Monday, December 31, 2007

Florida man bites into rare pearl at dinner

Video here. ("Man Saves Trash for a Year" follows.)

The Art of Sabrage

One way to open a bottle of champagne. Click here.

'Still Where the Boys Are'

Humorous article about Ft. Lauderdale in The Advocate. (A couple of typos, though [not in the passage below].)

Following dinner, we all grabbed a drink at Georgie’s Alibi, a bar down the
street. It was unsophisticated gay fun -- Beyoncé videos and tight T-shirts. One of the journalists starting talking up a local fella who announced, “I just moved to Fort Lauderdale, but I haven’t met anyone, which is surprising, since I’m so good-looking.” I alerted the tourism board -- that guy could do more damage than [Mayor] Naugle. . . .

Cartoon from The New Yorker

Another Animated Cartoon from The New Yorker

Click here.

Animated Cartoon from The New Yorker

Click here. (It may take a while to load.)

Hendrik Hertzberg

Read the whole thing here.

And the dogmas of Mitt Romney’s sect are breathtaking. They include these: that in 1827 a young man named Joseph Smith dug up a set of golden plates covered with indecipherable writing; that, with the help of a pair of magic spectacles, he “translated” the plates from an otherwise unknown language (Reformed Egyptian) into an Olde English that reads like an unfunny parody of the King James Bible; that the Garden of Eden is in Missouri; that American Indians descend from Hebrew immigrants; that Jesus reappeared in pre-Columbian America and converted so many people that the result was a series of archeologically unconfirmable wars in which millions died; that while polygamy had divine approval for most of the nineteenth century, God changed his mind in 1890, just in time for Utah to be allowed into the Union; and that God waited until 1978 to reveal that it was O.K. for blacks to be fully paid-up members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

One might ask, What of it? Plenty of religions have curious doctrines. (Several, for example, hold that on Sundays millions of people drink blood and eat flesh.) The Framers knew this was dangerous territory, which was one reason they tried to rule it out of political bounds. And Romney himself warned, in a speech, titled “Faith in America,” that he delivered on December 6th, “There are some who would have a Presidential candidate describe and explain his church’s distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited.”

The weasel word here is “distinctive.” Romney had no problem describing his church’s not-so-distinctive doctrines. “There is one fundamental question,” he
continued, as if he were speaking on tax cuts, “about which I often am asked. What do I believe about Jesus Christ? I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Saviour of mankind.” (But please don’t ask about Jesus’ post-Resurrection travel schedule.) The candidate went on to patronize rival religions, administering quick head pats to Catholicism (“I love the profound ceremony of the Catholic Mass”), evangelicalism (for the “approachability” of its version of God), Pentecostalism (“tenderness of spirit”), Lutheranism (“confident independence”), Judaism (“ancient traditions”), and Islam (“frequent prayer”—a bit feeble, that).

Missing from this litany, of course, was something to the effect of “I appreciate the deep commitment to reason of the agnostics and atheists.” Indeed, the only “religion” that Romney had anything rude to say about was “the religion of secularism.” He pointed scornfully at the “empty” cathedrals of Europe as evidence of “societies just too busy or too ‘enlightened’ to venture inside and kneel in prayer,” adding a little later that “any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty” has “a friend and ally in me.” Take that, NATO. On your knees.

Secularism is not a religion. And it is not true that “freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom,” as Romney maintained. What freedom, including religious freedom, requires is, precisely, secularism—which is to say, state neutrality in matters of religion. (Nor does religion require freedom, as the European past and the Middle Eastern present demonstrate; religions, plural, do, however.) “Americans do not respect believers of convenience,” Romney thundered in his “faith” speech. “Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.” These were strange observations, coming as they did from a man whose campaign has consisted largely of jettisoning the beliefs he found convenient as a Massachusetts politician but finds highly inconvenient now that he stands to gain the Republican nomination for President. But then those were merely political beliefs. . . .

No sex for you!

From today's Salon Blog Report:

Huckabee to gays: No sex for you: Republican presidential hopeful doesn't care about orientation, so long as gays remain celibate - On "Meet the Press," there was this odd exchange on Huckabee’s opinions on homosexuality: "I don’t know whether people are born that way. People who are gay say that they’re born that way. But one thing I know, that the behavior one practices is a choice. We may have certain tendencies, but how we behave and how we carry out our behavior....” I see. So, Huckabee doesn’t actually care if someone is gay, he cares whether or not gays are celibate. “Tendencies” don’t matter to Huckabee, whether gays act on those tendencies is what counts.

'Experiences of Condom Fit and Feel Among African-American Men Who Have Sex With Men'

(Reworded, below.) (I often go back and change things in my attempts to "get it right" and correct errors. I'm not infallible like the Pope or George Bush.)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Beautiful Website from Germany

The Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Dresden was destroyed in the Allied bombings during World War II but recently rebuilt, down to every last baroque detail. Here's the website (too bad it's in German only but the photos are excellent). Here's a webcam. (I'm surprised they don't have the church lit up at night.) Article here. The dark stones (see photo) were salvaged from the rubble of the original church.

When it came time to duplicate the oak doors of the entrance, the builders had only vague descriptions of the detailed carving. Because people (especially wedding parties) often posed for photos outside the church doors, they issued an appeal for old photographs and the response—which included entire wedding albums—allowed artisans to recreate the original doors.

Bill Maher's 'Dickheads of the Year'

From Rolling Stone. Here.

'Not a man in a dress'

Video of Susan Ashley Stanton here. Story here.

St. Petersburg Times photo:
Douglas R. Clifford

'Hombres que tienen sexo con otros hombres (¿pero no son gays?)'

'Todo el mundo está familiarizado con aquellos hombres que tienen sexo con otros hombres pero que no se identifican a sí mismos como gays porque todavía no han salido del closet o porque se manejan con un “bajo perfil”.'

Horizon Magazine/Barcelona story located here (large PDF).

Early Sunday Morning

I'm glad there's no Frank Rich in the N.Y. Times this morning. Saves me some work.

"Experiences of Condom Fit and Feel Among African-American Men Who Have Sex With Men"

I find the concept of "MSM" odd (to me it connotes an almost casual choice). It's as if "homosexuals" and "bisexuals" don't really exist, in this case in the African-American culture. * (Just as they don't exist in Iran.) From The Body:

African-American men who have sex with men (MSM) are a particularly high-risk group for HIV and other STDs in the United States. The researchers conducted the current study "to offer an empirical understanding of characteristics associated with the fit and feel of condoms" among this population.

Data were collected from 178 adult African-American MSM attending a community event in Atlanta. Most participants reported that condoms generally fit properly and felt comfortable. However, a substantial number reported problems, including: condoms felt too tight (21 percent); condoms felt too short (18 percent); condoms felt too loose (10 percent); condoms felt too long (7 percent).

Significant associations were found between men's reports of condom slippage and breakage and their perceptions of condoms' fit and feel. These perceptions were also related to the men's reports of seeking condoms for size-specific properties.

"The fit and feel issues that men in this sample identified may be among those that contribute to their likelihood of using, or not using, condoms consistently and correctly," the authors concluded. "A better understanding of these factors will be beneficial to both condom manufacturers and sexual health professionals who share a common goal of increasing consistent and correct condom use and reducing the incidence of HIV and other [STDs] among this and other communities."

(Photo not from The Body. Click to enlarge.)

* But believe me, they do.

Sparkling Wines

Ratings from Consumer Reports:

In order of overall quality.

VERY GOOD (Well balanced and dry; classic fruity and yeasty aromas. Short of excellent because of inconsistent quality, slight off-notes, or lack of intensity.)

Gloria Ferrer Sonoma Brut (CA) CR Best Buy
$16--Classic toasty, yeasty aromas, red-berry notes.

Mumm Napa Brut Prestige (CA) CR Best Buy
$20--Classic toasty, yeasty aromas, fruity.

Piper-Heidsieck Champagne, Brut (France)
$35--Crisp, toasty, less fruit than most.

Scharffenberger, Brut Mendocino (CA) CR Best Buy
$18--Fruity, toasty, a bit less intense than most.

Taittinger La Française Champagne, Brut (France)
$42--Mature wine; toasty, yeasty aromas.

Segura Viudas Brut Reserva Cava (Spain) CR Best Buy
$10--Appealing, but light flavors, very crisp.

G. H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Champagne, Brut (France)
$34--Variable quality; at best, very well balanced.

Piper-Sonoma Select Cuvée, Brut (CA)
$16--Variable quality; at best, fine combo of fruit and yeast, though less intense than most. Extra bubbly.

Moët & Chandon White Star Champagne (France)
$35--Yeasty and fruity, a bit sweeter than most and less intense.

Domain Carneros by Taittinger, Brut 2003 (CA)
$20--Has the right attributes, but not intense.

Yellow by Yellowglen (Australia)
$11--Appealing mix of flavors but less intense than most.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne, Brut (France)
$41--Variable quality; at best, balanced fruit, yeast, toast, spice.

Domaine Ste. Michelle, Brut Columbia Valley (WA)
$12--Well-blended fruit and yeast, but bubbles were large and coarse.

GOOD (Overall less complex, balanced, and intense than others; some had obvious off-notes.)

Yellow Tail (Australia)
$11--Fruity, crisp, but lacks the typical yeasty aroma.

Andre California Champagne, Brut (CA)
$5--A bit sweet, crisp, well made, but very fruity flavor atypical of a bubbly.

Tott's California Champagne, Brut (CA)
$7--A tad sweeter than most, fruity.

Korbel California Champagne, Brut (CA)
$13--A tad sweeter than most, fruity, very tart.

Chandon Brut Classic (CA)
$16--Crisp, with no big flaws, but not very intense.

Perrier Jouët Champagne, Grand Brut balanced (France)
$42--Quality varied. At best, appealing yeasty aroma with light fruit and crispness.

Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvée (CA)
$11--A bit sweet, fruity flavor atypical of a bubbly.

Cristalino Brut, Cava (Spain)
$7--Variable quality; well made but less intense than most.

Jacob's Creek Chardonnay Pinot Noir Brut Cuvée (Australia)
$11--Variable quality; at best, well balanced.

Cook's California Champagne, Brut (CA)
$6--Variable quality; sweet and tasty but noticeable sulfites.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

'Zero Tolerance' in Florida

I hadn't heard about this (but later I did find a story in the St. Petersburg Times archives from Dec. 5). I first saw it in tomorrow's Guardian. (The British must think we're crazy.)

Sex crime teacher faces jail - for talking to teen

A woman teacher who escaped a jail sentence after having sex with a schoolboy is now facing 15 years behind bars for allegedly breaking the terms of her probation - by talking to a 17-year-old girl.

Debra Lafave, a former model, became a tabloid cause célèbre in America when it emerged that, in 2004, she had seduced a 14-year-old pupil in a classroom and at her home. She was sentenced to three years under house arrest, seven years on probation, and was banned from teaching. Her husband, who discussed the case on numerous talk shows, divorced her.

The probation conditions specified that she must not have unsupervised contact with minors. She is now accused of violating these terms by having 'intimate conversations' with a 17-year-old female colleague at the restaurant where she worked as a waitress.

Lafave, 27, spoke to the teenager several times about family problems, friends, school, boyfriends and sex, according to a police report.

Her probation officer ordered her arrest and is recommending the harshest possible punishment for the alleged violation - 15 years in prison, the standard sentence for her original crime. She will appear in a court in Florida next week. . . .

We'll see what happens next week then. From the Times article:

Fitzgibbons [her lawyer] said the conversations in question amounted to nothing more than "girl-talk ...among fellow employees."

"The way the Department of Corrections interprets this condition of her probation," he said, "is that her voice can barely meet the ear of anyone under the age of 18." . . .

Fitzgibbons said Lafave and the young woman worked together for two years with the knowledge of her probation officer. "This isn't something new," he said. . . .

Fitzgibbons does not dispute the charge that Lafave had conversations with the young woman. And he said he doesn't believe the charge presents a major challenge to his plan to ask a judge to release Lafave from her final year of house arrest. . . .

But a DOC spokeswoman and legal experts said sex offenders face stiff rules and a climate of zero-tolerance for transgressions. . . .

Also see here. I see that it was also on Fox News (video here) (probably only because she's a "babe"). Free Debra website here. Pictured: Debra and ex-husband Owen. (Aside from the fact that Debra is bipolar [as was my mother] and made a huge mistake, I'll bet you the "schoolboy" wasn't the class nerd.) (Supposedly there was a photo of him posted on a British website that has since been taken down.)

Tacky Website

Schlossbrauerei Ebersberg

Found these mementos ("dark and light beers"). (Yes, I remember the beer felts.)

Ebersberg, Germany

Here is where I attended the Goethe Institute.

There is no longer a Goethe Institute in Ebersberg, but I think it used to be located in the building at the left, which is now a hotel (Hotel Klostersee). (Which would make sense.) There weren't enough rooms at the school to accommodate all the students, so some of the students were housed in rooms in private residences near the school. I and two or more (I can't recall) students lived in Frau Mösslacher's house, which sat across the lake from the school. So you had to walk around the lake to get to school. (There were beautiful swans in the lake.) Eventually the lake froze and you could walk (or skate) across it, if you were careful.

(Frau Mösslacher charged quite a bit to take a bath--she was in control of the wall-mounted hot water heater for the bathtub--and you didn't bathe every day. The weather was cold anyway. You could freshen up at the sink, however.)

We drank a lot of beer at night in town (most meals were provided at the school). (I think the dining room was closed on the weekends, so we had to eat in town.) I remember we used to drink at a place called the Schlossbrauerei (Castle Brewery), which had a long latrine in the men's room instead of urinals. (Basically you peed on a wall.) It was so cold in the men's room that you created steam (if you get my drift). (What an stench, as I recall.)

The world's top 10 most liveable cities

Slideshow here. Munich is #1. I lived outside the city for three months while attending language school and visited it as often as I could.

"Obama's Cup of Tea"

What a klutz. This from the ABC News "Political Radar" blog (via Taylor Marsh via Left Coaster).

"It's that experience, that understanding, not just of what world leaders I went and talked to in the ambassador[']s house I had tea with, but understanding the lives of the people like my grandmother who lives in a tiny hut in Africa," Obama, D-Ill., told a crowd of would-be voters in Coralville, Iowa, on Friday. . . .

"That's the experience that helped inform my opposition to the war in Iraq, that's the kind of experience that's rooted in the real lives of the American people," he said. . . .

But it has all been rough and tumble on the campaign trail. . . .

The candidate recounted told [sic] the crowd how his aspiring first lady told him, " 'You know, in eight years, I'm not sure we'd be the same people as we are now,' " and joked that they are "not doing this again."

Just five years ago, Obama told the crowd, the couple had just paid off their student loads after ten years of law school [?] and hadn't yet set up a college fund for their daughters.

"My wife was still shopping at Target. She still does," Obama said. "And she said, 'You know, eight years from now, we will have lost a little bit of touch with what ordinary families are going through. We'll still be good people, hopefully, but we'll be in a different orbit, in a different circle. Our worries will be different and our concerns will be different. And we're already there, but at least we'll still remember what that was like.' And I thought that that was a wonderful insight."

The candidate, who regularly refers to Senator Clinton and her husband former President Bill Clinton as part of the "Washington establishment", continued, "One of the things that I think I offer in this race is. . . the way (Michelle) put it is, 'We still remember what it's like to be normal.' But I think that's part of what happens when you're in Washington for a very long time -- you lose touch with that."

"What year is this?"

Another gem from Chris in Paris.

While the US debates the issue of creationism, the UK is right up there having an important debate about the monarchy and who should ascend to the throne. Good grief, is this 1507 or 2007? . . .

"For those wondering why Comcast is so expensive"

Post from Chris at Americablog, who is an ex-pat living and working in France (his wife is 1/2 French and 1/2 American). This from the article he links to:

The new agreement gives Roberts' beneficiaries his 2007 salary for five years after his death. It also gives the beneficiaries his annual performance-based cash bonus, whatever has accrued but not yet paid out, after his death.

So Roberts is dead but he's still getting a performance-based bonus. (I know, it's accrued.) Comcast has no competition in Miami, unless you want to get a satellite dish. We had Dish Network for a year but discontinued it on account of the bad reception during storms. (Maybe it was a little cheaper than Comcast, but not much.) As Chris has written before, in France you get cable, Internet and cell phone service for less than what Comcast charges for cable alone. We're all so brainwashed here into thinking we've got it so good, and into voting contrary to our own self-interest (not moi!).

More Politics (With Video)

This from one of my favorite blogs.

Fallout From Obama Campaign's Attack On Hillary

by Jeff Dinelli

General Wesley Clark's response to Barack Obama's campaign blaming Hillary Clinton for Bhutto's murder:

"This is a time for leadership, not politics. Senator Obama's campaign seems to believe that Senator Clinton's actions led to the tragic events in Pakistan. This is an incredible and insulting charge. It politicizes a tragic event of enormous strategic consequence to the United States and the world, and it has no place in this campaign."

The above link also features an instructive timeline of Obama's direct attacks on Hillary this past year.

Also check out Hillary on CNN [video].

Holiday Party

Went to a friend's in Hollywood tonight for cocktails and holiday dinner. Très intime. Turned out to be only seven of us, but that was fine. Company and food were excellent. My friend (V.) has a tiled outdoor kitchen with a built-in barbecue (and even a built-in ice receptacle for cocktails and chilling wine). The barbecue is fueled by wood or charcoal--I think he was using wood tonight from the mahogany tree that he lost in the last hurricane.

Off the kitchen are built-in seating areas for guests (no need to remove patio furniture in advance of a hurricane). The patio even has its own sound system. * Tonight we were treated to disco classics from a satellite network. The weather couldn't have been better.

V. cooked a turkey in a heavy cast-iron turkey cooker that sat over the fire. It's a two-part vessel--the bottom part has a cone, like an angel food cake pan. The turkey in effect sits on the cone (you get the picture). Anyway, the breast meat comes out so tender that you can cut it with your fork. He also served a salt-cured Virginia ham (he's from Virginia). Plus everything else, including both sweet and Irish potatoes that he roasted in the fire, wrapped in aluminum foil. And the home-made pumpkin muffins were outstanding.

The table was glorious, set with the beautiful silver and china V. inherited from his mother.

After dinner we had cold-brewed "Monster Blend" coffee (named after a disco in Key West where he used to work). For favors, we each got a bottle of the coffee concentrate, with custom-made labels. V. was going to serve something for dessert but we were all too stuffed by then (and he was tired anyway).

* looks hurricane-proof to me

Get out the gas masks

China tries to clean Beijing air for '08 Olympics. Story here.

An environ-mental physiologist, Mr. Kolb visited several stadiums, and sneaked into a few others, to measure pollution with a small monitoring device. On Aug. 5, his measurement of fine particles pollution, or PM 10, reached 200, roughly four times above the level deemed safe by the World Health Organization. . . .

Beijing’s biggest problem is PM 10 and other particulates, which are attributed to construction, industry and cars.

Average daily levels of PM 10 exceed national and W.H.O. standards. In 2004, the concentration of airborne particulates in Beijing equaled that of New York, Los Angeles, Washington, Chicago and Atlanta combined, according to the United States Embassy in Beijing. Earlier this year, a report by the United Nations Environment Program concluded that “air pollution is still the single largest environmental and public health issue affecting the city.”

“Particularly worrying are the levels of small particulate matter (PM 10) in the atmosphere, which is severely deleterious to public health,” the report stated. . . .

Mr. Kolb said Olympic athletes were worried about ozone, which can inflame the respiratory tract and make it more difficult to breathe. But Beijing’s monitoring system does not measure ozone, nor does it measure the finer particulates known as PM 2.5.

This year, a team of Chinese and American scientists analyzed air quality issues for the Olympics and found that Beijing’s daily concentrations of PM 2.5 rated anywhere from 50 percent to 200 percent higher than American standards. Their study, published in the journal Atmospheric Environment, also found that ozone regularly exceeded levels deemed safe by American standards. . . .

“Beijing is a pollution source itself, and it is surrounded by other pollution sources,” Mr. Hu said. “When you have wind, it brings in pollution from other sources. When you don’t have wind, the local pollution cannot disperse.” . . .

(I'm sure the Chinese will figure it out.) Tiananmen Square pictured. (Photo by Oded Balilty/Associated Press.)

Video of Ritz Paris Imperial Suite ($18,000 a Night)

Also from Forbes. Watch it here. (You can X out of it and return.)

Mike Madden: Hillary Clinton gets serious

Another good Salon story here:

Hillary Clinton arrived here the day after Christmas with a simple message for Iowa caucus-goers: The fun is over, and now it's time to get serious. The world is a scary place; the economy feels as though it's ready to collapse, healthcare bills keep going up and up, the country is mired in wars, and the government just doesn't seem to work right. And that's only the trouble we knew about Wednesday -- as Benazir Bhutto's assassination on Thursday made starkly clear, unexpected crises cross the president's desk every day.

"On Jan. 20, 2009, someone will raise his or her hand to take the oath of office in front of our Capitol," Clinton said as she launched her final bus tour of Iowa. "And then that person will go to the Oval Office. And on the desk in the Oval Office will be a stack of problems."

That's what Clinton's campaign is about now, right down to the clunky official name of the tour, "Big Problems, Real Solutions -- Time to Pick a President." Forget the polls, and the horse race. Forget the flashier rhetoric from the other guys. Forget the tactical differences among the Democratic candidates about how they'd accomplish the policy goals most of them share. Clinton is confronting voters with a much starker question -- which candidate can walk into the White House and get right to work fixing the mess we're in? . . .

Flashy or not, Clinton is making her pitch as clear she can -- when something like this happens, she's the one who knows what to do about it. "The job itself is unpredictable," she said Wednesday, even before Bhutto was killed. "You never know what may happen in some part of the world that will create a real challenge at home to us here in Iowa." There's less than a week for Iowans to weigh whether Clinton is the one they want in charge when faraway calamities like the Bhutto assassination threaten to have repercussions at home.

Joe Conason: Obama's European problem

Story in Salon.

Doubts about Barack Obama's presidential credentials have crystallized during the past two weeks over his stewardship of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee's Subcommittee on European Affairs, which has convened no policy hearings since he took over as its chairman last January. That startling fact, first uncovered by Steve Clemons, who blogs on the Washington Note, prompted acid comment in Europe about the Illinois senator's failure to visit the continent since assuming the committee post, and even speculation that he had never traveled there except for a short stopover in London. . . .

Should Obama wonder whether he ought to have bothered with his subcommittee, he could ask his friendly rival Joe Biden, D-Del., who chaired the Europe subcommittee for many years during the Cold War. Biden effectively exploited the chairmanship to transform himself from a junior member into one of the Senate's most knowledgeable experts on arms control, nuclear weapons, European attitudes toward America and the Soviet Union, the European Union's policies, and the role of NATO, which also comes under the subcommittee's mandate. As a result, Biden starred in Senate hearings on the SALT II arms treaties and eventually established himself as a leading national voice on foreign policy. . . .

Ritch points out that as subcommittee chair, Obama could have examined a wide variety of urgent matters, from the role of NATO in Afghanistan and Iraq to European energy policy and European responses to climate change -- and of course, the undermining of the foundations of the Atlantic alliance by the Bush administration. There is, indeed, almost no issue of current global interest that would have fallen outside the subcommittee's purview. . . .

Perhaps he could not have been expected to undertake an ambitious round of hearings when he was in the midst of deciding to run for president -- but that decision may merely point up the conflict between ambition and experience that has raised questions about his candidacy.

So much for what might have been. Both Obama and his campaign spokespersons have taken pains to deny the suggestion that he has spent no time in Europe. As he said at the first Democratic debate last April, Obama regards the European Union and NATO as the most important allies of the United States, which would make ignorance of Europe a huge void for an aspiring chief executive. . . .

If Obama wants to show where he has been, he merely has to release his passport records. Then everyone would know that his boast about traveling extensively in Europe is true -- even if this year he didn't have time to convene a hearing on the momentous issues affecting our relations with that continent and the world.

Great reader comment here.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Europe's 10 Must-Visit Hotels

In pictures. From Forbes. (In case you get "lost", you can X out of it and return here.)

World Airport Awards

Check it out. No U.S. city made the top 10. Airport ranking here.

Video from the Anti-Evolution State

Watch it here. WARNING: It ain't pretty.


I took the day off today so that I can go to a holiday dinner party at a friend's in Hollywood. Cocktails at 6:00. Dinner at 7:00. Report later.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

What's a Stoat?

Kiwis Rescued From Extinction

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS CONTENT ON EVOLUTION. Birds originally took flight to escape their predators. (I read recently that when their predators are eliminated, birds will revert to being flightless.) (And here I'd thought they rather enjoyed flying.)

With the exception of eagles, the flightless national bird of New Zealand had no predators until the settlers came.

Kiwi numbers have declined rapidly over the past century, as populations struggled with the twin threats of shrinking habitat and expanding legions of new predators.

Hugh Robertson, who runs the Kiwi Recovery Program of New Zealand's Department of Conservation, estimates that there were as many as five million kiwis when European settlers arrived in 1840 and that the population now stands at 75,000.

"It's because of people and introduced predators - ferrets, stoats, weasels, dogs, cats," said Jeremy Maguire, manager of the Willowbank Wildlife Reserve, just outside the town of Christchurch. "They are a species in decline, and if it continues at the current rate, they will become extinct." . . .

"In our case, the stage was set for a spectacular tragedy," said John McLennan, who has studied the kiwi for 20 years, and "because we were an island of birds and invertebrates - bats are our only native mammal - and we had birds that had become mammal-like, so when they met real mammals head-on, it was just a disaster." . . .

But the kiwi has survived, just. . . .

Surveys suggest that, in the wild, only one in 20 kiwi chicks survives its first year. The main culprits are stoats, introduced in an unsuccessful experiment to control the exploding population of rabbits, an earlier alien import. . . .

So New Zealand is pursuing a partnership among government agencies, local communities, nonprofit groups like Save the Kiwi and commercial operations like the Willowbank reserve, which has offered its hatchery services. . . .

Story here.

New Drug Could Prevent Liver Cirrhosis

At this stage, it's still being tested in mice. Story here.

The drug could have a profound impact on public health if it is proven to work in wider clinical trials. In Britain the rise in binge drinking has led to soaring rates of liver disease since the 1960s, with doctors warning cirrhosis is commonplace among men and women in their 20s and 30s. . . .

Health Care in Cuba

Watch the slideshow (opens in its own window; X out to return here). The buildings may be dilapidated but everyone has health care, and infant death rates are lower than those in the U.S. Who said that the true sign of a civilized society was how it treated its most helpless members?

"A Cuban adult's monthly food ration: 3.8kg of rice, 283g of dried beans, 2.3kg of sugar, 113g ounces of coffee, about two cups of cooking oil, 10 eggs, a bag of salt, a bar of soap, a tube of toothpaste, 226g of dried pasta, 226g of sweetened cocoa, 1.8kg of potatoes, 30 bread rolls and a bottle of dishwashing liquid. Missing are crackers. 283g of fish, 226g of chicken and a little less than 500g inexpensive meat products"
Photograph: Javier Galeano/AP

"Obama Amends the Europe Travel Story"

Huffington Post story by Steve Clemons here.

I had no idea that this issue would attract so much attention -- but it fell into a groove that the Obama campaign had apparently launched -- which was to emphasize "identity" over "experience."

As I've written before, I have applauded and criticized Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, but trying to disparage experience as a campaign strategy left me disappointed.

I would just like to see the record set straight now.

Where did Barack Obama go in Europe and when? . . .

"Paris loses out: Hilton fortune pledged to charity"

Reuters story here. According to my calculations, even if the grandfather pledges 97% of his $2.3 billion fortune to charity, it still leaves $69 million for Paris to squander.

David Sedaris in The New Yorker

I thought this was hilarious, at least until he started up with the flatulence jokes. (But some people might find that hilarious too.) David is a funny gay guy living with his partner in France.

The night flight to Paris leaves J.F.K. at 7 P.M. and arrives at de Gaulle the next day at about 8:45 A.M. French time. Between takeoff and landing, there’s a brief parody of an evening: dinner is served, the trays are cleared, and four hours later it’s time for breakfast. The idea is to trick the body into believing it has passed a night like any other—that your unsatisfying little nap was actually sleep and now you are rested and deserving of an omelette.

Hoping to make the lie more convincing, many passengers prepare for bed. I’ll watch them line up outside the bathroom, some holding toothbrushes, some dressed in slippers or loose-fitting pajama-type outfits. Their slow-footed padding gives the cabin the feel of a hospital ward: the dark aisles, corridors; the flight attendants, nurses. The hospital feeling grows even stronger once you leave coach. Up front, where the seats recline almost flat, like beds, the doted-on passengers lie under their blankets and moan. I’ve heard, in fact, that the airline staff often refers to the business-class section as “the I.C.U.,” because the people there demand such constant attention. They want what their superiors are getting in first class, so they complain incessantly, hoping to get bumped up.

There are only two classes on the airline I normally take between France and the United States—coach and something they call Business Elite. . . .

"Progressives, To Arms!"

Good article by Paul Krugman in Slate.

The question, however, is whether Democrats will take advantage of America's new liberalism. To do that, they have to be ready to forcefully make the case that progressive goals are right and conservatives are wrong. They also need to be ready to fight some very nasty political battles.

And that's where the continuing focus of many people on Bush, rather than the movement he represents, has become a problem.

A year ago, Michael Tomasky wrote a perceptive piece titled "Obama the anti-Bush," in which he described Barack Obama's appeal: After the bitter partisanship of the Bush years, Tomasky argued, voters are attracted to "someone who speaks of his frustration with our polarized politics and his fervent desire to transcend the red-blue divide." People in the news media, in particular, long for an end to the polarization and partisanship of the Bush years—a fact that probably explains the highly favorable coverage Obama has received.

But any attempt to change America's direction, to implement a real progressive agenda, will necessarily be highly polarizing. Proposals for universal health care, in particular, are sure to face a firestorm of partisan opposition. And fundamental change can't be accomplished by a politician who shuns partisanship.

I like to remind people who long for bipartisanship that FDR's drive to create Social Security was as divisive as Bush's attempt to dismantle it. And we got Social Security because FDR wasn't afraid of division. In his great Madison Square Garden speech, he declared of the forces of "organized money": "Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me—and I welcome their hatred." . . .

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

"Egypt to copyright the pyramids and antiquities"

How can you copyright a pyramid? Read on.

[Zahi Hawass] [pictured] said the law would apply to full-scale, precise copies of any museum objects or "commercial use" of ancient monuments, including the pyramids or the sphinx. "Even if it is for private use, they must have permission from the Egyptian government," he told the BBC.

His comments came only a few days after an Egyptian opposition newspaper, Al-Wafd, published a report complaining that many more tourists each year travelled to the pyramid-shaped Luxor hotel in Las Vegas than to Luxor itself. The newspaper proposed that the US hotel should pay some of its profits to Luxor city.

The Luxor hotel and casino boasts its own King Tut museum, which it says includes "authentic reproductions from what has been called the greatest archaeological find in the history of the world". Among the exhibits in the Las Vegas resort are reproductions of King Tutankhamun's sarcophagus as well as several statues, vases, beds, baskets and pieces of pottery from the tomb that was discovered in 1922.

However, Hawass said he did not regard the Luxor hotel as a copy of an Egyptian pyramid - the hotel's interior bore little relation to the inside of a genuine Egyptian pyramid.

He also said the law would not prevent artists from drawing images of the monuments or historic sites, as long as the images were not exact copies.

Hawass is a high-profile, self-promoting and successful fundraising emissary of his country's vast ancient heritage. He won an Emmy for broadcasting on archaeology in the US and has his own website, which shows him standing before the pyramids sporting an Indiana Jones-style hat and includes details of his "official" fan club. . . .

The pyramid-shaped Luxor hotel stands 350 feet (107 metres) high with 4,400 rooms. As well as a casino, cinema, restaurants, shopping hall and shows, the hotel boasts its own King Tut Museum. However, the Egyptian lure seems to be fading even for Vegas - the Luxor announced in July that it was to get a new, non-Egyptian look. . . .

(Link inserted by me.)

"Could you vote for a man who abides by Moronish wisdom?"

This from tomorrow's Guardian. The whole thing is very good, and it's not very long. Lots of comments follow the article.

In this season of goodwill, I have been trying to think of a kinder adjective to describe "of or pertaining to the revelation of the angel Moroni". Moronish? Moronical? The angel Moroni allegedly appeared in the 1820s to a young American treasure hunter called Joseph Smith, and led him to some golden plates buried on a hillside near his home in western New York. Allegedly written in an otherwise unknown language called Reformed Egyptian, and deciphered with the aid of two stones called Urim and Thummim, these texts became the Book of Mormon, regarded by Mormons as divine revelation alongside the Bible. "Mormon", Smith explained in a letter to a newspaper, derives from the Reformed Egyptian word mon, meaning good, "hence with the addition of more, or the contraction mor, we have the word Mormon; which means, literally, more good".

In this holy book, North America was described as "a land which is choice above all other lands" (II Nephi 1:5), and 19th-century Americans were assured, in a kind of retrospective prophecy, that "it shall be a land of liberty" (II Nephi 1:7). What is more, if the Native Americans converted to the true faith, they would have the chance to become again "a white and a delightsome people" (II Nephi 30:6). (The official online version has corrected this to "a pure and a delightsome people".) Adherents of this Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can, by their own strenuous efforts and good works, themselves aspire to become gods. Failing that, they can aspire to become the next best thing - president of the United States. . . .

"My House Is Worth What?"

Pacific Heights, San Francisco, CA
5 bedrooms, 6 1/2 baths

(from Sotheby's Int'l Realty)

"My House Is Worth What?"

Triplex Penthouse, Park Avenue in the 70's, New York, NY
5 bedrooms, 7 1/2 baths

(from Sotheby's Int'l Realty)

"Obama's Views Have Changed With Time"

Story from the Advocate.

If he wanted, the Barack Obama of today could have a pretty good debate with the Barack Obama of yesterday.

They could argue about whether the death penalty is ever appropriate. Whether it makes sense to ban handguns. They might explore their differences on the Patriot Act or parental notification of abortion.

And they could debate whether Obama has flip-flopped, changed some of his views as he learned more over the years, or is simply answering questions with more detail and nuance now that he is running for president.

The Democratic senator from Illinois hasn't made any fundamental policy shifts, such as changing his view on whether abortion should be legal. But his decade in public office and an Associated Press review of his answers to a questionnaire show positions changing in smaller ways.

Taken together, the shifts could suggest a liberal, inexperienced lawmaker gradually adjusting to the realities of what could be accomplished, first in the Illinois legislature and then the U.S. Senate.

On the other hand, political rivals could accuse him of abandoning potentially unpopular views or of trying to disguise his real positions. . . .

"Putting on the dog in Tokyo"

"In Tokyo, dog owners are dressing up their pets in designer garb and attending to their every need, whether it be organic food or massage and grooming sessions at dog salons and spas." (International Herald Tribune story here.)

As one dog lover, Chikako Narita, put it: "I'm past the age where I get a kick out of dressing up and going dancing. I'd much rather do things for my dog and have people come over to tell me how cute he is." . . .

Art Basel Miami

Informative Slideshow from The New York Times.

"Purple Resonant Dust" by Tony Oursler (Photo by Paule Anglim) (found at Int'l Herald Trib.)

Obama Running "Harry & Louise"-Type Ads Against Health Insurance Mandates

See Paul Krugman's blog here. The only reason other civilized nations can provide quality health care for everyone and spend less money doing so is that everyone pays into the system one way or another. The wider the risk is spread, the less each individual has to pay.

And now Kos is implying that mandates are simply a way to enrich the insurance companies, whereas the health plans with mandates (Edwards' and Hillary's, for example) give a person the option of buying into a non-profit Medicare-type plan. See another Krugman post here. The point of the mandates is to lay the groundwork for a universal, single-payer health care system in this country, which will cover everyone and cost a lot less than the mess we have now.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Executions in Texas Account for 60% of Total in U.S.

Just out from The New York Times:

Over the past three decades, the proportion of executions nationwide performed in Texas has held relatively steady, averaging 37 percent. Only once before, in 1986, has the state accounted for even a slight majority of the executions, and that was in a year with 18 executions nationwide.

But enthusiasm for executions outside of Texas has dropped sharply. Of the 42 executions in the last year, 26 were in Texas. The remaining 16 were spread across nine other states, none of which executed more than three people. Many legal experts say the trend will probably continue.

Indeed, said David R. Dow, a law professor at the University of Houston who has represented death-row inmates, the day is not far off when essentially all executions in the United States will take place in Texas. . . .

The rate at which Texas sentences people to death is not especially high given its murder rate. But once a death sentence is imposed there, . . . prosecutors, state and federal courts, the pardon board and the governor are united in moving the process along. “There’s almost an aggressiveness about carrying out executions,” said Mr. Dieter, whose organization opposes capital punishment. . . .

[A]ccording to a 2004 study by three professors of law and statistics at Cornell published in The Journal of Empirical Legal Studies, Texas prosecutors and juries were no more apt to seek and impose death sentences than those in the rest of the country. . . .

There is reason to think that the number of death sentences in the state will fall farther, given the introduction of life without the possibility of parole as a sentencing option in capital cases in Texas in 2005. While a substantial majority of the public supports the death penalty, that support drops significantly when life without parole is included as an alternative. . . .

Story here.

Another Photo

Accompanying the article "God Hates You" by Brandon K. Thorp. One of the Rev. Phelps clan swooped down from Kansas this past year to give Miami some tough Christian love.

New Birth Baptist Church members are noticeably excited when they get their first look at the sign resting on Marge Phelps's right shoulder: YOUR PASTOR IS A WHORE. . . .

Phelps surveys the scene. She also has a sign reading FAGS DOOM NATIONS and another that says GOD HATES AMERICA. She holds them tightly and sings softly. The song is about improvised explosive devices. . . .

Then Marge and her nieces travel to St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral, at NW 75th Street and Second Avenue, where she reprimands several sets of parents for bringing their children to this place. Their children, she says, might be raped. She adds, "Look at your hands! What you see is the rectal blood of all those raped altar boys! What you see is the blood of every soldier killed in Iraq!"

The families look on blandly, and eventually Marge says, "It occurs to me right now that I may be facing an audience that does not understand English." She shrugs and hoists her sign a little higher. "Oh well. They'll still get the message, one way or the other." Then Marge and her nieces sing, "The Pope! The Pope! The Pope is on fire! He don't need no water! Let the pedophile burn!" . . .

(Link inserted by me.)

"The best photos and stories of the year"

From the Miami New Times. Read this bizarre story about the strange house two gay guys built in Miami.

Impeach Cheney

Rep. Robert Wexler (Dem., Boca Raton) has set up a website. Vote here. Story here.

"Conserving Cuba, After the Embargo"

Saw this today:

Through accidents of geography and history, Cuba is a priceless ecological resource. That is why many scientists are so worried about what will become of it after Fidel Castro and his associates leave power and, as is widely anticipated, the American government relaxes or ends its trade embargo. . . .

[I]t . . . has an abundance of landscapes that elsewhere in the region have been ripped up, paved over, poisoned or otherwise destroyed in the decades since the Cuban revolution, when development has been most intense. Once the embargo ends, the island could face a flood of investors from the United States and elsewhere, eager to exploit those landscapes.

Conservationists, environmental lawyers and other experts, from Cuba and elsewhere, met last month in Cancún, Mexico, to discuss the island’s resources and how to continue to protect them.

Cuba has done “what we should have done — identify your hot spots of biodiversity and set them aside,” said Oliver Houck, a professor of environmental law at Tulane University Law School who attended the conference.

In the late 1990s, Mr. Houck was involved in an effort, financed in part by the MacArthur Foundation, to advise Cuban officials writing new environmental laws.

But, he said in an interview, “an invasion of U.S. consumerism, a U.S.-dominated future, could roll over it like a bulldozer” when the embargo ends. . . .

Cuban scientists at the conference noted that this work continued a tradition of collaboration that dates from the mid-19th century, when Cuban researchers began working with naturalists from the Smithsonian Institution. In the 20th century, naturalists from Harvard and the University of Havana worked together for decades. . . .


From our place to yours!

Monday, December 24, 2007

In for the Night

Actually, I was in before sunset. B.'s mother and her boyfriend came over this afternoon to collect B. before driving up to his sister's in Broward for a big Christmas Eve dinner. The mother had a couple rum and V-8 juice bloody marys. The boyfriend had one--he was driving. The mother looked fantastic, as always. She's originally from Puerto Rico but B. and his sister were born and raised in New York City. (I wonder what shape he'll be in when they drop him back off. Hopefully not like last night.)

When they left, I walked down to Publix and the truck was still there, thank God. I'd been afraid it might have been stolen or towed, even though I'd told the people in Publix that my car wouldn't start, and the policeman sitting in front of the store saw the whole thing. (I had attached the anti-theft device to the steering wheel before I left the truck there.) Anyway, I did a little last-minute shopping before getting into the truck and--voilà--it started. So I drove it back home and will deal with its problems another day. Afterwards I walked down to the Flanigan's liquor store, which is about five minutes away. (I would normally have driven a couple miles up to ABC for a better deal.)

I roasted my turkey breast, made gravy, made angel hair and meat sauce, and fixed the Flanigan's garlic parsley potatoes, which came out very good. I also did some tidying up and ate. Didn't have time for a nap and could have used one.

Miami Architect Has Big Plans for Havana

Caught this at the Herald, also. Some of the many comments:

you people are nuts. do you know how the real cubans in the island see this type of initiative ? there they go again; those miami gusanos [earthworms] planning to take over and change our banana republic...

Posted by: not a bananero
12/24/2007 6:49 AM

Front page news.....NOT!! How presumptuous. The Cuban government and people will be deciding this issue, not some "Ugly Americans" in Miami.

The Herald's front page news is many times laughable. How parochial for a big city newspaper.

Posted by: Ewing
12/24/2007 8:16 AM

Why are we spending American tax dollars on a project for a country we don't even have diplomatic relations with? This is the kind of stupidity that Fidel and his government love to feed from. I could just hear Fidel saying "Those stupid Yanquis!".

Posted by: Justice in Miami
12/24/2007 8:17 AM

What hubris.

Sergio Pino as an "urbanization expert?" Sergio Pino, Jorge Perez and the rest of the Latin Builders Association can't wait for Cuba to be free so they can go down there, demolish the buildings on the Malecon and put up a wall of high rise condos.

Posted by: Not fooled.
12/24/2007 9:07 AM

FIU = Florida Immigrant University

Posted by:
12/24/2007 10:59 AM

Fix up Little Havanna first. Then worry about another country's business.

Posted by: Think About It
12/24/2007 11:21 AM

FIU = Castro espionage professors. President Mitch Mydick asleep at the wheel.

Posted by:
12/24/2007 11:28 AM

These designers at FIU are a bunch of reactionary lunatics, daydreaming for the impossible.

Posted by: Belial
12/24/2007 5:52 PM


So sad to see all the rats and cockroaches come out all at once at the slightest provocation. There goes the illusion that the kitchen in clean! American society's ever present under-current of racism, ignorance and envy at its best.


Posted by: Americano
12/24/2007 6:21 PM


"Mom says Florida pastor sent lewd texts"

More Christian family values.

A church pastor has temporarily left the pulpit while detectives investigate whether he sent lewd text messages to an underage girl.

Darrell Gilyard [pictured], 45, head of the Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, took a voluntary paid leave of absence on Friday. He also resigned an appointment to a committee aimed at reducing violent crime in Jacksonville.

It is the second time accusations of sexual misconduct kept Gilyard from preaching. In 1991, he resigned his post at Victory Baptist Church near Dallas after reports he slept with church members came to light.

A mother filed a report with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office on Nov. 29, alleging that she found obscene text messages on her daughter's cell phone in October from a number belonging to Gilyard, The Florida Times-Union reported. . . .

Story in the Miami Herald.

Never Heard of "Shopdropping"

But it's been going on since 1989.

This is the season of frenetic shopping, but for a devious few people it’s also the season of spirited shopdropping.

Otherwise known as reverse shoplifting, shopdropping involves surreptitiously putting things in stores, rather than illegally taking them out, and the motivations vary.

Anti-consumerist artists slip replica products packaged with political messages onto shelves while religious proselytizers insert pamphlets between the pages of gay-and-lesbian readings at book stores. . . .

At Powell’s Books in Portland, Ore., religious groups have been hitting the magazines in the science section with fliers featuring Christian cartoons, while their adversaries have been moving Bibles from the religion section to the fantasy/science-fiction section. . . .

Article here.

Meanwhile, In the Anti-Evolution State...

"1 in 10 are missing all their teeth." Article here.

Dr. Smith has a rare window on a state with the highest proportion of adults under 65 without teeth, where about half the population does not have dental insurance. He struggles to counter the effects of the drastic shortage of dentists in rural areas and oral hygiene habits that have been slow to change. . . .

Kentucky is among the worst states nationally in the proportion of low-income residents served by free or subsidized dental clinics, and less than a fourth of the state’s dentists regularly take Medicaid, according to 2005 federal data. . . .

“Not much has changed over the years here, really,” said Glen D. Anderson, who for two decades has made dentures in Corbin, Ky. He sells a pair of dentures for $400 that many dentists sell for more than $1,200. Like his brother, father and grandfather, he makes them without a license. . . .

“Under Medicaid,” Dr. Smith said, “the only choice a person with a severe infection has is to have the tooth pulled, even if she’s 25 years old and the tooth is right in the middle of her face.” He added that the program does not pay for root canals or dentures, though it does help pay for a liquid diet for those without teeth.

Medicare, the federal government’s health insurance program for seniors, does not pay for dental services. . . .

His teeth crooked and blackened, Justin Baker is the face of another reason for Kentucky’s oral hygiene problems: methamphetamine use. . . .

"Yet another GOP candidate rejects modern biology"

That would be Ron Paul (Andrew Sullivan's candidate). From Steve Benen's Carpetbagger Report:

For a presidential candidate, in 2007, to concede disbelief in evolution doesn’t reflect well on their understanding of facts and evidence. If they reject the overwhelming proof on modern biology, how will they deal with evidence regarding global warming? Or stem-cell research? Or a public health emergency? Or any public policy that deals with science?

Lawrence Krauss, a professor of physics and astronomy at Case Western Reserve University and chair of the Physics Section of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, recently had a good op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about science and the presidential candidates in general.

The day before the most recent Democratic presidential debate, the media reported a new study demonstrating that U.S. middle-school students, even in poorly performing states, do better on math and science tests than many of their peers in Europe. The bad news is that students in Asian countries, who are likely to be our chief economic competitors in the 21st century, significantly outperform all U.S. students, even those in the highest-achieving states. . . .

America’s current economic strength derives from the investments in fundamental research and technology made a generation ago. Future strength will depend upon research being done today. . . .

Can a president who is not comfortable thinking about science hope to lead instead of follow? […]

[T]here is a popular understanding that science and technology will be essential to meet the challenges we face as a society. When reports began to surface warning that the avian flu might become a threat to humans, for example, everyone from the president down called for studies to determine how quickly the virus might mutate from birds to human beings. No one suggested that “intelligent design,” for example, could provide answers.


Sunday Night

Boy was B. in rare form tonight after getting off work. I think the holidays are getting to him (I can certainly sympathize). His family puts a lot of pressure on him. My family has dispersed, however, and I'm rather relieved about it. I send them presents from afar. I'm no fan of the holidays anyway. Kind of bah-humbug about it. But I do my best to fake it. (I'm so glad when they're over.)

The truck acted up again today, so it's definitely going to the shop now. I now know where to take it since the nearby dealership, where I took it before, closed. It's not that far out of the way (but not directly on a bus line). Tonight I drove the truck to the nearest Publix to buy a load of groceries. (There's also a slightly farther, newer and nicer Publix, but something told me not to go there tonight--actually, something didn't tell me; I've been worried about the truck acting up.) Sure enough, after I'd done my shopping, the truck wouldn't start. So I called a cab to get back home with the groceries. (It's only five minutes away and the cab cost $4.50, plus tip.) (I would have walked home but I had way too many groceries.)

The cab driver was very nice and we talked about the problem with the truck. He said it could be a fuel filter or the fuel pump or whatever. Sounds about right. I was thinking also the fuel line. I rarely use the truck and it hasn't been serviced in years. I can still get one free towing this year through AAA. (But, as the cab driver remarked, it will be difficult to get this fixed over the holidays. Not a problem. It can wait.) (I'll walk over to the Publix tomorrow and the truck will probably start back up--that's its nature.)

Tonight at the store I bought a frozen turkey breast to have around for the holidays (plus bread to make sandwiches) and also stuff to make the traditional green bean casserole and garlic parsley potatoes (the Flanigan's recipe which I'm still trying to recreate). I made the casserole tonight and it tasted really good. It's not something I would normally make, but I thought what the hell. It's easy. I even used canned green beans. (What the hell.)

Today for lunch I made some marinated steaks, fresh steamed asparagus and left-overs from a yellow squash dish I'd made for the departmental luncheon at work. B. loved it. (The squash dish I made with cheddar cheese, butter and onions--yum.)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Cheney accused of blocking Californian bid to cut car fumes"

Who would have guess it. This from tomorrow's Guardian:

The US vice-president, Dick Cheney, was behind a controversial decision to block California's attempt to impose tough emission limits on car manufacturers, according to insiders at the government Environmental Protection Agency.

Staff at the agency, which announced last week that California's proposed limits were redundant, said the agency's chief went against their expert advice after car executives met Cheney, and a Chrysler executive delivered a letter to the EPA saying why the state should not be allowed to regulate greenhouse gases.

EPA staff members told the Los Angeles Times that the agency's head, the Bush appointee Stephen Johnson, ignored their conclusions and shut himself off from consultation in the month before the announcement. He then informed them of his decision and instructed them to provide the legal rationale for it, they said. . . .

In an editorial, the New York Times described the decision as, "an indefensible act of executive arrogance that can only be explained as the product of ideological blindness and as a political payoff to the automobile industry". . . .

"Inside Iran's Secret Gay World"

In case you're tired of watching re-runs and Christmas specials, catch this 22-minute documentary produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. earlier this year. As you know, the government of Iran doesn't even acknowledge that homosexuality exists there, even as they go about torturing and executing homosexuals. Here's the website of the Iranian Queer Organization (formerly the Persian Gay & Lesbian Organization), which is seeking outside support.

"Eat This, Not That" for the Holidays

This from Men's Health. Looks like they got the "Holiday Coffee" wrong. They say to eat a Starbucks Venti Gingerbread Latte (400 calories, 15 g fat) and not a Starbucks Venti Peppermint Cafe Au Lait (170 calories, 5 g fat). Nonetheless, there are also quite a few links to other "Eat This, Not That" and "Best & Worst" items that may be of interest.

Holiday coffee drinks are some of the worst things you'll find at Starbucks, or any java junction for that matter. You can suck up nearly a quarter or more of your day's calorie allotment without even unhinging your jaw. . . .

Short of a tall glass of melted butter, it’s hard to find a more caloric beverage than egg nog. Heavy cream, egg yolks and a heavy hit of sugar spell disaster for this Yuletide favorite. Hot chocolate, by comparison, is a very reasonable indulgence.

Tropical Disease Reaches Italy

Story here.

Aided by global warming and globalization, Castiglione di Cervia has the dubious distinction of playing host to the first outbreak in modern Europe of a disease that had previously been seen only in the tropics. . . .

And if chikungunya can spread to Castiglione — “a place not special in any way,” Dr. Angelini said — there is no reason why it cannot go to other Italian villages. There is no reason why dengue, an even more debilitating tropical disease, cannot as well.

“This is the first case of an epidemic of a tropical disease in a developed, European country,” said Dr. Roberto Bertollini, director of the World Health Organization’s Health and Environment program. “Climate change creates conditions that make it easier for this mosquito to survive and it opens the door to diseases that didn’t exist here previously. This is a real issue. Now, today. It is not something a crazy environmentalist is warning about.” . . .

Closet Queen Planned Mass Jailing

Story here.

A newly declassified document shows that J. Edgar Hoover, the longtime director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, had a plan to suspend habeas corpus and imprison some 12,000 Americans he suspected of disloyalty.

Hoover sent his plan to the White House on July 7, 1950, 12 days after the Korean War began. It envisioned putting suspect Americans in military prisons. . . .

Hoover’s plan called for “the permanent detention” of the roughly 12,000 suspects at military bases as well as in federal prisons. The F.B.I., he said, had found that the arrests it proposed in New York and California would cause the prisons there to overflow. . . .

Frank Rich Bashes Hillary

Frank Rich was one of the original Gore bashers, and now look at what has happened to our country during the Bush administration. From The Daily Howler:

It was astounding to see how hard Rich worked to denigrate Gore, even after the debut of An Inconvenient Truth. . . . But then, Rich told Times readers, all through Campaign 2000, that Bush and Gore were just alike. And he baldly lied about Gore in 2002, after Gore gave his speech warning against the war in Iraq. In short, nothing will stop this pandering fellow from his long, destructive jihad against all things Clinton-and-Gore. But then, we liberals tend to be easy; speaking completely Frankly here, it’s very easy to win our affections. See THE DAILY HOWLER, 6/9/06, for all five parts of our report on Rich’s long, damaging war.

Today, this glib Bush Enabler writes (in "A Résumé Can’t Buy You Love"):

In a two-page handwritten letter in response to a recent column of mine criticizing Mrs. Clinton’s Senate votes on Iraq and Iran, Bill Clinton made a serious and impassioned defense of her foreign-policy record. On the subject of her support for the so-called Kyl-Lieberman amendment on Iran this fall, Mr. Clinton wrote: “If Senator Obama, for example, had really believed it was an indirect authorization to attack Iran, he would not have stayed away on the campaign trail, but would have come back to vote against it.” That’s a fair point — and a fair criticism of Mr. Obama as he continues to vilify this particular Hillary Clinton vote. If voting for Kyl-Lieberman was as grave a step toward war as Mr. Obama claims, there’s no excuse for his absence.

Mr. Clinton’s narrow defense of his wife’s Iraq vote in 2002 — it was not “a blanket authorization to go to war,” he wrote — doesn’t persuade me. But even if it did, her choice for foreign-policy director in 2008 makes me question her ability to profit from experience and make a clean break with the establishment thinking in both parties that enabled the Iraq fiasco. Judgment calls like this rather than failures of the press may answer her husband’s question as to why the public finds her experience “irrelevant.” . . .

Do I sense he's getting a little testy?

Trouble in Belgium

Belgium (somewhat like Iraq) is an artificially created state. From The Guardian ("Divided Belgians draw line at divorce") (I'm part French and part Dutch and have no opinion on this--as if anyone would care--but who likes a divorce?):

But the crucial issues still remain. In three months Belgians will once again have to confront the vexed question of what - if anything - they want left in the power of a central state that has already delegated a large measure of independence to the northern Flemings and to the southern French-speaking Walloons.

At the heart of the crisis is a long-lived and growing cultural antagonism that has been exacerbated rather than relieved by Belgium's decades-long project of devolution. Long ruled by a French-speaking minority elite who looked down on the Dutch language as unsophisticated[*], the Francophone ascendancy came to an end in the mid-Sixties, when the previously poorer agricultural north overtook a heavily industrialised south in the throes of the decline of its steel and coal industries.

Needing the support of the wealthier north, Belgium's corrupt and once monolithic Socialist party made the first steps towards trading greater cultural rights for Dutch language and education in exchange for economic assistance. It resulted in the establishment of the prejudices of Belgium's constitutional conflict: the southern Francophone Walloons are unproductive, lazy and rely on subsidies, while the Flemings are money-obsessed, conservative and xenophobic. . . .

*In Belgium, the distinction between masculine and feminine nouns is usually, but not always, maintained, with speakers and writers of West-Flemish descent using the common gender more than other Belgians. For a large number of words no clear division is determined, and dictionaries just indicate them as de-words. In the case of persons and animals of known sex the pronouns used are generally determined by the biological sex rather than by the grammatical gender of the word. There are exceptions here too. (From Wikipedia, emphasis added.)

Queen E. Launches Royal YouTube Channel

Caught this in The Guardian.

The Queen has taken a bold stride into cyberspace by launching her own channel on the video-sharing website YouTube. The Royal Channel launches today as Buckingham Palace seeks to promote Britain's monarch to a youthful global audience.

While aides were utterly convinced it was the way forward, the 81-year-old Queen - who only recently mastered emailing and had never used a personal computer until two years ago - was not immediately acquainted with the YouTube phenomenon. But after the concept was explained to her by, among others, her granddaughters Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie - both avid Facebook fans - she personally approved the channel's go-ahead after viewing its contents. . . .

Two years ago the Queen confessed, while conferring an honorary knighthood on American Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, that she had not yet used a computer.

Since then, however, she has willingly embraced the internet and other major technological advances.

She has a mobile phone, and last year was presented with a six gigabyte iPod by Prince William, allegedly another Facebook fan, on which she reportedly stores the Last Night of the Proms. [link inserted by me]

She allowed her traditional Christmas broadcast to be podcast last year. And, not only has she acquired a BlackBerry, with its instant access to email on the move, but she has equipped all her senior aides with one too on the advice of her most technically savvy son, the Duke of York [Prince Andrew, her second son].

She has also, recently, learned how to email after years of relying on staff to do it for her.

(I wonder if she knows how to type.)

The Royal Channel,, launched initially with nine videos at midnight last night. . . .

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Airport Security "Horror Stories"

This was on Left Coaster today, "Welcome to George W. Bush's America": "An Icelandic woman's memorable visit. (h/t The Reaction ["Invasion of the Viking Women"], via Sott)". This poor woman, on a vacation to New York City, was treated like a terrorist for having overstayed (by three weeks) a tourist visa back in 1995, at which time the authorities didn't have a problem with it. After being chained, interrogated, deprived of food and sleep, medically examined, and thrown in jail over a 24-hour period, they deported her back to Iceland. (I guess she won't be coming back.)

What happened to literary biographer Peter Kurth while on a trip to London was even worse, however. He wrote this for Salon in May. The English authorities threw him in prison for a month for allegedly causing a scene on an airplane.

Most surprising to me was the fact that the police had information about my family -- specifically, that my father is a convert to Islam, married to a Moroccan woman; that I have two Moroccan half-sisters; that I have spent long periods in the Middle East. I was appalled to find out that such details are available "at the click of a mouse" to any squirt with a badge, and I must have indicated as much to the squirts in question, because their notes about my "attitude and behavior" boiled down to one word: "obnoxious."

(I might be "obnoxious" too if somebody did that to me.) (Peter Kurth's latest Salon article here.)

This isn't a horror story but a couple of years ago B., who looks like an Egyptian but is a Puerto Rican from New York City, was detained by the American security authorities in the Toronto airport on our way back to the States from Quebec City. They kept him so long I was afraid we'd miss our flight back to Miami but we didn't. (The DHS people there reeked of power.) (I'm thinking maybe I shouldn't be saying that, to spare myself some future grief.)