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

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Tattoo who??

This guy had what he thought was a great tattoo...

until he got arrested.

Now he's...


Three cheers for the students!

Normally I don't post the drivel from Maureen Dowd, but I'll make an exception this time. I'm very proud of these students and what they did with Bush. And they are "Presidential Scholars" no less. The really bright kids. As always, hope springs eternal.

W. Learns From Students
Published: June 27, 2007

A group of high school Presidential Scholars visiting the White House on Monday surprised President Bush by slipping him a handwritten letter pleading with him to not let America become known for torture and urging him to stick to the Geneva Conventions with terror detainees.

The president reassured the teenagers that the United States does not torture. Then the vice president unleashed a pack of large dogs on the kids, running them off the White House lawn, before he shut down the Presidential Scholars program and abolished high schools.
Since it’s rare that Mr. Bush ever sees groups that have not been prescreened to be nice to him, he made the mistake of opening the letter in front of the students and was surprised to learn that he has made many Americans ashamed by subverting values that the country has always held dear, like abiding by the Constitution and respecting human dignity.

Mari Oye from Wellesley, Mass., who is headed to Yale in the fall, handed W. the letter signed by 50 students as they posed for a group picture. She told John Roberts on CNN that her mother had been a Presidential Scholar back in 1968 and always regretted not saying something to Lyndon Johnson about the Vietnam War. She also said her grandparents were Japanese-Americans who were interned during World War II, so she has compassion for those “in a similar situation.”

“We asked him to remove the signing statement attached to the anti-torture bill, which would have allowed presidential power to make exemptions to the ban on torture,” she said. “I really feel strongly about this issue and also about the treatment of some Arab- and Muslim-Americans after September 11th.”

The president was trying to talk to the students about No Child Left Behind. Maybe that program’s working better than we thought if these kids are able to pull off such a knowing note left behind.

The White House got another unpleasant surprise Monday when the ordinarily compliant Dick Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee who has gone along with the Bush administration on every Iraq vote, came to the Senate floor to upbraid the president on his Iraq policy in a 50-minute speech.

“Those who offer constructive criticism of the surge strategy are not defeatists, any more than those who warn against a precipitous withdrawal are militarists,” the 75-year-old senator told the deserted chamber.

Another Republican on the committee, George Voinovich, sent a letter to the president yesterday, suggesting it’s time to start pulling troops out. “My heart has been heavy for a long time,” he told Jeff Zeleny of The Times. “We’re talking $620 billion. We’re talking over 3,500 people killed.” He said he keeps a photo of an Ohio Marine killed in Iraq on his desk “so I don’t forget, O.K.?” Mr. Lugar said the ’08 race is on, so time is scarce for a bipartisan solution.

Dick Cheney, the president of the Senate, immediately expelled Mr. Lugar and appointed himself the new senator from Indiana. It was a busy day of Constitutional shape-shifting for the vice president, who had earlier nominated and confirmed himself to the Supreme Court, so that he could roll back judicial decisions tempering his desire for torture galore, and then morphed back into his executive branch role to bar the door to the Oval Office sandbox and prevent Condi and Bob Gates from giving W. the plan he wanted to close down Gitmo.

Once his BFF Rummy was pushed out, Vice mentally absorbed the role of Defense Secretary into his own portfolio. He allows Mr. Gates — that pragmatic meddler from the skeptical world of Daddy Bush — to keep Rummy’s chair warm, but the new Pentagon chief is certainly not included in the super-secret paper flow Vice created to always get his own way. And Mr. Cheney never acknowledges the power of any secretary of state, be it Colin or Condi. Diplomacy is for wimps.

The Black Adder, David Addington, the Vice’s enforcer of all things evil, sent a snippy reply to a letter from Senator John Kerry yesterday, asking why Vice says his dual role in the legislative and executive branches means he doesn’t have to catalog any classified papers. What could those papers be? Cooked intelligence on invading Iraq? Ill-gotten profits for Halliburton? More chicanery about Scooter Libby? Gitmo and Abu Ghraib torture memos? So many embarrassing options, so little oversight.

In essence, the bizarre response is that nothing applies to the vice president because the vice president is everything. Because he is everything, he relaunched the Swift Boats against Skipper Kerry.

Here comes the Sicko counterpunch

Heads up, Michael. Gee, with such an array of people lined up against Moore, he must be doing something right.

Insurance Industry Prepares Counteroffensive Against Moore's Sicko

Meanwhile the New York Sun is reporting the insurance and pharmaceutical industries are readying a multifaceted counteroffensive against Michael Moore's new film Sicko. Several think tanks and front groups are being bankrolled to attack Moore's critique of the health care industry. According to the Sun, the groups involved in the campaign include the CATO Institute; the Manhattan Institute; the Galen Institute, Pacific Research Institute; the Heritage Foundation and FreedomWorks, which is run by Former House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey.

I saw an advance copy of Sicko recently and it is a rather devastating critique of the US healthcare system.

But, as with any documentary, I'm sure Moore left out a few bits here and there that might paint not-such-a-rosy-picture of other nations systems. Still, there is vast room for improvement in the US system. We should start by trying to get EVERYONE covered.

I don't want to give up my health plan, but I have little doubt that it could be done better if we could cut out some of the layers of bureaucracy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Harper's Weekly Review - 6/26/07

The Harper's Weekly Review is usually an interesting, quick read. And all the links in blue should work for you.

Saddam Hussein's cousin Ali Hassan al-Majeed, also known as “Chemical Ali,” was sentenced to death for his role in Iraq's Kurdish genocide.1

Hamas militants released an audio recording of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit in which he states, “I am sorry that the Israeli government has not shown more interest. It should meet the demands of my kidnappers so I can be released.”2

Seven children were killed during a coalition-led airstrike in Afghanistan,. 3 and the Gaza kidnappers of British journalist Alan Johnston released a video of Johnston wearing an explosives vest, which he says will be detonated if force is used to try to free him.4

In North Korea, 110 people foraging for gasoline were killed in an explosion at a fuel pipeline,5 and the North Korean government announced it would begin dismantling its nuclear program after the U.S. Treasury unfroze certain bank accounts in Macau.6

A Marine Corps memo, circulated after the 2005 Haditha massacre, was made public. “'Fighting terrorists associated with Al Qaida' is stronger language than 'serving',” read the memo. “The American people will side more with someone actively fighting a terrorist organization that is tied to 9/11 than with someone who is idly 'serving,' like in a way one 'serves' a casserole.”7

It was reported that despite the U.S. “surge,” the black-market prices in Iraq for weapons and ammunition have remained stable, indicating the failure of supposedly strengthened checkpoints. 8

The military was concerned about a marked drop in the number of African-American recruits since the start of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars; “We just want to make sure,” said Marine Commandant General James Conway, “that we continue to look like America.”9

Scientists called Europe's winter of 2006 - 2007 the warmest in 700 years. 1

Flooding in Karachi, Pakistan, left 200 people dead and 1,000 homes destroyed,2 and a five-acre glacial lake in the Andes vanished.3

Tuna shortages were forcing Japanese chefs to consider deer and horse meat as substitutes for sushi.4

Japan rechristened the island of Iwo Jima, made famous by World War II, with its prewar name of Iwo To.5

Authorities in New Zealand prevented a couple from naming their baby “4real” because the name included a numeral.6

The South African education department announced that male students may be granted paternity leave,7 and Lydia Playfoot, a 16-year-old English schoolgirl, went to the High Court to protest her school's ban on wearing “purity rings” (used to symbolize chastity), which she characterized as discrimination against Christians.8

Researchers announced that firstborn children develop higher I.Q.s than their younger siblings,9 and a two-year-old English girl with an I.Q. of 152 joined Mensa.10

One and a half million Thomas the Tank Engine toys produced in China were recalled after they were found to contain lead paint.11

The actress Cameron Diaz apologized for carrying a bag printed with a Maoist political slogan when she visited Peru, where up to 69,000 people died in a decade-long war between the government and Maoist rebels.12

A study found that paying taxes activates pleasure-centers in the brain.13

Zimbabwe's rate of inflation reached 11,000 percent and was predicted to approach 1.5 million percent by the end of the year.14

The Australian government announced a ban on alcohol and pornography for Aborigines,1 and the Swedish government recognized that one man's preference for heavy metal music constitutes a disability, making the man eligible for state benefits.2

A District of Columbia judge ruled in favor of a Washington dry cleaner in a $54 million case brought over a missing pair of pants. The plaintiff, himself an administrative law judge, was ordered to pay the dry cleaner's court fees.3

A study found that Facebook users are wealthier and better educated than their MySpace counterparts,4 a Minnesota man was fined $3,000 for putting dog feces in a parking ticket envelope,5 and in Idaho, a black Labrador drove his owner's Chevy Impala into a river.6

An eight-year-old two-headed hermaphrodite albino rat-snake named “We” died of natural causes at the City Museum in St. Louis,7 and Six Flags closed eight thrill rides across the country after a teenage girl in Kentucky had her feet severed on the Superman Tower of Power.8 3


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General URL for the Weekly Review:

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Will Pitt - A Time To Reap

William has been one of my favorite writers since Bush "took" office.

A Time to Reap
By William Rivers Pitt t r u t h o u t Columnist
Wednesday 20 June 2007

My friend Dan was on his way home the other day, and found an American flag crumpled in a gutter outside his apartment building. The flag, perhaps as big as the cover of a book, had been used as a decoration for some pre-Fourth of July party, but afterwards was merely thrown aside like litter for the street-sweepers to collect.

Dan gathered it up, smoothed the creases, and hung it from a nearby railing. The motivation for his actions was hard for him to explain, but it came down to this: Everything else in America is so screwed up, but this American thing before him would not be defiled within reach of his arm. My friend, surrounded by the chaos of a flailing nation and filled with the need to act, found some solace in the rescue of that flag.

He is not alone in his sentiments, not alone in his desire to make things right again within reach of his arm.

There is something happening today in America. With the right kind of ears, you can hear it in the sound of millions of brows slowly furrowing in anger and disgust. It feels like those tense moments just before the eruption of a summer thunderstorm, those moments when the air is electric, the ozone reek of spent lightning fills the world, and you know something very loud is about to happen.

What is happening, what can be heard and smelled and sensed all across the land, is the cresting wave of rage, betrayal and fury that is, finally, roaring across the shores of our collective American heart. After more than six years of lies, theft, graft, corruption, manipulation and misconduct, just about every living person within these borders finds themselves today gripped by the slow seethe, directed inward as much as outward, of one who has come around to see just how much of a fool they've been played for.

There are numbers to argue the reality of what is happening: The latest NBC/Wall Street Journal poll has 81% of Americans believing this country to be very much on the wrong track. Put simply, four out of every five people nowadays have that furrowed brow, that sense of betrayal, that slow seethe.

It is a Becoming, this thing, or perhaps an Awakening. It is very real, and is all around us, and it feels like something very loud is about to happen.

It is happening because of Iraq, to be sure, but the roots of the phenomenon stretch deeper into the soil, down where our basic ideas and ideals are rooted. The Iraq debacle, along with myriad examples of corruption and malfeasance, gives voice to a larger sense of outrage felt by nearly all of us today, an outrage so vast that naming it or describing the totality of it beggars vocabulary.

Americans are realizing that their faith and trust in the workings of the republic have been deliberately undermined, and the simple ability to feel good about their nation has been stolen away. Faith in the constructs of our democracy has turned to gall for the citizen who perceives now the magnitude of this theft. When joined in this by another citizen and another and another again, when the unrest of the one becomes a massed and overwhelming majority, those responsible should rightly tremble before the looming possibilities of what may come to be unleashed.

Most Americans, at bottom, have very little in common with one another. We are a collection of races, creeds, colors, faiths, schools of training and the generational freight of inherited bias and belief. We are separated by region, by upbringing, by the economics of class, by that which we know, that which we have forgotten and by that which we choose to ignore. The distances between us are at the center of our American experience, a rift that would be terminal if we ever lose our core linkage, the thing we all have in common as Americans.

We are from everywhere, with beliefs in everything, and the roots of our national unity can only be found in the weaving of our beginnings. All we have in common, across the broad span of this gathered multitude, are the documented dreams inked onto our Constitution, our Bill of Rights, the Declaration that announced us and the laws that have flown outward since. All we have in common is our faith in that link, in the ideas that created it. That's it. That's the one true bond between us, one both strong and fragile in equal measure.

That is the missing thing people have come to sense, the stolen thing which summons the storm. Partisan sensibilities and the your-team/my-team nonsense of modern politics is being replaced by the broad belief that we have all been screwed, that what is most important has been discarded by those in power. The poll numbers charting low approval for Bush and the GOP are matched by similarly low numbers approving of the new Democratic majority in congress. The former bears most of the responsibility for what has happened, as far as the citizenry is concerned, but the latter's failure to stop or reverse the trend is equally shameful.

The seeds of this Becoming have been planted, and have grown, and the time has come to reap.

The American people are weary of Becoming, weary of watching everything they hold dear getting cast into gutters. The midterm elections last November heralded their peaked frustration, and the power invested in this new Democratic Congress came with an invested trust, a hope that this wrong track would be righted. The American people are tired of waiting, tired of revealed wrongs continuing without consequence or punishment, tired of anticipation. This frustration smells of ozone, and feels electric, and means something very loud is indeed about to happen.

This new Democratic Congressional majority is not new anymore, and it knows what it needs to know, and the time has come to reap. Potential must become actual, actions must have consequences, and our faith in each other and what binds us together must be restored. Enough of talk. The subpoenas must be sent, the oaths must be required, the truths must be told, and the consequences of betrayals must be felt.

This new Republican Congressional minority is not new anymore either, and it knows what it has done, and it must join in the reaping. Matters have progressed beyond the pettiness of parties, because the problems before us can no longer be deflected with spin and blather. Enough of talk. The subpoenas must be welcomed, the oaths required, the truth embraced, and the consequences suffered.

My friend Dan did a small thing the other day. He made sure one small bit of America was right and proper and respected, because it was something he could do within reach of his arm. The Democrats in Congress must do likewise, must reach out their right arm, must make change with their long reach instead of merely promising change; they must do this now. Something is happening today in America, and it involves each and every one of us, and it is going to get very loud if matters continue as they have been.

It is time to reap.

William Rivers Pitt is a New York Times and internationally bestselling author of two books: "War on Iraq: What Team Bush Doesn't Want You to Know" and "The Greatest Sedition Is Silence." His newest book, "House of Ill Repute: Reflections on War, Lies, and America's Ravaged Reputation," is now available from PoliPointPress.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Powerful programs

This past Sunday the wife and I watched two programs that we had previously recorded on our DVR. Both of them were from the Memorial Day weekend timeframe and both of them were very powerful. Neither of us could keep a dry eye. It's a bit of a drag, however, that we can't seem to keep current. I finally get around to watching something that I've recorded, and the "conversation" about it has already passed. It's near-impossible to view everything we'd like to see in real time. There just isn't enough time in the day.

Program #1 - Bill Moyers Journal from May 25. This is the one with Maxine Hong Kingston (left). Within the first 10 minutes of this program, I stopped it and told the wife that I wasn't sure if I could watch the entire program. I already had tears streaming down my face. I'm such a sensitive guy! Maxine has a new book out called, Veterans of War, Veterans of Peace. This is an amazing show, and it's just a pleasure watching and listening to Maxine, as compared to so many other people on the tube these days. They talk about the power of writing, and if you haven't seen this, watch it. And, keep some tissues handy. We are soooooooooo glad that Moyers is back on the air.

Program #2 - Democracy Now! program from May 28, Memorial Day. The whole hour was devoted to readings from Howard Zinn's "Voices of a People's History of the United States." A little I had heard before, but there were several very powerful vignettes here, read by various actors. Democracy Now! is a priceless program. We record them every day and try to watch them when we have time. Even the older programs usually contain very interesting items that we often missed when the events first happened.
You can watch the entire program, or read the transcript (watching is better) at this link:

Both of these program will really make you THINK about America. And THINKING is a good thing. Amazing things can happen when you BREATHE, and THINK.

Finally took the call from the DNC Sunday

In the past, I've given money on a monthly basis to the Democratic National Committee, and the local Harris County Democratic Party. Among others, of course.

I stopped the contributions several months ago, after the Dems re-took the House and Senate in November of '07.
The DNC has been calling me for a few weeks now, and I've been avoiding the calls. They always seemed to call at a bad time when I was busy doing something and didn't want to be interrupted. I knew it was them because my wife answered the phone at one point - it was a 303 Area Code - and said I wasn't in, and so they said they'd call back.

And call back they did. Every day. Often twice, three times a day. Never leaving a message, but I knew that 303 Area Code was them.

So, on Sunday, after the party Saturday, they called again and I finally decided to talk to them.

As usual, a woman on the other end starts reading her script about how there is much work left to do to gain a stronger majority in the Senate and House, and we need your help more than ever, blah blah blah. I let her go on and on and on until she finally got to the moneyline.

"Can we count on you to give $25/month to the DNC, sir?"

"No," I said, and then I launched into a tirade about how pissed off I was about how the Dems just buckled after one veto of the supplemental Iraq spending bill. About how Harry Reid was just a horrible symbol for the Dems at large. About how no one is inspiring me to contribute and help. My voice was rising in pitch and volume. Maybe if some Democrat had just a little eloquence, had just a little SPINE, had just a little CHUTZPAH to stand up to the THUGS in the White House and break thru the media filter, maybe THEN I might be inspired to contribute. But not till then. And BTW, take me off of your phone list.

"Thank you," she said, and hung up. She cratered, without a protest, like most Democrats seem to be doing. How did I end up in such a pussy party?
I felt better after the phone call, but I practically feel like I have no party at all. I may have to change my official status to "independent."

Party? With the world like this??

This past weekend was just a little hairy.

Had a birthday/housewarming/solstice party on Saturday and had a good turnout. We had forgotten all the work that goes into a party. That is, if you care.

Had a ton of food left over. Quite a few beers too. Eight people brought a bottle of wine, and I think we only killed about six bottles, so there was a net gain of wine, which is fine by me.

Too bad the weather didn't cooperate much on Saturday. It rained a good bit of the day, but then got really steamy, humid and just too warm. Not to mention the chairs on the deck were soaked. And so, naturally, Sunday evening was perfect. The sun stayed behind the clouds most of the time, there was a really nice sunset and cool breezes. Even the hibiscus opened up on Sunday, a day late. They say timing is everything, but WTF do they know? We enjoyed just sitting on the deck, watching the sun sink and the light play upon the clouds. The birds were chirping, the flowers blooming. We are so lucky....

This is only the start of the party season. This next weekend we have some friends from New York coming in and plan to have a little different kind of party. This past one was for co-workers. You know, gotta keep that one "clean." This next one will be for long-time friends, with a few freaks thrown in. Oughta be fun, and we have plenty of booze left over.

And then, after this coming weekend, some family members will be coming in for a few days around the 4th of July for yet another different kind of gathering.

And the weekend after that, yet another party with different family members.

Must get plenty of rest.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Digby revealed

Follow this Google video link (below) to a nice little award acceptance speech by Digby of the Hullabalo blog. I maintain a link to Hullabalo on the right column under "Other Blogs/Named Sites."

Many thanks to Secondharmonic on the Bartcop Forum. And many, many thanks to Digby for saying what needs to be said.

It's 13:00 long.

Busy busy busy

The wife and I have been so busy getting things ready for the party this weekend, we've had little time for much else.

We bought a Dyson "Slim" vacuum cleaner the other day. Pretty expensive, but looks to be well worth it. Haven't had such a good sucking since, well, since the weekend before. Ar ar ar.

Beer, wine, food, hookers, just about everything is ready.

All this, and lately I'm just all pissed off at politics and the Democrats again. So much so that I've been avoiding many things political. Somewhere there is a family so isolated that they're not aware of what's going on in the world, and they're still doing ok. Know what I mean?

Perhaps I'll get back to the blog after the party this weekend. Who knows? I'll probably have another flurry of posts right up to the party. It's hard to predict the future.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Bob Herbert - When Dollars Trump Compassion

A good new Bob Herbert column. Very much along the lines of Michael Moore's new documentary "Sicko." It's quite obvious that this once-great nation cares much more about the bottom line than people. We sacrifice public health and safety in more ways than one on the altar of the almighty dollar.

I saw an advance copy of "Sicko." I highly recommend it, if for no other reason than to stoke your anger and outrage and the current state of the United States of America. We, our government, that is, has become so corrupted that unless you walk in with a million bucks or more, you won't get the time of day. Period. The stench of greed is permeating the entire nation. We are quite simply no longer the greatest nation in the world.

When Dollars Trump Compassion
Published: June 19, 2007

You won’t see these stories on television, but Marian Wright Edelman and Dr. Irwin Redlener could talk to you all day and all night about children whose lives have been lost or ruined because they didn’t have health insurance.

This is not a situation one associates with a so-called advanced country. That you can have sick children wasting away in the United States, the wealthiest nation on the planet, because medical treatment that could relieve their suffering is withheld by men and women with dollar signs instead of compassion in their eyes is beyond unconscionable.

Ms. Edelman is the president of the Children’s Defense Fund, and Dr. Redlener is president of the Children’s Health Fund.

Both are appalled at the embarrassing fact that nine million American children have no health coverage at all. Among them are children with diabetes, chronic asthma, heart conditions, life-threatening allergies and so on. In many instances they are left untreated until it is too late.

Leaving children uninsured is a form of Russian roulette, Dr. Redlener said.

“All children should be covered,” said Ms. Edelman.
Congress and the president could do something about this right now. Of the nine million children without coverage, six million are already eligible for either Medicaid or the popular State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or S-chip, which covers children whose parents earn too much to qualify for Medicaid but too little to afford private health insurance. The bulk of the funding for S-chip comes from the federal government.

S-chip, which had strong bipartisan support when it was established 10 years ago, is currently up for reauthorization in Congress. The program should be expanded as part of a broader effort to cover as many of the six million eligible-but-uninsured kids as possible.

Eligible children remain outside of S-chip and Medicaid for a variety of reasons, including the following: because there is insufficient funding to cover them; because families do not realize their children qualify for coverage; because red tape and complicated regulations discourage families from signing up.

A number of S-chip re-authorization proposals are being developed. The best-case scenario would be legislation — costing as much as $50 billion in additional funding over the next five years — that would cover millions of additional youngsters from poor and working-poor families. This would put the U.S. on the road toward universal coverage for children.

Ten billion dollars a year is considered a pittance when it comes to funding wars and tax cuts for the very wealthy. But it’s suddenly a lot of money when the subject is the health of American children.

One of the worst scenarios has been offered by President Bush in his White House budget proposal. That calls for just $4.8 billion in new funding for S-chip over the next five years. The result, according to the Congressional Budget Office, would be a net loss of coverage for 1.4 million children.

The old expression was “taking candy from a baby.” The White House is ready to take away vitally needed medicine.

Negotiations over the reauthorization of S-chip are under way. It will be interesting to see whether the Democrats who crowed so much about their newfound power when they took control of Congress will stand tall for the kids of the poor and working poor, and whether there are enough caring Republicans to resurrect the spirit of bipartisanship from a decade ago.

As the heat gets turned up on this issue, the White House appears to be falling into its old habit of creating its own reality.

The Congressional Budget Office and most researchers have agreed on the six million figure for the number of youngsters who are eligible for government-sponsored health coverage but remain unenrolled — roughly four million for Medicaid and two million for S-chip. This has not been controversial.

Yesterday, the Department of Health and Human Services began circulating a study that tries to make the case that the total number of eligible but uninsured youngsters is a mere 794,000, an absurdly low figure.

If you can wave a magic wand and make five million poor kids disappear, you no longer have to think about caring for them.

Advocates like Dr. Redlener and Ms. Edelman don’t have that luxury.

“Kids who grow up with poor access to health care carry a high risk of having underdiagnosed and undertreated chronic illness, both physical and emotional,” said Dr. Redlener. “We know what to do. We should fully fund this effort at the $50 billion level and make coverage mandatory for all children.”

Friday, June 15, 2007

Mark Morford - I Do Not Have $1 Million

Well, neither do we. It's rather shocking the differences in the housing markets in Houston vs. San Francisco. To get what we got in Houston, just 10 blocks from "downtown" in a comparable location in San Fran, I am told, would set us back over $1 million. Yeow! Houston may be lacking in many things, like culture and style, but the housing is still pretty "affordable." Affordable being a relative term, of course.

I Do Not Have $1 Million
Ergo, I cannot buy a delicious home in San Francisco. Ergo, I am screwed forever
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, June 15, 2007

I did not get in on the ground floor of Google. I did not grab 50,000 shares of Flickr before it was bought for $8 bazillion by Yahoo, thus instantly affording me a fleet of new diamond-encrusted Aston Martins and a set of solid-gold teeth.

I do currently own a nice fistful of Apple stock which I bought at 17 (!) and which is now worth a small carload of iPhones, but in this ridiculous and demeaning and utterly depressing San Francisco housing market this equates to enough money to buy roughly 9 square feet of a former meth lab in an industrial loft in the outer Mission.

(There is some good news: I plan to release my first book sometime in late 2019, after which I will quickly make numerous millions of dollars after Oprah has me on to tell me how my soul-altering tome caused her to forsake skanky celebrity interviews in favor of yoga and cold sake and sex toys and books that aren't just painfully maudlin coming-of-age, rite-of-passage examinations of oppressed sexually abused lesbian sisters from broken raging alcoholic families from the South.)

But until that time, if I want to live in San Francisco, if I wish to have some semblance of space and hope and urban love with enough money left over for Peet's and good wine and relatively decent porn, I must do what all commoners like me must do: I gotta rent.

Apparently, quite nearly forever. (San Fran pic)

It appears that I am, in formal real estate jargon, totally screwed. I currently suffer what is now a brutally typical San Francisco plight, the biting conundrum of any true lover of urban vibes and modern architecture of a kind that offers a decent amount of space sans any gunfire or bloody drug deals just outside the front door, all still within drooling distance of, say, Tartine and the Ferry Building and shockingly intoxicating dim sum on Clement Street.

It is a common refrain indeed: You love the city? You don't come from money and you don't have a giant trust fund and you totally forgot to sell your soul to the devil/Rupert Murdoch in exchange for a Stanford MBA and a deeply unsatisfying but incredibly lucrative gig working 14-hour days in the Financial District and getting drunk the rest of the time out on the huge deck of your really, really nice split-level Edwardian remodel in Noe Valley?

Well. How unfortunate for you. You will likely die never knowing the deeper pleasures of San Francisco home ownership, of that cool freedom that comes with having your own urban space but which also comes with eternal mortgage payments and massive property taxes and the deep thrill of retiling your bathroom the entirely wrong style and then having to pay a small fortune to rip it out and start all over.

Ownership is, you can easily argue, a mixed blessing. But it does seem to raise the eternal question: What is this thing about wanting, so badly, to own property? From whence does this mad desire arise? Yes, buying a home carries a certain pride of ownership; it remains one of our most reliable indicators of arrival and success, a deep social marker of American cultural values. Plus, it's just sort of cool. OK. But besides that.

It also raises the other eternal question: Can you just rent forever? Is it not only acceptable and fiscally tolerable but morally conscionable? I get no equity. I get no tax breaks. I get no opportunity to indulge my fetish for Dwell magazine design aesthetics by remodeling my living room by way of Roche Bobois and Propeller and then landscaping my backyard with bamboo and cool slate stonework surrounding a gorgeous sunken hot tub while I turn up the wireless stereo as loud as I damn well please, despite how I don't really care to do that anymore. But it sure would be nice to, you know, have the option.

One million dollars. This appears to be the magic number in San Francisco right now. Yes, 600K will get you a tiny corner studio in a remote condo development with a view of some shattered bus shelters in a part of the city where you don't even let your dog walk outside alone at night. 850K will get you a nice little place with a bathroom large enough that you may turn around in it without knocking over the refrigerator.

But $1 million seems to be where it's at, the true starter level. It's an amount that opens most possibilities and provides enough square footage so that every single day you are not feeling the overpowering urge to hurl a large vase at the head of the universe because you cannot get out of bed in the morning without bumping into your desire for a just a tiny bit more room.
It is also, quite obviously, an amount so far from the reality of a newspaper columnist/yoga teacher's income that I might as well be considering a yacht to dock outside my third home in that nauseatingly surreal Palm Island development in Dubai.

I know what you're thinking. "But what about all that borderline illegal 'creative financing' I've read so much about?" I know. I could probably do it. I could leverage my decent credit score and total lack of debt and my hugely unstable job into some sort of massive loan that will lock me into massive payments for 47 years, thusly ruining my dream of writing my fourth book while living in a huge conversion loft in Amsterdam. Yes, buying property in the city on a humble income is rumored to be actually doable. Insane, but doable.

(Houston pic)

Another option: I could just shut the hell up and be happy with my lovely rent-controlled San Francisco flat and/or maybe consider getting over my silly urban addiction and just go buy a place "out there" in some foreign distant galaxy like, say, Oakland or Hayward or Livermore, and be happy writing columns about the damnable heat and the surly neighborhood teens and how my neighbor's yard looks like a disaster scene from hell's own Romper Room. Fun.

Perhaps I am going about it all wrong. Perhaps my values have simply drifted too far askew and I read too many hip real estate and design blogs and too much Dwell and ogle too many photos of sleek sexy interiors full of tasteful furniture and swooning appliances and lickable mahogany flooring I will probably never afford, much less roll around on naked and cooing. We are, after all, a deeply covetous culture. And I am far from immune.

It can be enormously confusing. Because in this bizarrely inflated, cartoon real estate market, a million bucks seems at once hugely embarrassing and impossibly rich, and, well, not all that much at all. Hey, is a humble, well-designed million-dollar pad in the city really too much to ask? Oprah?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Fun with TXDPS

Every now and then you just have to get out of your cocoon and get into the real world of people and bullshit.

Ever since the wife and I moved "inside the Loop" (610), we've tried hard to utilize businesses that are also inside the Loop. Part of the motivation is that driving on Houston freeways is near-suicide. About the only times you can drive unobstructed is between the hours of 3am and 5am. By 3am all the drunks have either gotten home or are lying in smoldering heaps of metal along the side of the road. Rarely do they crash right in the middle of the highway.
Anyway, it was finally time for me to have to take a new picture for my Texas drivers license. I'd been able to renew by mail and internet for many years. Maybe 10. The picture of me on my license was beginning to bare practically no resemblance to the current me at all, and as of my birthday here in June of 2007, I was due to renew again, but I was no longer allowed to renew by mail.

So, this means I have to actually go to a Drivers License office of the Texas Department of Public Safety. There are NO TXDPS offices inside the Loop. Although everyone warned me away from it, and my own sour experiences there years ago should have kept me away, I headed to the Dacoma TXDPS office.

They opened at 8am, so I figured that getting there around 9:30am might be a good time to beat some of the crowd. Ha! Sure enough, not a parking space available anywhere. There are only about 50 spaces for cars at this location, which is stupid already, and they were all taken.

After circling (with several other cars) for several minutes, someone finally pulled out of a space, and I zipped in, just ahead of one of my fellow vultures. It was already hot as the blazes of Hell outside.

Open the front door of the office, and, aw, shit, the serpentine line was already backed up right to the front door.

There are no signs to direct you where to go. Only one sign: INFORMATION.

Everyone has to go thru this line to find out which line you need to wait in. Although my feet were already thinking about how much they were going to be hurting by standing in line for God-knows-how-long, I stepped to the rear of the line.

Fortunately, I walked in right after a nice guy and we struck up a conversation to help the time go. He manages the Monterrey Tex-Mex restaurant just down the highway. The wife and I used to eat there now and then when we lived in suburbia. "Elvis" (Warren) was still working there. He offers me a free meal next trip. That's nice.

While waiting in line, I notice they have one of those number counters on the wall..."NOW SERVING NUMBER 23" the sign reads. I notice that, after snaking thru this line - we were moving about two people per minute - that number had not changed once. I figured it was out of order or something. After several minutes I made out the desk ahead, where two DPS workers were giving people in my line the "Information."

When I was about 15 people away from being "next," after already waiting in line about 20 minutes, one of the two workers simply walks away, around the corner and doesn't come back. Great. Now we have only one person "helping" all these people in line. As I get closer, one of the people just milling around in a waiting area close to us (he'd already been thru this "Information"line) leans over to the one guy left at the desk and says, "Hey, that number on the wall has been on '23' for 45 minutes now."
Oh, shit.

All these people have a number in their hands. There must be 75 people waiting, AFTER they've been in this line. And I see only about 25 chairs there, for about 75 people. That means everyone else has to stand. My feet...So, I'm only two people away now from the sacred "Information," and a voice over the loudspeaker says, "Number 24. Number 25."

Ok, let's see now. That guy over there said the counter was on #23 for 45 minutes, and then they called two numbers. This doesn't look good. I finally get up to Mr. Information, tell him what I need, he gives me a form, tells me to wait "over there," pointing to all those poor suckers with angry looks on their faces, and gives me my number.

Number 78. NUMBER 78?!?!

And it took 45 minutes to move off of #23? Lessee now, how long will I be waiting? My number is 78. They just called "25." You do the math. I figured it would be at least three or four hours, at that pace, if the citizens didn't riot first.

That would mean that I would miss lunch waiting there. Shit, I might miss dinner too.

My feet took one look at number 78 and we bolted out the door, heading for the car and home. No fucking way I'm going to wait until 4pm or later to get my picture snapped. I went home and, already getting hungry, made some lunch. Lay down in the cool air from the air conditioner and relax......

There are six or seven other DPS offices in the general area. Surely they all would not be this bad, right?

Heh heh....

Oh, by the way, here's Texas 10 Most-Wanted...

More on the idiot cop

This guy SHOULD face charges.
(click the box)

Cop eats pot brownies

I hope all cops aren't this stupid.
(click the black box)
"I think we're dead. I really do."

Uh-oh! Cockroaches can LEARN!

I'm awfully glad that cockroaches have learned to leave me alone.

Cockroaches can learn -- like dogs and humans
By Tan Ee Lyn


HONG KONG (Reuters) - Cockroaches have a memory and can be taught to salivate in response to neutral stimuli in the way that Pavlov's dogs would do when the famed Russian doctor rang his bell, Japanese researchers found.

Such "conditioning" can only take place when there is memory and learning, and this salivating response had only previously been proven in humans and dogs. Now, cockroaches appear to have that aptitude too.

Writing in the latest edition of the online journal Public Library of Science, the researchers said they hoped to learn more about the human brain by exploring what goes on in the simpler brain of the cockroach. (Article is freely available on

"Understanding the brain mechanism of learning in insects can help us to understand the functionings in the human brain. There are many, many common characteristics," said Makoto Mizunami, of Tohoku University's Graduate School of Life Sciences, in a telephone interview.

In the experiment, the scientists exposed a group of cockroaches to an odor whenever they fed them a sugar solution. They found that when they later exposed the cockroaches to the odor alone, they still drooled.

Another group of cockroaches was fed the sugar solution without the odor, and exposure to the smell afterwards caused no change in the amount of saliva produced.

"Sure, cockroaches can remember and learn," Mizunami said.;_ylt=AhpSnFMmBC4RhLVJZzMUtA4E1vAI

Pat Robertson says Islam is not a religion

As you were, citizens. Our (imbecilic, brain-addled, self-appointed religious) leader has spoken. Oh, God, we will be so much better off when we finally shed this religious straightjacket that we've been wearing for years and years.

Robertson: "Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination"

On the June 12 edition of the Christian Broadcasting Network's The 700 Club, following a report on Muslims in Minneapolis seeking religious accommodations at school and work, host Pat Robertson stated, "Ladies and gentlemen, we have to recognize that Islam is not a religion. It is a worldwide political movement meant on domination of the world. And it is meant to subjugate all people under Islamic law." He characterized the American Muslim community as "Islam light" and went on to say Muslims "want to take over and we want to impose Sharia on you. And before long, ladies are going to be dressed in burqas and whatever garments they would put on them, and next thing you know, men are going to be allowed to have wife-beating and you'll be beheading adulterers and so on and so forth."

As Media Matters for America noted, during the September 25 edition of The 700 Club, following a report on a summit between Pope Benedict XVI and Muslim envoys to address tensions over controversial remarks the pope made about Islam, Robertson stated: "It's amazing how the Muslims deal with history and the truth with violence. They don't understand what reasoned dialogue is." Media Matters has documented other attacks by Robertson on Muslims.