Wednesday, December 24, 2008

One Last Vienna Tidbit

I couldn't finish this travel log without mentioning the most unusual building I've probably ever seen: Hundertwasserhaus, undoubtedly one of Vienna's most visited sites. It's in the same District as my daughter's apartment, so we see it often. It's hard to take a picture of, but here is one view looking up.

Hundertwasserhaus is the creation of artist Friedenscreich Hundertwasser, a most unusual artist - a painter, sculptor, and architect. He was famous for his bold, unusual paintings, but he is best known for his revolutionary architectural designs. They imaginatively incorporate elements of the landscape and make use of irregular forms. He hardly ever uses straight lines, saying they are "the devil's tools". Just imagine a building with no straight lines!

The first building he designed was Hundertwasserhaus, which is basically public housing and remains so today - so you can only see it from the outside. He charged no fee for its design. It was built between 1983 and 1986, and features undulating floors ("an uneven floor is a divine melody to the feet"), a roof covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing from inside the rooms, with limbs extending from windows. You almost have to see it to believe it - but go to the link that shows Pictures - some are of the inside.

Go to History for other examples of his architectural creations. They are truly amazing.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas in Vienna

Although I did not spend Christmas in Vienna this visit, I did get to participate in one Christmas tradition - Christkindlmarkt - the Christmas Market.

In December, there are Christmas Markets all over Vienna - a tradition that goes back to the early 17th century. It's a outdoor market with lots of booths selling all manner of things: roasted chestnuts, wursts (sausages), gingerbread, pastries galore, candies, toys of all sorts, and other gift items. There is also entertainment, craft and other activities for kids, ponies to ride, christmas decorations.

Viennese visit these markets all during December, trying to visit them all. We went one evening, and it was jammed with people. The whole family comes - and they come in the evenings. We saw the "Christmas angel" who was accompanied by musicians and dancing throughout the crowd. Children loved her - I think she brings toys to Austrian children during the Christmas season. Not to be confused with ChristKindl, who is similar to Santa Claus and comes on Christmas Eve. There were also horses that look like our Clydesdales, full of bells, dancing through the crowds and amazingly not crushing any children. Maple made a candle at a crafts booth and was quite proud of herself. It was a wonderful, festive experience - and to think these people do it every night for a month! Sure beats going to the mall or WalMart.

Every market has hot alcoholic drinks of two varieties - spiced punch and mulled wine. You will hardly ever see a paper cup in Vienna. When you buy a drink at a market, it comes in a commemorative ceramic cup, included in the price. If you bring it back, they refund your deposit. The Christmas drinks are legendary - and most necessary. All this activity takes place outside - and it is VERY cold! This little Natchez girl was freezing her buns off - in spite of all manner of cold weather gear. But when I was drinking that punch, it warmed me all over - and it was delicious - full of spices and flavoring with berries at the bottom. YUM! Unfortunately, I could only drink one - because they are very powerful. The Viennese stay out there for hours, so I figure they must be able to hold their liquor a lot better than I can.

Here we are - Halane, Maple, and I - all bundled up, strolling down the street. Scott took the picture and is pushing Adele's stroller, where she can be zipped into fur.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gustav Klimt: Vienna's Most Prominent Painter

Gustav Klimt is almost a member of our family. Read on to see why.

Klimt (1862-1918) is Vienna's most famous artist. Like many artists of the time, he had a classical art education, and his early work was rather traditional. He started with interior murals and ceilings in public buildings. In 1892, both his father and his brother (with whom he painted) died, and he had to assume responsibilities for their families. This was said to have a strong impact on his painting - and he veered into a personal style of his own. He was a founder and the most prominent member of the Vienna Secession, which supported unconventional young artists.

Around this time, he was commissioned to paint three murals for the University of Vienna. These erotic and overtly sexual paintings caused a major public outcry and were never displayed - and were eventually destroyed by the Nazis. As a consequence, Klimt never took another public commission. However, he continued to be successful by painting for private sources and enjoyed positive critical acclaim.

One of the most famous of his paintings was The Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer completed in 1907. The wealthy industrialist Ferdinand Bloch-Bauer commissioned this portrait of his wife Adele. Like many of his other paintings during this period, it features generous use of gold leaf - which makes for a stunning effect - and intricate mosaic patterns. The incredible details make it understandable why it took three years to complete.

This painting has an interesting history. In her will, Adele Bloch-Bauer indicated that she wished the painting to be donated to the Austrian State Gallery. She died in 1925, but her widowed husband had to flee Austria later when the Nazis took over, and all of his art - including this painting - was confiscated. The painting remained in Austria after the war, as Austria thought it was rightfully theirs because of the will. However, in 2006, after a lengthy court case, the painting was awarded to one of Ferninand Bloch-Bauer's nieces, living in California. It was sold at auction for $135 million (the highest price ever paid for an individual painting at the time) by Ronald Lauder for the Neue Galerie in New York.

Losing this painting was considered a national tragedy in Vienna. (Sort of like a court telling us we had to give the Statue of Liberty back to France.) Before the painting left Austria, everyone was invited to come say goodbye. The entire city was plastered with posters that said "Caio Adele". It was at this time that my daughter and her family moved to Vienna and immediately noticed these posters everywhere. They were very impressed with the story - and that a city was so in love with a painting. They decided if they ever had another girl, she would have to be named Adele.

In September 2007, they had a little girl born in Vienna - and her name is Adele.

While I was in Vienna, The Belvedere, which is a huge 18th Century palace that is now a museum of Austrian art, had a special exhibit in honor of Klimt and the 100th anniversary of the Secessionist 1908 Kunstschau (art exhibit). They attempted to replicate the exhibit as it was in 1908, borrowing originals whenever possible.

For this exhibit, our whole family went so we could pay homage to Adele's namesake. Unfortunately, the Neue Gallery would not loan that painting to the Belvedere, so there was only a replica. Adele did not seem to be bothered, but her older sister Maple was incensed. There were many other original Klimt paintings - as well as work by other artists. We purchased prints of the Adele painting in the museum shop, and Maple was appeased by getting a bookmark with the Adele painting - which she used religiously until I left.

So you see why we consider Adele and Klimt part of our family.

Vienna: A City of Culture II

Vienna's love of music extends to the visual arts. There are so many quality museums that I doubt I will ever visit them all.

On this visit, I started with the Albertina, a grand Viennese palace built in 1744 and named after the collections' founder, Duke Albert, a son in law of Empress Maria Theresa, who received the palace as a gift from the Emperor in 1794 - nice gift! It stayed in the family until 1919, when the newly formed Republic of Austria "expropriated" the palace and the art collection. Like much of Vienna, it suffered serious bomb damage during World War II, but it has been meticulously restored.

My reason for visiting at this time was to see the Van Gogh Exhibit, which included fifty of his paintings and a hundred of his watercolors and drawings. I have always been a Van Gogh fan and seeing his actual work was inspiring. It was the last day of the exhibit and a national holiday, and the place was jammed! Just another example of how Viennese love art. The crowds made it difficult to view the art, but it was worth it.

While at the Albertina, I noticed a permanent exhibit entitled Monet to Picasso. Well, I was in heaven! There were over 500 paintings by Monet, Degas, Renoir, Cezanne, Picasso, Signac, Chagall, Rothko, Munch, and others. Plus this section had recently been reopened after renovations - and there were no crowds. I guess this exhibit was old hat to the Viennese.

I also visited another art museum, but that one requires its own article.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Vienna: A City of Culture I

Vienna is known for its cultural attractions - especially music. December is the beginning of opera season, when people come from all over Europe. Last time I was here during the opera season, we were unable to get tickets, but this year we were lucky. We saw Verdi's Don Carlos, performed in Italian. I don't know what was more impressive - the performance or the opera house.

You must check out the Vienna Opera House, which was built in the mid 1800s. (For a special treat, check out the panoramic views available here.) It suffered bomb damage during World War II but was meticulously restored, with some modern safety and acoustical modifications. We had fantastic seats on the front row of the middle row of box seats toward the center. One really neat modern convenience was a small screen in front of each seat that translates the lyrics into the language of your choice - but can only be viewed from directly in front, so it is not a distraction.

Opera tickets are very expensive, but there are a large number of standing room only seats that are very reasonable. They become available the day before the performance, and people stand in line for hours to buy them. Although the opera audience is exceeding formal and polite, those in the standing sections are known to be more rowdy - showing enthusiastic appreciation of good performances and displeasure with poor performances. Since the most popular standing section was below us, I checked them out periodically, and they seemed to approve.

The opera lasted almost four hours with one long intermission, during which the opulent public rooms offered food and beverage for sale. We settled for a bottle of water and spent our time admiring the rooms and their occupants.

The opera orchestra is composed of members of the Vienna State Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the best in the world, and is as impressive as the singers themselves.

Music is to Vienna as football is to America. The streets of Vienna are full of street performers, but not the kind we are used to. You can see opera singers and violinists performing for tips - trying to earn a living until they can make it to the big time.

To be continued.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Around and About Vienna

We did eventually make it outside to see Vienna, even though the granddaughters had passed their colds to their grandmother. We started with a stroll around the neighborhood, which is right downtown.

Vienna is a very interesting city. The first thing you notice is how clean it is - and it's virtually crime free. The only crime that is prevalent is pickpocketing, so if you protect yourself against that, you'll have no problems. The streets tend to be narrow, so the cars are small. Another reason for small cars is the price of gas, which is highly taxed to discourage use. And parking is expensive and very hard to come by. However, you really don't need a car in Vienna - you can get anywhere on very affordable and convenient public transportation.

Viennese are Germanic in language and culture - and they always obey the rules. For example, on escalators a sign says to stay to the right. If you forget, someone is sure to remind you. And you never cross the street until the traffic light says to walk. Viennese are not friendly - in fact, I think they are rude. This is quite shocking to someone from the overly friendly town of Natchez.
As we wandered around downtown, we saw lots of small stores. Chain stores and large stores are virtually nonexistent. (I did see a McDonalds and a Starbucks.) Bakeries are everywhere - and they are awesome. Not only do they have breads and incredible pastries, but they have sandwiches and beverages. They sort of serve as the fast food of Vienna.

We also saw many outdoor food vendors - mostly bratwurst. And they were many open air markets with fresh fruits and vegetables, along with other goodies. However, you get very confused in looking at prices, because their commas and periods are backwards. For example (using $ instead of euros since that sign is not on my computer), if something costs $1,598.75, they would show it as $1.598,75.

There are no bargains here. Almost everything is more expensive than in the States. One reason is that the taxes are built into the prices, and their taxes are higher. But the Austrians get a lot for their taxes - like an excellent health care system which covers everyone.

All in all, I could easily live here, but my daughter just moved into an apartment without an extra bedroom, so I guess I'll have to come home.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

I'm in Vienna - Sort of

The trip was loooong, but I made it. On the Memphis to Amsterdam leg, I was seated next to a woman on her way to Kenya. She lives in Memphis now but was originally from Kenya, and she was on her way home for a visit. She knew the Obama relatives there, and talked about how excited the country was that he was elected. A meal was served shortly after takeoff, and following that meal she went to sleep and I was reading.

Europe is 7 hours ahead of us, so I was having a time dilemma. To my body, it was about 8 pm, but it was really 3 am where I was headed. I was hoping the reading would eventually put me to sleep. Since airplanes are noisy places - loud talking, snoring, babies cyring - I put in the earphones and played soothing classical music. Around midnight my time, I was getting sleepy, so I turned off the light and started to drift off.

Through the haze of my sleepiness and the music in my ears, I became aware that my seatmate was talking - but I couldn't understand her. I took out the earphones and realized she wasn't talking to me - but talking to herself. She had seemed perfectly rational before, so I tried to listen to what she was saying. About all I could understand was that she didn't feel good, so I called for the flight attendant. She talked to her for a while, and then asked over the PA system for a medical doctor. In the meantime, I had to move so the woman could stretch out across the two seats. The doctor spent quite a long time with her, and finally the flight attendant told me she thought she would be okay. She was sleeping with oxygen.

Needless to say, there was no sleeping for me after that. As I left the plane I talked to the Kenyan woman, who said she was much better, but was going to the medical facilities at the airport for a check up. My flight from Amsterdam to Vienna was fairly short, and I had no opportunity for sleep.

People always wish you a safe trip, and they're thinking of the planes. However, I knew I was about to enter the most dangerous part of my trip - the taxi ride in Vienna - but I survived.

I went to bed early (around 9:30 pm) and slept like a dead person. For the past two days, we have not left the house. My two granddaughters are sick with coughs and cold, and the weather outside is very cold. We stayed inside and played and had a great time - but it doesn't make for a very interesting travel log. Today (Tuesday) we vow we are going to go outside for at least a brief visit - since we're getting cabin fever. So maybe my next post will be able to describe Vienna!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Sound of Music

I'm off to hear the Sound of Music - that is, I leave for Austria tomorrow morning to visit my daughter and her family. I'm hoping to write a little travel log here about my trip.

It's my third trip to Vienna, and I'm really looking forward to it. I'll get to see my daughter Halane, her almost perfect husband Scott, and my two adorable granddaughters, Maple & Adele. Plus, Vienna is a magnificent city with so much to do and see.

So come along with me on my trip by checking this blog. It takes a long time to get there, then I have to sleep off the jet lag, so it might be a while before the first post. But I'll be here as soon as I can!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

To RV or Not To RV

Tonight was another act of the continuing RV drama. The protagonist is former Mayor Butch Brown, a regular in Natchez dramas. Seems he wants to build an "high end" RV park on Canal Street between two hotels. Opposed to him are most of the people who live in the downtown area, especially those who live on South Union Street. Currently, RV parks are not allowed in Natchez.

In Act I, it looked like our leading man was getting his way, since the Planning Commission voted to allow RV parks in districts zoned as B-2 and sent this recommendation to the Board of Aldermen.

In Act II, they started to play volleyball, since the Board sent it right back to the Planning Commission - for further study.

In Act III, scene 1, the Planning Commission met in a study session that they call a Workshop. This scene lasted two hours, and they came up with a question. Does Natchez want any RV parks, and if so, where?

In Act III, scene 2, which took place tonight, the Planning Commission met for a public hearing to answer their question. The public was there with their petitions and their speeches against the RV park on Canal Street. No one from the public addressed the question, so the Commission discussed it themselves. Their conclusion? They couldn't answer the question without having a definition of RV park. So Act III, scene 2 will have to be continued next month.

Personally, I think the answer is easy. Do we want RV parks? Of course. This is a huge market, and we would be stupid to continue to totally prohibit them. (If you want to know how huge, check out this.) RVers are either retired or on vacation and have disposable income - otherwise they couldn't afford to put gas in those things. Natchez needs these people to come spend their money here.

Where do we put them? In either B2 or B4 - it really doesn't matter, because they fit in logically with uses allowed in both. The key is that they be allowed only as Special Exception Uses. Our zoning code allows certain uses by right and others by special exception only. The latter category is for uses that might impact the surrounding neighborhood or the city. Public hearings are required before the Planning Commission and the Board of Alderman, and special conditions may be imposed. That means we can decide on a case by case basis whether we want a particular RV park.

If RV parks were allowed as special exceptions in B-2 zones, then Butch Brown would have to first go through extensive hearings before the Planning Commission and the Board of Aldermen. All of his plans would have to be approved, and either body would have the right to impose any conditions they wanted. Based on the organized effort I saw tonight, Butch would have about the same chance as a snowball in hell.

It's important that the zoning issue of RV parks be dealt with separately and independently from Butch's proposal. Don't kill all RV parks just because we don't want one on Canal Street. Don't throw the baby out with the bath water.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Obama's Historic Win: One Natchezian's View

As I said in this article, I spent election night at a party. Without a doubt, the most excited person there was Mary Jane. Recently, she sent around an email to family and friends. I found it very moving and asked if I could post it here. Here is the version she sent, which I publish here proudly.

November 4, 2008 , election night, was a historic night for me. I realized I had lived to see what I thought would not happen in my lifetime. Upon hearing my candidate, Barack Obama, was elected President of the United States, all I could do was cheer, cry and repeat, “I can’t believe it.” Calls of joy came pouring in from my family, my brother in Seoul, Korea’s Embassy, my son at the Barcelona’s Consulate’s party where he appeared on TV, from my son at a Democratic Party of Expatriates in Madrid, from my son celebrating with thousands on the streets of Seattle waving the American flag and cheering, from Northern Virginia, Wisconsin, and Louisiana!! My faith that society could change for the better was suddenly restored. My lost faith replaced with the faith that good can prevail.

You see, I was born here in Mississippi at the start of World War II, and I lived to know that my Dad was different. For one thing he voted for Harry Truman, when most Southerners refused to do so because Truman integrated the army. My Dad led the family in the daily prayer and discussion of the social gospel. Christianity without social action was meaningless, he said. In my first election I received some ugly descriptions, because I proudly voted for LBJ when most of my race would not, as he had signed the voting rights amendment. I had registered to vote at the Adams County Court House by only signing my name, while at the same time a man of color was being asked to interpret a complex clause of the Constitution. I knew that our Southern way of life did not treat Blacks as equals. On my wedding day Blacks tried to use Duncan Park for the first time and were met with Klansman with chains, baseball bats, swing blades, and guns. It marred that day, and I knew I had to help change the place where I was born. I could never pretend I did not know what was going on. I did not want to be living blindly.

Just thinking differently had its isolation. It was rare to find friends to openly talk to. Most were newcomers, FBI workers and their families, civil right lawyers, and COFO workers. There were other like minded Whites, Francis Trosclair, Father Morrisy, and of course, my hero Marge Baroni, my spiritual mentor. Marge was a convert to Catholicism along with my dad Tom Reed. She was highly intelligent with an open mind, heart, and home. It was at her home I met Dorothy Day, Lena Gitter, and many national people who made their way to her frequently bombed home. Old friends tolerated me, and just didn’t talk politics. This silence, or denial, was deadly. When the town was about to explode in violence, no elected officials were taking action. With Marge, I sent letters to all the MISS-LOU Black and White churches to invite Women Concerned about Natchez to come together. One hundred fifty persons came. Twenty-five were White, but they were people of strong conviction and prominence in the community - Grace McNeil, Anna Rose Metcalfe, and Gladys Smith to name only a few. I wish we had a sign in sheet just to remember who all came. Just coming to the meeting at night at St. Mary ‘s Cathedral in the midst of a town about to go up in smoke was scary. Inside the meeting, signs adorned the walls of St Theresa’s Hall with a quote from Dante’s Divine Comedy, “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who in a time of crisis do nothing.” Our meeting the next month was cancelled because several new explosions took place. The National Guard rolled into to town with armed soldiers and tanks to keep order. The Mayor’s new grocery store on North Pine was bombed, his home was bombed, and several buildings on St Catherine Street were blown up. Marches continued asking for the simplest of actions, courtesy titles for grown ups, and Blacks on the police force. More arrests. Jails were overfilled and so bus loads of arrested Blacks were taken to prison at Parchman,

The fear that prevailed in the town is almost impossible for people to believe today. With more threats, I moved my children out of the front of the house. Attending a workshop at the NAACP headquarters was frightening. I volunteered to teach in the all Black public Sadie V. Thompson just to help overcome the distance between the races.

Encouraging Blacks to overcome their fear and, for the first time in their lives, to register to vote was difficult. The roots of their fear were old and deep. Unwritten in any Natchez Democrat stories, things were happening to keep the status quo. People were beaten in the middle of the night, killed and thrown off bridges. Some were picked up at night, stripped naked, and left to die in the woods. Others were threatened with bombs and cross burnings in the middle of the night. A Ferriday man was locked in his place of work and burned to death. Many were killed. Churches, cars, stores, and homes were bombed. Terrorism was alive and well in Natchez, Mississippi. As far as I know there are no recorded records of all these events, but there needs to be.

I saw fifty or so Klansman in full dress in their white hoods riding their horses around a giant burning cross at Liberty Ball Field. Their ugly deeds were whispered about in the White world, but caused fear, deep fear in the hearts of the Black world and in the world of Whites who stepped out of line. A riot occurred to allow one Black man to enter Ole Miss. From the pulpits it was usually silence. Any White minister who dared to challenge the Southern way of life was forced to leave town or suffered other consequences. Terrorism was tearing the heart and soul out of this town and all of Mississippi. Much that happened I don’t know, despite trying to know. Mississippi was the Closed Society, to quote James Silver, who was forced to leave Ole Miss for saying so in his book published in 1962

Just before this current election of November 4, 2008, I was told I should not vote for Obama because “under his rule the terrorist from ‘over there’ would be on our streets here in the US - just like Baghdad ” Well, my friends, they have been on our streets. A bloody war 150 years ago was not enough to stop the mistreatment of one race by another. The reign of terror from that war through the Civil Rights movement was not enough. But those laws did change some of the people. The fact is our country has elected the first Black U.S. President. Best of all they voted not because of his race, but for his character, knowledge, his record, and his temperament. Martin Luther King’s dream is coming true.

I think, whether you are a Democrat or a Republican, we as members of the United States can celebrate that our country has changed. My family can all testify that the whole world is looking at us differently and with greater respect. The Declaration of Independence is no longer full of the shadow of hypocrisy. We are now a true model for the world! I can’t believe we made this much change in my life time!!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Really Good Useful News

I read an article in this morning's New York Times that really makes me happy. This news means that Christmas mornings will be much merrier.

There was a recent invention that caused many normally calm people to utter four letter words in front of their children - and even sent thousands to the emergency rooms. What was it? It was called "clamshell" packaging and was greeted with glee by manufacturers and retailers. This brilliant invention protected items from shoplighting, while displaying them for buyers to see. Unfortunately, this packaging made it "almost impossible for mere mortals to open without power tools", according to the NYT article. This packaging frustrated us so extensively that there's a phrase describing it: "wrap rage". I can relate.

Fortunately for all of us, Jeffrey Bezos, founder of Amazon, is the father of four young children. He said:
“I shouldn’t have to start each Christmas morning with a needle nose pliers and wire cutters. But that is what I do, I arm myself, and it still takes me 10 minutes to open each package.”
Bezos is leading the charge to rid the world of these evil packages, and he has the power to accomplish this goal. He eventually hopes to sell all Amazon products (of which there are at least a gazillion) in "environmentally benign, consumer-friendly packaging". He already has many companies on board, like Microsoft, Mattell, Fisher Price.

Other companies are following suit. For example, Sony has a "death of the clamshell" project where it is testing several prototypes in Walmart and other stores. Other companies are less creative. TracPhone recently sent a gift of box cutters to employees of Radio Shack to use to open their packages for customers.

To reward Jeff Brazos for making the planet a better place, please buy at least one Christmas present from Amazon. (The rest of your presents are, of course, to be purchased locally to help our economy.)

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Will the South Rise Again?

There is no doubt that the South's political influence has just diminished significantly. The South used to be the center of the political universe, starting in 1970's with Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy. Since then, the only Presidents Democrats were able to elect were from the South.

But Obama proved that the Presidency can be won without the South. He did take three Southern states, but he didn't need them - and he didn't use "the Southern strategy". There's an interesting article is the New York Times about this whole issue, and it doesn't paint a pretty picture of the South.

I've been thinking about how Mississippi will fare in all this. We have the lowest federal tax burden of any other state. We are a state that claims to hate the federal government and paying federal taxes, and yet we benefit more than any other state. Mississippi gets back more than twice as much federal tax money as we pay. The state with the highest tax burden, Connecticut, pays almost twice as much as it receives. In fact, as a region, the South has the lowest tax burden, and the Northeast has the highest. But does Mississippi ever say thank you to those Northeastern states for supporting us? Not that I've ever heard - and certainly not with our votes. Do we vote for those "tax and spend liberals"? Of course not - we vote for those who want to cut our benefits. Go figure!

One thing is for sure, our Governor's influence in Washington is seriously reduced - and that may diminish the federal funds coming our way. On the positive side, we do still have some things going for us. Thankfully, we now have three Democratic Congressman. Unfortunately, the one lone Republican represents Natchez. We have two Republican Senators, one of which may be able to help us. Roger Wicker will be a waste, because he is a knee jerk, partisan Republican, who will spend his time in DC spinning his wheels. However, Thad Cochran is a totally different type of Senator.

Senator Cochran is a Republican because that party best represents his values. However, he is really nonpartisan when it comes to what is best for Mississippi. In fact, I think he may be a better Senator when the Democrats are in the majority. When the Republicans were in control of the Senate and he was a Committee Chair, he was a part of leadership and had to go along with the Party. But now, he'll be able to do what he really wants to. He is very well thought of by his colleagues and has a history of working well with Senators from across the aisle.

President Elect Obama has promised to rid Washington of the partisan bitterness and pledged to work with both parties to solve the extremely serious problems the nation faces. If he lives up to this promise - and it won't be easy in a city that thrives on fighting - then I bet he'll find Senator Cochran a good Senator to work with.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

What the Election Tells Us About the South: Part II

One major finding from the election is the racial divide that still exists in the South. Two thirds of white voters in the South voted for McCain, whereas in the rest of the country white voters just barely preferred McCain. We like to think we've overcome racism, but obviously we haven't.

We saw some ugly results of this is Mississippi. According to the Daily Mississippian, the Ole Miss campus was disrupted by racial incidents on election night. The Clarion Ledger details other incidents of racial incidents, as does WAPT.

Contrast this with the results of a USA Today/Gallup poll showing national optimism about racial relations, with two thirds thinking problems will be worked out - the highest since the poll was started in 1963.

I was so proud of Ole Miss at the first Presidential debate, as it tried to show the country how far it had come since 1963 when James Meredith was the first black to attend. Now it has to contend with these racial incidents on election night, which probably negated all its efforts.

Racism and bigotry are related to low socioeconomic and education levels - both of which are prevelant in the South. Mississippi has the lowest median family income and the lowest education level in the country . If we are ever to climb out of our poverty, we have to overcome this bigotry. No industries will come to a state with our racial history until we show we've overcome it. We have come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

What the Election Tells Us About the South

During this election, there was a crack in the Confederacy. Florida, North Carolina, and Virginia voted for Obama. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Tennessee went for McCain. Why did this happen and what does it mean?

Obama won those states because his campaign targeted them. They picked those three states and Georgia (where he came close) for two reasons: They had large black populations, and they had large white populations who had moved there from Democratic states. We can see why Mississippi wasn't targeted - we have a large black population but not many white Democrats move here. I wondered why people don't move here.

People in other states have a negative opinion of the South. Obviously, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia have done something to overcome that opinion. What do they have that Mississippi doesn't? I decided to go to the US Census web site to see what I could find.

These states are definitely growing. Since 1990, Florida's population has increased 41%, Georgia's 47%, North Carolina's by 37%, and Virginia's by 25%. And Mississippi has grown by only 13%. Why?

There was one interesting finding - a difference in the major industries. The main reason people move to another state is work. We were much lower in professional, scientific, management, and information industries - so we are not attracting these types of employees. Financial industries were also lower, but we might be grateful for that right now. We were higher in manufacturing, transportation, and agriculture. These are not industries that will bring people from out of state. One highlight was that we were higher in arts, entertainment, and recreation. Unfortunately, probably one reason this industry is high is due to our dependence on casinos. However, arts, entertainment, and recreation are areas where Mississippi has a good reputation, and we should probably put more of our resources into attracting these industries.

To be continued. . .

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Election Night 2008 at the Party

Of course, I have no idea what has happened nationally, so I start asking questions as soon as I arrive. I was told two great pieces of news. First, Elizabeth Dole lost in North Carolina. I was so happy to hear that, after that awful smear campaign she ran against her opponent at the end of the campaign. But Kay Hagan came back fighting and that's what it takes against those Republican attacks.

The next piece of good news I received was that Pennsylvania went for Obama. I've been studying the electoral map, and I knew there was no way McCain could win after losing PA, so I was thrilled. There were a few people at the party who agreed with me, but most refused to believe it. You have to understand that Democrats have come agonizingly close too often - and they refuse to hear good news.

I immediately set myself up with my laptop, where I could finally get an internet connection. I was supplementing the TV information with little nuggets of information available only over the internet. Like I was able to zero in on a map of any state and see how the counties were going. This was how we discovered that Adams County went big time for Obama! We were so proud! (Of course, this did not include the absentee ballots, which may be counted by Christmas - see previous article.) We also looked at the maps of other states - and at the Senate races.

When Ohio went for Obama, these Democrats were starting to get excited - they were starting to believe that maybe - just maybe - they were really going to win. There was some dead time here for a while, and people were getting nervous. Finally, Virginia went for Obama, and he was declared the winner. The place went crazy! People were screaming, hugging, crying, laughing. There was this air of disbelief. "We really did win this time, didn't we?" was repeated over and over.

I'm disappointed that Mississippi is still living in the dark ages and voted for Republicans. I was so hoping we could change our image with the rest of the country. Until regular, average Mississippi voters realize that Republicans do nothing for them, we'll continue to be the last in everything. How sad.

But on a positive note, thank goodness that the eight years of George Bush, undoubtedly the worse President our country has ever had, are finally almost over, and we won't have to suffer four more years of Republican rule. We will soon have a Democratic President who can repair our image in the world and start the herculean task of repairing the damage done to this country. Finally, there is hope.

My daughter, who is living in Europe with her family, may have something special to be grateful for. If McCain had won, I would have had to move in with her.


Election Night 2008 at the Polling Place

I got to the Courthouse around 6 pm – an hour before closing. No one was voting! There have been a few voters coming in – but certainly no mad rush. There 185 (!!) absentee ballots in this precinct and over 500 have voted so far. Barring a mad rush at the end, there will be over 700 voters. There are 968 registered voters – and we don’t register by party in Mississippi.

I have no internet connection here, so there’s not much to do. The security guard has a TV, so I check in with her every so often, but she’s not paying close attention. She said Vermont had gone for Obama and Kentucky for McCain.

I’m feeling upbeat and calm about the national elections. I feel sure Obama/Biden will win easily – and we won’t be up all night waiting – or in the courts the next day. Statewide is different. I’m really hoping that Democrat Ronnie Musgrove can beat the Republican Roger Wicker, but I doubt it will happen.

My biggest concern is for the Supreme Court. Oliver Diaz is the incumbent. He’s a Democrat, although judges run in nonpartisan races. The Republican opponent is named “Bubba” Pearce. Can you imagine a Supreme Court Judge called Bubba? Big money – mostly from out of state – has poured into this race – and it has not been pretty. I have received more mail on this race than any other – almost all anti Diaz. I also got tons of anti Musgrove mail. I received no negative mail from Musgrove or Diaz – just positive – and always mentioning the rest of the Democratic candidates.

I’ve also received dozens of robo calls. Somehow the Republicans must think I’m one of them – or else their targeting is bad. The robo calls were not negative. This week I quit getting Republican calls – did they run out of money – or did they finally figure out I was a waste of time. But the calls for Musgrove and Diaz increased big time. Now the Democrats must think I’m black, because all the callers who identified themselves were prominent black politicians or lawyers – except Bill Clinton who called for Musgrove. My last call of the day was from Obama asking me to vote for Musgrove. Of course, I told him I would be happy to!

Of course, most of these calls were a waste of time, because a few weeks ago, I voted absentee – a privilege afforded those of us over 65. I also received a call from a real live pollster.

The voter turnout was 75% - amazing! Of the 968 registered voters, 535 voted today, plus the 185 absentee ballots.

The results for this precinct are interesting. McCain got 73% of the vote - not really surprising. However, Wicker got only 66% and Pearce only 58%. I think this looks good because Musgrove cut into the Republican vote - and Diaz even more so.

I must tell you about the absentee vote counting. The poll workers all knew what they were supposed to do - look at each absentee ballot, accept or reject it, stamp the voter as having voted absentee, and write their name in the book. However, they had no idea HOW to do it. After much discussion, this is what they came up with. One person carefully looked at each ballot to determine if it was acceptable. If she didn't know for sure, she asked for help from the election commissioners. Then she read out the name - and she was having trouble reading the writing and pronoucing the name. The rest of the poll workers had their voter lists divided up by alphabet - just like during the day. They did nothing while the first woman examined the ballot. Then they looked up the name after she read it and stamped it. Then the ballot went to another worker who wrote it in the book.

When I finally left, they had barely made a dent in the pile. It was all I could do to control myself from going over there and organizing a more efficient system. However, it was at least being done diligently and honestly.

The ballots won't be opened and actually counted until tomorrow or the next day.

Now I'm off to a victory (hopefully) party.

Election Night 2008 in Lil Ole Natchez

Well, after two long years, this election is finally here - and in a few hours, we'll know the results.

My polling place is the Courthouse right downtown. It's a Republican district. I went down early this morning, and the first thing I noticed was no signs and no people working the poll. That's very unusual - I was shocked. There is no place to put up signs, so we've always had people standing there with signs. I have no idea what this means - if anything.

I was there until 9 am, and there was no waiting and no lines, although there was a steady stream of voters. I checked several times during the day, and the number of voters did seem encouraging. At least there were no problems - other than one intellectually challenged poll worker who had trouble hearing and with the alphabet. But a supervisor was helping her, so it wasn't too bad.

It's 5:30 and I'm on my way to the poll to stay until it closes, when I'll get the votes and call them in. I'll take my laptop and may be able to write while I'm there.

To be continued. . .

Saturday, October 11, 2008

These Talented Natchez Kids Need Help Now!

UPDATE: We made it! Thanks to all the generous people of Natchez - and to the Natchez Democrat for running an article, which definitely helped.

Did you know that the Robert Lewis Middle School Orchestra is the only orchestra in the whole state that was accepted for the National Orchestra Festival? That’s right, I said orchestra – not band – and they play classical music! And it’s students from our public schools – not from one of our private schools. This is a fantastic success story, and we should all be proud of these extremely talented musicians. The sky’s the limit for these kids. As their teacher, Shawn Smith, told them, “That’s your ticket to college, that’s your scholarship.”

Photo from article in the Natchez Democrat.

There’s just one problem. They have to pay their own way, and they’re far short of their goal. They have to send a $3250 deposit to the festival by Wednesday – and they only have $1075. Imagine how these kids will feel when they’ve worked so hard and done everything right but they still lose – just because this town would not support them. We cannot let this happen!

Please send a check for whatever you can afford to Orchestra Booster Club, P O Box 198, Natchez MS 39121 by Wednesday. Then forward this to everyone you know.

For more information, call the school at 601.445.2926, email the orchestra at or email their teacher, Shawn Smith, at

UPDATE: A contribution is tax deductible, and I have their tax id number, if you need it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Ho Hum Debate

The biggest news out of the debate was that McCain was coming. Word on the street is that Governor Haley Barbour told him, in so many words, to get his butt down here or else. If there was one thing all Mississippians agreed on, it was that the debate must go on - we wanted our moment in the national spotlight. Haley wasn't about to be embarrassed by having his nominee ruin Mississippi's day.

I read somewhere today (sorry but I forget where) that a debate is like Nascar. Everyone watches for one reason - to see a crash. Unfortunately, there was no crash. There were some fender benders, but they were about equal. I doubt seriously that this debate will win or change any votes.

However, I did go to a great debate watching party and enjoyed great food, drink, and friends - all Democrats, of course. (Contrary to popular opinion, there are some here.)

UPDATE: All the polls are saying that Obama won the debate quite handily.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

AG Jim Hood to the Rescue

Attorney General Jim Hood said Entergy is playing a shell game with energy and fuel costs to drive up its profits at the expense of ratepayers - and he's taking them to court to prove it. Way to go, Mr Attorney General! Finally, someone is standing up for us poor souls trying to pay our bills.

Some of you may recall that back in July, I posted an open letter to the Public Service Commission about Entergy's outrageous fuel charges. As I predicted, the PSC did not bother to respond to my letter. (These elected officials need to learn that they work for the voters - and they'd better start answering their letters.) It's true that about a week later, the PSC did tell Entergy to lower its fuel cost adjustment, but it was too little too late. Looked to me like a deal worked out between the PSC and Entergy to make them look good.

But apparently Attorney General Jim Hood, unlike the PSC members, is not in the pocket of the utilities, and he is really looking out for the consumers.

When Entergy raised their rates by 28%, AG Hood asked very nicely if they would please give his office the documents about its pricing policies and its buying and selling practices. But Entergy said no - that he had no right to the information. Excuse me, Entergy, but you are a PUBLIC utility, and he is the State's Attorney General. Of course, he has the right to the information, you idiots!

So did the AG back down like all the other wimps that run this state? Hell no! He took them to court and sued for the documents. So why in the world would Entergy refuse to give the AG the documents, when I'm sure their well paid attorneys told them they had to do? It's pretty obvious, isn't it? They're hiding something. They're hiding that their profits are out of sight, while the poor Mississippi taxpayer is struggling to make ends meet.

Just in case you think the AG is off on some wild goose chase trying to get publicity, just look at what happened in Louisiana where an Entergy subsidiary was charged with deceptive pricing schemes and overcharging customers. According to Consumer Affairs:
"In Louisiana in recent years, Entergy has been ordered to repay more than $100 million to ratepayers who had been overcharged by the company in two separate cases going back to 2000. In addition, Louisiana's efforts to recover the money has resulted in additional savings of more than $150 million for customers."

One of the many things I like about our Attorney General is the way he just tells it like it is.
"For decades, Entergy Mississippi has operated under the premise of 'just trust us, we know what's best for you.' But secrecy is never best when it comes to the pocketbooks of hardworking Mississippians who struggle each month to keep their lights on. . . But I have news for Entergy. The law in this matter is on the side of ratepayers and this office is charged with protecting their interests. We are going to shine some light on these practices and allow our citizens to look inside the company that is supposed to be serving them."

I don't know about you, but I think lower electric bills would be mighty nice - not to mention a few hundred million dollars.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Your Library Really Needs You Monday

Your Library desperately needs an increase in the funding it receives from the City of Natchez. Unfortunately, the Mayor and Board of Aldermen, in their infinite wisdom, seem not to have granted the request. The public hearing for the budget is Monday, September 15 at 5 pm in the City Council Chambers.

Please come and tell the City you don't mind paying a couple of bucks extra a year to help your Library.

How much extra? The exact amount will be presented at the hearing, but the average homeowner would have to pay $2 - $3 extra a year. The Library's funding was put on dedicated millage in 2006, but the rate - a little more than 2.5 mills - was figured to give the Library exactly the same amount it had the year before. The Library has requested it be increased to 3 mills.

The Concordia Parish Library. with only 20,000 population, gets 8.5 mill bringing in $850,000. Do the math! Adams County has almost twice the population, but slightly more than a third the millage. Something is wrong with this picture.

Did you know that the Library has not had an increase in funding in 10 years? Imagine the shape your household would be in if your household income had stayed exactly the same for 10 years - no cost of living and no inflation factor. Only through excellent management and creative financing solutions has the Library been able to keep up as well as it has with the needs of this community.

But you can only do so much before you reach the end of your rope - that's where the Library is right now. To understand the dilemma, you need to know that the City owns the Library building, and the Library must pay all of its operating expenses. Although the Library serves all the citizens of Adams County, it does not receive funds from the County government - only from the City. In addition, the Library obtains funds through state and federal grants, as well as any other grants it can find.

If you go by the Library, you will see that the outside of the building badly needs repainting and some structural repairs. However, the City will not pay for this - because it says it has buildings in worse condition. Hurricane Gustav made the exterior situation even worse. Insurance will pay for the damage done by Gustav itself, but not for the wear and tear on a building whose exterior is in such a state of disrepair.

If you frequent the Library, you know the long running saga of the air conditioning. The Library frequently has to close for days at a time when it's not working. When it is working, it gets so cold that heaters have to be used in parts of the building. That's because the air conditioning has to run all the time, because the thermostats quit working years ago. The system cannot be repaired - it needs a major overhaul or even complete replacement. Paul Dawes and his staff at the Inspections and Building Department are very good at performing miracles at keeping it going - but there is a limit to even their abilities. Do you know how much the Library paid for electricity last month? Almost $7000! It should be less than half of that. I bet if the City had to pay that electric bill, they'd do something about the air conditioning.

Now, the Library cannot pay for the air conditioning with the increase in millage - in fact it is not allowed to make capital improvements - one of the conditions for some of the grants received from the State. That is the responsibility of the local government. However, it may be able to pay for part of it - and it stands a much better chance of obtaining grants if it can show the City's willingness to invest in the Library.

Plus, with the increase, the Library could probably get the exterior of the building painted and repaired - and could do some much needed repairs inside. It could also expand the hours that it's open and increase the services provided to patrons. There is so much the Library could do with that couple of bucks.

So if the increase is so small and the need is so great, why didn't the City approve it? Well, you'll have to ask them, but here's my theory. Once the County announced they were cutting their taxes, the City didn't want to look bad by increasing theirs.

I know for some people and some politicians, cutting taxes in the most important thing in the world. They could care less if their infrastructure is collapsing. (Do you hear me, Henry Watts?) However, there are also citizens and politicians that understand that investing in your community pays off in the long run. Just look at how easily the hotel tax passed referendum. Citizens will pay taxes, if they think it will be spent wisely and will benefit the community.

So will you please come to the hearing and tell the Mayor and Board that you're willing to invest a couple of bucks in your Library?

Monday, September 15 at 5 pm
City Council Chambers

FULL DISCLOSURE: I work part time at the Library.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Baracky High in Colorado

Going to Denver was like going to the mountain top. There we were on the anniversary of Dr. King’s March on Washington, celebrating a historic moment in American history – the nomination of the first African American as President of the United States. However, in the back of the minds of the Mississippi delegation was the potential destruction of our homes or our friends’ home in Mississippi and Louisiana. You could feel the tangible tension between the high of being in Denver while our eyes were watching the weather way back in Mississippi.

The evening was one of celebration, and the Mississippi Delegation was high on Obama at the Invesco Field party. While the substantive content of the evening can be seen through the traditional media, being on the ground was a very different experience. The Mississippi delegation was seated in the back of the field to the right of the podium and just in front of the CNN stage with MSNBC on our right and ABC on our left. Although we had the side view of the podium at a distance, we had close up and personal contact with the media. We got to watch as the makeup artists touched up the sweating faces of Wolf Blitzer and Campbell Brown. They had their backs to us but when not filming they would watch intently. Joe Scarborough, who is very large in person, was clearly moved by the event although he’s a Republican. Katy Couric stopped by the ABC stage to speak to Diane Sawyer whose hairdresser was desperately trying to fix her hair in the wind. You could really see Sawyer’s dark roots, so we now know she’s not a natural blonde. During the music moments Donna Brazile grabbed a rather stiff Wolf Blitzer and started to dance with him. The Mississippi delegation below the media were also dancing and singing along to the music. For that night we were all celebrities and the media were part of our delegation.

However, it was when Barack Obama actually took the stage that a calm intensity pervaded the crowd and turned the party atmosphere into a moment in which we all felt that history was being made. Obama explained that this has not been a campaign about him; it’s about us. In other words it’s about what we, the American people, hope our country will be. If you read his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama clearly explains why Americans are different; our sights are always on the ideal because we are a country based not on land, not on aristocracy, but on an idea of equality. We are all celebrities, and celebrities are just people like us. The message and the moment merged.

So, the night ended. Contrary to the prayers of some conservative ministers who prayed for rain, it was beautiful weather-- clear, cool, and dry. Considering that hurricanes in the Gulf are taking the spotlight away from the Republican National Convention, we might conclude that someone up there is for the Democrats this year.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Sarah Who????

We had to stay up all night Thursday. We were advised to arrive at the airport 4 hours before our flight, because of all the thousands of people who would be leaving Denver that day. Our flight left at 7 am, so we had to be at the airport by 3 am. It takes about an hour to get to the airport, and it was almost 1 am when we got to our room. We needed that hour to bath, change clothes, and pack.

True to form, the advice to arrive 4 hours early left out some crucial information. The airport doesn't even open until 3 am, and you can't check in until 4 am. Consequently, there were bodies stretched out on the floor of the airport sleeping. It looked like a homeless shelter! Have you noticed how airports no longer have couches or any place to lie down and catch a nap or just rest? And guess what? None of the carts to carry the handicapped were operating yet. Plus, only one of the security gates was open. This was probably the busiest day the Denver airport will ever have, and they treated it like any other day. Go figure! It's been a hundred years since the last time Denver hosted the Democratic Convention. I bet it's another hundred before the next one.

While we were in the airport waiting for our plane, we heard rumors of Sarah Palin being picked as Vice President by John McCain. We didn't know for sure until we got to the Houston airport. We didn't have time to learn much about her, because there was little time between our flights. (But Houston did have electric carts - and nice people running them - one of them originally from Natchez.)

Once we got home I started researching Sarah Palin, but I was way too sleepy to learn much. But today, I've been doing plenty of research.

My bottom line analysis is that it was a brilliant move for McCain. The political pundits had been making much of the "enthusiasm" gap between the Democrats and the Republicans. And after the Democrats had such a successful Convention with their exciting candidates and excited delegates, McCain needed something bold to innervate his campaign. Picking Sarah Palin was definitely bold, and it immediately took the media attention away from the Democrats.

Palin will continue to get media attention, because she is a very interesting character. In fact, if McCain isn't careful, she'll eclipse him.

The first thing she did was excite the base of the Republican Party, because she is perfect on all the issues that they care about - guns, gays, God, and abortion. Plus she has a son in Iraq - and a handicapped child. What more could they ask for? Experience? Knowledge of foreign affairs? That's not important, and Senator McCain has that. Of course, he's 72 and might easily die in office and leave her as President - but they don't seem to worry about that.

Liberals and Democrats are horrified at the thought of President Sarah Palin, and they think every thinking person will be also. "Thinking" is the key word here. Most voters don't base their decisions on thought - but on who they like. (Think George Bush.)

And lots of voters are going to like this woman. If you want an interesting SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of Palin, check out this blog article by Andrew Halco, who ran against her as an Independent and lost. He has been a critic on his blog ever since the election, but he gives what appears to be an objective analysis. Here are some comments he made:
"You really have to have a high level of respect for Governor Palin in the sense that she has the real ability to connect with people. . . I've learned you never underestimate her. . . While I and others criticized her glittering generalities during the campaign, the more she spoke them the more people fell in love. That is the significant power she has of making voters forget about the policy and focus on the person."

She is extremely popular in Alaska, with favorability ratings in 80's. According to Halco, her Democratic opponent, Tony Knowles, was totally surprised by what his polling showed:
Palin scored off the charts with well educated moderate and liberal women. This seemed counter intuitive given Palin's inability to articulate public policies and her very conservative postion on issues such as abortion. But this was the power of Palin.

So Democrats had better not underestimate this woman. Is she unqualified to be Vice President? Absolutely. Will people care? That remains to be seen.

She's definitely not used to the unbelievable media scrutiny she will be under. She will undoubtedly make gaffes and have unfavorable press. She's used to saying what she thinks and doing what she wants - and getting away with it. That won't happen anymore. But will it matter?

Palin's selection was a blatant play by McCain for the disillusioned Hillary supporters. Hillary has done everything she possibly could to persuade her supporters to get behind Obama, and the Obama campaign has made several significant moves in the right direction. However, it's obvious his campaign still doesn't get it when it comes to women. (That pathetic roll call vote was a perfect example.) However, most Hillary supporters will vote for Obama because of the issues they care about. But a certain percentage will be drawn to McCain by the presence of Palin. The size of the percentage may determine who wins this election.

Any person who runs for President has to have a healthy ego. Obama's was too big to allow him to take a chance on selecting Hillary (and Bill) for Vice President - a move that would have guaranteed his election. McCain's ego is also huge, but he took the risk of selecting Palin, because he thought it might be the move than wins him the election. We'll see in November who made the right decision.

Denver & DNC Insensitive to Disabled

Denver never should have been chosen for the Democratic Convention. It simply does not have enough hotels, and its public transportation system is inadquate. Denver was chosen for political reasons - the Democrats want to win in Colorado - and its logistic weaknesses were overlooked.

In order to house all the thousands of people who come to a Convention, Denver had to use hotels scattered over several miles from the location of the Pepsi Center, where the Convention was held. There were supposed to be shuttle buses running from the hotels downtown, but this was not really true. Buses were for delegates only, so that all the other people had no access. In addition, the buses didn't start running until the afternoon to take delegates to the main event at the Pepsi Center. If they wanted to attend a meeting, go to an event, or just tour Denver, even delegates were SOL.

State delegations are assigned to hotels by the Democratic National Committee. Since Mississippi is not considered important, its hotel was in the boonies. Fortunately, we were relatively close to the last stop of the light rail. If you were young and healthy and unaffected by the altitude, you could walk, if you don't mind walking on roads with no sidewalks, which was quite dangerous. The staff at our hotel was extremely nice, and they would run people to the station in their van, and you could call them to come get you when you returned. Some delegations had to take shuttles for an hour to get to the light rail.

Denver made changes in the light rail service because of the Convention. There was only one problem, no one knew about it. People who worked at our stop had no idea about the changes, so they gave bad advice. Once we arrived downtown, there was no one to tell us where to get off. It took us a couple of trips to figure it out. When we got off the light rail, we had to take a shuttle bus to get closer to the Pepsi Center - but once again, no one told any of us that. And we had to figure out on our own where to get on and off the bus. Then we still had to walk several blocks to the first security fence. Once inside, we thought for sure there would be carts for the handicapped, but there were none - although we saw lots of "important" people in carts. It was a very long walk in the sun, with reduced oxygen because of the altitude, until we arrived at the second fence. Still no handicapped carts in evidence.

The trip from the hotel to the Convention took about 2 hours one way, so there was no going back to the hotel during the day. We were invited to parties and events, but we didn't go to any, because it was too much trouble to get there.

To make matters worse, Denver police and/or Secret Service would sometimes just stop the light rail or the buses without telling anyone - and with no idea when it would resume. Then you were just stuck wherever you were. Taxies are prohibitively expensive. One time when the buses just stopped running, I had to take a pedicab (a cart powered by a young person on a bicycle) which cost $2 a block - so it cost $20 plus tip to take me 10 blocks.

There were a few times that we were lucky enough to find the carts for the disabled, but there was no way to call for one and no one knew where they were or how to get one. We had one woman in our delegation in a wheelchair, and she seemed to have a slightly easier time of it. At least she had wheels, and sometimes people would offer to help by pushing it. Also, people could at least tell she was handicapped. But there were several of us in the delegation with handicaps that aren't visible, and we got no sympathy at all - especially from all the young people who seem to populate campaigns.

One time, I was about to faint, and people around me caught me and called the paramedics. But they didn't even have oxygen - and had no way to call me a cart. They didn't even have one themselves. Unless I wanted them to call me an ambulance, I had to just keep walking. The place was a nightmare.

There was another state blogger who was handicapped, and she and I shared our total dismay with the way we and others in our delegations were treated. Once we've recovered from the Convention, we plan to communicate our concerns to the DNC. However, I don't really expect much of a response.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Our Media Coverage

When we went to the Blogger party that the DNC gave, I was interviewed by M S Bellows from Huffington Post. I don't think it made it into an article, but I did find a clip of it on YouTube.

I've also been told that CNN ran one of our video clips of a Clinton caucus meeting and gave credit to our blog.

It's interesting that both of these deal with Hillary. I think the media really wanted some kind of Clinton/Obama drama - and were disappointed when it did not really appear.

I just found another story about the roll call vote.

Before we left, the Natchez Democrat ran an article about us.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Vice President Biden

First nominator was Quincy Lucas of Delaware, an activist on violence against women. Then he was nominated by acclimation.

His son Bo introduced him. He is the Attorney General of Delaware who has just been called to active duty in Iraq. You couldn't ask for a better, more heartfelt introduction.

Biden started by acknowledging his son and family. Then he accepted the nomination. His mother was in the audience, and he told wonderful stories about her.

Then he talking about the middle class, their needs and values - and why Obama can be their hero. Good quote: "Work is more than a paycheck - it's dignity. It's looking your kid in the eye and saying we're going to be alright."

He talked about Obama as a person and a Senator. Then he attacked McCain as more of the same. "That's not change - that's more of the same" was the chant. "We need more than a good soldier - we need a wise leader."
"That's the change we need."

He's a powerful speaker - especially on foreign affairs. He gave us multiple examples of why "John McCain was wrong, and Barack Obama was right."

I think millions of Americans will immediately bond with this man. As Bill Clinton said, "Obama hit it out of the park" when he picked Biden.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I've been in love with Joe Biden for 36 years, from the first time I saw him after he got elected to the Senate when he and I were both 29. My admiration for him has continued to grow, and I think he and his family are a perfect match with Obama and his family. The song they played afterward was "We Are Family" - but we are America is also true.

Support the Troops

Democrats show what "Support the Troops" really means - actually supporting the troops - not wearing a bumper sticker. A moving video that brought tears to eyes. This was followed by an inspiring talk by disabled Iraq vet Tammy Duckworth. The crowd loved her.

John Kerry Rocks

He contrasted Maverick McCain with Candidate McCain. "Talking about being for it before being against it! Before McCain debates Obama, he should finish the debate with himself." He was very skilled with his attack on McCain. Then he went on to praise Obama. Great speech!

We Love You Bill!

President Bill Clinton got a rousing welcome by the whole place. (See video of Mississippi's reaction). I can tell from our delegation that all is forgiven, and it's okay to love Bill again.

He made a convincing case for Obama. Great quote: "People abroad have always been more impressed by the power of our example than the example of our power." He went on to attack the Republicans and MCain.

He was the Bill Clinton we all love. Another great line: "I was elected when the Republicans said I was too young and inexperienced. Sound familiar? It didn't work then and it won't work now."

I dare anyone to criticize that speech - he was terrific! Well, maybe he was just a tad less wonderful than his wife.

Wednesday's Speakers

The tribute to the troops was led by a very good speaker. The Democrats need to recruit this guy - he's good!

The women in my delegation liked Former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. One of our delegates, Angela Cockerham, went to a luncheon where she spoke and came away very impressed.

Senator Evan Bayh is making liars out of all those who said he was boring. He's really pretty lively and interesting.

Senator Jack Reed was interrupted by the arrival in our midst of Jamie Foxx, and then Secretary Albright. (see video) Senator Daschle came next.

Bill's up next!

The Roll Call Vote

I found out this morning that the roll call vote would be at 3 pm today. We had assumed it would be during prime time. So I just rushed (to the extent possible with our transportation challenges) over here after the morning caucuses. I think the early hour is an attempt by the Obama campaign to downplay the vote, which I personally think is a mistake. People love to watch the roll call of the states.

Delores Huerta of California made the nomination for Hillary. Most delegates are not here, including all the Hillary delegates who were meeting with Hillary herself. The New York delegation is practically empty. Of course, like all these early events, no one is listening. Everyone is roaming around talking. A young boy from Utah is seconding the nomination. Then Denise Harris of New York also seconded. They seemed to all be from regular people. The speeches were brief and only took about 15 minutes.

Michael Wilson, an Iraq veteran, is now nominating Obama. He's getting a much better response. Next up is Colorado Senator Ken Salazar. Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz of Florida and the Florida Clinton Chair is the next seconder. Next is Representative Artur Davis of Alabama - with a rousing response from the Alabama right next to us.

Alabama casts 48 for Obama and 5 for Clinton. Alaska 15 to 3. American Samoa 9-0. Arizona 40 - 27. Arkansas 47 - 0. California passes. Colorado 55 - 15. Connecticut - 38-21 ? Delaware 23 - o. Democrats Abroad 8.5 - 2.5. DC 33-7. Florida 136-51-1 abstention. Georgia 82-18. Guam 4-3. Hawaii 26 - 1. Idaho 20 -3. Illinois pass. Indiana 75-6. Iowa 48-9. Kansas 34-6. Kentucky 36-24. Louisiana 43-7. Maine 24-8. Maryland - here I lost track in the commotion in the Mississippi delegation getting ready for their moment in the sun.

Right after the roll call started, there was a huge fracas going on in the Mississippi delegation, because they'd been told they would not get to announce their votes. They were furious and started complaining loudly. Other states must have done the same, because the initial plan was changed. The yielding did not start early but instead the roll call went on to New Mexico.

I have posted video of Mississippi casting their vote and their reaction to finale.

Hillary More Than Meets Expectations

There was tremendous pressure on Hillary tonight, and she absolutely delivered. I've been a Hillary watcher for over 15 years, and that's the best speech she's ever given. Her goal was to convince her supporters to get behind Obama, and she gave them reasons that she knew would work best - the issues she knows they care about.

The media criticized her for not saying more about Obama personally, but that would not have worked. Her supporters are not going to be convinced to like Obama, but they can be convinced to vote for, and even work for, him to assure universal health coverage and other key issues she represented.

I've already seen the effect of Hillary's speech on the Mississippi Clinton delegation. Yesterday at their caucus, all the Clinton delegates indicated their intention to vote for Hillary on the first ballot. This morning when they actually had to cast their votes, about half voted for Obama.

On a personal note, I must admit that tears streamed from my eyes from the moment Chelsea appeared to introduce her mother until after Hillary left. I was very proud of Hillary's speech, but it was also very sad for me to let go of my dream of an ideal woman President - and I doubt there will be another in my lifetime.

You Might Be a Blogger If ... Top Ten

On Tuesday, Casey and I attended a luncheon/tailgating party for all the official state bloggers. We met in the tent reserved for the bus drivers. Howard Dean, Chair of the National Democratic Party and the originator of bloggers being seated with each state delegation, spoke to the group. Looking around I came up with this list:

You might be a blogger if… Top Ten

10. You only wear shorts and sandals even to a luncheon.

9. You worship Howard Dean.

8. You don’t own a razor (this goes for men and women).

7. You wear skinny dark- rimmed glasses.

6. You have a permanent bad-hair day.

5. You use acronyms.

4. You love gadgets and don’t mind photographing yourself.

3. You’re smart and techno-savvy, but socially challenged.

2. You are suspicious of main-stream media.

And the top way to know if you might be a blogger….

1. You and your wacky friends might be responsible for electing the next leader of the free world. Awesome!

In Mississippi Home Is Not a Plural Noun

An energetic young woman in the Mississippi delegation is distantly kin to John McCain. However, she is more kin than kind (with apologies to Shakespeare). Maggie Lowery is representing our state as a true Mississippian. How do we know? She knows how many houses she owns, and more importantly, she knows what home means to Mississippians.

When you enter the great state of Mississippi, our welcome sign reads: “Mississippi: It Feels Like Coming Home.” Like Maggie, real Mississippians understand the depth of our sense of place. Our writers celebrate it; our people live it.

However, as we have recently learned, John McCain has a very different view of home. Although he proudly claims Mississippi roots, McCain is no Mississippian! When you own houses across the United States in places like Los Angeles, Aspen, New York, Washington and Coronado and all of those “homes” cost millions of dollars each, you can’t really understand the meaning of home to Mississippians. In Mississippi, average homes cost approximately 200,000 dollars; In Mississippi foreclosures jumped over 91% in 2007 and real estate professionals are expecting it to rise by the end of 2008. How can Mississippians think that John McCain can relate to their struggles?

Explaining how out of touch with real Texans Geroge H. Bush was, the great, late Molly Ivins explained: “In Texas, summer is not a verb.” It’s time for Mississippians to explain to John McCain that “In Mississippi, home is not a plural noun.” We know where home is, and we know how many we have.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

The Governors Speak

Governor of Ohio Ted Strickland had some great lines and received good response from the crowd. He emphasized jobs.

Deval Patrick, Governor of Massachusetts, got a enthusiastic response from the Mississippi delegation - and the rest of the delegates. His theme was education. He's good!

Now we have Brian Schweitzer, who ran for Governor of Montana with a Republican Lt Governor on a theme of bipartisanship - and it has apparently worked there. He got the crowd involved. I liked this quote: "The most important barrel of oil is the one you don't use." And also "You can't drill your way to energy independence even if you drill in all the back yards of McCain's homes - even the ones he doesn't know he has." He acted like he was just talking to the crowd - and they liked it. He's definitely the best speaker so far. He thrilled our delegation when he mentioned Mississippi - brought them to their feet.

Hillary's up next, so I'm packing up the computer so I can pay attention. I'll write about the speech tomorrow.

I Am Woman!

There is a great series of speeches going on right now. Introduced by Senator Hillary Clinton on video, all of the women Senators are giving brief speeches about the important issues of this campaign. There are an impressive group and make me proud.

Today, of course, is the anniversary of women getting the right to vote.

Then they all came out on the stage to the band playing Sisters. Although this was an early speech, there was enthusiastic response.

Now speaking is Janet Napoletano, Governor of Arizona - another rising female star of the party.

Jennifer Grenholm, Governor of Michigan, is leading a town hall discussion about energy. Pretty boring.

But we just had a bit of excitement here. Charles Barkely just came by on his way to the Alabama delegation. Someone said they didn't know he was a Democrat. He said "I'm a Democrat, but I'm rich like a Republican!." I think I got him on video. (I did - it's posted.)

Kathleen Sebelius, Governor of Kansas, now up - talking about McCain's many homes.

So far no one in the arena is paying much attention to the speakers. I don't know how these speakers do it. However. they've started passing out signs to waive, so I think we're supposed to be getting excited soon.

I was hoping I could wander around and talk to some friends in other states, but I'm really stuck in my seat. I'd have to crawl over the whole delegation to get out. I can't even talk on the phone, because it's so noisy!

The natives are getting restless - they're starting to chant.

Lilly Ledbetter from Alabama (famous because of the Supreme Court decision against her on a sexual discrimination) was the first to mention the anniversary of women getting the vote - and she talked about the importance of this issue of fairness. She got a response, and then the band played "I Get Excited".

Now the crowd is on its feet for Mark Warner, former Governor and next Senator of Virginia. He's inspirational, but not a star. Interestingly, somebody is sending a message to the delegation of when to stand and wave signs. I get the feeling that Warner is speaking to the public - not the delegates - providing words of substance. It's also pretty obvious that Virginia is proud of him.

When he finishes, I think Hillary may be next, when I'll quit live blogging and will be paying attention.

Tuesday at the DNC

The day began, as always, with the caucus breakfast. The speaker and sponsor was a representative from the unions working for the Free Choice Act. Afterward the major topic was again dispensing of the passes.

After the dispensing of credentials, there was a caucus of Clinton delegates. Gloria Williamson, Chair of the Clinton delegates, handed out a memo from Hillary laying out her support for Obama and saying she would release her delegates. She indicated how they voted was their personal choice - she was not asking for a vote either way. Gloria then announced that she personally was voting for Hillary - and then would be on board with Obama. She asked that the delegates also support Obama, after casting their vote. I asked the delegates how they were planning to vote, and they all indicated they were voting for Hillary. Then they had to leave to get their picture taken. In discussions with the delgates, I found no evidence of a split. It seemed they would all support Obama - although there was a lot of heartbreak.

Then Dianne and I had to rush off downtown to pick up our daily credentials. We barely made it in time. By the way, as members of the press, we are getting to see a lot of media stars. We try not to look like star struck country girls.

Then we went to a party put on by the Democratic National Committee for bloggers only. Chairman Howard Dean came and talked to us. He is a hero to bloggers, because the State Blogger Program was his idea - and he had credentialed unprecedented numbers of bloggers as members of the press. It was great to meet all the bloggers from across the country that I only know online.

Dianne and I split up again. It's my turn to go to the Pepsi Center.

To see our unprofessional videos, click here.

Michelle! Michelle! Michelle!

I’ve just returned from the Pepsi Center where I took Casey’s place and heard Michelle Obama give the speech of her life! However, she was led by remarkable speeches from other impressive women, including: Maya Soetoro-Ng, Obama’s half sister, Caroline Kennedy, and Claire McCaskill. I won’t repeat what many of you probably have heard on the television, but I will give you my impressions of seeing them live. As you know if you are reading the blog, the Mississippi delegation is sitting where you see the side of each speaker.

Obama’s half sister has a pointed chin that looks very much like the pictures of Obama’s mother. Sweetly, she told of a half-brother who took her to movies and was a nice guy and how as a history teacher she looks forward to what he’ll do for education. What you didn’t see was that the Hawaii delegation, seated next to Mississippi’s delegation, went wild; Hawaii is feeling very proud of their native son and his sister.

Caroline Kennedy looked beautiful and from the side was extremely thin. What intrigued me was that as she spoke, she curled her right foot around her left leg like a small child. As she told about how Barack Obama inspired her the way others say they were inspired by her father, I thought she nevertheless looked like the little girl that we all remember from the Sixties. She explained that Obama has no greater champion than her Uncle Teddy. The Mississippi delegation seemed moved by the appearance of Ted Kennedy, especially since this might be his last; Senator Kennedy promised to be at Obama’s inauguration in January.

Claire McCaskill was phenomenal. It took her a while to warm up to her attacks on McCain, but when she spoke, she leaned forward on the podium with her hands held together and showed that she will be a fighter for Obama in the fall. From the side she was a lot heavier than Caroline Kennedy, but she had on great shoes.

The woman of the evening arrived at about 9:00. We were all given pole signs to hold up and wave that said “Michelle.” When she came to the podium, you could tell how tall she was because the podium seemed small. She talked about her father and how he never gave up fighting and smiling. She talked about Barack and her children. However, when she said that our parents “poured everything they had into us,” I felt like everyone in the audience understood her family values at last. She made it perfectly clear that she understood the American dream, that she epitomized that dream, and that no one was going to take her story and make it less than it is. Many Mississippi delegates had tears in their eyes. Even among the other great speakers of the evening, she was by far the best. Michelle Obama will be an exceptional first lady.

Other interesting tidbits from tonight: John Grisham came by the delegation, shaking hands with several delegates. We saw Walter Mondale, Bill Richardson, John Kerry, Chris Dodd. They all had very nice, thick hair.

Overall, the Mississippi delegation was high spirited and a lot of fun. Curley Clark from Pascagoula proved to be a good dancer and was seen on the big screen more than once. Good music was interspersed between speakers, and when upbeat numbers like “Celebrate Good Times, Come On!” you can believe Mississippians did just that.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Update on the Hillary Factor

Gloria Williams, Chair of the Mississippi Clinton Delegation, met with other Hillary state chairs this afternoon.

The message from Hillary was simple. She is supporting Obama completely and is releasing her delegates. She is not asking her delegates to vote for her - or for Obama. She says it is a matter of personal decision for each delegate.

Gloria will meet with the Mississippi Clinton delegates tomorrow morning after the Mississippi delegation caucus, and we'll see then how many Clinton delegates will vote for Obama on the first ballot.

Gloria said she planned to vote for Clinton on the first ballot, because that's what she was elected to do. After that, she will enthusiastically support Obama.

After picking up that tidbit, I'm now leaving the Pepsi Center so Dianne can come take my place.

Off We Go to the Convention

After breakfast Dianne and I made our trek to downtown Denver, using our knowledge of public transportation learned the day before. Then came the next stage of our education – getting to the Pepsi Center, where the Convention is being held. We knew we had to walk, but no one knew how. We just kept asking for directions. The problem was there are many different ways to get there, but all but one had been blocked off. We kept walking down blocks only to be turned away. Finally, we came to a gate, where we showed our credentials and got in. We thought we were finally there. No!

From that gate, we were directed all the way around (a long way!) to the big security clearance. It was just like airport security, except we got to keep our shoes on, and the personnel seemed better trained. We were early so it moved quickly.

We had two credentials – one for the floor of the Convention and one for the Perimeter. The problem was that no one could tell us where the Perimeter was. We decided to keep going until someone kicked us out. That happened when we entered the media entrance of the building, where we ran into the only rude person in the whole place. So we split up. I went into the Convention, and Dianne went to enjoy downtown Denver.

When I first walked into the arena, it was awesome! I think the significance of what was happening really hit me. I was able to walk all around the floor and see how it was layed out. It’s a hockey arena in real life. The really important delegations are on the floor. What was interesting was that Delaware was moved from the nosebleed section down to the front next to Illinois. (Wonder why?) Mississippi is to the far left, looking at the stage, on the front row. Our delegation is seated right next to the Mississippi sign, because that’s where the electricity and internet is located. Kentucky, Puerto Rico, and Oregon are behind us. Hawaii, Wyoming and Alabama are beside us. Now you should be able to find us on TV.

Since nothing had started yet, I decided to sit in our official seat and post an update to our activites. However, I had no internet. So I went in search of help. I discovered that there seems to be a "need to know" mentality here. People, are very friendly, but only seem to know their particular areas of responsibility. But I ran into someone who seemed to be a "fixer". Her name is Bev, and her real responsibility is to maintain the cable wires in the Convention area. She disappeared and sure enough, came back with the name of the person who could help me. As I was wandering the arena, I found the Bloggers Lounge. That was exciting, as I could put a face on some names I've come to know.

So now I have internet access and electricity, and I'm ready to go!

Mississippi Delegation Caucus

After a great night’s sleep, we went to the delegation breakfast/caucus meeting. In addition to the delegates, there were many others, including guests, family members, and party officials. The meeting was run by the Chair of the delegation, Congressman Bennie Thompson. Our other two Congressmen, Travis Childers and Gene Taylor, chose not to attend, although they are eligible as superdelegates. Senate nominee Ronnie Musgrove is also not attending. Mississippi politicians with tough elections coming up probably don’t want to be too visibly associated with the national Democratic party.

A few realities were dealt with in the meeting. One was the distance to the Convention and difficulties getting there. There will be a shuttle bus from the hotel to the Convention in time for the sessions, which don’t start until 3 pm. Those who had meetings before either had to take public transportation or pay about $50 for a cab.

Another reality was the scarcity of credentials to get in the Convention itself. There were very few extras to pass out, and there appeared to be some unhappy guests. If they want to go anywhere, they have to take public transportation – with which we know Mississippians have little experience. I do think some of the guests will be able to go to the final night at Invesco field, and that will probably make up for the rest of it. Most were here to see history being made.