Friday, February 1, 2008

Time for this work week to be over!

Yikes! I just took a look at my commute home today:

I'm outta here! See ya!

President Bush: It's good to be king!

From the Washington Post this week:

The Cardinal, Amtrak's Chicago-to-New York passenger train, was a tad late getting into D.C. on Friday afternoon. Seems there was a delay in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., because President Bush was lunching with House Republicans at their retreat at the Greenbrier Resort.

On instructions from the Secret Service, which stopped all traffic on the CSX freight line, Amtrak says it held the train -- and its 74 passengers -- not just while Bush's motorcade went by the sprawling resort's entrance, which is near the station, but also throughout his visit. That would be two hours and 10 minutes in all.

The station, according to hotel folks, is 339 yards from the hotel's front desk.

So a major rail line comes to a complete halt for 2 hours while the Emperor president has lunch — three football fields away! Nice. Yes, he must be thinking, "It's good to be king!"

Hang in there ....

Yes, it's a sloppy, freezing rain outside today. But Orioles pitchers and catchers report in 12 days ....

UPDATE: Yes, I am aware that the Orioles once again have no pitching, thank you very much.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A kid after my own heart

I love this picture from today's news coverage of John Edwards dropping out of the presidential race.

I wasn't sure why I was so drawn to the image, until I realized it's because I stick my tongue out just like little Jack Edwards here whenever I do projects like this. (And like any good lesbian, I loves me some power tools!)

Watch me shoot pool, watch me hammer a nail, out pops the tongue. I ♥ this kid!

UPDATE: TSA: Bloggin' like they care

The Transportation Security Administration has suddenly gotten all touchy feely and has started a blog for passengers to "sound off." From the Baltimore Sun:
The federal government wants to hear -- or at least read -- your gripes at the "Evolution of Security" blog the Transportation Security Administration introduced yesterday. And it promises those complaints and suggestions won't vanish into thin air.
Yeah, and neither will a commenter's name or IP address, I bet!

It's pretty amusing reading once you accept the fact that nothing will ever come from this. Currently, there are 252 comments at "Evolution of Security" (really? Shouldn't it be "Creationism of Security"?) Almost half are from happy TSA employees. The rest are basically people venting. Oh, and one blogger named Christopher who's billed as "Evolution Blog Team Member." He hasn't actually answered any questions or addressed anyone's concerns, he just says "great question!" and "check back Friday."

Here are some of my faves:
"The TSA liquid policy is ludicrous and indefensible. It suggests that 6 oz of liquid can blow up a plane but two 3-oz containers can't."

"shoes off for sure. This rule is fine. The only problem is can we get some foot booties to help protect us from fungus."

"In its current form, this blog is beyond useless. It's just a huge pile of random comments, only some of whose questions or comments are half-addressed many, many posts later."

"Why do TSA employees have to loudly yell to no one in particular exactly what is posted on several signs around the screening area and announced on the airport PA system regarding security rules?"

"As far as I'm concerned, Kip [Hawley] is the real terrorist, using fabricated threats to justify this government workfare program."

"From this blog's T&C: 'In addition, we expect that participants will treat each other, as well as our agency and our employees, with respect.' Hmmm, would that be the same respect that TSA agents mistreat the traveling public with every second?"

"As a frequent flier, I would like to thank TSA for providing me with a laugh every time I go through security. I stand watching people trying to take off shoes, put laptops into bins, remove jackets and isolate liquids, while pushing belongings along tables, carefully placed so that each one is several inches higher than the preceding one. I realize that I too am one of those idiot dancers, pirouetting with a plastic bag in one hand and shoes in another."
UPDATE II: The party continues over at the new TSA blog. They've gotten about a thousand comments in the past 24 hours, and I have to say, I'm enjoying reading them almost as much as I'm enjoying reading the responses from TSA tools. So far they are super cheery. "Great questions, everybody!" I can't wait until one of them finally loses it and says what they're really thinking. "Look, this stupid blog wasn't our idea, and we know the rules are idiotic and inconsistent. Quit writing to us!"

Today they put up "evidence" of a foiled shoe plot. Click on the image to right to see the tools of the terrorist: a switch and a piece of wire. No, they're not connected to each other or to anything else. (But imagine what they could have done with those implements and 4 ounces of toothpaste! Whew!)

I know, right? And I think I'm going to be allowed on a plane in a couple of months for vacation after I write all of this?

Okay, so this is kind of fun -- clearly the TSA had no plan, no vision for how to run their blog or what to do with the bajillion comments they were sure to get. Today's post is entitled "WOW! What a Response!" With over 700 comments already, the TSA is now deciding how to design their blog. Good planning, TSA!
Frankly we’ve been overwhelmed with the number of response we’ve received, more than 700 comments at last count, and comments are still pouring in.
Wow is right! So many responses! Who knew there was such passionate opinion about the TSA?! (Ding ding ding -- that's right, everyone knew that!)

And here's another fun fact: it appears the Team Blog Member Christopher has been fired. But -- just so we don't hate them all -- we're now introduced to a fun cast of bloggers that seems to be a mix of I Love Lucy and Friends: Bob (has a 100-pound German Shepherd!), Ethel (enjoys hog calling in her spare time!), Jay (used to be a high school football coach!), Chance (likes to read!) , and Jim (used to work on Capitol Hill!). I am not making this up....

A Rashoman moment

Now that John Edwards has taken himself out of the race, Democrats must choose between two candidates who, honestly, are very similar on their policy stands. Both want to fix our health care system, end the war in Iraq, increase alternative energy. Both are, meh, fairly gay friendly (both are playing both sides of the fence on this issue.)

So choosing between the two means looking at something other than "he's for this" or "she's for that." It means trying to decide who is better suited to take over the running of our government — once a superpower envied by the rest of the world, we're now a military, economic and environmental mess. The rest of the world views us with a range of benign distrust to visceral hatred.

The next president of the United States has a really big job ahead of them. As in, our lives could depend on them. So this election means looking for a sign of who the candidate really is beyond what they say in speeches and debates. And that's why I've decided to support Hillary Clinton.

Obama's "snub" this week at the president's State of the Union speech showed us a little insight into the heart and mind of both Clinton and Obama. If you listen to the message in the mainstream media, you believe this: Hillary Clinton is a conniving, cynical, games-playing politician trying to embarrass her opponent. Barack Obama is an inspiring, uniting, agent of change simply looking the other way. I ask you to look at the event the other night through a different set of lenses. As in the masterpiece Rashoman, there is more than one way to tell a story. Here's the image:

Now here's another telling of the story: I see in Clinton a politician who understands how to work with people with whom you are annoyed (you know she's gotta be pissed at both Ted and Caroline), who understands the importance of building bridges with people like that, and who has a "sense" of when to make a public gesture such as the one pictured above.

I also see in this picture an inexperienced politician who turns his back on those he disagrees with, who later says he was "distracted" and did not know Clinton was there — which to me only shows a level of unawareness that also speaks to his lack of experience. Obama went out of his way to greet other lawmakers, but carefully avoided his opponent.

Now transfer this incident to the global scene. The massive damage done by the Bush Administration will require a leader with the "sense" and experience to do something just like what Hillary Clinton did on Monday night. And the idea of someone like Obama — back turned, unaware, whether intentional or not — frankly, scares me. There are too many nuclear weapons and pissed off leaders around the world to have him in the White House at this time. Maybe someday, Obama, but not now.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

FISA in 30 seconds or less

Russ Feingold explains it all:

"President Bush spoke bluntly of his battles with substance abuse"

Hahahahaha! You know some copy writer had a good time coming up with that line! Yesterday President Bush came to my hometown to tell a group of alcoholic, drug-addicted ex-cons that they can pray away their woes. From the Baltimore Sun:
"Addiction is hard to overcome," Bush said yesterday at the Jericho program in East Baltimore, which helps former prisoners lead productive lives. "As you might remember, I drank too much at one time in my life. ... I understand that sometimes you can find the inspiration from a higher power to solve an addiction problem."

Bush was in Baltimore to mark the seventh anniversary of an executive order creating the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Any addiction, such as alcoholism, is a terrible disease to fight. Understandably, the men were impressed:
"He mentioned that he hadn't had any alcohol since 1986, and that if it wasn't for the man above it wouldn't have been possible," said Williams, who served 18 months of a five-year prison sentence for drug possession.
Too bad Bush was lying. Again.

Sweetie, you go over there and play with the other girls ....

Why do I continue to torment myself with The Huffington Post? It's like political eye candy to me, I guess. I have a sweet tooth and I just can't resist checking it once a day. (See previous post on lack of sugar in my diet.) To be honest, there are some really great posters over there — writers who are insightful, witty, and well informed.

But then there's stuff like this today:
Clinton wins "beauty contest": The Democratic primary in Florida is mostly meaningless -- the state has been stripped of its delegates and none of the candidates campaigned there -- but Sen. Hillary Clinton won the state handily.
Beauty contest? Holy Arianna! Can we please not call a political primary won by a woman a beauty contest? What about all of the uproar in recent weeks over statements that supposedly had "racial undertones" (including Bill Clinton's characterization of Obama's anti-war stance as a "fairytale." I still don't understand how anyone can think that has any racial connotation, but lots of people did.) Why is there no condemnation of using a phrase like "beauty contest"?

To my ears, it's just as covertly bigoted as anything that has been said about Obama.

It's been obvious to me for a very long time that Obama was "the chosen one" according to Arianna Huffington. But they're really reaching with statements like this:
... in fact, the exit polls show Obama actually beat Clinton among voters who decided late.
And yay for voters who decided to wear a sweater because it was kind of chilly. Or voters who wore black socks. He won them, too, I bet!

I can't wait for this campaign to be over. It's not the candidates who are getting on my nerves, it's the commentators all scrambling to frame these events in the edgiest, catchiest ways.

It's soylent green! (No, it's just high fructose corn syrup!)

Time for a quick update on my efforts to go HFCS-free. It's unbelievably difficult. This morning I packed a nice healthy salad for lunch. I reached in the fridge for salad dressing, and couldn't find a single one that didn't have HFCS. I'm not surprised that my favorite, Ken's Country French (lite) has it. Or even my next favorite, Russian. But Raspberry Walnut Vinaigrette? Caesar? Italian?!

Why on earth does Italian dressing have HFCS in it?

I went with the vinaigrette because HFCS was about 4th on the list, compared with all the others, where it was usually the first ingredient listed.

And tonight I guess I'll be making my own balsamic and oil dressing ....

Wednesday poetry break

Today is the birthday of poet and author Richard Brautigan. Learn more about him at the Poetry Foundation.

Private Eye Lettuce

Three crates of Private Eye Lettuce,
the name and drawing of a detective
with magnifying glass on the sides
of the crates of lettuce,
form a great cross in man’s imagination
and his desire to name
the objects of this world.
I think I’ll call this place Golgotha
and have some salad for dinner.

— Richard Brautigan

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

720 millions dollars for one day of the Iraq War

There is nothing I can add to this. Please watch:

Kennedys for Clinton

Not so fast, Caroline and Ted. Today's LA Times carries an opinion piece written by the other Kennedys: Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kerry Kennedy, endorsing Hillary Clinton for president:
While talk of unity and compromise are inspiring to a nation wary of divisiveness, America stands at a historic crossroads where real issues divide our political landscapes. Democrats believe that America should not be torturing people, eavesdropping on our citizens or imprisoning them without habeas corpus or other constitutional rights. We should not be an imperial power. We need healthcare for all and a clean, safe environment.

The loftiest poetry will not solve these issues. We need a president willing to engage in a fistfight to safeguard and restore our national virtues.

Seldom has history confronted America with such daunting challenges: a catastrophic foreign policy that has cost us our international leadership and aggravated the threat of terror; a misbegotten war that is squandering precious American lives and treasure; a healthcare system that leaves millions of Americans without coverage; irresponsible corporate power that is corroding our democracy and outsourcing our jobs, aggravating global warming and other environmental crises and reducing our economy to shambles.

We need a leader who is battle-tested, resilient and sure-footed on the shifting landscapes of domestic and foreign policy. Hillary Clinton will move our country forward while promoting its noblest ideals.
Read the rest here.

By his actions, Obama shows he's not ready to lead

After his substantial primary win in South Carolina, many see Barack Obama in the White House in 2009. Personally, I'd like to turn down the rhetoric and stop the sports-page headlines
BARACK OBAMA CRUSHES HILLARY CLINTON, Political Expert: Obama's SC Primary Win "A Route", etc., etc. This man is not ready to lead our country out of the mess we're in.

I enjoy soaring rhetoric as much as the next person. I love to be inspired, really I do. It's not that I've turned into a cynical old fart, as some would have you believe. But to quote the adage, "actions speak louder than words," and so far, Obama's actions do not live up to his words.

Case in point: his behavior last night at the State of the Union Address. This event is much more than a speech by the President. It is also a time when each party stands by their beliefs. It can be an awesome sight to behold the two parties working together, but more often it is an impressive stand of unity against the misguided policies of the opposing party. It is a time when Democrats need to stand together. You would think that the candidate who touts himself as the one most able to unite people would be able to simply shake hands with his opposing candidate.

In an act that I believe demonstrates a sense of purpose beyond personal political goals, Hillary Clinton walked over to Senator Ted Kennedy and reached out and shook his hand. Sen. Kennedy, who had just yesterday endorsed Obama, also has the experience and wiseness to return the gesture. They understand that no matter the outcome of this presidential election, Democratic senators need to work together for the greater good of the American people to fix the mess the Republicans have wrought.

Obama stood next to Sen. Kennedy during this exchange. And what did he do? Obama turned away. According to The Swamp:

As Clinton approached, Kennedy made sure to make eye contact and indicated he wanted to shake her hand. Clinton leaned towards Kennedy over a row of seats and Kennedy leaned in towards her. They shook hands.

Obama stood icily staring at Clinton during this, then turned his back and stepped a few feet away. Kennedy may’ve wanted to make peace with Clinton but Obama clearly wanted no part of that.

Was he distracted? Too busy? I don't think so. "Mr. Uniter" found the time and attention to reach out to shake the hand of "Mr. Divider," who replied with "Hey buddy. How ya doin'" I'm sorry, but this demonstrates to me Obama's lack of class, lack of substance, and lack of experience. No, he's not ready to lead.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Yes America, you should be afraid ... of the Republicans

Prepare to be frightened tonight when President Bush gives his state of the union address. He will try to frighten you by saying "9/11, 9/11, 9/11." But even more frightening is the bill he wants Congress to pass, which extends the expansion of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). From ThinkProgress:
This afternoon, “the Senate will vote on whether to cut off debate about reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-NV) is working against the motion, and it is expected that Republicans will not have the 60 votes needed to end the discussion.”
Democratic support of the bill is contentious due to the inclusion of retroactive immunity for telecommunications companies, so Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is pushing for a temporary extension of the expiring legislation in order to reach a compromise. But President Bush is threatening to veto it.
Big man on campus is thumping his chest, posturing before he gives his speech tonight. And now he has his lackeys lined up in the Senate. I nearly drove off the road this morning when I heard this on NPR this morning:
Speaking to NPR today, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell bellowed that “the American people should be frightened”:

It’s not about frightening the American people. The American people should be frightened and remember full well what happened on 9/11. They also remember with gratitude that this has not happened again for six years.

And no matter what your opinion of either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, give them both credit for returning to Washington today to vote on this important issue. (That's right -- they both have day jobs, don't they?)

Huckabee taunting tigers San Francisco?

From Truthdig:

After equating homosexuality with bestiality, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was attacked at the San Francisco Zoo by a gay tiger.

Huckabee had scheduled a campaign stop at the zoo where he made his controversial remarks about homosexuality and bestiality, not realizing that he was standing within earshot of a Bengal tiger with a homosexual lifestyle.

According to onlooker Tracy Klujian, 27, “the way that tiger started growling during the speech, you could tell that it felt like it was being taunted.”

As Huckabee’s remarks about homosexuality and bestiality reached their peak, the irate tiger leaped over an 18-foot barrier and began mauling the presidential candidate.

Within minutes, police responding to a 911 call were on the scene, where they fired tranquilizer darts at both the tiger and Huckabee, who had continued to make his offensive remarks throughout the mauling.

According to one aide, the unfortunate tiger attack incident has done nothing to change Huckabee’s position on gay marriage: “Not only that, but now he’s opposed to tigers marrying other tigers.”

I still say it's not the tiger's fault ....

Fallujah: 3 years later

Three years ago, the battle in Fallujah was brutal. Life in Fallujah today is still brutal -- but in a more covert way. From the UK Independent:
Fallujah is more difficult to enter than any city in the world. On the road from Baghdad I counted 27 checkpoints, all manned by well-armed soldiers and police. "The siege is total," says Dr Kamal in Fallujah Hospital as he grimly lists his needs, which include everything from drugs and oxygen to electricity and clean water.

The last time I tried to drive to Fallujah, several years ago, I was caught in the ambush of an American fuel convoy and had to crawl out of the car and lie beside the road with the driver while US soldiers and guerrillas exchanged gunfire. The road is now much safer but nobody is allowed to enter Fallujah who does not come from there and can prove it through elaborate identity documents. The city has been sealed off since November 2004 when United States Marines stormed it in an attack that left much of the city in ruins.

At one time Fallujah had a population of 600,000, but none of the officials in the city seemed to know how many there are now. Col Feisal is hopeful of investment and took us to a white, new building called the Fallujah Business Development Centre, which had been partly funded by a branch of the US State Department. Tall American soldiers were guarding a business development conference. "It has attracted one American investor so far," said a uniformed American adviser hopefully. "My name is Sarah and I am in psychological operations," said another US officer and proudly showed us around a newly established radio Fallujah.

At the other end of the city we crossed over the iron bridge built in about 1930 and now the only link with the far side of the Euphrates. There is a modern bridge half a mile down river but it has been taken over by the American army and, say locals, used as a vehicle park. On the far side of the bridge, past beds of tall bullrushes where people escaping the city during the sieges of 2004 tried to hide, there is a building eviscerated by bombs on one side of the road. On the other side is the hospital whose officials US commanders used to accuse of systematically exaggerating the number of those killed by American bombing.

When I asked what the hospital lacked Dr Kamal said wearily: "Drugs, fuel, electricity, generators, a water treatment system, oxygen and medical equipment." It was difficult not to think that American assistance might have gone to the hospital rather than the business development centre.

Indeed. Please read the rest of the story here.

Civil Marriage in Maryland: Why it's an uphill battle, and how you can help

Great post over at Pam's House Blend about the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Protection Act (Senate Bill 290 /House Bill 351). I do love many things about my adopted home state of Maryland, but it does have some odd politics.
For non-Marylanders, Maryland is a strange blue state but not an evenly blue one. All states have geographical diversity, even tiny Rhode Island, but Maryland's geography and history lead Marylanders to identify much more strongly with their locality, their county or region, than with the state. Most of the state lives within 30 minutes of the state line and ALL of the state lives within 45-50 minutes of the state line; this is not true in most of the South, in Texas, in California. Much of the state commutes out of state for work, accordingly, particularly in the wealthy DC suburbs of Montgomery and Prince George's Counties.

Within our small, oddly-stretched land area lie very diverse cultures. Yes, yes, it's true in Pennsylvania and California and Kansas too, but it's much more striking here. Most political, economic, sociological or demographic maps of the state look like really bad acid trips, and Picasso-esque gerrymandering here is almost a science into itself. The result of this is that you are better off thinking of Maryland as eight states united by a tax form: Montgomery County, Prince George's County, Southern Maryland, Western Maryland, Eastern Shore, Baltimore City, suburban Baltimore ("the County") and ex-urban Baltimore (e.g. Harford County and elsewhere).
Read more about this fight for civil rights, and learn what you can do here.

Infidels in the pews

To pick up from my last post, my biggest problem with organized religion is the level of intolerance exhibited by most of the major ones. You think I mean intolerance of gays, music, drinking, and dancing? (I know, that sounds like a fun party, right? Maybe some jello shots, too?) No, silly -- I mean intolerance of any dissenting view. As in any view that is not in agreement with the church "leaders." From the Wall Street Journal:
On a quiet Sunday morning in June, as worshippers settled into the pews at Allen Baptist Church in southwestern Michigan, Pastor Jason Burrick grabbed his cellphone and dialed 911. When a dispatcher answered, the preacher said a former congregant was in the sanctuary. "And we need to, um, have her out A.S.A.P."

Half an hour later, 71-year-old Karolyn Caskey, a church member for nearly 50 years who had taught Sunday school and regularly donated 10% of her pension, was led out by a state trooper and a county sheriff's officer. One held her purse and Bible. The other put her in handcuffs.

The charge was trespassing, but Mrs. Caskey's real offense, in her pastor's view, was spiritual. Several months earlier, when she had questioned his authority, he'd charged her with spreading "a spirit of cancer and discord" and expelled her from the congregation. "I've been shunned," she says.

A devout Christian and grandmother of three, Mrs. Caskey moves with a halting gait, due to two artificial knees and a double hip replacement. Friends and family describe her as a generous woman who helped pay the electricity bill for Allen Baptist, in Allen, Mich., when funds were low, gave the church $1,200 after she sold her van, and even cut the church's lawn on occasion. She has requested an engraved image of the church on her tombstone.
So, what on earth, you ask, did this lawn-mowing, Sunday-school-teaching grandmother do to warrant such treatment? I mean, clearly she has been devoted to this church for her entire life, supporting it both spiritually and monetarily.
The conflict had been brewing for months. Shortly after the church hired Mr. Burrick in 2005 to help revive the congregation, which had dwindled to 12 members, Mrs. Caskey asked him to appoint a board of deacons to help govern the church, a tradition outlined in the church's charter. Mr. Burrick said the congregation was too small to warrant deacons. Mrs. Caskey pressed the issue at the church's quarterly business meetings and began complaining that Mr. Burrick was not following the church's bylaws. "She's one of the nicest, kindest people I know," says friend and neighbor Robert Johnston, 69, a retired cabinet maker. "But she won't be pushed around."
I see, so the church has established bylaws, and she was insisting that the preacher follow them. Where have I heard this before? An established and recognized constitution, which the leaders simply ignore?

Mrs. Caskey has been arrested twice on "trespassing" charges for attending the church where she has been a member for 50 years. The good news, after her second arrest:
Mrs. Caskey was escorted out by a state trooper and taken to jail, where she posted the $62 bail and was released. After that, the county prosecutor dismissed the charge and told county law enforcement not to arrest her again unless she was creating a disturbance.