Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Now we know


Many will recall that on July 8, 1947, witnesses claimed that an unidentified object with five aliens aboard crashed onto a sheep and cattle ranch just outside Roswell, New Mexico.

This is a well-known incident that many say has long been covered up by the U.S. Air Force and the Federal Government.

However, what you may NOT know is that in the month of March 1948, exactly nine months later, George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfield, Bill O'Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Condolezza Rice, and Dan Quayle were all born.

Now we know what happens when aliens breed with sheep.

This piece of information may clear up a lot of things.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Joke of the Day

A new feature. Will it be an enduring feature? Doubt it. Life's just too iffy!

Screwing the Justice System

Q: How many US Attorney Generals does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: I cannot recall that particular answer at this time.

Kudos to Comedy Central

Mark Morford - Bush Declares Self 'Mega Decider'

Should we get out panties in a bundle about this new Presidential directive?

Bush Declares Self 'Mega Decider'
New documents ensure Dubya will rule America, should calamity strike. Free balloons!
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, May 30, 2007

It's just one of those obscure little unreported-upon conspiracy theory-ready hunks of floating White House detritus, a couple of odd, sticky, foul-smelling documents no one really wants to touch and no one knows quite what to make of, probably means nothing, probably being misread anyway, all a bit overblown and strange and not all that important and not all that different than the way things are now.

Unless, you know, it's not. Unless the violent twinge of queasy paranoia crossed with that uncontrolled bout of colon-clenching sighing you experience is deadly accurate and your radar for all things sinister and Rovean is right on target as you read about the delightfully titled National Security Presidential Directive/NSPD 51 and the Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD-20, wherein it is calmly and furtively revealed that, in essence, George W. Bush owns your sorry ass.

Or, to put it another way, it looks like the Bumbling One just gave himself ever more power. Power to control and dictate the entire government, power to really spread the gospel of happy GOP incompetence, power to command the entire wobbly American universe should some sort of epic -- or not so epic, as the case may be -- calamity strike the homeland.

It goes something like this: Should any "decapitating event" occur in American that somehow incapacitates the D.C. power structure, should "any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions" take place, well then, all power and decision making would devolve to the White House, which would then attempt to orchestrate our very survival and oversee all essential governmental functions with none other than the president himself as, well, Super-Mega Lord Decider. With extra crayons.

You know, a dictator.

Wait wait wait, I hear you moan through your first pour of wine for the day, a futile attempt to stave off the sucker punch of doom you received from that last paragraph. There is nothing really new here. Hell, we've had a silly, ominous, "Terminator"-tinged master plan for post-apocalyptic America in place since Reagan was knee-high to a simpleminded jellybean, plans for a scowling "shadow government" to run the joint should, say, Russian nukes blow up all our Safeways or China secretly buy up all our Skippy peanut butter.

And more recently, this plan was transferred into the hairy, pockmarked arms of our own Homeland Security Department, which seems entirely appropriate, given how you like to imagine such a plan living alone in a dark and musty Pentagon subbasement stocked to the rafters with rusty Winchesters and shiny bayonets and giant shoe box-sized satellite phones from 1987 and a small mountain of vacuum-sealed emergency meat rations that will last through 2197, or at least the next season of "24." Cool.

But now, Shrub has seen fit to dust the thing off and make a few, uh, "revisions," most notably the one that appears to shift the decision-making process away from Homeland Security (which was then to disperse responsibility to various agencies and emergency services), straight to the Oval Office itself because, hey, who better to decide who gets to do what to whom when the shit hits the fan than the most secretive, warmongering, never-saw-an-illegal-power-grab-it-didn't-like administration in American history? Gives you that warm, fuzzy, well-protected feeling all over, doesn't it? Like a rash? In your spleen?

Even more heartwarming, "catastrophe," in the vague, nearly useless language of these documents, could mean, why, just about anything at all. Hurricane? Flood? Low polling numbers for Giuliani? A bad tattoo of Alberto Gonzales' smirky face on Jenna Bush's sacrum? You bet! Because who gets to decide what constitutes a "catastrophe"? Why, Shrub himself, that's who. What's more, the event doesn't even have to occur in America (see "regardless of location"). Such a perceived "disruption" can happen anywhere in the world and with a press of the shiny red button next to his bed, Bush kicks the Enduring Constitutional Government (ECG) into gear. Neat!

I know what you're thinking. And I completely agree: Such secret plans are one of the most adorable, comic-booky aspects of dumb, ultrasecretive administrations. After all, do many 'Merkins not love to swoon and polish their NRA memberships as they imagine all those White House suits suddenly turning into patriotic superheroes at the first sign of a meteor strike or an attack by an alien super race or maybe just if Iraq gets a bit too uppity and starts bootlegging illegal DVDs of "The Office"? You bet they do.

And then boom, the nation goes into lockdown and it's a strict military state and Lynn Cheney starts enjoying sweaty night visions of Dick lumbering purposefully through the White House halls deciding who to nuke next as Dubya quivers in the corner and the flying monkeys prepare the escape pod. Just like in that Will Smith movie! Neat!

Let us now be serious for a moment. Let us hold back the sarcasm and step back and breathe a sigh of relief because I'm sure Dubya's changes to NSPD 51 mean a whole lotta nothing. I'm sure it's just another standard -- albeit a bit weird -- governmental procedural, boring and forgettable and just one of thousands of such indecipherable, hazily unconstitutional legal quirkballs in the Pentagon's creaky file cabinets, and Dubya's recent changes are just an honest tweak to what really amounts to a rather ridiculous, fantastical document in the first place. Yes, surely it's just a bunch of silly leftist paranoia to think that something dark and nasty could result from such a move.

After all, Shrub only has a year and a half left in office. Plus, his power has been severely truncated by the Dems. Why would he care to try for such a thuggish, cagey power grab now? What would be the point? Except, you know, to savagely tilt the next election and to further the new 'n' brutal neocon agenda of perpetual war and as a desperate, last-gasp move to prove he actually has the cojones to do something so appalling, so perfectly megalomaniacal, it's sure to rescue his rotten legacy from history's compost pile? I mean, besides that.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Family Guy -- The World is Beautiful with Gore as President

The world is beautiful with Al Gore as President. (sigh)

Dennis Kucinich knows that Iraq is all about the oil

Dennis gave a one-hour speech on the floor of the U.S. House May 23, 2007. In it, he detailed information that shows without a doubt that we are in Iraq for the oil, which is certainly no surprise to me. We are attempting to put "revenue-sharing agreements" in place in Iraq, effectively privatizing the oil and taking most of it away from the Iraqis. Knowing Bush, I am somewhat suprised that we aren't just STEALING it outright. But I guess that would be too much, even for thugs like Bush and Cheney.
I have no doubt that this nation needs oil. Thanks to our complacency, laziness, and greed for corporations, we have done very little to wean this nation from oil. Hence, we get involved in stupid, destructive schemes like Iraq. I guess it's too much to ask that we negotiate with Iraq to help them develop their own fields and ask for reasonable access. No, we go in with guns blazing and hold guns to their heads until they sign over most of their oil to us. What a country!

If you read all of Dennis' speech at the link below, you will understand.

Here are just a few snips:

...on March 13, 2007, Antonia Juhasz, an oil industry analyst, in an op-ed contribution, asks: "Whose Oil Is It, Anyway?" Here is what Antonia Juhasz writes:

"Today more than three-quarters of the world's oil is owned and controlled by governments. It wasn't always this way. Until about 35 years ago, the world's oil was largely in the hands of seven corporations based in the United States and Europe. Those seven have since merged into four: ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP. They are among the world's largest and most powerful financial empires. But ever since they lost their exclusive control of the oil to the governments, the companies have been trying to get it back. Iraq's oil reserves, thought to be the second largest in the world, have always been high on the corporate wish list. In 1998 Kenneth Derr, then chief executive of Chevron, told a San Francisco audience, 'Iraq possesses huge reserves of oil and gas, reserves I'd love Chevron to have access to.'

"A new oil law set to go before the Iraqi Parliament this month would, if passed, go a long way toward helping the oil companies achieve their goal. The Iraq hydrocarbon law would take the majority of Iraq's oil out of the exclusive hands of the Iraqi Government and open it to international oil companies for a generation or more.

"In March, 2001," continuing to quote from this article, "the National Energy Policy Development Group, better known as Vice President Dick Cheney's energy task force, which included executives of America's largest energy companies, recommended that the United States Government support initiatives by Middle Eastern countries 'to open up areas of their energy sectors to foreign investment.' One invasion and a great deal of political engineering ..." later, this is exactly what the Iraq oil law would achieve. It does so to the benefit of oil companies but to the great detriment of Iraq's economy, democracy, and sovereignty.

"Since the invasion of Iraq, the administration has been aggressive in shepherding the oil law toward passage. It is one of the administration's benchmarks for the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a fact that" the administration officials "are publicly emphasizing with increasing urgency." And, that is that these are the benchmarks of the administration.

Paul Krugman - Trust and Betrayal

Trust and Betrayal
By Paul Krugman
The New York Times
Monday 28 May 2007

"In this place where valor sleeps, we are reminded why America has always gone to war reluctantly, because we know the costs of war." That's what President Bush said last year, in a Memorial Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery.

Those were fine words, spoken by a man with less right to say them than any president in our nation's history. For Mr. Bush took us to war not with reluctance, but with unseemly eagerness.

Now that war has turned into an epic disaster, in part because the war's architects, whom we now know were warned about the risks, didn't want to hear about them. Yet Congress seems powerless to stop it. How did it all go so wrong?

Future historians will shake their heads over how easily America was misled into war. The warning signs, the indications that we had a rogue administration determined to use 9/11 as an excuse for war, were there, for those willing to see them, right from the beginning - even before Mr. Bush began explicitly pushing for war with Iraq.

In fact, the very first time Mr. Bush declared a war on terror that "will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated," people should have realized that he was going to use the terrorist attack to justify anything and everything.

When he used his first post-attack State of the Union to denounce an "axis of evil" consisting of three countries that had nothing to do either with 9/11 or with each other, alarm bells should have gone off.

But the nation, brought together in grief and anger over the attack, wanted to trust the man occupying the White House. And so it took a long time before Americans were willing to admit to themselves just how thoroughly their trust had been betrayed.

It's a terrible story, yet it's also understandable. I wasn't really surprised by Republican election victories in 2002 and 2004: nations almost always rally around their leaders in times of war, no matter how bad the leaders and no matter how poorly conceived the war.

The question was whether the public would ever catch on. Well, to the immense relief of those who spent years trying to get the truth out, they did. Last November Americans voted overwhelmingly to bring an end to Mr. Bush's war.

Yet the war goes on.

To keep the war going, the administration has brought the original bogyman back out of the closet. At first, Mr. Bush said he would bring Osama bin Laden in, dead or alive. Within seven months after 9/11, however, he had lost interest: "I wouldn't necessarily say he's at the center of any command structure," he said in March 2002. "I truly am not that concerned about him."

In all of 2003, Mr. Bush, who had an unrelated war to sell, made public mention of the man behind 9/11 only seven times.

But Osama is back: last week Mr. Bush invoked his name 11 times in a single speech, warning that if we leave Iraq, Al Qaeda - which wasn't there when we went in - will be the winner. And Democrats, still fearing that they will end up accused of being weak on terror and not supporting the troops, gave Mr. Bush another year's war funding.

Democratic Party activists were furious, because polls show a public utterly disillusioned with Mr. Bush and anxious to see the war ended. But it's not clear that the leadership was wrong to be cautious. The truth is that the nightmare of the Bush years won't really be over until politicians are convinced that voters will punish, not reward, Bush-style fear-mongering. And that hasn't happened yet.

Here's the way it ought to be: When Rudy Giuliani says that Iran, which had nothing to do with 9/11, is part of a "movement" that "has already displayed more aggressive tendencies by coming here and killing us," he should be treated as a lunatic.

When Mitt Romney says that a coalition of "Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda" wants to "bring down the West," he should be ridiculed for his ignorance.

And when John McCain says that Osama, who isn't in Iraq, will "follow us home" if we leave, he should be laughed at.

But they aren't, at least not yet. And until belligerent, uninformed posturing starts being treated with the contempt it deserves, men who know nothing of the cost of war will keep sending other people's children to graves at Arlington.

Monday, May 28, 2007

List Change - Top 10 "must have" home technology trends

Can't remember where I found this one...

1. A home theater or media room. A home theater is a room dedicated solely to the viewing of movies and programs, designed with aspects such as sound quality in mind. A media room is incorporated in a home's living space and is more of a multipurpose room, where a homeowner can watch television, read a book or play a game. Home theaters can run anywhere from $15,000 to $150,000 and more depending on the components; one package displayed at the show from Lifeware included a media center,
audio-video receiver, 200-disc DVD changer, 50-inch plasma television, six speakers, automated lighting control, remote and software for $31,000.

2. Home health-care products and installation. As the population ages, there's more demand for health-care products that take advantage of advances in technology. Patient-monitoring systems can allow a caregiver to check up on an elderly loved one from afar. Biometric monitoring devices can keep constant watch on a patient's vital signs.

3. Media Center Edition (MCE) computers. This audio/visual computer can help manage a home's various media sources, providing such features as surround-sound processing, as well as access to Internet radio and the onetouch
recording of TV shows. A top-of-the-line Dell media center system fetches at least $5,500. Hewlett-Packard's HP z565 Digital Media Center starts at $3,000.

4. Microdisplay-based televisions. High-definition televisions are hot, including LCD (liquid crystal displays), DLP (digital light projection), LCoS (liquid crystal on silicon) or LCD-based rear-projection TVs. Depending on size and type, prices for these products run the gamut.

5. Lighting and automation. Homes can be set up with the ability to control lighting and other features throughout the house from any room -- and any part of the world. Systems can also create lighting schemes and automation that might, for example, turn the lights down and close the curtains when a DVD is started, Hoshaw said. Honeywell and Home Director are two companies that offer such systems. Lifeware's deluxe system, which includes audio, lighting, HVAC and security controls in addition to its media
capabilities, is priced at $54,000.

6. Security systems. New systems can protect a home while the owner is away by taking a snapshot of light usage in the house over the past two weeks, then mimicking the series while the owner is out of town.

7. Media servers. Homeowners are increasingly loading all of their media, including music and movie files, on one server, making files accessible in a central location. Hewlett-Packard has developed its HP MediaSmart Server, with the capability to handle 10 accounts on your home network, although the product is not yet for sale.

8. The iPod revolution. Many people have the popular music player from Apple -- or a competing mp3 player -- but increasingly homes are adding docking systems that allow more flexibility in using the device's media libraries. The Keyspan AV Dock for iPod, for example, will connect the device to a computer, stereo or TV and retails for $64.99 on

9. Smart sound systems. Multiroom, multisource sound systems allow a homeowner to control the sound piping through rooms. Often with a touch of a key pad, a homeowner can control what's playing in each zone, independent of the rest of the house. Bose installed such whole-house
systems in two of the showcase houses built specifically for the builders show.

10. Gaming rooms. They're not just your run-of-the-mill ping-pong table in the basement anymore. Video-game spaces have become increasingly common in a home, and are often set up around more traditional games, such as a billiard table.

It's raining again and again

Geez, every freakin' day it's raining in Houston, and it seems to have gotten even heavier over the last few days. All the while the SE and SW U.S. is waaaaay behind in rainfall, and a lot of it is on fire. Here we are in the middle, drowning.

Houston is now 7+" over our "average" rainfall, while Birmingham, Alabama, for instance, is behind by 14". After today we'll probably be 9" over. And our forecast calls for rain for at least the next seven days in a row. Lovely. It does keep it cooler, but, hey, enough already.

Too bad we haven't come up with any method of rain catchment to ship from one place to another.

Toon Time - 5/25/07

If you click on each toon, a new window should open, allowing you to see the toon better.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

List Change - Dictators

Name, Country, In Power Since

1. Omar al-Bashir, Sudan, 1989

2. Kim Jong Il, North Korea, 1994

3. Than Shwe, Myanmar, 1992

4. Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe, 1980

5. Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan, 1990

6. Hu Jintao, China, 2002

7. King Abdullah, Saudi Arabia, 1995

8. Saparmurat Niyazov, (deceased?) Turkmenistan, 1990

9. Seyed Ali Khamane’i, Iran, 1989

10. Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Equatorial Guinea, 1979

There are several lists running around. Some give a dishonorable mention to George W. Bush, who exhibits many of the traits of dictators, but our democracy is such that it is more difficult for an American to become a dictator. But you gotta give lil Georgie credit. He's trying hard.

Source: Click here

Saturday, May 26, 2007

...and another new Blogspot feature - NEWS REEL

Hey, give it a shot.

Another new Blogspot feature is called "News Reels." You specify a few key words and some web spider or something goes out and retrieves stories to match your keywords.

The keywords I've chosen to start using this feature are:

Al Gore Iraq orgasm philosophy humor

This feature can be found in the right-hand pane, scrolling down. Click on any of the words to bring up related stories. Pretty cool.

Less and less reason to leave the site....

Tom Friedman - Failing by Example

Tom makes some good points here. I bolded them and made the font bigger, just to make it easier on you....

Thomas Friedman - Failing by Example
New York Times

If you want to know why we are losing in Iraq, go back and read this story that ran on the front page of The Times on Saturday. It began like this:

"Two years ago, Robin C. Ashton, a seasoned criminal prosecutor at the Department of Justice, learned from her boss that a promised promotion was no longer hers. 'You have a Monica problem,' Ms. Ashton was told. Referring to Monica M. Goodling, a 31-year-old, relatively inexperienced lawyer who had only recently arrived in the office, the boss added, 'She believes you're a Democrat and doesn't feel you can be trusted.' Ms. Ashton's ouster — she left for another Justice Department post two weeks later — was a critical early step in a plan that would later culminate in the ouster of nine United States attorneys last year.

"Ms. Goodling would soon be quizzing applicants for civil service jobs at Justice Department headquarters with questions that several United States attorneys said were inappropriate, like who was their favorite president and Supreme Court justice. One department official said an applicant was even asked, 'Have you ever cheated on your wife?' Ms. Goodling also moved to block the hiring of prosecutors with résumés that suggested they might be Democrats, even though they were seeking posts that were supposed to be nonpartisan."

What does this have to do with Iraq? A lot. One benchmark the Bush team has been urging the Iraqi government to meet is to rescind its broad "de-Baathification" program — the wholesale purging of Baathists after the fall of Saddam — which has alienated many Sunnis and hampered national reconciliation.

But while the Bush team has been lecturing the Iraqi Shiites to limit de-Baathification in Baghdad, it was carrying out its own de-Democratization in the Justice Department in Washington. We would feel that we had failed in Iraq if we read that Sunnis were being purged from Iraq's Ministry of Justice by Shiite hard-liners loyal to Moktada al-Sadr — but the moral equivalent of that is exactly what the Bush administration was doing here. What kind of example does that set for Iraqis?

And this wasn't only a Washington problem. Read Rajiv Chandrasekaran's outstanding "Imperial Life in the Emerald City," which details the extent to which Americans recruited to work for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad were chosen, at times, for their loyalty toward Republicanism rather than expertise on Islamism. "Two C.P.A. staffers said that they were asked if they supported Roe v. Wade and if they had voted for George W. Bush," he wrote.

But this degree of partisanship — loyalty over competence — was destructive in a much bigger way. It also deprived the Bush team of the support it needed when things in Iraq didn't turn out to be as easy as it expected.

Only a united America could have the patience and fortitude to heal a divided Iraq — and we simply don't have that today. Why? Because George Bush and Dick Cheney asked everyone to check their politics at the door when it came to Iraq, because victory there was so important — everyone but themselves. They argued that the war in Iraq was the central front of the central struggle of our age — an unusual war, a war against terrorism and the pathologies that produce it — but then they indulged in the most rancid politics as usual at home.

They actually thought they could unite Iraq, while dividing America.

Whenever Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney had a choice between seeking political advantage at home or acting in a bipartisan fashion to buy more unity, time and space to do all the heavy lifting needed in Iraq, they opted for political advantage.

When Franklin Roosevelt fought World War II, he made a conservative Republican, Henry Stimson, his secretary of war and did all he could to hold the country together. The Bush- Cheney team, by contrast, summoned us to D-Day and then treated it like it was just another political wedge issue, whenever it suited them.

It has not worked. As Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, put it: "You cannot govern like Winston Churchill some of the time and like Grover Norquist most of the time."

Democrats need to be careful, though, that they don't let their rage with the hypocrisy of Mr. Bush make them totally crazy, and blind them to the fact that they — we — still need a credible plan to deal with the very real threat to open societies posed by Islamist terrorism. But I understand that rage. After all, who can ask more soldiers to sacrifice their lives in Iraq for an administration that wouldn't even sacrifice its politics?

Friday, May 25, 2007

New Blogspot feature-YouTube videos

Gonna try out this new Blogspot feature where you can link YouTube videos and watch them from here, without leaving this site. They make you list a few keywords, so I chose "Keith Olberman," "Al Gore," and "David Letterman." This feature COULD dredge up some not-so-flattering videos, but we'll see how it goes....

The YouTube selection box is down the page a bit, but when you click on an image, you have to scroll back up to the top to view the video. Kinda odd.

Flashback - September 5, 2005

Flashback to MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2005 - Amsterdam

Today is Labor Day in the states. Hurricane Katrina flattened a lot of the southern US last week, and a lot of New Orleans is still under water. There's nothing we can do about it from Amsterdam. We'd planned this trip months ago. We have friends and co-workers in New Orleans, and there's no way to know if they're ok. The news media here in Europe is appalled at the poor response to the disaster. Have a nice vacation!

(if you click on the pic above, you'll get a better view of it)


The pain you feel is proportional to your proximity to the disaster. The closer to the disaster you are - whether emotionally, physically, or metaphysically - the more pain you feel. Far away from the disaster, you feel less pain or involvement. If it happens on the other side of the world, you might not even ever hear about it. We can rationalize it; we have to rationalize it, as long as the destruction has not hit too close to home.


If our own home had been wiped out while we were in Amsterdam, we wouldn't have been able to turn the other cheek and enjoy a vacation. As it was, we felt pretty guilty about being on vacation while such a catastrophe was taking place back home, but what could we do?


We woke up in the Amsterdam American Hotel after a long sleep feeling pretty good and hungry. What jet lag? We had already decided to have breakfast the first morning at the Cafe Americain in our hotel. The Cafe gets a lot of positive press, and it IS a beautiful and elegant place. A fully-furnished breakfast buffet, for 20 Euro. Kind of expensive, but WTF. No a la carte. They have cereal? With skim milk? Wow, how American. Oh yeah, it's called the American Hotel. And, look. A single sheet of condensed world news, in one of six languages of your choice. No bulky newspapers to wrestle with. No newsprint on your fingers. Cool. Reading the news in Dutch sounds nasty. Reading the news in French sounds sexy, and reading the news in English is just depressing. It's all Katrina. Ohmigod, stories of water 15' deep. Sounds like the whole city is underwater.

More bad news: where's the coffee, pal? For 20 Euros for breakfast, you'd think they could be quicker and more generous with the coffee. (One of the things we're going to learn on our trip is that very few Europeans have adopted the concept of the "bottomless cup of coffee" that many of us Americans take for granted.)

After a leisurely breakfast, I gave both PH and MD a call. I'd hooked up, metaphorically speaking, with both of these guys before arriving, via the Internet, via the Bartcop Forum. One of the calls from our hotel room - to PH - was to a mobile phone. BIG MISTAKE! Turns out the hotel gouged me for 20 Euro for that 5-minute call alone!! The phone call to MD - a local work number - was charged at a reasonable rate, something like .20/minute. LESSON LEARNED.

PH agreed to meet with us for dinner that night and MD was tied up with a special project at least until Tuesday. MD insisted that we needed to rent bikes and see the city that way. It was obviously a popular method of getting around the city. There are well-marked bike paths all over. Bikes, bikes, everywhere. In Amsterdam, they treat bikes like we in the US treat cars: meaning, while riding their bikes, they use their cell phones; they eat food; they transport their children; they listen to music; they read the newspaper; they use a Blackberry; often all at the same time.

So we're off in search of a bike rental shop. It's a beautiful day: sunny, warm. Very unlike Amsterdam, so say the natives. Trees everywhere along the canals. Gorgeous. Doesn't stink either, like some canals can. Cool. Finally we find a Mac Bike outlet at the Leidseplein, after asking for directions. Can you imagine? Me? A guy, stopping in a shop and asking directions?? It was EASY! Not at all humiliating. 21st-Century Schizoid Man.

All they rent is your basic one-speed, reverse-braking bike - remember those? So we get two, with insurance, please. Turns out wifey's bike was just a little too big and she couldn't comfortably reach the ground while stopping, but I didn't really discover this until about 10 minutes later. (Jaws movie music)

We take off on our rented bikes along the bikepath alongside the street, me in the lead, and within 1/10 mile, maybe within 60 seconds, I hear a sort of soft crashing sound, I stop, look back, and poor wifey is on the ground with her bike on top of her. She's scraped up her shin, foot and hand and she's pissed, but not sure how hurt she is. I pedal back as she is getting up from the ground. She says she got brushed by a passing bicyclist and, since her bike is too tall, she could not brake herself with her foot and fell.

She is saying she can't do this, can't ride the bike, so I insist that we go back to the rental location and turn in the bikes. Lo and behold, this time they are able to find a smaller bike that she can reach the ground easily with.

(Sidenote: Ok, yall, if someone tries to stick you with a product that just doesn't feel right with you, like, in this case, a bike that's too big, you do NOT accept said merchandise. Just leave to try out a different vendor. Chances are good that the first vendor will suddenly be able to find something that does in fact suit you. Point is, do not accept faulty merchandise. If wifey had put her foot down and NOT accepted a bike that was too tall, she likely would not have fallen. If I had known she couldn't reach the ground, I would have said, "get another bike." This should be common sense.)

So we pedal all over Amsterdam. There are probably more bikes in the city center than there are cars. You do have to watch out for them. They come up from behind rather quietly, then, *ring ring* goes the little bell on the handlebars and it's best that you not freeze in place. The biker has sized you up and anticipates which way you're going to go so that they can go around you. If you wobble and waver back and forth while walking, you're going to confuse the bikers and you might get run over. Fortunately, we had no collisions, with other bikers.

We pedaled up north to the Noordmarkt at the Jordaan, but they were just closing down the market. East we go into the city center, just a beautiful day, south a bit, back west to the Leidseplein. I was darting in and out of traffic like the locals do, almost got hit by more than one car, but the drivers seem to respect the bikers. I didn't take any really crazy chances but was a little aggressive like many of the locals. Wifey says I was crazy and risking my life. She said, "Hey, I was behind you! I saw that taxicab almost hit you. I saw that motorcycle almost run you down, and I saw you almost run into that parked car. But besides that, you were just fine." Cool.

We stopped for lunch at an outdoor cafe along the Prinsengracht (the outermost of the four semi-circular canals), locked up our bikes (you must lock them - with so many bikes around, often people will help themselves to yours) and had a coupla beers and some strange but tasty toasty things stuffed with cheese. Two musicians, one with a sax and the other with a stand-up bass, wandered by and played several tunes. Nicely done. Now THIS is vacation!

We tipped them a couple of Euros, but when they finished, they hit us up again!

We decided to turn the bikes back in before dinner, instead of keeping them for the whole week as MD had suggested. Turns out wifey was pretty bruised up from her earlier fall from the bike. We touched base again with PH and he agreed to bike over to our hotel for a drink and dinner. When he arrived, we had a cocktail at the American Cafe's outside plaza then walked over to Wagamama for a tasty meal of noodles and such. It's really cool being able to meet people that live in the city and hang out for a bit. Thanks again PH and MD. PH wished us a good evening and biked home. We'd try to get together again later in the week.

Wifey was beginning to limp, almost imperceptibly, from her bruises, so we decided to head back to the hotel room and recuperate. Nice. Long. Bath. Ice. Down. The. Bruises.

Hey, look! Adult movies on the hotel room TV! Un-cut too! Ah, those enlightened Europeans. A fantastic first full day in Amsterdam. Oh, yeah, the CENSORED CENSORED CENSORED were pretty freakin' awesome.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Paul Krugman - Don't Blame Bush

Don’t Blame Bush

By PAUL KRUGMAN (many thanks to the New York Times for keeping Krugman on staff)
Published: May 18, 2007

I’ve been looking at the race for the Republican presidential nomination, and I’ve come to a disturbing conclusion: maybe we’ve all been too hard on President Bush.

No, I haven’t lost my mind. Mr. Bush has degraded our government and undermined the rule of law; he has led us into strategic disaster and moral squalor.

But the leading contenders for the Republican nomination have given us little reason to believe they would behave differently. Why should they? The principles Mr. Bush has betrayed are principles today’s G.O.P., dominated by movement conservatives, no longer honors. In fact, rank-and-file Republicans continue to approve strongly of Mr. Bush’s policies — and the more un-American the policy, the more they support it.

Now, Mr. Bush and Dick Cheney may have done a few things other Republicans wouldn’t. Their initial domestic surveillance program was apparently so lawless and unconstitutional that even John Ashcroft, approached on his sickbed, refused to go along. For the most part, however, Mr. Bush has done just what his party wants and expects.

There was a telling moment during the second Republican presidential debate, when Brit Hume of Fox News confronted the contenders with a hypothetical “24”-style situation in which torturing suspects is the only way to stop a terrorist attack.

Bear in mind that such situations basically never happen in real life, that the U.S. military has asked the producers of “24” to cut down on the torture scenes. Last week Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, circulated an open letter to our forces warning that using torture or “other expedient methods to obtain information” is both wrong and ineffective, and that it is important to keep the “moral high ground.”

But aside from John McCain, who to his credit echoed Gen. Petraeus (and was met with stony silence), the candidates spoke enthusiastically in favor of torture and against the rule of law. Rudy Giuliani endorsed waterboarding. Mitt Romney declared that he wants accused terrorists at Guantánamo, “where they don’t get the access to lawyers they get when they’re on our soil ... My view is, we ought to double Guantánamo.” His remarks were greeted with wild applause.

And torture isn’t the only Bush legacy that seems destined to continue if a Republican becomes the next president. Mr. Bush got us into the Iraq quagmire by conflating Saddam with Al Qaeda, treating two mutually hostile groups as if they constituted a single enemy. Well, Mr. Romney offers more of that. “There is a global jihadist effort,” he warned in the second debate. “And they’ve come together as Shia and Sunni and Hezbollah and Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood and Al Qaeda with that intent.” Aren’t Sunnis and Shiites killing each other, not coming together? Nevermind.

What about the administration’s state of denial over Iraq, its unwillingness to face up to reality? None of the leading G.O.P. presidential contenders seem any different — certainly not Mr. McCain, who strolled through a Baghdad marketplace wearing a bulletproof vest, accompanied by more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees while attack helicopters flew overhead, then declared that his experience proved there are parts of Baghdad where you can “walk freely.”

Finally, what about the Bush administration’s trademark incompetence? In appointing unqualified loyalists to key positions, Mr. Bush was just following the advice of the Heritage Foundation, which urged him back in 2001 to “make appointment decisions based on loyalty first and expertise second.” And the base doesn’t mind: the Bernie Kerik affair — Mr. Giuliani’s attempt to get his corrupt, possibly mob-connected business partner appointed to head the department of homeland security — hasn’t kept Mr. Giuliani from becoming the apparent front-runner for the Republican nomination.

What we need to realize is that the infamous “Bush bubble,” the administration’s no-reality zone, extends a long way beyond the White House. Millions of Americans believe that patriotic torturers are keeping us safe, that there’s a vast Islamic axis of evil, that victory in Iraq is just around the corner, that Bush appointees are doing a heckuva job — and that news reports contradicting these beliefs reflect liberal media bias.

And the Republican nomination will go either to someone who shares these beliefs, and would therefore run the country the same way Mr. Bush has, or to a very, very good liar.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Mark Morford - Oh, Right...

Speaking of "Procrastination," (the previous post), I seem to be in another one of those "can't get started" phases where so much is happening but I just can't seem to get my brain wrapped around anything. Seems like every time I get a nugget of an idea, I look a little further and find something to contradict or muddy the waters such that the original idea is now murky.

So, when in doubt, borrow....

Oh Right, We're Still At War
How horrifying is it when Bush's unwinnable disaster becomes so dreary and forgettable?
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, May 16, 2007

I think it was Keith Olbermann who said it first, who said yes wow that Virginia Tech shooting rampage was horrible and shocking and brutal and oh my God we lost a lot of really good, honest American kids and Something Should Be Done.

And maybe let's start with the wide-eyed gun-rights maniacs and the conservative pseudo-cowboys and those twitchy Second Amendment paranoids who somehow still think that we all must cling to our nasty little Glocks 'cuz gosh, what might happen if our own government turns on us and nobody has their little handgun to protect their kids from the tanks and the missiles and the heat-ray guns? Right.

But hey wait (Olbermann went on to say), then again, in the 10 days prior to that horrific shooting, didn't we also lose nearly exactly that same number of young people over in Iraq (well over 30) to even more brutal idiocy and insanity, to cluster bombs and insurgent shootings and gruesome death and a hugely inept, warmongering American president who is so violently unable to see just what kind of bland, lackluster evil he has wrought upon the planet that he is now on the verge of entering the record books as the Worst President in History?

And maybe, just maybe, given how we are still losing double-digit numbers of good, honest American bodies every week in Iraq, just as we have for the past four solid years, perhaps we should be equally -- if not perhaps quite a bit more -- appalled and disgusted and shocked that this "war" is still raging, nonstop, to the tune of 3,400 dead Americans and tens of thousands wounded and counting fast?

What, in other words, is wrong with us? Where is our outrage? Where is the pain and wailing and the candlelight vigils? Why has it become so easy to let Iraq turn into this numb, forgettable, boring thing, a blip in media, a sad yawn in your day?

Yes, maybe you heard all that and, like many Americans, reacted by saying, well yes, Iraq is awful and all, but it's a war, and like it or not, kids are supposed to die in wars, in unspeakable and unrecorded and unbloggable ways, it's understandable and acceptable and even (tragically, morbidly) expected, whereas that's not supposed to happen in a nice upscale college where most kids can keep their nervous rage in check with iPods and drugs and beer bongs and lousy recreational sex.

Or perhaps you replied, well, it's easy to ignore Iraq because, unless you're in the family of a soldier, this might be the most painless, distant, unfelt war in our short history, so removed and so disconnected from our everyday lives that it's almost as if it's not happening at all, just some minor political irritant as opposed to a horrid, gory embarrassment that's costing us $100,000 per minute, or $275 million per day -- enough money, by the end of it all, to rebuild every school and every park and every free clinic in America and then go on to house every homeless person and solve the oil crisis and cure a few diseases and perform a thousand other social improvements you can't even imagine right now lest you feel disgusted and sour and sad for the rest of the month.

See, it's all about perspective. And when it comes to Iraq, we aren't really required to have a great deal of it anymore because, let's be honest, we're not really at war, are we? War requires a clear enemy, serious consequences, something powerful and vital must be at stake and there's nothing at stake in Iraq -- except, of course, our own crumbling identity.

What's more, no one except the most bitter die-hard neocon is actually claiming that America itself is actually under any sort of attack, and we're certainly not fighting and dying for anything, not really, unless you're naive enough to believe in the "march of democracy" thing and if you do, I have a time-share on some swampland in Florida, cheap.

Maybe it's merely the natural progression, the way it must be. Iraq has been going on for so long, will be going on for so long, maybe the only response possible is to become numb to it all, to tune out the dreary headlines as they trudge on by because every day it's a new bombing, a new helicopter shot down, five or six or 20 more American bodies ripped and gored and blown up and to feel every one would be to quickly induce trauma fatigue.

And then there's the horrible feeling, that deeper understanding that no one really wants to acknowledge but which everyone knows to be true: The terrorists have already won. Oh my good Allah, yes they have.

Bush has seen to it that America has become, post-Sept. 11, a reactionary, rogue, knee-jerk, hateful outpost of isolationism and thuggishness that no self-respecting developed nation really wants to deal with anymore. Just like the terrorists wanted. Disrupt America and make us paranoid and implosive and openly loathed by the few remaining shreds of the Middle East that didn't mistrust us already? Hey, mission accomplished.

Me, I like to imagine the babies. I like to imagine all the children born back in 2003 (or 2001, if you count the equally failed Afghan campaign), the Year of Brutal Idiocy, the Year It All Went Wrong, the Year America Jumped the Shark.

All these children born at the war's beginning are well over 4 years old now. They are walking, talking, speaking in complete sentences with more complexity and coherence than the president himself. And for their entire lives, America has been at war. They have never known a day where we have been at peace, where we haven't lived under this bitter cloud of rampant incompetence, violence, a deep sadness, a sense that something has gone very, very wrong with the American idea, and no one really has any clue how to fix it. How will they be affected? What sort of perception of a broken, lost America will they have drilled into their baffled little bones?

Which leaves us right here, in this murky no-man's-land of vague dis-ease, this foul, anesthetized place where our brutal-war-that-isn't-really-a-war has become the norm, a time when it feels like we as a country should be getting stronger and should be leading the world in everything from peacekeeping to environmentalism to medicine to technology, and yet we have this giant, bloodstained monkey on our backs, violent and ugly and still shockingly strong, and he is laughing, cackling at our feeble attempts to shake ourselves free, even as he eats at our soul.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Picture Perfect

That's how my podiatrist assessed my progress today after performing bilateral neuroma foot surgery on me almost two weeks ago. "Picture perfect." Hardly any swelling at all. Excellent. A little bruising in the toes, totally expected. Outstanding.

He pulled out the sutures today, and it hardly hurt at all. I was more paralyzed by the expectation of pain of removing the stitches. Last year, with my first surgery, one of my most vivid memories of the whole experience is when he removed the sutures. It hurt like a sonofabitch. Every one of them. Looking back, I think the guy was a freakin' sadist.

This time, like that time, there were five stitches per foot, and I tensed up bigtime as he began to pull them out.

"You're looking a little pekid there," he says, looking up at me after removing the first three, and I had hardly felt any more than a little pressure. I asked for the numbing spray anyway on the others because they were closer to the toes and relaxed a bit. So he sprays me with something that was cold, cold, cold, and it, in fact, hurt my foot worse than pulling the stitches out with no spray.

"Careful what you ask for," he snickers. Are they all sadists??

Actually, this guy was quite good.

The pathology report confirmed that I did indeed have a non-malignant neuroma in each foot. Good to know for sure that it wasn't some bizarre, never-seen-before lump of unidentifyable material or anything wierd like that. Each was the size of a quarter, all around, up and down. Imagine a marble with a diameter of a quarter. (A quarter is a twenty-five cent coin, for the foreign readers).

The feet feel so much better already. Before the surgery, they felt "thick," which was most likely the built-up scar tissue, and of course the neuroma itself. While I still have a lot of numbness in my feet after surgery, they already feel "thinner," intuitively.

Also, in the months leading up to this second surgery, I had been getting a lot of foot spasms. Just put my foot in a certain position and it would begin to spasm. Now, two weeks after surgery, I assume that same position and no spasm. Not one spasm since surgery.

One thing I have learned about my foot, as if I didn't know already, is that I have a very thin foot. The metatarsals are very close together, and so the nerve can get easily inflamed.

Another thing I've learned through this ordeal is that I have very flat feet. So flat, in fact, that I would never have been accepted into the military. Well, let's say that, back in 1973, when I became eligible for the draft, I would not have been accepted. Today's military will take practically anyone, even with a criminal record. But that's another post. If I HAD been drafted back then, I would have been kicked out. Little did I know. We were sweating it BAD back then.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Bill Maher's New Rules 5/4/07

A good New Rule, the "French Dissing" segment, begins at 2:06.


And finally, New Rule: Conservatives have to stop rolling their eyes every time they hear the word, "France." Like just calling something "French" is the ultimate argument winner. As if to say, "What can you say about a country that was too stupid to get on board with our wonderfully-conceived and brilliantly-executed war in Iraq?"

And, yet, an American politician could not survive if he uttered the simple, true statement, "France has a better health care system than we do, and we should steal it." Because here, simply dismissing an idea as French passes for an argument. "John Kerry? Couldn't vote for him; he looked French." Yeah, as opposed to the other guy who just looked stupid.

Now, last week, France had an election, and people over there approach an election differently. They vote. Eighty-five percent of them turned out. You couldn't get 85% of Americans to get off the couch if there was an election between "Tits" and "Bigger Tits," and they were handing out free samples!

Now, maybe the high turnout has something to do with the fact that the French candidates are never asked where they stand on evolution, prayer in school, abortion, stem cell research or gay marriage. And if the candidate knows about a character in a book other than Jesus, it's not a drawback.

The electorate doesn't vote for the guy they want to have a croissant with; nor do they care about private lives. In the current race, Ségolène Royal has four kids, but she never got married. And she's a Socialist. In America, if a Democrat even thinks you're calling him "liberal," he grabs an orange vest and a rifle and heads into the woods to kill something!

Madame Royal's opponent is married, but they live apart and lead separate lives. And the people are okay with that for the same reason they're okay with nude beaches; because they're not a nation of six-year-olds who scream and giggle if they see pee-pee parts!

They have weird ideas about privacy. They think it should be private. In France, even the mistresses have mistresses. To not have a lady on the side says to the voters, "I'm no good at multi-tasking."

Now, like any country, France has its faults, like all that ridiculous accordion music. But, their health care is the best in the industrialized world. As is their poverty rate. And they're completely independent of Mid East oil. And they're the greenest country. And they're not fat. And they have public intellectuals in France. We have Dr. Phil!

They invented sex during the day, lingerie and the tongue. Can't we admit we could learn something from them?

So, from now on, all you high-ranking Bush Administration officials, because the French are righter than you on most things, when France comes up in conversation, you are not allowed to roll your eyes. The only time you get to do that is when your hooker from Ms. Julia is blowing you.