Saturday, December 29, 2007

Funny Cats 3

I could use a chuckle or two, and this did the trick.

Bush Acknowledges Existence Of Carbon Dioxide

The Onion

Bush Acknowledges Existence Of Carbon Dioxide

"We can no longer ignore the facts – carbon dioxide is real," Bush said.

Friday, December 28, 2007

RIP Benazir Bhutto

I thought I'd return to blogging yesterday (after finishing grading finals), but I found myself too exhausted to think clearly upon waking. The news of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto slapped me across the face harder than I thought it would.

One reason is that her killing didn't surprise me. That, in and of itself, made me draw a quick breath. The next reason was that I realized I wasn't so sure Al Quaeda is actually the culprit; without a full investigation (will that ever happen?), Musharraf could be behind it, a man who could easily stand to gain if he intends to be dictator, and his recent love of martial law might indicate that.

Then I got agitated by the media coverage that focused on the current Presidential candidates in this country and how they were responding to Bhutto's death. Everybody, it seemed, turned her assassination into an opportunity to make ridiculous sound bites, except for, perhaps, John McCain and Hillary Clinton. (Suddenly, I realized how little all of the other candidates know of international issues, beyond seeing things in utter black and white.) Suddenly, I felt terror at the very idea of a Huckabee being President--the man just joked the other day about shooting three pheasant because they weren't supporting him in Iowa or some nonsense such as that. I squirmed in my seat because despite liking Barack Obama, he seemed so stiff and green commenting on Bhutto's killing. And see how I've lost focus? I'm still reacting.

A leader, a woman, is dead. Benazir Bhutto was no angel, no Mohandas Gandhi. I joked to my partner yesterday that her family is kinda like the Kennedys--they're mostly all in politics, and they mostly all die. And, they are wealthy, the aristocracy, the beautiful people. They've had their charges of being corrupt (for which Benazir's father paid a dear price: he was hanged), and tragedy surrounds a brother or two (one of whom, if memory serves, Benazir has even been accused, if not murdering, of at least being behind his death). Benazir's husband, Asif Ali Zardari, whom she oddly agreed to an arranged marriage with, is by all accounts a total crook. He, in fact, brought her down as Prime Minister--twice!--because of apparent corruption on his part. (Then again, it's a different world over there, frankly the best of Shakespearean tragedies and histories. Not an excuse, but it's never really fair to expect democratic values from places that have been religious monarchies, or clan run, or however things have been done for centuries. That dumbass mindset of our immediately effecting drastic change like that has been our failing in Iraq, I think. Oops. And here I go, losing focus again.)

Look. Here's why I am grieving Benazir Bhutto:

She had done her due diligance. A brilliant woman, she attended Harvard and Oxford. Granted, only the most privileged of Muslim women get an education like that. (But that's how she came to see there were ways to serve, to champion the rights of the "common people." And the women and the poor of Pakistan adored her.)

She had balls. She returned to her native Pakistan after years in exile, knowing full well her neck was on the line. She was a genuine threat, to both the status quo and to the nutjob Islamic extremists hiding out in the hills. (Musharraf seems to be helping them hide. And why wouldn't he?)

She believed in democracy. She hated terrorism. She embraced the ideal of peace. Read here.

Rest well, Benazir Bhutto. You gave all women hope, in the way Indira Ghandi gave all women hope, that we may one day lead this human race to a place of human respect for each other. Rest well, Benazir Bhutto, with flowers draped upon your body, and know that your sacrifice was not entirely in vain.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

U.S. Military: Defenders of Freedom and of "Normal" Genitals

I had about two seconds this morning between grading final essays (tomorrow I move on to the stack of final exams) to take a peek at Andrew Sullivan's blog, where I found this gem. The United States military, in its infinite wisdom, not only doesn't allow gay/lesbian soldiers into its ranks, but if anyone happens to not have intact genitalia or fully "normal" reproductive function, sorry no! You cannot join up and fight to defend our country's sometimes ridiculous policies. (Hey, and maybe that's a good thing.) According to Hilzoy, here is a list of stuff from the Army's Standards of Medical Fitness that will keep you right out of the military:

*Women who experience unusually heavy menstrual bleeding, or bleeding at irregular intervals, or no periods at all.

*Women born without a uterus.

*In men, "Current absence of one or both testicles, either congenital (752.89) or undescended (752.51) is disqualifying."

*And, for both men and women: "History of major abnormalities or defects of the genitalia such as change of sex (P64.5), hermaphroditism, pseudohermaphroditism, or pure gonadal dysgenesis (752.7) or dysfunctional residuals from surgical correction of these conditions is disqualifying."

So let's get this straight. If a woman has, say, fibroid tumors--and that is incredibly common--she can't sign up. If a guy has, say, an undescended testicle, which affects nothing other than lowering his fertility, he can't sign up.

I wonder what the policy is for soldiers fighting in Iraq who, say, get a testicle blown off?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Most Interesting CD of 2007

I don't buy too many CDs anymore since I tend to download singles from Itunes to my Ipod. But I had to purchase Raising Sand because of the unusual pairing of two polar opposites: bluegrass music's sweetheart, Alison Krause, and rock-n-roll's honeydripper, Robert Plant. Let me first say this isn't the Robert Plant who fronted Led Zeppelin, screeching "Whole Lotta Love." This is a much softer Robert Plant, whom Krause actually had to teach to sing harmony. He pulls it off beautifully, never overshadowing her. You'd think the two had been singing together for years.

Then again, rock and roll has definite blues roots, and many of these songs are blues standards, such as the first track, "Rich Woman." However, Krause and Plant's reinterpretation of the song is downright eerie. It's because they sing the song gently and almost happily, yet the lyric is anything but, and the music is almost sinister sounding, with a hissing snare drum and a stalking bass. It sounds like something out of a spy film from the 60s or 70s when something bad is just about to happen. Yet the disparity between the singing and the music ends up working at the very end when, with Plant's delivery of the last lines, you hear him change the tone to one of regret. Or perhaps one of feeling trapped. It's hard to say, precisely. But someone woke up to their unhappiness. The effect is mesmerizing, fascinating, and you have to listen to it again.

The CD's producer is none other than T Bone Burnett, of O Brother, Where Art Thou? fame. Though if you loved that album, don't expect that same kind of rollicking bluegrass or gospel. I keep looking for words to describe this album: dark, haunting, dreamlike. Above all, it is interesting and a must listen.

My favorite tracks (so far) are "Rich Woman"; "Killing the Blues"; "Through the Morning, Through the Night"; and "Let Your Loss Be Your Lesson." But truly, this intelligent album doesn't have a single poor track. Watch out for this one at the Grammys.

UPDATE: Upon more listenings, I have this to add: the one track that is actually nominated for a Grammy this year is the one I dislike most. It's a cover of the Everly Brothers' "Gone, Gone, Gone." Probably the reason the song creeps me out a little is that Robert Plant's vocal makes him sound like Elvis. On the other hand, this was the only track eligible for the 2008 Grammy Awards in Feb. (Don't ask me to explain the rules.) The rest of the CD will be eligible for 2009's Grammys.

There is also another track on the CD that I'm adding to my list of favorites: "Please Read the Letter." Upon reading the liner notes, I see Jimmy Page and Robert Plant had a hand in writing this one. The buildup to the chorus is awesome.

Survivor: China

I haven't posted much about Survivor this season because I got bored with it early on, but I have actually managed to see all the episodes. Not too surprisingly, the alliance of Todd-Amanda-Courtney-Denise made it to the final four, although Denise blundered by not allying with Pei Gee, guaranteeing herself a spot in the final three. Denise stuck to her word (no one else ever does in this game) and, I suppose, was hoping she'd win immunity; her ethical play would then win her the game. Wrong. You'd think she'd know "the good guy" hardly ever wins Survivor.

I actually thought when Amanda won immunity, she'd win the game because Courtney irritated a lot of people and Todd was known as a slippery snake. Amanda flew pretty much under the radar and even won immunity twice through her own smarts and athleticism. She deserved to win. But she blew it during the final Tribal Council. Maybe it was just nerves, but I've never seen anyone so inarticulate. She couldn't really give a good reason why she should win over the other two; unlike the other two, when invited by Jaime to criticize them, she found her tongue and blasted the other two, and they did not repay her in kind; and when asked what was the riskiest thing she'd done in the game, she admitted that it had been her idea to vote out James. Eric pointed out that wasn't so risky, so her answer didn't impress, AND it lost her James's vote.

So who won? Todd, of course. Being good at scheming and manipulating makes for a winner in Survivor. He is also very well spoken. He got all the votes, except 1 went to Amanda and 2 went to Courtney.

There's one other thing worth commenting on, and that's Denise. Despite her mullet, I had kind of wound up liking her somewhat just because she was the underdog and really wasn't backstabbing anybody. But then things fell apart for her a bit in the last episode. When it was clear she was probably going to be voted out, she got pouty and whiney. I disliked how she tried to guilt trip Amanda into voting out Todd. "You guys have your whole lives in front of you, and what do I have? I have to go back to my seven-dollar-an-hour job as the school lunch lady." I just think "Poor Me" isn't a good reason to win a game. Besides all that, Denise has a husband and kids (or at least one kid anyway), so what was that all about? I wonder how they feel about her "I've got nothing" speech.

But then it turned out that when Denise got home, the school wouldn't give her her old job back (the fact that she'd been on Survivor would be "too distracting" for the kids). So they gave her a job as a janitor working after hours, so Denise hasn't been able to see much of her family. You could say her life's worse now because of Survivor.

So, what did producer Mark Burnett decide to do on the spur of the moment? He gave $50,000 to Denise to help her get back on her feet. Nice of Burnett; and good for Denise; but ... I have to wonder how all the other competitors feel about it.

Oh, well. February sees a new season (the 16th! Holy cow!) and it could be a good one. Apparently it'll be Survivor "Super Fans" taking on a team of Survivor "All Stars." As long as I don't have to see Johnny Fairplay or Rob and Am-buh, I'll be happy.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Jodie Foster Comes Out

We've all known forever, but thank you, honey, for finally coming out. Here's a photo of Jodie and her partner, Cydney.

Pope Sez Gay Marriage Threatens World Peace

Is a bear holy? Does the Pope sh*t in the woods? Apparently this one does. He likes to poo all over the rights of gay people and women. Da Pope thinks the major threats to world peace, among other things, according to the Pew Forum, are "abortion, birth control and same-sex marriage." This is contained in a 15-page document entitled "The Human Family, a Community of Peace," a papal message for the World Day of Peace, which will be observed Jan. 1.

Da Pope saith: "Everything that serves to weaken the family based on the marriage of a man and woman, everything that directly or indirectly stands in the way of its openness to the responsible acceptance of new life ... constitutes an objective obstacle on the road to peace," Benedict writes.

For me, this represents just more general Papal BULL. Yo, Pope. What really threatens world peace? Get out a pad and take some notes: Religious fanaticism does. (More wars have been fought in the name of God than any other kind of war on this planet.) Inequality based on race, economic status, gender, sexual orientation, and so on, does, or will, in the same way unfair taxation without representation did. (People don't like to be oppressed.) A nutjob President taking advice from a power and money-hungry Fascist VP does. But I doubt very seriously a 40 year-old mom, who already has 5 grown kids and she and her husband can't afford another, so they decide to abort, threatens world peace. And I doubt it very much that my desire to wed my partner threatens world peace.

Keep yer rosaries off'n our ovaries, and keep your Sithian nose outta my bedroom.

Hat tip to Shakes.
Tiger Woods Putts Baby Into Diaper

The Onion

Tiger Woods Putts Baby Into Diaper

ORLANDO, FL—Tiger Woods added yet another accomplishment to his already outstanding résumé Sunday when the 13-time major winner successfully putted his baby daughter, five-month-old Sam Alexis Woods, into a fresh Huggies...

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Sea Lion Visits San Carlos

My partner called me yesterday afternoon and said, "So did you see that a sea lion was blocking traffic in San Carlos?" Naturally I figured she was pulling my leg. "Oh sure. And a rhinoceros was one block over!" "No, seriously," she said. "Look online at the Mercury News."

So I did, and she was right. Yes, a baby sea lion somehow managed to work its way up through a slough from San Francisco Bay (San Carlos is just south of where I live--the gym where I work out is in San Carlos, just off Old County Road, which, it turns out, was the street the sea lion was blocking). Now, there are deer that run around here all the time, especially up in the hills--if I go running, say, in Pulgas Ridge, I'll sometimes see whole herds of deer. When I used to live up on Winding Way in San Carlos, there was actually a six-point buck who camped out in our backyard for a couple of weeks. So, spotting a deer running around San Carlos is no big deal.

However, a sea lion is a different matter! Unheard of 'til now.

Well, fortunately, they caught the little guy and transported him to the Marine Mammal Center, where they'll keep him 'til they know he's fine and can fend for himself. Then they'll release him. Here's hoping he makes his way over to Pier 39 and shares his story with all his pals.

Creationism vs. Darwinism

Follow this link to something cool. It's an animated split-screen movie about our origins. (Select "duelity" to get the split-screen version.) One side shows the creationists' view; the other side shows the Darwinists' view. What's interesting (and unexpected, and funny) is that the creationists' side is narrated using scientific jargon and the Darwinists' side is narrated using Biblical language.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Women's Equality in Iran

I'm happy that Iran isn't building the nuclear bomb Our Dimwitted Preznit has been blustering about, but that doesn't change the fact that Iran is still a tremendous violater of human rights. (I've always supported Amnesty International, although lately I feel like a hypocrite in doing so when my own country is violating the Geneva Conventions by torturing suspected terrorists.) Anyway, what I'm speaking of is Iran's treatment of women.

I've lately gotten around to reading Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran, which is a marvelous memoir. Aside from being about the transformative power of fiction, it reports on the religious fanaticism that has overtaken Iran. The book is uplifting, sad, and maddening. The situation in Iran has not gotten better for women. They are being imprisoned for doing nothing more than, say, taking part in a women's rights rally. Just this past Saturday, Jelveh Javaheri was arrested for creating the website We4Change, which promotes women's rights in Iran. According to Feministing, Tehran has now taken to setting up women-run police stations to arrest other women who, for example, wear "tight, short coats and skimpy headscarves." Lashings for arrested women are common.

So, visit We4Change. Add your signature to their One Million Signatures Campaign, which is seeking to gather signatures calling for the change of discriminatory laws in Iran.

Dick Cheney Loses His Mind

From Politico:
Vice President Cheney today predicted Iraq will be a self-governing democracy by the time he leaves office, calling the current U.S. surge strategy “a remarkable success story” that will be studied for years to come.
You betcha! And after he waves his magic wand three times and sprinkles me with fairy dust, I'll win Mega Millions.

Shades of Larry Craig

George Clooney congratulates Julia Roberts on her CMT award, but watch out ... Brad Pitt's in the next stall.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Somethinaboutlaura does it again!

We couldn't make it to Golden Gate Fields yesterday to see the race (the first race, no less!), but needless to say, Somethinaboutlaura made every other horse in the field look like a maiden. It was clear from watching the tape today on Sam Spears' show that jockey Russell Baze didn't ask her for very much, and she crossed the wire under a hand ride.

(We're guessing the Pacific Heights Stakes was the first race yesterday because it is, after all, the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Big Game commenced at 4:00. Congrats, Stanford, for getting the Stanford Axe back from Cal after six years. We were rootin' for you guys.)

Anyway. Somethinaboutlaura is a remarkable girl, having won 17 of 30 races, two of which were graded stakes. She's also amazingly versatile, winning races on dirt, turf, and, now synthetic track (Tapeta Footings). The great news is that the plan, according to trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, is that she has only one more race to compete in--the Sunshine Millions. Then, the owners plan to sell her as a broodmare.

I hope she remains sound.

If not, she's got a home already. You see that muddy horse below? Udamanmatt? That's Somethinaboutlaura's full brother. Mr. U's owner tells me Laura's got a home, whenever she needs one.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

What Horses Do When They Retire

They go for a roll in the mud. Then they expect you to curry them for an hour.

This is Udamanmatt, who ran at Oak Tree but is now living high on the hog with his new mommy Karen, thanks to Thoroughbred Friends.

I've already extolled the virtues of GEVA in Sonoma, but if you're feeling generous today, they can always use your help as well. Keep on the lookout for a profile of them on Bay Area Backroads.