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

Friday, July 31, 2009

Morford: Change you can freak out about

Change you can freak out about

Or: How parkland pot, flying cars and John Cusack will save the world

Friday, July 31, 2009

This is the amazing thing about rabid global economic recessions combined with volatile environmental collapses combined with a tasty national identity crisis combined with a truly historic, revolutionary president combined with a gnawing sense that our species might not be long for this world after all combined with the overwhelming sense that something, somewhere, something big and meaty and interesting and maybe even profoundly and butt-shakingly unexpected, has got to give.

This is the feeling: anything can happen. Nearly every day in this New Millennium Wonderland, we are swarmed by distressing, heartbreaking tales of woe and hardship and layoff, only to spin right around and read about something positive and uplifting and innovative emerging from it all, some unanticipated, rise-from-the-ashes kind of thing that whipsaws your perspective and pinches the nipples of your worldview.

Upshot: within a few meager minutes soaking in the media whirlpool, you can travel all the way from defeatist, punch-you-in-the-face, we're-all-effing-doomed misery right on over to "hey, you know what? Maybe all is not lost and we might just survive to blow ourselves to smithereens another day." It's exactly like riding a rickety old rollercoaster in hell, but with better drinks.

Here's the really delightful part: Between those two extremes lies an even more intriguing and juicy category, stories and ideas that fall somewhere in between heartbreaking and hopeful, tales we can't quite categorize or define as good or bad, right or wrong, liberal or conservative, hard or soft, sweet or sour, sacred or profane, spit or swallow just yet.

And why? Well, partly because the ideas they contain have yet to fully sort themselves out, but mostly it's because, by and large, we as a culture have never really been here before, never in this exact spot in time and circumstance, with this particular set of traumas and dramas and apocalypse and opportunity, and therefore have no idea what many these grand social notions -- economy, health, gender, God, capitalism -- all really mean anymore.

(Not that we ever really did, I realize, but our massive, bloated, BS-happy Greatest Generation ego sure led us to believe we did. How cute we were!)

Truly, these are my favorite kinds of stories of all, so fraught with mystery and confusion and what-the-hell-does-it-all-mean. I love them not only because they serve to remind us that we can, if we so desire, rearrange ourselves and our identity far more fluidly and interestingly than we might believe, but also that we have far less control over the gyrations and contractions of the swirling hissing pulsing universe than we like to imagine. Ain't it grand?

A tiny example, signifying nothing: California state parks. They say our new, brutally slashed budget means that upwards of 100 of our beloved public pastures will just up and close. No hiking, no camping, no poison oak, no pissing in the wind. They say, furthermore, that Mexican pot cartels are already gleefully swooping into these selfsame parks and cranking up pot production to "epidemic" proportions, simply because the government can no longer afford to monitor and police them, and it's prime growin' land and, well, why the hell not?

What does this mean? Does it mean we are doomed to be flooded with crime and land abuse and skanky Mexican weed for years to come? Does it mean state lawmakers will quickly snap to attention and realize that pot is everywhere so we might as well get in there ourselves and grow it and legalize it and tax it? Does it mean if you sneak into a closed park and go camping anyway, you will be able to stroll over and cut a giant swath of prime Mary Jane and toss it on your campfire and introduce the kids to the real glories of nature?

No question, park closures are sad and awful. But what if they lead to new marijuana laws? What if we changed our lens? What if we said, you know, screw it, let's do what the Mexican cartels are smart enough to do and turn all that prime parkland into prime, controlled, American-run pot farmland, a giant, gorgeous Napa Valley of ganja. What have we got to lose? Then use some of the tax revenue to reopen the parks to the public. It's win-win-naptime!

Keep your California raisins, babydoll. Great wine, pot, avocadoes, sodomy, artichokes? Now you're talking a new state motto.

Shall we peek at the environment? Oh holy hell in a sweltering hand basket, what are we to make of it? Wicked weather shifts are upon us, food shortages and water shortages and unsustainable farming, polar ice caps melting so fast scientists can't recalculate their worst-case scenarios fast enough, low-level panic slowly setting in and no one has any real clue what the real upshot will look like.

Maybe it look something like the trailer for "2012," the Roland Emmerich epic disaster flick, out soon. Have you seen this thing? It's all kinds of ridiculous insipid dorky childish badass cartoon awesome. I mean, aircraft carriers flipping over onto a statehouse? Florida sliding into the ocean at a 30-degree angle? Tidal waves crashing over the Himalayas? If the end of the world looks like that, I just have one thing to say: Sign me up.

(Of course, right now, the ancient Mayans are all, "No no no, that's not what we meant at all. We were trying to tell you about a profound planetary alignment that will bring about a deep shift of consciousne-- wait a second. Is that John Cusack? I freakin' love John Cusack! Never mind.")

And finally, over here, the twitching, mouth-breathing auto biz, perhaps the best example of convulsive WTF capitalistic upheaval of all. You don't need me to tell you American cars are gasping for survival, but even Toyota and Honda are re-evaluating their place in the world. Massive job losses are brutal. The ground is shifting, painfully. Then again, no one anywhere doubts the industry was hugely stagnant and bloated simply could not be sustained at previous levels of arrogance and wastefulness and SUV-sucking ignorance.

It invites the delicious query, to be applied far and wide: What will the car biz look like a single short decade from now? What sort of radical re-thinking is now available? Twenty years ago you ask that question and the answer was simple: more dumb cars, maybe a little better, bigger, but not much smarter. Now the answer is: Who the hell knows?

There are, of course, roughly ten thousand more examples of open-ended change floating about, perhaps more than any other time in recent history, with new ones being born every day. Really, we as a country haven't really been this unstable, this uncertain of who we are and where we fit into the world since we first split from England to go off on our own and slaughter some Indians and invent pornography and discover Starbucks.

This much we know for sure: The ground is shaky and the ledge is slippery and bridge is rickety indeed, and I think it just might be on fire. Which only leads to one truly meaningful question: What are you going to do about it?


Late Night Jokes

The Week's Best Late-Night Jokes
Friday July 31, 2009

Hey! I've got a good joke! "The U.S. Congress!!" (Actually, that's a bad joke.)

"Sarah Palin resigned a year-and-a-half before her term ends because she didn't want Alaska to have a lame-duck governor. Now, she has a book deal presumed to be worth millions. And I cannot wait to read it. I believe on the tenth page, she decides since the book is going to end anyway, to leave the last two hundred pages blank."
-Stephen Colbert

"If conservatives get to call universal healthcare 'socialized medicine,' I get to call private, for-profit healthcare 'soulless, vampire bastards making money off human pain.'"
--Bill Maher

"To ease tensions, President Obama has invited Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and the police officer who arrested him to join him for a beer at the White House. And if that works out, Obama's going to have Ahmadinejad and Netanyahu over for Jaegerbombs."
--Conan O'Brien

"He invited the professor and the cop to come to the White House on Thursday for beer. Alcohol usually cools things off. Have you noticed that? That's where you want to go."

--David Letterman

"Big beer fest at the White House. And today, Obama sent Vice President Biden on an emergency goodwill mission for pretzels, so that will be good."
--David Letterman

"Of course, President Obama has invited Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and the policeman who arrested him to the White House. Reportedly, Obama is going to serve them Budweiser. And in the spirit of racial harmony, Budweiser is changing its nickname from the 'King of Beers' to the 'Martin Luther King of Beers.'"
--Conan O'Brien

"And the police officer, Officer Crowley ... apparently, he said Henry Louis Gates was threatening. And by threatening, of course, he meant he was an educated black man."
--Bill Maher

"So, I don't know if this is a case of racism. The police in Cambridge say it had nothing to do with Gates being black. They said they would have given the same treatment to any minority."
--Bill Maher

"It's comforting to know that the men with the guns and Mace the Tasers and the license to kill are this thin-skinned, isn't it? But I guess they are, because about an hour ago, Air Force One was pulled over for a broken tail-light."
--Bill Maher

"But it's all coming out okay, because Obama today spoke to Officer Crowley on the phone. He said he was a good man, a good policeman, and they could find common ground. Although he did find it strange at the end of their conversation that Crowley demanded to see his birth certificate."
--Bill Maher

"The birthers believe that the president was secretly born in Kenya. ... I always thought he was born in a manger in Jerusalem."
--Jimmy Kimmel

"More than you might expect, actually, apparently there was a group of Americans who did not believe that Barack Obama was born in the United States and therefore should not be president. They're called 'birthers.' They are. The birthers want Obama's election to be invalidated, which, I'm not sure what their goal is. Are they aware that Joe Biden would be the president?"
--Jimmy Kimmel

"Big news up in Alaska. Sarah Palin will formally step down as governor on Sunday, leaving us completely unprotected from the Russians."
--Jimmy Kimmel

"Members of the Senate are considering a tax on cosmetic surgery. When they brought it up, you should have seen the look that Nancy Pelosi's face tried to make."
--Conan O'Brien

"Opponents of President Obama's healthcare plan point out that people in other countries sometimes have to wait in line for healthcare, which Americans would never accept. Here, we only wait in line for stuff that's important, like iPhones and "Grand Theft Auto 4."
--Jimmy Kimmel

"Yesterday, of course, on Fox News commentator Glenn Beck said that he believes President Obama is a racist. Well, to be fair, every time you watch Glenn Beck, it does get a little easier to hate white people." --Conan O'Brien

You can find a lot more funny stuff here.

Salad Bowl Party Game

Last year, one of my two brilliant nephews introduced the family to a party game called "Salad Bowl." Or was it "Celebrity Bowl?"

Either way, it was loads of fun. There can be many variations on the game, so don't feel too straightjacketed by the instructions below. Experiment with it. Not sure what the optimum number of players would be, but we played it with about 8 to 10 players and it was a blast. I suppose you could play with as few as four people - 2 per team.


A party game played amongst family and friends.

The game is characterized by the participants dividing into teams. (I suppose two teams is the ideal, but there could be more.)

Each player writes the name of famous people on small sheets of paper and places these names into a bowl. (Make the sheets 2" x 2" or so, fold them over so no one can see the names and drop them into a bowl. How many names? How about 5 or 10 per player?)

Teams then alternate turns by pulling one folded paper out of the bowl at a time, and, using the rounds described below, try to get their teammates to guess as many of the names as possible within one minute. (Or 30 seconds. You set the length of each turn.)

There are three rounds of play:

1st Round - Say Anything Round: The first round of play starts the game off where players can say (or do) anything to get their teammates to guess the correct answer. (Except no rhyming allowed.) This round continues until every player has had a turn pulling names out of the bowl. If there are papers left in the bowl (and there should be, if each player contributes say, five or ten names/papers to the bowl), go to the next round. (If you pull a name out of the bowl, but your teammates can't guess it even with your clues, fold it back up, drop it back in the bowl, and pick another name.)

(As each name is guessed correctly, keep the guessed names in piles, separated by teams. Assuming that there are still papers in the bowl, go to Round 2.)

2nd Round - the Triple Threat Round: The second round of play where players are allowed only three words in the description to get their teammates to guess the correct answer. (Choose your words wisely.)

3rd Round - Charades Round: The third round of play that ends the game and is characterized by the players playing by the rules of charades when giving clues to their teammates, that is they can't say any words, but must act out the clues in order to get their teammates to guess the correct answer. (Anyone have a camera handy?)

The team with the most points at the end of the third round is the winner. (Play the game again, with the same names, or create new names for a new game. Don't forget the alcohol!)

What have I forgotten, o brilliant nephews? Hep me! Hep me!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Careful what you ask for

An old saying comes to mind:

Be careful what you ask for. You just might get it.

To wit:

Palin is polling at 80% approval rating? This is truly a sign that the American empire is in decline.

Do you know CPR?

It's time for your refresher.

You just might save a life, and become a hero!

Remember to regularly refresh your AED & CPR skills by reviewing the demonstrations below.

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Life in Britain

...under Socialised Medicine. Alas, our media continues to paint with horror any other healthcare system in the world but our own, as if ours is a gold-plated wondrous thing.

Once you get entrenched special interests embedded in Washington DC, it is really hard to root them out. You either need a big crisis or big cojones, and while many are experiencing the former, our current leaders lack the latter. Many of our "leaders" are totally co-opted by big money, and expecting them to go against their benefactors is perhaps unrealistic. They need cover.

Here is a long letter from a friend in England, talking about that horrible horrible healthcare system they have in Britain.

Life Under Socialised Medicine

I live in Britain, under the NHS. Now, I want to say this up front in case anyone gets the wrong impression: the NHS is not perfect and no-one should ever claim it is. Having got that established...

I suffer from extremely severe depression and anxiety disorders. As a result of that, I self-harm frequently (please, no lectures). I also have a completely unrelated condition where my stomach produces too much acid and slightly high blood pressure.

Every morning, I take two antidepressents and an acidity regulator. My prescription for these drugs is for two months supply of each and costs me £7 (roughly $15) to get filled. If I was unemployed (which I will be shortly), young or elderly, I would be exempt from that charge. But surely those are pre-existing conditions? Yeah, they are. Makes no difference. Under nationalised healthcare, the only time the words "pre-existing condition" come up is when your doctor is checking that any drugs he prescribes won't conflict with another condition you have. That prescription fee is all my out-of-pocket expenses (oh, and the occasional bottle of asprin or antacids). My doctors visits, medical tests, psychiatric tests and care, the weekly visit from the psychiatric nurse, all of that is covered by the NHS. If I need a hospital stay or an operation, that's covered too. If/when I lose my job, it makes no difference to my healthcare. The only difference from my perspective is that I need to tick another couple of boxes on the back of the prescription. No-one loses their healthcare when they lose their job here, even the (*shock, horror*) unemployed are covered.

As for the government deciding your healthcare? Well, there's two things here. Under the NHS, doesn't happen. My doctor and psychiatrist decide what care I need, they note it down on a computerised system and the NHS reimburses them, the actual exchange of money nevers involves you. The career civil servants who run the NHS don't decide your care, they just direct the resources where they're needed, quickly, quietly and with a minimum of fuss. Admin costs average 6.8% of the budget, including pensions and benefits. Secondly, how is that different from insurance suits deciding your healthcare? Given the choice, I'd rather go with the career civil servants. The insurance industry has a profit motive, they are actively looking to screw you out of your healthcare because the more people they can cut off from care, the more money they make. The civil servants don't care either way, they get paid exactly the same regardless of whether the NHS runs a surplus or a defecit. I could ring my doctor this morning and get an appointment this afternoon. Ah, but perhaps I'm special because I have "SUICIDE RISK" on my file? 'Fraid not. Most people will get an appointment on the same day or, at worst, the following day.

Now, I keep having the sam argument with conservatives who believe the NHS is a failure since it usually runs at a loss. IT'S SUPPOSED TO! Look, healthcare is not a product like a Big Mac, healthcare is a service. The Post Office doesn't make a profit either and it doesn't matter if they do. Their primary purpose is to move the mail about for the mutual benefit of all. The fire service puts out fires for the mutual benefit of all. And that's how the NHS works. They're not a profit driven business, they just treat illnesses for the mutual benefit of all. It is in an insurance industries best interests to deny you care. It is not in the governments best interests to do so because the quicker you get better, the quicker you get back to work and start paying taxes again.

The right keep screaming about waiting lists under the NHS. Yes, there are waiting lists for non-emergency operations. The actual time varies depending on the specific operation needed but they might well be there. Do you really not have waiting lists in the US? You can just walk into a doctor's office any morning, slap the cash on the counter and have the op there and then? Or do you, more likely, have to arrange a mutually convienient time for a consultation, arrange payment and arrange a mutually convienient time for the op? See, you already have waiting times, you just don't call them that. And how long do you have to wait if you don't have the cash to slap on the counter? Waiting lists might be annoying and sometimes painful but you will get the operation eventually and it won't cost you a penny (your employer is legally required to pay you while you recuperate). If you need a non-emergency operation in the US and you don't have the cash, how long do you have to wait? Don't get me wrong, I'm not defending waiting times. They're a major flaw in the system and one we're trying to correct but what I am saying is that waiting a short time for care and getting it is better than never getting the care at all. I have been offered an operation to correct the problem with my stomach but I always turn it down. Not because of the waiting times but because stomach operations are fairly major surgery and I'm happy to keep taking the pills.

How about costs? I pay around 22% income tax and about another 8-9% National Insurance (our version of Social Security, there is no such thing as a payroll tax here). That's about average. How much do you pay in taxes? Now, add the cost of your health insurance (assuming you have it) to that figure and work it out again. The NHS running costs work out at just over $2000 per citizen, per year. How much can you get a year's health insurance for? The US spends, on average, $2.3 trillion a year on the combination of Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance. Assuming the same $2000 per citizen, per year cost, the entire US population could be covered for around $600 billion a year, not counting start-up costs. Yes, some people here choose to take out private insurance anyway, that's their right and they do it for many different reasons. Some want the option of skipping the wait times, some want a more luxurious hospital or brandname drugs (the NHS tends toward functionally spartan and generic drugs to keep costs down), some may have more esoteric reasons but the option is there. Some employers offer it as a perk for their high-value employees. I smoke about a pack a day. Marlboros here cost about $12 a pack, 80% of which is tax. I don't mind paying that because the vast majority of that goes into the NHS. The government takes in about £10 billion annually from tobacco taxes and spends about £6.8 billion treating smoking-related illnesses. Again, I have no problem with paying that. I have a habit which is damaging to my health so I pay extra to cover the extra care which may be required.

A very brief word about abortion: The NHS will pay for abortions which your doctor considers medically necessary for physical or mental reasons. Abortions which are not medically necessary are not covered, they must be paid for privately, albeit at NHS rates. Whether you agree with that stance is up to you but that's the position.

A lot of people think the British hate our healthcare system because we bitch about it so much. This is a basic cultural misunderstanding. We bitch about everything, we're a dour people. Complaining is our national hobby, second only to football. This is the same country that had two books called Crap Towns where people were competing to get their town entered. The city where I live, Stoke-On-Trent in the Midlands, was once voted the most depressing place in the nation to live and we're proud of that. Whinging is the British passtime so our complaints about the NHS shouldn't be taken at face value. Rather, look at the fate of the rare politician who proposes abolishing the NHS: They catch hell at their surgeries (a monthly meeting for their constituents), get shouted down and usually booted out of office at the first opportunity.

And how about the charge that government will then tell you how to live your life? Yeah, it's bullshit. Utter bullshit. As mentioned above, I smoke about a pack a day. I don't drink much but I enjoy the odd pint of real ale. The government makes 80% of the price of my smokes in taxes and they skim a couple of pence off the price I pay on a pint but no-one's stopping me indulging those habits (although I can't smoke in pubs anymore). The health impact of fast food is generally dealt with indirectly (by taxing the corporate profits) but we still have plenty of branches of McDonalds, Burger King, etc. Sex is a health issue here, not a moral issue so any doctor will give you a dozen rubbers, free for the asking. The idea is that promiscuity is not a health danger in itself but unprotected promiscuity is. Therefore, provide a means of reducing the risk. It works, sort-of (the high teen pregnancy rate is more to do with them not using contraception in the first place).

Every other nation in the industrialised world manages some form of universal healthcare. It takes many different forms, with varying methods of delivery and paying for it. Since you're coming to this relatively late, there's nothing to stop the US setting up a committee to examine the existing systems and then mix-and-matching the best parts, absorbing Medicare and Medicaid along the way, until you come up with something special and uniquely American. The USA is the richest nation in the world. California alone is the fifth biggest economy on earth and yet, you are the only industrialised nation which doesn't guarentee at least basic healthcare for all of it's citizens. Guys, Italy manages this without it turning into a socialistic nightmare. Are you seriously telling me that US politicians are markedly worse than those of Italy? In most of the civilised world, only a very few unfortunates (mainly homeless people or drug abusers) die for lack of care. That's a tragedy, no questions there but how many people in the US die because they can't afford care? Triage by wallet.

The pressure for healthcare reform has never been higher. In poll after poll, about two-thirds of the USA wants healthcare reform but Congress may bargain away the public option (and let's not forget that the public option was the compromise position in the first place). Write, call, fax or email your CongressCritter. Take the Andy Dufresnes method (watch The Shawshank Redemption): Bug the living piss out of them until they'll do the right thing just to get rid of you. You guys need reform in the worst way and the wind is in your favour. So let's get it done.

Then we'll start on the legal bribery known as "campaign contributions". You grok?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Horse and Buggery

It's a weird weird weird weird world.

Stable owner catches man having sex with horse
Associated Press
July 29, 2009, 3:44PM

Steve Jessmore The Sun News

Barbara Kenley of Little River, S.C., says she thought about shooting the suspect

COLUMBIA, S.C. — A South Carolina man was charged with having sex with a horse after the animal's owner caught the act on videotape, then staked out the stable and caught him at shotgun point, authorities said Wednesday.

But this wasn't the first time Rodell Vereen has been charged. He pleaded guilty last year to having sex with the same horse after owner Barbara Kenley found him in the same stable. Then he was sentenced to probation and placed on the state's sex offender list.

Kenley said she noticed several weeks ago that her 21-year-old horse Sugar was acting strange and getting infections. She noticed things in the barn had been moved around — dirt piled up and bales of hay stacked near the horse's stall at her Lazy B Stables in Longs, about 20 miles northeast of Myrtle Beach.

"Police kept telling me it couldn't be the same guy," Kenley said Wednesday. "I couldn't believe that there were two guys going around doing this to the same horse."

She spent several nights at the stables, which are about 4 miles from her home, but didn't find anything. So she installed surveillance cameras, and when she reviewed the footage from July 19, she couldn't believe she was seeing the same man doing the same thing to her horse.

Kenley didn't call police because she was certain the man would come back to the stable, and she wanted to make sure he was arrested. So she staked out the barn and caught Vereen inside Monday night, chasing him to his truck and holding him with her shotgun until police came.

"He said he wasn't there to do anything, and I said, 'I know you were. I have you on tape.' And then he said he was sorry if he hurt me," Kenley said.

Vereen, 50, was first charged with trespassing, but police added a buggery charge after watching the surveillance tape.

He faces up to five years if convicted. Vereen was already on probation after pleading guilty to buggery last year and was sentenced to three years of probation, ordered to stay away from the Lazy B Stables and declared a sex offender.

He remains in jail, awaiting a hearing Monday to determine if he violated his probation.

Vereen has had mental problems for several years, but seemed to get better after getting court-ordered treatment last year, said his brother, the Rev. James Vereen, who lives just down the street from his brother and the stables.

"He's done all right when he was on the medicine. I don't know if he is still taking it," said James Vereen, who added his brother has kept to himself a lot in the last few months.

Kenley pointed out that she caught Vereen in 2007, too. him then too. She stopped by her stable on Thanksgiving Day and found a man asleep in the hay by her horse, who had been locked in her stall, a mound of dirt and a stool behind her.

She said she thought about shooting Vereen both times, but didn't want to go to prison.

"Everyone around here has horses," Kenley said. "And they all said the same thing. You should have shot him."

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Top 10 Conservative Idiots

The "Top 10 Conservative Idiots" has been a long, long-running weekly piece on Democratic Underground.

While there is little doubt that the Republican Party is chock-full-o-nuts, in light of recent events too numerous to count, the Republicans do not have a total lock on idiocy. The Democratic Party has its share of boneheads. And both parties are floating comfortably on a veritable ocean of special interest money. But when it comes to hypocrisy, greed and stupidity, no one holds a candle to the Republicans.

Here's some snips. There are many pictures to go along with the words at this link:

The Top 10 Conservative Idiots, No. 369
July 27, 2009
Bad Medicine Edition
This week: The GOP (1,2), along with RNC chairman Michael Steele (3), remind us why they're the "Party of No." Don't forget the key!

#1 - The GOP

Health insurance reform is a complex issue to understand, so let's just put it this way. When it comes to the lives of the American people, the Republican Party ranks things in this order of importance:

1) High corporate profits
2) Low taxes on millionaires
3) The lives of the American people

Actually I should make a correction to that list.

1) High corporate profits
2) Low taxes on millionaires
3) Hot extramarital sex
4) The lives of the American people

That's better. Now, back to health care...

FACT: "Since the recession began, an estimated 4 million additional Americans have lost their health insurance and 2 million have become uninsured. The recent turmoil in the job market is likely increasing the number of uninsured at the rate of 14,000 a day." -- Center For American Progress

FACT: "The challenges facing America's biggest health insurer range from the uncertain to the unknowable. ... For now, though, Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group has reason to celebrate ... For the quarter ended June 30, UnitedHealth said net earnings were $859 million - a 154.9 percent increase from $337 million a year earlier ... Joshua Raskin, an analyst with Barclays Capital, called it a 'very strong result' in a note to investors." -- Minneapolis Star-Tribune

THE DEMOCRATIC RESPONSE: "There are reports of insurers raising rates by 28 percent in California; seeking a 23 percent increase in Connecticut; proposing as much as a 56 percent increase in Michigan. If we don't act, these premium hikes will just be a preview of coming attractions. And that's a future you can't afford. That is a future that America can't afford. ... So, Ohio, that's why we seek reform." -- President Obama

THE REPUBLICAN RESPONSE: "I can almost guarantee you this thing won't pass before August, and if we can hold it back until we go home for a month's break in August ... If we're able to stop Obama on this it will be his Waterloo. It will break him." -- Sen. Jim DeMint

THE SECOND REPUBLICAN RESPONSE IN CASE YOU COULDN'T QUITE BELIEVE THE FIRST RESPONSE: "We can stall it. And that's going to be a huge gain for those of us who want to turn this thing over in the 2010 election." -- Sen. James Inhofe

Sure, maintaining the status quo means that Americans will die. But who cares about that? The GOP smells blood in the water! And never mind whose blood it is!

#2 - The GOP

You've got to hand it to those Republicans though - when it comes to the perils of health insurance reform, they've got the facts on their side. According to the Washington Post:

The political battle over health-care reform is waged largely with numbers,
and few number-crunchers have shaped the debate as much as the Lewin Group, a
consulting firm whose research has been widely cited by opponents of a public
insurance option.

To Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, the House Republican whip, it is "the
nonpartisan Lewin Group." To Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee, it is an "independent research firm." To Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, the
second-ranking Republican on the pivotal Finance Committee, it is "well known as
one of the most nonpartisan groups in the country."

So there you have it. It's a well known fact that the Lewin Group is a bastion of nonpartisanship, and has nothing at all to do with any health insurance companies - certainly not UnitedHealth Group, the company I mentioned in the previous item that just declared a 150% increase in profits.

Generally left unsaid amid all the citations is that the Lewin Group is wholly
owned by UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation's largest insurers.

Oh, I see.

#3 - Michael Steele

The man who in my opinion may be the greatest RNC chairman of all time was back in the news last week after holding forth at the National Press Club in Washington. Michael Steele was there to talk about the Democrats' health care plans, which - surprise! - he hates. According to Think Progress, "Steele derided President Obama's health efforts, calling it a 'risky experimentation,' a 'Grand Experiment,' and the product of a 'cabal.'"

So far so good. Then things started to go wrong...

After reading his speech, Steele then took a few questions. It quickly became
apparent that, once Steele ventured off his prepared talking points, he was
uncomfortable responding to queries about his health care views. The RNC
Chairman offered a host of bizarre, conflicting, and nonsensical responses.

Such as:

Asked whether he supports an individual mandate - an issue that became a point
of controversy in the 2008 election between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama -
Steele was completely ignorant. "An individual requirement? What do you mean?"
Steele could only respond that there are "differing opinions" on this.


When stumped with numerous health care policy questions, Steele said, "I don't
do policy," acknowledging that he's paying attention to his internal RNC polling
to craft his political message. Moments later, Steele said he's "not concerned"
about the politics of health care. "I'm not looking at this through the
rose-colored glasses of, oh what are our political fortunes."

Given his terrible performance at the National Press Club, you'd think Michael Steele might have the good sense to replace himself as health care spokesperson with someone who knows what they're talking about. And you would be wrong! The next day Steele appeared on CNN, where, according to the Huffington Post:

The RNC Chairman stumbled during an appearance on CNN on Tuesday when he was asked to name what type of insurance he has and who exactly is his health care

"What company is it?" host Kyra Phillips asked.

"Blue Cross Blue Shield I believe," Steele replied. "Or maybe not. I think it is Blue Cross Blue Shield."

The slip-up was immediately seized upon by the Democratic National Committee, which charged that Steele's hesitation was further evidence that he and the RNC are out of touch and only interested in political warfare when it comes to health care.

"It must be nice to have the luxury of not even knowing the name of your own health care provider, but Michael Steele's comments today, and the Republican strategy of working to kill reform for their own political purposes, is simply insulting to the millions of American families and businesses struggling with soaring health care costs," read a statement from DNC Press Secretary Hari Sevugan.

Greatest RNC chairman of all time.

Go see #4 thru #10 here. It's mind-boggling. They're so horrid, it's a weekly feature at DU.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Obama = low class

I had not gotten around to viewing the entire Radio and Television Correspondents Assn. Dinner, which took place on June 20, until very recently. I'd seen some clips of it, but not the clip that rather shocks and saddens me, where Obama made a joke at the Uighurs expense.

As I'm sure you know, dear readers, several Chinese Muslim Uighurs have been detained at Gitmo for many years on suspicion of terrorist ties, but even after a U.S. judge ruled that they should be released, they were kept at Gitmo for months and months after that. Some are still there. Some have gone to Bermuda. Some may go to Palau, and others still have no destination. This is rather insane and absurd.

At the 6:20 mark of this video of Part 1 of the Correspondents Dinner is the joke I find in very poor taste. I guess I can see why I have not seen this clip before: because Obama comes off looking like a thug. Very similar to George W. Bush. If Bush had made this exact same comment, it would not be that unexpected. It would be consistent with Bush's character. But I expected better of Obama. There are many, many things you can make light of in this world, but to make fun of the Uighurs illegal, immoral, prolonged detention at Gitmo is just way over the line. I have been disappointed in Obama many times already, but this....he looks callous and indifferent to suffering. Very much Bush-like. And that's fucking sad.

To get right to the "joke" fast-forward up to 6:20. To get the more full context, start around the 4:45 mark. Even with context, it's embarrassing and insulting. What an ass. This country is really in some deep shit.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Wedding Dance

Time to renew the vows?

An Old Farmer's Advice

Let's get corny, shall we? Mmmm....sweet corny.

An Old Farmer's Advice

* Your fences need to be horse-high, pig-tight and bull-strong.

* Keep skunks and bankers at a distance.

* Life is simpler when you plow around the stump.

* A bumble bee is considerably faster than a John Deere tractor.

* Words that soak into your ears are whispered...not yelled.

* Meanness don't jes' happen overnight.

* Do not corner something that you know is meaner than you.

* It don't take a very big person to carry a grudge.

* You cannot 'unsay' a cruel word.

* Every path has a few puddles.

* When you wallow with pigs, expect to get dirty.

* The best sermons are lived, not preached.

* Most of the stuff people worry about ain't never gonna happen anyway.

* Don't judge folks by their relatives.

* Remember that silence is sometimes the best answer.

* Live a good, honorable life. Then when you get older and think back, you'll enjoy it a second time.

* Don't interfere with somethin' that ain't botherin you none.

* Timing has a lot to do with the outcome of a Rain dance.

* If you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop diggin'.

* Sometimes you get, and sometimes you get got.

* The biggest troublemaker you'll probably ever have to deal with, watches you from the mirror every mornin'.

* Always drink upstream from the herd.

* Good judgment comes from experience, and a lotta that comes from bad judgment.

* Lettin' the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than puttin' it back in.

* If you get to thinkin' you're a person of some influence, try orderin' somebody else's dog around.

* Live simply. Love generously. Care deeply. Speak kindly. Leave the rest to God.

* Don't pick a fight with an old man. If he's too old to fight, he'll just kill you!

Saturday, July 25, 2009


The wife still loves driving that tiny Smart car around. After almost a year, people still smile and wave at her when they see her.

Some conspiracy theorists believe that...

The Smart Car is

what we will be forced to drive quite soon.

But look at all of the 'great new choices'

we will have from 'The SMART Car'....

The Smorvette!

The Smaudi A3 AWD!

The Smamborghini!

The Smorsche!

The Smerrari!

And last,but not least ,

The Smustang

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Torture continues?

This stuff makes me so "proud" to be an American. Not. After suffering eight years under the dubiously "elected" thug named Bush, we were ready for someone, ANYONE to make things better. Change we can believe in? Just a slogan, signifying nothing....


Freed Guantanamo Detainees Claim Post-Obama Mistreatment
By John Goetz and Britta Sandberg

An Algerian man spent seven and a half years at the Guantanamo prison camp. He claims that abuse of detainees at the prison continues, despite President Obama's order forbidding any forms of torture.

Lakhdar Boumediene's own children didn't recognize him when he stepped off the military aircraft, looking gaunt and out of place. His 8-year-old daughter, who had only seen him in photos, said to her mother: "This monsieur is not my father. He's too old to be my dad." The man experienced a similar confusion. He felt old, too, and he didn't recognize the little girl and her 13-year-old sister as his own children.

Boumediene, a 43-year-old Algerian, spent the last seven and a half years in Guantanamo. He was held there because he was suspected of being a terrorist and a follower of Osama bin Laden. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, he was seen as one of those dangerous people the United States wanted to keep locked behind bars for as long as possible. This would be done without charges and without a trial, under a set of special laws that ignored the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

But the Algerian stood out among the many prisoners that passed through the gates of the US Army detention camps at Guantanamo Bay over the years. In June 2008, he became a part of contemporary history when the US Supreme Court handed down a historic decision in his favor in a case with his name on it: Boumediene vs. George W. Bush.

The decision invalidated the special laws of the Bush administration, a period marked by its disregard for the rule of law. Since then, like ordinary prisoners, Guantanamo detainees have enjoyed a right to habeas corpus, which allows them to petition a US federal court to review the grounds for their detention.

Today, Boumediene is a free man who can talk about his years in prison. What he has told SPIEGEL is likely to trigger controversy in the United States: Boumediene claims that the abuse and humiliation of prisoners continues in Guantanamo and that detainees there are still harassed and tortured. According to Boumediene, a special guard unit continues to beat prisoners to get them out of their cells, and any official claims that such treatment has stopped are untrue.

The Path to Cuba

Shortly after taking office, President Barack Obama issued a ban on torture. Now his advisers are looking into how the government should treat the remaining 229 Guantanamo detainees. But one thing is clear: Guantanamo will be closed. (I'm not convinced.)

Boumediene's freedom ended on October 21, 2001, shortly after the deadly attacks on New York and Washington. At the time, he was living in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and he was arrested in Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital. The police there had received information linking Boumediene to a group of Algerian terrorists that was allegedly planning an attack on the city's US Embassy. The tip reportedly came from the CIA.

Boumediene had been living in Bosnia for more than four years working for the Red Crescent, the sister organization of the Red Cross, as one of several managers at an orphanage. Fifty of the organization's employees would later sign statements confirming that he had been a hard-working employee there.

Before settling in Sarajevo with his family, Boumediene had spent time in Yemen and Pakistan. Both countries happen to be the classic way stations for violent Islamists, and just having been there made Boumediene suspect. "I was looking for work because there was none in Algeria," he says. He had completed secondary education in his native Algeria, which he left in 1990.

"I was never a terrorist," Boumediene insists. "I am a devout Muslim. I pray, and I observe Ramadan, but I have no hatred toward the West." Still, he admits that he knew Belkacem Bensayah, an Algerian who was thought to have ties to al-Qaida. Boumediene explains the acquaintance by claiming that he helped his family once after Bensayah had been arrested -- but nothing more.

On Jan. 17, 2002, Bosnia's highest court acquitted Boumediene and five other Algerians, citing a lack of evidence against them. On the same day, the six men were handed over to the US Army at a military base in Bosnia and flown to Guantanamo.

Salvation from Unexpected Quarters

Once there, Boumediene claims that he was tortured for 16 days. He says that he was kept awake day and night and forced to walk across sharp stones with his bare feet tied together. He also claims that he was told that if he refused to confess, his handlers would put makeup on and rape him.

Other detainees have recounted similar events, which were part of the special interrogation methods authorized by then-President George W. Bush.

Robert Kirsch, a senior partner at a well-known commercial law firm in Boston, eventually became Boumediene's attorney and visited him for the first time in June 2004 after he and his colleague Stephen Oleskey agreed to take on the cases of the six Algerians. Both men are high-earning, well-respected attorneys who no one could reasonably suspect of sympathizing with terrorists.

They defended the Algerians free of charge -- and it was a case that would prove tremendously time-consuming and costly. The two attorneys devoted more than 35,000 hours to the six Guantanamo detainees with a team that included up to 30 other legal experts. Under normal circumstances, such efforts would have brought in approximately $17 million (€12 million) in legal fees.

Two years after Kirsch and Oleskey started their path through the appeals process, one of their clients -- Boumediene -- went on a hunger strike for the first time. "It was the only weapon I had," he says. He was force-fed and, like all detainees who went on hunger strikes, punished.

In June 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that the case of the six Algerians had to be tried in a civilian court. A short time later, in November, a US federal court acquitted Boumediene and four other Algerians. Kirsch and Oleskey had achieved a surprising victory, and Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly named them its "lawyers of the year."

From then on, the Algerians were classified, according to military jargon, as "free detainees."

"Visibly Stained and Smelling of Food, Vomit and Feces"

When Barack Obama moved into the White House on Jan. 20, Boumediene was still at Guantanamo. The files of each detainee had to be reviewed once again, which entailed a lengthy procedure. On top of that, no country had been found that was willing to accept Boumediene. He wanted to go to France -- but not to Algeria, where he feared he would be the target of repression.

Believing that nothing would change and that his acquittal had been false, he launched another hunger strike. And, once again, he was force-fed. This entailed having a nurse insert a pencil-thick tube into his nose and snaking feeding tubes down into his stomach. It was a painful procedure, and Boudediene claims that he complained about the nurse taking more than 15 minutes to perform it -- long enough to make his nose bleed. He believes that she deliberately took her time and claims that, despite the new president's claims in faraway Washington, such actions were par for the course in Guantanamo.

In early February, a delegation from the Pentagon arrived to inspect detention conditions at the camp. The officials did not see Boumediene, the supposedly "free" detainee, because he had been placed in solitary confinement in Camp 3's so-called "Oscar Block" the day before. Of the acquitted detainees, he was the only one on a hunger strike.

"They put him in a terribly cold cell with 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 degrees Celsius)," says Kirsch. "For the first days he had no running water, and he had to sleep on a pad less than one-centimeter thick visibly stained and smelling of food, vomit and feces." According to Kirsch, Boumediene was "kept isolated there" for 10 days, until Feb. 10, and was "not permitted to shower, pray or change his clothes. He was force fed using violent methods that were intended to and did injure him, and there was no medical treatment" for a foot injury.

When Kirsch met with his client on Feb. 12, Boumediene showed the lawyer the bruises covering his body. Kirsch then complained to the Pentagon about Boumediene's treatment. "At that time, an American judge already had ruled my client should be a free man, but the military still would not deliver to him hundreds of letters his wife, daughters and other family members had written to him over the years he was imprisoned illegally," Kirsch adds. Boumediene eventually did receive a few of the letters, but only on May 15, the day of his release.

Unkept Promises

The US Department of Defense denies all these accusations; it claims that they are unfounded and that procedures at Guantanamo have been reviewed. But Kirsch is convinced that the treatment of detainees like Boumediene violates the Geneva Conventions.

Ironically, the delegation that the Pentagon sent to Guantanamo came to similar conclusions about the conditions there, noting that abuse and mistreatment had, in fact, occurred. But the Pentagon officials insisted that the soldiers in question were disciplined, ordered to undergo special training or discharged. Otherwise, its report was positive.

Other reports about the mistreatment of prisoners at Guantanamo have also emerged since Obama became president in January. Mohammed el Gharani, who was released and returned to his native Chad in April, claims that, until his last day at Guantanamo, soldiers beat him with sticks and used pepper spray on him whenever he refused to leave his cell. Another detainee has corroborated Gharani's claims.

"We never imagined that detainee abuse would continue after Jan. 20," says Michael Ratner, the head of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. Ratner coordinates the legal defense of Guantanamo detainees. Across the ocean, the London-based organization Reprieve, which has defended many Guantanamo prisoners over the years, is now calling for an independent investigative commission to be appointed.

In the meantime, Boumediene's new life is gradually beginning to take shape. The French government has provided his family with a subsidized apartment near the southern city of Nice. His wife complains that Boumediene still talks too much about Guantanamo, the soldiers and the other prisoners. The problem, he responds, is that he simply doesn't have anything else to talk about yet.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan.

The original story in Der Spiegel is here.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Have you seen the stars?

How long has it been since you've seen the stars at night?

I mean, really see the stars.

To look up and be struck in awe and won
der and mystery.

And now, with our present level of knowledge, to know that space just goes on and on and on and on, and there are literally billions of stars like our sun out there.

To try and comprehend that....

If you click on the pic below, it should open up to a larger one. Doesn't come anywhere near the actual
experience of being in the open on a dark and starry night, but still....

Here in the city, there is so much light pollution about all you can see is the moon, Venus, Mars, the North Star, and just a few others. Barely. I remember star-stuffed skies when I was growing up in East Texas. We'd see the occasional meteor streaking across the sky, and sometimes something moving slowly among the stars.

Just laying in the field and gazing at the sky.

I just got the goosebumps again.

And here are a few other images that the caveman probably could not imagine.

If you click the earth below, it should get a lot bigger.

...and our sun, giver of life...

...and here's a pretty cool video I found on You Tube that gives a glimpse of how big the universe is.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Corporate bureaucrats

Look at how convoluted the "health bill" already is. Do you understand it? How will it be funded?

We seriously need to cut through all the garbage and install a health system in this country
similar to those in other Western nations. It's not too late for a Single Payer system. Why do we have these corporate bureaucrats standing between doctors and their patients anyway? Just because they were there "first?" They shouldn't be there at all. All the MILLIONS that health care companies spend lobbying Congress represent millions WASTED in our health care mess, dollars that should be going to help patients.

Do we really want change in this country? Health care is in dire need of a shake-up.

Morford: Multivitamins

Hear here, Mark. But my real question, like his, is "Where, WHERE?!"

One big multivitamin orgasm
One to make you larger, and one to make you small, one to do everything, and all
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Wednesday, July 15, 2009

It cannot be too much to ask.

It cannot be too much to require, in this damnable godless hellstorm wide-open eat-you-alive multitasking firebreathing global culture, that some brilliant mad scientist/entrepreneur invent a tiny water-soluble, easily digestible life-enhancing soul-fellating capsule which I can place into my mouth and swallow whole every single damnable teeth-grinding morning, which will then quietly transform my reality and improve my bone integrity and help me perform just a little bit better at everything I wish to do in life, along with many things I didn't even realize I wanted to do, because that's just the sort of impossibly devilish magic it contains.

I ask you right here and now: Why the hell not?

This is what happened: Like any good, alt medicine-loving person of sharp intuition and selective gullibility, I was regularly imbibing this one rather expensive men's multivitamin product for a good long while, years even, not thinking much of it and pretty much believing at least a fraction of its various miraculous multinourishing claims.

I appreciated, for example, how it said it would help subtly balance various energies and sturdify my masculine functionings, healthify my blood, beautify my eyesight, provide essential reinforcers and strengtheners and clarifiers I wasn't even all that aware I was supposed to be looking after, until the package thoughtfully informed me.

It all seemed reasonably effective. Felt OK. All systems functioned. Didn't go blind. Didn't die. Pretty much all you can ask for, these days.

Or is it? Despite how this particular vitamin product seemed well made, despite how it was apparently packed like a tiny nuclear warhead with an impossibly long list of "raw" food-based vitamins and all sorts of cool-sounding plant derivatives and homeopathic twigs and barks and berries and vegetables I totally believe in, at least in theory, because really, who doesn't want to believe in that sort of thing, even if the reality is that there's only something like .0000001 percent of a given piece of exotic-sounding vegetation in there, which, given the size of an average capsule, must equate to something like a half speck of, say, Apocynum Venetum L. Leaf extract or Saw Palmetto or Bacopa leaf extract -- despite all of that, I also just so happened to stumble across a few articles criticizing this particular vitamin company's founder and his shady dealings and entirely bogus medical credentials, and I won't name names but it certainly turned me off of Garden of Life products for the time being -- because like any good American I believe everything I read on the Interweb -- and I so I thought, well, maybe it's time I started looking for something else, a new product to entertain and enhance my many manly structures. You follow me? Excellent.

So, I begin poking around. I began looking for a top-notch men's multis for my highly specific demographic, which is somewhere between 25 and 75 years old and somewhere prior to regular prostate exams but long after I've started cringing in phantom pain whenever I see young extreme sports dudes perform some sort of insane, body-crunching free-fall stunt, thinking oh holy hell my friend, what are you doing to your poor spine, and do you have any idea what you're going to feel like when you turn 40?

Calibration is, apparently, imperative. This is what I learned. You must choose your vitamins very carefully, according to your age, body type, magnetic orientation, hair texture, penile length, desirable goals. Me, I am somewhere between 5'5" and 7'0", somewhere between 160 and 200 pounds, size 10 shoe, green eyes, occasional night sweats, a bit too Pitta in the dosha, reasonably certain I have low-level psychic abilities, can see into the future but don't always want to, love sex in the morning, also afternoon and evening, have high tartar buildup, talk too fast, dress pretty well, emote too little, have seen God, many many times, and She is gorgeous and terrifying and wonderful indeed. These things are important.

But as I'm scanning the aisles for my new wonder pill to address all these criteria, it hits me. Today's capsules, they don't do nearly enough. In fact, they all fall far, far short.

This is 2009, honey child. We have insane technology. We have all sorts of insights and wisdoms and wanton abilities we are barely beginning to parse and recognize and dial into. What's more, 2012 is almost here. Is it not time to step things up? Is it not time to go all in? Damn right it is.
Firstly, I would like my vitamin to contain, say, a healthy dose of Adderall. I keep reading that Adderall and other "neuroenhancers" like it are actually terrific for writers like me, who would really love to produce huge, impressive volumes of super-focused material every day and yet who are far too easily distracted by email and metaphysics articles and delicious, completely NSFW blogs like this and this and this and this and this and this and oh yes, this. And this. And this. Don't click on any of those. They are naughty and distracting and you might never come back.


Ginkgo? Saw Palmetto? Taurine? Whatever. I'd like appreciable amounts of straight-out Ecstasy and cocaine and Viagra in my pill, please, just a little, intermixed with some ayuesca and LSD and ketamine, just a tiny bit, just enough to feel some sort of delightful low-level onrush of "whoa there I am" 20 minutes after you take it and lasting well after yoga class and well into my first rye manhattan, but not so much that you feel "oh my god I am going to peel off my skin with a pair of tweezers and die right here in this bathtub" for the next four days.

Do we not already have sufficient technology on hand? Damn right we do.

What's more, are we not already imbibing a million various synthetic compounds every day, just by existing, walking, breathing? Are there not trace amounts of a hundred different major pharmaceuticals right there in the water supply and hovering in the very air, from birth control pills to muscle relaxants to anti-inflamatories? I'm just asking for a bit more calculation, a little more measurable control, is all.

Why not toss in some betelnut? Wormwood? Hemp oil? Holy water? Where is the rum extract? What are we waiting for? I am right here calling out to some enterprising young drug dealer/health nut/alchemy wizard to combine his/her loves into one sure-fire multi-billion dollar enterprise. I am ready to invest.

This is the age of hybrid technology, gene splicing, DNA scrambling, meta-consciousness, better living through chemistry and organic free-range meats and solar-powered backpacks that charge an iPhone that runs an app to keep track of it all. There is simply no excuse for my glorious vitamin's total ungodly lack of existence at this point in time. I await ordering instructions.

If we can put a man on the moon.....