenched already, and has been long before Obama even knew who Castro was. It's statements like these that defy the imagination and point out ever so much more the anachronism that is the pro-embargo lobby in the United States.

NOTE: Cross-posted at Cuaderno Latinoamericano.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Advice to Young Conservatives Getting Ready for College

As a college professor, I would like to say to young conservatives (and, really, to all young people) about to embark on the "liberal brainwashing" that is college. Take heart! Just think that if colleges and universities really were the big brother boogeyman liberal indoctrination machines that Rush Limbaugh would have you believe, there would be much fewer conservatives, independents, and libertarians with college degrees out there.

The fact that many young conservatives not only survive college, but also come through it perhaps with a more informed conservative conviction, is proof positive that college is good for both liberals and conservatives (and even independent and/or apolitical folk, too!)

What is scary to folks like Rush Limbaugh is that college encourages critical thinking. College bombards you with information and data and then challenges you to digest it, make sense of it, and to argue in defense of the conclusions you reach from the critical thinking process with those who come to different conclusions when digesting and thinking on the same information and data. And please know that having what you believe challenged by others is not an assault on your being. It is an invitation to study, think, and argue back.

Folk like Limbaugh are afraid that if you think critically you might become liberal. And they call it brainwashing if, in fact, this happens. Well, let me just tell you that critical thinking is not something to be afraid of. Sure, it may (and probably will) change your view the world; but how it does so is wide open and is ultimately up to you.

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Warrantless Blogtapping Program

Issue: Rightwing Hypocrisy - Hawkins scoffs at a Liberal blog for "STIFLING DISSENT" by closing off comments.

John Hawkins, owner of the conservative blog Right Wing News, writes about a liberal blog doing some "banning" of critical commentary:

When a few righties stopped by to challenge the almighty, allknowing Mahablogger on her rhetoric, she shut the comments down. Effectively STIFLING DISSENT, as it were.
Seems to me that shutting down the comments "stifles" both dissent and support. It's an equal opportunity restriction. Given that, I can't see how Hawkins can make this a question of ideological censorship as he seems to be doing. But, that's not really the point I want to make. My beef with this is the bald-faced hypocrisy of Hawkins, who has the nerve to throw stones and brazenly criticize a liberal blog in this way when he did precisely the same to me. In fact, I can argue that what Hawkins did to me is even worse, since he didn't muffle the rumblings of his own stormtroopers when he shut me down. Sadly, what I find even more discouraging, though, is that the regular commenters at RWN seem to have collective amnesia about this, too, never calling Hawkins on this hypocrisy. When Hawkins complains about the Mahablog effectively "STIFLING DISSENT," hardly any of his regular commenters think to say to him: "Uh, but Hawkins, what about Huckupchuck? Did you not 'stifle' him for no apparent reason other than that he expressed dissenting and critical viewpoints? Be careful throwing stones when you live in a glass house yourself." Or something along those lines.

I know that there are some good people on the RWN comment boards who have asked Hawkins for some clarification on why he banned me. And I appreciate that. But such efforts have only been limited to asking for clarification. And, with the exception of a regular commenter there who goes by the name President_Friedman, I haven't seen anyone criticize Hawkins publicly for banning me and yet failing to offer any reason why he did so. And I certainly haven't seen anyone at RWN publicly call Hawkins on the hypocrisy of his criticizing the Mahablog and other liberal blogs for "stifling dissent" when he's guilty of the same behavior.

NOTE (Friday, August 17, 2007, 7:44PM CST): I updated this posting from its original, which I posted hastily a few hours ago before heading out the door for dinner with the family, in order to add some more thoughts on the subject.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Wrap Your Head Around This!

I almost had a cow this morning when I saw this picture (click to the third one in the series) in the Times-Picayune this morning and read the following caption that went along with it:

Wanda Nazaretian, right, tells her woes to Lori Pichon about her 1400 percent increase in property assessments. Her home increased from $79000 to $1.19 million.
I'm still dumbfounded and rendered mute when I read this. Where do I start with it? First, am I supposed to be sympathetic to Wanda Nazaretian because her assessment went up so much? Am I supposed to feel for her that she had to wait in line with the rest of the "hoi polloi" at City Hall to protest her re-assessment?

Either we have some very incompetent assessors, or a very gargantuan mistake was made, or Wanda Nazaretian has some nerve complaining about having to finally pay taxes for her $1.19 million home.

I noticed that the caption didn't provide a specific address. And when I did a search of the Orleans Parish Board of Assessors Records, there was nothing listed under the name of Nazaretian. Makes you wonder doesn't it?

Well, I think it could be true that Wanda Nazaretian's home is overassessed. Maybe it is worth $1 million instead of $1.19 million. Who knows? But I'd bet dollars to doughnuts that it is worth much, much more than the $79,000 at which it was previously assessed. I stand astounded at the gall of someone who, with the homestead exemption, has been paying literally almost nothing in property taxes for who knows how long, and then "tells her woes" about her "situation" as she pines away in line at City Hall. Let me tell you, Wanda Nazaretian does not elicit any sympathy from me.

It makes me sick.

Cafe Reconcile's White Beans & Shrimp Recipe

Today's Times-Picayune had a story and a recipe for Cafe Reconcile's White Beans and Shrimp dish. (Cafe Reconcile -- click here for their website -- is a great story in itself. Click on their link and read up on this very unusual and wonderful place.)

Now, I'm not normally a big fan of white beans, but I've sampled this dish on more than one occasion and it is fantastic.

My wife took a look at the recipe and said: "It calls for lots of garlic and 4 cups of heavy cream. 4 CUPS!!! No wonder you like it! Anything with that much heavy cream is going to taste great to you!"

Well, she may be right. But one can splurge every so often, don't you think? Give it a try. I promise you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Global Warming a Farce? Take 2 ...

A few days ago, the head-in-the-sand, anti-global warming Rightwingosphere jumped on some changes in a NASA report re-calculating the hottest years on record in the U.S. after rectifying a slight error in the statistical tool used to determine annual temperatures as wholesale evidence that the global warming phenomenon is pure fantasy. [NOTE: As much as conservatives would like to think that the U.S. constitutes the entire world, the phenomenon of global warming is precisely that: a measure of the world's temperatures, with the world constituting more than the U.S.]

[ASIDE: Well, we New Orleanians, basing our thoughts purely on our personal, lived experiences with the heat over the past 2-3 weeks, might disagree with the notion that global warming is a fraud. Honestly, I don't think I've ever felt this hot in New Orleans before. But, anyway, since my "feelings" don't count in a scientific debate, that's neither here nor there ... ]

Nevertheless, I'd advise conservatives to be a bit circumspect in their dismissive reactions and take a look at this little cautionary rejoinder from Bradford Plummer over at The New Republic's blog, "The Plank." And here's another piece of sanity on the subject, just for good measure.

Take it for what you will.

Quote of the Day

"It's not unique to Louisiana. It's just brazen down here. Machine politics in the north will skim the cream. Here in Louisiana, they skim the cream, they steal the milk, hijack the bottles and look for the cow."
-- James Bernazanni, the special agent in charge of the FBI's New Orleans field office, commenting after New Orleans City Councilman Oliver Thomas's public admission of illegal and corrupt behavior.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Appeal of Obama Across Ideological Lines

Over at Right Wing News, a conservative New Orleanian who regularly visits that site, and who goes by the internet name "RWNReader2," posed a question to John Hawkins, the owner of the blog, asking for data that would convince a conservative-leaning acquaintance of his not to consider voting for Barack Obama, as this acquaintance indicated she might do. Hawkins thought this question worthy of a response. Click on the link above that references RWNReader2's question in order to read RWNReader2's question as well as Hawkins' reply.

I think Hawkins completely missed the boat on this one. His answer was based on the premise that Obama is fashioning himself a moderate; and therefore all RWNReader2 had to do was to expose Obama's liberalism in order to sway his acquaintance to give up on Obama. The problem is that Obama has NEVER fashioned himself as anything but a liberal. So, trying to tag Obama with the "dirty" word of "liberal" just isn't going to cut it. I imagine that RWNReader2's acquiantance assumes that Obama, as a Democrat from Illinois, must be a "liberal." Because of this, I would argue that RWNReader2's acquaintance finds Obama appealing not IN SPITE OF his liberalism, but actually because of it. The thing is, Obama's liberalism is authentic, principled, and well-communicated. The problem for conservatives is not that Obama is hiding his liberalism, but that Obama knows how to convey the core principles of liberalism in a way that resonates with people's values. Hawkins, like many conservatives, simply cannot bring himself to recognize that there is value in liberal ideals which can resonate with all discerning human beings.

It is a mistake for conservatives to try to "reveal" the liberalism of Obama as a means of convincing people to vote against him, as if simply mentioning the "dirty" word "liberal" is enough to do the trick. Why is it a mistake? Because such conservatives would be revealing that which is already exposed. Furthermore, they would be conspicuously avoiding addressing what it is about the substance of Obama's unabashed liberalism that many find appealing.

Obama's strength is that he knows how to move away from liberal soundbites and can articulate a compelling vision and idea of liberalism that touches people's humanity and reaffirms their dignity as individuals who also share the dreams and struggles both in the world at large and within their local communities. He inspires people both to be the best individuals they can be as well as to be the best selfless, other-oriented citizens they can be.

Hawkins thinks Obama is fashioning himself as a moderate because Hawkins himself recognizes the appeal of Obama's liberalism, but he can't fathom accepting this appeal as a product of liberal ideology, so he has to call it something other than liberalism. He calls it "being moderate." Others call it "charisma." And still others call it "being smooth and slick," as if there has to be something sinister and deceptive behind the undeniable appeal of the man and what he has to say.

Proof of the emptiness of this line of thinking about Obama is that all the "evidence" Hawkins can give to RWNReader2 in answer to RWNReader2's question is a couple of links to some rankings by some organizations of how "liberal" Obama is on a liberal/conservative scale. As if that's going to be convincing to someone who says: "Yeah, and so? Tell me why that's so bad when I find myself hearing Obama articulate an ideology behind his rankings that I like and respect." Apparently, Hawkins has no answer to that.

It is not a fluke that when Obama speaks, time and again even conservatives find themselves often finding something admirable in what he has to say and how he says it. The little secret is not that they find themselves impressed with Obama because he resonates with their conservative values, or because he adopts "moderate" positions that they can find palatable, but rather because he can pierce through that reactionary conservative armor and show them in a convincing way that liberalism has value. He can say: "Here's the liberal way, and doesn't it make sense?" And some truly open-minded conservatives might find themselves, if not agreeing, perhaps at least blinking and wondering.

I think I have a fairly decent read on RWNReader2 from having engaged him numerous times in discussions at RWN. And I'm confident in saying that RWNReader2 is a smart person who knows how to fashion a convincing argument in defense of conservative principles. Because of this, I think the fact that he is asking Hawkins for some ammunition is indicative of the fact that he, himself, is somewhat at a loss as to how to respond honestly, and not in some conservative knee-jerk fashion, to the thinking of his acquaintaince and her tendency to find Obama an appealing candidate.

This is something that conservatives will have to deal with when it comes to Barack Obama. And right now, I find that they are struggling to deal with this. And they better find more substantive ways to tackle Obama than simply throwing out the dirty word "liberal" and hoping that this will be enough. People respond to what they see, hear, and understand. And Barack Obama, in his unabashed liberalism, is connecting to people in visceral ways that labels like "conservative," "moderate," or "liberal" just won't suffice as convincing arguments on their own either for or against him.

Sad and Disappointing

Oliver Thomas, at-large New Orleans City Councilman and likely next mayor, a man who everyone thought was one of the good guys, will be pleading guilty to charges of a shakedown as part of a deal with Federal investigators.

I have to admit to being rather shocked at this. Thomas had always come across as a man of integrity. He surely often spoke of the need for politicians to behave with integrity. And this makes his fall all the worse.

I guess the silver lining in all this, if there is one, is that there does seem to be a wholesale cleaning of New Orleans and Louisiana politics going on. What fills the gaps remains to be seen; but at least it is a window of opportunity to try to change the culture here, to start fresh.

Most people in New Orleans and Louisiana are simply tired of and disgusted with the corruption of our politics-as-usual. Most of us want integrity and change.

What with Vitter being exposed, with Jefferson indicted and facing likely conviction, with Blanco on her way out and Nagin in his last term, with new faces on the City Council like Stacey Head, Shelly Midura, James Carter, and Arnie Fielkow, New Orleans and Louisiana can really be on the cusp of important and wholesale change. If only we can resist the temptation to give up and instead embrace this as a real opportunity for change and make it so.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Incompetence of Nancy Marshall, the IQ (I Quit) Assessor

First off, Nancy Marshall is a liar. She promised to quit if elected, and she's still on the job. Sure, she can say that quitting was only possible if all the other "I Quit" quitters won; but she ran on a quitting platform and hasn't quit yet. If she really was committed to the "I quit" platform, she would have refused to take office once it became clear that the other "I quit" quitters were defeated.

Now, it just so happens that I opposed the "I Quit" quitters from the beginning, on principle. I just think that anyone who elects someone who promises to quit and to appoint an unelected person in her stead is a foolish voter. It's like giving the "I quit" quitters your blank ballot with a signature and having them assign your vote to any person of their choosing. I actually actively campaigned against this completely cynical movement on the notion that I'd rather have someone at least nominally familiar with the real estate and property assessment market holding authority in assessing the value of my property for tax purposes. Nancy Marshall knew nothing about property assessment and real estate valuation. The only thing she knew, so she claimed, was how to be a good quitter, and she couldn't even follow through on that. So, what good is she and what good is her word? Anyway, we're now stuck with her because foolish voters elected an incompetent and unknowledgable person to office hoping that she would, indeed, quit. Which she couldn't even muster up the courage to do.

Well, that's neither here nor there. What's done is done. The sad thing is that she was the only "I Quit" quitter to win, and she just happened to be running for Assessor of the District that contains my home.

Now, Nancy Marshall is making assessments based on who knows what. And people are complaining. Rightfully so. And I'll give you a personal example of her incompetence.

A few weeks ago or so, all City Assessors mailed out property assessment letters to property owners. Property assessment values across the board, throughout all assessment districts, witnessed an overall aggregate increase of more than 50%. In Nancy Marshall's district, the overall increase in property assessments was in the 60-70% range.

Now, as someone whose property had been properly assessed from the moment my wife and I purchased our home, I did not experience significant sticker shock like many other New Orleans residents. In fact, if millages go down (as the law requires) and stay down (as many hope), I should see an overall lower tax bill when all is said and done. So, I'm not complaining about this major city-wide correction of property assessments. I actually support it as a measure of fairness in equitable taxation based on proper property assessment.

So, that's not where my beef with Nancy Marshall lies. My home is pretty much fairly assessed by her office. My beef with her is the incompetence in the way that she runs her office. Here's an example of what I mean. Just today, I received a "REVISED" property assessment letter from her. My overall property assessment increased slightly from the amount indicated in the assessment letter I received from her some weeks ago. This means a slight bump in revenue for the City, but still another little slice out of my pocketbook. So, there is that. Now maybe that "revised" assessment is the correct one; but how in the hell can it have changed even an iota in just a few weeks? If she made a mistake, o.k. But even still, that "mistake" is one measure of incompetence. I can only imagine how this "mistake" played out for other homeowners. But that's not the half of it. Even though the overall assessment increased only slightly, the revisions to each of the two parts of my property tax assessment were very different from the assessment I received just a few weeks ago in the original letter sent out by Nancy Marshall. In other words, the mistake was not a minor one, but a major one. Let me explain. Assessments are made on (1) the land and (2) the buildings on the land. In the letter Nancy Marshall sent out some weeks ago, my land was assessed at $3,200 (which is 10% of the appraised value) and the building was assessed at $19,530 (which is, again, 10% of the appraised value). [NOTE: I don't know why assessments are calculated at 10% of the appraised value, but that's how it's done here.] In the "REVISED" assessment, which I just received today, my land assessment was increased to $4,860 and my buldings assessment decreased to $18,180. So, while the overall total was a net increased assessment of only $310 (from $22,740 to $23,040), this difference masks a major "mistake" in property assessment of both the value of my land and my actual home. So, I'm a bit chafed that Nancy Marshall could make such a blatant mistake in assessments. It makes me wonder how she arrived at the first assessment, and then how she arrived at the second assessment. In either case, it is a sign that she doesn't know jack about what she is doing. But what chafes me even more is the fact that a "REVISED" assessment arrived today. Why? Because, according to the law, if I want to contest this "REVISED" assessment, I only have until August 15 to visit my assessor and review the details of this new assessment. That's next Wednesday. And there's no way that anyone can get an appointment to see her over this time period given that the first round of assessment letters produced a wave of complaints. And I only have until Aug. 20 to appeal her assessment. So, Nancy Marshall made a mistake, notified me late, and gives me very little time to appeal or contest. In a word: incompetent.

She's a pathetic excuse for an assessor. But, what should we have expected? After all, she didn't run on a platform of competence, only on a platform of "quitting." I just wish she at least had the damn integrity to live up to her campaign promises.

UPDATED Monday, August 13, 2007, at 2:45pm: I updated this posting to correct for some minor grammatical errors as well as to correct for how property assessments are calculated. In the original post, I incorrectly referred to the assessment values as "mills." The basic figures remain the same, just the terminology has been changed. I edited and added text to clarify this.

Friday, August 10, 2007

What Is It About Conservatism That Bothers Me

Over at Right Wing News, there is an interesing discussion taking place in the comments section to John Hawkins' Q&A Friday posting regarding liberal "mis" perceptions of conservatives. (And, no, I'm not going to pick on Hawkins this time!)

The debate is actually quite interesting. But I wanted to jump off of this debate and pose my own main perception of conservatism that ultimately turns me off from it. At least conservatism as practiced by the modern rightwing in America today.

For me, it seems that modern conservatism as defined by folks like John Hawkins has as a fundamental characteristic an aversion to fallibility. I guess Andrew Sullivan would call this a kind of "fundamentalism" that he would say is anathema to real conservatism, which is (or should be) essentially skeptical or doubtful. There is a rigidity of thought in modern conservatism that not only disagrees with other perspectives, but also fails to even accept the legitimacy of core differences of thought within any substantive dialogue. I have heard time and again conservatives equate liberalism to a mental illness, as if every liberal must be somehow mentally imbalanced. The mantra "we must agree to disagree," followed by a respect for the intelligence and principled positions of intellectual rivals, seems to be rather unacceptable to modern conservatism.

There is a strand of this rigidity in hard-left liberalism as well, but most liberals I know embrace a kind of liberalism grounded in a constant questioning. Conservatives seem to want to embrace absolutes and tend to brook no room for dissent or divergence from orthodoxy. It is the moral absolutism as well as its accompanying lack of intellectual curiosity that comes with the critical questioning process that turns me off to what passes for modern conservatism today.

It is no coincidence that the academy tends to lean leftward. Conservatives always like to point this out and to then unfairly make the jump to the conclusion that higher education is nothing but liberal brainwashing. But anyone who is honest about his or her college experience will have to recognize that colleges and universities are places where all kinds of ideas and different perspectives are in a vigorous exchange. If colleges and universities really were the hard core leftist propagandist machines conservatives make them out to be, there wouldn't be as many conservatives with college degrees out there.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mitt Romney's Ignorance

The man hopes to be President and yet he doesn't even know how many counties there are in the state of Massachussetts. I mean, it's not like he's been governor of Massachussetts or anything, right? God fordid that someone ask him to spell "potato" or guess at the number of states there are in the United States. Lord knows what answer we'll get with Romney.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

FEMA and Catholic Schools

This little tidbit of news caught my eye:

Our Lady of Lourdes School in Slidell has secured a windfall of federal financing to rebuild its battered campus, which was deluged by floodwaters during Hurricane Katrina, the Federal Emergency Management Agency announced Monday.

The school will receive more than $10.6 million to construct a new facility along Westchester Place for pupils in prekindergarten through eighth grade, officials said.
$10.6 million! Wow! That's quite a lot of tax dollars going into a private, religious school. Now, I'm certainly not opposed to FEMA giving such assistance to any school, Catholic or otherwise; but I'm now curious to find out just how much FEMA has disbursed to all schools affected by Hurricane Katrina for rebuilding. My thinking is that public schools, supported by my tax dollars, should get first priority in any federal or state dollars distributed.

I am also a little bit curious as to how officials within the Archdiocese of New Orleans that oversee the Catholic education system of the diocese, were unaware of this grant. That strikes me as odd. The size of the award as well as the fact that it comes as a surprise smells a bit fishy, if you ask me.

The Scott Thomas Beauchamp Controversy ...

continues to traverse the proverbial rabbit hole. At this point, who knows what the truth is. The Weekly Standard reports, according to some "source," that Beauchamp has recanted his stories in sworn affadavits. And apparently the military has concluded that there was falsehood in the Beauchamp stories. What that falsehood entails, specifically, the military investigators refuse to say, which does cause eyebrows to raise. For instance, one would expect that if there were definitive and conclusive evidence that specific things mentioned in Beauchamp's stories were untrue the military investigators would provide specific reference to such evidence. But all we have is some military investigator saying that its review of its own bad behavior has caused it to determine that reports of its bad behavior are ... gasp! ... false! That's like Ken Lay conducting a private investigation of Jeff Skilling and determining that, surprise!, Skilling did nothing wrong. Or, better yet, it's like Dick Cheney investigating Scooter Libby and reporting that, surprise!, Scooter Libby is as clean as a whistle. Why would the military want to air out its dirty laundry when it can try to bury it under the vague platitudes of some nebulous claim that Beauchamp fibbed without specifying what he exactly fibbed about. And then there is The New Republic's statement claiming that they have still not received any evidence to disprove the claims in Beauchamp's stories and that the military investigators refuse to clue them in on what evidence they managed to dredge up that would disprove the claims that the TNR says has been corroborated off-the-record by Beauchamp's fellow soldiers. In fact, the military's point person, Steven Lamb, has refused to corroborate to TNR the Weekly Standard's claims. And I find that such refusal to do so is inconscionable, now that the Weekly Standard is throwing such a claim out there based on its own anonymous sourcing.

Who knows what to believe? But one would think that the military should have specific and concrete evidence one way or the other. Why won't they reveal this evidence, or at least be specific in terms of outlining which of Beauchamp's stories are false and how they know that? I'm sorry, but if the military authorities expect me to believe them just on blind faith, they're mistaken. That's not to say that I believe either Beauchamp or The New Republic either. I don't know whom to believe at this point. But I do know that, as much as one might question the way Beauchamp and TNR have handled this matter, the way the military investigators have handled this matter also doesn't inspire confidence in trusting what they say is the truth.

Friday, August 03, 2007

On Vacation

Been on a brief vacation with the family. Out camping. Didn't bring the computer. Borrowing someone else's for a few minutes just to check in and say hello. I'll be back at it after the weekend. Peace.