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

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We're in Kansas, Toto!

As in the Sunflower State, the Heartland, the country's breadbasket, Tornado Alley, Mid-America; more specifically, Salina, Kansas, a mere 100 miles from the geographical center of the United States.

We are paused here overnight in the middle of what seems like endless miles of high plains and wheat fields, at the crossroads of Interstates 135 and 70 as we make our way towards Denver on a road trip that is equal parts vacation and madcap medical adventure. The primary reason for this journey is so that I can be re-evaluated at National Jewish Health, the #1 respiratory hospital and research center in the United States, and possibly the world (the name is a bit misleading, as the facility treats patients of any religion, creed, or nationality).

I first visited National Jewish in 2003; at that time I had just been diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis by my local doctor, and was having difficulty accepting that this pronouncement indicated I had, statistically speaking, perhaps another two to five years left to live. Generally, the typical reaction most people have upon being informed that they have a terminal illness largely follows the five stages of grief: first comes shock, then denial and anger. I managed to experience all three simultaneously, it seemed; not only was I stunned and in disbelief, but man, I was pissed. How dare my doctor tell me that, and WTF does he know, anyway? I decided that he must be wrong, and became determined to be seen by the best professionals in the field, hoping that their greater knowledge would enable them to give me more favorable news. Alas, after a week in Denver being subjected to virtually every medical test known to modern science (and one or two possibly left over from medieval times), they essentially confirmed the diagnosis and counseled me that I should consider getting a lung transplant as soon as possible and also, as the saying euphemistically goes, "get my affairs in order", just in case.

This was not exactly the encouragement I had been seeking, but it did confirm the reality of the situation so that I could mentally move past the initial three stages into the next phase ... the dark, smothering, cold and clammy embrace of depression.

Ha ha! I kid. Mostly.

But a funny thing happened on the way to my funeral. Just as I reached the final stage of "acceptance" and began to be OK with it, I started getting better! Whoa! That wasn't supposed to happen, according to the experts. IPF is by definition a progressively degenerative condition, and while the decline may be slow, or (in many cases, unfortunately) horribly rapid, it's nevertheless an elevator that only goes in one direction: down. That my lung capacity went from 78% in 2001 to 55% in 2003 to an all-time low of 44% in 2004 ... and then climbed back to 50% in 2005, peaking at close to 60% in early 2006 (where it has hovered with only minor variation since then), is extraordinary. Something unusual is definitely going on with me, and my doctors at home are not exactly sure what to make of it. So when the folks at NJH called a few months ago to see how I was doing, I jumped at their suggestion that I might want to return to Denver for a five-year followup. Again, we're not sure what additional light they can shed on my situation, but I figure it couldn't hurt to be examined by and consult with the best pulmonary physicians in the country.

So we're on our way to Colorado, spending tonight in Kansas, which extensive scientific research has revealed really is flatter than a pancake. We've laid down about 620 miles today, and have another 430 or so to go tomorrow. I'll have two days of medical tests and doctor visits later this week, then we'll have a free day to explore the sights of the Mile-High City and take in some local flavor, which has come highly recommended by blogger buddy and former Denver resident Supacoo. And like any self-respecting librarian on vacation, Mrs. Toast wants to visit some big-city bookstores. After that, we'll be heading south to beautiful Pagosa Springs, the former home of the in-laws where we spent many a fine Rocky Mountain vacation in years past. Mrs. Toast's brother (whom we haven't seen in several years) still lives there, so we plan to hang out with him for a few days before heading back to Texas. I'm not sure how I'll do with the altitude. Breathing is difficult enough for me at sea level, and Pagosa's 7,200' elevation may be a real challenge. En route from Denver, we'll cross legendary Wolf Creek Pass (elevation 10,800') which should be interesting. I'll be crankin' up my oxygen on that portion of the drive, for sure.

More exciting news, and photos, will follow in this space shortly ... hopefully more scenic than this one:


Friday, September 26, 2008

Damn that Spam

I swear, these e-mail scams just keep getting worse. Take a look at this one; how stupid do they think I am?


Good day American taxpayer, compliments of the season to YOu. Please allow me to introduce myself I am Mr. Henry PAULSON very high official of United States Treasury of United States, Washington, USA. I please to be writing you this day because someone of our mutual acquaintance Mr. BERNANKE vouch for you as trustworthy and gullible individual of high moral standards.

Through no fault of my own I am come to hard straits and although I am a proud man and father, I must beseech your partnership in resolution, an urgent and vexing matter. Through malfeasance and rascality, certain individuals of my close acquaintance have sabotage national banking system, hence an imminent disaster will befall if I am unable to secure the amount of $700,000,000,000 DOLLARS U.S with all utmost haste. This amount is currently being held by millions of fellow Americans but thus far these scoundrels refuse to release the money to me on grounds of that it is not mine infact.

Therefore I must, find a partner who can assist in the collection of this funds with, advance fee of $179.99 DOLLARS U.S a nominal amount I am sure you will agree.

After funds of $700,000,000,000 DOLLARS U.S I will forward informations regarding fully protection of all funds, liabilities, equities and other such financial aspects. For now I must ask you to simply place your trust in me as you would a brother, for, are we, all not brothers?

I pray, that this message find it in your heart, to enter in partnership with me in interest of forestalling disastrous circumstance. Should you prefer not to assist me, with funds, I shall direct my I.R.S agents to procure the funds anyway from you, this voluntarily way is more amenable, as fate wills it.

Your friend everlasting,

United STATES Treasure

Source: Woot

Monday, September 22, 2008

Ix-nay on the Alin-pay

I've decided to give the Sarah Palin thing a rest, and hereby declare a hiatus on future posting about her at least until the election is over. For one thing, I think it's safe to say that by now regular readers of this blog (both of you!) know full well my opinions on this subject; I've re-read my last few posts and I'm beginning to sound a bit like a broken record. Besides, I'm not really serving up anything new or original, and anyone really interested in the finer nuances of Palin-tology can find much more thoughtful and well-written journals elsewhere to better suit your own personal tastes. If you're a tinfoil-hat-wearing loony-lefty-liberal barking moonbat like I am, the articles at The Huffington Post will have you nodding in agreement. On the other hand, if you're a far-right evangelistic neo-con wingnut, you'll be positively orgasmic over the rants of Michelle Malkin. In either case, this is a time for serious thought and important decisions, and I don't need to be adding to the background noise.

But not only that, we're beginning to see some hopeful evidence that the bloom may be off the Palin rose, so perhaps my work here is done. Barack Obama has recaptured the lead in the polls after the Republicans' post-convention bounce, and donations to his campaign are surging in response to Palin. She was an unknown, spunky, photogenic novelty who energized the contest when she was first introduced, but as voters have gotten to know her in the last month, they are increasingly realizing that this egotistical, anti-intellectual, vindictive, homophobic, gun-toting, bible-thumping, wolf-shooting, politically-lightweight hockey mom (along with her gaggle of oddly-named children, "first dude", and unwed pregnant teenage daughter), is just too unconventional to lead America through the serious days ahead. Rational-thinking people are getting over their initial shock, and are rightfully aghast that this bunch might actually have any chance of occupying the White House.

For my parting shot, let me suggest a much more suitable vocation for Ms. Mooseburger: the Palins should star in their own situation comedy/reality show about a strange backwoods clan who are thrust unexpectedly into a fast-paced modern world they are unprepared for, and can only deal with in bizarre, comic ways. They could call it "The Wasilla Hillbillies". On Fox, of course.

Oh wait, that's already been done. Dang.

Th-th-th-that's all, folks. On to other topics!

Friday, September 19, 2008

What are you thinking?

An open letter to supporters of Sarah Palin:

Are you fucking nuts?

I mean seriously, have you people completely lost your minds?

Are you so blinded by your fear, bias, and irrational hatred of Barack Obama that you're ready to put one of the least-qualified candidates to appear the last century next in line to be leader of the free world? Her politics or gender have nothing to do with this; rather, I'm talking about her utter lack of any serious thought or ability when it comes to the economy, Iraq, health care, or for that matter any domestic or foreign policy.

You have to know that the chances of her becoming president within the next four to eight years are not insignificant. Based on actuarial tables using his age alone, John McCain has about a one-in-five chance of dying while in office. Factor in his health history of melanoma and other physical problems, and the chances that Palin could wind up as president approach even odds. Does this not at all worry you? Apparently not, because you've embraced this former beauty queen with a fervor that would be hard to top unless Jesus Himself had returned for the Second Coming and was running for office -- which is not all that far removed from Palin's ideology. Religious interpretation of public policy is a cornerstone of her values, as when she painted the current war in Iraq as a messianic affair in which the United States could act out the will of the Lord.

"Pray for our military men and women who are striving to do ... a task that is from God," she told the Wasilla Assembly of God, her church home for many years while she was growing up. "That's what we have to make sure that we're praying for, that there is a plan and that that plan is God's plan."

Palin apparently believes that God also has a plan for Alaska's energy proposals, as she asked the audience to pray for a $30 billion national gas pipeline project that she wanted built in Alaska. "I think God's will has to be done in unifying people and companies to get that gas line built," she said.

Personally, it scares the crap out of me to think that any VP -- or possibly president -- would be making critical decisions based in any part on their certainty of what "God's will" or "God's plan" is for America. When people in certain other countries do this, we refer to them as "fanatics", "fundamentalists", or perhaps even "terrorists". They believe without any doubt whatsoever that they are right, that their cause is blessed and they are willing to die for it and receive Allah's rewards in heaven.

Compare that concept to remarks made in a sermon by Ed Kalnins, the senior pastor of Wasilla Assembly of God since 1999:
"We need to think like Jesus thinks. We are in a time and a season of
war, and we need to think like that. We need to develop that instinct. We need to develop as believers the instinct that we are at war, and that war is contending for your faith. ... Jesus called us to die. You're worried about getting hurt? He's called us to die. Listen, you know we can't even follow him unless you are willing to give up your life. ... I believe that Jesus himself operated from that position of war mode."
Hmmmmm. Sound familiar?

Kalnins also preaches repeatedly about the apocalyptic prophesy of the "end times" or "last days." Granted, it's debatable whether politicians should be held responsible for the views of their religious mentors, as Obama learned with Rev. Wright. But it is fair to say that Palin's policies have been and will continue to be shaped by her belief in divine guidance to a far greater extent than most political leaders. She will have the "bully pulpit", in a literal and very chilling sense.

Her claim to the moral high ground, however, seems pretty hypocritical compared to some of her other positions and actions. For one thing, she out-and-out lied about her support for the so-called "Bridge to Nowhere." Then, not only does she apparently hate some of God's creatures, including endangered species, she seems to think it's OK for her husband Todd to defy a legal subpoena compelling him to testify in the investigation of her role in the "Troopergate" scandal, as well as to use her personal unsecured e-mail account to conduct state business in violation of public accountability laws. This last one is pretty funny, really. There's been all sorts of of righteous indignation from conservatives this week about the hacking of her Yahoo email account: "This is a shocking invasion of the governor’s privacy and a violation of law," campaign manager Rick Davis said Wednesday in a written statement. True enough, yet wholesale violations of the bill of rights by illegal government wiretaps and other actions under the Patriot Act don't seem to bother her at all. How does the shoe feel on the other foot, Sarah?

There are many other examples of her lack of even the most basic prerequisites for America's top leadership, but why go on? You Palin supporters are determined to place this unfit neophyte (who is getting a crash-course on global issues spoon-fed to her on 3x5 cards) at the helm of the nation in one of the most challenging times in recent history, when our aggressive and arrogant foreign policies have left us with few friends in the world. Think we've had it rough during the last eight years of Dubya? Just wait; a McCain/Palin presidency will be an unmitigated disaster. But you don't seem to care. So let me ask you again:

Are you fucking nuts?

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Ike strikes

Hurricane Ike barreled into our small town early this afternoon, after causing major havoc along the Texas Gulf coast and the Houston area last night and early this morning. Thankfully, damage was much less severe than had been feared. We are roughly 200 miles from Galveston, far enough inland that we hardly ever get much of any impact from Gulf storms. This time, though, forecasters had predicted winds of 75 to 90 mph, although it didn't appear to me that we had anything close to that. But there were lots of downed trees (a few of which stuck homes), and widespread power outages throughout East Texas. Our house was spared anything serious; a tree across the street fell over but missed us completely, and we only lost power momentarily during the storm. The only casualty was our back yard gazebo and birdbath which blew over.

After it became clear a short time ago that the worst was over, I drove around a bit to asses the damage in our neighborhood. Here are some photos:

I can't say I was overly concerned at any time during the storm, as we have a special resource to depend upon in an emergency. As you probably know, animals have a sixth sense for predicting natural dangers, and since we have three cats, we are fortunate to be protected by the F.E.W.S., or Feline Early Warning System:

Since we never spotted more than one cat taking refuge at any given time, we felt reassured that things were not going to be so bad.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Style over substance

Sarah Palin's handlers, realizing that the VP nominee is very likely to reveal her gross inexperience and utter lack of qualification for office if exposed to close scrutiny, are sequestering her from the public and the media -- a fact which today's Miami Herald finds outrageous:
If any of the Republican or Democratic presidential candidates had refused to talk to voters or media during the recent primary contests the way vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin has done in recent days, they would have been dismissed immediately from serious consideration. Not talk to voters while seeking the second-highest public office in the country? Preposterous!

Yet, amazingly, this is the position that John McCain and Ms. Palin have taken as they campaign together following Ms. Palin's popular acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention. After a rally this week in Lancaster, Pa., some of Ms. Palin's supporters waited outside for her. "Speech! Speech!" they shouted, hoping she would take the podium as Mr. McCain had just done. Ms. Palin smiled, shook a few hands and left. Requests for interviews by radio, television and newspaper journalists have been met with the same cold shoulder.

A McCain campaign spokesman said that Ms. Palin would "agree to an interview when we think it's time and when she feels she's comfortable doing it." Really? If Ms. Palin isn't ready for prime time, ready to talk with people she is asking to vote for her or to discuss the tough issues facing the country, then one has to wonder if she's ready to be vice president.
Meanwhile, what's the latest buzz making the news about the candidate? Is it her position on energy matters, the environment, foreign policy, or any other major issues? No. It's her designer glasses.


Tuesday, September 09, 2008

No more Mr. Nice Guy

Well, it's not just me.

Over at the Huffington Post, Drew Westen opens up today's commentary on the current state of the political landscape by saying, "Democrats around the country have been growing increasingly anxious over the last week, and for good reason." The article, entitled "What Obama Needs To Do In The Final Sixty Days," takes the Democratic candidate to task for being too polite and not aggressive enough towards McCain and Palin:
McCain shouldn't have gotten a 10-point bump from his uncivil convention, and this election shouldn't be close. What happened in one short week was both completely predictable and completely avoidable. Just hours after a Democratic Convention that reignited Democratic enthusiasm and started to swing those swing voters who just weren't sure about Obama, the Obama campaign had forgotten everything it should have learned from its success of Denver--most importantly that you never drop your gloves, and that you never let the other side control the narratives--and had returned to the same failed strategies that gave us Presidents Dukakis, Gore, and Kerry, strategies Democratic consultants have passed from generation to generation like a family heirloom laced with hemlock.
He's right, and it's high time for Barack to take off the kid gloves and go ruthlessly on the offensive to counter the ridiculous "G.I. John and Superwoman" image being cultivated by the Republicans, which is effectively scoring gains in the polls. This is not a comic book fantasy here, this is real life, and if Obama doesn't step up to the plate and clobber voters over the head with the message that John McCain will bring us (at least) another four years of disastrous Bush policies, we're gonna frickin' lose this thing. He needs to boldly take charge of this election and dramatically redirect the discussion away from the frivolous (Sarah Palin's hairstyle?? Jesus, come on, people!) back to the issues that will impact the future of this country; as Ariana Huffington puts it, "A presidential campaign is a battle and this is the time for Obama to show some commander-in-chief skills."

Damn straight. Let's kick some ass.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Couldn't have said it better

From the History News Network, an article written by historian and college professor Mark Naisan:
The McCain Palin ticket, if elected, would be a disaster for the country. Their propensity to invoke God's will as a justification for government policies, their contempt for science and intellect, their extraordinary lack of knowledge about the culture and history of the major nations of the world, and their shameless defense of an oil-centered energy policy that has produced economic and ecological disaster for the nation, poorly prepares them to lead a nation whose reputation has been damaged by an ill-considered war and whose position in the global economy has been steadily weakening.
Exactly right, and I figure that anyone and everyone understands this. But then, just as I start getting hopeful that we're on the verge of waking up from an eight-year-long national nightmare, I continue reading and get sucker-punched by the next paragraph of Naisan's essay:
However, the very things that make McCain and Palin feared in most of the world gives them an excellent chance of winning the presidency. Their proud anti-intellectualism, reflected in their personal histories as well as their rhetoric, touches a powerful chord with many working class and middle class Americans. There is a long tradition in this country of mistrusting people who have advanced academic training, which the McCain/Palin ticket has used to great effect in holding Barack Obama up to ridicule. While some Americans might admire Obama for working as a community organizer before attending Harvard Law School, and for teaching law before running for public office, Republicans have used these features of his biography to say that he doesn't understand how "real folks" live.
Well this is distressing ... but then, here comes the coup de gras:
After listening to the speeches at the Republican Convention, I am convinced that appealing to such fears and suspicions is at the core of the McCain/Palin strategy. None of this is new. From George Wallace, to Spiro Agnew to Rush Limbaugh, the right has used anti-intellectualism as one of its major rallying cries. But to do so at this historic moment, when the American economy is in deep disarray and so many of its foreign policy initiatives have come to grief, is particularly worrisome. Will working class and middle class Americans see through this desperate charade and vote for someone with the temperament, training and intellect to actually solve some of the nation's problems, or will they let their own fears and prejudices wed them to the status quo?
Good question, and it's worth noting that McCain's post-convention bounce in the tracking polls has closed his rival's earlier 6-point lead, leaving the two candidates in a statistically dead-even match. Still, I remain optimistic; even though (to my utter amazement) Americans re-elected George W. Bush in 2004, I can only hope we have learned from that colossal mistake and are not indeed a nation of idiots after all.

Knowledge and culture = good. Fear and prejudice = bad. Is this really so fucking hard to grasp?

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Bristol Palin Is Major Babeage

That has to be the thought running through the mind of many young (and not-so-young) men this week since Sarah Palin's 17-year old daughter has been thrust into the limelight by the recent announcement that she is five months pregnant. Hey, forget those skanky Bush twins! Bristol's cute, has a killer bod, and like, dude, she obviously puts out!

Oh wait ... I'm sorry, I forgot: family is supposed to be off limits in this election, and the Republicans are already getting traction by chastising certain media outlets for asking intrusive questions about allegations leveled at Palin and her family. Yet, the McCain campaign apparently sees no problem in trotting out Palin's brood at every public appearance, arranging for Bristol's baby-daddy Levi Johnston to be seated at the convention alongside the Palin family and Cindy McCain, where the newborn Trig Palin was passed up and down the line like the campaign prop he's become.

Sorry Sarah, but you can't have it both ways. You can't say "please respect the privacy of my family" as you exploit them for political gain, and wrap yourself in Poor Little Sweet Baby Trig to prove your anti-abortion stand. (BTW, where did they get the names for these kids? Trig, Track, Bristol, Piper, Willow? What are they going to name Bristol's child when it's born in four months? Meegosh? Sorsha? Madmartigan?)

In any case, she did get off to a strong start with her speech at the RNC convention last night, at one point quipping: "By the way, do you know what they say the difference is between a hockey mom and a Pit Bull? Lipstick." She also fired a few salvos at one of conservatives' favorite targets: "the liberal media," for being so impertinent as to ask questions about her family. This preview seems to suggest that much of her campaign strategy will involve attacking the press, which, as Richard Nixon used to such advantage, can work much better than attacking your opponent when you have little else of substance to run on. Over at Slate, reporter Jack Shafer went as far as to say of Palin, "she'll run as the new Sprio Agnew." (Apparently, former references to "Dan Quale in a dress" are no longer apropos, now that we're beginning to see Palin's formidable chops as an attack dog.) Shafer went on to say:
Instead of letting Palin talk directly and frequently to the press, the McCain campaign will dress her in bunting and rush her from one controlled setting the next—small towns, firebases in Iraq and Afghanistan, "town halls," important funerals, church conventions, and American Legion halls (essentially George W. Bush's current itinerary). There she'll play the role of Spiro Agnew to McCain's Nixon, dismissing reporters' tough questions as effete, impudent, sacrilegious, snobby, intrusive, unpatriotic, hostile, disrespectful, chauvinistic, "East Coast," unfair, unbalanced, liberal, biased, trivial, hypothetical, elitist, and as partisan attempts to lasso her with a "gotcha." Beating the press always attracts votes, but rarely enough to turn an election. Palin could find herself winning the battle for her running mate but losing the war.
As Shafer points out, the attacks could backfire: already the Democrats are reporting that donations to their campaign are up considerably since Palin was named as the Republican VP nominee and began criticizing Obama:
"Sarah Palin's attacks have rallied our supporters in ways we never expected," Obama campaign spokesman Bill Burton said. "And we fully expect John McCain's attacks tonight to help us make our grassroots organization even stronger."
Personally, I think Palin was a VP choice of desperation for McCain, and my prediction is that she will ultimately be a liability instead of an asset to the ticket. Her choice was an obvious pander to disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters, but her political views are nearly 180 degrees from HRC's, and I honestly don't believe that many women (no matter their political stripe) are so short-sighted that they will vote for her simply because she has a vagina. Much has been made of the fact that she is a "hockey mom" and an "ordinary person", and that this should somehow appeal to us. Excuse me, but I don't want an "ordinary" person in the White House -- I want someone extra-ordinary who has the experience and ability to effectively handle the most important job on the planet. Considering his age and past health issues, there is more than an insignificant chance that Miss Congeniality could in fact become the leader of the free world if John McCain expires before his term of office does. So, seriously: is this the person you want to be a heartbeat away from the presidency?

Readers, please comment.