July 31, 2009

Well... it worked once

Cam Cardow, The Ottawa Citizen

Beer, Prejudice, and Politics

Eric, over at Barataria, writes about beer. I’m certain Eric didn’t know that beer is one of my favorite subjects… but it is, and Eric’s use of analogy created a “teachable moment” for ole Mule Breath. His message is about more than just beer... he uses the godly elixir as a means to make a point about diplomacy.

Eric posits that the ancient Sumerians were the first to discover the benefits of beer. He further suggests that some of that tribe, perhaps preferring the nomadic lifestyle to the sedentary required for farming, argued against putting in the grain crops that would be required as a base for the brew. Putting in crops meant staying in one spot until the crops could mature and be harvested. So perhaps there were differences of opinions resulting in arguments... until there was beer.

The more astute of you are probably seeing the direction Eric was travelling with this line of thought. It brings up a topic that I have not yet discussed on this blog, and reading Eric’s message made me understand why. To this point the foofarah in Cambridge between distinguished Professor Henry Lewis “Skip” Gates, and decorated police Sergeant James Crowley has been something about which I really would rather not speak, but Eric’s brief, simple discussion of beer brought it out.

My aversion to this discussion is rooted in the suspicion that the guy I wanted to be right… wasn’t. Dr. Gates likely mishandled the situation and carried it to ridiculous length, causing what should have been an inconsequential local dispute to escalate to a world media event. I can excuse him to some small degree, because the city in which this dust up happened, Cambridge, has a long, checkered history of racial tension, and the police department has had several high profile cases in which it was shown officers overreacted and overreached. A follower of the Harvard Crimson would know I speak the truth.

So, when the story first broke, my reaction was Reaganesque; There they go again.

It didn’t take long for me to realize that I had jumped to conclusions unsupported by fact. Even the photo of Dr. Gates being taken from the house in handcuffs showed him with a highly agitated expression, his mouth open wide as if shouting. It disappointed me to learn that Gates was likely the bad guy here. But I'm a big boy. I can overcome disapointment.

Mistakes were made. It looks like Professor Gates made the first by assuming a racial aspect to Sgt. Crowley’s investigation of a citizen call. Perhaps Sgt. Crowley isn’t racially 100% balanced, who knows, and who amongst us is, but his actions that day did not indicate any great degree of racism. Gates was wrong to make that assumption. I was wrong to make that assumption.

The next mistake was, however, Sgt. Crowley’s. The arrest should not have happened. Sgt. Crowley allowed the cop in him to override the reasonable man he is reputed to be. If Prof. Gates was being unruly, placing him in restraints was a good option, but carrying through with the arrest was a mistake. (At least he didn't Taze him)

Then it was my time to make a mistake. Almost immediately upon hearing of the event I assumed the worst of the police. This is my bias and I do not apologize for it. I have my reasons, and those are fact… not conjecture. From personal experience I expect cops to behave badly when confronting certain populations, and blacks fall into that assumption. My mistake in this case will likely not change my overall point of view. I have always admitted that the cops I dislike are part of a small element, and I've seen great stride toward improvement over recent years. Still, when something like this happens I expect to to worst. My mistake in this instance.

Now comes President Obama, giving every right wingnut all the reason in the world to point and shout, “See! We told you so.” And now Mr. Obama is the racist that idiots like Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Sen. James Inhofe have long predicted. Good job Mr. President. But good recovery as well.

So, back to the beer… and to the “teachable moment” that has been discussed by both Dr. Gates and President Obama. Far from inflaming racial tensions, Sgt. Crowley’s mistake may serve as the path to a bridge, if one can ever be found, Mr. Obama is wise enough to follow that path. Inviting the boys over to the White House for a beer was a means to make amends for bad choices and perhaps get things rolling in the direction of improved understanding. This could be a first step, and Sgt. Crowley may end up being the hero. I hope so.

“When this whole thing got way overblown in the media, the only sensible and civilized thing to do was to sit down and have a beer about it. Amazing things can happen when people give themselves up to the idea that no matter what your dispute is, downing a pint of your fave foam with someone is an act of contrition, brotherhood, or at the very least tolerance. We’re all just people, and we might agree to disagree on many things – but we can all enjoy a cold one.

In the end, the event was just another White House photo-op in many ways. But what it said to everyone is that there are ways of getting past all the terrible ghosts that have been haunting us since this nation first declared its independence.

We may not all agree on everything, but that’s not important. We’re all people. We know enough to be civil and decent to each other. If it takes some
time over a few beers to make that clear, then it’s time well spent. In fact, there’s no better use of time than to spend it getting to know someone you have a serious disagreement with because they might just change your mind on a thing or two. I’ll bet a lot of Sumerians were convinced of that after all that grain produced something as cool as beer.

Indeed I think they probably were, Eric. Thanks for a good message.

RECOMMENDED READING: Prof. Gates, Cambridge and Racial Politics, CBSNews.com

July 30, 2009

Coffee Cup Politics

44 years ago today the Federal government received the first application for enrollment in the Social Security Supplementary Medical Insurance Program, known as Medicare Part B. The applicant was former President Harry S. Truman, and his application was approved by President Lyndon Johnson at the signing ceremony for the bill that created the program.

Harry Truman was at that ceremony for good reason. 20 years earlier it was Truman who sent a message to Congress asking for legislation that would establish a national health insurance plan. Then as now, it was Republicans raising the specter of "socialized medicine" that doomed the idea in its entirety, but by the end of Truman's administration a new plan had been formed and was gaining ground. Truman backed off from the idea of universal coverage, instead focusing on the idea of a program aimed at insuring Social Security beneficiaries, which would include the elderly and the disabled. 20 years of debate ensued with some astonishingly familiar tactics employed by the usual list of suspects.

Operation Coffeecup

The intractable opposition of the AMA and other pressure groups made universal health care an unrealistic goal, so Truman’s Federal Security Administrator, Oscar Ewing, in 1952 began advocating medical care for the aged. Truman hoped that scaling back the ambitious idea of universal health care would mollify the conservative opposition.

It didn’t work. In 1952 the first bill was introduced in Congress to create a Medicare program. The AMA immediately announced its opposition and worked tirelessly and successfully to prevent any such program from advancing in the Congress. The bill withered on the vine. Another bill was introduced in 1958, and the AMA mobilized a massive campaign against it, quintupling its anti-Medicare lobbying budget. Republicans, responding to AMA pressure, bottled the bill up in committee.

The battle waged on, with labor siding with the Democrats and raising the ante for the AMA funded Republicans. In 1960 Senator Robert Kerr (D-OK) and Representative Wilbur Mills (D-AR) proposed a compromise. The Kerr-Mills bill created a state-based welfare program covering only the medically indigent and the elderly on state welfare rolls. This scaled-back scheme was enacted into law in September 1960. The plan would be entirely optional for the states. If a state so chose, they were free to ignore the law. Even this pitiful compromise was bitterly resisted by the AMA, but there was enough popular support that even the AMA’s money couldn’t buy enough votes to defeat it.

In the subsequent political battles over Medicare, the AMA would deploy an alternative strategy; developing an alternative they labeled “Eldercare.” This scheme was essentially Kerr-Mills on steroids, promising more generous benefits than Medicare, but still limiting the benefits to the welfare population rather than to all elderly Social Security beneficiaries. However, the non-indigent elderly were still in need of health care coverage and still unlikely to be able to purchase it in the marketplace. Studies at the time reported that the elderly used medical services at a rate twice that of those younger; that three-fifths of the elderly had less than $1,000 in liquid assets; and that nearly 54% lacked any form of health insurance. It was clear to virtually everyone that the elderly had medical-care problems that far exceeded those of the average American.

The election of John F. Kennedy added new pressure to the push for Medicare and advocates were optimistic that the 1961-62 session of Congress would see some improvement, but Medicare was by no means a shoe in, and the AMA remained a significant force of opposition.

Starting in 1961, the 82,000 strong AMA Woman’s Auxiliary (physician’s wives) began a variety of public relations tasks on behalf of their husbands. In the spring of 1961 they launched Women Help American Medicine (WHAM). In promotional material still found in the AMA archives, WHAM bluntly stated their goal as: “This campaign is aimed at the defeat of the King-Anderson bill of the 87th Congress, a bill which would provide a system of socialized medicine for our senior citizens and seriously curtail the quality of medical care in the United States.”

So the first specter of socialism was raised in 1961 by the AMA. This was the public face of their efforts, but there was another component to the AMA campaign. This side depended on hiding AMA involvement from congress. It was called Operation Coffeecup, and it also involved the Woman’s Auxiliary. It is also where former President Ronald Reagan got his toe in the political door.

The AMA had commissioned Reagan to make a recording of a speech demonizing Medicare. Reagan did such a good job that the term “Socialized Medicine” has entered the American lexicon as a virtual synonym for any government assisted healthcare.

“[I]f you don’t [stop Medicare] and I don’t do it, one of these days you and I are going to spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it once was like in America when men were free.

The AMA Women’s Auxiliary was to arrange a series of coffee-klatches with key members of Congress. The wives were instructed to downplay the purpose of the meetings, playing them as if some sort of spontaneous neighborhood events. Materials found in the AMA archives state: “Drop a note—just say ‘Come for coffee at 10 a.m. on Wednesday. I want to play the Ronald Reagan record for you.”

The die was cast, and the right has forever hitched their wagon to the notion that government sponsored healthcare is somehow linked to socialism, regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The rogue’s gallery is a virtual casting call for wingnuts and hysterical idealism.

In 1964, George H.W. Bush: Described Medicare as “socialized medicine.”

That same year, Barry Goldwater said, “Having given our pensioners their medical care in kind, why not food baskets, why not public housing accommodations, why not vacation resorts, why not a ration of cigarettes for those who smoke and of beer for those who drink.”

Reagan, of course, went on to become President, giving the AMA and other right wing ideologues an ear to bend.

In 1996, Presidential candidate Bob Dole bragged of being one of 12 House members who voted against creating Medicare in 1965. “I was there, fighting the fight, voting against Medicare . . . because we knew it wouldn’t work in 1965.”

In the almost four and a half decades since Medicare was signed into law, the right wing opposition to Medicare has continued unabated. Were it not for overwhelming popular support, those aligned forces would, I’m sure, drive a stake into the program’s heart. As Igor Volsky notes on the Wonk Room blog, conservatives have attempted in the decades since Medicare’s creation to kill it and force it to “wither on the vine.”

Medicare isn’t perfect by any stretch, but it has improved access to health care for the elderly, helped them to live longer, healthier lives, reduced poverty, and has become one of the most popular government programs.

Today we have another ambitious proposal from another President who finds himself the target of right wing fear-mongering and hysteria, much like Truman. The universal healthcare plan proposed by Obama and championed by the Democrats in Congress is flawed just as Medicare is flawed, of that we can be certain. But the fear-inducing hysteria promoted by the same old list of suspects is stirring up the same unjust anxiety it did 50 years ago.

The AMA today is a different organization, but now we have the insurance giants and their lobbyists to worry about. The Republican Congress sounds about the same today as they did in 1945, and today they have FOX, Limbaugh, et al echoing the call. I would hope that students of history would be wary of the sock puppets and make decisions based on reason and fact. One can hope.

July 28, 2009

I didn't know there was free beer

From The Sun, London

POLITICIANS are clamping down on brothels offering recession busting discount rates.

Bargain rates seem to be bringing in more clients, but perhaps its for the free beer.


July 26, 2009

Tasers and a propensity for abuse

There has been much in the news over the past few years regarding Taser use and misuse by law enforcement. Several have died after being “tazed” when officers, supposedly following policy, utilized the device as a deterrent to violence. Taking a serious look at this situation, two questions come to mind… with each of those raising ancillary questions.

Regarding the deaths, I have to wonder if this is a dissonant correlation/causation phenomenon, or if receiving a huge electrical shock actually precipitated the death of a person. And then we would need to know why the shock killed one and not another.

After regular reading of news stories and seeing the seemingly large number of situations in which a individual is subjected to Taser shock, I would like to know if perhaps the weapon is being correctly utilized by law enforcement, or are cops “tazing” subjects unnecessarily, and if so, why?

There is some research data available (albeit not much), and some ongoing research into the potential for lethal outcome with Taser shock. Some critics argue that the device had not been studied sufficiently prior to being placed into general use, a claim which the Arizona based manufacturer disputes. The manufacturer, unsurprisingly, defends the device’s effectiveness and actually states that it saves lives. I’ll leave it to you, my gentle readers, to Google for that little ditty. Discussion from the manufacture point of view and others may be found HERE, HERE, HERE, and HERE.

Taser’s website has a page on research, with a slant of course, upon which you will find a photo of a smiling dude wearing scrubs and lab coat, and with stethoscope slung over his neck. He certainly looks like a doctor… but he isn’t at all identified. The photo lends some illusionary credibility to the research aspect from the company point of view, I guess.

Now the overuse/misuse question

You be the judge. A cursory review of the web brought several quick results using keywords “Taser” and “misuse.” I've heard of others but didn't take the time to dig more than this.

November of 2008 - - A Pinellas County, Florida jailer used a Taser to awaken a prisoner. The jailer received a 15 day suspension.

Earlier this year - - North Wales police tazed an 89 year old man who was threatening suicide. This same article references use of the Taser on a 14 year old child, and the same department has tazed dogs, sheep and cattle.

June of this year - - A Travis County Constable used a Taser to subdue an angry 72 year old woman because she wouldn’t sign the speeding citation he had written.

Just a couple days ago - - Boise, Idaho, police officers were disciplined by their department for shoving a Taser into a suspect’s butt crack, and firing. This entire episode is recorded on video and audio tape.

The jury is still out

There is no verifiable, statistical data indicating how many times Tasers have been used by law enforcement to subdue citizens, so there is no means of knowing just what percentage of uses are done according manufacturer recommendation and/or departmental policy. Neither is there any way of knowing how many Taser incidents are vindictive and/or coercive and/or just for the convenience of the officer. How many times has the device been used in anger or frustration, or simply for expediency?

If Tasers were not available, would the Texas constable have used some other form of force to subdue the little old lady, or would he have done what the law requires, handcuff and arrest her, and simply take her to jail?

Would the North Wales police have restrained the old geezer in some less painful and dangerous way, and would Sparky the sheep have been wrangled in a more reasonable fashion?

We have seen and heard reports of police abuse of authority and brutality over the years. Much of this is documented, and we fret about every new report. We know it happens, but has the availability of the Taser made it simpler for cops already inclined to be abusive to misuse that authority?

One thing is certain. There is insufficient data to make any valid assessment of these questions, so we need serious research efforts. If the device is determined to be effective and safe, then we must insist on better training and greater oversight of officers entrusted with that kind of potential.

We can’t continue to tolerate law enforcement shoving 50,000 volts up some dude’s chute just because the cop loses his cool



A reader has provided this link to an article on the Amnesty International website, detailing the number of U.S. deaths folowing Taser shock. The report, of course cannot determine causation, but the anecdotal evidence lends strong suspicion. From the article:

Amnesty International has said that industry claims that Taser stun guns are safe and non-lethal do not stand up to scrutiny. The organization called on governments to limit their deployment to life-threatening situations or to suspend their use.

The call came as the organization released one of the most detailed reports to date on the safety of the stun gun. The report "USA: Less than lethal?" is being published as the number of people who died after being struck by Tasers in the USA reached 334 between 2001 and August 2008.

So, in my mind at least, since we failed to study the device prior to its deployment, the Taser should be shelved until such time as we can collect the data, and such data indicates it is safe for use. The research should not be entrusted to the manufacturer of the device.

Then we should spend time offering training to those who will be entrusted with the device. They need to understand mor than just how to use it. They should understand that there are time when it should not be used, and be aware of the potential consequenses.

Montag is right

Even for an atheist, this ain't a bad way to start a Sunday.

If you ever get a chance to see Ry Cooder in concert, it is worth the price of admission.

July 25, 2009

AP takes a shot - - Shoots own foot

Associated Press announced a new policy Wednesday. CEO Tom Curley thinks he understands this Internet thing, and he is determined that his organization will get richer by exploiting the medium. But I think… probably not.

From the New York Times, July 24, 2009:

Tom Curley, The A.P.’s president and chief executive, said the company’s position was that even minimal use of a news article online required a licensing agreement with the news organization that produced it. In an interview, he specifically cited references that include a headline and a link to an article, a standard practice of search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo, news aggregators and blogs.

Asked if that stance went further than The A.P. had gone before, he said, “That’s right.” The company envisions a campaign that goes far beyond The A.P., a nonprofit corporation. It wants the 1,400 American newspapers that own the company to join the effort and use its software.

“If someone can build multibillion-dollar businesses out of keywords, we can build multihundred-million businesses out of headlines, and we’re going to do that,” Mr. Curley said. The goal, he said, was not to have less use of the news articles, but to be paid for any use.

That’s right folks; the AP (which, by the way, is a non-profit corporation) wants you to pay each and every time you quote an article in your blog, or even link back to one on the AP website.

The cluelessness is blinding.

Curley’s argument is that AP should be paid for any use of their product, no matter if only a link to the AP website, so they are taking the hard line that news articles should not turn up on blogs, search engines and Web sites without permission… and payment, The plan is to add some sort of software to each article published, which would display the AP’s version of applicable limits for use, inform the user of the required licensing agreement, and then phone home, telling the AP that the article has been used. Theoretically this would allow AP’s legal folks to file copyright infringement on scofflaws.

What they will actually be doing is consigning themselves to the dustbin of journalistic history. There is little doubt that this policy will produce a ripple effect on blogging, and the news aggregators like Hot Air and the Huffington Post will feel some effect, but what this action will not do is result in any additional revenue for AP. Instead the sphere will simply switch from AP to other reputable news organizations (Reuters, BBC), and the online newspapers.

"We can no longer stand by and watch others walk off with our work under misguided legal theories," says AP Chairman Dean Singleton. "We are mad as hell, and we are not going to take it anymore."

The legal theory in question is far from misguided, and neither is it up to the AP to determine the meaning of “fair use.” This is a question that will be answered by the courts, and I can assure Mr. Singleton that the decisions will not go well for his organization. The practice of cutting bits and pieces from wire service articles for the purpose of reporting the news or linking to an article when offering commentary dates back practically forever, and has been blessed by the courts numerous times. This is perfectly legal under current interpretation of copyright law, and just because the AP doesn’t agree will not change a thing. The threat of legal action will, however, be effective and bloggers will simply avoid the content rather than risk the expense of a court battle.

And then there is the relevance issue. The Associate Press board is apparently not much of a history student. If they were, they might have remembered that attempts to charge casual readers for web content has been tried… and has failed. When the New York Times, in 2005, attempted to place portions of its content behind a firewall and charge a $49.95 subscription price for access, unique hits dropped from 17 million monthly to a few hundred thousand. The Times dropped the idea in 2007. The AP, by following a similar path, is fasttracking the oldest remaining U.S. wire service to the realm of irrelevance.

This is not about defining fair use,” said Sue A. Cross, a senior vice president of the group, who added several times during an interview that news organizations want to work with the aggregators, not against them. “There’s a bigger economic issue at stake here that we’re trying to tackle.”

This is about more than just the aggregators, and the AP is not working with anyone by attempting to deny use of content to bloggers, search engines and news aggregators. The AP is opening a can of worms that I’m sure they can’t imagine. Loss of readership and losses in courtrooms surely loom on the horizon, paralelled closely by loses in revenue.

The AP is shooting themselves in the foot.

See the AP press release HERE (Wonder if they'll charge me for this link?). The New York Times article is HERE, and an earlier article HERE. Joe Windish has a good evaluation on The Moderate Voice.

A frank apology

A few days ago I took a swipe at Amazon's Orwellian attack on illicit ebooks sold to Kindle owners. On Thursday Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, backtracked in a big way by issuing a brief but pointed apology on Amazon's Kindle community forum.

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

With deep apology to our customers,
Jeff BezosFounder
& CEOAmazon.com

Bezos' forthrightness is refreshing, but I'm still suspicious of Amazon's (and others) capabilities. This is a topic worth watching.

July 24, 2009

In Defense of Freedom, Part IX

The framers of our Constitution enumerated ten amendments. These wise and learned men would be the first to tell you that the Bill of Rights did not grant these rights; and neither does it limit natural rights to just those enumerated. 9A acknowledges that the liberties recognized by the Bill of Rights are just those few rights no government could suppress or deny, and it asserts that government may not disparage other, unenumerated, natural rights of man.

9A is the silent amendment. It has gone over two centuries with very little mention by SCOTUS and pitiful few arguments at any level of the legal system. Even though it stems from the same intellectual roots as the Privileges and Immunities clause of 14A (or vice versa perhaps). SCOTUS has treated 9A as little more than a “truism,” and seemingly unimportant. It has rarely been cited in case law.

However, some expansion has occurred. An example of an unenumerated right recognized by SCOTUS in the years since our Constitution was ratified would be a right to privacy. Roe v. Wade was decided in part based upon a woman’s right to privacy, with argument rooted in the 9A, and few would regard the opinion rendered in that case as unimportant. Although there is scant mention of 9A in the opinions of the Court, and no decision has relied on it exclusively, its influence may be seen in many arguments and decisions.

Unlike amendments 1 through 8, the history of 9A is difficult to trace. It is not entirely missing from the history records, but there is no single source offering justification for such language in the Bill of Rights. References to the roots of 9A are scattered within many texts and records. Once the records are compiled, it becomes apparent that the original drafters considered 9A and 10A to be a balancing act of sorts, intended to unite the feuding federalists and anti-federalists.

Some roots of 9A may be found in the writings of James Madison and the 18th century Virginia Assembly. According to Madison, the purpose of the Ninth Amendment was to “[guard] against a latitude of interpretation” while the Tenth Amendment “exclud[ed] every source of power not within the constitution itself.”

The majority of scholarly research into 9A deals with the question of whether it can be read to deal with certain rights claimed, but not enumerated. It is curious that most of this research and the sketchy few court cases have occurred only over the past half-century, and it seems that most interest grew from circumstances originating in the Reagan years and the Edwin Meese Justice Department, although the earliest case to which I can find reference was the 1964 Warren Court decision in New York Times v. Sullivan, which was decided concurrently with Abernathy v. Sullivan. 9A was not used in argument, but has been raised in analysis of the Court’s decision several times since.

Per Oyez, the Sullivan case concerned “a full-page ad in the New York Times which alleged that the arrest of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. for perjury in Alabama was part of a campaign to destroy King's efforts to integrate public facilities and encourage blacks to vote. L. B. Sullivan, the Montgomery city commissioner, filed a libel action against the newspaper and four black ministers who were listed as endorsers of the ad, claiming that the allegations against the Montgomery police defamed him personally. Under Alabama law, Sullivan did not have to prove that he had been harmed; and a defense claiming that the ad was truthful was unavailable since the ad contained factual errors. Sullivan won a $500,000 judgment.”

So where might there be a 9A component in Sullivan? Freedom of speech was recognized as an enumerated right in 1A, but nowhere in the Constitution can we find the right to reputation mentioned. Prior to the adoption of the Constitution though, reputation was protected under state laws, which also allowed citizens to “speak freely.” The tension between the two was as obvious then as it is now. So the question is; did enumeration in the Constitution of the freedom of speech imply that protection for free speech trumped the right to reputation? Couching that question in 9A terms, did “[t]he enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights,” including the freedom of speech, diminish the protection afforded “others retained by the people,” such as the right to reputation?

In the Sullivan case, the Warren Court answered in the affirmative, but 9A seems to say no. “The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” So did the Warren Court ignore 9A?

In the Sullivan case, the right to reputation is not relevantly denied at the expense of free speech. 9A preserves the status of the right to reputation, but it does not elevate that status. It does not turn other rights “retained by the people” into “federal constitutional” rights, it only requires that those other rights not be diminished.

Given the founders’ obvious concern about overreaching exercises of federal legislative power, there is reason to believe that 9A was framed as a general declaration. They wanted it to be clear that enumerating federal constitutional rights should not negatively affect the status of other existing rights, and not intended to usurp rights recognized by state laws.

July 22, 2009

What is it about Individual Rights that is so difficult to understand?

Osama bin Adams is again trying to put his thumb on women. He tried this last year too.

An Ohio lawmaker has introduced a bill that would prevent a woman from having an abortion unless she gets written consent from the biological father.

Assaulted from the right... assaulted from the left.. The rights of Man have little respite.

Read the whole story...


July 21, 2009


You may know who Erin Andrews is. I don’t. Or at least I didn’t until the news hit the wire that she was secretly videoed through the peephole of a hotel room, and the video was posted (of course) on the Internet. This apparently happened a few days ago, but I’m just hearing about it today.

Several emotions come to mind as I read and listen to the tales. Curiosity firstly, because I’ve learned that Ms. Andrews is supposed to be a looker; something I've confirmed by locating the photo below. To be honest, after seeing the photo I was tempted to surf for the video.

Then curiosity yet again because I wondered how anyone could actually video through a peephole from the outside looking in. I thought those things were meant to be secure.

Then came the revulsion and anger, because this woman was raped. You can call it voyeurism or something else if you please… I call it rape.

Now, finally, I feel satisfaction to learn that hackers are using the video as a Trojan to infect the PC’s of the curious, and relief that I didn’t succumb to my own curiosity.

From CBS:

Naked Video Of ESPN Star Used To Hack PCs

Hackers are using an illegally-taped peephole video that has naked shots of glamorous ESPN sports reporter Erin Andrews as a lure to get click-happy web surfers to download dangerous malware to their computers, according to a computer security website.

Andrews has become a popular fixture on ESPN and the web as a vivacious and beautiful reporter. So much so, that someone used a peephole camera to record video of Andrews as she disrobed.

Naturally, the video went viral online and ESPN lawyers have been scrambling to shut down websites that post links to the material.

That means it's getting increasingly hard to find on the web, but that hasn't stopped the growing demand for it.

And it's that drive that hackers are plugging into, according to sophos.com, a website that sells security software, but also provides security news.

One version of the hack, fools surfers into clicking on what appears to be a CNN version of the video, according to Sophos. When users hit the play button they are presented with a pop up window warning them that their popup blocker has blocked the video player window and they must launch another player. Doing so doesn't play the video, but it does install a Trojan horse with which hackers can later attack the computer, says the site.

Both Apple and Windows computers are vulnerable, according to Sophos. It is not yet clear what effect the virus will have on computers or how widely it will spread.

Since the whole thing is kind of amateurish, the person or persons who actually shot the video may yet be caught. If that happens, I certainly hope they face the music. This was not just some childish prank.

1984 …or Fahrenheit 451?

Yesterday SLATE published an article by Farhad Manjoo titled Why 2024 Will Be Like Nineteen Eighty-Four. Subtitled: How Amazon's remote deletion of e-books from the Kindle paves the way for book-banning's digital future. The article details how Amazon has reached out and touched some Kindle owners by remotely erasing some book purchases. When I checked this morning I found 267 queries to Amazon relating to the remote erasure of Orwell’s 1984, and Animal Farm, for which Amazon refunded the purchase price.

I could maybe understand Ayn Rand… but Orwell? That’s bizarrely ironic, isn’t it?

But wait a minute… It seems Amazon erased Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead

and Harry Potter too!

For their part, Amazon claims the Kindle versions of all these books were bootlegged, illegal copies uploaded to their system using the Kindle Store's self-publishing system. By zapping ebooks purchased by Kindle users, Amazon was only protecting the publishers' intellectual property. Apparently Kindle users have raised such a stink that Amazon has tucked their tail and promised not to do it any more. We’ll see. As Manjoo states in the SLATE article:

Don't put too much stock in that promise. The worst thing about this story isn't Amazon's conduct; it's the company's technical capabilities. Now we know that Amazon can delete anything it wants from your electronic reader. That's an awesome power, and Amazon's justification in this instance is beside the point. As our media libraries get converted to 1's and 0's, we are at risk of losing what we take for granted today: full ownership of our book and music and movie collections.

Too true, and Manjoo’s raises several interesting points. Such as the fact that the Apple iPhone is tethered in a fashion similar to the Kindle, and that Apple can remotely check the apps you have downloaded, then remove or disable anything objectionable. That means that the $500 you shelled out for that 3g only bought you the use of the device… not control.

Jonathan Zittrain, in his book The Future of the Internet and How To Stop It, discusses the 2001 Playmedia v. AOL and the 2004 TiVo v. Dish Network cases. Zittrain contends that "tethered" devices give the government unprecedented power to reach into our homes and change how our devices function, and indeed, by judicial order, have done just that in these two lawsuits.

Manjoo wraps up his article with an ominous prediction, and a call for some kind of legal protections for owners/users of these tethered devices:

Amazon's promise to do better next time is going to be pretty hard to keep. The company says it won't delete any more books—but it hasn't said what it will do when someone alleges that one of its titles is libelous or violates someone else's copyright. This is bound to happen sooner or later, and the company might find itself deleting books once more. To solve this problem, what we really need are new laws.

Perhaps new laws should not be the only answer considered, but certainly we need to look at existing law in light of emerging technologies. Neither the burning of books, nor big-brotherish electronic zapping of data is anything a free and democratic society should tolerate.

July 19, 2009

Yep, son. We have met the enemy...

(C) 1996 - O.G.P.I.

...and now, if you can stand the voice...

File this under Igorance can be deadly.

HT Blogenfreude, Apologies to Walt Kelley


Harry, Pepper, and Linda

A story like this could happen somewhere besides San Francisco, but somehow it seems likely it would have had somewhat less impact.

Harry, Pepper, and Linda - A tale of selfishness and infidelity

For the past six years, visitors to the San Francisco zoo could see a mated gay pair of penguins, frolicking together and occasionally caring for and protecting nests of eggs abandoned by other penguins. These were Harry and Pepper, and they seemed very happy together. To the San Francisco gay community… they were an example that even in the non-human world there were displays of homosexual traits.

But all of that has come to an end. Harry left Pepper to take up with the recently widowed Linda. In a copyrighted story on Friday [apparently available only to subscribers], the Los Angeles Times reported that Harry had indeed moved into Linda’s nest.

The sphere is aquiver with this story, with bits of the LAT piece appearing in rags around the world. As could be expected, the gay blogs are quite active, with one calling Linda a selfish home wrecker, another calls Harry a callous lout, and one commenter saying that he is "heartbroken" about the split, and that he hopes Pepper "finds another male penguin that is ten times hotter than Harry!"

Of course the social conservatives must have something to say about this, and the Christian website OneNewsNow.com takes the split as a sign that "nature prefers heterosexual relationships." I’m actually surprised I haven’t seen more.

Harrison Edell, a curator of birds at the San Francisco zoo, is a bit pragmatic in his explanation of the events. He notes that Linda's recently-deceased partner was somewhat of a leader in the local penguin community, who actually had two nests; one more than your average penguin.

"For penguins, real estate means a lot," Edell told the Los Angeles Times, so "as far as penguins go, she was a pretty attractive prospect." In other words, Harry was in it for the money and just took advantage of an opportunity. I’m sure they will be quite happy together.

Which is well and fine, but I do feel sorry for Pepper, who is now relegated to the ranks of the lonely unattached. For a social animal like the penguin… that has got to be difficult.


July 18, 2009

Something you don't see often...

An Oscar Meyer Wienermobile crashed into the home and outdoor deck of Racine, Wis. home on Friday morning. A witness said the vehicle was parked in the driveway, and that the driver lurched the vehicle forward instead of backing out of the driveway. It struck the deck and cracked the foundation.


Res Ipsa Loquitur

Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act of 2009 (Introduced in Senate)

S 1435 IS
1st Session

S. 1435

To amend title 18, United States Code, to prohibit human-animal hybrids.

July 9, 2009
Mr. BROWNBACK (for himself, Ms. LANDRIEU, Mr. BUNNING, Mr. BURR, Mr. CHAMBLISS, Mr. COBURN, Mr. CORKER, Mr. CORNYN, Mr. ENSIGN, Mr. GRAHAM, Mr. INHOFE, Mr. JOHANNS, Mr. KYL, Mr. MARTINEZ, Mr. MCCAIN, Mr. RISCH, Mr. THUNE, Mr. VITTER, Mr. VOINOVICH, Mr. WICKER, and Mr. DEMINT) introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary


To amend title 18, United States Code, to prohibit human-animal hybrids.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

This Act may be cited as the `Human-Animal Hybrid Prohibition Act of 2009'.

Congress finds that--

(1) advances in research and technology have made possible the creation of human-animal hybrids;

(2) human-animal hybrids are grossly unethical because they blur the line between human and animal, male and female, parent and child, and one individual and another individual;

(3) human dignity and the integrity of the human species are compromised by human-animal hybrids;

(4) the uniqueness of individual human beings is manifested in a particular way through their brain and their reproductive organs/cells; and

(5) with an increase in emerging zoonotic infection threatening the global public health, human-animal hybrids present a particularly optimal means of genetic transfers that could increase the efficiency or virulence of diseases threatening both humans and animals.


Part I of title 18, United States Code, is amended by inserting after chapter 51 the following:


`1131. Definitions.

`1132. Prohibition on human-animal hybrids.

`Sec. 1131. Definitions

`In this chapter the following definitions apply:

`(1) HUMAN-ANIMAL HYBRID- The term `human-animal hybrid' means--

`(A) a human embryo into which a non-human cell or cells (or the component parts thereof) have been introduced to render the embryo's membership in the species Homo sapiens uncertain;

`(B) a hybrid human/animal embryo produced by fertilizing a human egg with non-human sperm;

`(C) a hybrid human/animal embryo produced by fertilizing a non-human egg with human sperm;

`(D) an embryo produced by introducing a non-human nucleus into a human egg;

`(E) an embryo produced by introducing a human nucleus into a non-human egg;

`(F) an embryo containing at least haploid sets of chromosomes from both a human and a non-human life form;

`(G) a non-human life form engineered such that human gametes develop within the body of a non-human life form; or

`(H) a non-human life form engineered such that it contains a human brain or a brain derived wholly or predominantly from human neural tissues.

`(2) HUMAN EMBRYO- The term `human embryo' means an organism of the species Homo sapiens during the earliest stages of development, from 1 cell up to 8 weeks.

`Sec. 1132. Prohibition on human-animal hybrids

`(a) In General- It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly, in or otherwise affecting interstate commerce--

`(1) create or attempt to create a human-animal hybrid;

`(2) transfer or attempt to transfer a human embryo into a non-human womb;

`(3) transfer or attempt to transfer a non-human embryo into a human womb; or

`(4) transport or receive for any purpose a human-animal hybrid.

`(b) Penalties-

`(1) IN GENERAL- Whoever violates subsection (a) shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 10 years, or both.

`(2) CIVIL PENALTY- Whoever violates subsection (a) and derives pecuniary gain from such violation shall be subject to a civil fine of the greater of $1,000,000 and an amount equal to the amount of the gross gain multiplied by 2.'.


July 17, 2009

Never leave home without it

The Church Key

Rob Kasper bolgs about beer. Today he writes about the noble church key. Apparently there are those, in this pop-top culture of ours, who fail to recognize the term. It seems that one of Rob’s sons was puzzled by the slang for a bottle opener, which caused Rob to feel like a failure as a parent.

I sympathize. The term has all but lost its meaning, and one of the 20th century’s most indispensible items, once found in any kitchen drawer and the trouser pocket of many American teenage boys, is becoming a thing of history.

The Church key (or churchkey) is a slang term given to a variety of tools whose purpose is to open pre-poptop beverage cans with one end, and capped beverage bottles with the opposite end. Although some were sold, the most common means of obtaining one was an advertising gimme picked up at the package store.

The oldest of these, was intended only for bottles, and did not have the sharp wedge-like tip as in the above photo. These were intended to pry the metal cap off the mouth of a glass bottle. The “crown cork, as it was first called, was invented in the late 19th century, and the church key, originally called the “crown cork lifter,” was patented in 1894.

The shape and design probably led to the slang name, as they did resemble a large old style key. The American Can Company was the first to conceive of packaging beer in sealed, flat top cans, but this would work only so long as there was a simple means to access the contents, so a fellow named D.F. Sampson, in 1935, developed that little device Rob and I lament today.

There were still bottles to be opened, so the church key retained the original design on one end, but added the chisel-tip on the other.

Consumer beverages in cans are now sold in easy-open pull-top containers, and the bottles have twist-off caps. With limited exception, the need for the old, pointy church key of my youth… is gone.

Some home bars still keep a version of the church key, albeit slicked up with chrome and fancy handles.

The restaurant and bar industries still make use of the bottle opener end of the device, and the old church key has seen some evolution. My son is a waiter at a restaurant where I can’t afford to dine, and he carries something like this in his pocket:

Behind the bar you might still find one of these:

… and Ambulance Driver might have one of these:

Holding out from extinction, the lowly church key has evolved into a gewgaw of various and interesting designs:

Rob’s twentish year-old son failed to understand the term, which is somewhat of a shame. The church key is a nostalgic piece of Americana, much like another archaic item... the buggy whip.

I'd bet Rob's son wouldn't know what that was either.


July 16, 2009

The Irritating Ben Stein

Ben Stein just irritates me. His attempts at humor over the years have left me flat, and his game show was a real dud. A few years ago, Ben did a science-bashing documentary called Expelled – No Intelligence allowed, which he demonized Charles Darwin and promoted improvable, faith-based creationist thought. Maybe that was it, or maybe the fact that he wrote speeches for Nixon has something to do with my animosity, but the little twerp just gets under my skin and always has.

Now we have something new, and a fresh reason to despise Ben Stein. The New York Times financial columnist is now endorsing FreeScore.com, a “service” that offers to provide your credit score for free. But of course, it isn’t free at all.

Reuter’s blogger Felix Salmon has a good bit at issue with old’ Ben:

How far has Ben Stein sunk? Far enough that I feel compelled to resuscitate the Ben Stein Watch, just to share this unfunny and positively harmful TV ad which is now being aired:

I went to freescore.com and found out my score for free”, says Ben, while an annoying squirrel holds up a sign with the word “FREE” in some horrible brush-script font.

A few points are worth noting here. First, the score itself is not very useful to consumers. What’s useful is the report — if there’s an error on the report, then the consumer can try to rectify it. Secondly, and much more importantly, if you want a free credit report, there’s only one place to go:

annualcreditreport.com. That’s the place where the big three credit-rating agencies will give you a genuinely free copy of your credit report once a year, as required by federal law.

You won’t be surprised to hear that freescore.com is not free: in order to get any information out of them at all, you have to authorize them to charge you a $29.95 monthly fee. They even extract a dollar out of you up front, just to make sure that money is there.

Stein, here, has become a predatory bait-and-switch merchant, dangling a “free” credit report in front of people so that he can sock them with a massive monthly fee for, essentially, doing nothing at all. Naturally, the people who take him up on this offer will be those who can least afford it.

The level to which Stein has now sunk is more than enough reason — as if the case for the prosecution weren’t damning enough already — for the NYT to cancel Stein’s contract forthwith. It’s simply unconscionable for a newspaper of record to employ as its “Everybody’s Business” columnist someone who is surely making a vast amount of money by luring the unsuspecting into overpaying for a financial product they should under no circumstances buy.

It’ll also be interesting to see whether the new Consumer Financial Protection Agency will have the authority to regulate this kind of advertising. If it doesn’t, that’s a significant hole in its mandate.

Ben Stein represents the worst of what caused the current financial downturn. He is part of an establishment that would promote expensive but useless products and services to Americans already down on their luck.

Ben Stein is a dick, and he irritates me.

July 14, 2009

Guts for Brains

or… How Bar-B-Cue made us Smarter

A couple of million years ago the brains of our ancestor, Homo erectus, suddenly started growing larger, while their guts started shrinking. At about the same time, the structure of their teeth changed from sharp and fanglike, to smaller, duller things more like those of modern Home sapiens.

This is curious. Something prompted the rapid change in organ size, but what? We have an evolutionary quandary with few supportable theories, and inquiring minds want to know.

Enter Bar-B-Cue.

One of the more valid theories involves the discovery of fire and the consumption of charred flesh. Our ancestors discovered the benefit of eating more and better meat, thereby beginning the long process of swapping gut for gray matter.

Cooked meats are easier to chew, meaning we could eat more with less effort. The effect was higher percentages of protein delivered more quickly to the brain; leading to enhanced intellectual growth, language and motor skills development, more leisure time, and the eventual discovery of the pleasures of beer.

So, AD... we’re in good company.


July 13, 2009

Auto-Tune the News

Apparently this series of videos has been around, but being the culturally deprived sort that I am I've only just found them...


July 11, 2009

Pretty sure we’ll see this one before SCOTUS

The full story, - Published Saturday by the Associated Press, may be found at: ACLU considers lawsuit in small-town flag dispute

The history of improper use or destruction of the U.S. flag to protest perceived injustices, and the misbegotten deeds of the authorities in reaction to the offensive but completely legal action is long and checkered. Looks like we’ve opened another can of worms with this Wisconsin case.

WAUSAU, Wis. -- An American flag flown upside down as a protest in a northern Wisconsin village was seized by police before a Fourth of July parade and the businessman who flew it -- an Iraq war veteran -- claims the officers trespassed and stole his property.

As could be expected, the Wisconsin branch of the American Civil Liberties Union is pondering legal action against the little (population 1,000) berg of Crivitz for violating Vito Congine Jr.'s' First Amendment right of free expression. ACLU Executive Director Chris Ahmuty says, "It is not often that you see something this blatant."

This all started about a month ago when the 46-year-old Congine (pronounced kon-JEE-nee) hoisted his flag upside down outside the restaurant he wants to open in the village. An inverted flag is, by tradition, an accepted way to signal distress. Congine’s distress, so he claims, is the potential of bankruptcy due to the village board’s refusal to grant him a liquor license after he spent nearly $200,000 to buy and remodel a downtown building for an Italian supper club.

Others in the village did not take to his protest as he must have hoped, and just hours before the town’s Fourth of July parade, as neighbors watched, four police officers entered the property and removed the flag. One neighbor Steven Klein, could not believe what he was seeing. He asked them, "What are you doing?", but they told him "It is none of your business." The cops returned the flag the next day, and Congine promptly hoisted it upside down again.

Marinette County District Attorney Allen Brey, on whose advice the cops took the flag, declined comment. Marinette County Sheriff Jim Kanikula said it was not illegal to fly the flag upside down but people were upset and it was the Fourth of July. "It is illegal to cause a disruption," he said. Village President John Deschane, age 60 and an Army veteran who served in Vietnam, called Congine’s actions “disrespectful,” and said "If he wants to protest, let him protest but find a different way to do it.”

For his part, Congine, a Marine veteran of Desert Storm, intends to keep flying the flag upside down. "It is pretty bad when I go and fight a tyrannical government somewhere else," Congine said, "and then I come home to find it right here at my front door."

Poor taste and ignorance of tradition are not violations of law, but neither do they negate individual, constitutional rights. The village's action was wrong, and SCOTUS will likely see this case in the future.


July 10, 2009

…an emphatically Christian government

Article 7, Section 1 of the Texas Constitution states:

"A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools."

Thus we have the Texas State Board of Education, with the constitutional mission of establishing suitable schools for Texas children. Unfortunately, our current Governor, secessionist Rick Perry, has spent the past nine years ensuring that our State Board of Ignorance [HT] meets the lofty, theocratic standards of the Christian Right, and the knowledge diffused to Texas school kids is subjected to a “Biblical litmus test”.

Credit for the title of this post goes to TxSBOE board member Cynthia Nowland Dunbar, a conservative Republican elected from a district that stretches from just outside of Houston all the way up to Austin. The Biblical litmus test quote is hers too. Both come from her book, One Nation Under God: How the Left is Trying to Erase What Made Us Great, in which she argues that our founders created “an emphatically Christian government” and that government should be guided by a “biblical litmus test.” Her book campaigns for a belief system in which “any person desiring to govern have a sincere knowledge and appreciation for the Word of God in order to rightly govern.”

Good stuff, huh? And the book is chock full of entertaining little ditties. For instance, I found it interesting that a Board of Education member would refer to public education as a “subtly deceptive tool of perversion.” Dunbar, who home schooled her own children, calls the establishment of public schools unconstitutional and “tyrannical,” because public schooling threatens the authority of families, granted by God through Scripture, to direct the instruction of their children. All of this is very curious, since the TxSBOE was established under constitutional authority.

The book is not Dunbar’s first literary effort. She has dropped several piles in the past. Last year during the Presidential campaign, she unleashed an online tirade repeating, among other misguided opinions, the stier ausscheidung that Obama was a terrorist sympathizer. Her ignorance and extremism come honestly though. You see, she is a graduate of Pat Robertson’s Regents University law school.

Now, gentle reader, I suspect you are asking why I rant so about this obviously misguided woman and her baffling beliefs. Well… until today she was rumored to be the top candidate to replace Don McLeroy, another extremist whose gubernatorial reappointment to the Chair of the TxSBOE was blocked by the Texas State Senate. After McLeroy was shot down, the pundits predicted Dunbar to be the next duck in the shooting gallery.

Not to worry though, because had Governor Goodhair been so arrogant I’m pretty confident the Senate would have been sensible enough to see through the smoke, and she would have been shot down. Even our normally wingnut legislature would have to wonder how a person who is bent on dismantling our public school system should be allowed to chair the body entrusted with advancing public education. Perry likely doesn’t have the good sense to understand this, so his advisors must have given him a clue.

And thus Perry has appointed Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas. To many, myself included, this will be no better. Lowe is another social conservative right wingnut Christian of the same stripe as Dunbar, but she is on the quiet side and little more than a follower. Honestly, she is a political milksop who will go with the right wingnut flow, following directions like a good little sheep.

Texas is little better with Lowe wearing the badge than if McLeroy had been reconfirmed last year, or Dunbar appointed in his stead. Last September Lowe was marching in lockstep with the Republican theocracy crowd, signing and distributing an email encouraging public schools to use the disputed Bible curriculum in science classes; one which legal experts predicted would land them in court.

"It's absolutely jaw-dropping," said Mark Chancey, a professor of religious studies at Southern Methodist University, speaking of the e-mail circulated by board members Terri Leo, R-Spring, Barbara Cargill, R-The Woodlands, Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, and Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas. "It would be challenging for any school district to teach a Bible course in a way that satisfied all its constituencies, but this particular course is especially troubling.”

Texas is in the same deep doo doo as much of the rest of the country when it comes to this kind of actions. Science is holding on, but only by the sheerest of threads. The Christian right marches on and the forces of ignorance have not rested in their efforts to subjugate the citizens of this country under a Christian theocracy. Their goal is to chain us to Biblical law; science be damned.

The lure of the dark side must be powerful and the mental fog created by the faithful blinding, as electronic communications have made the world a smaller place and knowledge of dreadful acts perpetuated by theocratic dictatorships is forever in our faces. We must wonder how the theocrats fail to see the folly in such ideas. One has only to look at the Islamic theocracies in the Middle East and Africa to understand the danger.


July 9, 2009

Road trip pics

jeg43 asked that I post photos of my recent road trip. Riding and aiming a camera don't mix, and it was raining much of the time, so I really didn't take a bunch, but here are a few and a little commentary.

I'll start out with a map...

This is the area I traveled. Although I've spent many an enjoyable hour exploring much of Colorado by scooter, 4-wheel drive and sitting a saddle, it has been several years since I've done so. This was a much needed trip, and I'll not let time slip by again before taking similar trips.

The brother's house in Boulder. Notice the "for sale" sign in the yard. A sad sight for me, as I remember when he first bought the place (1969) and the time we spent wrecking out the old plaster and lath getting it ready to be restored. It was hard but rewarding work, and as you can see... the place is spectacular.

It rained all but one day of my trip, but rain is not always a bad thing. This double rainbow was shot over Boulder.

This is a view of Mt. Meeker taken from out in the Front Range farming areas. Views like this are particularly spectacular at sunrise on a clear day. Unfortunately I had only one clear day, and as you can see, it was still hazy.

I wonder if the farmers ever look up from their fields and wonder at the majesty of the Rockies.

Mt. Meeker from a bit closer in, taken with 4X zoom from the Peak to Peak Hwy.

Boulder Creek just below Boulder Falls. In my youth we would tube all the way from the falls into downtown Boulder. As you can see, it could be challenging... and painful if you were unlucky enough to bust a tailbone on one of those rocks.

The Cascade Creek was one of my more favored places for hiking and camping. Recent rains have kept the creek flowing, but light winter snows may lead to the creek drying up as summer wears on.

Just above Lyons, Colorado. Long's Peak is visible in the distance.

Long's Peak through the trees.

At 14,255 above sea level, Long's Peak is a pretty majestic sight. Many moons ago, while taking pilot lessons, I had the opportunity to fly over Long's Peak in a Cessna 270.

The Stanley Hotel was built in 1909 by F.O. Stanley, the inventor of the Stanley Steamer automobile. Stanley had tuberculosis, and his physician recommended he go to someplace high and dry. He and his wife settled on Estes Park as a vacation spot in an effort to ease his misery. It worked. His health improved and they decided to stay and invest in Estes Park's future.

The northern Front Range as seen from in front of the Stanley Hotel, Estes Park.

Fuel prices at the least expensive station I could find in Estes Park.

The Big Thompson River flows through the Big Thompson Canyon (duh). This is the river that flooded back in July of 1976, wreaking havoc and killing 144 people. Up to 16 inches of rain fell in a dramatic thunderstorm that started at dusk and continued well into the night. Most residents had no warning of the impending disaster, and nothing like it had happened in that area before.

The flood nearly wiped Estes Park off the map. It scoured the canyon walls, moving tremendous amounts of rock and debris downriver, overrunning crowded campgrounds and wiping out riverside cabins. Bridges throughout the canyon became temporary dams, which quickly backed up then broke violently, creating a series of flood surges that worsened the devastation. Houses and cars all just became a part of this "flow."

The vast majority of those killed were determined by the county coroner to have been crushed before they could drown. Several victims were never found.

The Big Thompson flood is known to flood experts all over the world. Although it is considered to be a rare event, if such a flood were to hit Boulder the results would likely be far more devastating, as so many more people live at the mouth of that canyon.

My brother and I participated in the rescue efforts. This was perhaps the event that caused me to enter EMS as a career.

July 5, 2009

Independence Day post redux

I am so uncultured. How was I to know that the Penn & Teller video I linked to yesterday had roots in popular television. Here, apparently, is the origin of the act.

You gotta love it...

July 4, 2009

My Independence Day blog

Lots of bloggers have done really spectacular posts on the meaning of today. I fear I am not eloquent enough to compete, but then I found this wonderful video on You Tube by Penn and Teller. I only wish I was so talented and could present my feelings so eloquently.

Happy and joyful Independence day, y'all. Love what you have... cherish it and protect it. Few in the world are so fortunate.


July 2, 2009

A gal named Becky...

Becky writes one of my favorite blogs. JUST A GIRL IN SHORT SHORTS TALKING ABOUT WHATEVER. If you don't read her, you should.

My more liberal friends may find much with which to disagree on Becky's blog, but for myself... I only find some with which to disagree. She is conservative/libertarian while I am liberal/libertarian.

Go figure.

Anyway, she has written a most wonderful piece on the state of dumbness in America. This is a piece that would make Carl Sagan weep. I'll reproduce it verbatim here, but you really must visit her blog to see the artwork with which she has decorated the piece. The artwork makes a good post even better.

The Dumbing Down of America

During the presidential campaign Barack Obama would often use a catch phrase to rebut McCain and Republican talking points--- “the American People aren't stupid.”

I am sure Barack Obama is quite aware that is not true at all—Americans are dumber than dirt and susceptible to all kinds of manipulation--- whether it is the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, or that it is somehow possible to drastically increase federal spending and reduce the crushing national deficit at the same time.

The Goldwater Institute commissioned a study to find out if recent Arizona high school graduates had the requisite knowledge expected of naturalized American citizens. The result was that, except for the fortuitous circumstance of having been born on American soil, only 6.4% of public high school graduates would be entitled to the benefits of American citizenship.

Most of these scholars were unable to identify the first president of the United States, or the name of the Ocean located on the East coast of America.

When I was young and naive I used to think there had to be an explanation for Jay Leno's “Man on the Street” shtick. I always thought the participants were nervous, intentionally attempting to get their thirty seconds of fame on the Tonight Show, or that one of Jay's producers passed them a couple bucks.

But the explanation is much simpler—America is the land of the dumb and dumber.

Americans are much better versed in the composition of the Homer Simpson family than they are with the Constitution.

A study found that about 1 in 4 Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances). But more than half of Americans can name at least two members of the cartoon family.

They found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just 1 in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms.

Europeans have long joked that "War is God's way of teaching Americans geography.”

But it was not until the advent of modern scientific polling that it has become clear what spectacular dumbasses we really are—and how rapidly we are becoming even dumber.

In a book, called Just How Stupid are We?, destined to never become a bestseller, historian Rick Shenkman stares into the deep abyss of American Ignorance and directly confronts the continued legitimacy of the cherished notion of the wisdom of the people.

And the sad thing is while there is greater participatory democracy, and unprecedented access to information, as a society we are getting dumber and dumber.

As the American voter dumbs down they are increasingly misusing, abusing, and
abdicating their political power.

The end result is the erosion of freedom and liberty, and everything that made America special. Since we are so stupid and uniformed we are increasingly willing to hand over all decision making and power to the federal government and it's apparatchiks.

Indeed, nearly half of Americans think that the president has the authority to suspend the Constitution.

In the end dumb dumbs get what they deserve—tyranny.

As Thomas Jefferson observed:

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

Becky has it straight. I deal with kids daily who cannot spell and haven't a clue about grammar. Ask them about recent news and they get a glazed over look.

They know Al Franken, but couldn't identify Norm Coleman... and they wonder why you would put the two in the same question. They probably recognize the name of the country, but couldn't find Afghanistan on the map.

The untimely death of Michael Jackson is the only current news they know or care about.

What is most unfortunate is that many of the ignorant have ascended to seats of political power, and those of us who actually read and pay attention to the news see and recognize the disturbing inconsistencies these dumb asses spout. The dumb and dumber in the electorate don't, and are fooled by the shrillness of the fear machine into reelecting the idiots time and again.

... and the sheep have not a clue just how dangerous that is.

Go read Becky's blog. Take my word for it. You will love this gal.