Monday, October 31, 2005

Sixth Birthday -- Toy Stories

Birthday party for my six-year-old on Saturday -- we had about a half-dozen five- and six-year-olds running around the house for about two hours.

Now I know how hostages must feel after they're released.

Halloween costumes were the wardrobe -- we ended up with a Buzz Lightyear, a dog, a pirate, two Batmans and two Spidermans.

All the toys were of a similar theme -- Mighty Freerange Nugent Morphin' Teenage Action Megazoid Robot Combat Heroes, or something.

And why, oh why, do all these toys have to come with a ba-zillion microscopic pieces that get lost the instant the package is opened?

Anyway, the kids had fun, and I suppose that's all that really matters.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Plame Grand Jury Serves Up Nothingburger


Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald had VP aide Scooter Libby charged with forgetting when he first heard Valerie Plame's name, CNN ostensibly reports.

That's the substance of the five-count indictment delivered today -- no charges that either Libby or Karl Rove leaked Plame's secret CIA identity to reporters.

Why indict anyone at all? Well you don't spend two years and a kajillion dollars on an investigation without indicting SOMEONE for SOMETHING.

A pity for Libby, and to Fitzgerald's shame.

The crux of the charges is that Libby's own notes indicate he knew about Plame earlier than he testified.

Heck, most people can't remember what they had for dinner last night (uh, chicken and kielbasa, french fries and a green salad. And cupcakes for dessert -- it was my youngest son's birthday).

Grill anyone relentlessly on the details of things happening up to two years ago and they're bound to err somewhere in their recollection.

(Hint: If Libby were truly trying to lie, don't you think he would have edited his own notes?)

Having worked for and with the media for more than 20 years I can tell it's a standard and fairly transparent practice to slide something out on a Friday afternoon if you've got nothing and hope no one will notice.

Fitzpatrick says the investigation will continue, much like O.J.'s search for the "real" killer, no doubt.

Make no mistake, this is a complete failure for Fitzgerald, for former Ambassador Joe Wilson and anti-Bush factions.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

News Shocker: Russia and France Deep in Saddam's Pocket!

A report released today indicates that 4,700 companies participating in the Oil-For-Food program made massive kickbacks to Saddam Hussein, the New York Times says.

And most of the companies benefiting from the resulting sweetheart deals for oil were from -- France and Russia.

You know, the "we don't really think there's a very good reason to invade Iraq" France and Russia.

Okay, so maybe not much of a surprise.

Still trying to figure out how the Germans missed out on all that boodle.

Also implicated in the scandal -- although not in this latest report -- are officials of the U.N. themselves as well as family members, including the son of U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan.

Interesting also to note that while oil was flowing out of Iraq and money was flowing into Saddam's pocket, 5,000 children under the age of five were starving to death every month -- children who were supposed to be fed through the Oil-For-Food Program.

In case you were wondering why we're in Iraq, there's another reason.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

American Deaths in Iraq: In Perspective

The number of American servicemen and women killed in Iraq has passed the 2,000 mark, the Associated Press reports.

We owe every single one of them a tremendous debt of gratitude -- their courageous sacrifices are bringing freedom to oppressed people and making our nation and our world safer from terrorism.

What's perhaps most startling to me, though, is not how high the number of deaths is, but how low compared to other conflicts and events.

A few examples:

-- There were roughly 8.5 million soldiers killed in World War I

-- Eighty-four million people were killed in World War II
-- Fourteen hundred American soldiers and sailors were killed in the D-Day
-- In the rehearsal for D-Day, 800 soldiers were killed
-- On Iwo Jima, 6,800 Americans were killed.

-- There were 4,400 American battle deaths in the American Revolution

-- There were close to 500,000 Union and Confederate deaths during the Civil War

-- There were 35,000 servicemember deaths during the Korean War

-- There were 58,000 American deaths during the Vietnam War

These numbers in no way diminish the loss of American servicemen and women in Iraq. But they do illustrate that the cost of freedom is never cheap and is often much more expensive.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Quagmire's Constitution

Iraq has a constitution, Reuters reports, in a story headlined "Iraq voters approve U.S.-backed Constitution."

I love that -- U.S.-backed. Like it's a curse word.

"Those dirty, rotten, no good, #$@%&$*! Americans -- forcing freedom, justice and democracy on people who don't want it."

Or, are they implying, don't deserve it?

Reuters says the voting split typically along sectarian lines -- Kurds and Shiites overwhelmingly in favor, Sunnis overwhelmingly opposed.

Sunnis leaders also typically denounced the results, took their ball and went home. Or, more likely, took their explosive belt and went to the closest market or mosque.

Don't know what the deal is with these Sunnis. If the whole thing unravels into full-scale civil war, they will likely be the losers. They make up only 20 percent of the population and occupy the most resource-poor part of the country.

Even I can do that math -- does the name "Custer" mean anything to them.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Stupid White People

Take two -- Blogger missfired. I was GONNA blog about the Brazilians overwhelmingly rejecting proposed gun control legislation, but then I saw this about Nazi pop-rockers in California (thanks, Scott C)

Lynx and Lamb Gaede may look like pre-legal Olsen Twins, but the twin 13-year-olds sing pop tunes laced with white power and racist lyrics, performing under the name "Prussian Blue."

Mom kicks it homeschool with this crap. Dad sports swastikas. And the youngsters sing about it.

Great, that's just great.

I hate Bakersfield Nazis. Especially when they do this to their kids

I guess it just proves that not all American Idiots are Michael Moore or members of Green Day.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Two for Personal Responsbility

Two big wins in Congress this week for personal responsibility.

First, Congress approved a bill saying crime victims can't sue gun makers and dealers if criminals use guns to commit crimes, unless there is direct criminal or negligent behavior by the makers or sellers, AP reports.

For example, if a manufacturer ships a gun to a dealer, who legally sells it to someone, and the gun is then stolen and used in the crime, the manufacturer and the dealer are not liable.

If the maker or dealer were to sell the guns illegally, however, they would be.

Score one for common sense.

Also, the House of Representatives passed a bill saying people who eat too many cheeseburgers and get fat cannot sue the fast food restaurants that sold the burgers, Reuters reports.

Now, if McDonald's sold the burgers illegally...

No, that's just silly.

No bill in the Senate yet, and a similar bill failed last year.

Babysteps, babysteps.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

SUV Sales Slump

Bloomberg reports that Ford is showing a slump SUV sales in response to gas prices, possibly putting a crimp in earnings.

This appears to validate the trend for the industry, and it's probably just as well.

It may force the carmakers to make more fuel-efficient vehicles or cars that use alternative fuels like gasohol.

Before anyone accuses me of being a quiche-eating, dirt-worshipping treehugger, let me say there is a strategic reason for this (beyond the environmental concerns, which I do believe are valid).

The Chinese and Indian economies are growing at a phenomenal rate and with that growth comes a voracious, growing appetite for petroleum-based fuels. Within 10 years, we're going to be head-to-head with them for petroleum, with the product going to the highest bidder.

So it's a good time for us to be decreasing our dependency on petroleum now, by developing more fuel-efficient vehicles and alternative fuels.

And don't tell me it's too hard and too expensive -- gasohol (20 percent gasoline, 80 percent alcohol) is actually cheaper than gasoline and they're doing it in Brazil, where 80 percent of the vehicles can use either gasoline or gasohol.

Ethanol-based fuels also come from renewable resources -- you can make it from corn, wheat, rice, sugar cane, virtually anything you can make sugar from.

We should have started doing this years ago, but consumers were to complacent and didn't demand it, so the carmakers didn't do anything about it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

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Checking the Vote

Officials are checking unusually high vote tallies in some districts within Iraq from the plebiscite on the national constitution, the Associated Press reports.

While democracy-haters here and abroad will use this to label the whole election a sham, some things for the rational to consider:

-- That some irregularities may have occured is not unusual in any election, particularly in a country so new to democracy, where stuffing the ballotbox was formerly the national pastime;

-- The fact that anyone is even examing the results is progress in a country like Iraq -- actual checks and balances, as opposed to the openly fixed "elections" conducted by Saddam;

-- Those in favor had little to gain from cheating, since the polls showed that the constitution would pass overwhelmlingly anyway -- Kurds and Shiites, who make up 80 percent of the popultion, favor the constitution by a large margin:

-- On the other hand, Sunni factions opposed to the constitution have everything to gain from crying "foul" and trying to spoil the election.

We'll see where this goes, but I doubt the results will be overturned.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Bad News from Iraq

...if you're an antiwar freak, that is.

Reuters is reporting that voting has been relatively peaceful and sucessful, with few terrorist attacks.

Even the U.N. -- those incredibly spineless, dictator-colluding, oil-for-food program cheats -- called the elections "incredibly peaceful."

Some bullying, pushing and shoving has been reported in Sunni areas, but that's pretty much to be expected -- they lost power when Saddam was ousted. They stand to lose more, though, if the constitution isn't approved, which is why some Sunni leaders have actually encouraged their followers to vote in favor of it.

Meanwhile, in the maddog antiwar camp, activists expressed dismay over the results.

"I was hoping for a few more carbombings, maybe a public beheading or two, just to discourage the voters," said Miranda "Midge" Kerfloffle, co-chairperson of the United for Peace and Justice Every Other Tuesday Womyn's Brunch Collective. "*Sigh* I don't know what to do -- freedom will spread through the Middle East and my beloved terrorists will have no support and nowhere to hide. That would mean George Bush was right, and I can't bear the thought of that."

Okay, I totally made the quote up.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Head Cases: The Good and the Bad

....we'll leave out the ugly for now.

I love headlines. I love reading them. I love writing them.

It's kind of an artform -- with just a few short words, a well-crafted, clever headline can draw the reader in quickly.

Or not.

That brings me -- again -- to the front page of my own Danbury News-Times today, which contained a real mixture of good and not-so-good heads.

Top of the page was a story about the effects of our recently rainy spell titled:

"Serious Flooding Fails To Materialize"

Boy...that's a little underwhelming. Kind of falls in the same category as "Man DOESN'T Bite Dog" and "School Board Tables Resolution."

No inspiration there? How about "Town Escapes Flooding" Or "Don't Build That Ark"?

They did better farther down the page.

There was "Illegal Fireworks Case Still Sizzling," about a guy around the corner from me who got boosted this summer for having, like, a ton of fireworks at his house.

And, on the story I wrote about this morning (below), there was "Face Off" with the subhead "Ridgefield GOP Web site showed Democratic women as hags, Republicans as beautiful."

Dem's some Senstive Dems

My local newspaper, the Danbury News-Times, ran a front-page story today about a Web page put up by a radio commenator Neil Boortz showing flattering pictures of attractive female GOP members, contrasted with some rather horrible pictures of Democratic women.

(I know the image at left is hard to see -- you can see it full-size here.)

Some local Republicans apparently linked to the images, and that has local Dems all a-dither.

Okay, okay, I love this -- this is my imitation of the local Democratic reaction:

*lower lip quivering* (sniff) You're being really, really mean to us!

Granted, this is pretty hamhanded stuff -- not to my taste.

In fact, I'll go as far as to say I think this stuff is pretty counterproductive and adds nothing of substance to the political dialogue. That's why I don't listen to folks like Boortz or Rush Limbaugh or the like.

But this is a clear case of whose ox has been gored. I mean, when did the Dems become so thin-skinned?

These are the same people who hosted a NY fundraiser a year ago where celebrity after celebrity mounted the stage and shrieked obscenities at George Bush. The best part -- at the end Johns Kerry and Edwards got up and espoused their belief in "strong American values."

And these same Democrats sent 100,000 howling imbeciles into the streets of New York City last year with the express intent of disrupting the Republican National convention.

But they get upset about an unflattering Web site.

And if you think those are isolated occurences, give a daily listen to the crap spewing from Air America.

Message to Dems: Get a grip. Unbunch those petticoats. And try not to be so overly sensitive AND hypocritical.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Chopper Aid to Pakistan

U.S. assistance to earthquake-ravaged Pakistan could help improve America's image in South Asia, just as it did in Indonesia after the tsunami earlier this year, reports The Washington Post.

So far about $50 million in U.S. aid has gone to earthquake relief, some of it in the form of 38 American military helicopters being brought in from Afghanistan to fly in supplies and evacuate injured Pakistanis to hospitals.

We're not providing aid to improve our image -- we're doing it because of who we are. But if we get a little image uplift along the way, that can't be a bad thing.

That we're providing such aid to countries with large Muslim populations tends to undercut claims by Muslim extremist organizations like Al Qaida that America is an enemy of Islam.

Important to note, so far Al Qaida has sent no helicopters or any other assistance to their brothers and sisters in Pakistan.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Anyone for New Band?

Reports are coming out that the DeLeo brothers of STP have formed a new group with Filter singer Richard Patrick and David Lee Roth drummer Ray Luzier.

No word yet on when their CD will be out, but the presumptive name of the new band is Army of Anyone.

Rob DeLeo is one of my favorite bass players, and I love Dean's guitar playing, so I'm looking forward to what they'll come up with.

The suckiest job at the New York Times...

...has to be that of Public Editor Byron Calame. His job is to restore the public 's faith in the credibility of the Times by being the reader's advocate -- if you see something not right (or wrong) in the Times, he's the guy you go to to set things right.

One would think that the editorial staff would, therefore, see him as an ally -- someone who's looking out for the longstanding reputation of their beloved institution.

One would be wrong.

Read this recent column by Calame, discussing calls for a correction on a story about, of all people, Geraldo Rivera and whether he "nudged" someone out of the way to help a disabled person in New Orleans after the hurricane.

The discussion itself is amusing enough -- heck, anything with Rivera and the New York Times in it together is gonna be darn funny. But what's particularly telling is how the Times editorial staff treats Calame.

Reporter Alessandra Stanley refuses to review the videotapes of the alleged incident with Calame. Mind you, these are the very tapes that will determine whether or not she got it right or wrong.

Editor Bill Keller replies derisively -- via email -- that no correction is warranted, implying that because of who Rivera is (an obnoxious, grandstanding loudmouth -- my words, not Keller's) and his violent reaction to the story, anything he does is open to interpretation.

Translation -- you can say anything you want about people you don't like without regard to the actual facts if you're the New York Times.

Pretty disturbing. In the wake of the various journalistic lapses and calamities that have occurred over the past few years -- including at the New York Times -- you'd think the editorial staff would take their credibility and reputation more seriously, that they would view Calame as a protector and friend.

Somehow, I imagine Calame spends a lot his noon hours sitting alone at the lunchtable.

No wonder trust in the traditional media is in continuous decline.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Eden Delivers!

So I got a call from the Guitarhangar on Friday -- turns out Eden had shipped a brand-new 15" speaker to replace the one I blew a couple weeks ago.

I picked it up on Saturday, took it home and installed it in the cabinet -- just like new. Broke it in for a few hours, playing through it and then running a line from a boombox at a moderate volume -- Eden recommends this, to seat the voice coil and work off any rough edges.

Used it last night and it sounded great.

Very impressed with the service -- I expected Eden to recone the blown speaker and send it back, which would have been within their rights under the warranty. Sending a new speaker was above and beyond and much appreciated.

Thanks to Rick at Guitarhangar for taking care of the return (and interceding with Eden) and to Eden for great service -- they obviously care about what they make and sell.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Agenda? What Agenda?

Low polling scores for the president, the War on Terror, the Tom Delay and Bill Frist ethics squabbles, and handling of Hurricane Katrina have all caused trouble for the Republicans, writes Gloria Borger in U.S. News and World Report this week.

You'd think the Democrats could make some serious hay and major headway in that kind of environment, but they aren't.

Why? Because they offer no meaningful, intelligent alternative, says Gloria.

"Today's Democratic agenda is somewhere between hate for George W. Bush and disdain for George W. Bush," she says."That's not enough for a party looking to revive itself as a governing entity. People already know what they are voting against; they need to know what they're voting for."

In the next elections, as many as 70 seats in Congress could be up for grabs, and the next presidential election is anything but a sure thing.

But unless the Dems can get their feet under them, I don't think they have much of a shot.

Consider that they've elected Howlin' Howard Dean -- the man THEY decided was too crazy to be president -- as their party chief. His first public statement after taking the post was "I hate Republicans and everything they stand for."

Yeah, that's some real intelligent, progressive thinking there. You betcha.

And they consider their best hope for the presidency to be Hillary Clinton -- yeah, like that's gonna happen.

Oh, back to the president's poll numbers -- boy, isn't it refreshing to have a president who doesn't manage his decisions by the fickle polls, but instead does what he thinks is right?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

PeaceNik Shocker: Iraqis WANT Democracy!

Polling shows that 79 percent of Iraqis favor the new constitution being written by their first democratically elected government since whenever, reports Reuters.

The polls showed that even among Sunnis approval runs at 50 percent, indicating that the political split between Sunnis and Shiites might not be as bad as previously believed.

The story continues that Iraqis are weary of both the sectarian infighting and the violence commited by Al Qaeda terrorists, and simply want to have a stable government and to live in peace.

Antiwar activists expressed shock, anger, confusion and grief at the news.

"Why, we just generally assumed Iraqis LIKED being murdered, brutalized and tortured by the sadistic maniacs," said Richard "Woot" Slakey, spokesman for A.N.S.W.E.R. "I mean, who wouldn't want their 12-year-old daughter raped by a platoon of the Saddam Fedayeen? Huh, by golly, it's a puzzler."

"It seems pretty clear that the Iraqis have been duped by zionist-aggressor American occupiers into accepting this so-called "constitution" in a pathetic attempt to establish a "free" country," said Clarette Blivious, member of the Community Brunch Committee of United for Peace and Justice. "You'd think they'd have been content to be slaves under the boot of a vicious dictator, citizens of a rogue, outlaw nation that oppressed its minorities, supported global terror and hid illegal chemical and biological weapons. But NOOOOOOOOOO...they make me sick!"

Other "peace" activists reported such symptoms as dizziness, headache, plantar warts, anemia, uncontrollable weeping, serious doubt about the moral rightness of their views, and projectile diarrhea.

Note: I made up everything after the third paragraph.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Cars Suck -- Chrysler T&C In for Repairs

Got the wife's van in for repairs today -- bad news, needs a steering rack and power steering pump.

Gonna be $1,100 and take at least two days to get the parts and complete the repair.

This on a 2001 Chrysler Town & Country AWD minivan that's been treated like a baby -- I have assiduously followed the maintenance schedule for this car. And it's only got 77K miles on it.

My opinion of Chrysler has been greatly diminished by this vehicle. In the four years we've owned it, it's been in for a long series of repairs that I can only attribute to poor engineering and selection of inadequate materials.

Lessee, there was the armrest that snapped off, and the cupholders in the back that broke within the first month.

We had a seat brace on the driver's seat break and a Macpherson strut that leaked, but they were covered under warranty, so no sweat.

Then there was the oxygen sensor that burned out when the cable came loose and shorted out against the exhaust manifold. I think that was couple-three hundred bucks.

There was the power window actuator on the driver's door -- another $250 or so.

There's also a power lock solenoid on one of the rear doors that only works intermittently -- can't wait to find out what that's gonna cost.

And did I mention this thing goes through tires and brakes like I go through toilet paper?

We also own a '94 Dodge Caravan, 150K + miles and still runs like a top -- it's up on blocks right now, waiting for my daughter to get her license. Never had a lick of trouble from that other than normal maintenance. I did have to replace the tranny at 120K miles, but hey, what do expect from a car that old.

Can't figure what Chrysler did between 1994 and 2001 to diminish the quality of its vehicles, but I'll bet it could be summed up as: cost cutting.

I'll tell ya, I'm thinking one word for the next time I buy a van, and it's not "Chrysler."

It's "Toyota."

Monday, October 03, 2005

Tragedy at Lake George

Twenty-one people killed, many of them senior citizens, when a tour boat capsized on Lake George yesterday, Newsday reports.

It's still not clear what happened, but the supposition is that the boat hit the wake of a larger boat.

We used to visit Lake George occasionally when we lived up in the Albany, NY, area -- swimming, boating, and we even took one of the scenic boat tours once, although not on the boat that flipped over.

So sad and tragic.