Friday, December 31, 2004

The Traditional Southern New Year's Day Dinner

I never knew there was such a thing as a traditional New Year's Day dinner menu until I married Mr. Andante.

Until then, the traditional New Year's Day dinner for our family was another one of Mom's attempts to disguise Christmas turkey leftovers.

But apparently that won't do; it won't do at all - at least, not in the Red States.

Hog jowls are the star of the menu. I was just as reluctant to try them as I was to try frog legs - they don't sound very appetizing.

Hog jowls are seriously in need of a classier sounding name - like caviar instead of "fish eggs", because hog jowls are actually very good.

Looking for the rationale behind hog jowls, I found this:

Pork is traditional because the New Year is a time to look forward and a hog can not look back.

If you've ever considered starting your own blog, I can think of no better reason than hogs not being able to look backwards. It's amazing what sort of information you can dredge up with Google, and it never hurts to increase your store of useless knowledge.

I'm all for looking forward, but taking judicious looks backward has it's advantages, too. Just ask the hog.

I'm not sure why jowls, and not pork chops or ham or a yummy rack of spare ribs or a nice pork roast - along with everything else, the price of hog jowls has soared.

I'll hazard a guess that at one time, jowls were cheap because - well, who would buy them?

Hog jowls are sure to be on the "forbidden" list of any diet. Think of extra-thick slices of bacon with extra fat and extra salt. The blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight go up about 20% just by purchasing a pack of jowls.

Next on the menu is "greens", which at the in-law's house means "collard". I will eat collard greens if they are mixed with other greens - like kale, mustard, turnip or spinach - but collard greens by themselves are very trying on my taste buds and innards.

My favorite greens tend to be found in a Caesar salad, but unfortunately that's not on the traditional New Year's Day dinner.

Traditionally, collard greens (or any other kind, for that matter) are boiled to within an inch of their life, then sauteed in a bit of hog jowl grease and given a healthy helping of salt and pepper.

Eating greens on New Year's Day is supposed to guarantee you plenty of money in the new year. It never worked for me, but collard greens always inspire me to buy a bottle of Pepto Bismol so I guess someone is making money.

The only reason I can think of to eat collard greens is to kill the taste of blackeyed peas.

Blackeyed peas are evil little buggers that smell bad and taste worse. There's some sort of reason to include them on the menu - something like happiness or good luck or maybe more money; I don't remember, and I don't care. I don't eat blackeyed peas.

There is some sort of penalty for NOT eating the traditional southern New Year's Day dinner, but it couldn't be any worse than the menu.

The next time you're wondering why the Red States vote Republican, have higher divorce, abortion, and domestic abuse rates, and suck more money from the federal government than the Blue States, just think about that Traditional Southern New Year's Day Dinner.

You'd be cranky, too, if you had to start the year off with Pepto Bismol and Bean-o.

Oh - and Happy New Year!


Thursday, December 30, 2004

Read it and weep

The year that should have been.

Spain's Government Approves Gay Marriage Bill

Spain's socialist government on Friday approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriages, putting this predominantly Roman Catholic country on course to become only the third European country to recognize gay matrimony.

Under the bill, homosexuals would be allowed to adopt children and same-sex couples will be able to inherit from one another as well as receive retirement benefits from their working spouses just as heterosexual married couples do.

Probably scared into it by the terrorists.


Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Preemptive strike

Here's a thought...

Could we take some of those zillions of dollars earmarked to protect veggie farmers in Arkansas from bioterrorism and call it "terrorism prevention" funds?

Send it to Indonesia and southeast Asia in the form of tsunami aid before Osama starts recruiting from the starving, disgruntled masses?

Good news from Simeulue

It was initally feared the entire population of Simeulue was wiped off the face of the earth.

Thanks to ancient wisdom, Simeulue was spared the worst.

They knew to run on Simeulue, a palm-fringed island closest to the epicentre of Sunday's devastating earthquake.

"Our ancestors have a saying - if there is an earthquake run for your life," Darmili, the mayor of the island, said yesterday. "Thousands of our people were killed by a tsunami in 1907 and we have many earthquakes here."

Only five of 70,000 villagers on Simeulue were killed, all of them in the earthquake that struck at 7.55am last Sunday. Nobody perished in the five-metre-high walls of water that followed.

Those three little special words

Washington GOP demands King County voter list

Republicans are demanding a list of voters in Washington state's most populous county as the party considers a court challenge of Democrat Christine Gregoire's razor-thin victory in the governor's race, officials said Monday.

I've waited a long time for this moment, or something like it.


Man, that felt good.

Smash that lockbox - Wall Street needs our help

You know, I may just change my mind about privatizing Social Security now that I've read the sad stories from Wall Street bankers and traders.

"many Wall Street professionals are urging caution, given that the bonus typically constitutes the majority of their compensation. More than a dozen bankers, all of whom would talk about their spending only on the condition of anonymity, said they were all too aware that the good times could end as quickly as they did after 2000, when a $2.5 million income could turn to $800,000 overnight.

Heck, let's just put ALL the Social Security contributions into Wall Street - these poor folks need all the help they can get.

RIP Detective Lennie Briscoe

Jerry Orbach died Dec. 28, 2004 of prostate cancer, age 69

Social Security for Dummies

First of all, there are millions of people in southeast Asia with precious little society or any security for the foreseeable future. Please give generously to the tsunami aid effort.


Once upon a time, the very wise F.D. Roosevelt administration began a program called "Social Security".

Social Security is a "pay as you go" program.

The money withheld from my paycheck does NOT go to me; it goes to people like my 90-yr old mother and my 50-yr old sister-in-law who is battling the aftereffects of cancer and cannot work.

If any portion of the money I pay into Social Security is invested in something else, my mother and sister-in-law get a smaller benefit.

If any portion of my daughter's future wages is invested elsewhere, I will get a smaller benefit.

The End.

I can't say "...and they lived happily every after", because drawing Social Security or disability isn't exactly like winning the Powerball lottery.

My mother recently received a cost-of-living raise in her monthly benefit - beginning in January 2005, she will receive $949.00 per month.

You cannot rent an apartment in many areas of the country for $949.00 per month.

If you own your home, the utility bills, property taxes, maintenance costs, and homeowner's insurance will eat up that $949.00 per month faster than you can say "Damn Bush".

If you own your home and are able to pay for the above from that $949.00 per month, there are the increased medical bills required by the elderly and disabled.

Oh, yeah - and food.

Alpo ain't cheap, you know.

The facts:

Sixty-four percent of retirees depend on Social Security for half or more of their income.

Twenty-nine percent rely on Social Security for 90 percent or more of their retirement income.

Eighteen percent rely on the program for all their retirement income.

More facts:

Social Security benefits are the only source of income for many elderly women. Twenty-five percent of unmarried women (widowed, divorced, separated, or never married)—versus 20 percent of unmarried men—rely on Social Security benefits as their only source of income.

Even more facts:

The importance of Social Security is increased for older African Americans because they are less likely to have income from private pensions and assets.

Older African Americans, on average, receive more than 44 percent of their total income from Social Security.

African American women over age 65, on average, rely on Social Security for 56.8 percent of their income.

Social Security is the only source of income for one in three African Americans over age 65.

To the privatizing pirates, let me just suggest that this is NOT money you are setting aside for your retirement.

It's the money you contribute to keep American society from totally disintegrating.


Tuesday, December 28, 2004

I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.

The island of Simeulue is a haven for surfers all over the world, the ultimate Indonesian surfing, fishing, and snorkeling resort and home to 100,000 people.

(Simeulue) is close to the epicentre of the earthquake, an island of 100,000 people - all of them unaccounted for and beyond the reach of Indonesia's limited resources.

"We just don't know about them," a government official, Djoko Sumaryono, says of Simeulue. "No contact makes us fearful. We're trying to send helicopters there."

An Australian trying to reach Simeulue yesterday with vital aid and a satellite phone also fears the worst. "There will be people there with nothing, no fuel, no food, no water, nothing at all. The whole place is washed away I'd say," Brian Williams says.

There are no words in the English language to express the magnitude of this tragedy.

Dig deep, people.


Monday, December 27, 2004

Quake Aid

There are a number of groups preparing to provide assistance to the victims of the recent quake & tsunami. I urge you to give, and give generously.

My favorite is Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres -

In response to the earthquake and tsunamis that have devastated parts of South Asia over the past weekend, Doctors Without Borders/Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) is preparing to provide emergency assistance to people affected by the disaster. MSF is readying a full charter of relief supplies for the area of Indonesia closest to the epicentre of the earthquake.

In addition, MSF medical teams are on the ground in Sri Lanka, Thailand, India, Malaysia, Bangladesh, and Myanmar assessing emergency needs and offering assistance. MSF field teams in all countries where MSF is present, including Somalia and Kenya, are also investigating damage from the disaster.

Click on the link above for their home page, or here to donate.

The real super power

Once again, Mother Nature has shown us who is really in charge.

Every time I glance at the news, the Asian earthquake death toll has risen by thousands; as I type this, it's 23,000 and rising.

The "Ring of Fire" scares the crap out of me; particularly any eruptions or quakes around the planet's super volcano areas.

Rather than "only" a column of magma, super volcanoes form a reservoir - a huge, boiling lake of magma below the earth's crust. When the pressure reaches the critical point, the resulting explosion is catastrophic worldwide.

Their is substantial evidence to show that within the time of the super volcano Toba's eruption in the Indonesian Pacific, the world's population of homo sapiens decreased from over one hundred thousand to less than two thousand, basically because global temperatures dropped five degrees for many years. This was within the current interglacial and at its start.

It's not particularly reassuring knowing that one of the largest super volcanoes in the world is located in the United States - Yellowstone National Park.

Scientists have revealed that Yellowstone Park has been on a regular eruption cycle of 600,000 years. The last eruption was 640,000 years ago…so the next is overdue. The next eruption could be 2,500 times the size of the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption. Volcanologists have been tracking the movement of magma under the park and have calculated that in parts of Yellowstone the ground has risen over seventy centimeters this century.

So - eat, drink, and be merry; tomorrow we may witness the end of civilization as we know it. And while you're at it, hold a good thought for the people of Asia and Africa in the path of Mother Nature's fury.


Saturday, December 25, 2004

Christmas day traditions – the good, bad, and ugly

I enjoy reading about the Christmas traditions of others. Michael’s “Confessions of a Christmas Junkie was particularly good, and don’t miss Bobby’s “The Sense of Christmas”.

Our own unique Christmas traditions? I could try to impress you by saying we attend a Christmas morning church service, dine sumptiously, gather around the piano to sing carols, and chat amiably by the roaring Yule log - but our traditions are a mixture of the good, bad, and ugly.

We stagger out of bed far too early, wakened by first-and-only-born child. She’ll be twenty years old in June, but that doesn’t stop her from being excited over the prospect of presents - the earlier they’re opened, the better.

Between gulps of coffee, we tear open the presents, make the appropriate “oo” and “ah” sounds, and try to keep the cats and dogs from running off with stray bits of paper and bows.

Mr. Andante fixes breakfast – this is a GOOD tradition – usually pancakes and sausage. It would be an even better tradition if he or Andantette washed the dishes, but what would Christmas morning be if Mom didn’t wash the dishes, do a load of laundry, dust, make beds, and clean out the cat's litter box?

Mr. Andante settles into his recliner and turns on his favorite Christmas morning television show….which would be anything that happens to be showing on the Western Channel. Today it was Shenandoah, which at least has a nice theme song. Mr. Andante fell asleep about fifteen minutes into the movie.

The child then takes over the remote control, and plays whatever DVD or CD Santa brought her. This year, the joyous, Christmas-y sounds of Britney Spears’ grunting and panting filled the house.

In the afternoon, we go over the river and through the woods to Mr. Andante’s mother’s home, where his five brothers and sisters with their spouses and children have gathered for the annual Food Festival and Gift Orgy.

This year, I’m afraid we started another dubious tradition….caroling. One sister has been ill, and was unable to join us. All sixteen of us piled into one minivan along with plates of food and gifts for her and her husband. .

On the way, one of my dimmer nephews suggested the caroling. We couldn’t agree on a song or a key to sing it in – so we stood outside the ailing sister’s door warbling a wide selection of Christmas songs all at the same time.

Her four little pugs went berserk and had to be confined to a closed room in order for us to get into the house. Not a moment too soon – I saw the cranky old neighbor lady sticking her head out the door and I’m sure she was THAT close to calling the police.

That’s about it – not a particularly pious or nostalgic or heartwarming set of traditions, but they’re ours and we're stuck with them.



Friday, December 24, 2004

Neuharth Call for Pullout in Iraq Draws Massive Response

NEW YORK An E & P report on USA Today founder Al Neuharth’s Thursday column for that newspaper has quickly drawn hundreds of emails. After an early surge against Neuharth, the response became equally divided.

In the column, Neuharth, noting the many soldiers far from home and in harm’s way at Christmas, called for a U.S. pullout from Iraq “sooner rather than later.” Neuharth served in World War II in France, Germany and the Philippines, but suggested that avoiding service in Iraq was proper today. He observed that WW II, on the other hand, was "highly moral" and troops were “properly equipped.”

Of the negative responses, many ran like this:

John Andrew Prime, Military Affairs Reporter, The Times At Shreveport, La.: "With all due respect to Mr. Neuharth, who once led the chain for which I now work, I must say his remarks regarding World War II are off the mark. As for being well-equipped and well-prepared in (WW II) ...that is hogwash. Our soldiers entered it using tin helmets from World War I, 1903 Springfield rifles and in many cases uniforms that still had leggings....Does Mr. Neuharth recall the botched mass bombing in France in July 1944 where our own air forces bombed friendly troops, killing thousands, including Lt. Gen. Leslie McNair, one of the highest-ranking Allied general officer casualties of the war? I am sorry, but as a military reporter and the father of a soldier now over in Iraq, I have to say Mr. Neuharth is talking nonsense."

I'm not a World War II historian, nor was I alive at the time.

But I do remember - from my elementary school history lessons - such things as Victory Gardens to help supply fresh veggies, scrap metal drives for equipment, gas rationing so the military wouldn't go without, War Bonds to pay for it all, and so forth.

Take a gander at the remembrances of Pennsylvanian Robert Collins, radioman second class United States Navy (ret.) on a visit to the new World War Two Memorial in the nation's capital -

Now 78 and wheelchair-bound, Collins remembers joining the Navy at 18 "to avoid the (Army) draft, "only to find himself and his shipmates in the Pacific dodging Kamikaze attacks of Japanese suicide pilots in the campaign for Okinawa." Later would come service in the Korean War. "In the fall of 1950, we built a home and moved in Friday night, and Monday morning I reported back ... we made the first and second invasions of Inchon."

Ask Collins what Americans should remember and value about WWII, and he speaks not of battles but of "the sacrifice of not only the servicemen but also the whole country."


Americans did accept the rationing of sugar, meat, coffee, gasoline, clothing, automobiles, liquor and cigarettes. Citizens were limited to two pairs of shoes a year at a time when walking was more necessary due to federal rules that limited most -- including first lady Eleanor Roosevelt -- to just 3 gallons of gasoline a week.

Because the nation's agricultural produce was dedicated to feeding our troops and allies overseas, civilians in their backyards, on empty corner lots, in public places including Ellis Island and Alcatraz, planted "victory gardens. " Twenty million of them, by the middle of the war, were producing one-third of the nation's fresh vegetables.

The percentage of the total national economy consumed in federal taxes -- to pay for the war -- was increased by 300 percent. Because steel and aluminum were needed for the war effort, tin cans were washed and flattened, tin foil was saved and, in Nebraska, a drive led by the publisher of the Omaha World Herald collected 135 million tons of scrap metal.

Americans of every station, class and profession served and sacrificed. On the day he received his draft notice, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis successfully defended his title, donating his entire purse to the Navy Relief Fund. Baseball Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Bob Feller and Joe DiMaggio all served. So, too, did Hollywood's Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable and Henry Fonda.

The president's four sons all served, and FDR Jr., a Naval officer, was decorated for bravery in the battle of Casablanca. John F. Kennedy's millionaire ambassador-father pulled strings to get JFK in -- not out of -- Navy combat service

The Army lieutenant son of New York's Democratic Gov. Herbert Lehman, Peter, was killed in combat, as was Marine Sgt. Peter Saltonstall, the son of the Massachusetts Republican senator whose Bay State colleague in the Senate, Henry Cabot Lodge, actually resigned from that body to become a tank commander in North Africa. FDR's closest advisor, Harry Hopkins, who lived in the White House, endured the combat death of his 18-year-old son, Stephen.

It is a measure of commitment to victory when an administration asks the citizens to make such across-the-board sacrifices.

The military may have gone into World War II ill-equipped, but the entire nation was mobilised to remedy the situation.

The Bush administration? They've told us to "go shopping", and distracted the electorate with gay marriage.

The only victory they are committed to is accomplished - the reselection of Dubya.

With that "victory" accomplished, it's way past time to get out.

Some people have all the luck

A visit from the jolly old elf

Nothing cheers up a bunch of hot, tired, mortally-endangered human targets than a visit from the master of their disaster.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, on a Christmas Eve mission to cheer up the troops in Iraq, promised them that no matter how bleak things might look at any one moment they will look back on their mission with pride.

``There's no doubt in my mind, this is achievable,'' he told troops in Mosul just three days after the devastating attack on a U.S. military dining hall here.

``When it looks bleak, when one worries about how it's going to come out, when one reads and hears the naysayers and the doubters who say it can't be done, and that we're in a quagmire here,'' one should recall that there have been such doubters ``throughout every conflict in the history of the world,'' he told about 200 soldiers of the 1st Brigade of the 25th Infantry Division at their commander's headquarters.

Special Christmas Eve translation:

The sun'll come out
So ya gotta hang on
'Til tomorrow
Come what may
Tomorrow! Tomorrow!
I love ya Tomorrow!
You're always
A day
A way!

I never liked that song, and Rummy's version isn't an improvement.


Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Bring on the seniors

I've had a complete, total change of mind regarding recalling retired military personnel.

Call them up - the older, the better.

All because of this - Mosul blast hits U.S. hard

A massive lunchtime explosion struck a flimsy mess tent filled with soldiers Tuesday at a military base near Mosul. It was one of the deadliest attacks yet against Americans in Iraq.


A sturdier structure designed to replace the mess is being built at the base, but the work has been plagued by delays. Hastings said workers from KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton, were supposed to have completed it by Christmas.


Gone are the days when men would march fifty miles, construct a bridge across a raging river while under enemy fire, and have it finished by morning.

Those days are gone because the Bush administration thinks the private sector needs a helping hand with their bottom line.

WW II vets - your expertise is needed. Haliburton doesn't have a clue.

Army engineers could have provided a fortified dining hall within minutes of the invasion.

Army cooks could fix and serve crappy food just as well and twice as cheaply as Haliburton.

Army drivers will plow their vehicles through enemy fire and fight back.

If there's any doubt whatsoever what this war is about, it should be dispelled by now.

Out with old wisdom

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

In with the new -

U.S. Cutting Food Aid Aimed at Self-Sufficiency

As a result, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services and other charities have suspended or eliminated programs that were intended to help the poor feed themselves through improvements in farming, education and health.

Fits right in with other Bush administration policies, doesn't it? If it's a policy that has worked since the beginning of time, it must be wrong.


Monday, December 20, 2004

When privatizing isn't privatizing

I've been doing a little research to help out Save Social Security (I urge you to help out).

Here's the blather from my senior Senator's website -

I’ll fight to preserve Social Security benefits and against payroll tax increases. To our seniors on Social Security, I want to be very clear: I will never vote to reduce your benefits. And, no way am I for privatizing Social Security. I support the concept of allowing workers to contribute small portions of their own Social Security in the market because it would negate the need to nearly double payroll taxes on future workers to fund benefits. For instance, if your grandchild wants to voluntarily take a small portion of his or her payroll tax and put it into an investment, such as a diversified index fund in the stock or bond market, like a current 401(k) plan, then so be it. This is not privatization – the government would always administer the program. It is so important that we work now to make Social Security financially stable. We need to have a national dialogue on the future of Social Security that guarantees the benefits that our retirees and near-retirees expect, while ensuring a better return for our children and grandchildren. - Elizabeth Dole

Got that?

NO WAY is she for privatizing Social Security; just letting workers use the teensiest portion of their payroll tax in stocks or bonds.

But that's not privatization.

No, sirree....

So, what's the fuss about?


Saturday, December 18, 2004

Surviving Christmas


I have survived the annual carol service and Christmas pageant. Barely.

The highlight of this year's production? We were upstaged by Mother Nature.

A frigid blast of Canadian air is swooping in on us - temperatures are expected to dip down into the teens, with winds in the "dammit" range. Wind chills will be unspeakable.

Along with the approaching cold front, we had a forerunner of snow flurries, just as the children's "Living Nativity" took place.

All those proud parents snapping photos and video of their little darlings tricked out as shepherds or lambs or Wise Men got pictures of their young 'uns with their mouths wide open to the sky, catching snowflakes on their tongues.

The shepherds totally lost control of the three and four-year-old "lambs", as they frolicked joyously amongst the flakes.

We had a hard time getting hold of amenable livestock this year, but finally ended up with a little donkey, an old nanny goat, and a placid heifer. One fellow enthusiastically offered a couple of hogs, but I turned him down as gracefully as possible.

The carol service was successful; the trumpets soared, the flutes trilled, the organ thundered, and people sang. The Meeting Room (known to other denominations as the "sanctuary") was a forest of poinsettias, softly lit by hundreds of candles.

My wonderful tenor soloist? Hours of coaching paid off; his Latin was very acceptable, and he sounded quite at home with it. I feel like I've given birth.

One more hurdle to scramble over....tomorrow evening is our annual Christmas caroling party, when we roam the countryside, terrorizing the community shut-ins and local nursing home residents.

Last year, it took several songs before anyone appeared at one door. They forgot we were coming, and thought the dogs were howling.

If we don't freeze to death, we'll end up at the beautiful home of one of our merry band, shed several layers of coats and mufflers and mittens, and enjoy some hot cider and other goodies.

So, that's what's up here. After Monday evening and a decent night's sleep, I hope to get back to more regular blogging.

Until then.....keep warm, and my best wishes for happy holidays!

Mixed messages

On the one hand, we have the Medal of Freedom stooges - George "Slam Dunk" Tenant, Tommy "Plenty of Troops" Frank, and Paul "His Majesty, the CEO of Iraq" Bremer.

On the other hand, we have this -
U.S. isn't winning against Iraqi insurgents, agencies warn

The CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department have warned President Bush that the United States and its Iraqi allies aren't winning the battle against Iraqi insurgents who are trying to derail the country's Jan. 30 elections, according to administration officials.

The officials, who agreed to speak only on condition of anonymity because intelligence estimates are classified, said the battle in Iraq wasn't lost and that successful elections might yet be held next month.

But they said the warnings -including one delivered this week to Bush by CIA Director Porter Goss - indicated that U.S. forces hadn't been able to stop the insurgents' intimidation of Iraqi voters, candidates and others who want to participate in the elections.

"We don't have an answer to the intimidation," one senior official said.

No medal for you, Porter!

I've got a hot tip for the Bush administration. The only answer to intimidation is good intelligence and effective law enforcement from the Iraqis themselves.

And they're much more likely to develop those things if we butt out.


Friday, December 17, 2004

Harrison Ford may lead charge in Falluja movie

The combat drama would be based on the upcoming book "No True Glory," an account of the battle for Falluja by Bing West, a Marine veteran and former U.S. assistant defense secretary now covering the war as a foreign correspondent, a studio spokesman said.

Not sure what to make of this.

Which battle for Falluja would that be? I've lost count of the number of times that particular mission has been accomplished.

Ford has certainly had his share of swaggering, shoot-em-up roles. However, at sixty-two years old, he's getting just a bit long in the tooth for many more.

But in this case, art imitates life. Age isn't stopping the military either.


Thursday, December 16, 2004

Foolhardy investments

Bush offers details on privately investing Social Security taxes

Any White House plan to let workers invest Social Security taxes in the stock market would include restrictions to prevent foolhardy investments, President Bush said Thursday.

The above message brought to you by the same folks who touted weapons of mass destruction, mushroom clouds, the 9/11-Al Queda connection, promote "intelligent design", abstinence education, the Medicare prescription drug fiasco, the Patriot Act, trashed the Geneva Conventions, and a host of other bad decisions.

They wouldn't know a foolhardy investment if it bit them in the butt.


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

U.S. missile defense test fails

An interceptor missile failed to launch early Wednesday in what was to have been the first full flight test of the U.S. national missile defense system in nearly two years.

If it weren't so expensive and so asinine, I'd say this was the best news of the day.

Our tax money would be better spent looking for the Fountain of Youth or investigating turning straw into gold.


Monday, December 13, 2004

Hanging of the Greens

Yes, folks - it's that time of year when the old country estate is festooned with all sorts of tacky plastic greenery, flashing lights, and assorted decorations.

Or as it's more commonly known in this household - The Hanging of the Greens and The Cussing of the Lights.

Our house is very small, which means making room for a Christmas tree also means completely shuffling around the furniture.

At least it's the one time of year when the entire carpet gets vacuumed. When we move the sofa, we get to take a trip down memory lane, back before the carpet was sullied by the pitter-patter of little feet and paws, the spilling of countless crumbs, and the occasional no-no of a leg-hike.

We asked first-and-only-born child if we should wait for her return from college to begin the process, but she begged us to please - PLEASE - start without her and preferably finish before she gets here.

Mr. Andante is in charge of stringing those wicked little strands of miniature lights around the tree and elsewhere. He's good at it; what he's NOT good at is untangling the strands. That job falls to me, and therefore the Cussing of the Lights.

I put them away every year, untangled and carefully packed. Surely - surely - they will be nicely untangled next year?

It never happens.

Any nation that can produce a strand of lights that automatically tangles itself while in storage should be able to do many Great Things.

A quick check on the tag - "Made In China".

Today, the Christmas lights - tomorrow the world.

Not making it up

The December/January issue of AARP magazine has a nifty little article that might help with those holiday vacation plans. It's not on line yet, but should appear here soon.

But if you're in a hurry to book your tickets, here's the gist - and I quote -

"God Bless Americans - Five countries where the U.S. is feted - not hated"

The article goes on to list -

*Northern Mariana Islands (a U.S. territory)
*Grenada (successfully liberated by the U.S.)
*Belize (overrun with U.S. expats)
*Andorra (their primary trade partner is the U.S.)
*Luxembourg (successfully liberated by the U.S. twice)

You don't have to be as old as I am to remember a time Americans were welcome anywhere on the planet.

Thanks to Dubya, the welcome mat is out only if they depend on us for trade, have long memories, or aren't a member of the "Coalition of the Willing".

Pentagon Scrubs Missile-Defense Flight Test

The first flight test in nearly two years of a planned U.S. missile-defense shield has been scrapped two days in a row this week because of bad weather, the Pentagon said on Friday.

Strong rain squalls over the Kwajalein atoll launch site in the central Pacific caused the latest postponement, Richard Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, said shortly after the decision to scrap the test. A new attempt might be made later in the day, he said.

The Pentagon had not previously publicized the test.

In other words, the sorry system doesn't work in the rain.

Top Reasons The Above Isn't Rolling-On-The-Floor Funny

That's $10 billion of our tax money.

That's $10 billion that would provide armor for every man, woman, and vehicle in Iraq.

It's just another item in the growing list of things the Pentagon hasn't publicized.

(not even getting into health care, affordable housing, the environment, and so forth)

But I'm enjoying the mental picture of Donald Rumsfeld, riding on one of these flights of fantasy, holding an umbrella.


Sunday, December 12, 2004

Finessing the pesky uparmor situation

From my cousin's boy in the Land of Sand:

I just got yours and mom's messages. To answer your questions. They don't want to spend the money to up armor our vehicles so they are flying my small group up to baghdad. The rest of our guys are spread out and believe they are uparmoring and shipping some of them because uparmoring costs lots of money.

There you go. The roads are too dangerous for unarmored vehicles, so we'll fly the troops in.

Let's hope they plan on setting up shop in the Baghdad airport - I hear the Baghdad airport road is also referred to as "Suicide Alley".


Saturday, December 11, 2004

"Human being" = pre-existing condition

Here's the backstory on the previous bit of sarcastic ranting. It's taken a while to write it up because a) it's a busy time of year, and b) I don't like to think about it.

Mr. Andante changed jobs last spring, which meant a change in health insurance. The insurance provider - MedCost - remained the same; the previous "third-party-administrator" was Acordia, the current is Penn Western Benefits. There was no break in coverage, thanks to a very pricey MedCost COBRA policy.

I just love Penn Western's letterhead, which looks something like this -


At least you know where they're coming from. We've been pouring $$$ into Penn Western for about five months now.

As I've done every year for Lord-knows-how-many years, I went for my annual PAP smear and mammogram, recommended by every credible physician for women over a certain age.

The results were fine, as usual - but Penn Western has informed me they will not provide coverage as these tests were for....here it comes....pre-existing conditions.

Which pre-existing condition would that be? Female?

Many years ago, a mammogram turned up a couple of cysts, which is not at all uncommon. Subsequent mammograms proved they had either disappeared or were harmless. No adverse results ever with the PAP smear.

The same thing has happened with our cholesterol labs - a semi-annual bloodletting necessary for those on cholesterol meds to check cholesterol levels and liver function.

The same thing happened when Mr. Andante visited the family doctor for a stomach virus.


After a days-worth of phone calls, I finally got it figured out. I obtained a "certificate of coverage" from Mr. Andante's previous employer, stating that we had been insured since the Ice Ages.

If your ailments were previously covered by insurance, they no longer pre-exist.

Got that?

Good. Because that's a hell of a way to run a health care system, and under the current administration, it's only going to get worse.


Thursday, December 09, 2004

When I grow up

When I grow up, I want to own a health insurance company.

I'll hire a couple of lawyers and a couple of accountants with no medical background to write up the most tangled, unintelligible policy manuals known to mankind.

The accountants will calculate, to the penny, how little we can get away with and how much it will take to drive our customers into bankrupcy.

Then I'll contract out the actual work to "third party administrators" - little companies that will, in turn, hire legions of people to generate lots of denial of coverage letters.

I'll teach them all how to say "pre-existing condition" with a straight face.

I'll have lots of friends at the big pharmaceutical companies. When they come out with an expensive new drug, I'll direct my legions of employees to demand our customers use it and nothing else for their condition.

I'll demand that medical practices hire lots of extra workers to handle all the paperwork necessary to justify my existence.

And I'll make it a rule that none of these third-party-administrators speak or otherwise communicate with each other except maybe in triplicate.

I'll also make a rule that none of these companies use the same software programs or the same diagnostic codes.

I'll have lots of friends in the health care industry! They will make strong recommendations that everyone have this, that, or the other medical procedure or test. Then they'll let me know about it first so my lawyers can revise our policy manual and we won't have to cover it.

And I'll have lots of friends in Congress! I'll give them money for their political campaigns, and to show their gratitude, they'll swat down any suggestion of universal coverage.

What a great country....America, the Land of Opportunity, where every boy and girl can dream of growing up to prey on the less fortunate.


Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Is it December 26th yet?

Dragged out all the Christmas decorations today, addressed Christmas cards, wrapped a couple of presents and am working like mad on homemade Christmas gifts.

Whether they want them or not, my family members are getting crocheted afghan throws. I can crochet, I can get yarn cheap.

Three teenage boys get a reprieve; I've already bought them hoodies. But there are still eighteen - count 'em - eighteen afghans needed.

I started in April. Thirteen down, five to go.

So, how's it going with you?

Do you remember anything you got last Christmas? Do you remember anything you gave?


Saturday, December 04, 2004

Unfractured Fairy Tale

One book in the “Choosing the Best” series presents a story about a knight who saves a princess from a dragon. The next time the dragon arrives, the princess advises the knight to kill the dragon with a noose, and the following time with poison, both of which work but leave the knight feeling “ashamed.” The knight
eventually decides to marry a village maiden, but did so “only after making sure she knew nothing about nooses or poison.” The curriculum concludes: Moral of the story: Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but too much of it will lessen a man’s confidence or even turn him away from his princess.


The curriculum should conclude:

The knight, his over-developed sense of machismo offended by the clever princess, marries a village maiden. At their wedding feast, a dragon swoops down on the party and threatens to kill them all.

The princess, hearing of the dilemma, distracts the dragon with a tasty dish of Purina Dragon Chow that she has cleverly laced with arsenic. The dragon eats it and dies.

The king, impressed by his daughter’s resourcefulness and ingenuity, names her sole heiress to his vast kingdom and wealth. When the king dies, the princess rules the kingdom wisely and well – without interference from a meddling husband.

The knight, though initially pleased with his subservient lowly village maiden, is outraged that he is no longer welcomed into high society. No longer invited to tournaments or allowed to sit at the tables of the mighty, he seeks comfort in flagons of ale. The lowly village maiden finds herself married to the lowly village drunkard.

Moral of the story: Occasional suggestions and assistance may be alright, but he who fails to value them courts disaster.


Friday, December 03, 2004

Out of the inbox
The election is over, the results are now known.
The will of the people has clearly been shown.
We should show by our thoughts, our words and our deeds
That unity is just what our country needs.
Let's all get together. Let bitterness pass.
I'll hug your elephant.
You kiss my ass.
(no elephant hugging allowed on these premises)

Ah, the irony

Remember Theresa "Madame Butterfly" LePore, the Palm Beach (FL) County election supervisor who designed the infamous "butterfly" ballot?
in order for LePore to reach a full 30 years of service with the state government, and get full retirement benefits, she would go to work at the Palm Beach County State Attorney's office for six months as an election-fraud investigator.
(Orlando Sentinel,, registration required)


Thursday, December 02, 2004

Oy-vey Mur-ee-uh

Busy, busy, busy doing my best to bring this Christmas carol service together, but I'm afraid my Inner Grinch is beginning to show.

Greg is busy giggling over the thought of "Ave Maria" sung in a thick Southern accent, but I've just returned from an exhausting coaching session.

We've got a lot of work to do.

Oy-vey Mur-ee-uh
Graaaa-see-uh plin-uh
(etc., etc., etc.)
Oy-vey, oy-vey Duh-mi-nooze
Duh-mi-nooze tay-ee-come.

I need a stiff drink.

Bush rejects delaying Iraq elections

“The elections should not be postponed,” he said. “It’s time for the Iraqi citizens to go to the polls and that’s why we are very firm on the Jan. 30 date.”

This message brought to you by the same crowd who gave us this back in July:

"There does not appear to be a clear process in place to suspend or reschedule voting during an election if there is a major terrorist attack," DeForest B. Soaries, chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, wrote in a letter to Republican and Democratic leaders in the House of Representatives and Senate."

and this....

Officials discuss how to delay Election Day
U.S. officials have discussed the idea of postponing Election Day in the event of a terrorist attack on or about that day, a Homeland Security Department spokesman said Sunday.

...and so forth.

If Our Preznit is so dead-set on holding Iraqi elections on January 30th, despite the terrible security situation and the objections of seventeen Iraqi political parties - why doesn't he just sashay over there and show up at the polling places himself?


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