Sunday, March 30, 2008

On The Eve Of Chancellorsville...

With Gen. Hooker before them and Old Dominion behind them, the ladies and gentlemen of the 1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry gather for dancing and celebration before the long march to the battlefield.

From the letters of Pvt. Christopher Francis
Dauggerotypes by Sgt. Michael C.

April 26, 1863

To My Dearest Family And Friends,

I can only approximate the stew of anticipation and dread enveloping the next few days. As I write this, my comrades are leaving for Chancellorsville, and word has spread among us of the thousands of Federals across the Rappahannock. All I can see are the lines of Yankees and my rifle at my shoulder, picking as many of them off as I can as the Captain barks orders to advance. I think about how rusty my drill is, even though I am getting better.

But before I leave, I am laboring to tell you of the sendoff we received last evening. My comrades and I danced with dozens of the finest ladies in Virginia. I tell you, we made a thunderous racket, loud enough to reach all the way to Manassas, but at the same time the members of my unit lived up to their gentlemanly reputations.

Imagine my shock, however, at the beginning of the promenade when I spot a youthful private standing next to a pretty young girl and see him turn to find some other partner.

"He is walking away," I say to the lady, airing out my disgust and offering a bow. "But I am walking toward you. Would you be my partner?" She accepts instantly.

With The Privvytippers' accompaniment, we journey through several dances, and as I put the words to this page, my ankles still remind me of my exuberance through the mixers and line dances. Our accompanists ponder their musical arrangements.

"You know 'Sarah Andrews'?" one of them queries, testing the depths of their repertoire.

"What's wrong with Sarah Lee?" I counter, suggesting something in honor of our General.

I draw comfort in knowing several ladies trust me to head up a set. All I have is my reputation, and living up to the fair ones' expectations makes me work harder on the ballroom floor. An artificial wind device provides us some relief from the unseasonably warm evening, but I can feel myself losing several pounds in perspiration alone. Lemonade does its best to replenish the loss.

"I hope that we can scare those Federals back across the Potomac!" I tell a lady.

My experience in numerous set dances leads me to offer a word of warning. In a well-attended ballroom, the lines of ladies and gentlemen often crowd together and one must make way for hoopskirts. Unfortunately in the swirl of the figures, stray threads can catch and fix on a properly placed foot. Ripping lace emits an unmistakable sound. But the true hazard is the tug at the leg indicating ensnarement. I nearly loose my balance as the pour soul to my left unravels, but I am able to shake it off and continue dancing with a blush of embarrassment as the lady and her partner toss aside the frill and continue with no discernible annoyance. One must also take care during the shoe dance, that ritual of gentlemen attacking a pile of footwear donated by the ladies to determine their next partners. The Captain nearly has to stop the dance when a guest discovers her black shoes are suddenly mismatched.

I fret over my long hair. At first I dispense with my kepi after it falls into my hands upon a bow and in keeping with custom. Yet as my dancing intensifies, I can feel the strands of hair lashing at my face and I despair over what the ladies might think of me, especially as the members of our unit prepare to present numerous Virginia Belles. The kepi returns, and no one says a word about it or my locks.

In previous occasions, we have run discouragingly short of gentlemen to escort said Belles. Tonight the numbers approach respectability, although it means escorting only one lass. Having presented the ladies, Captain Scott gives them the honor of choosing their next partner, preferably one of the gentlemen in gray. All I can do is stand at attention, smile, and plead in silence.

Pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me!

I am relieved when a lady approaches. In fact, several ladies desire my partnership this evening, including an Indian scout well regarded for her ability to detect enemy movements several miles away. She requests not one but two dances, and I fulfill the obligation even though I worry I am leaving other ladies in want of a partner. One must sacrifice.

A lady coaxes a shy little girl in a blue gown towards me as another waltz begins, and I know what I need to do. I bow and ask her for a dance, and I see her eyes glow through her tiny spectacles as I move in gentle steps. "You're a fine waltzer," I encourage, not stretching the truth for flattery. Her mouth offers no words, but a smile is more than enough compliment.

The festivities pause so that a prayer may be offered for the ladies and gentlemen of the 1st Virginia, for our safety, for our mission, for our purpose. With the request to Heaven raised, the call goes out for volunteers to set up four groups of three chairs.

The Pineapple Dance begins, an amusement so familiar to us it needs no formal explanation, yet I shall briefly elaborate for the uninitiated. Two lines of mixed couples lines up before three chairs. Three people sit down, the one in the middle holding a pineapple. The person with the pineapple passes it to one of the people beside him and sashays off with the other, preferably a person of the opposite gender. The person left holding the pineapple moves to the middle, two others from the lines fill in the empty seats, and the pineapple is passed again.

Enthusiasm boils throughout the room as couples constantly sashay about, or in some cases, groups of three if all ladies or all gentlemen are left occupying the seats.

Screams and whoops of joy pierce the air.

A rambunctious private tries to slip off with the pineapple rather than doing right by a lady and two of us chase him about to recover it.

The Privvytippers play with inexhaustible energy, leading us through at least 10 minutes of sashaying and quickening the pace.

At this point I cannot exhaust myself. I owe another lady a dance. Her sister introduced me earlier in the evening, and she made the request. After struggling to locate her again, I finally find her in time for "the Old Virginia Reel!" Whatever energy we may have left, the Captain says, we will be relieved of it here.

"Every set should have an experienced couple at the top!" Capt. Scott directs. The couple heading our set decides they are not experienced enough, so they hastily change places with myself and my partner. Now comes the test of Virginia citizenship. Without fail, I need to demonstrate to my partner, my set, and my comrades I can dance a flawless Virginia Reel. As the Captain leads us through a brief refresher, I assume the role of Dance Captain, gesturing to the couples along the line as to who moves and when and how -- honors, right hands, left hands, both hands, do-si-dos, sashays and the all-important reeling of the set. My partner picks up the figures immediately.

"You reel like a pro!" I call to her as we work our way through the set.

We lose ourselves in the dance, losing track of time, and we're not the only ones. The Privvytippers, perhaps convinced we need even more merriment or merely running out of musical arrangements, segue into a round of "Jingle Bells" -- in March. We all sing along, beginning to end.

"Dashing through the snow! In a one horse open sleigh! Over the fields we go! Laughing all the way--HA HA HA!"

Ho, ho, ho, that's the way the heroes go! Having done my duty, I escort my partner back to her sister with heaps of praise for her abilities.

Usually the evening ends with a final waltz, but none of us are ready to let it end that way. A freestyle dance commences and I find myself swinging wildly with several ladies who drain from me what little stamina I regained in the last waltz. I will admit to you here, this is where I realize how much I enjoy set dancing, where one knows what step comes next and you don't have to read the mind of your partner. I feel I am the most monotonous freestyler, doing little but swinging round and round. What does the lady want me to do? I think. Does she not desire some other steps? A young lad in a tall stovepipe hat taps me on the back, politely cutting in and relieving me.

As the couples depart the hall, I come across the lady and the little girl I waltzed with earlier. The child's companion thanks me for the dance.

"She doesn't know much English."

"Oh," I reply in curious astonishment.

"She's from Russia," the lady adds before I can inquire further.

I turn to the child and offer the only Russian words I know: "Doisvedania! Spaceba!" Goodbye! Thank You!

The little girl's face brightens once again. "Doisvedania! Spaceba!" she cries out as she leaves. I am no stranger anymore. As I write this to you, I still hear those words in my ears as I prepare for battle.

So I ask for your sendoff and your prayers as well. I know many years have passed since several of us have met. Some of you I have never seen at all, but you have written to me with encouraging tidings. A great engagement lies before me, and I have full confidence in our commanders. Yet I know of no skirmish without danger or fear. By God's grace, I shall return home soon. But until then, I shall write when I can to advise you of our progress in beating back the northern aggressors.

With Highest Regards,
Pvt. Christopher Francis
1st Virginia Volunteer Infantry


More pictures of this sendoff celebration here.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Teflon Obama

The Wall Street Journal offers a poll suggesting Sen. Barack Obama's fire-breathing pastor hasn't hurt him in the polls. It's no surprise.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. was never a player in the Obama campaign. He hasn't been by the senator's side like Chuck Norris standing with Mike Huckabee. Obama only dealt with Wright after persistent needling, and when he did, he turned it into a state-of-the-races speech people gushed over.

Sen. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, offered the hey-I'm-human response when confronted with tape contradicting her statements about a visit to Bosnia. It only played into the hands of her opponents, and reminded me of what one pundit suggested about the Clintons: their problem isn't dishonesty but ahonesty. They don't know what the truth is.

But the voters do.

Hello, Customer Service... Hello?

How hard can it be to find somebody to answer the phone? Harder than you think, according to AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson who says he's having trouble filling the customer service jobs the company took back from India, according to Reuters. The problem isn't quantity, it's quality, and he points fingers:
Stephenson said he is especially distressed that in some U.S. communities and among certain groups, the high school dropout rate is as high as 50 percent.

"If I had a business that half the product we turned out was defective or you couldn't put into the marketplace, I would shut that business down," he said.
So prepare yourselves for the next buzzphrase in the outsourcing and immigration debates -- "the jobs Americans aren't smart enough to take."

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

2008 via 1968

Here's an interesting retro-read from Modern Mechanix, which dug up an article predicting life today 40 years ago.

How'd it do? About a B-.

One prediction the article nailed:
Money has all but disappeared. Employers deposit salary checks directly into their employees’ accounts. Credit cards are used for paying all bills. Each time you buy something, the card’s number is fed into the store’s computer station. A master computer then deducts the charge from your bank balance.
Another it got half-right:
Computers also handle travel reservations, relay telephone messages, keep track of birthdays and anniversaries, compute taxes and even figure the monthly bills for electricity, water, telephone and other utilities. Not every family has its private computer. Many families reserve time on a city or regional computer to serve their needs. The machine tallies up its own services and submits a bill, just as it does with other utilities.
One it missed big:
The car accelerates to 150 mph in the city’s suburbs, then hits 250 mph in less built-up areas, gliding over the smooth plastic road. You whizz past a string of cities, many of them covered by the new domes that keep them evenly climatized year round. Traffic is heavy, typically, but there’s no need to worry.
We'll take the future, just not George Jetson's vision of the future.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Unemployed? Take Your Pick!

Tomato farmer Keith Eckel says he's scaling down his massive Pennsylvania operation because he can't find enough immigrant workers. He blames the lack of a feasible guest-worker program.

From the AP:
Though Eckel's tomato pickers made an average of $16.59 per hour last year, he said the relatively high wage is not enough to attract local labor to work the fields.

"A lot of people think with immigration that we're talking about immigrants taking jobs from others. Let me tell you, there is no local labor that is going to go out and harvest those tomatoes in 90-degree temperatures except our immigrant labor," Eckel said. "They come here to do a job that no one else will do in this country."
Or maybe Mr. Eckel needs to get busy with the want ads. Sixteen bucks an hour isn't exactly slave wages. As for those 90-degree temperatures, it's obvious he never worked a summer at Six Flags Over Mid America.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

For Ideological Assurance, Your Room May Be Monitored

The State Department's website is warning American tourists traveling to China for the Olympics about the possible bugging of hotel rooms.
All visitors should be aware that they have no reasonable expectation of privacy in public or private locations. All hotel rooms and offices are considered to be subject to on-site or remote technical monitoring at all times. Hotel rooms, residences and offices may be accessed at any time without the occupant’s consent or knowledge.
However, your room phone is out of Chinese reach. Homeland Security is tapping that.
Many hotels and apartment buildings may be of substandard construction, lack emergency exits, fire suppression systems, carbon monoxide monitors and standard security equipment (locks, alarms, and personnel).
So those of you from Queens should feel right at home.

Friday, March 21, 2008

About Obama's Speech...

I finally got around to reading all of Sen. Barack Obama's speech on race in America. Here are my thoughts:

* It's honest in ways a lot of us aren't going to like. You can read it and think he's trying to excuse the hateful words of his pastor. But I will maintain he's trying to explain how we got to this point. The one thing I took away from this speech above everything else is that race relations are a heckuva lot more complicated than how the media portrays them.

* Obama is clearly trying to reframe a lot of racial woes as economic woes we mistakenly blame on racism -- namely poverty, unemployment, and disparities in health care. He goes after corporate America hard:
Just as black anger often proved counterproductive, so have these white resentments distracted attention from the real culprits of the middle class squeeze - a corporate culture rife with inside dealing, questionable accounting practices, and short-term greed; a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests; economic policies that favor the few over the many. And yet, to wish away the resentments of white Americans, to label them as misguided or even racist, without recognizing they are grounded in legitimate concerns - this too widens the racial divide, and blocks the path to understanding.
This time we want to talk about the shuttered mills that once provided a decent life for men and women of every race, and the homes for sale that once belonged to Americans from every religion, every region, every walk of life. This time we want to talk about the fact that the real problem is not that someone who doesn't look like you might take your job; it's that the corporation you work for will ship it overseas for nothing more than a profit.
* Undoubtedly some of you are going to think Obama is doing a Clinton, trying to be on both sides of the issue. But race is an issue where you can't pick a side, not if you want to have a discussion that doesn't rot into The Jerry Springer Show with verbal chair-throwing. Sen. Obama also gets points for saying it's not enough to simply be a color-blind society:
For the African-American community, that path means embracing the burdens of our past without becoming victims of our past. It means continuing to insist on a full measure of justice in every aspect of American life. But it also means binding our particular grievances - for better health care, and better schools, and better jobs - to the larger aspirations of all Americans -- the white woman struggling to break the glass ceiling, the white man whose been laid off, the immigrant trying to feed his family. And it means taking full responsibility for own lives - by demanding more from our fathers, and spending more time with our children, and reading to them, and teaching them that while they may face challenges and discrimination in their own lives, they must never succumb to despair or cynicism; they must always believe that they can write their own destiny.
In the white community, the path to a more perfect union means acknowledging that what ails the African-American community does not just exist in the minds of black people; that the legacy of discrimination - and current incidents of discrimination, while less overt than in the past - are real and must be addressed. Not just with words, but with deeds - by investing in our schools and our communities; by enforcing our civil rights laws and ensuring fairness in our criminal justice system; by providing this generation with ladders of opportunity that were unavailable for previous generations. It requires all Americans to realize that your dreams do not have to come at the expense of my dreams; that investing in the health, welfare, and education of black and brown and white children will ultimately help all of America prosper.
We can't turn off the color receptors in our brains. And even black and white TV sets have color -- just two of them, three if you count gray. Racial justice demands racial consciousness, because we are still dealing with racism.

But then, Obama boils it down to a simple principle:
In the end, then, what is called for is nothing more, and nothing less, than what all the world's great religions demand - that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. Let us be our brother's keeper, Scripture tells us. Let us be our sister's keeper. Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well.
So there you have it: the Golden Rule. Hate the sin, but love the sinner. That's certainly the attitude Obama has towards his pastor. That's the attitude Christ taught us to have. I wish the senator would have challenged his pastor to show some more of that attitude instead of just... well... attitude.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Blue Light Special

For those times when you need to drive from Columbus to Kansas City in a day comes a safety device for the drowsy motorist. Scientists are working on using blue LEDs to keep you awake, as New Scientist reports:
The scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York, are testing blue LEDs that shine light at particular wavelengths that convince the brain it is morning, they say, resetting the body's natural clock.

That could help reduce the number of accidents that occur when people drive through the night.
Now if we could only find a light that resets the body's bladder during those long drives.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Journal Swallows Up Tucson's CW

Tucson now has its second TV duopoly: Journal Broadcast group, which owns KGUN-9 (ABC) is buying KWBA-58 (CW) for an undisclosed amount (hint: cheap).

The big question: will KGUN launch a 9pm newscast on their new sister station? I'm betting on it. If anything, it would end the free ride of KMSB's 9pm show, a quilt of segments produced in Tucson and Phoenix and anchored from KTVK in Phoenix with sports coming from KMSB's Tucson studio. KMSB is one-half of Tucson's other duopoly, with KTTU as the other half, both owned by Belo.

My station, KOLD News 13 produced a 9pm newscast for KWBA from 2003 to 2005. We wanted to continue the arrangement, but our people and their people didn't see eye to eye on what kind of newscast it should be. Those were the old managers, and the new managers won't have that problem. Don't be surprised if it's branded as "KGUN 9 On Your Side on CW58."

But what's best for KWBA is that it will likely get an equipment upgrade. Once upon a time, they operated out of a nice building on Palo Verde with several edit suites. Then, somehow, that morphed into an office on Campbell with most of the station's technical operation running by remote control from out of state through a rack mount unit sitting at KVOA. It's called "hub broadcasting," and it's inexpensive, but my old-school TV mentality gets queasy at a master control without a person behind the control -- in the same room.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Worst Thing You Can Say To A Newspaper Writer

As demonstrated on The Simpsons:

Well it is, and it isn't, if you consider all the newspapers running websites. I'm still reading the paper, but that's mainly because it's hard to curl up on my sofa with the laptop.

Sure Beats Having To Hack Your Way In

Both Pima County Republicans and Democrats have been taking blank ballots home before the election for testing purposes. That's a huge no-no according to Arizona Secretary of State Jan Brewer. She let the county have it in a letter to Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard ElĂ­as, according to the Arizona Daily Star:
"That Pima County would allow such a massive election security breach is itself a shocking development, especially given the recent high-profile efforts by your county to increase voting security," she said in the letter.
The parties say those ballots are clearly marked "Test" to keep them from counting, but Brewer says that doesn't matter. I agree. Nobody should get a chance to take a ballot home and duplicate it for stuffing purposes.

The irony here is that the Democrats are still going rounds in court over allegations of computerized vote fraud in previous Pima County elections. Will they have to investigate themselves next?

Boycotts, French Style

France may boycott the opening ceremonies of the Bejing Olympics because of violence in Tibet -- not the whole thing, just the opening ceremonies, because as the AP reports:
[Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner] insists France had no plans to boycott the entire Olympic Games, saying that would not be "just."
Neither is the violence in Tibet, but let's not split hairs now, non?

Monday, March 17, 2008

The Supremes Word Up

Finally. The Supreme Court will decide what does and doesn't qualify as profanity on television. No more FCC double standards. No more partisan-tainted interpretations. And hopefully, no more broadcasters biting their nails or gritting their teeth trying to figure out what the law is other than the personal will of Kevin Martin, who as one person once joked, wanted to ban the "F" in FCC.

Let me be clear. I am not against profanity regulations on broadcast television, even though I think their effectiveness and legitimacy is highly questionable with so much cable and Internet penetration. I am against government agencies that can't draw a straight line.

The high court hears arguments in the fall.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Illegal For A Reason

I don't care what Emily Bazelon says in Slate. Prostitution is not a victimless crime. Ask Elliot Spitzer's wife.

The rationalization behind legalization as advanced by Bazelon and others is similar to those who advocate decriminalizing marijuana possession. They say it will 1) make it safer by taking it out of the criminal underworld 2) provide a basis for regulation and 3) open up a new revenue stream through taxation. Bazelon also suggests the unseemliness is overrated:
Martha Nussbaum, a law and philosophy professor at the University of Chicago, argues that lots of work involves the sale of bodily services and that lots of the work that poor women do involves bad working conditions. For her, it's all about context—there's a big difference between a street worker controlled by a pimp and a high-end call girl who picks her own clients, and the real question is how to increase poor women's access to decent and safe work in general. Legalizing prostitution "is likely to make things a little better for women who have too few options to begin with," Nussbaum writes.
Note the words "a little better." "Little" is generous. Also note the ignorant assumption in that statement: that poor women have so few choices for work, thus making prostitution a necessary career option. Please give me pause while the indignation steams from my ears.

As for legalization providing safer, regulated sex services: we regulate guns and medical services and we still have underground markets for both, as people constantly seek discounts or loopholes. Legalized hooking will inflate the cost to the average john if you consider the price of complying with the law. Any serious measure would have to require scrupulous medical examinations, fees for licenses (which would likely be high), and taxes on each session.

Then you have the human price: risk of disease. Even more devastating is the families shredded by infidelity. I cannot believe we would seriously consider legalizing a home-wrecking profession. Put yourself in the shoes of Silda Spitzer, silently standing by your philandering man while he confesses his sins to the cameras. Imagine the hurt, the sadness, the feelings of rejection -- Why was I not good enough for you? What did this woman have that I didn't? Why couldn't I make you love me? We all know it's not her fault. But I know if I were the woman passed up for a high-dollar callgirl, part of me would be blaming myself. Maybe some women can make peace with a husband who keeps a lady on the side (a la TV's Carmela Soprano), but they shouldn't have to. And our governments should not force them to put up with it.

Selling sex is not like selling maid service. It's not, like one person suggested, "ordering a pizza." GOD did not make sex a commodity to be bought and sold on the open market. Elliot Spitzer knew that, but I guess he put a signing statement in his marriage license... or his wedding vows.

How To Get Fired After Flaming Out

This could be a scene from Anchorman. Staffers with two El Paso TV stations held a drag race with live trucks after doing a story from the local speed strip.

KVIA's live truck is on the right. KDBC is on the left. And KDBC's live truck operator is on the unemployment rolls after station management found out about this.

You don't drag race a $200,000+ live unit. Ever. Especially when you know how much mileage and engine stress they take and how reluctant ownership groups are to replace them.

UPDATE: Here's more on the race from the Associated Press.

Can We Ask For A Refund?

As the U.S. throws more money into the black hole known as Iraq, the Iraqis are swimming in oil money and running a surplus, as the Associated Press reports:
"The Iraqis have a budget surplus," said U.S. Comptroller General David Walker. "We have a huge budget deficit. . . . One of the questions is who should be paying."

Walker and the other [U.S.] auditors did not give a figure as to the likely surplus. U.S. officials contend that Iraq's lack of spending is due primarily to Baghdad's inability to determine where its money is needed most and how to allocate it efficiently. Two senators have called for an investigation into the matter.

Democrats say the assessment is proof that the Iraq war as a waste of time and money. The U.S. has spent more than $45 billion on rebuilding Iraq. And while officials in Iraq contend that much progress is being made, many projects remain unfinished and U.S. troops are still needed to provide security.
I guess if Iraq doesn't pay us back all the money we've spent on them, we can repossess it. Oh wait, we did that already.

Arizona's Newest "Economic Development Opportunity"

How does Arizona make up a revenue shortfall and close a $1.2 billion deficit? Ultimate fighting, of course! Check out this actual press release from the state House:
(State Capitol, Phoenix) – Fans of Ultimate Fighting Champions are one step closer to seeing the popular sport coming to Arizona.

The House passed HB2834 Tuesday, which directs the Arizona Boxing Commission to adopt a set of rules that would permit unarmed combat contests to take place in the state.

“This sport is undeniably the fastest growing sport in the nation and we are unable to host these action-packed events,” said bill sponsor Rep. Jonathan Paton, R-Tucson. “We have turned away this economic development opportunity for too long. It is time to give Arizona fans a chance to see the action live.”

Jiu-jitsu, judo, karate and wrestling are among the forms of combat that would be sanctioned under the rules adopted by the boxing commission.

The bill moves to the Senate for consideration.
Next, we expect to hear Kimbo Slice described as a "champion of entrepreneurial spirit" for taking his street-fighting career into the cage.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Getting Rid Of The Middleman

Vatican sin specialist Archbishop Gianfranco Girotti is discouraged by the number of Catholics avoiding the confessional.

From Reuters:
He pointed to a study by Milan's Catholic University that showed that up to 60 percent of Catholic faithful in Italy stopped going to confession.

In the sacrament of Penance, Catholics confess their sins to a priest who absolves them in God's name.

But the same study by the Catholic University showed that 30 percent of Italian Catholics believed that there was no need for a priest to be God's intermediary and 20 percent felt uncomfortable talking about their sins to another person.
This is the kind of thing devout Catholics lament: so-called "Cafeteria Catholicism" where the faithful pick and choose what tenants of the faith they want to believe. To be sure, we have a lot of Cafeteria Protestants, too.

But personally, I believe you can confess sins to God without a priest, based on Jesus' teaching in Matthew 6:6 (NASB) "But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

Also, Hebrews 4:15-16 (NASB): "For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

Be advised, I'm not a clergyman, just a humble Christian who's still learning.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Take Three Times A Day With Water

The Associated Press tested drinking water around the country and found traces of pharmaceuticals:
To be sure, the concentrations of these pharmaceuticals are tiny, measured in quantities of parts per billion or trillion, far below the levels of a medical dose. Also, utilities insist their water is safe.

But the presence of so many prescription drugs — and over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen — in so much of our drinking water is heightening worries among scientists of long-term consequences to human health.
These are not just expired meds from the cabinet we've flushed away but current ones our bodies have passed after taking what they can use.

And what's in the water?
-- Officials in Philadelphia said testing there discovered 56 pharmaceuticals or byproducts in treated drinking water, including medicines for pain, infection, high cholesterol, asthma, epilepsy, mental illness and heart problems. Sixty-three pharmaceuticals or byproducts were found in the city's watersheds.

-- Anti-epileptic and anti-anxiety medications were detected in a portion of the treated drinking water for 18.5 million people in Southern California.

-- Researchers at the U.S. Geological Survey analyzed a Passaic Valley Water Commission drinking water treatment plant, which serves 850,000 people in Northern New Jersey, and found a metabolized angina medicine and the mood-stabilizing carbamazepine in drinking water.

-- A sex hormone was detected in San Francisco's drinking water.

-- The drinking water for Washington, D.C., and surrounding areas tested positive for six pharmaceuticals.

-- Three medications, including an antibiotic, were found in drinking water supplied to Tucson, Ariz.
People once panicked over fluoride in drinking water, thinking it would dull the creative part of the mind and leave us vulnerable to a communist conspiracy. (Other health issues with fluoridated water have since popped up.) We don't know yet what all these drugs are doing to us, but this we can safely conclude: we're not getting much healthier. It also seems pointless now to pay for vitamin-enriched water when you can drink spiked stuff right from the tap.

A friend once dropped his jaw when I told him I drank water from the faucet.

"You drink that stuff?"

"Yeah! I have since I was kid -- and look what it's done to me." I unleashed a sinister laugh worthy of a Saturday night horror flick.

Friday, March 7, 2008

He Made A Birdie

PGA golfer Tripp Isenhour could wind up in the trap after hitting a noisy hawk interfering with a TV shoot.

As the AP reports:
The 39-year-old player, whose real name is John Henry Isenhour III, became angry while filming “Shoot Like A Pro” on Dec. 12 at the Grand Cypress Golf Club when a squawking red-shouldered hawk roughly 300 yards away forced another take.

He drove closer to the bird in his golf cart and starting hitting balls at it. The bird didn’t move and Isenhour gave up and drove away.

Isenhour started again when the hawk moved within about 75 yards, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officer Brian Baine indicated in a report.

Isenhour allegedly said, “I’ll get him now,” and aimed for the hawk.

“About the sixth ball came very near the bird’s head, and (Isenhour) was very excited that it was so close,” Baine wrote.

A few shots later, witnesses said he hit the hawk. The bird, protected as a migratory species, fell to the ground bleeding from both nostrils.
Isenhour faces misdemeanor charges of animal cruelty and killing a migratory bird, punishable of up to 14 months behind bars if he's convicted, not including what the birds will do to his car.

(Thanks to my Friday morning Prayer Breakfast group for the tip on this story!)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Bad Trip Out Of Egypt

An Israeli professor of cognitive philosophy -- which focuses on "the phenomena of consciousness of the mind, to find a solution as to its nature" according to one definition I googled -- says Moses was high on drugs when he saw the burning bush and received the Ten Commandments -- and so were the Israelites.

As ABC News reports it:
According to [Benny] Shanon, a professor at Hebrew University, two naturally existing plants in the Sinai Peninsula have the same psychoactive components as ones found in the Amazon jungle and are well-known for their mind-altering capabilities. The drugs are usually combined in a drink called ayahuasca.

"As far as Moses on Mount Sinai is concerned, it was either a supernatural cosmic event, which I don't believe, or a legend, which I don't believe either, or finally, and this is very probable, an event that joined Moses and the people of Israel under the effects of narcotics," he told Israel Radio in an interview Tuesday.

The description in The Book of Exodus of thunder, lightening and a blaring trumpet, according to Shanon, are the classic imaginings of people under the influence of drugs.
Can you even believe, for a moment, that the Ten Commandments, with their prohibitions against lying, adultery, envy, murder, theft and idolatry were the product of chemical influence? Can you imagine the amount of narcotics that would be needed to zonk out the 12 tribes of Israel? It's silly on the face of it.

And I guess those plagues on Egypt must've been a bad trip, too. Oh and the Angel of Death? Probably bad product.

What's Professor Shanon been smoking?


Here's another reason I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh anymore. This is his take on the possibility of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama sharing the ticket:
"Let's say that there is a joint ticket between Obama and Hillary and they come to an agreement over who's on top. Frankly, I hope it's Obama on top. Well, I actually don't, but if it's Obama on top and if they happen to win, I just can't wait for Hillary to undermine him during his presidency and lead impeachment proceedings against him. But the point is, let's say it is Obama and Hillary run. Let's put Hillary at the top, put Hillary on top. That's a position she's familiar with. Therefore, you've got a woman and a black first time ever on the Democrat ticket. Ahem. (laughter) They don't have a prayer."
Amazing -- racism, sexism, pessimism and ignorance crammed into just one minute. It reminds me of former Interior Secretary James Watt's infamous 1983 statement about his staff: "I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple. And we have talent."

Here's another Rushism from today's show, this time on Republicans crossing over to vote in the Democratic primaries:
"If the Democrats and the media can pick our nominee, then why the hell can't we pick theirs?"
I guess all of those Republican primary wins for Sen. John McCain were left-wing plots, huh?

And to think I actually listened to Rush in the 1990's, back when the show was actually funny.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Democrats' New Math

ABC News' "Political Radar" reports last night's primary wins by Sen. Hillary Clinton gummed things up even more for the Democratic party.
ABC News' current delegate estimate has [Sen. Barack] Obama at 1,555.

That means he would need to win 77% of all the remaining pledged delegates to hit the magic number of 2,024 to secure the nomination. That is highly unlikely due to the proportional delegate allocation rules in the Democratic Party.

Clinton would need to win 94% of all the remaining pledged delegates to hit the magic number of 2,024. (ABC News currently has her at 1449.)

So, clearly they both are going to be relying on superdelegates to secure the nomination.
CBS News' delegate counts, by the way, have Obama at 1,550 and Clinton at 1,441.

No matter what the numbers are, a longer primary does three things:

1) Splits the party while GOP nominee-elect John McCain plots strategy, raises money and takes jabs at them both.

2) Raises fears of a brokered convention and the spectre of the 2000 vote fight, splitting the party further.

3) Makes the Dems wish they hadn't booted Michigan and Florida out of the contest. I hear rumbling Florida may hold a do-over primary. If it keeps the nomination from coming down to superdelegates, more power to them.

And let's not forget the super-superdelegate: John Edwards. He's still holding 26 delegates. With only about 100 delegates separating Hillary and Barack, he won't be able to sit on the fence.

Next month's Pennsylvania primary becomes the new Super Tuesday, and if this contest isn't settled after that, you better have plenty of Maalox ready.

A college of mine joked last year that if nobody had enough delegates at the Democratic convention, it would clear the way for Al Gore to walk on as nominee -- only I don't think he was joking. Please, don't make this more of a nightmare for them than it already is.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

The Choice Is Clear, Sort Of

Arizona's Democratic Governor Janet Napolitano endorses Sen. Barack Obama for president. But it looked like she flipped to John McCain during a rally in El Paso, as reported by The El Paso Times:
"If you want change in Washington, D.C., and if you want to hear a new voice and new vision in D.C., you are picking John McCain," she said with excitement.

After the 70 or so people in the audience went silent, she corrected herself.

"McCain? I mean you are picking Barack Obama if you want change," she said as she smiled.

Napolitano then went on to say that what she meant to say is that come November, when the general election is held, voters will have a clear choice if Obama is the Democratic presidential candidate."
Note that this happened in a room with "Obama" signs all over the place. I figure she meant to say, "you are not picking John McCain." But man, oh man, with this many cue cards in front of her, you just gotta wonder.

Anyway, Janet's not too far out of league with many Republicans, who may be split between Sens. McCain and Obama, according to a new poll.

So What's The "Saving" Part?

Daylight Savings Time ends up costing homes more in air-conditioning bills than they save in lighting less, according to a pair of researchers at the University of California-Santa Barbara. They studied residences in Indiana, which finally adopted DST in 2006.

From The Wall Street Journal:
Their research showed that while an extra hour of daylight in the evenings may mean less electricity is spent on lights, it also means that houses are warmer in the summer when people come home from work. Conversely, during daylight-saving time's cooler months, people may crank up the thermostats more in the morning.
This is exactly the reason Arizona doesn't go on DST. We don't need our homes any hotter in June, and if you're only using evaporative cooling (a.k.a. "The Swamp Box"), it's worthless once the monsoon rolls around in July. But it's also strange being on Pacific Time for six months of the year and Mountain Time for the rest. Arizona's far enough to the West Coast. Why not just stay on Pacific Time year-round?

UPDATE: The Navajo reservation, which stretches into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, goes on DST so everybody's on the same time. However, the Hopi Nation in Arizona, which is surrounded by the Navajos, stays with Arizona's standard time. That's just as bad as Indiana before DST, when a handful of counties switched and the rest of the state didn't.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Dancing Fool

I think I now qualify as obsessive-compulsive about historic dance.

Whew, I said it. How do I know? Come, take my hand...

It’s not enough to go to the Arizona Renaissance Festival anymore to watch the shows or the jousting. Like Disneyland's Jungle Cruise, it seems the productions never change, even though they're fun to watch. I’ve got to dress up in the kilt, go in character, and hope I can get a little bit of dancing in.

It didn’t take long. I wasn’t there 15 minutes before I absorbed the Scottish Highland sounds of Tartanic and showtime came around. The group sought out this girl who knew Irish dancing, but she wasn't there. They spotted your humble servant instead in the full kilt and invited me up.


“Yes you!”

This sounds familiar.

So for the next 10 minutes or so, on an empty stomach and legs needing a warm-up after the drive from Tucson, I did my best poor rendition of a Highland Fling, hopping and twirling and spinning my kilt up every so often (I wore shorts underneath, not my tartan boxers, to everybody’s relief). It wore me down quickly, and my fling degenerated into a sort of skipping jig. By the time the dance ended and I made my bows, I needed air desperately.

“Christopher, the dancing manic!” they announced.

Tartanic’s drummer directed me towards a man with a cup of beer.

“You’re not falling down on our watch!”

I took a sip -- a very small sip.

“I don’t drink beer,” I explained, too winded to attempt a Scottish brogue. “I don’t drink anything [alcoholic] anymore!”

I bought a bottle of Aquafina and walked off my fatigue. But that urge to caper regenerated, and I noticed the Danseries were back.

I danced with one of their ladies last year, who at that time graciously invited me to learn a few steps from the Renaissance after I showed more than a passing interest. This time -- buoyed by two years of dancing at historic balls -- I was unquestionably hooked, and this same lady was there once again to invite me to join them.

“What dances do you know?” one of their leaders asked, to which I explained I knew much more 18th Century English Country Dance than 16th or 17th Century Renaissance numbers.

“But if you show me a dance, I can follow it,” I added, my words landing somewhere between a brag and a beg. The flute player mentioned the “Playford Book,” -- which I instantly knew as the English Country Dancing Master by John Playford, the text used for centuries.

The group matched me with a kind and generous lady for a partner, and we did a few circle dances -- no sets, no couple dances -- Gathering Peascods and Jenny Pluck Pears, if I’m not mistaken. As I indicated, I picked the dances up quickly, ending with a bow and a "Huzzah!" This time, the lady said it before I did, quite unusual indeed.

Whatever impression I made, it was enough to earn me a spot in their tent in fellowship, while I explained how I came to love this style of dancing and all the balls I attend as part of We Make History, which at least one person had heard of before.

Some of my dancing companions attended Eastern Arizona College, where they have a folk dancing course. If I only had the interest in history during my college years at Mizzou...

I had the honor of dancing for the Lord Mayor’s ladies, and as a bonus, I had the honorable task of leading a stately procession to their ramada, lady on my right in a graceful promenade, inside hands held high. The significance gave me pause: I am much the stranger to them, dressed in a kilt instead of Elizabethan garb, and they not only let me dance with them, they let me lead the way to the floor.

So I danced again for the ladies, doing those circle dances again -- without a caller, mind you -- and quickly learning a new dance which involved some prancing steps like a horse footing the ground. I forget its name.

Then came a number in which a gentleman and ladies would stand in two lines, and a gentleman would pass a rose to a lady, stepping out of line to cavort about each other. Then the lady would pass a rose to another gentlemen, who would then cavort with her, and so forth.

“If you’re chosen, just do what the men do,” a lady told me. I was chosen last -- no surprise and no disappointment -- but even though I didn’t do the steps I think I needed to do, I gather I had enough rhythm and grace to fool the layperson, leaving my lady well pleased. So were the Lord Mayor’s ladies, who later would compliment me.

Confession complete. Send me to the shrink. But it uplifts me, and I pray it uplifts my partners. I won't apologize for that.

No, I have no pictures to show you. This memory is best left to my mind, heart, and feet.

Instant Gratification Generation

Dan Zak of the Washington Post hands us the latest dispatch from the Stating-The-Obvious Department:
Entitlement is something that's part of human narcissism. It's an ego thing that transcends generations. When something goes wrong for others, it's their fault. When something goes wrong for us, it's not ours; it's the fault of external forces. We project blame.

This projection often antagonizes a situation. Feeling entitled to something you aren't getting leads to frustration, which leads to bratty behavior and confrontation. Nearly 80 percent of Americans say rudeness -- particularly behind the wheel, on cellphones and in customer service -- should be regarded as a serious national problem, according to a study by the opinion research firm Public Agenda.
And we don't Give Thanks enough, either, to God... or to anybody.
[University of Miami psychology professor Mike McCullough] helped conduct one experiment titled "Counting Blessings Versus Burdens," wherein one group kept a journal of their daily hassles for a period of time while another recorded the times they were grateful. The outcome may be obvious, but it is no less instructive: People who concentrated on hassles were generally miserable; the others were pleased and satisfied.
Surveys have found the Amish among the happiest people on the Earth. It's no surprise.