Today is Ralph Bakshi‘s 76th birthday. To honor this great animator’s work, watch “The Littlest Tramp” episode of Mighty Mouse: The New Adventures. I loved this show when it came out in the eighties and watched it whenever I could.

“The Littlest Tramp” first aired on October 31, 1987 and it included a scene where a bully of a character smashes a flower Mighty Mouse is holding that he intends to give to Pollly Pineblossom. Mighty Mouse opens his hand after the flower is crushed and finds only pink dust. He thinks of Pearl and smells what remains of the flower and the dust goes up his nose.

Some people thought the pink flower dust represented cocaine and complained about the show. By June 1988 the American Family Association raised a big fuss, got CBS to cut the scene from future broadcasts, and the show was canceled soon after.

So watch it today and raise a glass or a flower petal and toast the fine work of Ralph Bakshi.

On November 4th Washington State voters have an opportunity to close loopholes in the background checks that we impose, for good reason, on firearm purchasers.

Currently, someone who likely would not be approved for the legal purchase of a firearm through a licensed dealer once a background check was conducted can still obtain one online, or at a gun show through a private sale where no checks are conducted. That makes no sense.

Why would we wish to make it easy for a convicted felon or an abusive husband or boyfriend with a restraining order against him, for example, to obtain a lethal weapon such as a handgun?

The gun zealots argue, as they always do, that all it will do is inconvenience law-abiding folk not the criminal which, presumably, is an argument against any and all background checks on gun purchases; which is a joke. If you want to see an example of how lax our laws are for acquiring a firearm compared with the rest of the industrialized world, check out this comparison of requirements in the United States with those of Canada (compliments of Vox.com), a country that is actually serious about keeping guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people.

Research does show that stricter gun control laws do serve to reduce gun violence. I-594 is not a panacea to gun violence in Washington, as our latest school shooting tragedy in Marysville shows all too clearly; but it will help to save at least some lives.

And while we’re at it, don’t forget to vote “NO” on I-591 which is the gun zealot proposal designed to merely confuse the issue and maintain the status quo.

Vote for a saner, safer society: Vote “YES” on I-594.

ebola America

Looking back at the last few months in this country I don’t know which is more depressing: the willingness of Republicans and the media to try to scare the bejeebers out of everyone over the supposed threats to the United States of ISIS and Ebola; or the combination of ignorance and feeble mindedness of so many Americans in succumbing to this fear mongering in the face of a ton of information and facts that show it up for the nonsense it is.

Despite the efforts of some Republican lawmakers to convince us that ISIS is about to murder us in our beds, or to combine the threat of ISIS with Ebola to picture a scenario of Ebola-infected ISIS terrorists crossing our border to blow themselves up in our shopping malls (you have to read this piece over at Vox.com), the Department of Homeland Security has conceded that no credible direct threat to the US from ISIS has been detected.

That may be because ISIS currently has its hands full trying to establish its caliphate in Iraq and Syria in the face of opposition from Kurdish fighters, Syrian non-nutcase rebels (and at some point, we hope, the Syrian army of Bashar al-Assad) and a slowly rejuvenating Iraqi army – oh yes and US/allied airstrikes.

The Ebola scare mongering in the media has been, if anything, even more reprehensible and has resulted in some truly mind-boggling overreactions.

Sure there have been some stumbles by a private hospital in Dallas and subsequently by the Centers for Disease Control in dealing with the first cases of Ebola in the US. But the fact is that a disease that can only be spread with direct contact (i.e. it is not airborne) was never going to become a genuine health crisis in a developed country such as the US. In fact, one can make a strong argument that our health system has learned much from the mistakes made in confronting this relatively low-grade threat – lessons that will serve us well when we are faced with a genuine health crisis such as a flu epidemic.

But these twin non-crises have served the Republicans well, as they (with the enthusiastic assistance of an overwrought media, particularly the Sunday talk show crowd) exploit them to buttress the picture they present of a detached and incompetent administration simply not up to the job. And the American electorate is buying it, as the mid-term election polls clearly show.

Over at Vox.com they provide a dose of much needed perspective with this list (admittedly un-scientific and incomplete) of actual as opposed to overblown threats to Americans. Case in point: Guns, ranked at #3 (for comparison, ISIS is #7 and Ebola #9). A grand total of one person has so far died of Ebola in America and two have been killed so far by ISIS. In contrast, 30,000 or more Americans are killed every year by people with firearms, half of them in homicides.

So let’s ignore the scare mongers, the exploitive Republican politicians and hysterical media, put away the fear and get a grip people – things are a lot better than you think.

You could be forgiven for feeling a strong sense of déjà vu these past months at the barrage of dire pronouncements on the urgent threat posed by the terrorist group known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, sometimes substituting “Levant” for “Syria” for ISIL). Flashback to 2003 and the overwrought nonsense we heard in the run up to the invasion of Iraq.

Only then we had an administration that was leading the charge for war and mounting a campaign of misinformation and exaggeration to bamboozle Americans into supporting an invasion; now, ironically, we have a president who has been trying, with limited success, to proceed with caution and calm deliberation in the face of overheated rhetoric and fear mongering not merely from right-wing politicians and pundits, but from the mainstream media; a loud and constant clamoring for a strategy to defeat ISIS not only in Iraq where, arguably, we bear some responsibility given our ties to the country, but also in Syria.

Obama recognizes, as so many of his detractors seem not to, that Syria in particular represents a veritable minefield of challenges in a region where, on balance, we have done more harm than good by our interventions in the last two decades. In fact the very existence of ISIS can be traced to the bloody aftermath of the United States invasion of Iraq.

To intervene in Iraq is one thing, and the Obama administration has made a good start by maneuvering Maliki out of office (using the threat of ISIS and the prospect of US military aid as leverage) and using airpower to assist the Kurds in the north and secure certain strategic objectives such as the Mosul dam.

But airpower alone cannot take back the areas currently occupied by ISIS and it will likely take 1-2 years to build up the confidence and military readiness of the Iraqi army so it won’t crumble like Swiss cheese during any campaign to take back Anbar and the north of Iraq from ISIS.  A prerequisite to ultimate success will also require an alliance with the Sunni tribes whom Maliki succeeded all too well in alienating to the point where, in 2014, they shrugged off any loyalty to the Iraqi state and stood by while ISIS humiliated the latter’s army.

This part of Obama’s strategy (which contrary to the braying of Fox News and the mainstream Sunday talk show hosts and their guests, was always clear) makes perfect sense; his decision to cave to the pressure and intervene in Syria, much less so.

Syria is a chaotic mess but, for once in the Middle East, we had nothing to do with it. There were sound reasons for not getting involved and the success of ISIS in rising from the chaos doesn’t alter that fact.

The truth is that ISIS is not a direct threat to the US in the short to medium term and probably beyond. Unlike al-Qaida (which Obama has eviscerated during his tenure) the focus of ISIS has never been on the US but on creating a Sunni-dominated caliphate in the Middle East. It’s a threat to Middle East stability, no question, but not specifically to us, Senator Lindsey Graham’s dire warnings notwithstanding (that guy really needs to take his anxiety meds).

Obama was castigated for not having a strategy for Syria but that was actually a good thing since the choices are all bad. Bombing ISIS will have limited effect and is just as likely to help Assad as hurt ISIS; finding let alone training and equipping moderate Syrian rebels to be the ground component is tough and there’s no guarantee they’ll fight ISIS rather than Assad; and hands up everyone who wants to see US ground forces in Syria as do Senators McCain and Graham.

Obama’s initial instincts appear to have been to fight ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria. He should have stuck with them.

A guy on the bus the other day was openly criticizing those around him for abandoning the world around them in favor of the pale imitation our handheld devices offer up.

A friendly woman next to him unwisely* offered up a different perspective. “It’s interesting to think about whether this is any different from reading a book or newspaper on your commute. Some might be studying or reading the news. I wonder if we have always tended to isolate ourselves in these situations, and the difference now is that anyone who is unfamiliar with one method or the other makes assumptions about what’s going on on the other side of that barrier.”

Early 20th Century commuters immersed in printed newspapers

All this technology is making us antisocial

For a second I thought she was bravely bridging a gap with this old guy who had an armful of old, used (out of print looking) vinyl records and sheet music he’d obviously just acquired. But no. The old guy flew into a rage about how the internet is a “breeding ground for witches and slutty feminists who have no respect for our Christian culture!” He angrily sputtered on about the muslims, the gays, and abortion culture tearing the fabric of society apart until he disembarked at 15th and Pine.

It was sad because this old guy was dressed in dapper digs from the 40s, on the 10, and looked like a Capitol Hill native. He looked like a fascinating old guy and I would bet he has a trove of stories that would enrich all of us to hear, even if it is tinged with bigotry. I mean, Cap Hill has has a much more varied past than you might know just living here now.

A new report on the Restaurant Opportunities Centers website has identified some disturbing realities. Unfortunately, for women working in the service industry, the report’s findings are long accepted truths. But it may still shine a light on how the sub-minimum wage set by the federal government, which sits at the same $2.13 per hour that was set in 1990, can combine with a working acceptance of sexual harassment on the job to perpetuate a system that encourages workers to engage with customers in ways that undermine the value of all women earning tips and a sub-minimum base wage.

Screen Shot 2014-10-10 at 2.52.10 AM

You can download the PDF from the ROCUnited website, read a summary of its findings here, and tell your personal story about sexual harassment in the workplace with ROC

KEXP completed its fall pledge drive yesterday, and during the week-long drive they counted down the top 437 artists of all time as voted on by listeners. Listeners had until September 19th to cast their votes for their top twelve. I’m not sure why the final list was 437. It could be that’s the total number of different artists that were chosen by listeners, or maybe it was an air-time issue – the number of songs they could get through during the daytime pledge-drive hours. (Anybody at KEXP reading this who knows why the list was 437?)

I listened to the station during my drives to and from work during the week, and I must say the banter from Kevin Cole, Troy Nelson, and Tilly (?) during the afternoon show was pretty entertaining. I especially liked Troy’s “80’s scream”. Just thinking about trying to imitate it makes my throat hurt.

Anyway, here’s the top twelve as voted on by listeners:

1 The Beatles
2 Radiohead
3 Led Zeppelin
4 The Clash
5 Nirvana
6 Pixies
7 David Bowie
8 Bob Dylan
9 The Rolling Stones
10 Neil Young
11 R.E.M.
12 Pink Floyd

I get that a lot of people of all generations like The Beatles, and the band has had a long time to grow a fan base, but I would have flipped The Rolling Stones’ spot for The Beatles’ spot. I listen to the Stones pretty often – mostly the late sixties through mid-seventies era, and those albums still sound pretty fresh to me. As for The Beatles, I listen to them once and a while, but I’ve grown tired of them.

No surprise that Radiohead placed high on the chart, because they used to win the album-of-the-year polls every time they put out a record. Led Zeppelin ahead of The Clash? Come on! Nirvana snuck in as the only American band in the top five.

Here’s my list from a couple weeks ago with corresponding KEXP rankings:

1 Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds (59 – not bad, but someday the rest of you will come around.)
2 Patti Smith (67 – really? Have you seen her live?)
3 Tom Waits (35 – but he had ten albums on their list of top 903 albums of all time.)
4 Johnny Cash (13 – about where I would expect.)
5 P.J. Harvey (56 – she deserves much better than this.)
6 The Clash (4)
7 Bob Dylan (8)
8 Bruce Springsteen (43 – he’s better than this, but not a surprising ranking for KEXP)
9 The Rolling Stones (9)
10 Nirvana (4)
11 X (85 – really? John Fuckin’ Doe? Listen to their first four albums again.)
12 Bob Marley (32 – perhaps his ranking will rise now that we can buy pot legally in this state.)

But what about Sufjan Stevens? I had a beef with fellow listeners after the Top 903 albums of all time poll. His Come on Feel the Illinois ranked #15 in that one – way ahead of much more worthy albums. For this poll he came in 89th. His star has faded because he hasn’t really done anything since.

Nothing else too surprising about the results. What do you all think?

White Lion english pub

If there was an endangered species act for national icons, the British pub (or public house) might be on it.

According to the British Beer and Pub Association, since 1982 the number of pubs across the United Kingdom has declined from 68,000 to fewer than 50,000 in 2012, and about 25-30 pubs close every week.

What has brought the venerable British pub low?

The reasons are varied and include sky high real estate prices, which make it more profitable to sell a valuable pub property than continue its operation.

The corporate wheeling and dealing of “pubcos” (corporate pub companies) have also contributed hugely to the diminishing number of pubs. First, pubcos have sold many pubs to pay off corporate debt. Second, they impose restrictive agreements on licensees who manage their pubs which narrow both the range of beers the latter can sell and the profits they can enjoy.

A third problem is that supermarkets can now significantly undercut the price of pub beer.

The good news is that public awareness has been raised by the looming crisis of the disappearing pub and efforts are under way to arrest it. And craft breweries in the UK are booming.

So fear not. Buying good ale in most towns or cities in Britain (and a decent cider too for that matter) remains almost as easy as it is in, well, the thriving Seattle neighborhood of Ballard, home to many craft beer lovers, several fine craft breweries, and, not coincidentally, to some of the contributors to this blog.

I have made fun of Dr. Charles Krauthammer on these pages in the past, but nobody does it like Stephen Colbert. Here’s the segment from last night’s show where Stephen skewers Krauthammer for his interview on the Hugh Hewitt show where he gave his unofficial, “layman’s” diagnosis of President Obama’s mental state: “Obama is clearly a narcissist”.

Enjoy.

Operation Market Garden

On the morning of 17 September 1944 amid the droning sound of hundreds of aircraft, the clear skies over southern Holland were suddenly filled with what resembled a myriad of snowflakes. Operation Market Garden had begun.

Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, commanding the British/Canadian 21st Army Group, planned to leap the Lower Rhine River (the Nederrijn in the Netherlands) and outflank the German Siegfried Line on Germany’s borders with France and Belgium for a concentrated thrust into the North German Plain.

The US 82nd and 101st and 1st British Airborne Divisions would provide an airborne carpet along a sixty mile route from Eindhoven via Nijmegen to Arnhem capturing bridges over several major waterways. The paratroopers would then await relief by the ground forces of the British 2nd Army’s XXX Corps led by General Sir Brian Horrocks attacking north along a single road.

The 1st Airborne had the most dangerous assignment since their objective, the road bridge at Arnhem, was the farthest from XXX Corps; however, the two US divisions had the complicated task of both securing a number of vital bridges, and defending the road against German counterattacks from both flanks (which in the event they did, heroically).

The success of the plan was jeopardized by the presence of two battered yet powerful German SS panzer divisions that were refitting near Arnhem. Ultimately, these units and German proficiency at improvisation would determine the outcome of Market Garden.

The two American airborne divisions achieved most of their initial objectives but the 82nd Airborne, which had secured key bridges over the Maas River and Maas-Waal Canal, and vital high ground needed to block German counterattacks from the Reichswald Forest, lacked the manpower to move immediately on the road and rail bridges over the Waal River at Nijmegen. By the time they did, it was too late – German SS troops had arrived from Arnhem to strongly fortify the approaches to both bridges.

The 1st British Airborne whose drop zones were 6-8km from Arnhem, encountered strong German opposition and only managed to get an understrength battalion, perhaps 700 men, under Lieutenant Colonel John Frost to the north end of the bridge. The rest of the division was unable to break through and soon found itself in a fight for its life against ad hoc German battle groups, as did Frost.

Meanwhile the ground offensive by XXX Corps encountered strong German resistance in its attack from the Meuse-Escaut Canal.

Already behind schedule when they reached Nijmegen, the British joined the 82nd in attacking the road and rail bridges but made little progress. So confident were the Germans that they decided not to demolish the bridges but to defend them for use in future operations.

On the fourth day with time running out for Frost’s gallant band, a battalion of the 82nd launched a daring assault in daylight across the 250-metre wide Waal downriver from Nijmegen in flimsy British canvas and plywood boats. Under intense German fire, about half of the craft managed to reach the north bank. The surviving paratroopers stormed ashore and charged towards the north end of the bridges where they met tanks of the Guards Armoured Division who, along with other American paratroopers, had finally cracked the German defences south of the bridges. German attempts to demolish the latter failed. The Nijmegen bridges were in allied hands.

By then, however, Frost’s band had been overwhelmed. And to the fury of the American paratroopers who had sacrificed so much to capture the Nijmegen bridges, XXX Corps did not attack north for 18 hours while they regrouped. By then the Germans had blocked the way to Arnhem.

The British reached the Nederrijn but could not reinforce the 1st Airborne across the river. Two thousand survivors of the 10,000 who landed were evacuated on the night of 25/26 September. Market Garden had failed.

The 82nd and 101st suffered 3,500 casualties but had performed brilliantly, solidifying their reputations as two of the finest divisions fielded by any army in World War II. That Market Garden achieved 90% of its objectives, as Montgomery later put it, was due in no small measure to their efforts. Unfortunately, the other 10% was the difference between success and failure.

For the cinematic version of this story, watch Richard Attenborough’s 1977 film, A Bridge Too Far, starring Anthony Hopkins as Lieutenant Colonel Frost, Edward Fox as Lieutenant General Horrocks, plus Sean Connery as Major General Urquhart.