Monday, December 29, 2008

Please, not OJ!


























Mr. Simpson has been through enough.

These guys are really scary. Maybe they bomb orange groves.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Nerd Elitism

When I was in high school last century (snicker), we had an open campus policy, which meant you could leave the school grounds to eat lunch, for example. There were a few businesses in the immediate neighborhood (besides Flame-N-Burger and Blimpie's) that we frequented, including a high-end home audio store in the next block. Home of the $1200 turntable, the $700-a-piece QUADROPHONIC speakers ("You can really blast your Bachman-Turner Overdrive, man!"), and your home plate, a receiver/equalizer combination, often the size of an expedition piece of American Tourister luggage. Remember kids, daddy didn't have any digital toys back then.

This is where I first became aware of the phenomenon of nerd elitism. You not only needed the finest turntable, you needed the needle that went with it--usually something constructed from the dew claw of a Tasmanian lemur. Sure, you can play your albums with that store-bought cartridge, but listen to the quality of the sound you get with that lemur claw--it's awesome! What . . . you can't hear the 17.5 dB difference in the mid-range?

Errrrr...no.

I was reminded of this phenomenon as I read "A Better Brew,", an article on extreme beer brewing, a topic that makes the Trekkie experience look positively uninvolved. The extreme brewers of the world are those posers who like to concoct their beer from obscure and/or rare ingredients. Because . . . because . . . well, like the dew claw above, obscure is better, right?

The article profiles one Sam Calagione, owner of the Dogfish Head brewery of Delaware (motto: “Off-Centered Ales for Off-Centered People”), regarded as one of the best by extreme beer geeks. Here's a description of one of DH's more interesting brews, aged in barrels constructed of some bizarre species of Paraguayan wood:

. . . he had filled the barrel with a strong brown beer. It was made with three kinds of hops, five kinds of wheat and barley, a dose of unrefined cane sugar, and a sturdy Scottish ale yeast. It had a creamy head when poured, like a Guinness stout, and contained about twelve per cent alcohol—two and a half times as much as a Budweiser. Calagione called it Palo Santo Marron. . . There were hints of tobacco and molasses in it, black cherries and dark chocolate, all interlaced with the wood’s spicy resin.


"It was an extreme beer, he said, but to most people it wouldn’t have tasted like beer at all." Gee--you think so? The combination of molasses, Vick's Formula 44 cough syrup, chocolate, pine sap and Skoal probably would not, I repeat, would NOT taste like beer. To anyone.

Ever.

No matter--Calagione pushes the envelope ever farther, the goal being to to make beers so potent and unique that they can’t be judged by ordinary standards (much less called beer). Hence, he uses ingredients like fresh oysters, arctic cloudberries, curry, coriander and lemongrass. He has in the past concocted a medieval gruit brewed with yarrow root and grains of paradise; an African tej made with bitter gesho bark and raw honey(yes, I was also ashamed that I did not know what a gruit or a tej was); there was even a green colored brew for St. Patrick's day that derived its hue from--mmmmm, blue-green algae. Why? Just because!

What is it that bugs me about this? I think it's the Emperor's New Clothes thing that smells it up for me (rather than the gesho bark and algae). It's the idea that if you throw a bunch of stuff in with the fermented barley, you're making some kind of tasty masterpiece. Maybe you're really just making a gag-inducing elixir that packs a liver-shattering wallop (many of Calagione's brews have a lot of alcohol) that you can charge your suckers--I mean, patrons, 20 bucks a snifter. And hey, if you can get 'em to belly up for your cleverly labelled swill again and again (Goatkiller, Hog's Vomit), why, then you can be a beer hero and pocket lots of money.

It's like a talking with a wine snob, but somehow seems worse. Or watching a Quentin Tarantino movie, and feeling small for not being in on the all the references to obscure 1970's Hong Kong martial arts movies. Or . . .

. . . in my teens, I could play a halfway decent game of tennis (suprising even to me). This one kid hung around the public courts, and always had the most expensive racquet, the vacuum-packed tennis balls, matching head and wrist bands, etc., etc. Challenging me to a game once, he snickered disdainfully at my beat-up wooden racquet and my Keds.

I mopped the court with his silly posing ass.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Global warming and severe storms--not so fast. . .

Phil Plait is at it again. In a post earlier today, he claims that a recent study gives strong evidence to support the idea that warming global temperatures are associated with more severe storms. This is an idea often cited by climate change alarmists, including AlGore, who claimed that Hurricane Katrina's destructiveness and power was definitely a product of global warming. One would have thought this idea was already well-founded, being part of the climate change litany for some time, but this recent data makes it double super-duper well-founded. Or does it?

The study (from JPL) shows that very high clouds, which are associated with severe weather, are more frequent when the ocean is warmer. The correlation they found was very strong; "for every degree Centigrade the oceans warm, they saw a 45% increase in the number of these clouds!" exclaims the BadAstronomer excitedly.

But there's nothing to get excited about. Despite the post claiming a link between global warming and severe storms, the study only shows a link between warming ocean temperatures and high altitude clouds. I'm not sure how strong the association is between high clouds and severe weather, but the equation is warmer ocean = more high clouds, not warmer ocean = more high clouds = more severe storms. And there is a world of difference.

Even Plait admits that linking clouds, rain, and global warming is incredibly difficult because rain is very difficult to model. But that's okay: "This new result bypasses that, using the clouds as a proxy for storms." That's a pretty big leap right there--I'm not sure that you can just "proxy" your results that way. There may be a whole lot of influences and variables that we haven't uncovered yet between the high clouds and the severe storms part of the equation. There's even evidence that the hurricane forming region in the Atlantic is actually cooling down.

It kind or reminds me of the development of fetal heart rate monitoring in obstetrics back in the 1970's. It made perfect sense to think that if we could somehow monitor a baby's heart rate during the labor process, we could identify babies in "distress" and deliver them in a timely fashion. There was even a feeling that this monitoring would somehow decrease the number of C-sections. Of course, things did not turn out quite so rosy as expected, and many attribute the rise in unnecessary C-sections directly to fetal heart rate monitoring. The point is some of our best scientific ideas and assumptions turn out very differently in the end.

The whole climate change issue has become extremely politicized, unfortunately, from both ends of the political spectrum. Alarmists like Gore and Hansen, and deniers like Inhofe have done much to obscure the very real work that is being done and have helped inflame the passions of those on both sides of the issue, to the detriment of clear thinking on the subject. The climate is incredibly complex, and is certainly deserving of further study. It is folly to deny that the earth is warming (most "global warming deniers" do not deny this fact at all). But it is equally dangerous to proceed with large-scale, costly solutions that do not have a firm scientific basis to begin with.

Research like this is important, no doubt. But claiming that it establishes a strong link between global warming and severe storms is simply bad science from the BadAstronomer.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Just friends



I don't think anyone is saying that President-elect Obama is directly tied to the sale of his recently vacated Senate seat by Gov. Blago. Most of the MSM and even the boys at FoxNews have been careful to preface their reporting on this story by remarks to that effect.

But for some reason, Obama has steadfastly claimed that no one on his staff had any contact with Blago about the Senate seat. It is quite clear that it would not have been illegal for Obama or anyone on his team to have had discussions about his replacement (as long as they didn't discuss pricing options). But it is becoming clearer that members of Obama's staff did indeed have contact on this issue with the beleaguered governor, perhaps with some of them being taped. I am baffled as to why Obama has seemingly backed himself into a corner on this issue.

I believe that there are some good politicians in the State of Illinois, just as there are a few here in the State of Louisiana (it sure is nice to have someone else wearing the mantle of Most Corruptedest State Evah for a change). I believe it is possible to play in the political mudpit without getting too soiled, although it probably requires superhuman effort. The Illinois scandal has the potential to engulf the President-elect unless he is completely forthcoming and ready to jettison anyone who had a direct role to play in the illegalities.

For someone who didn't realize how rabid his own pastor was, and then had only a fleeting idea that Bill Ayers had done something wrong a long, long time ago--well, maybe it is possible that he had no idea that Gov. Blago was a scum-sucking invertebrate bottom-feeder.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Size 10 WMD--UPDATED


This clown is being hailed as a "hero" by many in the Arab world, after chucking his shoes at President Bush at a press conference in Baghdad.

"Thanks be to God, Muntazer's act fills Iraqi hearts with pride," his brother, Udai al-Zaidi, told Reuters Television.

"This was a spontaneous action by an Iraqi citizen who was showing his dismay at seeing the president of the country which is occupying our nation," said Liwaa Sumeissim from the anti-American Sadr movement.

According to one report, Al-Baghdadiya television played endless patriotic music, with Zaidi's face plastered across the screen.

Among those leaping up to support al-Zaidi was Khalil al-Dulaimi, Saddam's former lawyer, who said he was forming a team to defend the journalist and that around 200 lawyers, including Americans, had offered their services for free.

I found this comment from a Canadian named Allen King over on the Al Jazeera English site: "Al-zaidi's act will long be remembered in history, same as when an unarmed student stood before a tank in Tianaman Square in Bejing."

Some people have a different view of what heroic really means. No matter what you may think of Bush, there is a vast difference between a lone man facing down a tank and this journalist "expressing" himself.

Something tells me--and it's probably just a silly hunch--that for some strange reason, Manolo Boy (or how about Buster Brown? al-Thom McCann?) never contemplated tossing his Blahniks at the former leader of Iraq; I wonder why? I wonder how many lawyers would have rushed to aid his defense if he had thrown his shoes at Saddam.

Most likely, he would not have needed a lawyer at all. Just someone from forensics to ID his remains.

UPDATE (12/17/2008, 4:47 PM): I ran across this quote that someone left as a comment on another blog:
The reporter knows deep down that he can throw his shoe at Bush only because of Bush and it shames him. He can’t forgive Bush for that.


I thought that was another interesting take on the situation.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Burning churches and Bush and the Muslims


A few unrelated items of interest:

First, Sarah Palin's church in Wasila was set on fire by an arsonist Friday night. There were several people in the church at the time, including two small children. It is pure speculation at this point to assign motives for the fire--whether it was related to the church's stand on homosexuality for example, or Palin's politics, or some other reason. I will predict that not much will be made of this event by the mainstream press. I can almost guarantee that if the fire had been set at someone else's church, especially while children were present, the outcry would be deafening.


Second, I am not (despite howls from some to the contrary) Geroge Bush's greatest fan. I think much of how the Iraq war was handled, especially after the invasion, was bungling and chaotic, to say the least. Ultimately, there has been a remarkable turnaround, and the country is a much better place than it was in 2001, or for that matter in 2006.

I ran across this interesting post last night. The title itself drew my attention: "Rescuing 50 Million People From Brutal Regimes Has Given Bush a Bad Name With Muslims." Indeed, the article quotes this AP story about the laundry list of horrors that Bush is responsible for:
The U.S. image globally has taken a deep hit during President George W. Bush's two terms in office, primarily because of opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq, harsh interrogation of prisoners, the indefinite detention of terrorist suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and mistreatment of inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.
(emphasis added)
Just above this quote is an embedded video with the label "Warning: very graphic" attached to it. Watch it carefully and with that warning in mind, but do watch it, please. These are the people that Bush freed the Iraqis from. Exactly how does something like Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo even compare?

I hope Obama can help change this impression that the Muslim world has of us. But this is not strictly Bush's fault; it is far more complex and far deeper than that. A simple change of face at the White House, even with "Hussein" as a middle name, is not going to do it. No better example of this can be found than Al-Qaida's al-Zawahri referring to Obama as a "house negro" (see my post November 19th).

This story also from the AP via the Knoxville News Sentinel begins this way:
President-elect Barack Obama, relatively young and inexperienced, is facing a rapidly growing list of monumental challenges as he prepares to take the reins of a nation in turmoil.

Funny how just a few weeks ago, "young and inexperienced" was actually "fresh and dynamic."

Monday, December 8, 2008

Medical marijuana

The latest The New Yorker (December 1, 2008) has Sasha Frere-Jones' article on Steven Ellison, a "a tall, soft-spoken twenty-five-year-old who works under the name Flying Lotus." He is part of a growing movement that is guiding hip-hop into the next decade via a road paved with a "fractal spidering of sounds, a backdrop of crackles, and prickling, feverish rhythms no human hands could play." I was actually intrigued by this description of his music. Although I am no fan of rap/hip-hop, I like the reincorporation of musical ideas into new compositions, like Eno and Byrne's My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, or some of the better mashup artists like CCC. So I began reading the article.

The article describes the interior of Ellison's Northridge L.A. apartment, "typical of the twenty-first-century musician: a collection of laptops, keyboards, and processing units, none of them large and most of them portable." There is also this decorative touch:

A series of pharmacy bottles lined the wall behind his equipment. The clear orange cannisters were familiar, but not the names on the laser-printed labels: Grape Ape, Purple Haze. “Medical marijuana,” Ellison explained.


Huh? The picture accompanying the article shows a robust young man, leaning back in his chair and laughing heartily. He certainly didn't appear to be a cancer victim, or a glaucoma sufferer. Just what are the indications for medical marijuana usage?

According to Wikipedia, medical cannabis was shown to have established effects in the treatment of nausea, vomiting, unintentional weight loss, and lack of appetite. It is also indicated for treatment of certain types of glaucoma. So far, so good. The Wiki article goes on to note that marijuana is "indicated" in a variety of other conditions, such as epilepsy, asthma, migraines and arthritis. I can think of a number of drugs that are "indicated" as first-and even second-line therapy for these conditions, but I am unaware that there is extensive literature to back up the "indication" of marijuana usage in any of them. But that's okay, 'cause Dr. Tod H. Mikuriya of California has compiled a list of over 250 conditions that he has treated with medical marijuana, including (I kid you not) sedative dependence and opiate dependence. I am so behind the times, man.

As a person in recovery myself, I am baffled as to why anyone would consider treating substance abuse with another mind-altering drug.

The Wiki article does mention some of the concerns that the medical community has about smoked marijuana, specifically an Institute of Medicine study that concluded that smoking cannabis is not recommended for the treatment of any disease condition. The FDA has approved Nabilone and Marinol for the treatment of unresponsive nausea associated with chemotherapy, and the use of a vaporizer has been mentioned as a delivery vehicle for the active components of marijuana.

Perhaps there are valid indications for the medical use of marijuana, other than glaucoma and nausea. In this era of evidence-based medicine, more trials are needed to establish its usefulness as a treatment. To claim that it is somehow useful in such diverse conditions as PMS or Grave's disease or (and again I kid you not) Writer's Cramp (International Classification of Diseases 9 Code 300.89) is farfetched based on our available evidence.

The push to legalize medical marijuana has been couched in terms that suggest opponents to its use are mean-spirited prudes who would want to see cancer-ridden bulimic glaucoma sufferers waste away into an even earlier grave than is their due.Unfortunately, Mr. Ellison, with his drug store bottles neatly lined up next to his water-operated “gravity bong,” paints quite a different picture.

Far out, man.

(BTW, I did check out the Radiohead "Reckoner" remix on the Flying Lotus MySpace page. Not bad, but not great, either.)

I am proud of you, New Orleans

Bill Jefferson got his pink slip Saturday night from the good folks in LA's 2nd Congressional district. It's long overdue, as "Dollar Bill" has been an embarassment for some time (even before the cash-in-the-freezer incident). The district will now be represented by Anh Cao, America's first Vietnamese-American congressman. Interesting also is that he will be a Republican representing a predominantly black district.

So, two of Louisiana's top elected offices are occupied by people of color, specifically Asians. I am always impressed by the racial progressiveness of the South, which is often looked upon by the rest of the country as backwoods sheet-wearers. The recent murder by a collection of ignorant Klan wannabes received worldwide press coverage. I can only hope the AP reports favorably on Mr. Cao's election.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Hello--still here . . .

Haven't had much of a chance to do much posting as of late, but I'm still here. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving--all of the food tasted exceptionally good, even a rather improvised turkey chili the next day.

Our attic conversion is complete, and functioning quite well, especially now that there is a TV and a Wii console installed. The mellifluous strains of Sponge Bob are but a distant fading memory.

On other construction news, Anya is getting ready to enter her 28th week. The baby is quite active, which freaked out Emma the other day, when she first felt some kicks. We are entering the home stretch--yay!

In addition to growing a new human being, my multi-talented and beautiful wife is also painting fairly prolifically (esp. when the girls are busy with school). She has revamped her website, too, so you should check it out. The old link should take you to the new place.

So now the holidays are rapidly approaching. Both the girls are in school plays, which makes our afternoons a little hectic, as they are both part-time ballerinas. BTW, our oldest daughter Sarah, is tapdancing her way to fame and fortune this afternoon in Washington DC at her dance recital. Just like Lisa in "Last Tap Dance in Springfield" . . .

My mother and my youngest brother and his family will be hanging out with us for Christmas, and I am truly looking forward to their visit. My other sibling will be joining his band Five Eight on stage in Athens, GA on New Year's Eve--it will be an incredible show and everyone should go if they can.

So--a little catching up. :)

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

An Enlightened Electorate, and a New Respect

Two stories here:

First, an interesting Zogby poll of Obama voters. In this poll, they didn't seem, well, very knowledgable. More than half (way more than half) could not identify which party controlled Congress. Seventy-two percent did not know that Biden had quit a previous campaign over charges of plagiarism. Almost 90% did not know about Obama's stance on the coal industry.

They were pretty informed on Sarah Palin, though. Most were convinced (falsely) that Palin said she could see Russia from her window. And over 90% knew that she had a pregnant teenage daughter.

This is not about how dumb Obama voters are; there are obviously Obama voters out there who are much more informed about our government (although the majority of this sample were high-school and college grads). And there were plenty of examples of McCain supporters during the campaign who were most likely dropped on their heads in the delivery room. It's about the meme that by and large, Obama voters were somehow hipper and smarter than those racist Neanderthals who voted for the other guy. The idea that Obama voters are more focused on the "real issues" is maybe not so true after all.

Second, the #2 guy at Al Qaeda (vice-president? deputy CEO? assistant to the regional manager?) used a racial epithet in a message to President-elect Obama, referring to him (along with secretaries of state Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice) as "house negroes."

And you thought we were going to be respected now . . . awwww . . .

Monday, November 17, 2008

Michael who?


So we're riding in the car a few days ago, listening to some Christmas music that I had playlisted on the iPod. The usual stuff, of course, but I like to find some more obscure stuff if I can (how 'bout "Dominic the Christmas Donkey" or James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight To The Ghetto"?). So a mashup comes on, mixing Lennon's "Imagine" with a very young Michael Jackson singing "Santa Claus Is Coming To Town." It's actually pretty well done; try Googling Santastic II; it'll take you to a bunch of interesting holiday downloads.

THe kids asked who that girl was that was singing in the song. Anya and I laughed, and thus began a rather long discussion about who Michael Jackson was, how he was a superstar both as a child and an adult, how he had been fabulously wealthy (we didn't go into detail about his rather spectacular fall from grace). The girls were particularly fascinated by his pictures that we showed them on the internet. Emma still has trouble understanding what happened to his nose and how can he still sing without a nose and why did he not want his nose anymore.

The saddest thing for me, though, was the fact that just a little over 10 years ago, Michael Jackson was wall to wall world famous. There wasn't a kid on this planet (and probably a few others) that didn't know who he was. And yet here were two little girls (4 and 8 1/2) who had no clue of his identity--none at all. What happened?

Obviously, Michael was a talented individual. Songwriter, dancer, performer--he did it all, and sold millions, if not billions of records. But was his talent that deep? Will he be regarded as a classic? Some hugely popular artists withstand the test of time. I predict that we will still be listening to the music of Lennon-McCartney "many years from now;" the same goes for the song stylings of Bing Crosby or Sinatra.
I am not so sure that Britney or L'il Wayne will be part of anyone's classic canon down the road. American cultural history is apparently littered with "sensations" that find themselves beached and forgotten when the popular tide recedes. Who really remembers Paul Whiteman, or George W. Peck?

I actually feel sad for Michael Jackson, as strange and creepy as he was (is). It is amazing what fame can do to people. Sometimes the changes aren't just internal.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Vincent Taylor

A while back, I posted about a guy named Vincent Taylor. He was a guy in some unfortunate circumstances who found himself stuck in Rayville. He helped us out with some odd jobs around the house. Finally, we helped him catch a bus back to Seattle so he could be back with his family.

I thought about him every once in a while--did he make it all the way back to Seattle? How was he doing? Did he reunite with his family? I was not sure that I would ever hear from him again.

Well, my wife has been dabbling around on Facebook recently. One morning, she gets a message from--you guessed it--Vincent Taylor. Seems that he has landed on his feet back in Seattle with 6 months of sobriety under his belt. Awesome! The guy has a whole slew of friends on the Facebook site, too.

And as I was pasting in the html code for my original post, I realized that he had left a comment back in October.

So now I'm the one with tears in my eyes. They say miracles do occur in this program; I don't doubt that for a moment.

Mr. Taylor, thank you. One day at a time . . .

Monday, November 10, 2008

TISFS

This Is Some Funny Stuff.

No, I don't have those mad skilz as a text hero. But I did find these cool texting acronyms for old folks, over at McSweeney's:

BIMD: Back in my day

ROFLACGU: Rolling on the floor laughing and can't get up

ML2N?: Matlock tonight?

OMGWTF: Oh my. Gee whiz. Tutti-frutti.

MBDC: My bad. Damn cataracts.

WIOLATS: Wore it out like a turn signal.

GTALNINFTCW: Gee, thanks a lot, now I'll never finish that crossword.


Not that I'm old or anything.

(YOU KIDS GET OUT OF MY YARD!!!!!)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Nicole's blog

Nika has started her own blog! For a truly brain-bending tour of the mind of an 8 year-old, you should check it out.

You'll swear someone slipped something in your drink.

President-elect Obama

Obviously, Tuesday was an historic day in the United States. Congratulations to President-elect Obama on his victory.

I was supporting McCain (could you tell? could you tell?), so this is not the outcome I wanted to see. But it is not the end of the world. I sincerely hope that Obama can bring some of the change that he talked about to our country. I want to believe that he actually has a viable and articulate vision, and that he (and the Congress) won't take our society too far to the left.

At the very least, this election marks a new chapter in race relations in this country. President-elect Obama was elected our first black president, largely because of white voters. With the apparent demise of the Bradley effect, and the obvious mischaracterization of many whites as bitter closet racists, I believe the idea of Amerikkka can be laid to rest. Racism did not end on the night of November 4th; perhaps it never will. But the change in this great country of ours is vast and powerful and positive. I hope that as a nation we can continue to rise above our past failings.

So now the right side of the blogosphere will enjoy a season in exile. It will be interesting to see how people react. From what I can see, most of the blogs have been offering their congratulations. And I'm not seeing a lot of gloating from the left, although Chris Matthews emphatically stated that his job as a journalist was to make sure that the Obama presidency succeeded.

(BTW, here's a piece from the Washington Post which talks about that nonexistent media bias. That's right--the Post actually admits [post-election, of course] that their coverage heavily favored Obama. Isn't that special?)

How do we keep from descending to the level of the "Bush=Hitler" robots who populated the left the last 8 years? I think that we have an opportunity to offer criticism in a way that many on the left seemed incapable or unwilling to do. I hope that we can express our disagreements in unified pro-American tones, rather than anti-Obama screeds. There should be no conservative counterparts of Bill Maher, Michael Moore, or Al Franken (who's still losing apparently). There is a vast difference between criticism and personal hatred. And don't talk to me about Ann Coulter, at least not until the day she is idolized by Hollywood.

Perhaps this will mark the beginning of an impressive and important change in American history. I hope so, like many others in this country; but I'm smart enough not to be holding my breath.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

My Wife, American Citizen



This morning Anya and I drove over to the high school gym and cast our votes. It was Anya's first time voting as a United States citizen; I think she was actually excited. She said she had voted before in elections in Russia; the first time she voted, they presented her with a flower. I made sure I told the poll workers that today was her first time voting as a US citizen; they smiled, but alas, no flower.

We voted for President and Senator. And there were about 5 or 6 propositions (amendments), too, all worded so as to completely confuse anyone who read them. I think Anya took her time and read them, because she was in there a lot longer than I was. This makes her about 150% more informed than I was.

So. A flower to my lovely, Russian-born wife.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Tomorrow's THE day

At long last, we come to an end (I hope) of this dismal election season. I hope that things can be resolved tomorrow night without the controversy that marked the 2000 election. I have to wonder about the charges of voter fraud that have been made, and how that will play out. I hope that these allegation have been political BS as usual.

When Bill Clinton was elected in 1992, there were fears that the New World Order was about to be made good. There were UN forces massing in Mississippi, unmarked troop transports spotted all over the Southeast, and of course, the infamous Black Helicopters everywhere.

When Bush was elected in 2000 (and more so at the time of his re-election in 2004), the talk was of loss of our basic rights--you know, political speech shut down, the FBI monitoring your library habits, Bush=Hitler, etc.

None of these things happened. And despite this being the "most important election of our lifetime" (aren't they all?), no matter who is elected tomorrow, I don't think the country will look that much different 4 or 8 years from now.

This article talks about how a conservative might respond to an Obama presidency. "The actions of the left over the last eight years, and the behavior of Obama's supporters and the press over the past few months has made me angry," he writes. "It's not Obama himself who fuels my anger - it's the way the media covers for him. It's the fact that if he wins, I'll spend the next four years being accused of racism for disagreeing with his policy proposals."

It will be interesting to see how our MSM relates to Obama (if he is indeed the winner). My guess is that it will be quite a contrast to the last 8 years. Which brings up this, as a temptation, at least:

This is surely small of me, but if Obama wins, I plan on giving him as much of a chance as the Democrats gave George Bush. I will gleefully forward every paranoid anti-Obama rumor that I see, along with YouTube footage of his verbal missteps. I will laugh and email heinous anti-Obama photoshop jobs, and maybe even learn photoshop myself to create some. I'll buy anti-Obama books, and maybe even a "Not My President" t-shirt. I'm sure that the mainstream bookstores won't carry them, but I'll be on the lookout for anti-Obama calendars and stuff like that. I will not wish America harm, and if the country is hurt (economically, militarily, or diplomatically) I will truly mourn. But i will also take some solace that it occurred under Obama's watch, and will find every reason to blame him personally and fan the flames.


Not my cup of tea, necessarily, but surely tempting and attractive in a way. Or maybe these are the new rules of engagement. I sincerely hope not; the last 8 years of Bush hatery has been tedious, predictable and far from edgy.

Jerome Cole,writing about Obama Derangement Syndrome, adds this polite request:

Presidents are just people and have all the faults that go along with being human. They are also dealing with a huge number of nearly intractable problems while under intense scrutiny from all quarters. Shouldn't we be more forgiving of their mistakes? Even if we can't bring ourselves to be less critical, being less shrill would also be quite welcome.


Well. I don't know how tomorrow night will go; I suspect that a definitive call will not come until early Wednesday. I look forward to something else to occupy my blogging for a change. We won't shed our political fur at the end of the day, but it is my hope that we can set aside some of our pointed and shrill differences.


Less shrill would be real nice.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Economic Failure (or, Media Losers pt 2)

Just as I am not sure what to make of the polls, I have also given up trying to figure out what's happening at the stock market. Everyday, there is another wild swing, up and down.

Surprisingly, the FannieMae/FreddieMac debacle has kind of faded from view, which is interesting. No one seems to be reporting on just how we got from Point A to Point B. What's the story?


There is an obvious political angle here. This article by Orson Scott Card,(I only knew him as an interesting sci-fi writer) should be required reading. It not only gives a fairly succinct summary of the origins of the crisis, but calls the media on the carpet for their less than honest reporting of the situation.

This housing crisis didn't come out of nowhere. It was not a vague emanation of the evil Bush administration. . . This was completely foreseeable and in fact many people did foresee it. One political party, in Congress and in the executive branch, tried repeatedly to tighten up the rules. The other party blocked every such attempt and tried to loosen them.


Guess which party is which.

"Isn't there a story there?" asks Card. Of course there is--inconveniently though it involves the wrong party. So, it becomes not-news; not now anyways. So, Card hammers the media:

Now let's follow the money ... right to the presidential candidate who is the number two recipient of campaign contributions from Fannie Mae.

And after Fred Raines, the CEO of Fannie Mae who made $90 million while running it into the ground, was fired for his incompetence, one presidential candidate's campaign actually consulted him for advice on housing.

If that presidential candidate had been John McCain, you would have called it a major scandal and we would be getting stories in your paper every day about how incompetent and corrupt he was.

But instead, that candidate was Barack Obama, and so you have buried this story, and when the McCain campaign dared to call Raines an "adviser" to the Obama campaign -- because that campaign had sought his advice -- you actually let Obama's people get away with accusing McCain of lying, merely because Raines wasn't listed as an official adviser to the Obama campaign.

You would never tolerate such weasely nit-picking from a Republican.


The job of a "journalist" (ugh--there's that word again) is to tell the truth. But in this case, the truth is ignored, or, at best, only selectively reported. Card mentions how Sarah Palin's life and family (and Joe the Plumber too) got extensive attention and scrutiny, yet John Edward's rather messy and tawdry extramarital perambulations were studiously ignored and perhaps even covered up.

Remember--Card is apparently a Democrat, so this insight is amazing:

This was a Congress-caused crisis, beginning during the Clinton administration, with Democrats leading the way into the crisis and blocking every effort to get out of it in a timely fashion.
If you at our local daily newspaper continue to let Americans believe -- and vote as if -- President Bush and the Republicans caused the crisis, then you are joining in that lie.
If you do not tell the truth about the Democrats -- including Barack Obama -- and do so with the same energy you would use if the miscreants were Republicans -- then you are not journalists by any standard.
You're just the public relations machine of the Democratic Party, and it's time you were all fired and real journalists brought in, so that we can actually have a daily newspaper in our city.


And yet, with all of the media adoration, with the repeated mantra of change, Mark Steyn notes this:

This is an amazing race. The incumbent president has approval ratings somewhere between Robert Mugabe and the ebola virus. The economy is supposedly on the brink of global Armageddon. McCain has only $80 million to spend, while Obama's burning through $600 mil as fast as he can, and he doesn't really need to spend a dime given the wall-to-wall media adoration. And tonight Chris Matthews' doctors announced that his leg tingle has metastasized leaving his entire body like a vibrating cellphone whose ringtone is locked on "I'm In Love, I'm In Love, I'm In Love, I'm In Love, I'm In Love With A Wonderful Guy."

And yet an old cranky broke loser is within two or three points of the King of the World. Strange.


Strange indeed.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Big dummy!

At least that's what Fred Sanford would say.

Apparently, Obama botched this pop culture test the other day, confusing Fred Sanford with George Jefferson.

"That ain't right," Obama said. "Can you imagine? If Social Security funds had been invested in the stock market, Americans wouldn't even need Social Security!
"You would be having Sanford and Son," the senator said, referring to the 70s sitcom featuring Redd Foxx as the proprietor of a junkyard.
"I'm comin', Weezie," he said, laughing, botching one of the signature lines from the show, in which Foxx clutched his chest in a mock heart-attack and prepared to meet his late wife in heaven.


As we all know, the actual line is "I'm comin', Elizabeth."

One commenter nailed it: "I guess all blacks look alike to Obama."

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Big losers this election season

When your reputation has fallen lower than both President Bush (25 percent) and the Democratic Congress (18 percent), I think there's a problem.

Former New York Times columnist and veteran newspaperman Michael Malone knows it. “I’ve begun - for the first time in my adult life - to be embarrassed to admit what I do for a living,” he said.

Why? Because the percentage of Americans who rate reporters as objective and not favoring either candidate is at a dismal eight percent.

No matter who wins next week, mainstream objective journalism comes out as a big loser.

As this article points out, "journalistic integrity now ranks along side communicable diseases and nuclear mishaps." It discusses some Pew research studies documenting the marked discrepancy between reporting on the McCain and Obama campaigns:
. . . while 71 percent of Obama’s recent media coverage has been “positive” or “neutral,” almost 60 percent of McCain’s coverage over the same period has been “decidedly negative.”

And how much positive coverage did the media give McCain? Fourteen percent.

The American people have figured this out.

“By a margin of 70 percent to 9 percent,” another Pew study reported, “Americans say most journalists want to see Obama, not John McCain, win on Nov. 4.”


Yes, whether we like it or not, there is media bias. I don't know that it was always this way; perhaps it was. And "media" is changing. Newspaper circulations are plummetting (I wonder why?), and viewership for the classic if moribund Big 3 news programs (CBS/NBC/ABC) is abyssmally low. The internet, and in particular, the blogosphere is in part responsible, but I suspect that people are also fed up with how MSM reports the news, especially political issues. The fawning over Obama, and the rather narrowly focused Palin reporting are the latest examples.

It's getting harder to find objective, neutral journalism. What is a "journalist" anyways? Not Limbaugh, or Hannity (I doubt that they would include themselves in that tribe). Certainly not Chris Mathews or Olbermann. Does anybody really consider Bill Moyers as anything but one of the most partisan reporters around? I'm pretty sure though that he would consider himself a "Journalist" (and that is Journalist with a big J). No--I think they are better classified as commentators, or entertainers. But is there even a place for neutral reporting?

What about the Florida newscaster who got Biden all flummoxed? I think SOME of her questions were over the top, no doubt (quoting Karl Marx, for example). But I have heard the MSNBC boys threaten what they would do if Palin ever happened to appear on their show, and believe me, it makes Biden's questioning look like a pep rally.

Look at how different Charlie Gibson's questioning of Obama and Palin was. Gibson questioned Obama on June 4, just days after he had left Wright's church. So how much of the interview was devoted to this very controversial pastor and church? That's right--none. So, when Charlie interviewed Palin on September 11, how do you think things went? Pretty differently. She got grilled for reciting a prayer in her church that was credited to Abraham Lincoln. Heck, Gibson couldn't even get her original quote correct.

I don't expect our reporters to be all meek and subservient, like the Kennedy press corps. Maybe they do need to ask the tough questions. But don't you think everyone should get the same level of questioning?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Spread the wealth around . . .

This blurb is apparently making the e-mail rounds.

In a local restaurant my server had on a “Obama 08″ tie, again I laughed as he had given away his political preference–just imagine the coincidence.

When the bill came I decided not to tip the server and explained to him that I was exploring the Obama redistribution of wealth concept. He stood there in disbelief while I told him that I was going to redistribute his tip to someone who I deemed more in need–the homeless guy outside. The server angrily stormed from my sight.

I went outside, gave the homeless guy $10 and told him to thank the server inside as I’ve decided he could use the money more. The homeless guy was grateful.

At the end of my rather unscientific redistribution experiment I realized the homeless guy was grateful for the money he did not earn, but the waiter was pretty angry that I gave away the money he did earn even though the actual recipient deserved money more.

I guess redistribution of wealth is an easier thing to swallow in concept than in practical application.


You see, it's not about whether the plumber is licensed, or has a tax lien, or whatever. It's that he asked an embarassing question.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Plumbers, SNL, Ayers, etc.

A smattering of political observations:

--Palin (you know, the one that the Secret Service isolated from the press) has been increasingly press-available (although I missed the SNL appearance, she helped garner their highest ratings in something like 14 years), yet according to CBS, Biden (3 letter word---J-O-B-S!) has not had a press conference in more than a month, and Obama has not taken questions from the press corps since the end of September.

--He did take an unfortunate question from Joe the plumber, and Joe's life hasn't been the same. The MSM was quite diligent in uncovering Joe's license status, tax liens, etc., all of which ignores the ACTUAL ISSUE of what Obama actually said to the guy.

--But, as Lileks notes in today's Bleat, "the small things matter, which is why Joe the Plumber has to be vetted, and Biden’s gaffes ignored. The big things are in the past, and the past is irrelevant."
He's got a good post about the Ayers and Obama connection (and yes, there is one). To me, it's kind of like the Wright thing; how did he sit there for 20 years and not hear anything objectionable from that pulpit? The fact that Obama was only 8 years old when Ayers was violently active is completely irrelevant. Out of all the people in Chicago to politically associate himself with, he picks Bill Ayers? Chicago has something like 2.8 million people; surely there was someone else he could have chosen to help launch his career.

More from Lileks:

You have to ask yourself how the media would cover a long-standing association between John McCain and a fellow who, in the hurly-burly-mixed-up-folderol of the Civil Rights Era, went a little too far and burned some Black churches, or led a group devoted to blowing up abortion clinics. Mind you, he was never convicted – technicalities, which was ironic, because Conservatives hate those – but he went on to serve on school boards and charity foundations that advocated for States’ Rights, an issue dear to conservative hearts. Imagine the deets are the same – cozy fundraisers, serving on the same boards, McCain’s name on Bomber Bob’s memoir. Add to that some other parallels – say, McCain attended a church that praised a fellow who believed black people were descended from the devil, and believed Jesus was an Aryan.

John McCain wouldn’t be the nominee, and if by some chance that happened, this association would be draped around his neck every day.


But, of course, it's more important to know about the details of the plumbers life.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Prague and Rockettown


Whoa--Prague is beautiful. Every time I turned my head, there was another vista, another alley, another cathedral spire that was jaw-droppingly amazing. Check out Anya's blog for some pictures.

Eastern European for sure, but it seemed worlds away from my Russian experience. Certainly in Prague they kind of have the tourist thing down quite well. Waiters and staff people seemed actually interested in assisting you, something that I found to be somewhat lacking in Krasnodar. I especially enjoyed visiting Anya's family in the countryside at Rozhmital (that's a pic near the castle at the top of this post). I unfortunately lost the piano duel with Masha, Anya's cousin, who blew me away with her obvious talent. We also had a trip to Pilsen, where we met Anya's other cousin, Igor, who surprisingly does NOT work for a mad scientist. Who knew?

It has taken about the last 3 days to shake off the jet lag, although we did attend a local charity cook-off last night, where Anya's paintings were the hit of the show--she actually sold a couple on the spot. Tomorrow is a big bad Monday. Time to get back into the regular swing of things.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Trip to Prague


We are off again, to Prague and the Czech Republic for some R & R and a belated honeymoon. So no kids this trip (awwwwww).

We will spend a few short days in Prague, and then visit with Anya's aunt in a little town outside of the city--not sure of the name, but apparently Smetana is buried there.

I will miss some of the political fireworks, but it will be nice to get out of the news cycle for a few days.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

VP Debate Questions--Sneak Peek

This is a sample of some of the questions that Ms. Awful--I mean, Ms. Ifill, is supposed to ask during tonight's debate:

Mayor Palin, Barack Obama is a handsome, charismatic demigod. How many boxes of Kleenex will you need after your crushing loss?

Senator Biden, what is your favorite color? And if you have time for a follow-up question: Why?

Mayor, you talk funny and you own a tanning bed. Why haven't you released Trig's birth certificate?

Senator, have you seen those pictures of Obama in his swim trunks? If not, I have them right here.

Mayor, what are the names, ages, and blood types of all 71 members of the Belgian Senate? And why are you unwilling to admit that your inability to instantly produce any and every fact I demand makes you unfit to stand in the way of history?

Senator, you've spoken at length. Could you please continue?

Mayor, which is your preferred method of stifling dissent, banning books or burning them? Since it's both, please explain how you can deny the accusation that you're a fascist, which I am making now.

Senator, could you please sign my book?


'Cause, you know, she's a journalist, so she's just gotta be neutral, right?

Questions courtesy of Jim Treacher.

One Year in Rockettown


Wow--it's been one year, here in Rockettown, that bustling metropolis, that Gotham of the bayous, or, as those in the know refer to it, "Manhattan-on-the-Boeuf".

Actually, contrary to all of my expectations, it has been one of the best years of my life. Cityboy dragging his beautiful citywife and their decidedly un-country kids to the back end of the state . . . and everyone loves it. Who'da thunk it?

It took a little getting used to, for sure. No French Quarter; the top of the food chain is Olive Garden; accents so thick you need a machete to cut through them. I think living out of the Days Inn for the 1st 8 weeks didn't make the transition easier. But it has all been worth it. When I think back to where I was last summer, looking for work, counting pennies . . .

So I am immensely grateful for my life now. Sober now for over 3 years, my head's on straight (for the most part, although I'm sure my wife would like to adjust it every now and then). We live in a beautiful house that's about to get a little bigger (kind of like our family :) ), I have this great job (my commute is across the backyard), and the girls have made new friends and even know how to chew tobacco!

There are no traffic jams. At night, there are a million stars in the sky, and owls perch in the treetops, calling to each other. I get to spend a lot of time with my wife and the girls. Anya has her very own studio. And when we get a hankerin' for some city food, we hop in the car and drive down to N'awlins.

I never imagined my life could be this good.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Barackrolled!



Awesome.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Is the sky falling? UPDATED

I'm not sure what to make of the current or impending economic crisis. There are a lot of strange things going on. For example, the original plan (from last week) was drafted by Bush and the appropriate Cabinet members. This is the plan that was somewhat modified over last weekend, and pushed strongly by the Democrats. So, a plan crafted by Bush, who most Democrats regard as slow and stupid, was brilliant enough that Pelosi pushed to pass it. Strange bedfellows indeed.

Apparently, there is quite a lot of blame that can be doled out here, on both sides of the aisle. Yet one of the most vociferous voices in the fight so far has been that of Barney Frank, founding member of the Lollipop Guild, and also quite obviously at the heart of why FannieMae and FreddieMac went belly up. What's up with that? Have you no shame, sir?

When the original plan came out, it needed to be passed urgently, or the sky would fall and dogs and cats would start living together. Yet, for some reason Harry Reid attached a rider about discontinuing drilling for shale oil. What did that have to do with the bailout? If the sky is really falling, why don't you act like it? This was the same Harry Reid who said "we don't know what to do" and called on McCain (not Obama) for leadership on the issue.

I'm not sure about McCain's trip to DC last week--stunt or theater? Of course he has been accused of politicizing the process, although there are widely conflicting reports about what happened at that White House meeting (the one that they had to drag Obama back to DC for). Yet prior to the crucial vote on the House floor yesterday, Pelosi found it prudent to belch up a partisan rant against the Republicans and the Bush Administration (right--the one that came up with the original plan). Not exactly the kind of sober leadership that one looks for when the sky is falling. And she wasn't even able to convince all of the members of her own party to vote for the package; 40% of House Dems voted against. 40%.

Here's what I don't understand: When Republicans have control of Congress, it is Republicans' fault for not passing legislation to stave off economic trouble. When Democrats have control of Congress, it is Republicans' fault for not passing the bailout.

I don't know what to think here about this mess. It's not about the failure of the free market, because FannieMae and FreddieMac being government sponsored entities (kind of like the Post Office) were anything but free. Does that mean there was too much regulation? Not necessarily. Too little regulation? Maybe. I don't think it's about regulation; I think it's more about the law of unintended consequences (trying to provide more home loans to minorities and poor folks pushed banks heavily into sub-prime lending). I don't think there has been enough strong leadership from either side (including McCain and Obama, the current leaders of their respective parties). The failed bailout plan has been described as a crap sandwich without the bread. Too much extra stuff, like prohibitions on shale oil drilling; like money going back to ACORN and other controversial entitities; like the Treasury Secretary not having to answer to anyone at all.

We can do better. They need to all get out of their political uniforms and hammer something out that doesn't screw the taxpayer (no one wants their money going to fund someone's golden parachute). They can do this; they have to.

After all, the sky is falling, right?

UPDATE:n As of about 11:30 AM, the Dow is up about 230 points. So even in the absence of the bailout bill that is imperative to keep Armageddon from happening, the markets are calming themselves, and, it seems, recovering. Huh?

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Sta uh way to Stawdom


This treasure I ran across from a link at MetaFilter. Jaw-dropping in its awfulness. I think I actually threw up a little when I saw it.

There are a few related videos up on YouTube. Proceed at your own peril.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Some personal random stuff




We are planning on enjoying the weekend here at home in Rockettown. Our consulting chief building officer has provided me with several more feet of new bookshelves, so I can unpack a few more boxes. Anya's studio is going well; with the set-up and all of the space, she is "cranking out the canvasses" (art world slang, yes? I am SO COOL) and gearing up to maybe give some art classes. Very nice. Pics are of the new studio in action, one of which was taken by the only 4 year old photographer in the city.

My oldest daughter is now blogging; visit her blog and pick on her if you'd like.

Oh--we had an ultrasound earlier this week--the baby looks great, and construction appears to be right on schedule. Not able to definitively identify what type of plumbing is present, but some of what I saw made me think that it's a girl. We shall see . . .

And congratulations to Nika, who got her green belt in Tae Kwan Do tonight!

"Everybody was Kung Fu fightin'
Them cats was fast as lightnin' . . .
Whoa-ho-ho-hooooooooo--CHOP"
Carl Douglas, Kung Fu Fighting, 1974

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It's the End Of The World As We Know It


. . . and Naomi Wolf is NOT feeling fine.

Seriously, this is one demented rant, prominently featured over at HuffPo.

In case you weren't sure, Palin represents the coming American police state. How do we know? Ms. Wolf has correctly intuited that Palin represents the continuation of the Rove-Cheney cabal (I thought it was the Bush-Rumsfeld cabal; whatever happened to the Bush-Cheney conspiracy, or was it the Cheney-Wolfowitz machination? the Haliburton-BigOil junta? wait--they're all the same . . .).

See, Ms. Wolf has formulated the 10 steps in the creation of a fascist state, and of course, this administration has already gotten all the way to like step 8 or 9. I mean, we already "invoked a terrifying internal and external enemy" (step 1; I guess we invoked them into flying planes into our skyscrapers), and certainly we've "developed a thug caste or paramilitary force not answerable to citizens" (step 3; why they just arrested all the Democrats here in town last night).

Ms. Wolf is horrified to see that Palin is "embracing lawlessness" (translation: avoiding politically charged subpoenas) and using "Mafia tactics" (translation: firing political appointees). She was terrified when she
"saw that she was even styled by the same skillful stylist (neutral lipstick, matte makeup, dark colors) who turned Katharine Harris from a mall rat into a stateswoman and who styles all the women in the Bush orbit --but who does not bother to style Cindy McCain."
I am not sure of the significance of why Ms. McCain is left out, but I'm sure that it has to do with something truly EVIL.
"How, you may ask, can I assert this?" [Ms. Wolf stage-whispers through clenched teeth.]
Well, she sees "the unmistakable theatre of Rove's S and M imagery -- and you see stages eight, nine and ten of the steps to a dictatorship as I outlined them." She mentions people arrested at the RNC, "protesters charged as terrorists" (I thought they were arrested for vandalism) as an example of the embryonic police state (no mention of those arrested in Denver at the DNC). She seems awfully hung up on the sartorial aspects of our new overlords: "riot police wore the black S&M gear of the Rovian fantasy . . . phalanxes of men in black wearing balaclavas . . . St Paul police had dressed as protesters and, dressed in Black -- shades of the Blackshirts of 1920 . . ." I don't know; maybe it's all about the style.

In summary, McCain has a virulent form of skin cancer and Palin is the "talk-show hostess" who will oversee the incoming police state and the end of elections in this country, working for "Halliburton, KBR, Rove and Cheney . . . the same people who have plundered our treasure, are now holding the US economy hostage and who murdered four thousand brave young men and women in a way of choice and lies."

She even believes people have infiltrated her bank accounts, and are reading her email and stealing her kid's reports cards. Not to mention the chicken blood, and that goober dust spread all around her bed, and those funny little voices coming from the satellite TV.

No--I'm not kidding (except for the second sentence, I think). Sadly, neither is she.

It's like being handed a 12 page, single-spaced rant from that twitchy guy at the bus stop who's always muttering at passersby and snatching at cockroaches.

Ms. Wolf asks, "Am I trying to scare you? I am. I am trying to scare you to death . . . "

Oh, yes. Pretty scary stuff indeed.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gaffe-o-rama!

Biden's been praised for his superior intellect, and of course, his experience. But, DOOD, this guy's experience is supernatural!

He saw FDR on TV!

Honest! He even told Katie Couric:
"When the stock market crashed, Franklin Roosevelt got on the television and didn't just talk about the princes of greed," Biden told Couric. "He said, 'Look, here's what happened.'"


We'll give him a pass on the Chuck Graham wheelchair incident. But, seeing FDR on TV must have been a truly special moment.

Can you imagine if McCain had said that? Or--gulp--silly Sarah Palin? What part of the internet would that NOT have been on?

Biden--even Quayler than Quayle.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Stoopid?




Michael Seitzman thinks you are.


Oh man--this stuff gets to me sometimes.

Mr. Seitzman really thinks that you are stupid if you are supporting McCain/Palin:
. . . if you are a McCain/Palin/Bush voter, you and I do not have a difference of opinion. We have a difference in brain power.


And if you loved the interview Palin did with ABC, well then:
You're an idiot. I mean that. This is not one of those cases where we're going to agree to disagree. . . you're mentally ill, mentally disabled, or mentally disturbed. What you are NOT is responsible, informed, curious, thoughtful, mature, educated, empathetic, or remotely serious. I mean it.


I knew it. I suspected it all along. My brain has failed me. We should probably just disenfranchise a large chunk of the population. Especially anyone that says "nucular," although it's okay if Jimmy Carter does it.

Who is this guy--an anonymous commenter lurking deep in the bowels of DailyKos? Maybe an MSNBC anchor? No--he's a regular columnist over at HuffingtonPost.com. And--he's smarter than you.

So let me see if I, a simple, unibrowed, knuckle-dragging mouth-breather gets this straight: this strategy is "Vote for Obama, you stupid bastards."

That'll work.

And in case you are wondering, I had my wife help me with the big words.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11 images and a lost essay


I wasn't going to use a picture with this post, but as I wrote, I realized this picture needed to be here. Not a picture of the falling towers, or the hijackers, or Marines in Baghdad, or even an American flag. This picture--this very human picture.

I remember driving to work that morning, and one of the lead stories was about Michael Jordan coming out of retirement to play again in the NBA. I had two patients in labor, and I can recall rushing into an empty room to watch the TV reports after someone told me about a terrible plane crash in New York. I was back and forth between labor and delivery and the office all morning, trying to catch snippets of news, not quite comprehending what I was seeing on the TV. I remember telling one of my partners that he had to be wrong--the buildings hadn't fallen, that they were just obscured by all the smoke; even when I saw the replay of each tower collapsing horribly yet majestically, it was surreal--it was like a movie, or a strange dream. My patients delivered later in the afternoon, easily thank goodness, because I was finding it harder and harder to concentrate and focus. I slept poorly that night, and I think also for almost a week or so afterwards. It was difficult for me to wrap my brain around the enormity of what happened. The images were disturbingly compelling, like the cliche about watching a car wreck and not being able to avert your eyes.

I thought after awhile the impact would lessen, but at the one year anniversary, I ran across an essay that described the victims who jumped--how they streamed from every floor, how their clothes billowed out, some actually trying to parachute with curtains or articles of clothing. The most powerful part described how a man and a woman held hands as they stepped through the broken window. They held hands; such a simple everyday gesture, transformed into something so profound. What were they feeling and thinking?

Since then, I have tried in vain to find that essay again. I think the title was "Jump." I don't recall the author's name. I believe it ran in The American Scholar (published by the Phi Beta Kappa Society), but my Google attempts have come up empty. (Actually, not that empty. When I Google "Jump 9/11 essay," the first hit brings up the Wiki article on Ward Churchill's sickening 9/11 essay, in which he refers to the people working in the World Trade Center that day as "little Eichmanns.")

I realized the other night that the anniversary of 9/11 was again upon us when I noticed a number of cable programs devoted to the subject. I still can't watch them; if I do, I find myself very anxious and disturbed. I'll probably avoid the National Geographic channel and The Discovery Channel for a few days. I don't think I will ever be able to see that United 93 movie--ever. Yet, I am still drawn to those people and those pictures.

Tom Junod's Falling Man piece in Esquire is very moving and quite similar to what I remember reading in the "lost essay." It is about the picture at the top of this post, and who the people were who jumped that day, and in particular, the identity of the falling man. I enjoy Junod's writing immensely. He writes about our "resistance" to the images of 9/11, and how our society has tried to grasp the horror of that day. It is this line that really reached out to me:

The resistance to the image -- to the images -- started early, started immediately, started on the ground. A mother whispering to her distraught child a consoling lie: "Maybe they're just birds, honey."


I'm still resisting those images, I guess. Perhaps this one image is the best memorial to the victims of 9/11.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Bridge to Gravina Island


I wonder how the people who work and live on Gravina Island feel when they are referred to as "Nowhere."

It's not like the bridge was going to dead-end in a field of caribou. The bridge would have connected the city of Ketchikan to its international airport, which is built on an island across the Inner Passage from the town; there is no road access at present, only a ferry. Pork? Yeah, probably, but really--is it any worse than this?

Anyways.

You know the story--Palin was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it. What's interesting is who else was for it. Yep--Obama and Biden both voted for funding for the project, and were against diverting its funds to Katrina relief.

Against Katrina relief? Wow.

McCain is on record as opposing the Bridge. At least Palin changed her mind on the earmark, something that the Democratic ticket couldn't do, even when given a second chance.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Some Russian stories



One of our first trips out of Krasnodar was to the Black Sea coast, near Divnomorskoye. It's a beautiful drive through the foothills of the Caucasus (kind of reminiscent of the Smokies), down to the sea. Misha, my father-in-law, brings his canoe with him whenever he goes, and enjoys paddling up and down the shoreline.

Now this is Russia, of course, and things aren't quite the same and as easy as they are here. You actually have to register the canoe with the local authorities (the equivalents of the Coast Guard and the police) in order to use it. So, Misha duly registers with the proper people, which has to be done on a daily basis; he actually called twice a day just to make sure. Very prepared, very smart man, my father-in-law.

Still . . . towards the end of the second day we are there, I look up from where I am sitting, enjoying the evening, and two guys, one in camo fatigues, the other in a police uniform, are purposefully strutting across the rocks towards us. I had a small shiver of fear, and even Anya tensed up a bit, but Misha is cool as a cucumber. They immediately start demanding to see his papers, and he quickly disarms them, with a laugh. He not only shows the appropriate documents, he whips out his cellphone, and asks them to call their boss, who he knows quite well and whose number he has in his phone. You could actually see these two roosters visibly deflate as they spoke with their superior, Misha joking and laughing with them all the while. After verifying that there were no threats to national security from the canoe, they scurried back across the beach. I asked Misha what had really changed from Soviet times; he replied, "Well, now you can actually own a canoe."

Basically, these guys were looking for bribes. If they can catch you without the proper papers and documentation, they can toss you in jail; of course, something can be worked out for the proper amount of roubles. Even if you have the right documents, if they're not properly filled out (i's dotted, t's crossed), well . . . And this isn't just at the beach--it's everywhere. Most people adapt, and adapt well. I think of Anya's parents as a particularly shining beacon of sanity in this country undergoing profound changes. You can rage against how things happen there, or you can adapt, and learn how to live within a flawed system.

There is money in Russia, at least in some parts. A lot of money. And everyone is grabbing for it. Is it wrong to want to make money? As a proud capitalist, I say of course not. But for the first time in almost 100 years, cash is flowing freely in Russia, and everyone wants their share. They grasp at it quickly, hungrily, as if it is going to dry up any moment and they need to get theirs before it all disappears. So there seems to be almost an underlying sense of desperation, almost a sense that things are tenuous, and could fall apart into chaos. I felt like I was at a raucous party, where the revelers were teetering on the edge of a dangerous drunk, and at the slightest provocation, a huge fistfight was going to erupt, dragging everyone one into it.

We were only about 120 miles from the Russian/Georgian border, although South Ossetia was about 300 miles away. I first heard of the conflict when a friend of Anya's mother stated that the Georgians (with American aid) had without provocation invaded Ossetia, and destroyed the city of Gori, including a city hospital. I was quite shocked, but didn't really have access to the news or internet. Of course, things weren't quite what we were told, as we found out a few days later. Almost a completely different story. I am not well-versed in the tribal divisions in the Caucasus (couldn't tell an Ossetian from an Abkhazi), but I thought this article (kind of long) has a pretty good summary of the historical background to the current conflict. It certainly doesn't paint the Russians in a good light, but I suspect it is more accurate than what was reported at the time in Krasnodar.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Sarah Palin hates teen moms!

I'm working on a Russian post, but first . . . this stuff bothers me.

We all know that Gov. Palin supposedly "slashed" funding for teenage pregnant moms in Alaska. Kind of goes along with her being against women's rights and all that. Heartless, cruel woman.

Well, that is simply not true.

As this post points out, there was no cut in funding at all for the local Covenant House; in fact there was an increase--yes, you read that right:

It turns out that $5 million is the highball request for Covenant House and the $3.9 million is what Palin felt the agency deserved. As it happens, the $3.9 million actually represented a three-fold increase over the previous year. It was not, by any stretch of the imagination, a “slash” in the budget.


It has also been charged that Palin cut funding for "special needs" kids, by 62% according to CNN's Soledad O'Brien. Really?

This charge is based on looking at the budget for Alaska's Special Education Service Agency for 2007-2009. In fact, the December 2006 budget document that they cite would have been prepared by the outgoing administration — that of Republican Frank Murkowski, whom Palin defeated.

What's gone unmentioned is that the Palin signed into law a dramatic reform of the state's education financing system that equalizes aid to rural and urban districts, while significantly increasing funding for special needs students.


The reforms, in fact, increase spending for special needs children by 175 percent. As with the Covenant House, there was no “cut” or “slash.” There was a healthy increase.


Finally, this post contains a press release from the Executive Director of Covenant House Alaska. Read it for yourself, because I'm pretty sure you won't find it anywhere else, like the MSM, or DailyKos, or CrooksandLiars.

It just makes me wonder just how inaccurate are all the other smears about Palin.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Catching up

Sorry--it's been kind of hectic around here, so I haven't had a chance to post. The office was quite busy (yay!), so I've kind of had my hands full there. Hurricane Gustav has also wrenched things up a bit. We were all set to spend Labor Day weekend in New Orleans, but obviously that idea was quickly rethought. My mother is here with us, after making a rather tortuous journey last Saturday. At one point, she was actually aiming to evacuate to Covington or Pineville; fortunately, she came here, as neither one of those places fared that well. Word from N.O. is that her house is intact, but without power, so she will hang out here with us for a few more days. We had Biblical rains here, and a fair amount of wind the last 2 days. It is amazing to me how much power these storms are still carrying this far north.

I have to mention briefly Sarah Palin. I thought her speech last night was great; as a first "test," she did extremely well. There is a lot more ahead of her, though, and she will be under enormous pressure in the next 50 or so days. I think most people left and right agree that the attacks on her and her family have been ridiculous and contemptible. Some of the "charges" (more like rumors) are baseless. I keep hearing that she banned books in the Wasilla library, yet other than two unconfirmed lines in a Time magazine article, I can't find anything to back it up. Same thing with the creationist charge (see this for clarification). The other stuff--she's against women's rights (!!!), she's not really the mother of the Downs baby--is just absurd.

She's a political pick, no doubt; ALL, and I mean ALL, VP picks are (why do so many in the MSM find this one "insulting?"). But I think she is going to be a lot more popular and resonate with a lot more people than anyone thought. Is she up for the big job? That remains to be seen, perhaps, but at least at this point, I gotta agree with the following (from a commenter over at Althouse:

Given all the slime thrown at her over the last 5 days, I feel like I just watched one of those action films where the hero disappears in debris, smoke, and a roar, the music pauses, and the hero steps forward out of the smoke, samurai sword slung over his shoulder. The music swells.


Even better was this gem (same post):

From now on, when a Democrat says "But what if McCain drops dead on his first day in office?!?!?!" I'm going to say "dude -- don't tease me like that."


Hope to get to some Russia stuff over the weekend. My lovely, incredible wife has a few pics up. Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Return from Russia

We actually got back late last Saturday night; I think we are all very grateful to be home. Three weeks away is long time, but it was an incredible trip. Lots of high points (seeing this artist at his home in Starokonskaya and attending Orthodox services at some incredibly beautiful churches, to name just two), and of course, a few lows (my wonderful in-laws had to bribe the border officials in Rostov to let me leave), but I have never experienced a trip like this one. I was able to get a glimpse of how people actually lived and worked and existed (a lot of bribes, in fact); I met a lot of my wife's family and friends and got to see the places where she grew up and went to school. I saw Krasnodar and the countryside and the Black Sea coast. I saw the city and little villages.

Still, it's great to be back. At least, I can read the street signs again.

Pics and stories to come.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Some personal notes


I am leaving later this week with my family for a trip to Krasnodar, Russia, my wife's birthplace and where she grew up. Although I have traveled to Canada and the Caribbean in the past, I have never traveled overseas. So, I am quite excited about this trip, as all of us are.

I don't know how much blogging I will be able to accomplish, but I am planning on keeping a journal during the trip, and if I can come up with something interesting to say, I will certainly post it here, probably when I get back.

On another note, my wife is pregnant! A little unexpected, but we are all thrilled; even the girls seem happy with the prospect of a little brother or sister. The delivery will probably take place here at home (hence the post about home births); at least that is the general plan as of now. We are trying to link up with a midwife, and I am trying to be a supportive husband and not the anxious dogmatic doctor.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Home Births

For a variety of reasons, this post is about home births.

I ran across this post (courtesy of the folks at MedBlogs Grand Rounds). I was hoping to find something concrete to reinforce my grudging acceptance of home birthing, as there does not seem to be very much that is scientifically unfavorable out there. Well . . .

Louise (the blogger here) cites an article that shows that outcomes for low-risk women who deliver at home are just as good as those for low-risk women who deliver in a medical setting. I tend to agree with some of what Louise says in the post, like the fact that"medical doctors are a vital part of health care. But they are not the only piece of the puzzle, especially when it comes to childbirth." It makes me think of the countless times I have attended a woman who had the "misfortune" (that's sarcasm, folks) of delivering outside of the hospital; better yet, for how many deliveries does the doctor arrive late?

But there are a couple of points that I can't agree with.

"A long, painful birth in an of itself is not a medical problem." For you, Louise, perhaps, but not for every woman. Painful birth does not harm the mother, although the Scientologists might argue about its effects on newborns. You know, you can go to the dentist and have your teeth extracted and filled without anaesthetic, too, but it's not how I would choose to spend my afternoon. Some women are highly motivated to deliver naturally, but to imply somehow that it is superior to a hospital birth is a bit much to swallow. Not even the study which she cites claims as such.

The study does seem to be well constructed, but I find it interesting that the vast majority of the women were white (89.4%), middle class (59.9%), and non-smokers (94.1%); I suspect that this does not reflect a typical mix of patients in the United States (the study was Canadian-based, but supposedly drew patients from North America). It would be prudent to know what the statistics would be for a more realistic mix of patients. I was also surprised that in the paragraph "Outcomes," the authors mention an actual total of 18 intrapartum and neonatal deaths, but excluded 7 of those 18 (38.8%) in their calculations, for reasons that I am not sure are methodologically valid. And even though the authors admit that "Breech and multiple births at home are controversial among home birth practitioners," there were still 80 planned breech deliveries at home, and 13 sets of twins delivered at home. How did these pregnancies get assessed as "low-risk"? I agree that this study is an important one in actually elucidating the risks and outcomes involved in home births, but it is not the definitive answer.

Louise is not a fan of ACOG. "Unfortunately," she states, "ACOG would like to impose artificial time frames on a natural process that was never set up around a clock or a doctor’s schedule." Whoa--there are no time frames imposed on the birth process. There are practice guidelines that are set up (some proposed by ACOG, some by other entities) that serve as suggestions in improving patient care and outcomes. They are based on actual, peer-reviewed research and studies on patients in labor and what happens when certain events occur in certain time frames. ACOG is not a bunch of old guys sitting around making up numbers to torture women with.

Louise continues: "The conflict of interest for ACOG and the AMA is glaring like a neon sign." How is concern about women's health and childbirth a conflict of interest for ACOG? Oh, wait, she explains it to us: "Every woman who chooses to give birth at home with a midwife means one fewer patient for ACOG. That’s pretty much the whole story."

Huh? ACOG isn't in the business of taking care of patients, doctors are. A woman who gives birth at home, or in a car, or at the hospital probably has no idea who ACOG is or what they do. "So ACOG and the AMA have chosen to take the undeniably sleazy route of hiding their primary interest (money) under the thin disguise of being concerned about the safety of mothers and babies." This statement is so ridiculous that I don't know what to say. Maybe she equates ACOG with BigPharma and the whole military-industrial complex run by the Rothschilds. Exactly how does ACOG make money when a woman delivers?

According to Louise, "each woman should be able to labor and birth where she is most comfortable, and have access to competent, licensed caregivers, regardless of where she chooses to give birth. It seems that ACOG and the AMA do not want to offer me that same measure of respect."

This is an admirable sentiment; I trained alongside midwives as a resident in Texas, and I found them to be knowledgable, competent and compassionate caregivers. But each woman should be offered appropriate info about the benefits as well as the actual risks of home birth, and I am not sure that this is being done. The statement that "midwives generally don’t accept unhealthy women or high risk pregnancies" made me cringe. As opposed to the midwives that I associated with during my training, many of the midwives (licensed and unlicensed) that I have encountered in private practice have seemed unwilling or unable to correctly assess high-risk conditions such as a previous C-section or diabetes.

I could go on and on. What's the bottom line? Louise presents one well-done study suggesting that outcomes in low-risk patients are comparable (not superior) for homebirth and hospital birth. Much of her post is spent demonizing two influential medical organizations, without backing up her opinions. And that's pretty much her "whole story." I was hoping for something a little more constructive.

I am not a fan of ACOG (nor a current member). I have become more open to the idea of home birth as a result of my lovely wife, and her experience with the process. She delivered at home 4 years ago, attended by a midwife. Her older daughter was born at Charity Hospital in New Orleans (I tell Nika that a lot of famous people were born there, but I'm not sure she believes me), and although it was not a bad experience, she much prefers the home birth experience, which for her was extremely positive and healthy. I no longer argue the point with her; who am I to argue with that success? Even though I haven't run across any negative studies comparable in scope and construction to this positive one, I still have some misgivings about it, but I think I deserve some credit for being very open to the idea.

I won't even go into the issues of depth of training, or the malpractice issue (hey--you want to jump in the water, maybe you should swim with the malpractice sharks just like us docs have to do). It's a neat idea to be able to categorize patients into high-and low-risk categories, but it can also be dangerously misleading, for a simple "low-risk" patient can turn into a obstetrical catastrophe very quickly.

I'd like to see more studies like this one. I'd also like to see less posturing by both sides; we don't need ACOG talking about the need to "legislate" the issue, and we don't need Louise or Ricki Lake generally bashing the medical establishment. The word of the day is evidence-based medicine, and not anecdotal-based medicine, something that has been practiced for far too long. More evidence, less rhetoric.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Free Speech


Yet another example of the chilling effect that the Bush administration has had on free speech.

Wafaa Bilal is exhibiting his videogame, "The Night of Bush Capturing," at the Freedom of Speech exhibition at FLATFILE Galleries in Chicago. In the game, players are sent on a mission to kill President Bush. "This is to raise awareness about the civilian toll in Iraq, and how a lot of them have been forced by the consequences of the invasion to become suicide bombers," Bilal said.

As Instapundit would say, they told me if Bush was elected, artists would feel intimidated in expressing their creative viewpoints.

Right.

Of course, this kind of thing is totally different.

Loaves and Fishes, a Minnesota-based community action group, is protesting the display of a combat simulation videogame at the Duluth Air Show. The Virtual Army Experience, used by Army recruiters, demonstrates what life could be like as a soldier. In one scenario, participants transport aid to threatened humanitarian aid workers while using machine guns and a missile launcher to wipe out terrorists who stand in the way.

Michele Naar-Obed, spokesperson for Loaves and Fishes, is outraged that a military-sponsored video game would be featured as an exhibit at an air show. She is quoted as saying, "I’m very upset over this. I think this is just insane that they would use this kind of venue to train our youth to kill people. . . we find it to be unacceptable and inappropriate."

Apparently, she is unaware that it is a military air show; the headline act is the US Navy Blue Angels. Most of the planes there are military planes. The Duluth Air Show is not a bunch of old guys in shorts standing around in a field, comparing Cessna stories.

Lileks has a good summation:

Inappropriate? At an air show? One can understand their anger if the simulation was mandatory, and children were herded into vast rooms, drugged up, forced to ride the Humvee sim then marched into a recruitment office and told they were signing up for a free trip to Disneyland, but that’s not the case. Somehow a sim about saving relief workers by blowing up terrorists is BAD, but a game in which one plays a criminal who drives around town running over pedestrians is okay.


The Army removed the same game at the request of Summerfest officials in Milwaukee.
“We’re determining it’s probably not something that we want to have shown at Summerfest,” John Boler, vice president of sales and marketing, said before the decision was made to request removal of the game.

The game drew criticism from Peace Action Wisconsin, which called it “totally inappropriate and offensive.”

“War games should NOT be presented as entertainment,” the group wrote in a press release. “War is NOT a game. Summerfest is meant to bring people together for a good time in peace, not to present opportunities to practice shooting people.”


No mention is made of whether any other activities (like a Grand Theft Auto demo) or performers at the festival drew the wrath and ire of Peace Action Wisconsin.

But I'm pretty sure they would have welcomed Wafaa Bilal.