Wednesday, August 31, 2005

The "gun that won the west" is also responsible for one of San Jose's architectural oddities, the Winchester Mystery House.

Sarah Winchester, widow to the gun's maker, moved here about 120 years ago and started building her mansion. At the advice of psychics, who were trying to help her escape the ghosts of all who had died by the Winchester rifle, she continued building until her death in 1922.

And now the story is the subject of a new musical comedy! Sarah, her architect, and a collection of ghosts, will be dancing and singing and building their way across the stage of the San Jose Repertory Theatre beginning next week. "The Haunting of Winchester" kicks off the Rep's 25th season this weekend and plays through October 2. Buy your tickets now, or read more about the show at the Mercury News.

And, just in case you hadn't yet, get over to the Red Cross and put something in the hurricane relief fund.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Here's an interesting statistic... While the military deaths in Iraq are still a bit short of 2,000, a different milestone has been reached. More journalists have now been killed in Iraq than were killed in Vietnam.

In the just over two years of fighting in Iraq 66 journalists have been killed (and 22 kidnapped) compared to 63 journalists killed in twenty years of fighting in Vietnam (1955-1975).

More from Reuters/Alternet: More journalists killed in Iraq than Vietnam

Thursday, August 25, 2005

How blunt should doctors be about a patient's weight problem? Would you want your doctor to tell you when your girth was in danger of affecting your health? I would.

Several years ago, when my gall bladder was first identified as the source of some of my problems, I asked the doctor, "Would it help the situation if I lost any weight?"

He would not commit to answer, or come right out and say that I was overweight. After much pressing, however, he did imply that, yes, I would put off the inevitability of surgery if I ate a lower-fat diet and maybe lost a few pounds.

I was not overly obese, just a bit overweight, but I lost over 30 pounds, and it definitely eased the pain I was feeling. Three years later I still wound up having to have the gall bladder surgery, but I had put it off and felt better for it by losing weight.

Still, I always wondered why the doctor refused to say the obvious; that was eating poorly and it was having a negative effect on my health. Now I see why:

A New Hampshire woman is suing her doctor for advising her to lose weight. There's no question of whether or not the advice was medically sound; only that it hurt her feelings.

Although he wrote her a note of apology, Dr. Terry Bennett may now lose the ability to practice medicine in the state. The woman's weight was not disclosed in the news article.

- - -

Update: I just found another article at the New York Daily News, "Hefty complaint leveled against doc", the woman weighed in at 250 pounds and has diabetes.

I'm sorry, but if you are a 250 pound diabetic, you need to try to lose some weight. Get over yourself and admit it: you're obese and it's hurting you. Perhaps there's some reason why you can't lose weight, but don't be insulted when a doctor suggests it.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Eminent domain, Palestinian style... Now that the Israeli settlements have been removed from Gaza, thousands of Palestinians are looking forward to going back to their family's old farm lands and rebuilding their lives. But, they might not be allowed to go there.

They won't be denied access by their former occupiers. They will be denied access by their own government.

According to Freih Abu Meddein, director of the Palestinian Land Authority, "We will only give back the land if it doesn't serve a public use, like streets, schools or any assets left behind by the Israelis."

The Palestinian Authority claims that before Israel occupied Gaza, following the 1967 Six Day War, that 91% of the land was public land. Obviously they are laying claim to that land. The Authority is also laying first rights of claim to the other 9% as well.

So much for the right of return that the Intifada was supposed to be all about.

Read more at the Guardian Unlimited

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Over the past twenty years, which product do you think has risen more in price, milk or gasoline? Most of us would probably guess that it's gas, even just by the jumps in price of this summer. We would also be wrong.

Over the longer term, milk has actually had a larger price increase, as has bread and groceries over all. Gas is right behind them, of course, but food is getting to be more expensive than gasoline.

So why do we pay far more attention to the spikes in gasoline prices? An interesting article in the Seattle Times, Gas-pump angst: Why rising price riles us up, takes a look at that question.

I think most of the analysis in the article is right-on, and I found it very interesting. One thing it glosses over, however, is the connection between gas prices and political issues. Yes, food prices (particularly farm subsidies) have political overtones, but to the same extent, and not for the population as a whole.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Baby's got something deadly in her diaper, and that ain't no shit!

In more than a dozen documented cases, over-zealous airport screeners have singled out infants under the age of two for extra security measures and prevented them from boarding flights. Why? Because their names were on the official "no fly" list, created to combat terrorism.

Babies on the no-fly list? Well, obviously, their names were just the same as or similar to names of individuals on the list. TSA guidelines specify not to stop anybody under 12 because of similarity to names on the list, but at just about every major airport in the U.S. screeners are doing just that.

Do you feel safer yet? I know I do. I hate the smell of poo on planes.

Babies caught up in 'no-fly' confusion S.J. Mercury News

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Last night we saw The Beatles. Well, okay, not quite "The Beatles." We saw Best of the Beatles.

At the Brookdale Lodge, a place known for its ghosts, we saw "the man who put the beat in The Beatles", The Pete Best Band.

If you recall the name at all, it's as the biggest loser in Rock 'n' Roll history. Pete was the Beatles' drummer from 1960-1962, during the bands' rise from local Liverpool favorites to cult rave in both Liverpool and Hamburg, and up until the moment when they were about to achieve stardom. At that moment, for reasons "never fully explained to Pete," he was dismissed from his job and replaced by Ringo Starr. The rest, as they say, is history.

So why, forty-three years after being fired by The Beatles, was I going to see Pete Best perform on Friday night in the Santa Cruz mountains? That's what I was wondering up until the minute the band started.

Pete was being interviewed on the local radio earlier in the week, and my reaction at the time was, "Why is this loser on my radio?" As the interview progressed, there was nothing to change my mind, until the final moment when he said where the band would be playing. Then morbid curiosity got the better of me. I went home and told Leslie, I called my brother Miles and told him. Neither talked me out of it, and each agreed it would be an "interesting" experience. We were going to see the show.

We had our dinner in the world famous Brook Room (no sign of the ghost), and took our seats the Fireside Room to get ready. First out was local band, Cruzin. I never would have thought that such fast-tempo music could be played with such low energy, but they did. I wondered if it was ploy: pick the worst possible opening act so that Pete will look good by comparison. I considered screaming words I never would have thought I'd be stringing together, "Bring out Pete Best!"

The Pete Best Band finally gets ready to go and the first thing we notice is the drum sets: there are two of them. The only drummer/band leader that I was aware of who toured with another drummer to back him up, was Ringo Starr. Pete needs a drummer too. Not a good sign.

But then the guitars ring out and the music gets going, and it's good! The band rocks the house. Most of the band wasn't even born yet back when Pete was sacked by the Beatles, but they play a high energy set of 1960-1963 music that takes you back to where you've never been - the Cavern Club in Liverpool, or the Star Club in Hamburg.

The set consists of mostly the same cover songs the Beatles would have played then, from Twist and Shout to Please Mr. Postman to Money, to the Beatles first recordings with Tony Sheridan that Pete actually played on, My Bonnie, to early Lennon-McCartney songs that they were working on back before they were recorded, P.S. I Love You, One After 909, etc. (I know, you're thinking, One After 909 was from Let it Be, at the end of their career - Yes, it's true that that's when it was finally recorded, but it was actually one of the first songs they wrote).

Bottom line: This is a great bar band! Pete is still essentially worthless as a drummer. But he's a nice guy, and he's hired the right people to put together a great show. When the Pete Best Band comes to your town, you gotta go to the show.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

And then there was the one about the Air Force officer charged for anti-Bush graffiti. He'd been finding cars with Bush or Bush-Cheney bumper-stickers on them and spray-painting over them.

"Police set up a bait car with a pro-Bush bumper sticker, parked it at the airport with a surveillance camera, and waited. On July 1, the camera recorded a man spray-painting over the bumper sticker with an expletive."

According to Major Tina Barber-Matthew, spokeswoman for the U.S. Air Force Space Command, "Until we can validate or invalidate the charges, he is still on full-duty status."

And an un-related quote:

"They keep talking about drafting a Constitution for Iraq. Why don't we just give them ours? It was written by a lot of really smart guys, it's worked for over 200 years and we're not using it anymore." - George Carlin

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Thanks to a church group in Kansas, we can now prevent the deaths of any more American soldiers in Iraq and elsewhere. These geniuses have decided that dead soldiers are evidence of God's wrath, and there's obviously only one thing that He could be angry about: Gays in the military.

The platform these good Americans have chosen to spread their message is to protest at the funerals of soldiers. Not just gay soldiers (how would they know, anyway?), but any and all soldiers killed in Iraq (etc.).

Yes, our soldiers are falling because they've been forced to accept homosexuality and other "sinful acts" as normal. (Read more at the Chicago Tribune)

But don't worry about this. The problem is being solved. The military is doing all it can to get rid of the gays in their midst.

Friday, August 05, 2005

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was arguably the most important piece of Civil Rights legislation since the Civil War, one hundred hears before. And, if left unauthorized, could expire in less than two years.

Aspects of the Act would remain law. Open discrimination in voting will, thankfully, remain a violation of U.S. law. What will expire, however, are the parts of the Act that provide the tools for enforcing non-discrimination.

Many people cheer this expiration. It's not that they are necessarily racists, it's just that they feel discrimination is no longer a problem and that such strict enforcement is no longer needed.

Here's an example of how the enforcement sections of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) - those sections set to expire in 2007 - work to protect voter rights:

In Kilmichael, Mississippi, the all-White town council cancelled their municipal elections at the last minute, when Census data revealed that African Americans had become a majority in the town. Enough black candidates had qualified to run so that—for the first time—the town council could have had an African-American majority. The all-White council cancelled the election to prevent that. The Justice Department was able to act on this and prevent the cancellation because of the enforcement sections of the VRA. Without them, the town council would have had their way - legal or not.

Now, that example doesn't come from 1965, when the VRA was new. That example is from 2001. It is fresh. It is new. It is now. The full VRA is still needed and used to keep elections open to all Americans, regardless of race.

Read more examples and background in "Ballot Box Equality" by Stuart Comstock-Gay on

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

On the radio just now, the host was arguing that it's time to get over our overly PC squeamishness and start some racial profiling in the War on Terror - er, excuse me, in the "Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism" (or "Global SAVE" for short).

His point is that random searches of bags at subway stations is not a good use of resources. By picking every fifth passenger, for example, we'll end up stopping somebody's granny (who just happens to be number five) and, according to the radio guy, allowing the young Arab-looking man who was number four to get onto the train with his backpack full of explosives.

His example is geared to elicit an "of course he's right" response. Why would granny want to blow up a train? And so, he gets reasonable people to go along with the notion that the enemy is "Arabs" or "Muslims" and target only them.

The answer is that searches should be conducted based on a reasonable suspicion, but that race is not enough of a reason to suspect somebody - or to let them off the hook. Yes, sometimes the suspicious looking character will be Middle Eastern. But if we want to avert the next tragedy, they had better be looking for suspicious White guys (and gals) too.

In addition to the above, they still need to be doing random searches, even if that might mean picking on your granny. It won't take recruiters long to figure out that they need to send out bombers who don't "fit the profile." It's also important to remember that Islamic extremism isn't the only philosophy that wishes us ill will.

I would certainly like to help prevent the next Osama inspired bombing. But, if we're serious about the Global Struggle Against Violent Extremism, shouldn't we be looking for the next Timothy McVey or Eric Rudolph follower as well? I don't know about you, but I'm more scared of Redneck Extremism than any threat from across the globe.

Monday, August 01, 2005

In case you hadn't noticed, the "War on Terror" is over. There was no treaty signed, no major battle won, no white flag raised, and no end to the fighting. What there was was a meeting. Very quietly, administration officials last week stopped using the "war" word and began referring to the "global struggle against violent extremism."

Now, back when all us crazy liberals were shouting about the impossibility of winning a war against an abstract noun ("terror"), the administration hawks kept using the war metaphor to describe the conflict, gather power, and go about their agenda.

Then the London bombings happened. And [almost] happened again. And, very quietly, the separation of the "global struggle against violent extremism" and the wrap-up of war-like operations in Iraq. (U.S. Officials Retool Slogan for Terror War - NY Times)

In some ways this is an admission of the failure of the administration's policy. The excuse of fighting the "war on terror" in Iraq "so that we don't have to fight it at home" vanished in the explosions that rocked London in the last month.

A "struggle against extremism" suggests that some solutions might not take the form of large armies going to far away lands. The solution to a struggle might be found in diplomacy, education, and smaller-scale police actions.

In some ways, however, the new phrasing could prove more dangerous. In the eyes of many conservatives, "violent extremism" is a way to describe environmentalists who spike trees to prevent lumbering, or who release lab animals before they can be experimented on. Does the new phrasing signal a new crack-down on domestic dissenters?

Think that could never happen here? Think of the recent appointment of John Bolton to the U.N. post in an end-run around Congress to avoid confirmation. Bolton, who was part of the legal team that James Baker brought down to Florida in 2000 to help W "win" the presidency. And that other recent nomination of John Roberts to the Supreme Court. Roberts, who voluntarily went to Florida in 2000 to give advice to his good friend, Jeb Bush. Expectations of democracy are largely unfounded in the New American Republic.

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