Thursday, August 31, 2006

FADED GLORY: Did you know this flag is missing?

Just hours after the World Trade Center buildings came crashing down, three New York firefighters raised a small flag -- commandeered from a yacht -- over the wreckage.

After that, the flag was hoisted at New York's City Hall, flown at Yankee Stadium, run up over U.S. warships and was once destined for the Smithsonian. Trouble is, it wasn't the actual flag shown in the photo at left.

According to USA Today, the 3 foot-by-5 foot flag has been missing for 5 years and nobody knows where it went. In fact, the much-traveled larger flag actually flew at the WTC site, too, but later.

What happened to the first one?

Nobody knows. The three firemen have declined interview requests over the past five years. But in the book, "Watching the World Change," firefighter Billy Eisengrein says while working at Ground Zero a few days after 9/11, he noticed the flag was gone.

It's a piece of Americana. Unfortunately, so is eBay.

BUST A RHYME: Rap Music 4 Dummies

God, I've become my parents, who never understood a single word Mick Jagger sang. Now I gotta admit I don't understand a word of rap music either, but worse, even if I understood the words, I wouldn't know what they meant!

Thank goodness, there's a site like Underground HipHop 4 Dummies to translate for me. Here's just one rap song translated into middleagedwhiteguy-onics (and there are many more at the site):

First things first, I poppa, freaks all the honeys
Dummies - playboy bunnies, those wantin’ money
Those the ones I like ‘cause they don’t get nathan’
But penetration, unless it smells like sanitation
Garbage, I turn like doorknobs
Heart throb, never, black and ugly as ever
However, I stay coochied down to the socks
Rings and watch filled with rocks

TRANSLATION: As a general rule, I perform deviant sexual acts with women of all kinds, including but not limited to those with limited intellect, nude magazine models, and prostitutes. I particularly enjoy sexual encounters with the latter group as they are generally disappointed in the fact that they only receive penile intercourse and nothing more, unless of course, they douche on a consistent basis. Although I am extremely unattractive, I am able to engage in these types of sexual acts with some regularity. Perhaps my sexuality is somehow related to my fancy and expensive jewelry.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

IEDs in Cyberspace: Inside a Googlebomber's head

A couple days ago, I lamented the uncivil but mostly harmless cyber-insurgency called Googlebombing, a kind of Internet delinquency that "influences the ranking of a given page in results returned by the Google, often with humorous or political intentions." [Wikipedia] I used the example of Googling "miserable failure" and finding the White House Web site is the No. 1 result.

One of the Web's foremost Googlebombers is Scoobie Davis at the Google Bomb Project. The FAQ at his site explains why one Googlebomber does what he does -- and it sounds a little like spending a few minutes with a spray-painting vandal, or maybe a suicide bomber who hasn't yet gotten an assignment. Hacker Davis apparently only Googlebombs media, religious and political figures with conservative views, so although his FAQ makes it sound as if he is against all figures "who attempt to deceive us," there's no evidence he holds liberal media, religious and political figures to the same standards. Here's his side of it:

Scoobie Davis' Googlebombing FAQ

1. Why Googlebomb?
It is a quick, cost-free way to give members of the web-surfing public information. I believe the goal of Googlebombing is to expose those who attempt to deceive us.

2. What about humorous Googlebombs?
They are funny. I enjoy them as much as the next person, but they are not the goal of this blog. The goal of this blog is serious media hacking. What is a humorous Google bomb? Probably the most famous humorous Googlebomb occurred when bloggers and others linked the phrase "miserable failure" to the White House bio of George W. Bush, leading to the following Google search results.

3. Does Googlebombing work?
Hell yes. Before I started this blog, I did a lot of Googlebombing on my main site Scoobie Davis Online and the results were impressive. For instance, I and other bloggers Googlebombed ratfucker extraordinaire's David Bossie's name and we own his name on Google. Of the top ten sites for a Google search of his name, informative sites about who Bossie are well-represented (as opposed to the kind of sites Bossie wants to pop up).

4. How do I googlebomb?
To use this site, just copy and paste when instructed. It's that easy.

5. Does it have an effect?
Yes. I know many of the targets of the Googlebombs get pissed off--and that's a good thing.

6. How are others ways I can help with a Googlebomb?
If you have a blog, you can do multiple entries for a Googlebomb but cutting and pasting the Googlebomb material onto your archives. A Googlebomb per month should be sufficient.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

SHARK TALE: Anatomy of a faux-tographic hoax



You see them in your e-mailbox every day: Photos that take your breath away. Remember the snapshot of the guy standing on the World Trade Center as an airliner approaches behind him? The shot of a shark leaping up to snap at a rescue diver dangling from a helicopter? A photo of President Bush reading from an upside-down children's book?

All "faux-tographs" -- hoaxes made possible by the magic of Photoshop. Some are so good, even experts have a hard time seeing the telltale clues that they're fabricated. The camera doesn't lie, but sometimes geeky pranksters do.

Recently, we heard of a photo floating around the Internet of a giant, "Jaws"-like shark caught just off one of our area's most popular beaches. It didn't take long to find it, and it was shockingly large. After a day of phone calls and emails, my colleague Brian Pearson punched holes in the prank, but he also did something rare in the urban-myth detective business: He found the actual hoaxter! His story appears today in The Enterprise.

Why do people do it? In our case, it was just a friendly joke. In other cases, though, the reasons for "faux-tography" are more sinister. David Mikkelson, founder of the greatest mythbusting site on Earth,, says this:

"The online world is fraught with clever photo manipulations that often provoke gales of laughter in those who view them, so we speculate that whoever put together this particular bit of imaging did so purely as a lark. However, presumed lighthearted motives or not, the photo [of the tourist at WTC] provokes sensations of horror in those who view it. It apparently captures the last fraction of a second of this man's life . . . and also of the final moment of normalcy before the universe changed for all of us. In the blink of an eye, a beautiful yet ordinary fall day was transformed into flames and falling bodies, buildings collapsing inwards on themselves, and wave upon wave of terror washing over a populace wholly unprepared for a war beginning in its midst."
Wouldn't it be nice to believe in everything ... anything ... something? Why must there always be someone ready, willing and able to undermine our trust, whether in a baseball player's natural ability to hit a ball, our leadership, or simple photographs? That's a sad thing in today's world, where mendacity has become an accepted tool in achieving too many twisted goals. So don't believe everything you see (or read), even if it looks real. A little skepticism and suspicion -- a little, mind you -- is a good thing. A lot might make this world too cynical and we really don't need the bad mojo right now, but being a tad skeptical of things you see and hear doesn't hurt anyone, especially you.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Google-bombing ourselves into the Stone Age

An old friend of mine is outraged by the deviousness (and I'm sure he would say the deviance) of the Far Left. I don't know about deviance, but a certain amount of cyber-treachery is involved in his latest discovery.

Try this: Go to Google and type the word "failure" in the search box. Hit Enter. See what comes up.

Is the result a political bias on the part of the people at Google, where the corporate motto is "Don't be evil"? Nope.

But political bias and a low form of evil are involved. It's called "google-bombing" and it involves a deliberate guerilla effort by anonymous and "determined" Bush-haters to wage a dirty-tricks insurgency of their own. Is it fair and legal? Sure. Is it malicious? Sure. Will conservative operatives pick it up? Sure. But it shows exactly the lengths to which the disloyal opposition will go to stain the other side (expect to see some form of this regarding Hillary.) We don't need foreign wars ... we're too busy trying to annihilate ourselves.

Here's Google's official explanation posted last year:

Googlebombing 'failure'
9/16/2005 12:54:00 PM
Posted by Marissa Mayer, Director of Consumer Web Products

If you do a Google search on the word [failure] or the phrase [miserable failure], the top result is currently the White House’s official biographical page for President Bush. We've received some complaints recently from users who assume that this reflects a political bias on our part. I'd like to explain how these results come up in order to allay these concerns.

Google's search results are generated by computer programs that rank web pages in large part by examining the number and relative popularity of the sites that link to them. By using a practice called googlebombing, however, determined pranksters can occasionally produce odd results. In this case, a number of webmasters use the phrases [failure] and [miserable failure] to describe and link to President Bush's website, thus pushing it to the top of searches for those phrases.

We don't condone the practice of googlebombing, or any other action that seeks to affect the integrity of our search results, but we're also reluctant to alter our results by hand in order to prevent such items from showing up. Pranks like this may be distracting to some, but they don't affect the overall quality of our search service, whose objectivity, as always, remains the core of our mission.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Nagin's naggin': What hole?

New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin -- possibly the least capable and most boorish big-city mayor in America -- can't seem to keep his mouth shut about the wrong things nor express how to get the right things done.

During a "60 minutes" interview, a reporter questioned why flood-damaged cars still haven't been plucked from the streets of New Orleans' Katrina-wracked Ninth Ward after one year. The always cranky Nagin replied, "You guys in New York can't get a hole in the ground fixed, and it's five years later. So let's be fair."

He was referring to the World Trade Center site. A hole in the ground?

Nagin's comparison of redeveloping the site of the most devastating terror attack in history, where the world's two tallest buildings were reduced to rubble, to the removal of ruined cars from New Orleans streets reveals as much about his knowledge of civil engineering as much as his insufferable ego.

How many cars could five guys with tow trucks remove in a 40-hour week? 200? 400? And when politicians start comparing disasters like they compare their, um, private parts ("Mine is bigger than yours!") then we're all screwed. Lots of people in Southeast Texas feel they were overlooked when "the forgotten storm" Hurricane Rita hit here three weeks after Katrina hit New Orleans, but nobody's dismissing New Orleans' tragedy as a "stiff little breeze."

But here's the more important question: How can the mayor of a flooded city that's below sea-level insult anybody about a "hole in the ground"?

Nagin's an embarrassment to New Orleans.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

What's next? 'Nazi Eye for the Jewish Guy'?

The producers of the hit CBS reality series "Survivor" have announced that next season, they will divide competitors by race. That's right, four teams of whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians will compete to avoid being voted off the island ... and presumably for a bit of prime-time racial supremacy. Just what we need.

The show's producers call it a "social experiment," but network entertainment shows aren't about anything more high-minded than profit. They've brilliantly contrived a scenario to generate the greatest amount of free publicity since the Jewish Defense League elected Mel Gibson as its poster child. But let's play it out: What are we likely to learn from this "social experiment"? That a lot of people will root for the team that looks most like them? Now there's an explosive revelation.

No matter what develops, there will be people convinced that racial stereotypes played a role. Even if the teams play against stereotype, we won't be able to escape ugly Monday-morning watercooler conversations ("The honkies/gringos/round eyes will win because they own Hollywood." "Oh yeah? Well, if the blacks would actually leave camp and look for bugs to eat, they'd have a chance." "Hey, how did those Chicanos get four new members overnight?" "Them Orientals are sneaky.") God help us. One step forward, 12 steps back.

Worse, Hollywood in general -- and reality TV in particular -- are incestuous. This will likely start a downward spiral in similarly inappropriate shows. Someone has already suggested we can expect to see an "Amazing Race" pitting Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists in races across unfriendly borders, or a "Fear Factor" featuring mental patients with irrational phobias. Maybe we'll see "Dead Celebrity Fit Club." And even though I'm a big fan of "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" (despite the presumption that straight guys require "fixing,") I have long feared that the next natural step was for a Fab Five of neo-Nazis to "fix" a rabbi, or five mullahs to "fix" a Baptist. And fergawdsakes, "The Flavor of Love" is already must-barf TV!

Reality TV was never genuinely pretty (except to Hollywood bean-counters) but its tendencies to sink ever lower every season make me wonder where it will stop. And here I am, giving even more exposure to the exploitive boobs at "Survivor." See? Already this "social experiment" is making people feel bad.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Family newspaper, huh?

Most newspaper web sites keep track of their most popular stories. It's a marvelous tool. We might sell a million papers a day, but we don't know which ink-on-paper stories are actually attracting the most interest, much less an exact count of the people who read them.

Online, we can. But such data can challenge our notions about The Noble Reader. Numbers can prove just how wrong we sometimes are about the tastes and sensibilities of our "customers." We get lots of calls from offended readers who insist we sometimes print things inappropriate for "a family newspaper," giving us the impression that our readers generally want content that's appropriate for children.

Ah, but online counters tell us different. The Los Angeles Times counts its online readers, and can see who is reading what at any moment of the day. A couple weeks ago, it printed a whimsical profile of Joe Francis, the creator of the "Girls Gone Wild" soft-porn video series ... a week later, it published a huge, months-long project identifying the 100 most powerful people in the American West.

A few days later, some editors asked for the numbers -- and maybe they're sorry they did. The "Girls Gone Wild" guy's story got 452,000 hits, and its accompanying photo gallery got 593,000. The West 100 story got only 25,000 hits, and its photo gallery 28,000.

Yes, we watch the web counters at, too. The numbers are startlingly clear: Sex, death, excess, disaster and crime dominate our most popular stories almost every day. Our five most-read stories of the past year have been: Hurricane Rita; a fatal high school bus crash; a local high school's secret sex club; a frightening story about West Nile virus' long-term effects; and a story about two local girls' extravagant 16th birthday bash on MTV. A story about a local yard sign that reproduced a controversial anti-Muslim cartoon got worldwide circulation, too -- so add ethnic conflict to the mix. (And since we're in Texas, for good measure you can add "high school football" to the list, too.)

These stories are literally getting 10-50 times the number of hits as a City Council story, or stories about local taxes or the economy.

People can bitch about sensationalism, but sensational stories are what they consume voraciously. They flocked to those stories, we didn't fool them into it. These stories weren't written in breathless tabloid purplish-prose, nor were some of them even on our front page. But readers love the provocative morality tale, the visceral impact, and the salacious side of the day's news. It's always been that way, and will always be that way. That's not a bad thing, just evidence of guilty pleasures. Nobody calls up the paper to complain there were no pictures of naked teenagers in the "Girls Gone Wild" story (and many WILL complain if there are!) ... but they'll surely click on them if they're available online.

Luckily, we'll still pursue stories about the City Council and other important processes, even if people don't read them as vigorously as stories about high school sex rings. But the newspaper's role as a mirror of the public's tastes has never been more crystal-clear than in our Web counters.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

American Heroes: Beautiful Dead Girls

The Daily Kos might not be the most likely place to find a tribute to fallen soldiers in the Iraq War, but in a diary posting yesterday, the Kos shed a little light on a group of heroes who get overlooked in all the posing and politicking by, well, Kos readers and their demagogic doppelgangers on the Right: Servicewomen who have died in Iraq.

"Even here on DKos," wrote diarist hrh, "I see comments about 'sons and fathers' who have been killed and maimed. Almost NO MENTION of women in the military."

A tip of the boonie to Democracy Lover, who linked me to this poignant, provocative post. Here's a taste of what it contains, but please click-through and read the rest, if only to pay tribute to these women who sacrificed themselves for America.


Eighteen-year-old Pfc. Sam Huff was born with a man's name.

But she was a consummate "girlie-girl," said her father, Robert Huff.

She liked to wear false eyelashes and played flute in her high-school band. Last July, she joined the Army, the first step in a career she hoped would take her to the FBI.

On April 18, Huff, an only child, became the 37th U.S. female to die in combat since 2003.

Yesterday, her parents and comrades gathered in a Fort Lewis chapel to recall Huff's independent spirit and her unfulfilled ambitions.

But what they remembered most was that she loved soldiering, and she was good at it. The memorial became, in part, a testimonial to the growing role women are playing in the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Born in Tucson, Ariz., on July 12, 1986, Huff was 16 when she announced her intention to enlist in the Army, go to college to study psychology and become an FBI agent...."We just stood there, dumbfounded," said Robert Huff, a retired Tucson police detective. His wife, Margaret Williams, served as an air traffic controller in the Marines.

But there wasn't any family talk of women not belonging in the military, he said: "Not in our house, are you kidding?" [...]

"Beneath that beautiful young lady was a backbone of steel," Sgt. Sam Jones wrote in a letter read aloud during her funeral.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Place your bets: Is JonBenet 'killer' lying?

Online gaming site is asking bettors to predict if John Mark Karr fabricated his confession of murdering JonBenet Ramsey.

"Throughout history, suspects have fabricated confessions in high profile cases whether due to a mental illness or to gain attention," said CEO Dave Johnson, invoking the Michael Jackson case and Duke lacrosse player DNA outcomes as prime betting topics. "Betting on celebrities and trials is as popular with our customers as sporting events."

So what are the odds? WagerWeb's oddsmakers posted them this way:

QUESTION: Will it be determined that John Mark Karr fabricated his confession of murdering JonBenet Ramsey?

YES -120 (Bet $120 for $100 profit)
NO -120 (Bet $120 for $100 profit)

While you're at the site, you can bet on the next celebrity to get a DUI, oil prices, Harry Potter's death, and celebrity break-ups, too! (Oh, and hey, would you take this nickel and bet it all on the Astros to win the World Series? Thanks.)

'Holy Unexpected' by Robin Chotzinoff

Posted by Picasa By Robin Chotzinoff
($25, Public Affairs, 288 pages)

Nobody expects to stumble across God in an unexpected place, least of all someone who doesn't believe in God at all.

But when writer Robin Chotzinoff realized 40 years into her life that she simply wasn't a very convincing atheist, there were no thunderclaps, just a warm winter rain, no cyclone but a soft Chinook wind. God was inside her, where she least expected to find him.

Chotzinoff's "Holy Unexpected: My New Life as a Jew" is one woman's religious journey, but without the proselytizing or solemn moralizing. In fact, it's just about what you might expect from the daughter of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father who didn't put much stock in God: Not irreverent, but certainly not somber. It's a story about a journey as much as a destination.

Chotzinoff comes from a long line of Jews, some with passionate ties to Judaism, some with less. Her great-grandfather was a Russian rabbi who emigrated to New York City at the start of the last century, ironically freighted with disdain for dreaming: the arts, music, literature and politics, to name a few of his poisons.

So his son, Samuel - known to family and friends as "Chotzie" -- became a great pianist and writer, of course. He performed in Carnegie Hall and with other great musicians, including renowned violinist Jascha Heifetz, who later became his brother-in-law. Charmingly eccentric, he later founded a free music school on the Lower East Side for gifted young players. He also ate bacon ... on purpose.

If Chotzie was a lukewarm believer, Chotzie's son Blair - Robin's father - was somewhat chilled by the thought of it. Sure, he knew Yiddish, but to him, being Jewish was about passionate individualism, smoked sturgeon, chopped liver, Mel Brooks and "[making] generalizations about the goyim." To him, Orthodox Judaism was a peasant superstition.

But being a Jew was still important to Blair. He was glued to the TV during Israel's Six Day War with Arabs in 1967, not because he saw it as a victory of one faith over another, but because he was proud of the Israeli army as a bunch of "bad-ass Hebrews instead of people hiding in ghettoes."

His privileged daughter Robin was the exclamation point on his rebellion. A self-described "born-again atheist" as an adult who'd never set foot in a synagogue, she attended Christian nursery school, believed in Jesus "for about two hours," attended Bryn Mawr and Naropa Institute's Jack Kerouac School of Disembodied Poetics, and briefly worshipped "at the feet of a Tibetan drunk." She delved delightedly into drugs and sex. Worse, she became a newspaper reporter.

In 1998, after the unexpected death of young Jewish friend who'd lived life to its fullest, Chotzinoff thumbed through the yellow pages under "Synagogue." There was only one listing in the small Colorado town where she then lived, and it actually used a Methodist sanctuary for its services. She was drawn to the notion of a practical faith, in which what one does now is what counts, "that a single day of this life is worth a thousand in eternity."

And she found it appealing that, as a Jew, she would be encouraged to argue with God, enjoy great sex, and to act passionately, not just believe.

So a year later, after the birth of her daughter Gus, 40-year-old Chotzinoff went to her first-ever synagogue service:

"The service lasted four hours," she writes. "My butt was numb by the time it was over, but oddly enough my brain was wide awake, digesting the whole Jewish New Year concept. There was a lot to do - celebration of creation, feel brand-new about everything old, start over, acquire a few cosmic points. You have to admit you're human; that you will probably screw up again next year, but that your desire to make things right is believable. ... I was sitting among my own people for a change, even if they didn't notice I was here."

Chotzinoff's mid-life spiritual awakening is alternately tender and surprisingly funny. A gifted writer, reporter and dreamer with two previous nonfiction books and numerous articles, she gracefully draws meaning from simple moments. A childhood debate over the relative importance of being Hercules vs. Jesus. The propriety of praying while snowboarding. How to observe the Sabbath on Saturday but still go to Wal-Mart for duct tape. Resting her head on her dead father's arm moments after his last breath. You needn't speak Yiddish to understand exactly what's in her heart.

"Holy Unexpected" is also populated with unique characters from the author's life who illustrate the kaleidoscopic spectrum of religious exploration, from faithless to faithful. It's a memoir, but there's little arrogance or ego on display. The sensitivity of this memoir is in its cast as much as its poetic rendering of an ancient faith, race, culture or whatever you believe Judaism to be.

And at a time when Jewishness lies deep in the heart of the heart of a great conflict that's not-so-casually been labeled World War III, "Holy Unexpected" slices through the frustrating dialectics, obscure and misinterpreted ideologies, the wailing walls of prejudice, and fanatic manifestos fired like Katyushas from an increasingly radicalized Middle East. Chotzinoff's personal story is a different kind of exodus, a journey from rootlessness to belonging that many of us - Jewish, Christian or Muslim - make in our lives.

Friday, August 18, 2006

JonBenet: John Mark Karr's emails

E-mails between John Mark Karr, who claims to have killed JonBenet Ramsey in 1996, and a University of Colorado journalism professor who has studied the case were obtained Thursday by the Rocky Mountain News from a source close to the investigation. The "Rocky" says the one pictured above "was part of a small sample of the often lurid and disturbing correspondence between a person that investigators believe to be Karr and [CU Professor Michael] Tracey."

Chilling excerpts of the emails appear in today's editions of the "Rocky."

(A lede is the first line of a news story)

A Pulitzer-worthy opening sentence from a story in the Portland (Ore.) Oregonian, Aug. 16, 2006:

"Curiosity didn't kill the cat, but it set fire to an apartment and may have incinerated Ozzy the iguana."

(If you want to read the rest of the story -- and who wouldn't? -- go here.)

Thursday, August 17, 2006

JonBenet's killer? Maybe

The startling news that a former second-grade teacher/pedophile has confessed to the 1996 murder of JonBenet Ramsey feels like a relief, but in these first 24 hours there are troublingly few details that convince me this fellow was actually inside the Ramseys' Boulder, Colo., home on the night after Christmas 10 years ago.

John Mark Karr, 41, has made several chilling statements about being with her when she died, but has deflected questions about details. Authorities say he gave certain details that only JonBenet's killer would know, but we must wait until Karr returns to American soil and begins his long journey through the justice system to find out more. A DNA match between the scrapings under JonBenet's fingernails and Karr hasn't been established. Despite Karr's "confession," I need just a little more proof that he's an insane, child-raping killer, and not just an insane, child-raping sicko with delusions of criminal grandeur.

Nobody has showed so far that Karr was even in Colorado, much less the Ramsey home that night. His ex-wife says she was with him in Alabama at the time of the murder, and his father -- who doesn't seem like the protective type -- says he didn't think his son was ever in Colorado. If John Mark Karr killed JonBenet, the twisted story of the crime promises to be sickening.

Karr is also reportedly unusually fascinated with both the JonBenet and Polly Klaas killings. He clearly didn't commit the Klaas murder, but is he seeking the notoriety that has obviously come with claiming to be JonBenet's killer? Could he be an extraordinarily well-versed but insane person who is guilty of many things but not JonBenet's killing?

In my heart, I hope he's JonBenet's killer and the whole sordid tale can be laid to rest. I hope the facts-to-come prove Karr is the monster he claims to be, for the sake of the family, the cops, Boulder and parents everywhere. I hope that the case ultimately proves that justice delayed is not always justice denied. And I hope if he did it, his journey to the death chamber is swift.

But more of this story remains to be told.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


James Hulsey, 40, was busted on a parole violation in Birmingham, Ala., on Tuesday. What makes him special is the "REJECT" stamp tattooed on his forehead, just in case anyone was wondering. His mug shot popped up today at, where it appears in a sort of Hall of Fame of tattooed and decorated faces in police mug shots.

Sorta makes you want to get a tattoo, don't it? So here's an interesting question:
If you were going to get a tattoo
across your forehead, what would it say?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Homeland Security has your driver's license!

The New York Times has uncovered yet another secret surveillance program on ordinary Americans. An exhaustive six-month investigation revealed that the Department of Homeland Security has been archiving various pieces of personal information about us, including our driver's licenses. In an apparent response today, Homeland Security posted its archives to the Internet, to deflect criticism that the program was "secret."

Unfortunately, today you are only able to check for the Homeland Security copy of your driver's license at the site.

The Times found that most of the archived information, including licenses, belonged to Democrats and leftist individuals, but not exclusively. For example, I found my license at the site.

Am I the only one who thinks this is an outrageous infringement on our civil liberties? What if federal computers got hacked and terrorists got our most personal data? Does George W Bush really care?

Gore isn't quite as green as he leads us to believe


Al Gore has spoken: The world must embrace a "carbon-neutral lifestyle." To do otherwise, he says, will result in a cataclysmic catastrophe. "Humanity is sitting on a ticking time bomb," warns the website for his film, An Inconvenient Truth. "We have just 10 years to avert a major catastrophe that could send our entire planet into a tailspin."

Graciously, Gore tells consumers how to change their lives to curb their carbon-gobbling ways: Switch to compact fluorescent light bulbs, use a clothesline, drive a hybrid, use renewable energy, dramatically cut back on consumption. Better still, responsible global citizens can follow Gore's example, because, as he readily points out in his speeches, he lives a "carbon-neutral lifestyle." But if Al Gore is the world's role model for ecology, the planet is doomed.

For someone who says the sky is falling, he does very little. He says he recycles and drives a hybrid. And he claims he uses renewable energy credits to offset the pollution he produces when using a private jet to promote his film. (In reality, Paramount Classics, the film's distributor, pays this.)

What Do You Think?

Public records reveal that as Gore lectures Americans on excessive consumption, he and his wife Tipper live in two properties: a 10,000-square-foot, 20-room, eight-bathroom home in Nashville, and a 4,000-square-foot home in Arlington, Va. (He also has a third home in Carthage, Tenn.) For someone rallying the planet to pursue a path of extreme personal sacrifice, Gore requires little from himself.

Then there is the troubling matter of his energy use. In the Washington, D.C., area, utility companies offer wind energy as an alternative to traditional energy. In Nashville, similar programs exist. Utility customers must simply pay a few extra pennies per kilowatt hour, and they can continue living their carbon-neutral lifestyles knowing that they are supporting wind energy. Plenty of businesses and institutions have signed up. Even the Bush administration is using green energy for some federal office buildings, as are thousands of area residents.

But according to public records, there is no evidence that Gore has signed up to use green energy in either of his large residences. When contacted Wednesday, Gore's office confirmed as much but said the Gores were looking into making the switch at both homes. Talk about inconvenient truths.

Gore is not alone. Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean has said, "Global warming is happening, and it threatens our very existence." The DNC website applauds the fact that Gore has "tried to move people to act." Yet, astoundingly, Gore's persuasive powers have failed to convince his own party: The DNC has not signed up to pay an additional two pennies a kilowatt hour to go green. For that matter, neither has the Republican National Committee.
Maybe our very existence isn't threatened.

Gore has held these apocalyptic views about the environment for some time. So why, then, didn't Gore dump his family's large stock holdings in Occidental (Oxy) Petroleum? As executor of his family's trust, over the years Gore has controlled hundreds of thousands of dollars in Oxy stock. Oxy has been mired in controversy over oil drilling in ecologically sensitive areas.

Living carbon-neutral apparently doesn't mean living oil-stock free. Nor does it necessarily mean giving up a mining royalty either.

Humanity might be "sitting on a ticking time bomb," but Gore's home in Carthage is sitting on a zinc mine. Gore receives $20,000 a year in royalties from Pasminco Zinc, which operates a zinc concession on his property. Tennessee has cited the company for adding large quantities of barium, iron and zinc to the nearby Caney Fork River.

The issue here is not simply Gore's hypocrisy; it's a question of credibility. If he genuinely believes the apocalyptic vision he has put forth and calls for radical changes in the way other people live, why hasn't he made any radical change in his life? Giving up the zinc mine or one of his homes is not asking much, given that he wants the rest of us to radically change our lives.

Peter Schweizer is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of Do As I Say (Not As I Do): Profiles in Liberal Hypocrisy

Monday, August 14, 2006

20 Ways To Maintain A Healthy Level Of Insanity

1. At lunch time, sit in your parked car with sunglasses on and point a hair dryer at passing cars. See if they slow down.

2. Page yourself over the intercom. Don't disguise your voice.

3. Every time someone asks you to do something, ask if they want fries
with that.

4. Put your garbage can on your desk and label it "In."

5. Put decaf in the coffee maker for 3 weeks. Once everyone has gotten over their caffeine addictions, switch to espresso.

6. In the memo field of all your checks, write "For Smuggling Diamonds"

7. Finish all your sentences with "In Accordance With The Prophecy."

8. Don't use any punctuation

9. As often as possible, skip rather than walk

10. Order a diet water whenever you go out to eat, with a serious face.

11. Specify that your drive-through order Is "To Go."

12. Sing along at the Opera.

13. Go to a poetry recital and ask why the poems don't rhyme

14. Put mosquito netting around your work area and play tropical sounds all day.

15. Five days in advance, tell your friends you can't attend their party because you're not in the mood.

16. Have your co-workers address you by your wrestling name, Rock Bottom.

17. When the money comes out of the ATM, scream "I won! I won!"

18. When leaving the zoo, start running toward the parking lot, yelling "Run for your lives, they're loose!!"

19. Tell your children over dinner: "Due to the economy, we are going to have to let one of you go."

20. And the final way to keep a healthy level of insanity ... link this list to make somebody smile ... it's called "therapy"

Friday, August 11, 2006

BAD REPORTER: Terrorists are miffed

Blogosphere's conspiracy nuts have a field day

Ah, there's nothing like a murky international terror plot to get the conspiracy wackos to shift into overdrive. The ink was hardly dry on Scotland Yard's press release (no more liquids!) when bloggers started pumping out their Tinfoil-Hat-Society theories. Here are just a few that have appeared within the first 24 hours after the UK terror plot was busted up:

"It's interesting to see that the discovery of a bomb plot happens at the same time as the Israeli offensive. This effectively knocked the Israel/Hezbollah War off the TV screens," wrote a conspiracy buff under the name of "George Orwell" in a conspiracy chat room, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.

"This is just a scare tactic by the Bush-Blair regimes to prop up their rock-bottom poll numbers by convincing the brain-dead that they are being 'protected' from 'terror.' Pay no attention to this Blair-Bush media grab," wrote another conspiracy freak whose screen-moniker is an obscene reference to Bush.

Another blogger wrote: "Quite a coincidence that Heathrow Airport just happened to have on hand tens of thousands of clear plastic bags for passenger carry-on."

"Every time Bush’s or Blair’s popularity sags more than usual, there’s a bombing or an attack foiled, then there’s a temporary rise in their numbers. You’d think real terrorists wouldn’t want that! We’re being played, conditioned and herded. It’s boot camp for everybody but the NeoConorati," said a blog poster with the moniker Gregrandar at

"And it happened right after Lieberman lost. And Ken Mehlman made his speech. After not having their ridiculous color-coded warning system change since about the last election if memory serves. What a coincidence!" wrote Cliff Schecter at the Huffington Post.

"I heard a moonbat call a radio station and say that he thought Bush timed the arrests with the opening of Oliver Stone’s new film on 9/11," a poster wrote at

"The claim that American and British security forces have thwarted a terrorist plot to blow up commercial flights between Britain and the United States should not be accepted uncritically. It is impossible to determine at this point whether or not such an attack was in the offing, although the mass media have, as usual, reported the assertions of the British and American governments as indisputable fact, without bothering to ask for any specific information that would substantiate the official story," said blog Critical Thinking Online. "If it is true that such a heinous crime was being planned, the responsibility for this ultimately rests with policies pursued by Washington and London."

"Is it any surprise that the British intelligence chose to launch yet another absurd publicity stunt at such a critical time? And how long would the Western world believe such alleged “terror” plots uncovered by the secret intelligence agencies?" asked Al Jazeera.

"The latest plot has been known about for weeks and could have been nipped in the bud at any point from two weeks ago to the morning after the Joe Lieberman defeat. ... The latest plot serves the Bush administration’s plan to expand the Patriot Act even further," writes Joy Tomme at the Ratbang Diary.

"Will terrorists get you if you don't believe george and God are the team protect you?How about some speculation?THIS "MAY BE" JUST WHAT bUSH NEEDS! Terror & Fear!!! What a great neo-con opportunity! FEARMONGERING + a distraction from the Israel/Lebanon War (which was a distraction from the Iraq Quagmire) is "just what the doctor ordered". PERFECT," writes Chuck at BushAmerika2.

"Today's red level terror alert in symbiosis with escalation of conflict in the Middle East is the trial balloon for a massive staged false flag terror attack, blamed on Hezbollah or Al-Qaeda, that will light the blue touch paper for World War Three," writes Paul Joseph Watson at


Oh my. These conspiropaths make my head hurt. I tend to agree with The Anchoress, who sees hyperventilating on both the Left and Right, and wrote:

"The news is serious…so why is so much that is being written and spewed forth so wretchedly unserious? Why am I getting such a strong sense that - for some, note, I say some on both the left and the right (and in the media) - this event is an excuse for extraordinarily reckless, demented and self-interested excess? There are people out there who seem too-happily energized by all this - by the thrusty adrenaline-rush of the breaking news, the drama of a credible threat - and who are apparently using the story as an excuse to let not their better selves but their baser ones, shine forth in full glaring (and all too predictable) brilliance?"

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Today's Sex Education lesson

Well, maybe not sex education, but rather sex IN education. The news broke today that here in Beaumont, Texas, a coach and former student have been indicted for their roles in an alleged sex ring at a local magnet high school. A grand jury believes the two were recruiting younger girls as sex toys for junior and senior football players.

A detective on the case said the club called itself the "3K," which stands for the "Kutchie Kissing Klique" -- which he described as "a group of guys who sought to have oral sex with younger girls."

Ho-hum, just another day in the war on terror

An al Qaeda-like terror plot to blow up airplanes traveling from London to various places in the United States was disrupted in the U.K. today, apparently just before passengers were to board at least three U.S.-bound planes. According to the Associated Press:
"British authorities said the plan envisioned bringing down a number of aircraft with midflight explosions. [Homeland Security Chief Michael] Chertoff said the terrorists planned to bring various bomb components in a benign state aboard the planes and combine them once the planes were aloft to create and detonate explosive devices. Terrorists specifically had targeted United, American and Continental airlines, two U.S. counterterrorism officials said. One said the terrorists had hoped to target flights to major airports in New York, Washington and California, all major summer tourist destinations."

We've spent a lot of time and vitriol in recent days at this blog debating whether terrorists are misguided or misunderstood. Today's news doesn't really favor the apologists who want to blame the United States and Israel (and apparently the U.K.) for the woes of the Middle East. If this terror plot proves to be at least as horrific as early reports suggest, it'll be a terribly hard sell to convince common Americans that Islamic fascists -- the mufsidun and fattan -- don't want to kill ordinary, innocent civilians to make their twisted point. The prospect of seeing dead American babies floating in the mid-Atlantic also will dull the horror of dead Lebanese children in the rubble of Beirut or dead Israeli kids in Haifa or dead Iraqi babies. God help us when we become anaesthetized to dead children. Then we'll be no better than the terrorists.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Near Miss: Lebanese can't talk to Israelis?

CNN reported tonight, as part of a bigger story about how difficult it's been to get Hezbollah's side of the current war with Israel, an interesting fact (if true): It is illegal in Lebanon for a Lebanese citizen to actually talk to an Israeli.

The network reported that a 1993 Miss Lebanon faced prosecution for posing with a Miss Israel, because of this treason law (photo at left). Lebanon's top public prosecutor wanted to try her for "collaborating with the enemy," but apparently the case went away when Miss Lebanon claimed she didn't realize she was standing next to Miss Israel. It was four months after the pageant before Miss Lebanon was allowed back inside her country.

Any readers out there know if this law truly exists, and why? Comments?

The Kite Runner: Worth re-reading

I first reviewed Khaled Hosseini's novel, "The Kite Runner," for the Denver Post, San Jose Mercury News and several other newspapers in June 2003, yet it remains one of the most memorable books I've read in the past three years, maybe longer. A story of two Afghan boys growing up in turbulent times in Kabul, it explains more about the innocent lives that hang in the balance of war than you'll ever get from mainstream media, blogs or pundits.


The Earth turns and the wind blows and sometimes some marvelous scrap of paper is blown against the fence for us to find. And once found, we become aware there are places out there that are both foreign and familiar. Funny what the wind brings.

And now it brings "The Kite Runner," a beautiful novel by Afghan-American Khaled Hosseini that ranks among the best-written and provocative stories of the year so far.

Hosseini's first novel - and said to be the first Afghan novel to be written originally in English - "The Kite Runner" tells a heartbreaking story of the unlikely friendship between Amir, the son of a wealthy Afghan businessman, and Hassan, the son of his father's servant. Amir is Sunni; Hassan is Shi'a. One is born to a privileged class; the other to a loathed minority. One to a father of enormous presence; the other to a crippled man. One is a voracious reader; the other illiterate.

The poor Hassan is born with a harelip, but Amir's gaps are better hidden, deep inside.

Yet Amir and Hassan live and play together, not simply as friends, but as brothers without mothers. Their intimate story traces across the expansive canvas of history, 40 years in Afghanistan's tragic evolution, like a kite under a gathering storm. The reader is blown from the last days of Kabul's monarchy - salad days in which the boys lives' are occupied with school, welcome snows, American cowboy movies and neighborhood bullies - into the atrocities of the Taliban, which turned the boys' green playing fields red with blood.

This unusually eloquent story is also about the fragile relationship fathers and sons, humans and their gods, men and their countries. Loyalty and blood are the ties that bind their stories into one of the most lyrical, moving and unexpected books of this year.

Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, the son of a diplomat whose family received political asylum in the United States in 1980. He became a doctor in California, where he does charity work for Aid the Afghan Children and the Paralyzed Veterans of America. If that sounds slightly ironic, consider it your first lesson in the complexity of the Muslim world.

Hosseini's title refers to a traditional tournament for Afghan children in which kite-fliers compete by slicing through the strings of their opponents with their own razor-sharp, glass-encrusted strings. To be the child who wins the tournament by downing all the other kites - and to be the "runner" who chases down the last losing kite as it flutters to earth - is the greatest honor of all.

And in that metaphor of flier and runner, Hosseini's story soars. As it opens, Amir receives a call from an old family friend 20 years after he immigrates to the United States from war-torn Afghanistan:

"One day last summer, my friend Rahim Khan called from Pakistan. He asked me to come see him. Standing in the kitchen with the receiver to my ear, I knew it wasn't just Rahim Khan on the line. It was my past of unatoned sins."After I hung up, I went for a walk along Spreckels Lake on the northern edge of Golden Gate Park. ... Then I glanced up and saw a pair of kites, red with long blue tails, soaring in the sky. They danced high above the trees on the west end of the park, over the windmills, floating side by side like a pair of eyes looking down on San Francisco, the city I now call home. And suddenly Hassan's voice whispered in my head: For you, a thousand times over. Hassan the harelipped kite runner."

And fear not, gentle reader. This isn't a "foreign" book. Unlike Boris Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago," Hosseini's narrative resonates with familiar rhythms and accessible ideas, all in prose that equals or exceeds the typical American story form. While exotic Afghan customs and Farsi words pop up occasionally, they are so well-defined for the reader that the book is enlightening and fascinating, not at all tedious.

Nor is it a dialectic on Islam. Amir's beloved father, Baba, is the son of a wise judge who enjoys his whiskey, television and the perks of capitalism. A moderate in heart and mind, Hosseini has little good to say about Islamic extremism.

"The Kite Runner" is a song in a new key. Hosseini is an exhilaratingly original writer with a gift for irony and a gentle, perceptive heart. His canvas might be a place and time Americans are only beginning to understand, but he paints his art on the page, where it is intimate and poignant.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

War of Words: Loose Arabic sinks ships

Is this a jihadi? Nope, he's a mufsid

Have you ever referred to Islamic terrorists as jihadists? Did you know you were actually heaping praise on them instead of condemning them with a politically correct perjorative? Did you know that to Arabic-speaking listeners, you are acknowledging your own wickedness?

That's the premise of the 2006 essay, "Choosing Words Carefully: Language to Help Fight Islamic Terrorism," by Dr. Douglas E. Streusand and Lt. Col. Harry D. Tunnell IV. They believe Americans have unwittingly adopted the Arabic words that exalt our enemies and their mission -- and suggest several Arabic terms we should be using instead. For example, they write:

"We begin with the word jihad, which literally means striving and generally occurs as part of the expression jihad fi sabil illah, striving in the path of God. Striving in the path of God is a duty of all Muslims. Calling our enemies jihadis and their movement global jihad thus indicates that we recognize their doctrines and actions as being in the path of God and, for Muslims, legitimate. In short, we explicitly designate ourselves as the enemies of Islam."
Among the alternate words we might use, the authors argue, are hirabah, mufsid and fattan.

Hirabah means "sinful warfare or warfare contrary to Islamic law." So rather than "praising terrorists for jihad, one should describe the Islamic totalitarian movement as the global hirabah.

Mufsid is an evil or corrupt person; the plural is mufsidun. The essay's authors say you should call Islamic fascists mufsidun, not jihadis, because it's unambiguous to Arabic speakers and the word carries "enormous weight" in the Islamic world.

Fitna or fattan literally means "a temptation or trial," but has come to refer to "discord and strife among Muslims." A fattan is a tempter or a subversive. "Applying these terms to our enemies and their works condemns their current activities as divisive and harmful," the authors write, "(and it) also identifies them with movements and individuals in Islamic history with negative reputations."

Finally, the authors urge Westerners to use the word "God" instead of Allah. Saying Allah to refer to God would be like using Jehovah to refer to a Hebrew God. "In fact, Muslims, Christians and Jews all worship the God of Abraham," the authors have said. "Using different names exaggerates the divisions among the religions."

Imagine it in reverse: What if Islamic terrorists had blindly adopted the word "heroes" as their word for our soldiers, or ignorantly labeled the war on terror as "God's work." We'd laugh at them, and probably take some pride in our enemies' acknowledgement that we are on the side of the angels.

EXCLUSIVE! Baby Suri pictures!

( Since all babies look alike, we're pretty sure this bears a fairly close resemblance to the reclusive Suri Cruise, who has apparently not been seen by any living person below the B-List. But if you ask me, Suri looks like mama Katie Holmes spent a little too much time with William H. Macy.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

The Heinz Ketchup Conundrum

If you're one of those people who is always whining that the Mainstream Media simply don't have a clue, well, in your face, Blogger Boy! Here's proof that the Media are still raking muck and comforting the afflicted and all that jazz ...

The Chicago Sun-Times has gone deeper and wider and saucier with its important investigation, appearing in today's editions: How do you fit the jumbo Heinz bottle in the refrigerator door?

The intrepid Chicago reporter has found ... you don't. That's right: The bottle and its long neck is too tall, so Heinz has designed a "squatter, sportier-looking bottle" that fits into your door slot -- where you'll see it better and use more of it so you'll buy more Heinz ketchup to put in your door where you'll see it better and use more of it so you'll buy more Heinz ketchup to put in your door where you'll see it better and use more of it so you'll buy more Heinz ketchup to put in your door.

Think I'm wrong about hard-hitting journalism for the masses? Mid-day online reports at the Chicago Sun-Times show the ketchup bottle story is getting 27 times more hits than the Lebanese cease fire! Nobody ever got rich overestimating the American public.

Another fine mess we've gotten us into

One thing I learned fairly soon after moving to Southeast Texas is that its Gulf Coast beaches ain't the white-sand Southern California Eden of my childhood-vacation memories.

Oh sure, there's sand, seashells, lapping waves and the occasional fabulous sunset that turns the whole sky the color of a new copper penny.

But there's also silt-clouded water -- part of the "dead zone" from westward-drifting Mississippi River disgorgement -- and rotting clots of crunchy seaweed that don't exactly beckon you to stroll at sunset, more mosquitoes than seashells, an unsettling stink, and enough garbage to choke Florida. In short, many of our beaches aren't quite ready for their Baywatch close-up.

Itching to get away from yardwork and sloth this weekend, my friend Mary and I trundled my dog Cagney into the car for a few hours at "the beach." We drove east along the stretch of shore from the rust-tinged petrochemcial 'burg of Port Arthur into Louisiana's hurricane-wrecked Cameron Parish -- so no beach-comber in his right mind would be expecting a Tahitian paradise anyway.

But this place is a God-awful mess. One stretch of beach unfurled beside the denuded foundations of beach cabins, swept away by Hurricane Rita last fall. Some rebuilding has begun, but mostly the shore is haunted by ghosts of another time.

As we traveled along this 25-mile shore, the actual strand of sand often looked more like a county dump than a beach on a great sea. We pulled off the highway at several spots, each time walking a mile or so along the beach, gathering cans and the occasional shell, pointing out oddities that had washed ashore. The dog began to want to stay in the car. Besides the usual beach detritus, we found countless glass and plastic bottles; a few pounds of aluminum cans (which we gathered to haul home and recycle); children's toys that included several small, naked dolls miles apart; about four dozen mismatched shoes, boots, sandals and flip-flops; four hardhats (likely fallen from off-shore drilling rigs that disrupt the horizon); several milk crates (which we used to lug some of our aluminum-can treasure); several industrial-strength rubber gloves; several dead fish (into whose mouths we shoved the little naked dolls); and what appeared to be a couple large formerly underground storage tanks rusting peacefully on the sand. There's so much crap, it's difficult to imagine these beaches being reasonably clean again.

But most oddly, we found a bowling pin and about 100 unbroken lightbulbs scattered the length of our journey. We'll never know the Tale of the Bowling Pin, but I wondered, how did all these light bulbs survive their travels, past the breakwaters, to come to rest unbusted on these beaches? I'm not sure if that's a lesson in hope or in the indestructibility of modern garbage.

I came here from Colorado a couple years ago, and I'm struck by the difference in environmental consciousness between my two most recent homes: Coloradans are downright anal about protecting their landscape from any fouling, while Southeast Texans seem to have surrendered to their pollution, reasoning that it's just a by-product of a hard-working coast.

It saddens me. On the way home, I began to think about organizing some friends for a clean-up day and sunset cookout. Maybe we could stake out a few miles of beach one Sunday, scavenge whatever recyclable materials we could and haul the rest to the dump. Then we could build a fire, roast some food and enjoy the beach the way it should be enjoyed.

PHOTO ABOVE courtesy of the EPA

Friday, August 04, 2006

Shoot me now: The woman I thought I knew....

OK, so I'm cruising the wires and I come across an AP story about my great journo-heartthrob, CNN's Daryn Kagan. Seems she's leaving CNN on Sept. 1 and she's planning to start a "good news" Web site devoted to inspirational stories. Ah, I knew she was beautiful, but it turns out she has a rather attractive inner beauty, too.

"I think there is a void in the straight news business now, (which is) lacking a certain spirituality," Kagan told The Associated Press yesterday. "I think most people live in a space where they are looking for meaning in life and good in the world and that is not necessarily reflected in straight news coverage right now."

The story went on to describe the site,, which will appear on Nov. 13, gave some background on this most-attractive journalist, and explored her desire to use her news background to inspire people. Smart, sensitive, beautiful ... God, I am falling love with her all over again ... I'm beginning to imagine us together at our word processors, telling stories happily ever after ... covering wars and homecoming parades and bass tournaments together ... my sweet MSM prime-time princess ...

... BUT WAIT ... what's this? ... she was a girlfriend of WHO???? OMG, there it is, right there in black-and-white:

"'It's important to be informed, but I also think it's important to be inspired,' said Kagan, a former love interest of radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh. ... "

I'm having a great deal of trouble getting this image out of my head. Not thoughtful, sensitive, beautiful Daryn. Not junkie, plumpie, Viagra-popping Rush Limbaugh!

Hmmmm. Paula Zahn is cute, don't you think?

Git yer tax-free cowboy boots here!

Today starts Texas' tax-free shopping weekend, a three-day period when shoppers are supposedly given a break from tax on much school- and work-related clothing and footwear, and local businesses get a shot in the arm. The savings amount to about $8 on every $100 shoppers spend.

But some things make you go "huh?" For example, pajamas and robes are tax-free ... but backpacks are taxed. Cowboy and hiking boots are tax-free ... but bike helmets are taxed. Work clothes are tax-free ... but safety gear and glasses are taxed. Football jerseys are tax-free ... but football pants are taxed. Tailored suits are tax-free ... but the fabric or yarn to make your own clothes will be taxed. Zippered sweatshirts are tax-free ... but zippers are taxed. Fishing caps are tax-free ... but hardhats are taxed.

Oh well. Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth. A sales-tax break is a good thing, especially if you're looking for an 8% discount on cowboy boots and underwear!

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Where's the outcry against Hezbollah?

Can you tell if this is a Lebanese or an Israeli baby?

A lot of anxious and angry screeds -- some in comments at this blog -- have been launched against the Israeli attacks on civilian centers in Lebanon. They've been called "barbaric," "murderous," "savage" and -- when the speaker is being kind -- "disproportionate." These screamers cut no quarter to Israel in their remarks. I have heard no thoughtful pundit, blogger, commentator or columnist be sanguine or celebratory about the loss of civilian lives in Lebanon, although many acknowledge they are unfortunately in the line of fire because Hezbollah has hidden among them. In short, nobody is celebrating innocent civilians' deaths in Lebanon, and most would prefer it stopped completely.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah launched a record 230 rockets into Israel, most without any guidance. The intent is to terrorize and kill anyone -- including civilians -- who might be within a shrapnel's throw of wherever it lands. And today, more than 200 Hezbollah rockets have killed eight Israeli civilians. But where are those highly exercised folks who declare Israel "barbaric" or "murderous" for killing innocents in Lebanon? Why aren't they being equally vicious in decrying Hezbollah's deadly and purposeful attacks on Israel's civilians?

If you literally scream bloody murder about the death of Lebanese civilians in this war, you must also scream bloody murder about the death of Israeli civilians. While the death toll in Lebanon is now higher than in Israel, I refuse to believe the life (and death) of one Israeli is somehow less important than the life (and death) of one Lebanese, and it would take a truly withered partisan heart to even suggest it.

Tropical Storm Chris losing steam

 Posted by Picasa
All those prayers must've helped, or maybe it was all that ice that my friend SingingSkies dumped in the Gulf yesterday: Tropical Storm Chris is expected to deteriorate into a tropical depression later today. That means the cyclone's swirling winds will diminish to under 38 mph, although there'll still be some rain.

That's good news -- for now -- in the Gulf of Mexico, but as we learned during last year's horror-show of a hurricane season, it isn't wise to turn your back on a storm. It can reconstitute, wobble wildly, gain new life on a hot day, or die and resurrect like a slasher-movie monster.

This morning, several of the reporters and editors who rode out Hurricane Rita last September gathered with younger, newer reporters who'd never been through a hurricane. Nobody thinks of reporters as "first responders," but we are. The gathering was more sharing than lecture, with tips and tricks flying like Category 1 debris. Headlamps are better than flashlights. Get sleep. Be aware of your surroundings on our abandoned streets. Wear boots. Keep your gas tank near-full. Keep water and non-perishable food in your car ... and keep your car locked. Breathe. Program colleague's cell phone numbers into your phone. Move your potted plants and barbecue inside before the storm. Don't panic. Bring pillows and mattresses, because our floors are hard and cold. Don't forget bugspray and sunscreen. Have your media credential with you at all times ....

Nobody wants this or any storm to hit here, but if it does, we want to be ready and safe. These reporters and editors are taking risks, even separating from loved ones, to do what they believe in: To tell the biggest story in their town. Most days, they take a lot of crap from a culture that has grown comfortable whining about "The Media," but they want to do what's right and they want to fulfill their important promise to tell a story the best way they can. Journalists, like everyone else, make mistakes, and theirs are splashed on the front page for tens of thousands to see and ridicule. But I know they want to do it right, so they gather on mornings like this one to talk about it.

For today, though, it looks like we can get back to regularly scheduled programming ... even though we'll keep one eye on the Weather Channel.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Here comes Hurricane Chris

Exactly 317 days ago, we watched then-Tropical Storm Rita shoot through the Florida Straits, fearing the worst only three weeks after the horrific Hurricane Katrina. We didn't know Hurricane Rita would slam into Southeast Texas dead-on five days later and send us tumbling on a 10-month recovery that hasn't yet ended.

Today, Tropical Storm Chris -- he should be Hurricane Chris later tomorrow -- is lining up to shoot the Florida Straits, just as Hurricane Rita did 10 months and 13 days ago. On that day, I wrote in this blog:
"The Gulf Coast is jittery, as you might imagine. The storm is still distant, but nobody is waiting until the last minute. People are already talking -- quietly, for now -- about evacuation plans, hurricane survival kits, boarding windows. Here at the paper, we've already taken steps to print our paper in a nearby city -- or to print that city's paper should the storm hit there. Today, we begin girding for the possibility of a catastrophic event that affects our readers, preparing to provide as much information as we can in creative ways while also taking steps to prepare ourselves and our families for the coming storm. ... Katrina is still front-page news here, a testament to the storm's devastation. Many of Katrina's survivors still live among us. I imagine that while we anxiously watch Rita's slow roll across the Gulf, these people must be horrified. "

Today, in 2006, a new storm rises on the horizon and Southeast Texas is jittery. It's still to early to commit to uprooting people to safer places, but not too early to consider what we will do as Hurricane Chris rumbles into the Gulf. We learned much from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, including the idiocy of storm apathy. So we watch.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Pick Mel Gibson's next movie!

Actor-director Mel Gibson unleashed an expletive-laden, anti-Semitic tirade after a Friday traffic stop in Malibu. Pick the name of his next movie.Actor-director Mel Gibson unleashed an expletive-laden, anti-Semitic tirade after a Friday traffic stop in Malibu. Pick the name of his next movie.
Tequila Sunrise 2: Full Throttle
Mad max 4: Beyond Blunderdome
Shooting My Left Foot, Then Slamming it into My Mouth
Whatever Ari Emanuel Tells Me It Is
Triumph of the Swill
Malibu's Most Wanted 2: You a Jew?
Web Polls by Vizu

(Thanks to the Los Angeles Times for this poll)

Read the Los Angeles County Sheriff deputy's report about Mel's arrest.