Friday, April 21, 2006

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

During a floor debate on immigration on April 6, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) -- perhaps inspired by the Dada exhibition at the National Gallery of Art -- waxed poetic on the existential realities of the World's Greatest Deliberative Body. I have taken a few liberties by turning his words into blank verse, but (aside from one ellipsis) this is what he said, which can be found in the pages of the Congressional Record:

Mr. President, I will say a few words.
I wasn't planning on saying anything,
but I think I must say something.

Mr. President, no matter how many times I call this lectern a car,
it does not matter,
this is not a car.
This is a lectern,
used here in the Senate for us
to put our papers on
and deliver a speech.
This is not a car.
If I come to the Senate floor and,
day after day,
hour after hour,
call this a car,
it is not a car.
It is a lectern.

If I come to this Senate floor
day after day
and say
what the Democrats have done is unusual,
it is wrong,
it is as wrong as this lectern
being called a car....

I know people feel that this lectern is a chair,
but it is not.
This is the Senate.
(Hat tip to The Washington Post's "In the Loop" columnist Al Kamen, who read this speech in an impeccably deadpan tone on WTWP Radio yesterday afternoon.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

London in the Rain

My last full day in London was drizzly and overcast -- undeniably English weather. Of course, a little rain never stops anyone from walking the streets of London, or enjoying an afternoon in the park.

My hotel was not far from the Marble Arch tube station and its eponymous arch

A short walk from Marble Arch is the famed Speaker's Corner at Hyde Park, where people literally stand on soapboxes to have their say to whomever might listen. The speakers I saw that day were mostly Marxists ( and Muslims.

As explained at, "Speakers Corner has been a place of assembly for those battling for their rights since the middle of the 19th Century. It was here that the Chartists, the Reform League, the May Day demonstrators and the Suffragettes held many of their greatest battles, tens of millions have assembled here and many have won reforms!"

Hyde Park is not short of attractions, as you can see.

This statue of Peter Pan in Hyde Park doesn't quite match the image we remember from Mary Martin, Cathy Rigby, or (especially) Jeremy Sumpter.

Monday, April 17, 2006

London at Night

More photos from my recent trip to London. There's not a lot you can do with a camera at night, but there are some pretty bright lights in the West End.

The statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus

At the Piccadilly Theatre (in Denman Street, where I first lived in London almost 20 years ago), a new production of Guys and Dolls ...

... from another angle ...

... and as the audience files out to grab a taxi or a pedicab

The signage may be high-tech these days, but the effect of the bright lights of Piccadilly Circus is much the same as it was in the 1940s ...

... but things go better with Sanyo (or is that Coke?)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Images of Sunny London

A weekend in London is such a disappointment -- but only because it is so short.

My top choices for musicals to see -- Billy Elliot and Mary Poppins -- were sold out (and are sold out, months in advance). I tried to see Hay Fever with Dame Judi Dench, but she was ill and the performance was canceled. So I saw Guys and Dolls, in a new production from the Donmar Warehouse at the Piccadilly Theatre. (Full review to follow.) This was the first time I have ever seen Guys and Dolls on stage, although I was in the show in high school and I have known the score backwards and forwards for almost 30 years.

The weather in London was lovely in that way that London has: drizzly Friday, sunny Saturday, rainy Sunday, and then sunny again on Monday morning, when I had to leave.

Here are some images of London, more or less random, reflecting the sunny Saturday of my whirlwind trip.

The view from my room in The Leonard Hotel, looking north into Old Quebec Street

Westminster Cathedral, whose Byzantine style seems to belong more to Venice than to England . . .

. . . especially this campanile

Up the street from the Catholic cathedral is the Anglican Westminster Abbey . . .

. . . with its statue of St. George, high upon a pedestal

Just beyond the Abbey is the Palace of Westminster, seat of the British Parliament . . .

. . . which makes it a natural magnet for anti-war protesters, just like Lafayette Park in Washington

In the center of the theatre district is Leicester Square; in the center of Leicester Square is a statue of William Shakespeare; makes sense.

Friday, April 07, 2006

London Calling 2

I arrived in London early Friday morning after a flight that was a bit longer than expected. By strange coincidence, my initial seatmate was a fellow Charlottesvillian -- a French teacher from William Monroe High School in Greene County, who was chaperoning a group of 14 students on a trip to London and Paris. She explained that their original flight was canceled (or for some reason their seats were unavailable) and they had to wait six hours to catch the next one, which was mine. That may explain why the 777 was packed to the gills.

Today was all client meetings, not much time for fun. We did have lunch at a nice restaurant, La Genova, and dinner at an even nicer one, Matsuri St. James's. (Odd how nobody traveling to London chooses to eat English food.)

The weather here has been lovely and Londonish all day long -- mostly overcast with a steady drizzle. Ah, home!

Despite what the posting time says (below), it's actually 12:48 a.m. here. And it's Saturday, April 8. My birthday ended almost an hour ago.

But a shout-out to my college friend, Tony Mallerdino of Chicago, who celebrates his own birthday today!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

London Calling

Tomorrow is my birthday, so I've decided to spend the weekend in London to get a theatre fix. (It helps that I have to go there for a few business meetings.)

I plan to see at least two shows, if not three. I'm not sure which ones, but I'm hoping to see at least one from among Stephen Daldry's Billy Elliot, Frank Loesser's Guys and Dolls, or Walt Disney's Mary Poppins. There's also a fringe play I might see Sunday evening if the timing is right.

Full report to come upon my return.

Payback Is a Bitch

The names of two of the "mad bombers" of the Albemarle County government schools have been revealed by the Daily Progress. One of the boys, who was found guilty of conspiracy charges, has a curious link to the schools in the past.

Alan Newsom, a 15-year-old football player and one-time missionary to Uganda with no criminal record, successfully sued the Albemarle County School Board in asserting his First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and of expression. He did this when he was a student at Jack Jouett Middle School and a teacher ordered him to take off an NRA t-shirt. (Alan engaged in target practice at the Rivanna Rifle and Pistol Club but otherwise did not use guns.) Support for the Second Amendment is not popular among government school administrators, who are among the whiniest liberals one can find.

To top it off, the Albemarle schools were embarrassed by receiving a 2004 Muzzle Award from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression:

In 2002, while enrolled in the sixth grade at Jack Jouett Middle School in Albemarle County, Virginia, twelve-year-old Alan Newsom attended a weekend shooting sports camp sponsored by the National Rifle Association. Among the topics taught at the camp was gun safety. As a souvenir of the experience, Alan took home a t-shirt which depicted three silhouettes of men holding firearms superimposed on the letters "NRA" and positioned above the phrase "Shooting Sports Camp." In April 2002, Alan wore the t-shirt to school. During the lunch period, an assistant principal approached Alan and gave him the choice of removing the shirt or wearing it inside out. Alan chose the latter course. Although at the time there was nothing in the school's written dress code policy that prohibited clothing depicting weapons, it was the assistant principal's opinion that the shirt was inappropriate for a middle school setting. According to Alan, the shirt elicited little response from other students until he was forced to wear it inside out. "It was really embarrassing," said Alan. The assistant principal later acknowledged that the only disruption caused by the shirt that day was the time she had to take away from her other duties to discuss the inappropriateness of the shirt with Alan.

When Alan's father learned of the incident and the embarrassment it caused his son, he contacted the NRA. On Alan's behalf, the NRA wrote the school in May asking it to reconsider its position on the shirt and apologize to Alan. Rather than do either, the school instead revised its dress code policy to prohibit messages on clothing relating to "drugs, alcohol, tobacco, weapons, violence, sex, vulgarity...." Believing his son had been wrongly singled out and deserved an apology, Alan's father, represented by legal counsel for the NRA, filed suit on Alan's behalf in U.S. District Court. The suit included the Albemarle School Board among the defendants and alleged that the new 2002-2003 dress code policy was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The district court denied a subsequent request to issue a preliminary injunction. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that decision, however, finding that there was a strong likelihood that Alan would prevail if the case went to trial. The Court of Appeals described the 2002-2003 policy as "practically limitless" in finding that it "excludes a broad range and scope of symbols, images, and political messages that are entirely legitimate and even laudatory." The Court noted that among the images that could be banned under the policy was the State Seal of Virginia for its depiction of a woman holding a spear and standing with one foot on the chest of a vanquished tyrant. The Court also noted the irony that Albemarle County High School (located across the street from Jack Jouett Middle School) uses the image of a patriot armed with a musket as its school mascot.

In awarding this Muzzle, the Thomas Jefferson Center is not insensitive to the difficult task that public school administrators face in preventing disruption of the school day. Decisions often must be made on the spur of the moment and that understandably may reflect errors in judgment. As such, the Center recognizes that school officials must enjoy a limited degree of discretion in making decisions about student expression.

Such discretion, however, is not absolute. Public school dress code policies should be drafted in a manner that minimizes the possibility of arbitrary enforcement by school administrators. Despite the fact the text of the 2002-2003 dress code policy extended to images such as the State Seal and the Albemarle County High School's mascot, it was clear that school administrators intended to disregard the policy text when it came to these and other "appropriate" depictions of weapons. Yet, the images on Alan Newsom's t-shirt were entirely lawful and non-disruptive, particularly when viewed in the context of the words "NRA" and "Shooting Sports Camp." Moreover, when an error is made in applying a dress code policy, it should be acknowledged rather than defended as a legitimate exercise of school authority. To date, the Albemarle County School Board has refused to apologize to Alan Newsom and thereby earns a 2004 Jefferson Muzzle.

It should be noted that none of the four students -- the others were two 13-year-olds and a 16-year-old -- were found guilty of any crime against persons or property. They did not actually blow anything up. They did not shoot anyone. They did not even hit anyone or steal someone's lunch.

They were all convicted of "conspiracy," which means all they did was talk about something that could be construed as a criminal act. And what they seem to have talked about -- the court proceedings being closed to press and public -- is a fantasy about blowing up a school building.

Put four people in a room to talk about a fantasy like that, have one of them type up their thoughts and turn it into a script, then put it on television, and you give them million-dollar contracts and an Emmy award. (Does anyone watch "24"?)

When one person has a fantasy about a crime, it remains personal. Unless, of course, he writes it down and publishes a book. Then he ends up like Dashiell Hammett or Mickey Spillane.

But when two people share a fantasy about a crime, that becomes a conspiracy. "Conspiracy" is a phony charge. It's what prosecutors reach for when they do not have enough evidence to sustain a conviction on an actual crime. Conspiracy charges are to the law what magic incantations are to ju-ju: Simply saying the words triggers the crime.

"Conspiracy" that involves crimes that are never realized (that is, never committed) should not by itself be a crime. Such a charge is simply a tool of intimidation for overzealous prosecutors.

After browbeating by police and the Commonwealth's Attorney -- who view sexy crimes like this as a real feather in their caps -- any teenager will buckle under pressure. And that's how four fresh-faced teenagers get sent to prison until they're 21 years old.

I can just imagine one of them facing his first job interview after being released.

"So," says the potential employer, "what kind of extracurricular activities did you do in high school?"

"Um, none, sir."

"Why not?"

"I didn't go to high school."

"And what have you been doing for the past eight years?"

"I've been living with gang members and drug dealers and boys who molested their sisters -- but in prison, they molested me instead."

"Do you have any skills?"

"Well, I can turn a toothbrush into a shiv. I'm adept at hiding contraband in bodily orifices. And the boys on my cell block voted me 'fellator of the year' three out of the last four years."

"That's all very interesting, but I'm sorry, son, you have no education, no experience, and a criminal record. I can't hire someone like you."

I do not think it is a coincidence that one of the "conspirators" accused by the schools of wanting to detonate a schoolhouse is someone who openly challenged the authority of the school system, and who won because he was right.

Having Alan Newsom arrested and ruining his life sends a strong signal to other students: "Don't rock the boat. Don't assert your First Amendment rights. Follow instructions, don't look to the right or the left, don't be creative or show initiative. Students are sheep and government schools are the shepherd."

The arrest of Alan Newsom, and his conviction on flimsy evidence (the police removed "firecrackers" from his father's gun safe-- this is supposed to blow up a school?) is clearly meant to create a chilling effect against future uppity students who think they know more about the Constitution than school administrators do.

I am sure that I will be criticized by those who claim to know more about the case than I do. But if there really were convincing evidence that an actual crime was committed, or was about to be committed, the prosecutors would have made that public. They did not. What exactly do they have to hide?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Karen Hospital Opens Near Nairobi

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki was the featured speaker on Friday at the official opening of the Karen Hospital, described by the East African Standard newspaper as "a 102-bed private medical facility linked to his personal doctor Dr Dan Gikonyo." The Kenya Broadcasting Corporation reported that "other speakers included Health Minister Charity Ngilu who thanked President Kibaki for increasing her ministry's budget by 30 percent, the hospital's Chief Executive Dr. Betty Gikonyo and Deputy Chief Executive Mr. James Mageria."

Dr. Daniel Gikonyo, mentioned in the Standard's story, is a U.S.-educated (University of Minnesota) cardiologist who teaches at the University of Nairobi. Although he would be loathe to take credit, he was the guiding hand behind the Karen Hospital, the first new hospital built in Kenya since the colonial era. (Kenya gained independence from Britain on December 12, 1963.)

If you've seen the movie, Out of Africa, you know where Karen is -- it's the Nairobi suburb where Danish writer Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen) lived and worked.

I had an opportunity to take a private tour of the Karen Hospital when I was in Nairobi in January, and I snapped a few pictures. This was the first time I ever had visited a hospital before it was open. Beds were still covered in plastic wrap and there was a pervasive aroma of fresh paint throughout the facility.

But nothing describes the Karen Hospital more than "impressive." It has state-of-the-art equipment, including MRI and CT-scan machines. It is especially well-equipped for treating diseases of the heart.

Here are a few of the photos I took while the hospital staff was preparing it for opening in January:

Main Entrance to The Karen Hospital

The Karen Hospital's Emergency Room Entrance

A CT-Scan Unit at the Karen Hospital near Nairobi

The Karen Hospital Has No Stairs, Just Ramps -- But It Has Plenty of Natural Light

A New Hospital Bed, Still Wrapped in Plastic

I'm Not a Doctor, So I Don't Know What This Is -- But It Looks Impressive, Doesn't It?

This Is a Nurses' Station

A Private Patient's Room

Another View of the Karen Hospital's Front Entrance

Monday, April 03, 2006


I wasn't paying attention when it happened, but yesterday this blog had its 50,000th visitor -- a milestone by any standard. (Still, I would have preferred it had come sooner.) This notable visitor found me because he (or she) was curious about the circumstances of the assassination attempt on the late Pope John Paul II.

It was no coincidence that yesterday, April 2, was the first anniversary of Pope John Paul's death and will, barring unforeseen circumstances, likely become the day in which St. John Paul the Great will be commemorated in the Roman church calendar.

Here's how visitor #50,000 looked on Site Meter:

So, if you live in Paradise Valley, Arizona, and you visited this blog on Sunday, I would like to hear from you. It would be nice to know who Number 50,000 is.