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

Monday, March 31, 2008

Shocking Photo!

WiTW Exclusive!


A young boy is shown about to fearlessly jump on the back of the gigantic flying beast in this exclusive pic taken by Mr. Toast during a brief mini-vacation last weekend in Galveston, Texas. However, shortly after this photo was snapped the colossal Columba Livia Domestica took flight and was last seen heading out over the Gulf of Mexico. Florida beware!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Seal Deal

Judging by the reaction to Tuesday's pig post, today's entry should really get y'all worked up ... and I sincerely hope it does.

Friday, March 28 begins the season when hundreds of thousands of Harp Seal pups -- many only 12 to 15 days old -- will be brutally clubbed to death in the Gulf of St. Lawrence near Newfoundland during the annual Canadian Seal Hunt; the ice will run red with blood in the largest slaughter of marine mammals on Earth. The main method of killing seals is with a hakapik, a heavy wooden club with a hammer head and metal hook on the end. The use of guns is also allowed, but the hakapik is preferred because the seal can be killed without damage to its pelt. The hammer head is used to crush the skull, while the hook is used to move the carcass. Because time is of the essence, hunters attempt to kill and skin as many animals in as short a time as possible, resulting in many seals being wounded but managing to escape back into the water where they die a slow and painful death, or often being skinned while still alive.

Even though this cruelty has been condemned world-wide for years by many animal rights organizations including the Humane Society, the Canadian government continues to staunchly defend the barbaric practice largely for economic reasons. But there is much skepticism regarding these claims. "The seal hunt provides very low economic returns for Canada, Newfoundland and individual sealers," reports the Humane Society. "In light of the negative impact the seal hunt has on Canada's international reputation, its continuation cannot be justified on economic grounds."

This year's slaughter has had a new and alarming additional development: the Canadian government has denied journalists and animal rights activists permits to observe and document the hunt tomorrow morning, even though observation of the seal hunt is a right guaranteed under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Read Wayne Pacelle's blog post for more information.

I've had to think long hard about this in light of my previous post, and to be honest, it's been a bit troubling for me; am I a hypocrite to be so strongly opposed to the slaughter of baby seals in Canada, while at the same time being blasé about killing baby pigs in Texas? After all, the seal hunters would probably cite some of the same reasons for their actions as I did in my recent post about the pigs: they could argue that the seals are overpopulated and they're just keeping their numbers under control, or that the seals are a nuisance and do much economic damage by decimating crops -- codfish -- that are normally harvested for human consumption, or (correctly) claim that the hunt is legal and protected by the government. So what's the difference? Is it because seals are cute, furry and lovable while hogs are ugly, hairy, and smelly? Is it because my rural relatives have been personally affected by feral hogs, while I don't know anyone directly involved with seals? Is it because I've eaten pork products all my life (sorry, veggers) while I would never -- ever -- consume seal meat? I'm not sure, but I am cognizant of the fact that this double standard doesn't leave me on very solid moral ground, and anyone reading this is fully justified to call me on it.

Nevertheless, I am still horrified about the carnage that will be taking place on Friday, and have added my signature to a letter to the Canadian Prime Minister at stopthesealhunt.org. I urge you to do so too, or if you feel so inclined, join the boycott of Canadian seafood and other products.

Because this little guy needs your help.

Update 3/30/08 - Hunt Turns Tragic

Three sealers have died and one other is missing and presumed drowned after their fishing vessel capsized while being towed through rough ice by the Canadian Coast Guard on Saturday. The accident occurred off Cape Breton NS while the boat was on its way to cull seal herds in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Several hours later, seven more sealers had to be rescued by helicopter when their boat began taking on water and sank. The incidents prompted a fresh wave of appeals from conservationists for Canada to call off its annual seal hunt once and for all.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

This little piggie went to market

Hope everyone had a great Easter weekend! We visited the brother-and-sister-in-law, who live on sixty acres of pasture land out in the country near Austin. As is the case with many Texas farmers, ranchers, and other landowners, wild hogs are a big problem for them. The population of feral pigs has exploded in the Lone Star State in the last few years and is now estimated at between two and four million. Once a sow reaches breeding age at 7 or 8 months, she can produce up to one thousand piglets during her lifetime. At full growth they average 100 to 150 pounds, but in certain regions can reach up to 500-600 pounds. Among many forms of destructive behavior, feral pigs tear up fences, destroy crops with their rooting and wallowing, compete with native deer for food sources, carry disease and parasites, and some even kill lambs and other livestock.

To try and get rid of them, my brother-in-law has contracted with a local trapper who will catch and haul them off for free in exchange for their meat, which is supposedly even tastier than domestic pork. While we were there, they nabbed two adult swine and several piglets. Easter Ham, anyone?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

This week in history

Last weekend was my and Mrs. Toast's anniversary, and without disclosing exactly how long we've been married, let me just say that our wedding happened sometime during the Reagan administration. Yes, we may be old, but we're funky. True story: when Mrs. Toast's father realized how much it was going to cost him to marry off his (second!) daughter at a big fancy church wedding, he jokingly offered to pay for a trip to Hawaii if we would agree to elope to Las Vegas instead. Much to his surprise, we took him up on it, and spent our honeymoon at Kauai's legendary Coco Palms Resort, where Elvis filmed "Blue Hawaii" in 1961. At the hotel, Don Ho even personally sang "Tiny Bubbles" to us while actual bubbles from some sort of special-effects bubble machine hidden in the ceiling landed in our dinner salads. It was so awesome I nearly cried, mainly because the salads cost $8.99 each and the bubbles did not exactly enhance their flavor.

Anyway, having become naturally accustomed to the high-roller lifestyle as a result of this experience, we splurged for a mini-vacation here last weekend. Now one might think that such luxe surroundings would be more than enough to celebrate 20-some-odd years of wedded bliss, but no! I still had a trick up my sleeve -- I took my dear wife out for dinner to a restaurant which featured this sign prominently displayed over the front door:

Pretty damn classy, eh? Bring on the Margaritas!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Oh my God, it's full of stars!

I was saddened to learn of the passing of one of my childhood inspirations, science-fiction writer extraordinaire Arthur C. Clarke, who died today at the age of 90 at his home in Sri Lanka from breathing problems associated with post-polio syndrome, which he had battled for years. Known for such classic novels as "Earthlight", "Islands in the Sky", and "The Hammer of God" among many others, he will no doubt best be remembered for "2001: A Space Odyssey", and his collaboration with Stanley Kubrick to produce the movie of the same name. Those of a particular age and proclivity will recall "2001" as one of those rite-of-passage films best experienced under the influence of certain, shall we say, "attitude-enhancements", which had a tendency to cause the viewer to exclaim "Oh, wow!" during various pivotal scenes. Nevertheless, even if one didn't indulge, it was still a mind-bending flick on many levels.

Like the scientist/author Sir Fred Hoyle before him, Clarke often wrote about a technologically advanced but prejudiced mankind being confronted by a superior alien intelligence. Not only a brilliant and creative writer, he was also a futurist; in 1945 he predicted the idea of communications satellites in geosynchronous orbit, and advanced the idea of space travel long before rockets were even test-fired.

He wrote his shortest-ever story in 2006 as an entry to Wired magazine's "Very Short Story" contest. The entire text ("God said, 'Cancel Program GENESIS.' The universe ceased to exist.") was four words longer than the contest rules allowed, but he refused to trim it.

Last year at his 90th birthday celebration, he was asked how he would like to be remembered. "I have had a diverse career as a writer, underwater explorer and space promoter," he replied. "Of all these I would like to be remembered as a writer."

And that he shall. Open the pod bay doors, Hal.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Hooker and the Governor

Hi there, friends! I'm ashamed to say that it's been nearly two weeks since I last posted, which means I have entirely missed out on blogging about the Eliot Spitzer affair -- an event custom-made for snarky wise cracks if ever there was one. But better late than never, as they say, so let me make a couple of observations:

• I've read many comments along the lines of "Is anyone/anything really worth $3,000 an hour?" Obviously The Gov thought so, however to put this in perspective, that rate comes to an annual salary of roughly $6.2 million (assuming a 40 hour week and paid vacations). So, to see who else might be getting that sort of money, I consulted Forbes Magazines' 2007 survey of the highest-paid CEO's in the corporate world and found that their average annual compensation was $15.2 million -- or about the cost of two 7-diamond escorts and one somewhat skankier 3-diamond model. The top dog on the list was Apple CEO Steve Jobs at $646.6 million, followed by Ray Irani of Occidental Petroleum at $321.6 million, and one could make the argument that they've been screwing the public for years. Of course, whether the Chief Escort Officers on the Forbes list are actually worth that amount is another question. Ashley Alexandra Dupre earned outstanding performance reviews from her clients, probably higher than Wal-Mart CEO H. Lee Scott Jr., for example, who brought home $9 million in '06 while his company's stock tanked.

• The high cost of "Kristin's" er, "professional services" naturally lends itself to all sorts of jokes. This blog is of course way too classy to print such things (hah!), however anyone so inclined can go here for some suitably ribald humor. (Caution: not only unsafe for work, but tasteless too; don't say I didn't warn you.)

• Ms. Dupre may have made the understatement of the year when she called her father the day after Emperor's Club VIP was busted to say that she "was in a little bit of trouble." However, she's also shown herself to be a resourceful girl, turning lemons into lemonade by using her 15 minutes of fame to promote her MySpace site and singing career. She better get on the ball fast though, for as Bloomberg.com points out, "Sadly, you've already used up six and a half minutes of it with two underwhelming songs." Like many others, I downloaded "What We Want" and "Move Ya Body", thinking they might make an interesting addition to my radio show next week. However, I quickly discarded that idea after listening to them, because to be perfectly honest, they suck.

Which, when you think about it, is highly appropriate.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

He Came, He Saw, He Caucused, He Went Home

Last night I added another item to my list of "things I've now done that I never did before" -- I participated in a presidential caucus. It was quite interesting, and became sort of a "Politics 101" lesson for me on how delegates are chosen to attend the party's national conventions. I had always watched the huge crowds waving their state signs and candidate banners every four years on TV, but never gave a whole lot of thought to exactly how they got there.

Feeling a bit unsure of what to expect, I arrived at the precinct meeting place shortly after the polls closed at seven; turnout appeared fairly light, with about 25 or so people there. There were two sign-in sheets, one for each candidate, and after entering our names to indicate whom we had voted for earlier, about half of those who had showed up left immediately. (Amateurs!)

The meeting was called to order with about 12 of us left, and we then learned that our sign-in vote tally had split right down the middle, with 13 warm bodies there for Obama and 14 for Clinton. We therefore got to split the six delegates allocated to our precinct 50/50, at three each. Supporters of the two candidates then gathered on each side of the room to introduce ourselves to each other and discuss who would like to represent Barack at the county and district conventions on March 29. At these meetings, representatives will be elected from the precinct delegates to attend the state convention in Austin on June 6 & 7. Attendees at the state event will then select the 193 pledged delegates allotted to Texas to attend the Democratic National Convention. So, it's entirely possible that some of us there last night will have the opportunity in August to go to Denver in support of Barack.

Since my oxygen equipment makes travel a bit problematic to me, I deferred to the other folks in our little group who were more than happy to volunteer as delegates. Demographically, our bunch was a nice cross-section: two "young" (20's) white folks, one each male and female, an older white gentleman who appeared in his 70's, two middle-age black ladies, and a black man who looked to be in his 30's. All of us seemed intelligent, articulate, and motivated to get involved in the political process, and we enjoyed talking about the issues and our hope that Obama could provide the leadership to move the country forward. I did sign up as an alternate delegate, so in case one of the chosen three can't make it, I may be asked to step in.

As I went to bed last night, Texas was still "too close to call" but Sen. Clinton was doing well elsewhere. Today, I awoke to the discouraging news that the race will be slogging on for months to come, as Hillary won Texas, Ohio and Rhode Island -- re-energizing her campaign and bringing Barack's momentum to a screeching halt despite his Vermont victory. This unfortunately means that the two Democratic rivals will now continue to waste time, money, energy, and most critically, voter confidence by attacking each other in a divisive effort that will only weaken the real goal of defeating John McCain in November. So while I feel good about becoming involved in the phonebanking and caucusing during the last few days, I'm pretty damn frustrated with the end result.

Welcome to Politics 101.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The big day is here at last!

Hot damn y'all, I'm excited today to be smack-dab in the middle of what could be the most decisive day of the Democratic primary contest. Not only is the Lone Star state playing a huge role in the nomination this year, but according to the Wall Street Journal, my own little chunk of East Texas from Houston to Tyler is being watched especially closely. Bill Clinton himself was even in town last week stumping for his wife, which is practically unheard of in our little hole-in-the-wall. We seldom get anyone that important here, but seeing as how most pundits are speculating that Hillary's campaign is over if she doesn't score big in Texas today, I shouldn't be that surprised. You've been (and will no doubt continue to be) bombarded with news from all sources about events here, so I'm not sure what else I can uniquely add to it, but I'll just say it's been very interesting for me to be politically involved this year in a way I haven't been for decades.

This weekend I've made a few phone calls on behalf of the Obama campaign, and will begin making a bunch more here shortly to encourage people to go vote today. It's been easy; they have a very cool web-based contact tool that allows you to make as few or as many calls as you care to (or have time for) once you register and log in. You're assigned numbers to call in your neighborhood in blocks of 20, and as you speak with folks and determine who they're supporting you simply click on large buttons next to their name on the web site to report their status back to the campaign HQ. Of course the idea is to encourage them to vote for Obama, and there are some sample script pages you can use if you're not comfortable ad-libbing. However if the person you're speaking with wants more detailed information about Obama's stand on the issues than you feel qualified to discuss with them, you can refer them to the web site or a more knowledgeable volunteer. It's all very highly organized, and fun too. You're awarded points for the number of calls you make, with the goal being to get your name in the Top 10 callers -- kind of like putting your initials at the top of the "high score" list of a video game.

So far I've mainly gotten a lot of answering machines, but have also had a few interesting conversations. Not surprisingly, since this is a red state (and a fairly conservative Christian area at that), I've talked to one or two staunch Republicans. I don't debate them, just record their preferences and say thank you. I did run across one elderly-sounding woman, however, who claimed to be a Democrat but was under the impression that Obama was "one of them Muslims". I hope I was able to straighten her out.

As I work the phones, I'm also telling people about the "Texas Two-Step", which seems to have a lot of folks confused. Texas residents get to participate in a unique process for assigning delegates; first is the regular voting today, then after the polls close this evening we get to "caucus". I have never "caucused" before in my life, so I'm very interested in what it's all about. I had always imagined a caucus as being a bunch of hard-core politico-wonks getting together in a smoke-filled room to strut their influence and make deals, but it's simply another word for convention. Specifically, in this case it's an ad-hoc meeting of those who have voted in the primary to stand up for their candidate; as a result, roughly 30% of unpledged delegates will be assigned via the caucus. In a way, it's almost like getting to vote twice, and as close as this race is predicted to be it could make a real difference.

So tonight I'm gonna caucus, baby! Woo-hoo! I'll head back to the polling location about 7:15 PM and sign in under the name of the my candidate, and then we'll see what happens next. If nothing else, it should at least be good for a blog post.

Back to the phones. Hello?