Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Check writing 101

(A seasonal rant)

Several folks have taken the “Levels of Hell” test, including Lab Kat who is consigned to the seventh level.

We won’t inquire as to “why”, but just note that there is an even deeper level reserved for those who haven’t figured out proper etiquette for writing checks at the check- out counter.

At this time of the year, many of us are doing extra shopping for holiday foodstuffs, gifts, and so forth. There must be something about the general good cheer and ho-ho that brings out the worst offenders.

It’s not always a little old lady, though I admit we they are in the majority. I’ve been stuck behind some clueless little old gentlemen and brain-dead teenagers. Age, size, nor gender seem to make any difference.

You know the drill…..you are at the grocery store or discount store or convenience store and you get behind a person with a big, multi-item order.

It takes what seems like forever for the cashier to ring it all up (punctuated with a few lengthy price checks).

Finally the order is completely tabulated. The cashier looks at the customer and says “Seventy-six dollars and ninety eight cents”.

The customer gets this stunned look on his/her face, as if it just occurred to them they’ll be required to PAY.

Said customer rummages around in the pockets or purse for checkbook.

Let’s stop for just a second for Check Writing Etiquette 101 – If you know you are going to pay with a check, could you perhaps have the checkbook (and a pen) OUT of the pocket or purse and ready for the writing?

And while you have it out, let me assure you the store will not change names at least until you have paid for your order. Go ahead – fill in the “pay to the order of” line.

Unless it’s several minutes before midnight, the date will not change either. If you’re unsure of the date, you’ll have plenty of time to ask someone while the cashier rings up your stuff.

You can even put all this information in your checkbook register while the cashier rings merrily away.

And here’s the best part…..you already know who you are! Your identity will not change while you are waiting in line! And if you’ve forgotten, you can just look at the name printed at the top left corner of your check! Go ahead…sign the check!

If you follow these simple rules, the only thing left to do is fill in the amount. Granted, this can take a while, but following the above steps will give you a minute or so extra to remember how to spell "ninety".

Or you can do all the rest of us rushed, harried shoppers a favor and use your debit card. It's really not hard - my Dad discovered the joys of debit cards when he was 85 years old, and declared it the best thing since sliced bread.

I also have it on good authority that "cash" still works.

Slow-witted check writers are probably the least of my holiday problems, but I swear they follow me around and jump ahead of me in every store I enter.

If you're one of them, and you feel someone's eyes burning holes into your back some day while you're trying to write a check - turn around and wish me "Happy Holidays".

If you're lucky, I'll growl back "Bah, humbug!".


Monday, November 28, 2005

Thanksgiving Feast - The After Action Report

Thanks for all the great suggestions for my "Bring Something" dilemma. After all, when you can barely boil water and you're asked to "bring something" to the annual convention of the best down-home country cooks in the region - i.e., our family Thanksgiving - it's quite daunting.

My mother gets the prize for top suggestion. I had forgotten the very simple, tasty salad she used to make during my childhood - Waldorf Salad.

I also ended up making deviled eggs, but it turned out to be somewhat nerve-wracking.

At 8:30 p.m. on Thanksgiving Eve, my sister-in-law called to ask if I could make a couple dozen deviled eggs because "nobody else is planning to bring them".

I thought about asking for that in writing, because my mother-in-law ALWAYS brings deviled eggs - quite tasty, and very picturesque.

"Are you sure your mother isn't planning to make them?", says I.

"No, " said sister-in-law, firmly. "She's cutting back on all the cooking this year and will only bring a broccoli casserole."

But it was late, and if I wanted to get to the store to buy the damned eggs, I had to get moving and stop wondering why she had waited until 8:30 p.m. to ask.

I bought the eggs and hard-boiled them that night, patting myself on the back for doing something ahead of time.

After cooling them off, I put them in a bowl and set it on the top shelf of the refrigerator...the only place I had room.

I forgot things on the top shelf of my refrigerator tend to freeze.

Sure enough, the next day when I tried to crack and peel an egg...frozen solid.

Cussing and fussing, I headed back to the store for another couple dozen eggs.

I decided to try Jim Vanderveen's yummy-sounding recipe, which calls for honey-mustard.

All went well until I added the honey-mustard. The brand of honey-mustard I had on hand was quite delicious, but also a curious shade of diarrhea-brown.

And sure enough, it turned the yolks the exact same shade.

There was no way on God's green earth I was taking diarrhea eggs; not even with a notarized sign saying "These taste much better than they look".

Fortunately, I had a tad of regular, yellow French's mustard left in a bottle, so I tossed that in. Good - everything turned yellow again.

And since I like a little zest to a deviled eggs - don't tell anybody, but I added about a teaspoon of horseradish.

As good as they were, I knew all the in-laws would look at my deviled eggs and think "Hmmm...Andante made these. Move along". So I decided to disguise them further by trying to make the presentation more attractive.

(I'm told "presentation" is what good chefs do to make crap look appetizing)

I made a bed of lettuce leaves, and scattered my non-diarrhea eggs over it.

Sure enough, the mother-in-law comes through the door, beaming and wishing everyone "Happy Thanksgiving". Following her is a trail of grandchildren carrying the broccoli casserole, a baked ham, a huge pan of stuffing, banana pudding, a couple of pumpkin pies...and a couple dozen deviled eggs.

But all ended fairly well; nobody suspected I had brought the attractively-presented deviled eggs, or that they had originally been diarrhea-colored, or that I had put horseradish in them. There were only six left over, which Mr. Andante ate as a bedtime snack.

The Waldorf Salad went over well, too - except for one nephew, who crinkled his nose and said "Ewwww...raisins". The rest of us polished it off.

A successful Thanksgiving is one that doesn't involve me bringing home a bunch of leftovers that turn moldy by Christmas. And now I have an entire year to dream up some other ways to avoid the annual dilemma; possibly by actually learning to cook.


Sunday, November 27, 2005

The useful idiots among us

I know I've been AWOL for a few days during this holiday time, mainly due to the rush of events that begin with Thanksgiving and continue through Christmas.

I'm sure you've seen video of crowds rushing into stores on "Black Friday" (traditional first shopping day after Thanksgiving) and fighting over discounted items - that's nothing compared to the stampede for food at our family Thanksgiving dinner. Or the flurry of activity trying to pull together that annual Christmas program at church.

Still, I couldn't help but notice good ol' Rush Limbaugh's remarks regarding decorated Viet Nam veteran Rep. John Murtha -
"Not really that interested in Murtha, ladies and gentlemen, to tell you the truth. I know he got everybody's dander up all last week, but I think he's just the useful idiot of the moment. He's just -- I mean I'm not taking away from his service in Vietnam. Uh, it's -- it's not his service that we are questioning. We're questioning his judgment here.

What kind of serious hawk calls for withdrawals like this?"
Well, Rush; this kind -
The White House has for the first time claimed ownership of an Iraq withdrawal plan, arguing that a troop pullout blueprint unveiled this past week by a Democratic senator was "remarkably similar" to its own.
Rush has got some ass-covering to do, wouldn't you say? Can't be questioning Bush administration Hawk-ism or judgement - that would never do.

And he certainly wouldn't want to infer the White House was manned by useful idiots.

Though I don't expect we'll hear them coming out of Rush's mouth, useless idiots might be the better choice of words.

Frankly, I don't care which kind of idiot gets the troops home - just bring 'em home; the sooner the better.


Thursday, November 24, 2005

A Thanksgiving laugh

(Warning - Finish your Thanksgiving feast before reading)

Via TPM:
He learned his lessons, and now they're for sale.

Ousted FEMA director Michael Brown, who was vilified over his handling of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, plans to make a fresh start in Colorado, selling his expertise about how emergency planning can go right or so very wrong.

"You have to do it with candor. To do it otherwise gives you no credibility," Brown said Wednesday. "I think people are curious: 'My gosh, what was it like? The media just really beat you up. You made mistakes. I don't want to be in that situation. How do I avoid that?' "

In an interview with the Rocky Mountain News, Brown acknowledged key mistakes he made while overseeing the federal response to the hurricane that ravaged Louisiana and Mississippi. He also lashed out at the media and discussed plans to base his fledgling consulting business in the Boulder-Longmont area of Colorado, where he lived before joining the Bush Administration in 2001.

"Look, Hurricane Katrina showed how bad disasters can be, and there's an incredible need for individuals and businesses to understand how important preparedness is," he said. "So if I can help people focus on preparedness, how to be better prepared in their homes and better prepared in their businesses _ because that goes straight to the bottom line _ then I hope I can help the country in some way."

Brown went from a little-known political appointee to national lightning rod status just days after Katrina made landfall in Louisiana on Aug. 29. Over the next several days, national television viewers were outraged by images of evacuees still waiting to be rescued or suffering in over-crowded shelters.

Although some congressional critics pointed the finger at state and local officials for failing to order mandatory evacuations soon enough, Brown took the heaviest fire over the federal response. Critics seized on his appearance on ABC News' Nightline program, when he implied that he was unaware of hundreds of people suffering without federal help at an overcrowded New Orleans convention center.

"Don't you guys watch television?" host Ted Koppel asked pointedly.

Brown said he had simply misspoken, but that he never was able to recover public confidence.

"That was a mistake. That was a real tipping point for me because I hadn't slept. I misspoke," Brown said. "People were seeing pictures of these people in the convention center that FEMA had learned about 24 hours before that. When I said, 'We just learned about that,' people misinterpreted that as, 'You mean this has been going on for 24 hours and you don't know about it?' "

The lesson, he said, is that sometimes leaders need to "take inventory" of everything that's going on, "so that you give the absolute correct message to the media, because the media can't be trusted to, one, always get the message correct, and then when you yourself give the incorrect message, that just exacerbates the whole communications problem."

Brown, a lawyer, was lampooned for the scant emergency management experience he had before early 2001, when his friend, former FEMA director Joe Allbaugh, brought him to the agency as general counsel.

Critics portrayed him as the ultimate political crony, since his emergency experience was brief, as a low-level government employee and city councilman, in Edmond, Okla., and he had more recently spent a decade as commissioner of the International Arabian Horse Association, based in Colorado.

As FEMA counsel, he played a role in the response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, was promoted to deputy director and later replaced Allbaugh in the top job. He describes that advancement as "the American Way."

By the time Katrina hit, he said, he had handled more than 160 disasters, including four hurricanes in Florida.

"You come in, and you work your way up through an organization," he said. "You learn the organization. You gain your experience."

He compared his ascension at FEMA to a classic rags-to-riches story: "How many people come into a company in the mail room and work their way up to become president of the company?" he said.

Brown said criticism comes with the territory for any public official. The irony is that he was just days away from resigning his job before Katrina struck.

"The original plan was to be gone before the start of hurricane season," he said. "It couldn't quite get done in time, and so . . . my leaving was delayed slightly. And the rest is history."

He said that he and his wife, Tamara, have put their Virginia house on the market. They plan to move to the Boulder-Longmont area full-time, while he plans to commute back and forth to a second office and apartment in Washington.

"I'm moving on with my life," he said. "I'm doing a lot of good work with some great clients. . . . My wife, children, and my grandchild still love me. My parents are still proud of me.

"I had a very close friend to me come up and say that, 'You'll be judged by how you handle and how you react to this,' " he said. "I came out with a couple of goals in mind, to tell the truth, to admit to the mistakes that were made. . . . If people want to take shots at me, fine, but let's figure out a way to make this thing work better next time."


Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Our Thanksgiving celebration will look quite similar to the above; at least, until the blessing is said. Then the mad grab for food begins.

But we will have two things this year for which we can be extraordinarily thankful:

#1 The snow let up long enough for the kid to leave college and head for home.

#2 Driving through the mountains, she hit a deer. She's fine, the deer ran off just fine, the car runs fine but doesn't look fine.

Body shop work for Christmas this year, but my baby is safe.

For that, I'm overwhelmingly thankful.
Let the skiers rejoice

Ski Beech resort, Beech Mountain, N.C., 8:50 a.m. 11/23/2005

Several inches of new snow yesterday, more today, more coming, and the blowers are blowing.

Now, if it will just let up a teensy bit so my kid can get home for Thanksgiving....

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A little bit of karma?

Novak, the enigmatic center of the CIA leak scandal, was headed to Hawaii Saturday morning to watch his beloved Terrapins play in the Maui Invitational tournament when he tangled with a fellow traveler.

According to our unofficial mascot on the flight, Novak was boarding an American flight to Chicago when he cut in front of another passenger while entering first class. The guy protested and laid a hand on Novak -- who responded by socking him and threatening to knock his teeth out.

Not mild-mannered Bob? We reached Novak in Maui, just minutes into yesterday's game.

"Some guy pushed me and I pushed him back," he said, shouting into the phone from the stands. "That's all there was to it." Both offending parties were scolded by airline staff and huffed to their respective seats.

And did you learn something from this experience, Bob?

"No, nothing."
The Dark One's beloved Terrapins were beaten 76-88 by Gonzaga.



Sunday, November 20, 2005

Where does all this stuff come from? And I feel like I've been run over by a truck.

I'll be back to blogging when my nose stops dripping on the keyboard.
Strange bedfellows

You could almost feel sorry for Target.

Target pharmacists can refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, so the stores are in trouble with the pro-choice.

Target is the, um, target of a boycott by the American Family Association for the chain's "faith-and-family-unfriendly practices".

According to AFA Chief Poo-Bah , the Wrong Reverend Don Wildmon, it's all for "refusal to let the Salvation Army put their kettles in front of the stores," and the company's policy "banning all use of 'Merry Christmas' in their internal store operations and in their advertising."

I don't have any useful suggestions for resolving the "Merry Christmas" debate, but c'mon, folks - let the Salvation Army set up a kettle outside the store.

And let the pharmacists who can't do their job ring the bell.

Minimum wage sounds about right.


Saturday, November 19, 2005

John is right -
Iraq is Terri Schiavo.

Already dead, living on borrowed time, but the Republicans refuse to accept the inevitable. Yes, you can prolong the patient's life for decades. But at what cost, and for what real benefit?
What benefit?

Political, of course.

Republicans have been beating Americans over the head with it and using it to paint any opposition as treasonous. They've managed to pull out some dubious electoral victories with it.

No wonder they don't want to give it up.

All that's left now is for Dr. Frist to pronounce, based on television images, that Iraqis are almost ready to start strewing flowers at Bush's feet.

I'd like a salary cut, please

You don't often hear those words, especially from a multi-millionaire sports star.
Chipper to restructure contract

The Braves third baseman has agreed to a contract restructuring that would reduce his salary from $17 million to $11 million in 2006 and could save the Braves about $15 million over the next three seasons.

The deal, which can't be finalized until Jones passes a physical exam for insurance purposes, would presumably enable the club to free up salary so it could address other needs this winter, including its attempt to re-sign free agent shortstop Rafael Furcal and possibly pursue a top closer.


Jones, concerned that his salary had become a "drag" to the Braves' downsized $80 million payroll the past couple of years, made the offer to restructure his contract at the conclusion of each of the past two seasons. The Braves took him up on it this winter.

Faced with the prospect of losing Furcal to the Chicago Cubs or another suitor, the Braves have found a way to possibly make an offer that could keep their speedy shortstop and leadoff man. They have been in ongoing talks with Furcal's agent, Paul Kinzer, who was in the Dominican Republic on Thursday and couldn't be reached for comment.
Chipper has never been one of my favorites, but he just earned some respect from me.


Friday, November 18, 2005

Thanksgiving countdown

Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays.

It can be celebrated by anyone, regardless of faith. It doesn't matter to whom or what you give thanks - Jehovah, Allah, Jesus, Buddha, Mother Nature, the Great Flying Spaghetti Monster, or your own initiative in putting food on your family.

It also doesn't involve gift-giving. I'm certainly not opposed to giving or receiving gifts, but I am opposed to going broke. When you're attached to a big family that puts great store in gift-giving, going broke is a big concern.

And because I live in a small, cramped house, it means I don't have to host the annual Collective Huge Family Thanksgiving Dinner.

Lots of good food is another reason I like Thanksgiving, but when you're attached to a big family that gets together for a sort of "communal" Thanksgiving dinner, food can also be a hazard...especially when you aren't exactly Julia Child.

Here at home, I try to avoid fixing too many fried or pre-packaged foods, fetching something from McDonalds too often, or burning down the kitchen - but sometimes it's a stretch.

For those of us who are culinarily-challenged, Thanksgiving dinner can also mean the dreaded words - "Bring Something".

In addition to that dreaded phrase, every single one of my extended in-laws and out-laws is an excellent cook.

You'd think they'd assign me the paper products or beverages, but unfortunately that's the traditional domain of the host and hostess.

No matter what I fix, someone duplicates it, and their creation not only looks scrumptious but tastes wonderful. I end up lugging home my lame-looking, blah-tasting leftovers to molder in the back of my refrigerator.

So, here's your mission (should you chose to accept it)....suggest a dish I can take to the Great Thanksgiving Food Orgy.

The rules:

***It must not include organ meats, spinach or mushrooms. I like the latter two, but I'm about the only one.

***It must not require 24-hour preparation or supervision; the simpler, the better.

***It must not be one of the traditional "fixings"; i.e., turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie.

***It must "travel" well; I fix it here, schlep it there without need of further cooking or refrigeration.

***The ingredients must not cost over $10.00.

***I do not have a food processor, omelet pan, springform pan, pasta maker, any Ronco oddities, or much patience.

***I do NOT have "the knack" for anything involving yeast.

Sounds like a job for paper products to me, but as I said - that's taken.

Any reasonable suggestions gladly welcomed.


Thursday, November 17, 2005

Congratulations, Rush Limbaugh!

Winner of the Countdown "Worst Person In The World"! competition for November 15, 2005 -
He is offering the gullible a special patriotic deal. They can adopt a soldier, give any U.S. serviceman a free subscription to the Web site. All they have to do is pay Rush Limbaugh $49.95. The soldier gets free access to the Web site and Rush Limbaugh gets nothing out of deal, unless you count the fact that he gets to keep the $49.95! Rush, I see we‘ve found a new doctor. You want to donate something to the troops, man, just give them the free subscriptions. You know, it‘s called charity? You don‘t make anything off of it! Rush Limbaugh, today‘s “Worst Person in the World”!
Couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Thinking ahead

Thinking ahead and being prepared is always a good thing, and the Katrina catastrophe has the Dutch reexamining their system of dikes, levees, and floodgates. Any area at or below sea level should be paying attention; the Dutch have been at it for a long time and have some good ideas.
After Katrina, Dutch rethink their own water defenses

With more than 1,000 years of experience building dikes, the Dutch have flood defenses few can match. But after seeing the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina, the government is reassessing what a worst-case scenario would mean for a nation where 10 million people live below sea level.


Reviews of water defenses go on all the time in a country whose very name means "the low-lying lands" and whose history has been determined by the struggle to reclaim safe ground from the delta of the Rhine and Maas rivers.

The Netherlands recently completed a 50-year program to upgrade its system of dikes and measures, spurred by a 1953 flood that killed 1,800 people.

Vowing such a catastrophe would never happen again, the Dutch built a massive system of dams, sea walls, and surge barriers to protect the south of the country against any storm save one so severe that statistically it is predicted to happen only once in 10,000 years.

Though the Delta Project gave the Dutch a measure of security, they were stunned by the scenes of confusion after the levees broke in New Orleans.

"Katrina shook everyone awake," Dek said. "A disaster like that always helps firm up the resolve to get things done."

Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana plans to visit Holland next month to view the Delta Project, including engineering feats such as the Maeslantkering, twin rotating gates each the size of the Eiffel Tower that can seal the mouth of Rotterdam's harbor in case of a sea surge.

Dek said the levees in New Orleans had lower standards than Dutch law mandates and were built to withstand the kind of storm that could be expected once every 100 years.

"But we also must face the fact that no matter what you do to prepare, something can go wrong, defy all your models," he said.

Examples range from the effects of global warming or a terrorist attack to more prosaic problems such as erosion, design flaws, or burrowing animals.


The Dutch reserve more than $1.2 billion annually*** — around 1 percent of the national budget — to maintain and improve the dikes, dunes, pumps, sluices and windmills that work constantly to keep the country dry.

The current program operates on the principle of "living with water," an idea that could have implications for the rebuilding of New Orleans. Proponents say that building dikes and walls higher is a bad idea, because that will only worsen a disaster when it comes.

Instead, the Netherlands will work on contingency plans to deal with crises rather than just prevent them. One sparsely populated area near Nijmegen already has been designated for intentional flooding to drain water from the Rhine if the river rises too high.

In addition, efforts are being made to restore the country's natural drainage system by reconnecting minor creeks and canals to larger waterways — in effect, transforming the country into a giant sponge.
***Did you get that? $1.2 billion annually? The Iraq war is topping $5.8 billion per month.

Considering the 2,130 square miles of the United States that are at or below sea level - not to mention areas prone to seasonal flooding - it might be wise to steal some good Dutch ideas about living with Mother Nature.


Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Columbine South

...almost. Thank goodness it was averted.

The Southern Baptist Convention may want to consider this incident before considering any other resolutions condemning public schools.

From the Charlotte Observer (registration req.) -
2 boys accused of violent threats

Students allegedly said they'd shoot classmates, staff at Bible Baptist

Two teenagers from a private Christian school near Matthews have been accused of threatening to shoot fellow students and staff members, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police said.

The boys -- both 15 -- were students at Bible Baptist Christian School last month, when another student told church officials about the threats, Pastor Ron Allen told the Observer.

The church called police Oct. 24 and the boys were arrested soon after.

They are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, a felony, Sgt. Doug Gallant said.

Gallant declined to say what police believe the boys planned, when they planned to do it, or whether they had access to guns.

"It's serious anytime you have that type of threat," he said. "But we did get the information before anything occurred."

Police announced the arrests Tuesday, after the Observer's news partner, WCNC, reported the story on its Web site.

Gallant did not release the boys' names because of their age but said they are being held in a juvenile detention center.

Allen said they have been expelled from the school.

The 135-student school teaches pre-kindergarten through 12th grade and is affiliated with Bible Baptist Church, a conservative independent congregation on Margaret Wallace Road.

Most students, Allen said, are members of the church, though it's not a requirement. The boys and their families have been members for at least eight years. The boys' families are still attending services, he said.

"We want to help them. While we have a responsibility to protect our students and our ministry, these are members of our congregation," Allen said. "We have a responsibility to minister to hurting families in their time of need."

Allen said the boys had been doing well academically, were involved in the school athletics program and had appeared to be having a good year.

He did not know what might have led the boys to make threats, or whether they may have targeted specific students and teachers.

The pastor said the campus has two buildings: one with a gym and science and computer labs, and another with three wings of classrooms.

The 29-year-old school has an administrator and 15 teachers, who teach a traditional college preparatory program. About 50 of its students are in grades 7 through 12.

It's unclear what range of penalties the boys could face if convicted. Mecklenburg Deputy District Attorney Bart Menser said prosecutors cannot talk about pending cases. In general, youths are tried in juvenile court -- not adult court -- except for violent crimes where prosecutors believe the young person will not benefit from juvenile rehabilitation programs.

School officials met with students and families shortly after the arrests and provided counseling.

"As a school, the students have pretty much put it behind them and moved forward," Allen said. "We are praying for the boys and going on with our school year."


Monday, November 14, 2005

Not another one

Mustang Bobby alerts us to the presence of Tropical Depression Twenty-Seven formed near the Lesser Antilles. If it reaches tropical storm strength, it will be named Gamma.

What's a beleagered Bush administration to do?

Really, this is so simple; I'm sure Rove would have thought of it if he weren't occupied elsewhere with rebuilding New Orleans, hiding the liquor from his boss, and dodging indictments.

1. Change the date of hurricane season to December through February.

2. HUGE, expensive PR campaign, urging citizenry to stock up on water, plywood, canned goods, etc. during the new hurricane season (added advantage: boost after-Christmas retail sales).

3. Totally shut down the PR campaign and any preparedness advice by the end of February.

4. Accuse any media who persist in giving preparedness advice of being unpatriotic.

5. In the event a hurricane chooses to ignore the new season guidelines and makes a sawdust pile out of homes and businesses, the talking points just write themselves.

*Blame citizenry for not taking personal responsibility

*Blame citizenry for being unprepared

*Look at those lazy people who expect the government to do everything for them

The first thing to go is the memory

Not only did I miss my own second blogiversary on November 5th, but I missed the whole darned month of September.

If I'm not mistaken, that's when we celebrated the 60th anniversary of the last time a member of Klan Bush did combat duty in the military.

Shame on me.

PR and marketing week

Apparently, it's public relations and marketing week here at Collective Sigh, so let's take a shot at the military.

I was in the marching band at the university I attended.

The director was a pure genius; a witty, intelligent man who had no patience with precision drills or fancy geometric formations.

His philosophy: if you can bring the drunks in the crowd to their feet - whether cheering or bawling - Mission Accomplished.

We scrambled from one set formation to another as best we could, stood still, and played such proven patriotic crowd-pleasers as "This Is My Country", "God Bless America", etc.

And it's true....our biggest fans were the drunks in the stands.

So, I'm glad to see the military has finally gotten the clue -
Army Invades NASCAR Nation to Drive Recruitment

There is fresh evidence today of the challenges the Army faces in signing up recruits. The Army will meet its recruiting goals for last month — but only after it tripled the number of recruits who scored at the bottom of its aptitude tests.

The Iraq war and the improving economy have forced recruiters to be more creative. They have found one place where their sales pitch is still well received: NASCAR Nation.

At every NASCAR event this year, the Army is setting up a military theme park in an attempt to turn young race fans into future soldiers. It is spending $16 million this year on the recruitment effort, using rock climbing walls, dog tags and electronic gunfights on simulated Iraqi streets.

"We call it event marketing," said Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, who was looking for new recruits at an Atlanta race. "At an event like this, we'll get about 2,000 leads, and on the whole about 40,000 leads, where we're getting young people, ages 17 to 24, that want to come talk to a recruiter. So it's good."

The Army even sponsors its own race car. Before each race, recruits get to meet the driver, racing veteran Joe Nemecheck, in a place most NASCAR fans would pay good money to see: his garage.
There is no truth to the rumor that any liberal organization is sponsoring an Iraq Quagmire car that's missing one wheel, has a blown engine, and a quadriplegic driver.

I wish the military success with their recruiting efforts, though I'd be curious to see how many of these "leads" turn into actual recruits once the beer-buzz wears off.


Isn't it comforting to know safer smallpox vaccines are in the works?
Two companies are reporting rapid progress in developing a new vaccine designed to be safer than the standard one, and a third company, with no government support, is developing yet another new vaccine. That vaccine could offer significant advantages if terrorists were to unleash the smallpox germ in several cities at once, requiring the vaccination of huge numbers of people.*
While this is all well and good and I'm glad someone is looking into the problem - what I want to know is....where is my flu shot?

A few local chain drug and grocery stores held clinics a while back, but ran out of vaccine before you could say "Paper or plastic".

I've been on the waiting list with my family doctor for about six weeks...he says he ordered the vaccine over a year ago, and I have no reason to doubt him.

As soon as any area health departments receive vaccine, it's snapped up within a matter of hours.

The flu shot shortage is temporary, or so US officials say, and the problems are "distribution" related.

I wondered if these distribution problems might be brought to us by the same people who sent trucks full of ice for Katrina victims to Maine.

However, it seems FEMA and DHS have their hands full figuring out how to screw up the looming avian flu pandemic; it doesn't seem we can pin any blame on them for distribution problems this time.

Besides, I don't recall hearing or reading that any part of the country is awash in unneeded flu vaccine.

I'm just guessing, but I'm assuming the shortage really is another shortage - demand is outstripping supply, mainly due to concerns over the avian flu pandemic possibilities. A flu shot this year may provide an iota of protection from avian flu; since there's no vaccine for THAT, people are anxious for anything they can get.

As Rep. Henry Waxman, ranking minority member of the Committee on Government Reform says -
The Administration has given a key role to Department of Homeland Security and FEMA to protect the nation from a localized outbreak of pandemic flu in the United States. But given the abysmal performance of the Department of Homeland Security and FEMA in responding to Hurricane Katrina, this is a huge misjudgement.

(link - pdf)
Given the Bush administrations record of huge misjudgements, I'd say it's just par for the course; if I knew where to run, I'd run for my life.

In the meantime, Big Drug Makers See Sales Decline With Their Image
The major drug makers remain highly profitable, but at some, sales are stagnant and profits are falling, leading to layoffs and cuts in research budgets.


...the old-line companies have depended on stopgap measures to protect sales, like reformulating existing drugs so they can be taken once a week instead of once daily. At the same time, they have used consumer advertising to drive patient demand. But those strategies appear to be losing their effectiveness, as consumers become more skeptical and insurers rebel against high prices for drugs that are not therapeutic breakthroughs.
Imagine that; after price-gouging their product, pushing unsafe medications onto the market, "distribution" problems, and a lot of creepy and often deceptive advertising - the American people have lost confidence in Big Brother Pharma?

Clearly, a better PR campaign is needed; it's the BushWorld way of doing business.

*I should add that only a terrorist sympathizer would be unconcerned about biological warfare; however, all of us - even a terrorist sympathizer - should be worried about a flu pandemic.


Sunday, November 13, 2005

It's the PR
Iraqi perceptions that not enough is being done to rebuild the country after the U.S.-led invasion are simply a case of bad public relations, Washington's new reconstruction chief said on Sunday.

Challenged by Iraqi reporters at his first news conference since he arrived in Baghdad to head the U.S. embassy's Iraq Reconstruction Management Office, Dan Speckhart listed a string of U.S.-funded projects covering health, education, transport, water and electricity generation.
Golly, I wonder why the Iraqis aren't swallowing the BushCo PR?

Could it be electricity?
In July a report by the U.S. Congress' investigative arm said that as of May 2005, power generation in Iraq was at a lower level than before the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

Many Iraqis spend whole evenings without power, and last summer, when temperatures rose above 120 degrees Fahrenheit (around 49 Celsius), families were making do with about eight hours of power a day, two hours on and then four off.
Or the oil production?
Iraq's oil output, which U.S. officials initially said would help pay for rebuilding projects, had also dropped in the past two years, the Government Accountability Office report said.
Or the lack of security?
Security incidents in Iraq, Nov. 12

U.S. and Iraqi forces are battling a Sunni Arab insurgency against the Shi'ite- and Kurdish-led government in Baghdad.

BAGHDAD - Five civilians were killed and 20 wounded when a car bomb exploded in a market in eastern Baghdad, police said.

BAGHDAD - One Iraqi policeman was killed and another wounded on Friday when gunmen attacked their patrol in a western district of the capital, police said.

BAGHDAD - Gunmen attacked a house in eastern Baghdad and kidnapped a women and her son, police said.

BAGHDAD - One insurgent was killed when clashes broke out between Iraqi police commandos and insurgents, police said.

RAMADI - U.S.-led forces said they killed four suspected insurgents and detained four more in a raid on a safehouse used by al Qaeda in Iraq near Ramadi, west of Baghdad.
Let's have a moment of silence for BushCo's administration-by-PR; it's a tough job convincing people suffering in 120 degree heat that they are cool as cucumbers.

Can you imagine trying to persuade Iraqis the oil bubbling just under their feet is no longer accessible, or the sound of explosions is a figment of their imagination.?


Friday, November 11, 2005



Sometimes it takes a couple of days/weeks/months for the thoughts racing around my brain to connect -
For ten years he (Sen. Bill Frist) had been dating a Nashville girl, Katie, assuming that marriage was at the end of the road. While Frist was finishing his medical training in Boston, they did get engaged, and were to return to Nashville for the ceremony. But a few weeks before the wedding he met a woman from West Texas, Karyn, and they had a dinner and a night together.

Two days before the wedding, Frist flew back to Nashville from Massachusetts General, where he was doing his internship. He called off his marriage to Katie. "Everyone listened carefully to what I said, all the lame explanations I had that were and were not the truth," he wrote, "and they nodded and dealt with it and I went on my way." Think of that: two days before a Belle Meade wedding. You can imagine the string of parties that would have been planned, the cascades of gifts that would have been bought. You can imagine the social uproar Frist's decision must have caused.
Quoth Senator Frist, on the happy occasion of Senator Reid's Senate shutdown:
“Since I’ve been majority leader, I have to say, not with the previous Democratic leader or the current Democratic leader, have I ever been slapped in the face with such an affront to the leadership of this grand institution,” Frist said.

“For the next year and a half I can’t trust Sen. Reid,” he added.
Somewhere, a woman named 'Katie' is smiling.

Karma really is a bitch, ain't it?

Veteran's Day
"I never thought much about the meaning of Veterans Day -- strange for someone who spent 26 years in the Army. But last year I got it: Memorial Day is to honor those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and Veterans Day is to honor those who have to live with the sacrifices they made."

Kevin Vargas, Letter to the Editor, Washington Post, Nov. 11, 2005


Thursday, November 10, 2005

In line
Oil executives sought to justify their huge profits under tough questioning Wednesday, but they found little sympathy from senators who said their constituents are suffering from high energy prices.


Lee Raymond, chairman of Exxon Mobil Corp., acknowledged the high gasoline and home heating prices "have put a strain on Americans' household budgets," but he defended his company's profits. Petroleum earnings "go up and down" from year to year and are in line with other industries when compared with the industry's enormous revenues.
Hold on a minute, here. "Are in line with other industries"?

Maybe there are comparisons somewhere, but when compared to other industries that affect the lives or normal, everyday working slobs like me - Mr. Raymond is a lying jackass.

Checking the government's own Consumer Price Index, we see that one industry - and only one industry - benefitted from a huge jump.

Guess which one?

Cereals and bakery products were down .2% from August to September 2005. Dairy and related products were down 1.2% in the same period.

Housing? Up .4%.

Strolling down the list, we come to "Transportation".

Motor fuel, from August to September 2005 - up 17.8%, and gasoline of all types up 17.9%.

The only part of "in line" I can see is the fact that the oil companies are lining their pockets, while the American people have to wait in gas lines.


Wednesday, November 09, 2005


1. To relinquish possession or control of to another because of demand or compulsion.
2. To give up in favor of another.
3. To give up or give back (something that has been granted): surrender a contractual right.
4. To give up or abandon: surrender all hope.
5. To give over or resign (oneself) to something, as to an emotion: surrendered himself to grief.
6. Law. To restore (an estate, for example), especially to give up (a lease) before expiration of the term.

CNN's Jack Cafferty is a strange bird; making sense one moment, and going off the deep end the next.

Several days ago after a report on the riots in France, he snarked - 'I wonder if the French are planning to surrender to the rioters' (words to that effect).

Americablog's Chris in Paris writes -
In a nutshell, this problem is all about racism and lack of opportunity based on race. The areas that are rioting are home to Arab, North African and African communities and these are the people who have been rejected by France though I would say you can find similar situations across Europe.

For years Europeans have loved to talk about racism in America and yes, it has been a problem and continues to be a problem. One big difference as I see it is that in the US there have been attempts to address this problem. Americans also talk about the problem whereas in Europe, it's not widely discussed or debated and people just ignore it all.
If the root cause of the unrest is racism - and it does seem to be - perhaps 'surrender' isn't such a bad idea. See definition #5 above - "to give over or resign (oneself) to something, as to an emotion: surrendered himself to grief."

If the cheese-eating surrender monkeys are smart, they will acknowledge the racial discrimination problem, and look for some constructive ways to deal with it.

Bryan has more.

Added note to Cafferty: If the French should need to activate their military to deal with the situation (hopefully not), at least they aren't tied down in the Iraqi quagmire.


Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Pssst.....health care privatization

The Bush administration is finding out that poor public relations campaigns touting some of the worst ideas ever aren't exactly the most effective way to govern.

Social Security privatization? Oops.

Iraq war? Not going over so well on the home front.

Cordial relations with the Muslim world? Karen Hughes?

Disaster relief? Proclaiming you're doing 'a heck of a job' isn't the same as actually doing a heck of a job, no matter how often you say it.

Lesson learned? Slip in the controversial projects under the radar.

Health care insurance privatization is a perfect candidate for the old shell game -
No Rose Garden speech celebrated the extraordinary idea. It is tucked into the voluminous new report of President Bush's tax revision commission.

The grand idea is to sharply limit the amount of health insurance premiums that employees buying insurance through their jobs can receive as tax-free compensation. This tax subsidy is the major way the government promotes the purchase of private health insurance. It is why Americans who can't afford to purchase insurance on their own - that's most of us - cling to work-based policies. The job-based system is so embedded in American life that Clinton's health-care task force deliberately left it intact and tried instead to fill the gaps around it.

The Bush panel abandons this caution. It takes what could become the official first step toward dismantling the employer-based insurance system. It shifts ever more costs to workers. It assumes that people will just stop buying health care if it's too expensive. Roughly put, it expects the sick to do a cost-benefit analysis before buying the care that might make them well.
Particulars of the scheme here.
So this is really the health-care equivalent of the president's plan to privatize Social Security. It takes a real problem and provides no reasonable solution. Not for the vast majority of the 45 million uninsured. Not for middle-class workers struggling with stagnant wages and rising health costs. Not even for businesses with health expenses that hurt the bottom line.

Like the Social Security proposal, this one shifts the risk of managing life's inevitable rough waters from a system with shared burdens and benefits to one the individual must navigate alone. It's just too bad if you drown.
It strikes me that this is another "good for economic growth" scheme that will backfire badly.

If anyone believes corporations, freed from the cost of providing health care insurance, will give their employees a raise significant enough to cover the cost of a private health care insurance plan....go to your room without supper. Don't come out until you've grown a brain.

The fallout from this proposal for middle-class and the working poor is un-fricking-believable.

Hello, second or third job to pay for health care.

Goodbye, stay-at-home moms...unless the husband is one of those businessmen pocketing the windfall profits.

The middle class gets another demotion to "working poor".

The poor....forget it.

"It's just too bad if you drown"....you really have to wonder - did the Bushies watch the flooding in New Orleans and like what they saw?


Monday, November 07, 2005

FBI called in on Hill
The FBI and Capitol Police are investigating the vicious attack of a top Senate staffer at her home last week amid concerns that the assault might be related to her work on the Finance Committee.

Emilia DiSanto, chief investigator for committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), arrived at her suburban Virginia home after work Wednesday about 6:30 p.m. As she was unloading belongings from her car, a 6-foot-1-inch white man dressed in black struck her repeatedly with an unidentified object believed to be a baseball bat.

After she screamed to her family inside the house, the assailant fled. DiSanto was transported to Inova Fair Oaks Hospital, where she was treated for significant upper-body injuries. Nine staples were needed to close her head wound.

DiSanto, who declined to comment, has reported back to work.

The attack and the possibility that it was motivated by congressional business have made some people anxious on Capitol Hill.

“This is of obvious concern to anyone working here,” a Senate staffer said. “It’s very disconcerting when you worry about someone resorting to violence. This could be intimidation, and you wonder whether it’s safe to do your job.”

The attack on DiSanto came two days before a bomb threat caused alarm at an Iowa veterans home where Grassley was scheduled to appear.


Grassley is known for his aggressive oversight of the public and private sector. Over the past year, he has scrutinized healthcare fraud, organ-donation procedures used by hospitals, drug-safety matters and the use of nonprofit groups related to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Abramoff is a former president of the College Republican National Committee, close connection of every influential Republican on the planet, including Tom DeLay, Bob Ney, Karl Rove, Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, and just about anyone else you care to name. He is being investigated by grand juries in Washington, D.C., Ft. Lauderdale, FL, and Guam for three different scandals and facing serious prison time and/or numerous fines.

Ah, autumn

Screen capture from the Banner Elk, NC webcam. This is the little town where my kid goes to college.

You can browse more glorious North Carolina mountain webcams here.


Sunday, November 06, 2005

The American dream

Every parent hopes their children will have a better life than the parent, but lately I've despaired of what is to come for my child.

My "American dream" has been reduced to 'dying with a zero balance'...that is, NOT leaving her a bunch of our debts to pay.

But bless Doctor Senator Frist...he's still chasing that American dream for his young'uns -
Frist set up trust to avoid estate tax

Before selling off all holdings in his family’s healthcare corporation this summer, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) placed at least $350,000 of that company stock into a separate qualified blind trust designed to help his children avoid a hit from the estate tax, which he has long worked to repeal.

Frist’s second qualified blind trust was created from assets previously held by his late mother. The Senate Ethics Committee approved the new trust in December 2000 after lawyers finished settling her estate. In addition to Frist’s primary qualified blind trust, then valued between $5 million and $25 million, the senator declared a generation-skipping-tax-exempt trust then worth between $100,000 and $250,000.
Now, there's nothing illegal about this (I'd be happy to argue that there should be), and I'm glad to hear Senator Doctor Frist's brood won't be cast into the sufferings, toils and travails of upper-middle-class-hood.

But as OMB Watch notes -
A spokeswoman for budget watchdog OMB Watch, leader of the anti-repeal coalition Americans for a Fair Estate Tax, noted that several senators whose personal wealth subjects them to the estate tax still support its existence, particularly Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).

“I’m not surprised at all ...” said OMB Watch’s Anna Oman. “I think the Republican leadership has shown that they’re really voting on [the estate tax] in the interest of their powerful funders and probably in their own self-interest as well.”

Frist, the seventh-richest senator, according to 2005 financial disclosure forms, is the wealthiest member of his chamber to hold GST-exempt trusts.

The richest and third-richest senators, John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Rockefeller, have neither qualified blind nor GST-exempt trusts.
I know Sen. Rockefeller's fortune doesn't quite compare with the Commodore's, but geez....if a Rockefeller could forgo money-grubbing, you'd think the seventh wealthiest senator could restrain himself and follow the good example.


Friday, November 04, 2005

South to Bush - Kiss my grits

As Bryan points out in comments to an earlier post, it's pretty bad when a Republican can't get a majority in North Carolina.

According to Survey USA, Bush isn't doing all that well in other red states either.

As of October 18, 2005...and I don't think there's been any stupendous, fantastic surge in the polls since then (just the opposite - Plamegate, anyone?).

State - Approve/Disapprove
Utah - 61/36
Idaho - 55/44
Wyoming - 54/44
Alaska - 52/44
Nebraska - 52/45
Oklahoma - 51/46

....and th-th-th-that's all folks. After those six states, it's all downhill, including these selected samples -

Alabama - 48/49
Louisiana - 48/49
Mississippi - 48/48
Georgia - 46/52
Texas - 42/54
Florida - 41/58
South Carolina - 40/58
Tennessee - 40/57

Bush is losing the south for the Republican party.


(From The Hill)

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Sliding to rock bottom

Josh Marshall links to the 10/29/2005 Raleigh News & Observer article Poll: Bush approval in N.C. is sliding

The Elon University Institute for Politics and Public Affairs conducted the poll, which found that -
41 percent of those questioned approve of Bush's handling of the job of president. That is down from 45 percent in a poll Elon did in April and 52 percent from a poll the university did in March.
Other findings -
* That fewer North Carolinians approve of Bush's handling of the war in Iraq. Less than 39 percent of those surveyed approve of how Bush is handling the war, down from 45 percent in a poll the university did in March.

* That 51 percent of those surveyed said the U.S. should not be in Iraq, while 43 percent agreed with U.S. involvement in Iraq.

* That 37 percent of those surveyed approve of Bush's handling of the economy, up slightly from a poll taken in April.
With respect to the first two questions above regarding Bush's handling of the war, keep in mind North Carolina is a heavily military state, with numerous bases in the eastern section and a lot of military retirees.

Birds of a feather

I have a friend (who has moved and with whom I've lost touch) who is an evangelical Christian and a Democrat. Yeah, such creatures DO exist.

After voting a straight Democratic ticket her entire life, she voted for Dubya/Big Time in 2000.

Why? Because she was so strongly offended by the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

I pointed out to her....repeatedly....that Al Gore was NOT Bill Clinton, but it didn't seem to matter.

She reconciled her vote to her conscience by telling herself - "Dick Cheney is experienced, and Bush will have good people around him."

We know now that Cheney is certainly experienced; experienced at a lot of things no decent politician should even consider.

And those 'good people' around the Shrubbery?

You mean, like this?
"Can I quit now? Can I come home?" Brown wrote to Cindy Taylor, FEMA's deputy director of public affairs, the morning of the hurricane.

A few days later, Brown wrote to an acquaintance, "I'm trapped now, please rescue me."

"In the midst of the overwhelming damage caused by the hurricane and enormous problems faced by FEMA, Mr. Brown found time to exchange e-mails about superfluous topics," including "problems finding a dog-sitter," (Rep. Charlie) Melancon said.
Yes, Brownie is still on the job, pulling down a $148K yearly salary.

I think it's way past time he went home to do his own dog sitting.


Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Funniest quote of the day
"The United States Senate has been hijacked by the Democratic leadership," said Majority Leader Bill Frist. "They have no convictions, they have no principles, they have no ideas," the Republican leader said.

Like Republicans don't rule the roost or have any convictions, scruples, ethics, or USEFUL ideas whatsoever.

Senator Fristie feels like he's been slapped in the face.

Would you like to be slapped in the face, honey? Come on over.

I say he should be ashamed to show his face in public, along with most of the other Republican Senators. They have allowed the neocons to run roughshod over the Constitution and any other accepted democratic and moral tradition.

The most sensible arguments against gay marriage ever posted

(Via Lab Kat)

10 Reasons Why Gay Marriage is Wrong

01) Being gay is not natural. Real Americans always reject unnatural things like eyeglasses, polyester, and air conditioning.

02) Gay marriage will encourage people to be gay, in the same way that hanging around tall people will make you tall.

03) Legalizing gay marriage will open the door to all kinds of crazy behavior. People may even wish to marry their pets because a dog has legal standing and can sign a marriage contract.

04) Straight marriage has been around a long time and hasn't changed at all; women are still property, blacks still can't marry whites, and divorce is still illegal.

05) Straight marriage will be less meaningful if gay marriage were allowed; the sanctity of Britany Spears' 55-hour just-for-fun marriage would be destroyed.

06) Straight marriages are valid because they produce children. Gay couples, infertile couples, and old people shouldn't be allowed to marry because our orphanages aren't full yet, and the world needs more children.

07) Obviously gay parents will raise gay children, since straight parents only raise straight children.

08) Gay marriage is not supported by religion. In a theocracy like ours, the values of one religion are imposed on the entire country. That's why we have only one religion in America.

09) Children can never succeed without a male and a female role model at home. That's why we as a society expressly forbid single parents to raise children.

10) Gay marriage will change the foundation of society; we could never adapt to new social norms. Just like we haven't adapted to cars, the service-sector economy, or longer life spans.

Re-post this if you believe love makes a marriage.

kEine Kleine Vatican nose-thumbing

I don't have much to add to the debate regarding Supreme Court justice nominees; the whole idea of Cronys-R-Us combined with Dumbya making the selection gives me a severe headache, and I figure the Supreme Court was a lost cause when Bush the Smarter defeated Dukakis.

Nevertheless, Judge Alito's record on minority issues troubles me.
A law that had a "heavy impact on a few women" should be upheld, Alito said.(link)
Maybe it's just me, but I fail to see why a law having a 'heavy impact' on a few people of any gender, race, or creed should be upheld.

There's been some bemusement, however, over the possibility of five Roman Catholic Supremes.

Let's take a look -

Justice Anthony Kennedy - three children
Chief Justice John Roberts - two children
Justice Antonin Scalia - nine children
Justice Clarence Thomas - one child
nominee Judge Samuel Alito - two children

With the exception of Scalia, I'd say the prospect of a ban on birth control is pretty remote.

The next time the Church questions the right of pro-choice politicians to receive Holy Communion, perhaps we should ask the same thing about Supreme Court justices who practice birth control?


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