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Friday, December 31, 2004

Mid-Decade Musings

Happy Near Year to all.

So now we are half way through the decade. I wonder what future historians will call this era? Historically, we refer to period of a hundred years ago as the Belle Epoque.

Considering what 2004 brought us, I am going to call this decade the Belle Apocalypse!

Even more so after reading this.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Was the earthquake that caused the killer tsunami man-made?

Exactly one week ago I finished reading Ken Follett's "The Hammer of Eden." The premise was that a group of aging-hippies attempted to blackmail the California governor to stop building power plants by threatening to cause earthquakes. With stolen oil exploration equipment, known as a 'seismic vibrator'(please no jokes), they planned to trigger quakes at specific points on fault lines that had built up enough stress that they needed only a nudge to initiate a tremor.

While a work of fiction, it gave room for plenty of thought. That's why I found this article so fascinating.

Earthquake: Coincidence or a Corporate Oil Tragedy? On November 28th, one month ago, Reuters reported that during a 3 day span 169 whales and dolphins beached themselves in Tasmania, an island of the southern coast of mainland Australia and in New Zealand. The cause for these beachings is not known, but Bob Brown, a senator in the Australian parliament, said "sound bombing" or seismic tests of ocean floors to test for oil and gas had been carried out near the sites of the Tasmanian beachings recently.

According to Jim Cummings of the Acoustic Ecology Institute, Seismic surveys utilizing airguns have been taking place in mineral-rich areas of the world’s oceans since 1968. Among the areas that have experienced the most intense survey activity are the North Sea, the Beaufort Sea (off Alaska’s North Slope), and the Gulf of Mexico; areas around Australia and South America are also current hot-spots of activity.

The impulses created by the release of air from arrays of up to 24 airguns create low frequency sound waves powerful enough to penetrate up to 40km below the seafloor. The “source level" of these sound waves is generally over 200dB (and often 230dB or more), roughly comparable to a sound of at least 140-170dB in air.

According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, these 200dB – 230dB shots from the airguns are fired every 10 seconds or so, from 10 meters below the surface, 24 hours a day, for 2 week periods of time, weather permitting.

These types of tests are known to affect whales and dolphins, whose acute hearing and use of sonar is very sensitive.

On December 24th there was a magnitude 8.1 earthquake more than 500 miles southeast of Tasmania near New Zealand, with a subsequent aftershock 6.1 a little later in the morning that same day.

On December 26th, the magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck at the intersection of the Australian tectonic plate and the Indian tectonic plate. This is the devastating tsunami tragedy that we have all heard about in the Indian Ocean. The death toll of this horrific event has reached 120,000 souls and continues to rise.

On December 27th, 20 whales beached themselves 110 miles west of Hobart on the southern island state of Tasmania.

What is interesting about this is that the same place where the whale beachings have been taking place over the last 30 days is the same general area where the 8.1 Australian earthquake took place, and this is the same area where they are doing these seismic tests. Then 2 days after the Australian tectonic plate shifted, the 9.0 earthquake shook the coast of Indonesia.

A great deal of interest and seismic testing has been taking place in this area, as the government of Australia has given great tax breaks to encourage the oil exploration.

Two Geologists that I spoke to felt that it was highly unlikely that these seismic tests would have had enough energy to induce the Australian quake. On the other hand there is strong evidence that suggests that oil exploration activities have induced earthquakes in the past.

Googling for information on man-made earthquakes I came across a lot of serious tinfoil hat stuff. However, in a Salon interview Ken Follett had this to say, "Some of the seismologists told me, 'There's no way this could happen.' But others gave sad little shrugs and said, 'It's hard to say. Who knows? Maybe. It's within the realm of possibly.'"

(Via The Raw Story)

The Death Toll Mounts

The past few day have been spent watching the horriffic images of destruction and reading harrowing accounts of survival. It is difficult to imagine the suddenness with which nature's destructive force killed so many so quickly.

When I was eight I almost drowned in the ocean, on two separate occasions, by being caught in riptides. I have tried to multiply by a hundred fold the feelings of helplessness I remember; still I can't completely visualize what drowning in the wake of a tsunami entails.

For the survivors searching for lost ones, checking the litter of corpses strewn in the aftermath must be even worse.

I have added a donation button to the Red Cross on my sidebar, so give what you can.

If you would like to put one on your blog or website you can get the code here.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Techie Tuesday: !xNjam

The Gods Must Be Crazy Posted by Hello

This ceramic gadget designed by 73-year-old Ockert Malan, of South Africa, helps control the removal of the cork from a bottle of champagne.

With the look and feel of bone tool, !xNJAM is named after the click sound a bushman makes when given a sip of champagne.

According to the SABS Design Institute:
"This tool assists and controls the removal of the stopper from a bottle of sparkling wine. It resembles the smaller doughnut-shaped stones associated with the San culture. The combined design of the !xNJAM and its packaging incorporates an ancient SAN design into a product for use with a modern agro-industrial product.

The tool is manufactured using a ceramic technique (slip casting and decoration with a clay slip) to create the look and feel of the San artifact."

At the moment this is only a prototype, sadly, it will not be available for this New Year's Eve.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Ready for the New Year?

Well, there is much more that could be said...

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas in Baghdad...

Chris Allbrighton sends in this message from Iraq aboutChristmas in Baghdad
Happy Holidays, everyone!

Baghdad is cool and slow today, this Christmas Eve, and the Green Zone has become even more fortified, if that’s possible. The entrance where journalists are allowed to go in looks like Normandy Beach, with tank caltrops, razor wire and sandbagged defensive positions that have taken over half of Tahir Square. A Bradley squats in the middle of a briar patch of concertina wire facing out into the city, ready to shred whoever would be so foolish as to attempt to storm this Fortress America.

There were very few Iraqi civilians manning the checkpoints, too, and when I asked one of the 1st Cav soldiers if they had fired the Iraqis, he said, “We didn’t get rid of them; I guess they just decided not to show up today.”

Perhaps the Mosul suicide attack have led to a breaking of the trust between Iraqis and Americans working together. That would be a crushing win for the insurgents. Or it just might have been Friday evening on Christmas Eve, and no one wanted to work. Many of the Iraqis working in the Green Zone are Christians. (more)

Thursday, December 23, 2004

A Wealth of Christian Charity

A man, who should know quite a bit about charity, once said, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." I think the good Reverand Robinson should talk to this man about how his N.C. Homeless Shelter Evicts Pregnant Woman, Three Sons, on December 23, 2004.
The director of a homeless shelter says he was right to evict a 21-year-old pregnant woman and her three children after the woman violated one of the shelter's rules by allowing her children's uncle to visit in her room.

"We have to have order," said the Rev. Oliver S. Robinson, director of the Tabernacle of Faith Church Outreach Center. "She herself created this situation. She is a young woman who does not want to listen to anybody. And it don't matter what time of year it is, winter time, Christmas time, cold time or whatever."

Valan Garland and her three boys were evicted Tuesday from the shelter, where they had stayed for about four months while waiting for an income-based apartment to open. She paid $50 a month as a donation.

On Tuesday, however, she broke one of the shelter's strict rules, Garland said. The paternal aunt and uncle of her three children came to visit their nephews. When the shelter's caretaker, Rhonda O'Neal, returned, Garland says she realized there was a man in her room.

Garland said she asked the couple to continue their visit outside, which they did. But Robinson told Garland she had to leave, giving until 9 a.m. Wednesday to vacate.

"These are not the easiest people to deal with," Robinson said of shelter clients. "We have to have rules and order."

Garland, eight months pregnant, began crying as she strapped her children into their car seats after loading the trunk of her car with belongings. She then left with Xavier, 1, Javonte, 3, and T'Keel, 5, still in their bedclothes.

At least until Christmas, the family plans to stay with Garland's mother in a one-room apartment in Edenton.

The two-story shelter has been a soup kitchen since 1996. In 1998 also became a shelter for women and children. The approximately 2,000-square-foot building has 10 beds in two apartments and a loft.

Garland sees no parallels between her situation and that of the biblical Mary and Joseph, who couldn't find any place to stay for the night on what's considered the first Christmas Eve.

"I don't know if I feel like this is related to Jesus and Mary," Garland said. "But I do feel like it has something to do with the devil. The devil has to put it in your heart to put children out in the night three days before Christmas."

Robinson said his shelter is a credit to the community.

"These people need tough love," Robinson said. "I don't feel comfortable with it. God don't get no pleasure punishing us. But he does it. Jesus would have done the same thing."

So if the good Reverend Robinson won't listen to the man above maybe he could at least talk to Ole Anthony.
... There are some three hundred thousand churches in the United States and, on any given night, some six hundred thousand homeless people. If every church could adopt just one or two of the homeless, he says, a seemingly intractable problem might be solved.

(Thanks to 100 monkeys typing for introducing Ole Anthony)

Holidays in a Galaxy Far Away

Over at I'm Just Sayin' you can see highlights from the 1978 The Star Wars Holiday Special, also known as the The Holy Grail of Crap.

If you missed it the first time, if you're a hardcore Star Wars' fan, or just like to be horrified, check it out.

(Via Tom Tomorrow)

How Rudolph really got the job... Posted by Hello

Pirate Radio Protests WBUSH

Here's a little subversion that takes on the FCC and the White House. How can you not love their sticking it to the man?

Pirate radio calls for inauguration protests:
An unauthorized radio station in the nation's capital called for "massive protests" in the week leading up to the January 20 presidential inauguration. The station broadcast Wednesday at 1680 AM and identified itself as "Guerrilla Radio, WSQT." During the identification message, an announcer said, "WSQT is a project of urban activists in the D.C. area working on housing issues, homeless issues, issues of war, issues of occupation both at home and abroad, and issues of the environment that we all have to live in."

After being tipped by a reporter, an official with the Federal Communications Commission said enforcement investigators will try to pinpoint the transmitter using direction-finding equipment.

A man responding to a request for an interview sent to an e-mail address that had been mentioned on the radio told CNN the station uses a homemade transmitter and a concealed antenna. "It's about $40 in parts from Radio Shack and the Dumpster," he said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. The caller's voice sounded similar to the voice heard on the broadcasts throughout the day.

Other programming featured rap music with urgent, unsettled lyrics that were generally shouted instead of sung. The station's poor audio quality made the vocalizations nearly unintelligible. An unidentified announcer said, "It's time to say no to Bush and no to a ban on abortions." The announcer also called on the Supreme Court justices to "get off your butts" and free people unfairly imprisoned on drug convictions, and further stated that "we know you can hear our signal up there, and all you people in Congress."

There is no authorized radio outlet in the Washington area on the frequency used by the protesters, federal records show. CNN monitored the signal on a conventional car radio as far away as the Maryland suburbs, about 10 miles from downtown Washington. An FCC monitoring station is within reception range of the signal, the agency official said.

(Via Fark)

Bushy Claus

Just in time for the holidays, Mark Fiore gives us this present: Bushy Claus

Governor Grophenfurer attacks your lunch break

Our Republican leader in Sacrement tried to sneak in a rule change to eliminate requiring employers to give their employees time for lunch. He was found out the other day and now has changed strategy on lunch law:
The Schwarzenegger administration, under fire for attempting a quick rule change that would weaken the state law that guarantees lunch breaks for workers, backed off its plan for the emergency order on Monday.

Instead, state officials say they will pursue changes to the lunch-break law under regular, drawn-out procedures that give the public an opportunity to weigh in at public hearings and during a public comment period.(more)

I think I might go to one of these public hearings.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

The War on Christmas - Newsflash

Humanistic guerillas invaded Christmas Island in a pre-dawn raid. Shortly after seizing the radio station they announced that from this day hence the small nation would be called Island Seasons. They then proceeded to play only Rap Music, eliminating any reference to holiday sales or how grandma got run over by a reindeer.

Most locals feel ambivalent over the coup as they never felt Chrismassy due to their lack of snow. However, the rebels met a smattering of resistance from the hastily called into action Salvation Army.

In other related news, Easter Island has put its forces on alert…

Dreams of Christmas Past

In 1968, during the Vietnam War, I was a Cub Scout and my mother was our Den Mother. We lived in Santa Monica at that time, in a rather conservative part of town and most of the Scouts attended Saint Monica's.

For our Christmas community project my mom organized a trip to the Veteran's Hospital. We were to hand out home made Christmas Cards and sing carols. We had fun making cards, a decollage of older cards and crayons. It was craftsy. We brushed up on songs like, "Jingle Bells, Batman Smells," and, "We Three Kings of Orientar, Tried to Smoke a Rubber Cigar," much to her horror.

However on the day we sung like angels out in the hallways, for we children were not allowed into the wards. Yet the mothers went in among the wounded and maimed soldiers to hand out our home made cards. What they saw shocked their socialite souls and some got visibly ill. Yet, I heard our singing and our gifts made grown men cry and also made some think they were not forgotten.

The carnage of war is a horrible thing and I think my mother wanted to point that out in her own subversive way but did it a manner that was true to her nature. She always had to try and help out.

'Tis the Season of Madness

crazy season greetings. Posted by Hello

The hue and cry of saving Merry Christmas from humanistic behavior has spread across the land. Roving bands of martyrs have decided to fight the lions of winter solstice and take matters into their own hands.
Nativity Scene Built on County Lawn
Knowing the Polk County Commission has refused to sanction Nativity scenes on government property, a group of Baptist grandparents took Christmas into their own hands Wednesday.

Under the cover of night, they erected a manger scene on the lawn of the Neil Combee County Administration Building. And now the question is whether commissioners will evict Baby Jesus before his birthday.

Wednesday's covert mission accomplished what other church groups have failed to do in recent months: move Mary, Joseph and child onto a grassy plot near the center of the county's court, government and sheriff offices.

(snatched from Fark)

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Last survivor of 'Christmas truce' tells of his sorrow

I vaguely remember seeing an animation or reenactment of this event from the middle of The War to End All Wars.

Peace broke out on Christmas Eve between German and Allied Forces for a few hours. They played soccer in the snow, they shared photos of their loved ones, and exchanged cigarettes - hours later they were shooting each other.

So listen to the last guy who was there:

Last survivor of 'Christmas truce' tells of his sorrow
The First World War's horrors still move us but one man recalls his moment of peace amid the bloodshed

The words drifted across the frozen battlefield: 'Stille Nacht. Heilige Nacht. Alles Schlaft, einsam wacht'. To the ears of the British troops peering over their trench, the lyrics may have been unfamiliar but the haunting tune was unmistakable. After the last note a lone German infantryman appeared holding a small tree glowing with light. 'Merry Christmas. We not shoot, you not shoot.'

It was just after dawn on a bitingly cold Christmas Day in 1914, 90 years ago on Saturday, and one of the most extraordinary incidents of the Great War was about to unfold.

Weary men climbed hesitantly at first out of trenches and stumbled into no man's land. They shook hands, sang carols, lit each other's cigarettes, swapped tunic buttons and addresses and, most famously, played football, kicking around empty bully-beef cans and using their caps or steel helmets as goalposts. The unauthorised Christmas truce spread across much of the 500-mile Western Front where more than a million men were encamped.

According to records held by the World War One Veterans' Association, there is only one man in the world still alive who spent 25 December 1914 serving in a conflict that left 31 million people dead, wounded or missing.

Alfred Anderson was 18 at the time. Speaking to The Observer, Anderson has revealed remarkable new details of the day etched on history, including pictures of Christmas gifts sent to the troops.

His unit, the 5th Battalion The Black Watch, was one of the first involved in trench warfare. He had left his home in Newtyle, Angus, in October, taking the train from Dundee to Southampton, then a ferry to Le Havre.

He was happy, healthy and surrounded by most of his former school friends, who had all joined the Territorial Army together in 1912. In October 1914 they thought that they were at the start of an exciting adventure. But by the first Christmas of the war they had already experienced its horror and the death of young friends was commonplace.

On 24 and 25 December, Anderson's unit was billeted in a dilapidated farmhouse, away from the front line, so he did not participate in any football matches. 'We didn't have the energy, anyway,' he said. But he can still recall vividly what happened on Christmas Day 1914.

'I remember the silence, the eerie sound of silence,' he said. 'Only the guards were on duty. We all went outside the farm buildings and just stood listening. And, of course, thinking of people back home. All I'd heard for two months in the trenches was the hissing, cracking and whining of bullets in flight, machinegun fire and distant German voices.

'But there was a dead silence that morning, right across the land as far as you could see. We shouted "Merry Christmas", even though nobody felt merry. The silence ended early in the afternoon and the killing started again. It was a short peace in a terrible war.'

In some parts of the front, the ceasefire lasted several weeks. There are also numerous trench yarns, some possibly apocryphal, about the impromptu fraternising. One, detailed in Michael Jurgs's book The Small Peace in the Big War, involved a young private who was led to a tent behind German lines by an aristocratic officer and plied with Veuve Clicquot. In another tale, a barber supposedly set up shop in no man's land, offering a trim to troops from either side.

Now aged 108 and living alone in Alyth, Perthshire, Anderson still treasures the gift package sent to every soldier a few days before the first Christmas of the war from the Princess Royal. The brass box, which is embossed with a profile of Princess Mary, was filled with cigarettes.

It also contained a cream card, with 1914 on the front, which says: 'With best wishes for a happy Christmas and a victorious New Year, from the Princess Mary and friends at home.'

'I'd no use for the cigarettes so I gave them to my friends,' he said. 'A lot of the lads thought the box was worth nothing, but I said someone's bound to have put a lot of thought into it. Some of the boys had Christmas presents from home anyway, but mine didn't arrive on time.'

To his delight, he discovered that his most treasured possession - a New Testament given to him by his mother before he left for France and inscribed with the message: 'September 5, 1914. Alfred Anderson. A Present from Mother' - fitted the box perfectly.

He kept both in his breast pocket until 1916 when a shell exploded over a listening post in no man's land killing several of his friends and seriously injuring him.

'This is all I brought home from the war,' he said, showing the box and Bible, but forgetting about his beret with its famous red hackle, which is the first thing you see when you step into his home.

There are still many aspects of the war that Anderson finds difficult to talk about. 'I saw so much horror,' he said, shaking his head and gazing into the middle distance. 'I lost so many friends.'

He recalled one incident that gave him a 'sore heart'. When he was first home on leave, he visited the family of a dead friend to express his condolences. He knew them well but soon realised that he was getting a frosty reception. 'I asked if they were going to ask me in and they said no. When I asked why, they just said, "Because you're here and he's not". That was awful. He's one of the lads I miss most.'

Two years ago Prince Charles paid him a private visit after learning that he had served briefly as batman to the Queen Mother's brother, Captain Fergus Bowes-Lyon, who, along with hundreds of Mr Anderson's regimental colleagues, was killed at the Battle of Loos in 1915.

The seemingly invincible Anderson, who was awarded France's highest honour - the Légion d'Honneur - in 1998 for his services during the First World War, was recently in the rare position of witnessing one of his six children's golden wedding anniversaries. His children, he said, five of whom are still alive, are what keeps him going.

Alfred Anderson has spent 90 years trying to forget the war. But it has been impossible. So on Saturday he will look back. 'I'll give Christmas Day 1914 a brief thought, as I do every year. And I'll think about all my friends who never made it home. But it's too sad to think too much about it. Far too sad,' he said, his head bowed and his eyes filled with tears.

Techie Tuedsay: Wolfgang Puck Gourmet Latte

Will it taste like Puck? Posted by Hello

In what must be the single greatest canned bevereage idea since Pocari Sweat, Wolgang Puck, utilizing the latest in military food technology, will soon be offering up a single-serving coffee can that heats itself.
Beginning Jan. 2, consumers can buy a 10-ounce container of Wolfgang Puck gourmet latte at the store and heat it by pressing a button. No electricity. No batteries. No appliances.

"It will expand the way people drink coffee," says Puck, the celebrity chef with a growing empire.

How does the can do it? A single step mixes calcium oxide (quicklime) and water. It heats the coffee to 145 degrees in six minutes — and stays hot for 30 minutes.

It sounds like a technology used by soldiers to heat Meals-Ready-To-Eat. But MREs mix magnesium iron oxide and water and need several steps. This is one-step and self-contained.

I wonder if he is working on any other military dining technologies such as:
"The pouch - containing chicken and rice - relies on osmosis to filter the water or urine," the New Scientist Magazine reported.

(Via Slashdot)

Monday, December 20, 2004

Kidney Swaps- Pudding and Pie

With enough fine Cianti discussing kidneys, or lack thereof, is a little less tasteless...

Kidney swaps keep patients alive with a series of trades among willing strangers

Lindbergh and Mary Porter grew up in a small black Mississippi farming town, fell in love in college and raised a family in San Francisco. Cousins Tyson Zeches of Bolinas and Kelly Watt of Michigan had not seen each other since they were 5 years old.

While the two pairs had never met, they shared a common problem -- two were in need of a kidney transplant while the other two were willing donors whose organs were incompatible with their loved ones. How the four lives ultimately intersect is a complex tale. But through an innovative, four- operation "kidney swap,'' these strangers were able to change each other's lives forever.

Kidney swaps are seen by a growing number of doctors and desperate couples as a way to increase the number of organs available to save lives. The procedure brings together donors who want to give an organ to a relative or friend but can't because they are incompatible.

More than 56,000 patients are on waiting lists for kidney transplants nationwide. But only about 8,000 kidneys are available for transplant each year. The wait can take years, leaving patients dependent on dialysis, which robs them of their freedom.


Doctors realized they had willing volunteers and approached everyone involved. What followed were compatibility and health tests and then surgery.

"Locally, the waiting list for a kidney transplant is four to six years," said Steven Katznelson, transplant nephrologist at Cal Pacific, who oversaw the swap between the Porters and Zeches and Watt. "About half of all donors cannot donate to the people they care about.

"In this one swap we saved about seven years of waiting time," said Katznelson.


Supporters say the exchanges meet medical ethical standards because no money is exchanged and because the participants are already on organ waiting lists.

I just can't wait for some enterprsing soul to hustle Venture Capital for the internet start-up called Kidney Bay...

Season Greetings Video Treat

You must watch The Snowman movie!

"Hospital is such a dirty word."

"Hospital is such a dirty word.", wrote Magna, a splendid red-head (and splendid person), when inquiring after my brother's hospitalization for kidney failure. I couldn't agree with her more.

I dread entering hospitals or visiting someone in the hospital, more than seeing the dentist. Which is, if you think about it, like a minuscule office-sized hospital, with its medicinal smells and attendant pain, but lacking the spectral stench of death that permeates all the hospitals I've had the fortune to enter.

The sense of smell leads to strong emotive reactions. Some believe that feeling of deja vu is triggered by oralfactoral stimuli. Certain smells make me think about the mortality of love ones and, maybe, my own. Like a morbid perfume, the scent of linoleum, dis-infectents, sterile laundry, and the whiff of bodily fluids makes me squirm. When combined with the faint sounds of heart monitors, mystery whirring noises, and the buzz of the ballasts in the fluoresce light fixtures, my imagination goes in to overdrive.

That's the downside of cultivating empathy in one's life. Not only can I imagine what it must feel like to be held hostage to illness, but, even, to know how the illness and surroundings affect others when they visit - grateful, but, also apologetic for all the fuss...

I tried to divine whence this revulsion, this fear, came from? I recall at the tender age of seven that I was in for a hernia operation. The night before surgery I tried all the windows on my floor to escape home but they were locked. I recall after my mother's radation treatments she was in a nursery home for recovery but visiting that place was worse than visiting the dog pound. We got Mom home quick.

Deep down inside me, where the person I want to be and the person I am becoming sit down and broker a deal, call it the ethical self, the honest self , the not-examined-enough self, it's the place where one asks one's self, "How much love do I really have?" Choices.

It reminds me of that part of the gospels, which I like to think of as one the questions on the final exam "I was sick and did you visit??" (Which subsequently makes me think a lot of people who think they're gonna' get raptured are never gonna' pass the final exam...)

True, unselfish love can deal with all the ickyness and smells that life produces. From farts under the covers to putrification of failing flesh. At least that's what I tell myself.

I never liked airing dirty laundry or bleating about my personal misfortunes in public - it seemed unseemly. I promise to spare you that, mostly.

Strangely, I never thought I'd have this kind of dialogue on my blog. I wanted to keep it more about ideas and less about personality. You know, debate the the sin not the sinner.

Yet, a couple of sorely-missed friends of mine, a young couple living in Luxembourg, suggested that I include more personal details here on the site. I suspect that is their way of keeping tabs on me (plus a way to cut down on the long distance charges).

Therefore I'm thinking of sprinkling more personal factoids throughout my posts.

Friday, December 17, 2004

BARBARians give birth

Apart from great conversation and seeing the bottom of quite a few pitchers of beer, the BARBARiarn bash resulted in the birth of new blog, The Token Reader.

For more reviews of the evening check out the list of Bay Area Bloggers on the left side of my page. Most of them were there and have lively accounts of the night festivities.

On a sadder note, my brother is the hospital undergoing surgery. So my blogging will be spotty for the near future.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004


I just found out through my referral logs that I have been entered/nominated for the prestigious Koufax Awards for most humourous post for this bit of humor

Foreign Policy Alert

I just read through my latest Foreign Policy Alert which I subscribe to by email. The latest edition is chock full of material to stimulate the thinking process - all of which is worth examining. For instance, read the following.

Britain's leading historian Eric J. Hobsbawm has this to say about
Spreading Democracy

The World's Most Dangerous Ideas
We are at present engaged in what purports to be a planned reordering of the world by the powerful states. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are but one part of a supposedly universal effort to create world order by “spreading democracy.” This idea is not merely quixotic—it is dangerous. The rhetoric surrounding this crusade implies that the system is applicable in a standardized (Western) form, that it can succeed everywhere, that it can remedy today’s transnational dilemmas, and that it can bring peace, rather than sow disorder. It cannot.

Democracy is rightly popular. In 1647, the English Levellers broadcast the powerful idea that “all government is in the free consent of the people.” They meant votes for all. Of course, universal suffrage does not guarantee any particular political result, and elections cannot even ensure their own perpetuation—witness the Weimar Republic. Electoral democracy is also unlikely to produce outcomes convenient to hegemonic or imperial powers. (If the Iraq war had depended on the freely expressed consent of “the world community,” it would not have happened.) But these uncertainties do not diminish the appeal of electoral democracy.

Several other factors besides democracy’s popularity explain the dangerous and illusory belief that its propagation by foreign armies might actually be feasible. Globalization suggests that human affairs are evolving toward a universal pattern. If gas stations, iPods, and computer geeks are the same worldwide, why not political institutions? This view underrates the world’s complexity. The relapse into bloodshed and anarchy that has occurred so visibly in much of the world has also made the idea of spreading a new order more attractive. The Balkans seemed to show that areas of turmoil and humanitarian catastrophe required the intervention, military if need be, of strong and stable states. In the absence of effective international governance, some humanitarians are still ready to support a world order imposed by U.S. power. But one should always be suspicious when military powers claim to be doing favors for their victims and the world by defeating and occupying weaker states.

Yet another factor may be the most important: The United States has been ready with the necessary combination of megalomania and messianism, derived from its revolutionary origins. Today’s United States is unchallengeable in its techno-military supremacy, convinced of the superiority of its social system, and, since 1989, no longer reminded—as even the greatest conquering empires always had been—that its material power has limits. Like President Woodrow Wilson (a spectacular international failure in his day), today’s ideologues see a model society already at work in the United States: a combination of law, liberal freedoms, competitive private enterprise, and regular, contested elections with universal suffrage. All that remains is to remake the world in the image of this “free society.”

This idea is dangerous whistling in the dark. Although great power action may have morally or politically desirable consequences, identifying with it is perilous because the logic and methods of state action are not those of universal rights. All established states put their own interests first. If they have the power, and the end is considered sufficiently vital, states justify the means of achieving it (though rarely in public)—particularly when they think God is on their side. Both good and evil empires have produced the barbarization of our era, to which the “war against terror” has now contributed.continue reading

Think about this, can any long-lasting ideology be spread at gun point?

BARBARian Holiday Bash

Well here's your bash... Posted by Hello

This Wednesday is a time to celebrate with Bay Area Resident Bloggers and Readers for a holiday bash.

We will meet up on Wednesday, December 15, from 6-9pm at Ben & Nick's Bar & Grill for stimulating drinks and/or conversation.

The bar is in Oakland's Rockridge district, located at 5612 College Avenue (half a block from the Rockridge BART station) and a few blocks from Freeway exits on Hwy 24.

This is an open call. Also, if anyone wants to be a Secret Santa (or a Zwarte Piet) bring a used book wrapped up nicleynicely.

Update: I will keep bumping this post to the top of the page for next few days. So please scroll down...

Update II: Please feel free to correct my typos.

A Couch Potatoes' Alert

Now here is an idea Couch potatoes, it's time to drop the remote. E-mail the FCC. Stop the Parents Television Council before it gets beyond the TV.:
And through October of this year, apart from complaints over Janet Jackson's infamous "wardrobe malfunction," a full 99.9 percent of the complaints about indecency have again come from the Parents Television Council. That means a small group of highly mobilized conservative watchdogs has essentially driven the "moral values" campaign directed at the FCC.

Hey, blue staters, this is a much smaller picture than you ever imagined. Forget about looking at that depressing election map and feeling overwhelmed, like you're on a cultural island apart from the rest of the country. The sad fact is, while you've been pouting -- and prior to that, when you were watching Jon Stewart and gloating -- you let a small group of reactionary conservatives set the agenda.

So, read up on what the FCC thinks about OBSCENE, PROFANE & INDECENT BROADCASTS

And then send your thoughts to the FCC Chairman , Michael Powell

Lastly, can anyone explain why the Homeland Security Department is part of the FCC's Enforcement Bureau?

In the Spirit of Christmas

What a great and noble idea for the holidays, or any day: One Warm Coat

Our goal is to provide any person with a warm coat, free of charge. Providing this simple, yet vital, need helps people live productive lives year round.

One Warm Coat helps local organizations collect and distribute coats in their own community. Learn how you can create a collection event. Our Guidebook will give you ideas and tools. Do you have a coat to donate? Find out if there is a collection in your community.

(Via grow-a-brain)

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Techie Tuedsay: TV Remote Control Watches

Beauty or Brains??? Posted by Hello

I think the idea of having a watch to control basic TV functions is rather a slick idea. On the mischief side, secretly changing the channels at the electronics store or at that sports bar appeals to me. On the practical side, quickly changing the volume when those annoyingly loud commercials come on also appeals to me. It must be a guy thing, wanting to have that power close to hand, and what is closer to hand than the wrist?

Both of the watches pictured above can be found for under $40 on the web. On the left is the stylish Midas Remote Control Watch and on the right is the, ugly as sin, CASIO CMD30B-1T. Funny, that, it could almost be a political metaphor.

The Midas RC watch uses a list of manufacturer's basic IR codes to program its functions, much like most universal remotes tend to do. Whereas, the Casio RC watch learns IR code directly from the remote control device and will hold several different settings. In theory, the Casio RC watch could learn any IR code to control any IR device because it learns directly from the remote itself. Which means you can 'hack', or choose parameters for, many different devices.

To resolve any right or left dilemma, I found the middle ground - how about wearing both of them?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

FCC - Gold Medal for Olympian Idiocy

Ever wonder why the rest of the world thinks were nuts? Well, here's one reason: FCC investigating Olympic Games opening ceremony for indeceny.

In response to one or more indecency complaints, the Federal Communications Commission has asked NBC to send it tapes of its coverage of the Summer Olympics Opening Ceremonies in Athens, the network confirmed late yesterday.(emphasis added)

So just how many people are needed to complain before the FCC starts an investigation?

(Via AmericaBlog)

Red vs. Blue - More Maps

For those who can't get enough of comparisons between Red States and Blue States, here is a veritable treasure trove for anyone
Feelin' the Blues.

Take a look at how the states compare in education, income, divorce, teen mothers, lynchings, obesity, chlamydia, and baseball (yeah, baseball) to name a few subjects covered.

(Via The Gropinator)

Is Bush the Antichrist?

I always figured if the Antichrist showed up he, or she, would cloak themselves in Christian rhetoric and righteousness while perverting the gospel of peace and love. You might imagine it an inside joke between God and his former angel of light.

So are the last days near? Is Bush the Antichrist? Only God knows and anyone who tells you they know just hasn't read their Bible, or is lying to you, or both.

What I find worrisome, like many others, is the pact between the Republicans and the religious right in their attempt to seize the reins of power in this country. So just how bad is it? For a glimpse, read Tim Appelo's take on this. Here are a tidbit from his article, Is Bush the Antichrist?:
"Bush is one of the key figures leading the church away from Jesus," says Christian author Don Miller, who wrote the nonbluenose Christian best seller Blue Like Jazz. Miller is no pantywaist—he had the balls to run a ministry at Reed College in Portland, Ore., which is so godless that its soccer team is said in campus legend to have once staged a halftime crucifixion in a game against a Christian school. But he couldn't stomach it when, for instance, Texas Gov. Bush not only allowed the execution of his fellow born-again Christian, the penitent ax murderer Karla Faye Tucker, but made vicious fun of her on TV ("Please don't kill me!" Bush said, mocking her prayerful plea for God's mercy). Miller classifies Bush Christians as modern Pharisees—the allegedly proud, rigid, legalistic hypocrites John the Baptist called "a generation of vipers." "The worst condemnation that Jesus has for anybody, I mean the worst, is for Pharisees," says Miller. "If you asked Jerry Falwell who the Pharisees are in our society, they can't point anybody out." There are no mirrors in Bush's church.

He goes on to explain how concept of the Antichrist evolved though history and deals with "why people cling to millennial dreams."

You can can see the consequences of thinking the Rapture is near in current policy proposals. Social Security, the environment, deficit reduction, and peace in the Middle East, who needs any of this if it's only going to be left behind for the heathens and unbelievers?

In mind my that kind of thinking, that lack of charity, goes against everything the Christan message stands for and, in reality, is Anti-Christ...

Friday, December 10, 2004

You get what you pay for...

Which usually means if you pay little, all you get is heartache (and an opportunity for the creative complaint).

Case in point, the other day my login was not recognized for my FREE email account. I tried all the usual trouble-shooting tricks and read damn nearly every help page at Netscape I could find.

After everything,all the circuitous paths led to here where the choice is $39.95 to talk to someone or $9.95 to get Accurate and Affordable Email Support. Where you learn they do not support Netscape web mail.

I started to suspect that Netscape was trying to shake me down for some cash. This sure seemed like a sneaky plan to get people to sign up for a paid account.

Eventually I found out that they had an upgrade that went wrong on a unofficial user site. For almost a business week Netscape did not post any notice and left their users out in the cold before they fixed the problem. Must be that AOL customer service model used to discourage people seeking technical assistance.

Anyone have a free Gmail account they want give me?

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Techie Tuesday: Go Dog Go - automatic fetch machine

"Now bring the ball back..." Posted by Hello

Thinking of buying a Christmas present for the pooch? Is your dog a big bundle of energy and you're well, not? If you want to give your four-legged friends the exercise and playtime they deserve, then this $150 ball thowing machine might be just the ticket.

They claim to have training tips for getting the dog to drop the ball back in the bucket, although I know my dog, Roxi Blu, would never do that. She'd rather collect all the balls and lay, or roll around, on them.

In a pinch, I think this could double as an automated pitcher for stick ball pratice.

Take a look at the Product Description:
GoDogGo™ is the ultimate Canine Activity Sport. Designed into this revolutionary product are several capabilities to custom set GoDogGo™ to fit your animals ability as well as the area of which it will be operated in.

Launch adjustment from 15 feet to 30 feet

Electronic intermittent settings from 7 to 15 seconds

15 ball capacity for continuous activity

Battery powered or use included AC adapter

Lightweight with easy-grab carrying handles

6 GoDogGo™ tennis balls included

Includes remote control for setting launch distance and launch times

Made of durable high-impact injection molded plastic and long lasting components.
Not a childs toy.

There is also a video of it in action where I keep imagining the dog is gonna' get it in the snout.

(Via The Presurfer)

Monday, December 06, 2004

Consider the lilies of the field...

Why even bother with changing the Social Security system?

Why even bother saving? The end of the world is nigh! If you're a firm-believer why worry about the future, just leave the deficit, the climate-change, and the war along with your clothes when you're raptured, just like these godly folk: Sect took out loans in preparation for doomsday, helping to bring down small bank
For more than a decade, a 9,000-member polygamist sect that believed civilization was about to end was borrowing money like there was no tomorrow.


Ultimately, the bad loans -- along with the embezzlement of nearly $5 million by the bank's head cashier -- would lead to the collapse of the 99-year-old bank. Regulators shut it down in June at a cost of millions to shareholders and ordinary depositors who had nothing to do with the sect.


Keith Church, who joined the bank as president in 2000, said that after it failed, he learned from several people in the business community that sect members had taken a secret oath in 2000 to borrow as much money as they could to prepare for the day that civilization -- along with the financial markets -- collapsed.


Church said he puts much of the blame for the bank's failure on a lack of aggressive oversight by regulators. He said he was trying to clean up the mess by calling in bad loans and lining up investors when the state shut the place down.

However, their actions were not without consequences and probably not even in line with the Lord's desires. But hey, some churches think it's OK, following the logic of living each day like it's your last.
With the collapse, 13 of 30 bank employees lost their jobs and pensions, and some must sell their houses. The bank's failure also left 50 uninsured depositors, including turkey farmers, the Chevy dealer and a state college, with a combined $3.6 million in losses. Many were small-business owners who learned too late that deposits over $100,000 are uninsured.

Now I am not dissing anyone's belief - just pointing out the curious contradictions I've seen in millenarian groups.

It reminds of a poem I read over 20 years ago (if anyone knows the source, please let me know). From what I remember (I doubt I can do it justice) here is the gist:

I was riding to work on the bus with the usual passengers. When a someone gets on the bus and tells us the end of the world is here! For some reason we believe him and soon we are all naked and making love to one another...In the aisles, in the seats, and even hanging by the straps...With no thought of status or beauty.

The next morning, on the bus to work, everyone was ashamed and refused to look at each other. Then someone yells, "So what if the world didn't end, we should act like it is..." We all look up and saw the truth of that in each others eyes, and soon we are all naked and making love to one another...In the aisles, in the seats, and even hanging by the straps...With no thought of status or beauty.

Well the world didn't end, though it seems like it's beginning to...

In other words, if you act like it's the end of the world you just might bring it about.

All things considered, that's a scary thought...

Friday, December 03, 2004

The Heart of Blogging

I've noticed that quite a few of my favorite bloggers fell victim to what I call 'Post-Electoral Depression.' For a period it felt like the heart went out of these passionate few, the passion dimmed and posting dropped off. I know I felt this way for awhile.

As a certifiable news-junkie I couldn't stand to watch the news. To hear another consevative pundit crow, or explain what's wrong with the Democratic Party made me want to commit an act of defenestration with my TV (yeah, both of us). Then the other day the word "Blog" made its way into the dictionary as if that has finally 'bestowed' some sort of legitimacy on all of us.

For some reason I recalled the hauntingly beautiful imagery of this Academy Award winning animation by Mark Osborne, MORE.

This is not the metaphor to describe what I'm feeling or what I imagine other bloggers are compressing. To tell the truth, I am not even sure this applies. However, each time I watch this short film I am struck by its message of irony, that of the oxymoronic-variety: bitter-sweet.

And of late, ironically, blogging has been bitter-sweet...

(Thanks to Totally Flabbergasted )

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Where's Uncle Joe?

What's wrong with this picture? Posted by Hello

(Via Wonkette)

Prognostication or Political Science-Fiction

I have been thinking of a new writing genre which I call Poli-Sci-Fi. It takes current polictical repercussions and mixes them with tea leaves. These near-term auguries can be pessimistic, satiric, or an exercise in risk management.

For instance, read this amusing post on how Life Imitates Satire: Sometimes Reality Has the Last Laugh

Another example is this excerpt from an article by Harley Sorensen, A Preview Of Four More Years:
The predictable Bush would expand America's quest to control the world's waning supplies of oil. At the moment (subject to change), it looks like Iran will be our next victim. At the appropriate time, we will be told that Iran has become an intolerable threat and must be muzzled. America's list of nations needing destruction will continue to look remarkably like Israel's.

A predictable Bush will soon prove to be his father's son when he breaks his solemn campaign promise to not institute a military draft. Read his lips. They're moving? Words are coming out? He's a politician? He's lying.

Bush will continue his quest to privatize Social Security. He appears not to know why Social Security was created in the first place. It was created because, in a competitive capitalistic society with its ups and downs, private investment for retirement proved to be disastrous for too many people. Social Security provides a safety net for the unskilled or unlucky. Privatize its investments and you have a Los Vegas craps table, with a few winners and a lot of losers.

Bush will continue to push for tax breaks to benefit people in his and his family's economic situation.

If the air in Houston gets dirty enough, or if Bush's dude ranch in Crawford is flooded by the melting polar ice caps, Bush might notice some problems with the environment, but don't count on it. The predictable Bush will continue to put corporate profits above human life.

Bush will continue to use homosexual men and women as the scapegoats he needs to satisfy the bigoted portion of his political base. At the same time, that portion of his base will be yapping at their hero for not being even more repressive. Those folks won't be happy until we return to stocks, floggings and witch trials.

Bush judicial appointments will become more reactionary, thus sentencing the United States to a period of unprecedented judicial Dark Ages. The prison-building industry, inspired by Ronald Reagan, continued by Bush (41), and greatly accelerated by Bill Clinton, will prosper.

In a surprise move, the U.S. Supreme Court, guided by precedent, will uphold Roe v. Wade. However, this prediction is subject to change if Bush is first able to pack the court with activist right-wing judges.

Maybe these could be offered up like film treatments:
In the not so distant future, radical ecologists with stolen plans from Al-Queda bio-geneticists unleashed a plague on those with the faith-gene causing them to spontaneously combust. President Jenna Bush vows an Apocalyptic revenge...

Torture: The Bad News, the Really Bad News, and Some Hope

Torture is in the news again. So which do want hear first, the good or the bad news?

Ok, the bad news is that the International Red Cross finds that the US endorses a policy which is tantamount to torture:
A confidential Red Cross report detailing interrogation techniques "tantamount to torture" at the United States-run prisoner camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, offers the latest evidence that the Bush administration is systematically flouting international law as it battles the war on terrorism, says one legal expert. "All of this looks pretty clearly like a deliberate policy to create prisons at which all kinds of interrogation techniques can be used and remain unfettered by law," says Leila Sadat, law professor at Washington University in St. Louis and vice-president of the American branch of the International Law Association.

This is really bad because it harms our reputation and will lead to reprisals againtst our troops who might find themselves captured by people who believe in returning the favor.

Now for the really bad news.Everyone is a potential torturer:
All humans are capable of committing torture and other “acts of great evil”. That is the unhappy conclusion drawn from an analysis of psychological studies.

Over 25,000 psychological studies involving eight million participants support this finding, say Susan Fiske and colleagues at Princeton University in New York, US.

The researchers considered the circumstances surrounding how individuals committed seemingly inexplicable acts of abuse in the midst of the US military’s torture of Iraqi inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in 2003 and 2004.

“Could any average 18-year-old have tortured these prisoners? I would have to answer: ‘Yes, just about anyone could have.’”, Fiske says.

Many forms of behaviour, including acts of cruelty, are influenced as much by authority figures, peer pressure and other social interactions as by the psychology of the individual, she says.

“If we don’t understand the importance of social context and accept that almost anybody could commit acts of torture under certain circumstances, then we are setting ourselves up for situations where Abu Ghraib [atrocities] will occur again,” Fiske warns.

Mankind is capable of truly despiccable acts as history will tell us. But we also have the ability to chain, or restrain that part of our nature and achieve some truly enlightening progress over our darker ambitions. Now the people engaged in acts of torture will have to deal with themselves and the harm done to their souls. Yet some will rationalize their behaviour and someday they might come home and be your neighbors.

However, there is some hope when people organize and push for action like, for a start, theUK urged not to use 'Evidence' obtained by Torture:
UN Committee calls for effective safeguards against torture.

The United Kingdom Government should make a formal undertaking that it will not rely on, or present "evidence" obtained through torture in any proceedings, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) recommended today.

"The Committee's conclusion on the need for a clear and definitive statement from the UK authorities that they will abide by the international ban on the introduction of 'evidence' obtained through torture is welcome," said Amnesty International.

Well it's a start. We need that kind of call to action here in the US because of taint thta torture give us, and our children, if it continues. I would like to see the Democratic Party take up the banner of anti-torture in fighting the direction Gerge W. Bush is taking our country. It should've never been allowed in the first place but it must stop, here and now, before we are all awash with this blood guilt...