Saturday, September 22, 2007

A Rainy Saturday

It's raining today. Not our usual mountain thunderstorm type rain, but a dreary steady gray rain. Reminds me of the years I lived in Washington state, where I suffered from "seasonal affective disorder" about this time each year. Since moving to Arizona, I no longer have the symptoms of winter depression, but I seem to be in a bit of a funk today.

Of course, it may be shrub's fault.

(picture of Smelter rapid on the Animas river)

Noted, with Sadness


The last Afghan Jew marks Yom Kippur alone:

Zebulon Simentov, the last Jew in Afghanistan, is once again marking the Jewish holy day of fasting in solitude, in a deserted synagogue in the capital of a devoutly Islamic nation.

"I have everything I need for the 24 hours of praying and fasting," Simentov tells AFP before the start of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, at sunset on Friday.

Around two decades ago, there were still about 20 Afghan Jewish families living in Kabul, although all were from Herat -- the largest city in northwestern Afghanistan near the border with Iran.

Through the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, the subsequent civil war and the Taliban's 1996-2001 regime, all went to Israel or moved to neighbouring former Soviet republics -- undoing a Jewish presence built up from the seventh century.

Only Simentov has been left behind, becoming by default the guardian of Kabul's empty synagogue.;_ylt=Aisob7OzBSzCq_lFaR9ssQHuOrgF

I found this to be a sad note. As someone who isn't religious, it's easy for me to scoff at the various forms of religious intolerance. But there is a real, human price that some are forced to pay for their religious beliefs.

Simentov is alone. His wife and two children are in Israel, which he says he has not visited since 1998.

"I have been the only Jew in Afghanistan for two years," he says. Ishaq Levin, the synagogue's former guardian, died from illness two years ago aged around 80.

Simentov says it is not easy to practise his religion alone.

One thing that all major religions agree on is human fallibility. That is to say that a mere human cannot fully understand the "will of god". I wish that the "true believers" of every religion could grasp that insight, that other beliefs deserve equal respect. But the "believers", secure in the knowledge that they possess the "truth", proceed to either impose their beliefs on others or eliminate those who disagree. Humans (who are fallible) proceed to kill other humans (who are fallible) in the name of a god (who they cannot fully understand, according to their own scriptures), and they consider themselves "righteous". It boggles my mind.

Added: Am I the only one who finds it ironic that there are more Jews in the Iranian parliament than there are in Afghanistan?

Friday, September 21, 2007

Damn, Why Didn't I Think of That

Our pal Fairlane of Jones Town has come up with a really great idea, that I wish I had thought of:

Newt Gingrich declared he will run if his supporters can raise $30 million duckets. Although I don’t particularly care for Newt Gingrich nor do I buy
his “I’m Reformed, and Have Perspective” Routine, I must admit this plan is

So, I’ve decided to begin taking donations. If we (And I really mean You) can raise $10 million, I promise to run as well.

I’m not sure where I’ll run (I have some friends in Italy), but I promise if we can meet this goal (And I know we can) I will most assuredly run.

Well, I'm not too proud to piggyback on a good idea. For a mere $2 million, I will run, too. Ok, I had to give up recreational running a couple of years ago, thanks to a bad knee. But every time shrub speaks I have a sudden urge to run, screaming, to a saner part of the world. Heck, I'm open to reader suggestions as to where I should run to.

More Boobies

It being Friday, we should take some time to look at some boobies.

Just Another Outrage

There are times when I almost want to give up on representative democracy. Yesterday, the senate wasted a lot of time condemning the MoveOn ad, as if it mattered. We have rethugs filibustering important bills such as restoring Habeas Corpus (the most basic principle of law) and giving our over stretched troops a reasonable amount of time off, but the media calls this a "failure by the democrats". Our shrub is preparing to veto children's health care and blame democrats for his veto. So the democrats turn around and condemn an ad that accurately reflects the opinion of the majority of the American people? Nice job.

We live in an era of "gotcha" politics, where a good sound bite trumps substance. Never mind the working class Americans worried about losing their homes, Forbes has a list of 400 billionaires. Never mind that Iraq is awash in death and destruction, we must say nice things about our generals. Health care? Only when somebody can make a profit off of it. Greed is rewarded and honesty is attacked. Somehow, the word "liberal" is an insult, as if caring about people is inherently evil. The phrase "family values" is used to discriminate against anyone who won't follow a strict christianist doctrine. Product safety? That might cut into corporate profits. "Death to the poor" is the rethuglican mantra.

With all the problems deserving senate attention, an ad by MoveOn is beyond trivial. Doing the people's business takes a back seat to grandstanding to score a few "gotcha" points.

We Deserve Better!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Protests and the Media

I'm noticing that the media is paying a lot of attention to the Jena protests today, and that's good. But I wonder why this protest is getting so much more attention than Saturday's anti-war protest, which the media scarcely noticed (and always included the "pro-war" protest). I'm sure that a major reason for this is that racism is a much safer issue for the media. While there are racist groups in America, they aren't as powerful, well-funded or loud as the pro-war groups. The media aren't as likely to be attacked as "liberal" when reporting on racism as they are when reporting on the war. Or is this just a sign that the civil rights movement is better organized than the anti-war movement?
The Jena case is important, but so is the daily death and destruction in Iraq. America needs a news media with the courage to report both.

The (New) Color of Money


The new $5, with purple and gray. No word as to actual value, but I'm guessing less than 3 euros soon.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


GOP stands for "gross obstructionist perverts". That's all that needs to be said.

Weird Critter Blogging

Run! Run for your lives!

Here's a Coconut crab , the largest terrestrial arthropod, because I'm more in the mood to look at weird critters than talk about politics. Here's another:

I admit, I've never seen one, but this is one scary looking crab.

Reports about the size of Birgus latro vary, and most references give a weight of up to 4 kg (9 lb), a body length of up to 400 mm (16 in), and a leg span of around
1 m (3 ft),[2] with males generally being larger than females. Some reports claim weights up to 17 kg and a body length of 1 m

These are the kind of things I blog for.

Coconut crabs vary in size and colouring.

They can live 30 to 60 years, and while their main diet is fruit, there is this:

During a tagging experiment, one coconut crab was observed catching and eating a Polynesian rat.[3]. Coconut crabs often try to steal food from each other and will pull their food into their burrows to be safe while eating.

The coconut crab climbs trees to eat coconuts or fruit, to escape the heat or to escape predators. It is a common perception that the coconut crab cuts the coconuts from the tree to eat them on the ground.

The coconut crab is eaten by the Pacific islanders, and is considered a delicacy and an aphrodisiac, with a taste similar to lobster and crabmeat. The most prized parts are the eggs inside the female coconut crab and the fat in the abdomen. Coconut crabs can be cooked in a similar way to lobsters, by boiling or steaming. Different islands also have a variety of recipes, as for example coconut crab cooked in coconut milk.

While the coconut crab itself is not poisonous, it may become poisonous depending on its diet, and cases of coconut crab poisoning have occurred. It is believed that the poison comes from plant toxins, which would explain why some animals are poisonous and others not. It may also be possible that this poison is considered an aphrodisiac, similar to the highly poisonous pufferfish eaten in Japan. However, coconut crabs are not a commercial product and are usually not sold.

Children sometimes play with coconut crabs by placing some wet grass at an angle on a palm tree that contains a coconut crab. When the animal climbs down, it believes the grass is the ground, releases its grip on the tree, and subsequently falls.

The coconut crab is admired for its strength, and it is said that villagers use this animal to guard their coconut plantations. A coconut crab may attack a person if it is threatened. The coconut crab, especially if it is not yet fully grown, is also sold as a pet, for example in Tokyo. The cage must be strong enough that the animal cannot use its powerful claws to escape.

We need more critters like this. (h/t

No Habeas Corpus

Oh, shit. The senate bill to restore habeas corpus rights has failed. I had meant to post a request to call senators about this, but I was busy calling them myself. Now, it's done:

Breaking: Senate rejects habeas legislation.

In a 56-43 vote, the Senate today “narrowly rejected” legislation that would have restored habeas corpus rights to military detainees and given them “the right to protest their detention in federal court.” The roll call fell four votes short of the 60 needed to cut off debate.

UPDATE: Full roll call vote HERE.

UPDATE II: Leahy has put out a statement reacting to the vote:

It is difficult to defend the higher ground by taking the lower road. The world knows what our enemies stand for. The world also knows what this country has tried to stand for and live up to — in the best of times, and the worst of times. … We will not give up on this important effort.

And I also have a basic question: Why is it that since the democrats became the majority in '06 the threshold for passing any legislation is now 60 votes? That is the number needed to end a filibuster, not to pass a bill. The rethugs have made the filibuster standard procedure, though they screamed like scalded owls those few times when democrats filibustered a few extremist judicial nominees. Can we please call the rethugs "obstructionist" now?

Made the List, Again

Once again my congress-critter is on the "top" list, CREW's most corrupt members of congress:

Of course, this is no surprise. Mr. Renzi makes the list every year, but he's figured out a way to get his name off the list: he's not seeking re-election.

It is sad that 4 democrats are on the list.

Oh, and just for Rick, here's your pig:

(pigs from here:

Added: yay, that's our 700th post!

Shiver Me Timbers...'s that time of the year already.

So, let me be the first landlubber to wish ye a merry Talk-Like-A-Pirate Day, ya scurvy dogs!

Now scrub this bucket, or fer sure I'll be keel-haulin' the lot of you!

And don't forget to put in at me favorite port-of-call for a mug of grog!


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Lawsuit

OK, I'll jump on the bandwagon. As frivolous lawsuits go, this one could be fun:
Nebraska State Senator Ernie Chambers filed suit against God Friday, asking a court to order the Almighty and his followers to stop making terrorist threats.

The suit (.pdf), filed in a Nebraska district court, contends that God, along with his followers of all persuasions, "has made and continues to make terroristic threats of grave harm to innumerable persons." Those threats are credible given God's history,
Chambers' complaint says.

Chambers, in a fit of alliteration, also accuses God of causing "fearsome floods, egregious earthquakes, horrendous hurricanes, terrifying tornadoes, pestilential plagues, ferocious famines, devastating droughts, genocidal wars, birth defects, and the like."


I doubt that God will show up, but if he/she does the questions could be quite a blast. And if God loses the suit, what should the damages be? And, how would anybody collect them?

Fall Arrives

Fall arrived in my mountain town last night. The temp went down to 25 degrees. I know this because I went to sleep with my window open, and awoke around 2:00 am to the realization that I needed another blanket (and to close the window).
Ah, the joys of living at 7000 ft. elevation.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Watching Blackwater

You've all heard that Blackwater's security services are being kicked out of Iraq, right?

The Iraqi government Monday ordered Blackwater USA, the security firm that protects U.S. diplomats, to stop work and leave the country after the fatal shooting of eight Iraqi civilians following a car bomb attack against a State Department convoy.

The order by the Interior Ministry, if carried out, would deal a severe blow to U.S. government operations in Iraq by stripping diplomats, engineers, reconstruction officials and others of their security protection.

The presence of so many visible, aggressive Western security contractors has angered many Iraqis, who consider them a mercenary force that runs roughshod over people in their own country.

Sunday's shooting was the latest in a series of incidents in which Blackwater and other foreign contractors have been accused of shooting to death an unknown number of Iraqi citizens. None has faced charges or prosecution.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki late Monday and the two agreed to conduct a "fair and transparent investigation" and hold any wrongdoers accountable, said Yassin Majid, an adviser to the prime minister. Rice was expected to visit the Mideast on Tuesday.;_ylt=Aj30OhVUa.rf5zCeaVwYcREUewgF

Not so fast. Larry Johnson (who's work I greatly respect) thinks otherwise:

First problem. Blackwater does not have a license to operate in Iraq and does not need one. They have a U.S. State Department contract through Diplomatic Security. Instead of using Diplomatic Security officers or hiring new Security officers or relying on U.S. military personnel, the Bush Administration has contracted with firms like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and others for people capable of conducting personnel security details. State Department is not about to curtail the contract with Blackwater, who is tightly wired into Washington. Plus, State Department simply does not have the bodies available to carry out the security mission.

Second problem. The Iraqi government has zero power to enforce a decision to oust a firm like Blackwater. For starters, Blackwater has a bigger air force and more armored vehicles then the Iraqi Army and police put together. As Spencer Ackerman reported, Blackwater’s little bird helicopter (an aircraft normally used by U.S. special operations forces) that was firing mini guns at Iraqi targets on the ground this past weekend.

I can only imagine how Americans would react if there were Russian, Chinese, Mexican, or French security firms running around the United States and getting into firefights in tough neighborhoods, such as South Central Los Angeles. We would just shrug our shoulders and say nothing. Right?

Yeah, that’s what I thought. This incident will enrage Iraqis and their subsequent realization that they are impotent to do anything about it will do little to support the fantasy that the surge is working. There are some Iraqis who genuinely want to run their own country. But we are not about to give them the keys to the car. Blackwater is staying.

We'll see how this plays out, but I'll bet that corporate profits will trump Iraqi sovereignty. They'll probably have a name change, just to provide some political cover.

Stupid Scientific Studies

OK, the study used mice, but the conclusion is flat out wrong. Titled: "Beer: Taste doesn't matter":

United Press International

A U.S. study suggests differing zests for beer might reveal more about alcohol's effect on the brain than inherent differences in taste sensitivity.

Researchers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee -- led by Associate Professor Judy Grisel of Furman University -- are using a mouse model
to map genes responsible for differences in beer consumption.

In our preliminary study, we have two critical findings, said Grisel, a professor of psychology and neuroscience. There is no significant correlation between the drinking patterns and the allelic status of the taste receptor on Chromosome 2, and many strains of mice voluntarily consumed enough alcohol to become dependent.

By studying self-administration of beer, the researchers have been able to decrease the influence of taste sensitivity that's been a big factor in previous studies in which scientists measured the consumption of alcohol mixed with water.

The ongoing research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, the Furman Advantage Program and South Carolina independent colleges and universities.

Mogollon used to have the slogan "coming out, all beer is pretty much the same. going in, there is a difference".

Added: But it would explain Budweiser.

We the People

Happy constitution day! Yep, today is the 220th anniversary of the adoption of the United States Constitution , that rather quaint little document that our shrub has been ignoring.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union,
establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence,
promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves
and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United
States of America.

Read it, repeat it, shout it at congress. Whatever it takes. We need to remind our government of that most important phrase "We the People".

Summing it up

Got this graphic in my email this morning from Mark Hoback at The Aristocrats , and I just had to post it. I imagine you'll be seeing it on a lot of blogs today. Great job, Mark!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Like the Twang of A Pedal-Steel Guitar…

….we shot out through Boulder City, over the dam, and down through the wide, carved bowl of a valley on the way back from Sin City. To the west, the jagged, craggy boulders that gave the dam its original name – Boulder Dam; Boulder Dam, dammit, before that 3rd-to-the-worst President got his mitts on it and re-christened it Hoover, after himself. He’d probably be proud to look out over this valley, strewn with settlement-camp looking trailers and small truck-stop cafes, modern-day Hoovervilles offering what help they can to passerby.

To the east, more mountainous upthrusts of a different geology, whiter, more chalky looking, but still hemming a fragile, blacktop thread down the western edge of the high Arizona desert.

Small burgs – Dolan Springs, Cyclopic, Chloride, Grasshopper Springs, Santa Claus – cain’t hardly even call them towns, they zip by so quickly at 80-plus miles per hour under a searing blue shield of sky dotted with puffy clouds. I, and hundreds of other weary travelers wind our way home. There is a slight hump in the road at Golden Springs, where to the west you can spin off onto state route 68 and head once again for some riches if you still have some cash.

Otherwise, it’s a pretty smooth ride, with a water bottle snugged in beside you and a hot desert sun shining above. There’s nothing on the AM/FM dial except Mexican mariachi music, which is good enough to hum along with, but you lose the cadence when you can’t sing along because you don’t know the words, let alone the language. Luckily out here you can’t get the ubiquitous Jeebus-preacher stations common to middle-of-nowhere America; probably because this high desert is hell already, so why would those Men of God waste their time trying to radio the damned that live out here? So you stab at the SEEK button, and what to your surprised ears do you stumble across, but KNPR, the Vegas National Public Radio outlet.

A-and, while you wend your way down this two-lane, then four-lane tar-line, you hear the Studio360 program du jour, which is a celebration? discussion? what have you? concerning the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road,” a particularly good talk-fest for a long, lonely highway such as this.

Apparently, you learn, this is the silver annum of this now treasured American classic, which brought a be-bop, beatnik enthusiasm to the rich American travel experience, building on J.F. Cooper’s Gleanings, Twain’s Huck Finn, and updating Steinbeck’s angry grapes for the hipper generation. Doc Thompson covered it too, in his wild escapades across the desert to our American Cibola in the West; and there are probably many more epic trip stories that aren’t even reminders in your brain while you speed along, listening and learning.

After all, isn’t there a famous quote that says to understand America, you must imagine a vast space moving? Isn’t that what America is all about? The hustle, the bustle, the to-and-fro, the give-and-take, the dog-eat-dog of it?

Kerouac’s prose hints at some of that, but also puts it on the path to individual discovery. In this case, as so many others, through the American road. The journey. The path. That’s right, the road trip. Spiritual descendent of the pioneers in their covered wagons, only now we’re not blazing an original trail, we’re following a pre-determined one, laid down by highway engineers who based their original surveys on long-traveled dirt trails and Conestoga buggy paths. So, what Kerouac understood, was with the path already in place, that henceforth with each road trip, the trail-blazing, the pioneering had to take place in the mind of the individual, and furthermore, that the individual had to simultaneously both understand and to deny that; to understand that they were on their own individual trip, as well as following an arc or ribbon on society’s trip.

Wow. Heavy. And, given that you never even read the book until you were thirty, and thought it only so-so, it’s just the kind of meanderings you might expect from a four-hour jaunt across a harsh, unforgiving landscape, in society’s current chrome-wheeled, fuel-injected, air-conditioned, stepping-out-over-the-line vehicle – the American automobile.

And further, you’ve just ridden this conveyance to the epitome of American extravagance and waste, Las Vegas. The city of the Strip, but where moving sidewalks, escalators and bridges (both above and below ground) have so transformed the walkability of the casino area that it is virtually possible to navigate the entire area without setting foot into the fresh air if you desire. Where the mob took a cue from Disney Imagineers and have remade the city into one giant fa├žade of realism, from the faux-cobblestone streets of the Paris casino to the sparkling fountains of Caesar’s and the Bellagio, to the giant aquarium-in-the-walkways of the Mandalay Bay casino or the re-done tower that would have Gustav Eiffel quaking at the knees.

Granted, everyone knows that Vegas is a complete fantasy. We (meaning everyone who visits) accept, and even encourage that. Walking the Strip this morning, amongst the current edifices are dozens of construction cranes and towers, hurling up even more thousands of rooms into the area, making the Vegas downtown look like Shanghai or Dubai. Hell, between those three cities alone, I bet much of the worlds construction talent is earning paychecks to pour more cement and build more monuments for the masses than the pharaohs ever dreamt of harnessing.

Like I said, a fantasy. And all roads, even Dean Moriarty’s, lead to Vegas, or some other Eldorado on the hill.

But I’m a simple guy, and out here in non-fantasy-land, we’ve got some, ummmm, bumps in the road. Some potholes, if you will, in the Kerouac Zen dream of Americana.

First, let’s talk about energy.

Last week, OPEC, said that they will probably increase output by 500,000 barrels of oil per day. Now for most people, OPEC is synonymous with Saudi Arabia, but that’s not true. There are 12 current member states, and they don’t all send every damn bit of oil to the U.S. of A. So, we’re not going to get all of that 500 K barrels of black gold. But, let’s suppose we did get all of that. How much is that worth? Not monetarily, but in what we can do with it.

Now 500,000 bbl/day divided by 20.8 million bbl/day current use in the US comes to 2.4% of our energy needs per day. In other words, even if the U.S. got all that extra oil, that extra oil would power the country for about 35 minutes, give or take. Oh yeah. We aren’t going to get all that oil; that oil is to be sold worldwide. Maybe we’ll get 25% of it, so it’ll power us for about 8 and a half minutes or so. All that blather and conferencing from the OPEC members will give us (realistically) enough juice to run our society for about as long as it takes me to cook an omelet.

Now, given that OPEC controls much of what’s known to be left in the ground oil-wise, and given that stated U.S. policy going back to Carter (hell, back to FDR) has been the unobstructed, inevitable dynamo of growth in America – which relies almost exclusively on oil – doncha maybe kinda think, just for a minute, that WE, as a matter of national policy, were ah, I don’t know, a teensy-eensy bit short-sighted by placing all our eggs in that basket? That maybe we shouldn’t have built our entire worldview (driving everywhere, easy-to-grow food, new-and-amazing medicines and medical discoveries, the heat for our damn houses) on something that’s halfway around the world?

Oh, that’s right. We weren’t placing all our eggs in that basket, because up until 1973 or so, the good ‘ol U.S. was the worlds largest supplier of oil. We had barrels, tens of barrels, millions and billions of barrels or that black, goopy shit. We supplied the world! We could encourage economic growth, of our country and others, based upon the supply to the world, of all of that greasy stuff. And, because we had that supply, which powered us through WWII and gave us victory there, and built us into the worlds’ economic powerhouse, we were like that cat that didn’t eat just the canary, but the whole damn aviary.

Until, one day, we weren’t. We’ll discuss that in the next post, and maybe touch a little bit more on the future of the Kerouac dream of the open road.

Meeting Someone

Another pleasure from last night was having a long discussion with Suzy Chaffee,, the famous Olympic skier. The "over 40's" in the audience will remember her as "Suzy Chapstick" from the commercials during the '70s, but she's a long time activist who is currently working with the Native American Olympic Steering Committee. She's smart, funny, and yes, still quite beautiful, and I'm glad she's a Howard supporter. Most of our discussion was about alternative energy options, but we did have time to crack a few jokes about her "celebrity" status. Normally, I don't care much about celebrities, as very few have done anything worth celebrating. Suzy is doing things that are worth celebrating.

Late River Pic

I usually put up a river pic on Saturday, but I was busy yesterday. So here's a pic from the San Juan, just a day late. Wish I were there today.

That Was Fun (or Putting the "Party" back into politics)

Last night's "Rock the Peaks" event for Howard Shanker ( was a blast. As recent posts have shown, Zymurgian and I have very different attitudes toward politics (but Zymurgian left before the party started) , but this event was a different kind of politics. It was a party. People were having FUN!
There were two major reasons that made this happen. One is Howard's relaxed style. He's much more comfortable talking casually with people than making speeches, and he spent most of the evening interacting directly with the community.
The second reason was pure rock and roll: Blackfire. (I know I'm repeating myself, but go here: , and listen). The band flat out rocked, and had the dance floor packed.
One of the first things that attracted me to Howard's campaign is his genuine warmth. He's not a salesman, but a truly sharp guy who enjoys exchanging ideas with people. Yeah, he and I agree on most issues, but even where we disagree his focus is on what's best for the people. Judging by the reaction of a lot of people I talked to, what first impressed me about Howard impressed them too. Literally, people I talked to who began with no opinion came away saying "he's got my vote-that's the kind of representative I want in Washington".
That's why this was a fun political event. It was truly grassroots. A couple of hundred regular folks from the community talking about what matters to them, having a beer, and dancing. It might not be enough to save America, but it's a hell of a nice way to start.
(Oh, and sorry that I forgot to bring my camera, so no pics. I promise not to repeat that mistake).