Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Panama photografica

These are the REAL Panama hats. Those broad-brimmed, Fedora-like Montecristi hats are favored by Hollywood and, in fact, made in Ecuador. These hats are more popular in the Panamanian interior and seen far more prevalently, often with their brims flopped upward.

Elisio is the owner of a small tienda in Valle Rio, Panama, sort of a country store. See that giant avocado on the counter? You could buy three of them for a dollar. When I told Elisio that in America, ONE such avocado might cost anywhere from $2 to $4, he was shocked. He began to tell everyone who came to his store, and they were shocked, too. Some, though, probably began to have visions of harvesting from their backyard trees and becoming fabulously rich off estupido gringos.

Many of the roads in Panama's interior are what we would call "farm-to-market" roads in the United States. On this one, the farmers returning from village markets late in the day stop at a bridge across a deep ravine and they cull any fruits from their trucks that might not be fresh enough to sell tomorrow. They leave their old bananas, mangoes and other fruits on the bridge railing, and the monkeys from the surrounding jungle come to feast on the farmers' misfortunes. Thus, this is called the "Monkey Bridge."

Carlos -- sometimes "Charlie" -- is a street vendor in Las Tablas. He asked me if I go to church, and told me that he is an evangelical. "Do you want to see my gun?" he asked me. "Sure," I said. Carlos dug around under his cheap goods and pulled out this old Bible.

A professional corn-shucker at a restaurante in Chitre

Sopa manana

Monday, October 30, 2006

Home from Panama

A new friend from Panama (that's me on the left)

A week in Panama, and I can't shake it. It's a beautiful country, a place for poets.

One day last week, I wandered through a small village in the rural interior. The people were friendly, the homes poor. I stopped and tried to talk to some of them, but my Spanish and their English were equally bad. I asked the name of the village, and they told me. From what I could understand of the legend, this is how it came to pass: Many years ago, a little blind girl named Maria went swimming in the river nearby. She submerged and, miraculously, her sight was restored. The peons changed the name of their village to "Mariabe" ... "Maria sees."

There is something magical about giving a name to what cannot be explained.


Asleep on a bus in Las Tablas

Imagine a life where the landscape itself represents a kind of struggle between what is primitive or self-sufficient, where everything else is both desired and kept at arm´s length, where what excites your soul is something more than money or power or possessions, where eroticism and sensuality are in the air. It is a place for poets and lovers, not so much for ambitious men. I can´t seem to turn in any direction without seeing something that gives me pause, often just to imagine what a common life might be like in this place. I tease mi padre: Build me a house on the beach and I will come forever. It scares me when he says, ¨Si.¨ But you already know what about me, that it might be unseemly -- inappropriado -- to expect a life of constant adventure. Of sideways dreaming.

Ah, demasiado profundo. Too profound. I should stick to simpler thinking. As mi padre says, I think too much.


Postmistress in Pedasi

A week of flirting with howler monkeys, black-sand beaches, cold beer in tiny outdoor jardins, an exciting but minor confrontation with a boa constrictor, rum drinks while sitting in cool jungle streams, sand crabs by the millions on a living strand, hiking through coastal mountains and deep woodlands, sleeping in south-to-north tradewinds, bananas for monkeys on mountain bridges, meeting beautiful and fragrant mujeres on the beach (and being shown the Southern Cross in the night sky), wandering through small villages and listening to their legends while we eat fried plantains and drink local rum ... who wouldn't want to go back?


Let's play a game of

Have been accused of spousal abuse

Have been arrested for fraud

Have been accused of writing bad checks

Have directly or indirectly bankrupted at least 2 businesses

Have done time for assault

(Repeat, 71)
Cannot get a credit card due to bad credit

Have been arrested on drug-related charges

Have been arrested for shoplifting

Are now defendants in lawsuits, and

Have been arrested for drunk driving
in the past year

OK, in each case, is it the gangster-ridden NBA or the steroid-infused NFL?
Give up? . . . Scroll down

It's neither.
It's the 535 members of the United States Congress.
The same people who crank out hundreds of new laws each year Designed to keep the rest of us in line. And they just voted themselves a $15,000-a-month pension for life after serving only one term (that's two years) in Congress.
(Hat tip to Mike C.)

Friday, October 20, 2006

Adios, blogachos!

I'm flying down to Panama for the coming week to explore an upcoming book. Except for a few moments of sheer civilization, I will likely be blissfully unconnected to The World for a few days. Assuming I don't get malaria, dengue or yellow fever, I'll be back with you on Oct. 30. Adios!

Suicide Bombing 101

The dumbest question of all

In newspapering, we tell young reporters there are no dumb questions. Well, that's not exactly true. There are some dumb questions. Today, I think the dumbest one is:

Did you get my email?

How would I know if I got your email? How would I know if I got the specific email to which you refer? What if you sent me two emails -- let's say the first was "I love you" and the second was "but I stole your wallet and your ATM card and your dog and I'm sleeping with your brother. Is that OK with you?" -- and I only saw only the first one? You'd ask "Did you get my email?" and I'd say, "Yes," and we'd both be screwed (pun intended.)

Don't ask me if I got your email. Ask me if I got your amail about (whatever the hell it was about.)

OK, I feel better now.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Can a sex doll be a hooker?

For about $26, a Korean fella can rent a room, a computer and a rubber doll for sex. Suddenly, "sex doll rooms" are springing up across South Korea, and cops -- who are naturally suspicious of people having fun -- are perplexed: Is renting a rubber doll for sex "prostitution"?

According to Chosun.com, "But rubber is rubber and flesh is flesh, so it remains unclear if selling one violates laws against the sale of the other. 'Since the sex acts are occurring with a doll and not a human being, it is unclear whether the Special Law on Prostitution applies,' a police officer lamented. "

Now, I personally don't see the appeal of sex with a piece of artistically sculpted Silly Putty, but the issue raises some interesting questions: If paying for sex with a rubber doll is prostitution, must we also determine the exact age of the doll to ensure it's not child molestation, too? If you steal it, is it kidnapping? And if you pop the doll accidentally, can you be charged with manslaughter? And let's not even discuss the possibility of rubber sheep.

Whew, it's a good thing we don't have to worry about global terrorism anymore.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Become an illegal alien today!

This letter was allegedly sent to U.S. Paul Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. The purported author has a unique idea: Give up his official American-ness to become an undocumented worker -- presumably Mexican -- thereby saving $70,000 in taxes and getting free health care and education.

Some people would do anything to earn the marvelous benefits of being a minority, wouldn't they?


The Honorable Paul S. Sarbanes
309 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510

Dear Senator Sarbanes:

As a native Marylander and excellent customer of the Internal Revenue Service, I am writing to ask for your assistance. I have contacted the Immigration and Naturalization Service in an effort to determine the process for becoming an illegal alien and they referred me to you. My reasons for wishing to change my status from U.S. citizen to illegal alien stem from the bill which was recently passed by the Senate and for which you voted.

If my understanding of this bill's provisions is accurate, as an illegal alien who has been in the United States for five years, what I need to do to become a citizen is to pay a $2,000 fine and income taxes for three of the last five years.

I know a good deal when I see one and I am anxious to get the process started before everyone figures it out. Simply put, those of us who have been here legally have had to pay taxes every year, so I'm excited about the prospect of avoiding two years of the last five years taxes in return for paying a $2,000 fine. Is there any way that I can apply to be illegal retroactively?

This would yield an excellent return for me and my family because we paid heavy taxes in 2004 and 2005 and I estimated a gross savings approximating $72,000. After the fine this would yield me a net savings of $70,000. In addition, I would reap the other benefits of being an illegal alien such as free health care, avoidance of paying Social Security taxes, buying automobile insurance, serving on jury panels, etc.

If you would provide me with an outline of the process to become illegal (retroactively if possible) and copies of the necessary forms, I would be most appreciative.

Thank you for your assistance.
Your Loyal Constituent

Monday, October 16, 2006

The Best Redneck Movies of All Time

In the recent spirit of insulting whole groups of people in one fell blog-swoop, I'm posting (with a tip o' the sweat-soaked John Deere cap to Linda) a list of the most beloved redneck movies of all time. Now, you can't get this collection anywhere else ... only in your spam. Act now, and for $19.95, I'll send you -- absolutely free -- wax "purdy lips" just in time for Halloween!

Favorite Redneck Movies of All Time

Born on the 4th of... Ma! When the hell's my birthday agin?

Breakfast at Tiffany's Beer, Bait, and Pancake Shack

Forest Gumbo

Purty Woman

Rudolph the Red Nosed Hood Ornament

The Bridges of Hazzard County

To Kill a Mockingbird With a Thirty-Ought Six and Watch That Sucker's Feathers Fly

Arkansas Jones and the Junkyard of Doom

Bar Wars

Being Jeff Foxworthy

Father of the Bride... AND Groom

Good Hunting With Will

My Cousin/Uncle/Father Vinnie Bob

Scent Of A Woman's Double-wide Trailer

Silence of the Sheep

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (Why mess with a family classic?)

The Hand That Rocks The Cradle... and Cooks the Vittles... and Warshes the Truck...

There's Something About Cousin Mary

Winnebago the Pooh and Tigger-Bob Too!


Back to the Future IV: I'm My Own Daddy!

9 1/2 Teeth

And the Band Played "Freebird"

Three Brides for Seven Brothers

Three Men and Ned Beatty

Austin Texas: The Uncle Who Shagged Me

How Stella Got Her Tooth Back

The Green Smile

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Professor: Comparing Bush to Hitler is an insult to Hitler

You might recall Kevin Barrett, the University of Wisconsin professor who claimed American officials, not al-Qaida terrorists, destroyed the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

Well, now Barrett is forcing his students to buy a $20 book of essays that happens to contain his cockamamey brain-farting ... and there isn't a thing Wisconsin can do about it. Academic freedom and all that. The incumbent governor and his opponent even agree: Barrett should be fired. But it ain't gonna happen because we have confused free speech with the right of idiots to teach our kids.

In his essay, Barrett employs the lamest rhetorical tool since "I know you are but what am I?" when he writes:

"Like Bush and the neocons, Hitler and the Nazis inaugurated their new era by destroying an architectural monument and blaming its destruction on their designated enemies."

He invokes the "Bush is like Hitler" argument when he refers to the Reichstag fire of 1933, a pivotal moment in the Nazi rise to power. But, he said in an interview yesterday, he wasn't really comparing Bush to Hitler (See Franscell's Corollary: "If I tell a lie and say it's not a lie, then it's not a lie because I told you so.")

"Hitler had a good 20 to 30 IQ points on Bush, so comparing Bush to Hitler would in many ways be an insult to Hitler," Barrett said.

Barrett is entitled to his opinion, of course. He may rant it on any street corner in America, like other brain-damaged bums. But it's unlikely that his classroom is the model of free speech that he hides behind ... do you think he spends a lot of time making equally radical but opposing views accessible to his students (and forces them to buy the book)? I don't. Besides, in this case, the opposing view is that terrorists hijacked some planes and crashed them into buildings. What is so damned hard to believe about that?

Americans needn't look to Tehran, Damascus or Pyongyang for enemies. They're here and at least one of them lives in Milwaukee.

Top 10 Reasons Men Prefer Guns

OK, that last post was a little harsh on men. So in the spirit of equality of the sexes, fair play and the fact the the NRA is funnier than Neil Young, here's a Top 10 list that was sent to me by a gun-totin' Southerner (along with a note that if I didn't run it for "equal time" that I'd meet some of his friends named Smith and Wesson, whoever they are.)

So here are the Top 10 reasons men prefer guns to women:

#10 - You can trade an old .44 for a new .22.

#9-You can keep one gun at home and have another for when you're on the road.

#8- If you admire a friend's gun and tell him so, he will probably let you try it out a few times.

#7- Your primary gun doesn't mind if you keep another gun for a backup.

#6- Your gun will stay with you even if you run out of ammo.

#5- A gun doesn't take up a lot of closet space.

#4- Guns function normally every day of the month.

#3- A gun doesn't ask, "Do these new grips make me look fat?"

#2- A gun doesn't mind if you go to sleep after you use it.

And the number one reason a gun is favored over a woman....

#1- You can buy a silencer for a gun.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The GRITS Guide to Southern Men

A new book presumes to sketch the typical Southern Man ... and tell women how to live with them. If such a thing possible.

For your edification, author Deborah Ford says Southern Men break down into two main types: The gun-totin' good ol' boy and ... well, Rhett Butler. (What? Not Elvis? Bear Bryant?)

Here's the Southern Man, as defined by Deborah Ford, author of the new "Bless his Heart: The GRITS Guide to Loving (or Just Living With) Southern Men" (with some editorial comments):

1. He's a tough but fair businessman with a strong country accent or Southern drawl but an even stronger common sense. (He knows he's a redneck when ...)

2. He's always ready with a drink for his friend and to take off his hat to any passing lady. (And for a late-night possum-spotlighting gig.)

3. Whether he lives in a shack or a mansion, he's proud and independent. To put it bluntly, this is the same thing as being too big for his britches and just plain ornery. (What if he lives in a trailer?)

4. He can be thin as Lyle Lovett or hefty as Junior Samples. (Although one hopes he can be better looking than either of them.)

5. He does not like to go to black-tie events or dress himself. (He thinks "cummerbund" is something they sell at Victoria's Secret.)

6. He does not want to go to the mall. (Again, Victoria's Secret is involved.)

7. He's a man in overalls with few words but a lot of wisdom. (Again, Junior Samples is involved.)

8. He's rough but handsome and sings country songs so sad they can make a statue cry. (Pshaw. Statues weep for a lot of reasons.)

OK, friends, what other characteristics of Southern men can you add to this list?

Monday, October 09, 2006

Happy Vilify Historic Explorers by Viewing Them with Modern Sensibilities Day

Yes, today is Columbus Day, when we celebrate the subjugation (and the apparent infection with white-man's disease) of Native Americans by that evil man Christopher Columbus, who coincidentally helped to dash our hopes of a flat earth. Meany.

Basically, this is the day when a bunch of folks who think the worst thing that ever happened to the Americas was being discovered. In some ways, they're a lot like Americans who think the worst thing that has ever happened to America is being discovered by Mexicans. What's their point in protesting?

Democracy Now! interviewed two of the protest movement's key figures, Glenn Morris and Glenn Spagnulo, who explain why 500-year-old white men should not be celebrated. They call Columbus Day parades "convoys of conquest" and label European discovery of the West -- whether by Ericson or Columbus -- as the kickoff of the Super Bowl of genocide.

Viewing history through the special prism of our biases is fraught with peril. We needn't embrace every event as poistive, but we cannot apply our current sensibilities to the decisions and acts of the distant past. We can only try to understand and attempt to apply the lessons to our real future. Fact is, Geronimo and Crazy Horse can be seen as heroic leaders or cold-blooded terrorists; Mayans can be viewed as an extraordinarily faithful culture or supremely primitive (and badly needing some civilization); the massacre of Jamestown can be described as Indian freedom-fighting or simply mass murder by bloodthirsty savages.

And it doesn't stop with Indians. Martin Luther King Jr. can be described as a great inspiration for change in an America that woefully needed change -- or a philanderer who enjoyed the company of many women other than Coretta. John Brown can be celebrated as a man who gave his life to free slaves -- or a monomaniacal religious fanatic and killer on the order of Timothy McVeigh.

So the prism of the American Indian Movement is no more noble nor equitable than anyone else's. History, like life itself, is usually more complex than its radical interpreters would have us think. No matter how hard they try, those events cannot be changed. And wouldn't it be nice if these revisionists applied equal energy to improving the future? We won't get anywhere by comparing our equally perverse interpretations of history.

(Imagine how future outer-space aliens will decry our landing on Mars ... )

Name my 'pet' possum

This little fella -- er, gal -- comes to visit every night at my house, just to eat my dog's leftovers. He/she graciously poses for photos every so often. So since I feed him/her and take pictures of him/her, he/she's like a real pet.

Except he/she doesn't have a name. Clearly, I'm seeking something androgynous.

Not Pat.

Friday, October 06, 2006

12 Steps for Men and Laundry

Apparently, some sorely needed advice for men about laundry, from Colorado mom Stephanie Blake at Adventures of a Stay-at-Home Mom:

1. Collect all the laundry in the house. Do not just throw in your stinky gym clothes. Towels and sheets like to be washed once in a while. See that nasty washrag in the kitchen sink? Throw it in the garbage.

2. Sort the laundry into small piles. Whites and Darks and Towels should be washed seperately. Would you like to wear a pink tie dye shirt to work? Do not stuff the washer with clothes unless you want to buy me a new washing machine. 16 pairs of jeans in one load is too many. Also, 10 towels in with everything else is too much.

3. There is a measuring device. Use it. One cup of detergent is enough. Do not, I repeat do not touch the bleach bottle. It is off limits to you. Likewise with the other dangerous chemicals.

4. Just use the button that says Warm. Hot will make my clothes too small and you will hear me say I am fat every time I put my jeans on. Do you really want to hear me say I am fat, again? Also, I will have to go shopping if you shrink my clothes. You will have to come and hold my purse for 7 hours. I will probably say I am fat at least 22 times.

5. Don't forget to shut the lid on the washing machine.The cycle will not finish if the lid is not closed, and I will complain. Plus, one of our children will climb in. Do you want someone to drown?

6. When the washing machine starts scooting around by itself, you have packed it too full. If it starts shaking from side to side and smacking the wall, you are an idiot. If you pack the washer too tight, clothes will not get clean and later, they will not get dry. Did I mention you are an idiot?

7. Washing the clothes is only a part of what I call "Doing the Laundry." Clothes have to be dried as well. And later, they will need to be folded and yes, put away. It is time consuming. There is no laundry fairy. Why do you think I complain about it?

8. Put clothes into the dryer immediately after the washing machine stops moving. If you wait until the game is over or until tomorrow, I will complain. Also, there won't be any sheets for the bed tonight. Have you smelled the inside of a washing machine after clothes have gotten moldy in there? Not good.

9. 50 minutes should be long enough to dry a load, unless you are an idiot (see #6). 60 minutes for towels. I do not like burn marks on my white shirts. You do not want burn marks on your fancy golf shorts.

10. Clothes like to be folded while they are hot. If they get cold, they will get wrinkled from sitting in the bottom of the dryer, then you will have to iron them or take them to the cleaners. I do not iron. It is your choice.

11. The hamper is not our dresser. A dresser is for clean clothes. A hamper is for dirty clothes.We do not wear clothes from a hamper, even if they look clean. When the hamper overflows, do a load.

12. If you "do the laundry," you do not get a medal. You do not get a chest to pin it on. You get clean clothes. I won't complain. We all win.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

OPEC thinks you're too happy

The world's biggest oil exporting countries -- places like Venezuela and Nigeria -- are really peeved that Americans are now paying a mere $2 a gallon for gasoline, so they plan to cut production by a million barrels a day to drive prices back up, according to OPEC officials.

That's not good news as we enter the cold season, and it's not good news for drivers in general, who have just recently recovered from the summer's astronomic prices. But, hey, you can't blame these countries -- many of their citizens living in Third World or oppressive situations -- from capitalizing on their commodities. That's why we call it "capitalism"!

It's long past time that America begin weaning itself from oil. Yes, that means you, Mr. Texas three-quarter-ton pickup driver who never leaves the city limits and whose wife drives the truck to pick up ribbons at Hobby Lobby. Yes, that means you, Ms. Radical Leftist, always whining that President Bush and VP Cheney only pump up Big Oil ... if America's brilliant researchers at our largely liberal-leaning university campuses could just find a suitable replacement for oil, we could elect Democrats for the next 1,000 years. We must truly lag behind in our education if we cannot figure out cleaner, more efficient and less polluting forms of energy .... so until we do, the Left shouldn't presume to be smarter than the Right.

We simply must be ONE country to kick our oil dependency. It's not a Republican or Democrat problem. It's a problem we all share and our future rests in the balance. Don't expect radicals on either end of our political specturm to get anything done; the action will come from the Militant Middle, where good ideas tend to be good for everyone, not just our extremist comrades. Clearly, we don't want Venezuela's Hugo Chavez and Iran's megalomaniacs controlling the strings that make us dance.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Gay-hater Fred Phelps is coming to Beaumont

The gravely un-Christian flock of Rev. Fred Phelps' Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan. -- zealously pious folks who show up at American soldiers' funerals with signs saying "God Hates Fags" -- plan to protest at the funeral of Sgt. Edward Reynolds, a Port Arthur, Texas, soldier killed last week in Iraq.

Reynolds was not gay. He was just a soldier who was to be married in a couple months. He had three children, who now have no father to tuck them in at night. He fought on our behalf, and he died.

But Phelps and his evil flock have no difficulty with that. In fact, a headline on their press release about their Reynolds picket says: "Thank God for IEDs." Their position is this:
"These soldiers who are coming back increasingly in body bags are the direct result of the wrath of God. They couldn’t be marching down Main Street if we didn’t have a nation of fornicators and adulterers. What gets God raging mad is when this nation has turned on its prophet. God is now fighting against the nation.”

How sad that we have taken our freedom of speech so satanically far. I have blogged about the evil Rev. Phelps before, and won't say much more here except that his methods are not just un-Christian, they are inhumane. For the sake of his twisted idea, he would do what Jesus would never tolerate.

And in my newsroom, we face a complicated decision about news. Shine a light on Phelps' plans and you give him a firmer place to stand, inspiring other wackos who might either join or counter-protest at a solemn moment ... or ignore his freak show and prove that news media sometimes put their feelings ahead of simply telling the news. We have intelligent, articulate people on both sides of the issue here.

Me? I choose to shine a light on this cockroach. Tell his story, no more and no less. Let free speech take its course, and maybe America will shout him down for once. If we truly believe in the saving graces of freedoms that Edward Reynolds and other soldiers have died to protect, then we must believe it has the power to set right what is wrong.

And Rev. Phelps is wrong. Terribly wrong.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

America's fittest college? Dickinson

Men's Fitness magazine has named a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania as the "fittest college in America." Dickinson College apparently lived better in the past year than Brigham Young University, the 2005 "fittest" college.

OK, I won't quarrel over whether the kids at Dickinson eat right and workout regularly, but here's my question: Did they stop doing physical training at Annapolis, West Point and the Air Force Academy? Have all the midshipmen and cadets gotten fat?

Monday, October 02, 2006

Congressman Mark Foley horrified by possibility of nude summer youth camps (2003)

Gosh, it's funny what you find when you go scrounging around in the "morgue" (that's the old politically incorrect term for a newspaper's library of clippings and papers.)

In 2003, U.S. Rep. Mark Foley, a Republican expressed his displeasure about a proposal to open nude summer camps for teenagers in Florida.

Now Foley has resigned because he allegedly sent inappropriate and lurid emails to a teenage congressional page. Among the things he sought from the boy: A picture. .... but didn't he oppose teen nudity earlier?

This old 2003 article was from the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Times, which today admitted that it knew of these allegations against Foley last November but didn't report it. Why? Read their explanation here.