"Madame, bear in mind That princes govern all things--save the wind." -Victor Hugo, The Infanta's Rose

Saturday, December 31, 2005

New Year's Eve Pah-tay

Things are coming together for the big live party on the radio tonight. All the clocks are synched up to the exact second with official US Naval Observatory time, and we'll have not one but THREE midnight countdowns: one for folks in the Eastern time zone, one for us here in Texas and the last for anyone listening on Mountain time. I'm picking out some tasty tunage including the top 20 dance tracks of 2005, plus we'll have adult beverages and little weenies in BBQ sauce. W00t! What more could you ask for?? Tune in to the Shoutcast stream by clicking here and select your connect speed -- 96K for broadband stereo or 24K for mono dialup. You'll need Winamp or a similar player. If you want to join in live on the air, just Skype me (it's free) using the handle "star987fm". I'll also have an ICQ channel open (114-642-374) for shouts, requests, chat, obscene messages, or whatever. The fun all starts at 9 PM (central time).

Let's get funky, y'all!!

Friday, December 30, 2005

Look what I got for Christmas!

Oh boy! It's a Giant Plastic Hippo! Just what I always wanted! Wowie zowie! It's really big. Where the hell am I going to keep it? How will I explain this to my friends and relatives? They think I'm pretty strange already. Should I seek professional help? What if it eats my dwarf?? Oh shit, it's a Giant Plastic Hippo! My life is ruined!

But seriously folks: no giant hippos under the tree, but we do have a brand spankin' new Tivo box that in addition to recording our favorite programs, will also supposedly let us pause live TV, suggest other shows we might like to watch, download cool stuff from the Internet, play back slides and mp3's all over the house, feed the cats, and make a damn fine cup of coffee. All I have to do is figure out how to program the stupid thing, which is my assignment for the next week. In the meantime, 2006 is nearly upon us and I'd like to take this opportunity to wish everyone who might be reading this (both of you) a very sincere "Happy New Year". Since New Year's Eve falls on a Saturday this year, which coincides with my weekly radio show, we've decided to celebrate by throwing a party here at Chez Toast and broadcasting it live "on the air". If you'd like to join the toasty fun and debauchery, and are into trance/techno music, be sure and tune in Saturday night from 9 PM (Central Time) until 2 AM. The traditional countdown to the New Year will be featured just before midnight, although we'll have to pause for an extra leap second to allow the earth's rotation to catch up with us. This is for real, not because we're such wild party animals or anything. The planet apparently is wobbly enough in it's rotation to get out of sync with our accurate atomic clocks about every seven years or so. Fortunately for us all, however, the folks at World Jump Day have a plan: get 600 million people to jump into the air at the exact same moment (6:39:13 AM EDT) on July 20, 2006. The resultant momentary displacement of mass, it is claimed, will nudge the Earth into a slightly different orbit and thus "very likely stop global warming, extend daytime hours and create a more homogenous climate". Whoa, somebody cue the Van Halen -- 2006 is going to be a great freaking year!!

Still, this does not affect our need to add one leap-second to the clock on Saturday night. Now a second may not sound like much, but if you consider that the world's population is about 6.5 billion and multiply that by one second, that means that collectively, we have somewhere around an extra 206 years on our hands. What a bonanza! So, responsible public-service spirited netizen that I am, let me offer a few suggestions about how to use that second of extra time:
  • Take the scenic route to your refrigerator.
  • Speed-read a book. War and Peace, Ulysses or The Complete Works of Shakespeare would be good choices.
  • Delete a few more "spam" messages from your computer.
  • Take a quick, one-second nap. You need all the rest you can get.
  • Do volunteer work for the less fortunate. If you see an orphan, elderly shut-in or homeless person, wave at them and smile.
  • Contemplate your existence, and your unique place in the great tapestry of life. But when you do this, be sure not to scream out loud as it will disturb everyone else's contemplation of their own existence, and they'll hate you even more.
Whatever you do, don't use the extra time to watch TV. Since there's not much else on besides crappy reality programming, one second of it is about all you can take anyway. It's also not a good idea to be on the phone with a lawyer, or engage in any other activitiy that charges by the hour or fraction of an hour (i.e., the babysitter).

Above all, don't squander the time reading some ridiculous blog post about how to spend your leap second... Oops, too late!

But no matter how you choose to celebrate the holiday...


Monday, December 26, 2005

Animal, vegetable, or mineral?

Funny how things work. Of all the games, toys, and other goodies lavished on the young 'uns for Christmas this year by parents, grandparents, and various other relatives, the biggest hit of all was this silly little item we gave them. It's simply uncanny in how specifically it's able to guess what you're thinking, and even the adults (read: kids at heart) are fascinated by it. Geek that I am, I can't help but think that thirty years ago, the computing power inside this little plastic orb would have filled a very large room and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you want to play the game, but don't want to spend the $12.95, go here.

Hope everyone's having a great holiday so far. I'll post another update when we're back home later in the week.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Meowy Christmas

I'll be taking some time off to spend Christmas with the family, and then some more medical stuff in Houston, so this will probably be my last post for a few days. I wanted to leave you with my sincerest wishes for a very Happy Holiday, whether you celebrate it as Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or something else; I hope you are blessed with love and joy, not to mention lots of neat presents! In honor of Catblogging Friday, this message also features a cheerful feline greeting as well.

Here's wishing that "peace on earth, good will to men" (and women) can really happen.


Thursday, December 22, 2005

To dream the impossible dream

After all the "serious" political drama in the blog lately I thought it might be time for some lighter fare, so here's a fluffy but interesting little story that has nothing to do with speed dating or Elton John.

If you're a young woman in today's society, you are likely being pressured to adopt an image that is virtually unattainable in real life. It's not exactly headline news that nearly all photos appearing on magazine covers, fashion articles, advertisements and so forth are touched up, but the average person may not realize just how far beyond reality this process goes. Take a look at the photos of the model below. Like the Hocus-Focus cartoon panels in the newspaper, can you spot at least 12 differences between the two images? (Click on the picture to see a larger version.)

The photo on the left is the original picture. The one on the right is the shot as it appeared in a leading teen fashion magazine, and has been retouched to (among other things) brighten the eyes, whiten and straighten the teeth, remove facial blemishes and creases, pinch the waistline, alter the cheekbones and chin, thicken the hair and make it more blonde, and make the model's breasts appear larger. You can view a fascinating interactive demo of exactly how this was accomplished here.

The point of the Girlpower site is that young people shouldn't compare themselves to an ideal of "perfect beauty" as it's presented in the media, because most times those images are based on a lie. Accept yourself as the unique individual that you are.

Speaking of retouched photos, here's a shot of me and a friend from the Great White North hangin' in my backyard. OK, the colors are too different to make it really convincing, but you get the idea.

Fake News Headlines


Calls Invasion of Privacy ‘The Gift That Keeps On Giving’

In a special pre-holiday address to the American people, President George W. Bush today said that the upcoming holiday season affords all Americans a unique opportunity to spy on their neighbors, and urged his fellow citizens to do so.

“My fellow Americans, over the holidays many of you will be receiving new camcorders as gifts,” President Bush told his national television audience. “Instead of making boring home movies of your children, point the camera at the house next door and see what your neighbors are up to.”

Saying that the people next door “might be evildoers,” Mr. Bush said that by spying on one’s neighbors, “You’re going to find out who’s naughty or nice.”

Coming just days after he defended his own practice of wiretapping phone conversations without a court warrant, Mr. Bush’s exhortation to the American people to snoop on one another over the holidays was the latest indication that he intends to ramp up domestic spying in the new year.

“Invasion of privacy is the gift that keeps on giving,” the president said.

Perhaps in an attempt to preempt criticism of his domestic spying program, Mr. Bush added that he was “more than willing” to let the government spy on him.

“Go ahead, get a list of every library book I’ve taken out in the last five years,” he said. “You won’t find anything.”


Pentagon Renames Iraq Conflict ‘Operation Infinite Expense’

Just hours after the Pentagon estimated the cost of the war in Iraq at half a trillion dollars, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld revised that figure slightly upward, restating the cost of the war as one zillion dollars.

“In turns out that the half trillion figure left out some important budget items, and one zillion is actually a lot closer to the mark,” Secretary Rumsfeld told reporters. “My bad.”

To reflect the new, higher cost of the war, the Pentagon today officially renamed the conflict “Operation Infinite Expense.”

When asked to explain the upward revision, the defense secretary said that the half-trillion figure was based on projections of the war in Iraq lasting five to ten years, while the zillion dollar figure reflects the most up-to-date estimate of the war’s duration, which he characterized as “forever and ever.”

“Based on what we’re seeing on the ground in Iraq, the war will probably last longer than Vietnam but not quite as long as Cher’s Farewell Tour.”

Secretary Rumsfeld defended the new price tag for the war in Iraq, explaining, “When you keep in mind that this war is never going to end, and it will be around for our children and our children’s children, a zillion dollars is a bargain by any yardstick.”

At the White House, President Bush acknowledged that the zillion-dollar price tag was higher than he had originally anticipated, but added, “Freedom isn’t free – in fact, it costs one zillion dollars.”

Source: The Borowitz Report

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

He sees you when you're sleeping

A few "Snoopgate" developments in the last 48 hours:
  • The Washington Times, a far-right newspaper that usually sides with the President, says Bush "presents a clear and present danger to the rule of law" and "cannot be trusted to conduct the war".
  • In a scathing report, this Newsweek article by Jonathan Alter tells that Bush summoned the publisher of the NYT to the Oval Office to try and kill the eavesdropping story - not in the interests of national security, but because it would "reveal him as a law-breaker".
  • If even über-conservative George Will is saying Bush blew it, you know Dubya's in real trouble.
  • A federal judge who oversees government surveillance in intelligence cases has resigned in protest, saying Bush's order "tainted" the work of the secret panel. More details here.
  • The White House claim that only those suspected of international ties to al-Qaeda were targets of the unwarranted wiretaps doesn't hold water. According to the New York Times, the investigations "involved, at least indirectly, groups active in causes as diverse as the environment, animal cruelty and poverty relief".

The shit's hitting the fan big-time, folks.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

A soldier's Christmas

One thing I'd like to make very clear on this blog is that while I am no fan of Dubya and how he involved us in Iraq, I have nothing but the utmost respect and admiration for our troops who are doing the dirty work over there while politicians and pundits argue about it from the safety and comfort of our warm homes. With that in mind, I want to post this poem sent to me today by a friend. I found it very touching. Please pray for our soldiers and other military personnel and their families every night. Regardless of the reason they were sent there, these men and women are the ones defending our freedom to debate their mission, and they deserve our support. The sooner they can come home, the better.

A Different Kind of Christmas Poem

The embers glowed softly, and in their dim light,
I gazed round the room, and I cherished the sight.
My wife was asleep, her head on my chest,
My daughter beside me, angelic in rest.

Outside, the snow fell, a blanket of white,
Transforming the yard to a winter delight.
The sparkling lights in the tree I believe,
Completed the magic that was Christmas Eve.

My eyelids were heavy, my breathing was deep,
Secure, and surrounded by love, I would sleep.
In perfect contentment, or so it would seem,
So I slumbered, perhaps, and started to dream.

The sound wasn't loud, and it wasn't too near,
But I opened my eyes when it tickled my ear.
Perhaps just a cough, I didn't quite know,
Then the sure sound of footsteps outside in the snow.

My soul gave a tremble, I struggled to hear,
And I crept to the door just to see who was near.
Standing out in the cold and the dark of the night,
A lone figure stood, his face weary and tight.

A soldier, I thought, some twenty years old,
Perhaps a Marine, huddled here in the cold.
Alone in the dark, he looked up and smiled,
Standing watch over me, and my wife and my child.

"What are you doing?" I asked without fear,
"Come in, right this moment, it's freezing out here!"
"Put down your pack, brush the snow from your sleeve,
You should be at home on a cold Christmas Eve!"

For barely a moment I saw his eyes shift,
Away from the cold and the snow blown in drifts.
To the window that danced with a warm fire's light,
Then he sighed and he said "Its really all right,

I'm out here by choice. I'm here every night."
"So please, don't you worry, everything is alright."
"It's my duty to stand at the front of the line,
That separates you from the darkest of times."

"No one had to ask or beg or implore me,
I'm proud to stand here like my fathers before me."
"My Gramps died at 'Pearl, on a day in December,"
Then he sighed, "That's a Christmas 'Gram always remembers."

"My dad stood his watch in the jungles of 'Nam,
And now it is my turn, and so friend, here I am."
"I've not seen my own son in more than a while,
But my wife sends me pictures, he's sure got her smile."

Then he bent and he carefully pulled from his bag,
The red, white, and blue... an American flag.
"I can live through the cold and the being alone,
Away from my family, my house and my home."

"I can stand at my post through the rain and the sleet,
I can sleep in a foxhole with little to eat."
"I can carry the weight of killing another,
Or lay down my own life for my sister or brother."

"We stand at the front against any and all,
To ensure for all time that this flag will not fall."
"So go back inside," he said, "harbor no fright,
"Your family is waiting, and I'll be all right."

"But isn't there something I can do, at the least,"
"Give you money," I asked, "or prepare you a feast?"
"It seems all too little for all that you've done,
For being away from your wife and your son."

Then his eye welled a tear, but he held no regret,
"Just tell us you love us, and never forget."
"To fight for our rights back at home while we're gone,
To stand your own watch, no matter how long."

"For when we come home, either alive or dead,
To know you remembered, we fought and we bled."
"It's payment enough, and with that we will trust,
That we mattered to you ... as you mattered to us."

-Author unknown

The perils of King George

It's taken a couple of days for me to let the recent developments regarding George Bush, Iraq, and the secret wiretap scandal sink in, and I can now safely say that I am appalled, ashamed, and outraged.

Granted, in a free society there has to be a dividing line somewhere between civil liberties and the overall public good -- the often-mentioned example being that free speech does not give you the right to falsely yell "fire" in a crowded theatre. But Bush has pushed this line far beyond what is reasonable and necessary. Americans realize that some compromises must be made to deal with the very real threats of domestic terrorism since 9/11, however I believe that suspending the Constitution of the United States, no matter how noble the cause, is simply inconsistent with the principles on which this country was founded. Spying on citizens without a court warrant is the action of a dictatorship, and there's tragic irony to me in the fact that US soldiers are dying in Iraq to establish constitutional law there while those same tenets are being ignored here in our own country.

Across America today, the anger is being heard loud and clear:
Kansas City Star: "The Struggle With Foreign Enemies Does Not Simply Give Him A Blank Check"

Denver Post: Adm. Has Lost "Balance Between Essential Anti-Terrorism Tools And Encroachment On Liberties"

LA Times: "Stunning," "One Of The More Egregious Cases Of Governmental Overreach"

Wash. Post: "The Tools Of Foreign Intelligence Are Not Consistent With A Democratic Society"

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: "Unacceptable Actions Of A Police State"

St. Petersburg Times: "So Dangerously Ill-Conceived And Contrary To This Nation's Guiding Principles"

NY Times: Bush "Secretly And Recklessly Expanded The Govt.'s Powers In Dangerous And Unnecessary Ways"
And yet, what I find most incredible is that Bush goes on national television to declare that not only did he break the law, but that he intends to keep on doing it -- and anyone who disagrees with him is a traitor who is helping the enemy. "It was a shameful act for someone to disclose this important program in a time of war," he claims. In other words, according to Bush, the "abuse" is in the reporting of the truth, not his violations. This is like telling the cop who stops you for speeding that he should be ashamed of himself for enforcing the law.

The President's recent blitz of speeches and press events only shows a pathetic attempt to bolster his sagging poll numbers, while revealing nothing new beyond the "stay the course" bromide he's been peddling all along. It's true that in looking past the slogans and platitudes, there has indeed been some recent progress in Iraq, and it's refreshing to see Bush admit that the information justifying the war was wrong to begin with. But this speech should have been made two years ago, not when he is finally cornered into admitting the truth -- facts that were likely known at the very beginning of the conflict. His anger at critics was obvious; during his news conference, Bush bristled at many questions, and raised his voice when challenging opponents of extending the Patriot Act, which expires at year-end. "I want senators from New York or Los Angeles or Las Vegas to go home and explain why these cities are safer" without it, he said, referring directly to Democrats Harry Reid and Hillary Clinton, who helped block passage of the extension in the Senate last week.

I'll tell you why: because they're American cities, and the people who live in them know they only live in a free country when they have the expectation of privacy and other fundamental liberties guaranteed by our founding fathers. Hopefully, one consequence of these revelations of unwarranted government intrusion will be to hammer the final nail in the coffin of this odious legislation disguised as "patriotism", that threatens our freedom more than any terrorist act.

There's a joke going around now that says, "Why doesn't someone just give him a blowjob so we can impeach him?" But not surprisingly, serious calls for Bush's impeachment are being heard more loudly. So far, most of it has come from the left, such as media writer Bob Burnett, former Attorney-General Ramsey Clark, the Veterans for Peace, and other so-called "liberals". But if Bush continues this cavalier course, I envision that many "mainstream" Americans will begin calling their Senators and Congress members to demand that he be held accountable for blatantly misleading the country and trampling on the Bill of Rights.

Of course, the possibility of impeachment opens an entirely different can of worms, one that I doubt the country is ready for just yet. Still, the "long train of abuses and usurpations" by this administration grows ever longer, and the leader of any nation who so openly flaunts his disdain for the Law and the rights of the people deserves what he gets. King George III found this out the hard way; King George The Bush may also.

Monday, December 19, 2005

New! Now with extra bloggy goodness!

This may give you some idea of just how oddly my mind works: I have this recurring fantasy about product tampering.

I don't mean in a bad way, like actually messing with the content of a product; that would not be funny at all. But, next time you go to the supermarket, notice all the "marketing messages" on most retail items, like "New!" "Improved!" or some other catchy slogan designed to entice you into buying that particular product. What I've always found amusing is the unspoken message that if a product is now "improved", then what the hell was it before? Lousy? So in my fantasy, I use a laser printer to create bright, colorful, eye-catching labels which I then surreptitiously slap on various grocery items as I roam about the store. This would be sure to cause confusion and consternation on the part of some little-old-lady shopper who comes along later. As she picks up, say, a jar of peanut butter and is about to drop it into her cart, she notices a big flashy red star-shaped label on it that reads:


or on a can of mixed vegetables:


Or here's a few others, good for things like cereal, potato chips, bread, etc.:





I'm not sure why I find this idea so funny. It speaks to me of the absurdity of marketing and gullible consumerism, and I love a good practical joke. The other possibility of course, is that I simply have a sick and twisted sense of humor. But rest assured - even though I may have thought about this from time to time, I'm sure I will never actually do it. For one thing, it's got to be highly illegal. Retail stores take a very dim view of product tampering in any form, and would certainly fail to be amused by such a prank. After some irate customer brought a bottle of shampoo bearing a colorful "NEW! FRESH SEWAGE SCENT!" sticker to the Wal-Mart manager's attention, they would probably have to take extensive measures to assure that the contents of the product had not in fact been tampered with. Plus, 90% of the fun would be seeing the aghast, confused look on the face of the shopper who discovered the item, and I'd miss out on that. How do you enjoy a joke if you can't be there for the punch line? So, this will have to stay my own strange little fantasy. For now, heh heh.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Future family member?

Happy Catblogging Friday everyone, and with that spirit in mind I'd like to share a couple of photos of a feral backyard visitor we've had hanging out with us for the last month or so:

We're not 100% sure if this is a boy or girl kitty, but judging by it's demeanor and the lack of any noticeable "spraying" activity, we think that it's most likely female. We also think there's a good chance she's already been fixed, because she looks old enough to be in season, but we haven't seen any other males come a-courtin' so far. It's hard to tell how long she's been in the wild; she's very skittish about being approached, but we suspect she may have once had a home. That's a common problem in this college town: a surprising number of students pack up and move away when they graduate, and just leave their former pets behind to fend for themselves. It's hard for me to understand this throwaway attitude toward animal life, but it's an unfortunate fact. A number of groups such as the good folks at O'Malley Alley Cats try to help control the feral population with TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return) programs, but there's only so much they can do. Also, some unenlightened members of the public actively oppose TNR efforts as worthless, in the mistaken belief that all feral cats are a nuisance and should just be rounded up and killed.

I've always had a soft spot for stray animals - cats in particular, and virtually every cat I've ever had in my life has been one that has "chosen" to give up the feral life and come live with me. The two we have now were part of a litter of four kittens we discovered living under our shed out back a few years ago. As best as we can tell, someone dumped them off inside our fenced yard. This photo shows them at the point when they were confident enough to sleep next to our back door (because they had figured out that was where the food came from!) but still afraid to come inside the house. It took many weeks of patience, feeding, and gentle coaxing before they allowed themselves to be touched. Ultimately, they came to trust us, and we found homes for two of them and kept the other two. They've now become cherished family members, although Callie (front right in the picture) has never been completely domesticated, and still hides under the bed at any loud sound or sudden movement. We came to the conclusion that they simply accepted us into their "pack", and think of us as just a couple of other, really big, wild cats like themselves.

We're still at the very tentative, early stage with this newest kitty as well, although I scored a major breakthrough yesterday when she allowed me to pet her for the very first time while she was distracted by the can of food she had her nose buried in. She's even briefly ventured inside the house a couple of times, but run right back out again. I think it's just a matter of time until she learns to trust me, and at the first good opportunity I plan to snatch her up and take her to our vet so he can check her out, verify her (his?) sex, if she has in fact been fixed (and neuter her if not), and get her shots. In the meantime, we're keeping the other two shut in the bedroom whenever we open the door to feed her, so that she doesn't have any contact with them until we're sure she's tested negative for FeLuke or any other communicable diseases.

I'll update my progress with Puddy Tat here in the blog, but let me close this post with a seasonal suggestion. If anyone reading this might possibly be entertaining thoughts of getting their child (or anyone else for that matter) a kitten or puppy for Christmas, please don't buy one from a pet shop. Pet shops are notorious for obtaining many of their animals from kitten/puppy mills that breed them in some of the most disgusting, inhumane conditions imaginable. There are so many unfortunate animals that must be put down each year due to overpopulation and a lack of homes, and they don't deserve this. Visit your local shelter, or the fine web site Pet Finder, to adopt a pet who is eagerly waiting to join your family. The love and gratitude in their eyes, and the knowledge that you have saved just one life, however small, will be well worth it.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Somehow, this does not surprise me

Looks like I'll be getting a big fat lump of coal in my stocking this year:

Christmas Naughty or Nice List

I am on the The Naughty List

After checking the North Pole database I had :

1,057 nice entries
2,420 naughty entries
Check your name on the Christmas Naughty or Nice List at JokesUnlimited.com

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Back from the brink

The hard drive restoration is coming along slowly, but surely. I still have some tweaking of various configuration settings to do, but my backup (from August 2004!) installed OK and there hadn't been MAJOR changes since then -- just a bunch of minor ones. Grrrrrr! But links are starting to work again, for those who may have noticed that all the mp3's I had posted here disappeared when the drive went south. To celebrate their return, here's another jolly little Christmas tune for your holiday listening pleasure, this one by special request from Janelle who will b-b-b-be just th-th-thrilled to uh uh uh, you know, hear th-this:

More to come as I hopefully continue to get my shit together (more or less).

Monday, December 12, 2005

Crash and burn

Well my weekend was going very nicely until about 8 PM Sunday night, when my main system computer decided to go El Crap-O on me. Yes, my poor C:\ drive is just freaking ... gone. Gone! The drive makes this pathetic clicking noise when it tries to boot, so I know it's history. The good news: I have an image backup of the disk partition, so I can restore it once I get a new drive without having to reinstall Windows from scratch. The bad news: I made this backup well over a year ago. Expect much gnashing of teeth and cursing here at Chez Toast over the next week or two.

So looks like I'll be using my laptop for a while until I'm able to get things back to semi-normal. But let this little tale of misfortune serve as an inspiration to you, people - remember that HARD DRIVES DO FAIL! MAKE BACKUPS AND KEEP THEM UP TO DATE!!

OK, on a lighter note, from now on you can just call me "Ivan".

Your Pornstar Name is:
Ivan Valentine

Take this quiz at QuizUniverse.com

And yes, in case you're wondering, that is in fact an actual picture of me above. It was taken just the other day by ... my wife ... Morgan Fairchild. Yeah, that's the ticket! Yeah, you betcha!

Friday, December 09, 2005

Friday Catblogging (updated)

Introducing a new feature here on WITW, which seeks "to provide a non-political respite from the vehement echo chamber that the Blogosphere spins itself into during the week, demonstrating that even the mightiest and meekest of pundits have a love of cats in common". Even though it's been around for a while, I've recently discovered Friday Catblogging, where posts only have a few simple rules:

(1) They should be on Friday (well, duh!)
(2) The post should be about cats (double duh!) - either pictures of your cat, someone else's cat, or something to do with cats.
(3) Snarky political commentary, even if somehow cat-related, is discouraged. The "respite" thing, and all.

So here's my first Friday Catblogging photo:

The sweetie in the middle is Miss Cotton, who crossed over the Rainbow Bridge a year ago Thanksgiving at the ripe old age of 22. There's a story about that, but I'll save it for another day. In the meantime, if you want to get into this catblogging thing, here's a few links to get you started:

The Oubliette

When Cats Attack!
Sharp As A Marble
The Daily Whim
Way cool Catbloggers Frappr Map
Finally, use caution when visiting IMAO and The Conservative Cat, who totally ignore the "no snarky political comment" rule.

CatBlogging Friday should be much easier than Half-Nekkid Thursday, as no semi-embarrasing exposed bare flesh is required. The phenomenon has even resulted in the following article which appeared in the New York Times last year:

The New York Times
October 28, 2004

On Fridays, Bloggers Sometimes Retract Their Claws


IN the vitriolic world of political Web logs, two polar extremes are Eschaton (atrios.blogspot.com), a liberal, often anti-Bush site with a passionate following, and Instapundit (www.instapundit.com), where an equally fervent readership goes for hearty praise of the Administration.

It would seem unlikely that the two blogs' authors could see eye-to-eye about anything. Yet Eschaton's Duncan Black (known as Atrios) and Instapundit's Glenn Reynolds have both taken part in a growing practice: turning over a blog on Friday to cat photographs.

"It brings people together," said Kevin Drum, who began the cat spotlight last year on his own blog, Calpundit (www.calpundit.com). "Both Atrios and Instapundit have done Friday catblogging. It goes to show you can agree on at least a few things."

Mr. Drum has moved on to write a blog for The Washington Monthly called Political Animal, which, despite its name, features no cats. But for him, watching bloggers step back from partisanship in favor of the warmth of cat pictures is a reminder of the March 2003 day when he discovered that his cats offered an antidote to stressful blogging.

"I'd just blogged a whole bunch of stuff about what was wrong with the world," Mr. Drum said. "And I turned around and I looked out the window, and there was one of my cats, just plonked out, looking like nothing was wrong with the world at all."

Grabbing his camera, Mr. Drum photographed his cat, Inkblot, and posted the picture (calpundit.com/archives/000597.html). He soon began doing it each Friday, attracting fans who just wanted to see the felines.

"I had a lot of people who were looking forward to it," he said. "I started getting e-mails on Friday mornings where people were like, 'Where's catblogging? What's going on?' "

As often happens in the blogosphere, other people latched onto the idea and ran with it.

These days, all kinds of bloggers are Friday catblogging, often playing around with the concept, even as Mr. Drum has stopped.

Cosma Shalizi is one of them. A postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Michigan, Dr. Shalizi sometimes devotes Fridays on his blog, Three-Toed Sloth (www.cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/weblog), to what he calls "Friday Cat Blogging (Science Geek Edition)."

In those entries, interspersed among his thoughts on various academic disciplines, Dr. Shalizi ventures into scientific discussions related at least peripherally to cats.

On another blog, Spocko's Brain (s88172659.onlinehome.us/spockosbrain.html), the author wrote in one Friday posting: "I'm new to this blogging stuff, but from what I understand all the really cool kids post pictures of their cats on Fridays. Here's mine."

It was a giant Caterpillar tractor.

Even NASA has played along, posting a picture one recent Friday of the Cat's Eye nebula (antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap040910.html).

Some participants take Friday catblogging very seriously. Laurence Simon, a 35-year-old Houston technical support engineer, decided a while back that with so many people catblogging, it would be good to have a weekly compendium of the best of each week's entries.

So he began to post what he called the "Carnival of the Cats," a roundup (www.carnivalofthecats.com) of that week's Friday catblogging, available the following Sunday.

"The reason why I do it on Sunday evening is that most people aren't online," Mr. Simon said, "so on Monday morning, when people get into the office and are facing their first horrible cup of coffee, they can look at pictures of cats until they get screamed at for the first time of the day."

For a while, Mr. Simon was the host of Carnival of the Cats, but he decided to pass along the honor. Now, a different person handles the Carnival of the Cats each Sunday, compiling a healthy group of Friday postings for that groggy Monday morning audience.

One recent host was Sharon Brogan, a poet from Missoula, Mont. Ms. Brogan is new to blogging, having been at it for only three months. But it didn't take long for her to become a Friday catblogging convert (www.sbpoet.com/friday_cat_blogging).

"I enjoy it because it pulls together folks who wouldn't even read each others' blogs otherwise," Ms. Brogan said. "People from all across the political spectrum, Web diarists and serious craft people. As long as you are into cats, you belong in the group."

In any case, given the nature of the blogosphere, others have adapted Mr. Drum's inspiration for their own purposes. There are a number of Friday dogblogging and Friday birdblogging sites. One can even imagine Friday mongooseblogging.

To some, the point is that posting pictures of their animals provides a chance to introduce a softer personality into blogs that are often hard-edged.

"It's just nice for bloggers to do things that show themselves as ordinary people," Mr. Drum said, "not just partisan political writers."

Mr. Black agreed. It's a "way to humanize me and a way to put a little bit of me into the blog without going into my personal life," he said.

Of course, while Mr. Black's readers usually come to Eschaton for his takes on the political landscape, many visit on Friday to check for cats.

"It's the one thing that readers demand that I do," Mr. Black said. His cats "generally get positive comments," he said, although "some people think that they're fat."

WARM AND FUZZY - Kevin Drum at his office in Irvine, Calif., with Inkblot. One Friday last year Mr. Drum began a custom of turning over his Web log to cat photographs. "It brings people together," he said.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

So there you go, everything you ever wanted to know about CatBlogging Friday. Happy CBF and have a great weekend, y'all.

Saddam update

After digging around some more, it appears that Harvey Olson over at Bad Example is the author of Monday's Jack-Nicholson-as-Saddam post. Tip o' the Toast hat to you, Harv.

And while we're on the subject of megalomaniac ex-dictators standing trial for war crimes, WaPo's Charles Krauthammer nails it when he says: "There hasn't been such judicial incompetence since Judge Ito and the O.J. trial". I am having a hard time understanding how this animal has been allowed a global platform upon which to spout his rantings. Instead, he should be in shackles. What a farce.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Merry Chris.... er, Winter Solstice

Click the mini-player below to listen to a joyful holiday tune from Red Peters and His Swingin' Hamsters while you read this post:

As you can see by the picture on the right, the tree has gone up in the ol' Toast household and is being dutifully inspected by the cats, who are looking to see what kitty treats may be lurking beneath it. This event, plus hearing "Sleigh Ride" played on the radio for the humpteenth time (today) can only mean one thing: it's time for me to start taking my Xanax and drinking heavily. Yes, "The Christmas Season" has officially begun, and for most people, this inspires peace, joy, cheer, and a sense of belonging. It can be a fun time of year filled with parties, gatherings with family and friends, and optimistic hopes for the new year. For many others, however, it can also be a time of great anxiety and depression. I am one of the latter.

While there are numerous justifiable reasons for becoming anxious due to the stress of holiday shopping, cooking and entertaining, Holiday Depression goes much deeper than just having the "blues". In a recent survey, well over a quarter of respondents said that in an ideal world, they would like to go to sleep on December 23rd and not get out of bed until January 2nd. This would suit me just fine.

For a number of years, I have realized that I'm one of those affected by seasonal depression. I start becoming aware of a feeling of "dread" usually around the end of September. It gets considerably worse by the time the first Christmas music is heard in stores or on TV (mid-October!), and as of today, I have definitely reached the "freaking out" stage. So I wanted to use this post to write about some of the thoughts that make me feel this way; I know that they are irrational and unjustified, but I have them nevertheless. I am also aware of some methods recommended by medical professionals to control these anxieties, and writing about it is one thing that seems to help me cope.

There's a number of reasons why this is so common. The Thanksgiving to New Year's season occurs during the time of year when there are the fewest number of hours of daylight. Research has shown up to ten percent of the general population are significantly affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD); regardless of other holiday stress factors, sufferers of true Seasonal Affective Disorder may experience chronic fatigue, difficulty in sleeping, irritability, and feelings of sadness. Recently, there's been some evidence that light therapy, where people are exposed to artificial sunlight to augment the shorter days, can be of help.

Psychologists say that the single most significant factor that contributes to Holiday Depression is unrealistic expectations: the contrast between what we want and what we get, what should be and what is, what is and what was, what we expect of ourselves and others, and what we and others can really do. The media doesn't help very much with this, frequently presenting a Norman Rockwell image of a "perfect" Christmas featuring rosy-cheeked loved ones gathered around the present-laden tree, singing carols and enjoying cups of wassail after their sleigh ride over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house, while chestnuts roast on the open fire. For most of us, this image is unattainable even if we wanted it; but it conditions us to think that there's something "wrong" with us if we don't. More often, we remember at least one or two special years when as children, Christmas was indeed that magical time when dreams came true. We never stop being a kid at holiday time and wanting Christmas to be like that again. It seldom is for most adults, although having your own kids and being able to experience the joy of the holiday through their eyes can make a big difference.

Still, the stress to find the "perfect gift" can be overwhelming. We may subconsciously fear that others will judge us by the Christmas presents we give them, and that we are "good people" deserving of their affection only if we are able to correctly anticipate whatever object they might enjoy receiving more than anything else. Even though we know this isn't really true, we may still be affected by this subtle pressure to show people how much we care by the size, expense, or relevance of our gifts.

The perennial debate over the secular versus the religious aspects of Christmas can also dilute whatever goodwill comes with the season. I recognize and try to always remember that first and foremost, this holiday in fact celebrates the birth of Jesus, but I get weary of the endless controversy over this. Those who insist that stores should not even use the word "Christmas" because it contains a religious reference to Christ are misguided, and should get over it. But I'm equally exasperated at those who try to shove their religion down my throat by claiming that I'm a pagan for decorating my house with an image of Santa Claus. I want them all to just shut up and stop trying to tell others how to live their lives.

The troubled times we now live in can make the season even more disturbing as well. The phrase "peace on earth, good will towards men" seems like an ironic, cruel joke when people are killing each other in record numbers. Pessimists find it hard to hear Elvis sing "if every day were just like Christmas, what a wonderful world it would be", and not think "Dammit, it's not a wonderful world. It's filled with hatred that doesn't let up just because of a certain date on the calendar".

Fortunately, there's no shortage of helpful suggestions for fighting these negative thought patterns. Many tips can be found in this Newsweek article, or from this family therapist, or here, or here, or here. They boil down to a few simple ideas:

(1) Have more realistic expectations of yourself and others.
(2) Don't try to recreate the holidays as we knew them when we were kids or when first married, but try instead to create something that works for us now.
(3) Set reasonable financial goals for gift-giving and entertaining.
(4) Maintain a decent diet, regular exercise, and regular sleep patterns during the holidays.
(5) Count your blessings. Things are better than they may seem.

So I'm really trying not to be all "bah, humbug" over this and control my depression, and the final point in the above list brings me around to "Dear Abby". In an earlier post this week, I mentioned that I had been moved by a poignant letter in the newspaper advice column, and here it is:
DEAR ABBY: My husband and I were married for 35 wonderful years, and Christmas was our favorite time of year. As I sit here this morning, I remember all the time we wasted worrying about getting the "perfect" gift for everyone, when in reality the most perfect gift you can give is yourself and your love.

We had seven beautiful kids, 23 beautiful grandchildren and five adorable great-grandchildren, so it took a lot of time to shop for everyone. I realize that the most perfect gift would be to have my darling husband here with us. He passed away Oct. 10, 2003.

I now understand that the perfect gifts were the love and closeness we shared together, and you can't buy that in any department store.

So, Abby, please suggest to your readers that when they're agonizing about finding the perfect gift, they should look right under their own noses. They may find they already have it.

There's not much I can add to that, so here's wishing a joyous, relaxed, non-depressing holiday season to anyone reading this. Holy shit, it's Christmas!!...

...And to all, a good night.

Monday, December 05, 2005

A few bad men

The trial of Saddam Hussein has resumed in Baghdad after a lengthy delay over security concerns and Saddam's claim that the tribunal has no jurisdiction over him. From the official transcript, this testimony:

Saddam: You want answers?

Jaafar Moussawi (chief prosecuting attorney): I think I'm entitled to them.

Saddam: You want answers?

Moussawi: I want the truth!

Saddam: You can't handle the truth!...Son, we live in a world that has Kurds, and those Kurds have to be killed by men with mustard gas. Who's gonna do it?... You? Some Jew named Weinberg?

I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for the Kurds and you curse the Baath Party. You have that luxury. You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that gassing those Kurds to death, while tragic, probably put me in the lead in Laurence Simon's Dead Pool. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, keeps President Bush OUT of the lead in Laurence Simon's Dead Pool.

You don't want the truth because, deep down in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me to gas Kurds... you need me to gas Kurds.

I use words like mass murder, slaughter, genocide. I use these words as the backbone of a life spent killing people. You use them as a criminal charge.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who will make a fortune selling the movie rights to the story of this trial and then questions the manner in which I killed the Kurds that made this trial possible! I would rather you just said "Allah Akbar!" and went on your way. Otherwise I suggest you pick up some mustard gas and kill some Kurds. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you are entitled to.

Moussawi: Did you gas those Kurds?

Saddam: (quietly) I did what I needed to do to get ahead in Laurence Simon's Dead Pool.

Moussawi: Did you gas those Kurds?


- - -

PS: This blog strives to be fair: I don't know the author of the above, or I would credit them. It isn't me, but I have a sneaky suspicion that whoever it is has some ties to Laurence Simon's Dead Pool.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Abby's got a point

For years during my formative youth, I would read the Dear Abby advice column from time to time in the newspaper. Never a "regular" reader, I always took her comments with the same grain of salt as one would take opinion from say, a nosy neighbor or dotty but well-meaning aunt, and I frequently made fun of whatever wisdom she doled out. But every once in a while I thought her pithy common-sense advice to some of life's problems, both major and minor, was dead on the mark. Whether one agreed with her commentary or not, she (real name: Pauline Phillips) and her estranged twin sister known as "Ann Landers" were American icons who practically invented, and certainly popularized, the syndicated advice-column format.

Since her daughter Jeanne Phillips officially took over the "Abigail Van Buren" moniker (Pauline suffers from Alzheimers and stopped writing Dear Abby sometime in the 90's), I've been less impressed with the column. The new "Abby" seems to lack some of the empathy and sincerity her mother often displayed, and her replies frequently seem to me to be condescending in tone. What hasn't changed, however, are the occasionally touching and eloquent questions and other remarks sent in by her readers. There's one letter in particular that I plan to reference soon in a future post, but I came across another gem today in the Sunday paper and thought it was worth mentioning. Considering how popular blogs have become among the general public, it raises an interesting point that, as "Abby" points out, I hadn't previously thought much about.
DEAR ABBY: Please warn your readers that their Web pages and blogs could stand in the way of securing a job! Just as employers have learned to read e-mail and blogs, they have learned to screen candidates through their sites. Many people in their 20s and 30s wrongly believe their creations are entertaining and informative. Employers are not seeking political activists, evangelizers, whiners or tattletales. They do not want to find themselves facing a lawsuit or on the front page of a newspaper because a client, patient or parent of a student discovered a comment written by an employee.

The job market is tight, and job seekers must remember their computer skills can either help them land a position or destroy a job prospect. -- CHICAGO EMPLOYER

DEAR EMPLOYER: You have opened up a line of thought I'll bet a lot of job applicants -- and future job applicants -- have never considered. Googling a name isn't difficult, and it could lead to an applicant's blog. Most bloggers write to be read, and invite people to comment. Thank you for the reminder that those who blog should remember that they are open to public scrutiny, and that if they apply for a job, everything about them will be considered -- including their blog. Prospective employers are certainly within their rights to make decisions based upon what they read.
This is not unprecedented. To mention but two recent examples, a Mansfield, Texas elementary school teacher was forced to resign after school officials found her blog chronicling sexual exploits and containing disparaging remarks about her students (see story here). And, at Boston University, a journalism teacher lost his job after making lewd comments about his female students in his blog.

Of course, one obvious thing not mentioned is that the vast majority of people don't blog under their real names, so unless you specifically give someone your web site address (or you're "outed" by a jealous ex-spouse, as was the case with the elementary teacher mentioned above) it's not a given that they're going to stumble across your page should they happen to Google you as part of a job screen. Which in my case is probably a Good Thing: perish the thought that any potential future employer of mine should happen to be a conservative, right-wingnut, Bible-thumping, Republican Bushbot. But if you're reading this, Boss (whoever you may be), I'm only kidding. Ha ha! Really, just ask Abby.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Vive La France!

I just love a happy ending, especially where stray animals are involved, and this one is a corker: Emily the Continental Cat has returned safely. You may remember hearing about this a couple of months ago. The McElhiney family of Appleton, Wisconsin were very distraught when their beloved pet disappeared from their home last September. The story took a bizarre twist when the grey tabby was found, thin and thirsty yet alive, in a cargo container in Nancy, France on October 24th. Apparently she had wandered into a container of cardboard bales at a paper company near her home, and had been shipped across the Atlantic. Fortunately, she was wearing an ID tag, so when she was discovered by sympathetic workers at the Belgian company, Raflatac, they were able to contact her vet in the US who informed the McElhiney's of Emily's predicament. (This should be a valuable lesson to all pet owners, BTW: if you let your animal outdoors, be sure they wear a collar and tag.)

Once the press got ahold of the story, all hell broke loose. Offers poured in from hundreds of people who were travelling from France to the USA to bring Emily home. The State Department became involved, and the French government cut through red tape to expedite her return. Continental Airlines, eager to seize on some good publicity, offered to fly the cat home from Paris in sumptuous business class after Emily's tale spread around the world and she cleared a one-month quarantine.

"This was such a marvelous story, that we wanted to add something to it," Continental spokesman Philippe Fleury told AP Television News at Paris's Charles de Gaulle airport.

So it was with much fanfare that a Continental cargo agent handed the globe-hopping feline over to 9-year-old Nick Herndon, son of the cat's owners, at a press reception yesterday. Reporters showed up in droves for the event, which was worthy of the most famous celebrity. Emily meowed and pawed at reporters' microphones as the family answered questions.

On her flight home, Emily passed up a menu of peppered salmon filet and "opted for her French cat food" and some water, said an airline spokesman. Apparently all that French food did Emily some good, as her owners noted "she's bigger and heavier than before".

This comes as no surprise to me. If you've ever been to Paris, you know that if there's one thing the French do extremely well, it's eat. There's a boulangerie, patisserie, chocolatier, or cafe serving mouth-watering, tasty delectables on every corner. I must have gained at least 15 pounds when I was there three years ago, and I'd love to go back again. Seeing how well Emily fared, maybe I should look around for a European-bound cargo container in my neighborhood and stow away inside (I'll be sure to wear a tag). On second thought, maybe not; with my luck, I'd probably end up somewhere in Albania, happy to have un plat de Friskies®.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

In the News

Bush, Rove Answer Critics

Image hosted by Photobucket.com Image hosted by Photobucket.com

Stung by weeks of recent criticism from voters, the press, Congress, members of his own party, and the rest of the entire planet, President George W. Bush fired back eloquently at reporters today. In a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, Mr. Bush responded to those who contend that his administration has never explained what constitutes victory in Iraq, and thus how to know when troops can start coming home. He also addressed critics such as Pennsylvania Representative John Murtha, who have called Bush's management of the conflict "a flawed policy wrapped in illusion".

"Sticks and stones, and improvised explosive devices, may break my bones," the President told reporters, clutching an American flag, "but names will never hurt me. Withdraw this."

Members of the President's staff then proceeded to give wedgies to several of the assembled media representatives, while warning others in attendance not to touch them because they might have "cooties".

Meanwhile, during a separate appearance, Rove seemed oblivious to calls for his resignation. After thumbing his nose at the American public, whom he referred to as "a bunch of goobers", Rove covered his ears and said mockingly, "Nah nah nah. I can't heeeeeeeeeeeear you."

In Washington, government bullshit forecasters predicted that this witty and sophisticated repartee from the Bush administration could be expected to continue for the next three years.

Note: The above is a parody, duh!