Archive for April, 2006

Letters, we get letters

Friday, April 28th, 2006

Actual, un-retouched message from my e-mail program’s Spam Blocker:

Message subject “ALL PRODUCTS FOR YOU HEALTH” from sender “asshole1@eatshit.com” may be spam.

Gee, you think?

Note to spammer: at least I’ll give you credit for being honest, you asshole.

The Karma of Sex and War

Wednesday, April 26th, 2006

I’ve been doing some interesting reading today. Remember the Vietnam-era slogan “Make love, not war?” According to Osho, this is not just a cliche, but a central tenet of enlightenment.

And just who is/was Osho, you may ask? According to The Washington Post, “He was a guru unencumbered by tradition, an enlightened master who could quote Heidegger, and Sartre, and who furthermore believed in technology, capitalism and sex…” Indeed, he has been called “the sex guru”, although carnal pleasure formed only one segment of his beliefs. Born in 1931 in India and formerly known as Baghwan Shree Rajneesh, he was a philosopher and spiritual teacher in his homeland. In 1981, he moved to the United States and set up a controversial communal ranch with 3,000 of his followers near Antelope, Oregon called Rajneeshpuram. After many disputes with local residents, he moved to North Carolina in 1987 where he adopted the name “Osho”, which is derived from the ancient Japanese word for “Master”. Forced by U.S. immigration authorities to return to India, he died there of heart failure in 1990. At the height of his influence, Osho had about 200,000 members in 600 centers around the world, and he sported a fleet of 30 or more Rolls-Royce limousines.

Many have characterized his organization as a “cult”, and indeed it is true that he felt the institution of the family was out of date and should be replaced with alternative forms of community and ways of caring for children. However, he also encouraged individual disciples to make peace with their families. He taught that God was in everything and everyone. He recognized Jesus Christ as having attained enlightenment. He believed that national, religious, gender and racial divisions are inherently destructive to a harmonious global society.

Today, 16 years after his death, his followers enthusiastically continue his work, and a wealth of information on his teachings and beliefs can be found via a simple web search. And what of sex and war? Whether you dismiss him as a cult figure or not, I must say his words on these topics make considerable sense, particularly during these troubled times when war occupies much of our conscious thought. He says:

The society has created a repressive mind, a life-negative mind, an anti-joy mind. The society is very much against sex. Why is the society so much against sex? — because if you allow people sexual pleasure, you cannot transform them into slaves. It is impossible — a joyous person cannot be made a slave. That is the trick. Only sad people can be turned into slaves. A joyous person is a free person; he has a kind of independence to him.

You cannot recruit joyous people for war. Impossible. Why should they go to war? But if a person has repressed his sexuality he is ready to go to war, he is eager to go to war, because he has not been able to enjoy life. He has become incapable of enjoying, hence has become incapable of creativity. Now he can do only one thing — he can destroy. All his energies have become poison and destructive. He is ready to go to war — not only ready, he is hankering for it. He wants to kill, he wants to destroy.

In fact, while destroying human beings he will have a vicarious joy of penetrating. That penetrating could have been in love and would have been beautiful. When you penetrate a woman’s body in love, it is one thing. It is spiritual. But when things go wrong and you penetrate somebody’s body with a sword, with a spear, it is ugly, it is violent, it is destructive. But you are searching for a substitute for penetration.

If society is allowed total freedom about joy, nobody will be destructive.

People who can love beautifully are never destructive. And people who can love beautifully and have the joy of life will not be competitive either. These are the problems.

That’s why primitive people are not so competitive. They are enjoying their life. Who bothers to have a bigger house? Who bothers to have a bigger balance in the bank? For what? You are happy with your woman and with your man and you are having a dance of life. Who wants to sit in the marketplace for hours and hours and hours, day in, day out, year in, year out, hoping that in the end you will have a big bank balance and then you will retire and enjoy? That day never comes. It can’t come, because the whole life you remain an ascetic.

Remember, the business people are ascetic people. They have devoted everything to money.

Now a man who knows love and has known the thrill of love and the ecstasy of it will not be competitive.

He will be happy if he can get his daily bread. That is the meaning of Jesus’ prayer: “Give us our daily bread.” That is more than enough. Now Jesus looks foolish. He should have asked, “Give us a bigger bank balance.” He asks only for the daily bread? A joyous man never asks for more than that. The joy is so fulfilling.

It is only unfulfilled beings who are competitive, because they think life is not here, it is there. “I have to reach to Delhi and become the president,” or to the White House and become this or that. “I have to go there, joy is there” — because they know here there is no joy. So they are always on the go, go, go, go. They are always on the go, and they never reach. And the man who knows the joy, is here. Why should he be going to Delhi? For what? He is utterly happy here now. His needs are very small. He has no desires. He has needs certainly, but no desires. Needs can be fulfilled, desires never. Needs are natural, desires are perverted.

Now this whole society depends on one thing and that is sex repression. Otherwise the economy will be destroyed, sabotaged. War will disappear and with it the whole war machinery, and the politics will become meaningless and the politician will no longer be important. Money will not have value if people are allowed to love. Because they are not allowed to love, money becomes the substitute, money becomes their love. So there is a subtle strategy.

Sex has to be repressed, otherwise this whole structure of the society will fall immediately.

Only love released into the world will bring revolution. Communism has failed, fascism has failed, capitalism has failed. All ‘isms’ have failed because deep down they are all sex repressive. On that point there is no difference — no difference between Washington and Moscow, Beijing and Delhi — there is no difference at all. They all agree upon one thing — that sex has to be controlled, that people are not to be allowed to have innocent joy in sex.

Ordinary society is against sex; Tantra comes to help humanity, to give sex back to humanity. And when the sex has been given back, then arises Zen. Zen has no attitude. Zen is pure health.

I don’t necessarily agree with every single word of this, but it is food for thought.

Several recent events have caused me to ponder the topic of meditation (is that statement redundant?) which led me today to this information about Osho. A week ago, I wrote here about the search for justice — or more to the point, closure — in the trial of Zacharias Moussaoui. One of the many things that concerns me is the extreme difficulty we face in combatting, by conventional means, those Islamic radicals who not only don’t fear death, but welcome it as a glorious reward. Think of this phrase commonly heard in America: “You have so much to live for.” For the overwhelming majority of us in the USA, this is the truth; life is good. Sure, we all have something we’d like to improve on: we may not be rich, or have the best jobs, or we may have heath or family issues, but our living conditions are so much better than the rest of the world. More importantly, we nearly always have the one thing that keeps us going when all else fails — hope. No matter how bad things get, our society offers us the opportunity to make our lives better if we’re willing to make the effort. But for millions in the war-torn Middle East, hopelessness is part of the daily existence. They have nothing to look forward to but oppression, poverty, hunger, disease and death, and this breeds a desperation that few of us in the West can truly fathom.

Last night I watched the always-fascinating PBS documentary program Frontline. This particular episode, titled “The Insurgency”, took a close look at those who are fighting against U.S. and Coalition forces in Iraq, and why. One military analyst commented on a fundamental difference between coalition and insurgent forces which echoes my thoughts above; the Americans, he said, for the most part don’t want to be there. They would much rather be at home, in safety and comfort with their families — and who could blame them? But of the insurgents, his simple comment “they don’t live here” was chilling. By “here”, he means “in this world”. Their minds are fixated on the glorious paradise awaiting them in the next life, and the more Infidels they can kill in the name of Allah, the greater will be their reward. How can we hope to defeat an enemy with this sort of motivation, when all we want to do — understandably so — is to get the hell out of there?

I pray that there’s a way out of this quagmire, but it isn’t immediately apparent what it may be. What particularly frustrates and angers me is that many knowledgeable people in the military, government, business and private sectors tried to impress these realities upon the Bush administration long before things ever got to this point, and they simply failed to listen or to understand. Read this article from the Washington Post for an eye-opening look at a Defense Secretary who “was contemptuous of advice from his military officers and sabotaged the Iraq mission with willful misjudgments before and after the invasion”, and is still out-of-touch even now.

It is somewhat sobering, if not outright depressing, to realize that the history of mankind is quite literally the history of warfare. Since the beginning of civilization, society has been defined by it’s conquests, and the rise and fall of nations (including our own) have been a direct result of victory or defeat on the great battlefields of time. While there have been wars of ideologies in the past, our opponents today have very little tangibility that can be effectively attacked or destroyed. They have no uniforms, territorial boundaries, or central command structure. They have no authority figure with whom to negotiate surrender. This is a war unlike any in previous history, and recent sabre-rattling concerning possible nuclear confrontation with Iran (whose current leadership shares the no-compromise goal of many Jihadists to “wipe Israel off the map”) has me feeling even more uneasy about the future.

There is a growing number of people — sadly, counted in the millions as I write this — who earnestly believe that current world conditions point to an imminent cataclysmic clash between good and evil, i.e. The Armageddon. Fortunately for my own personal mental health, I am not that pessimistic. However, while in the past this belief was held primarily by fundamentalist zealots, I do find it disturbing that the concept has become increasingly “mainstream” in recent years. In December 2004, respected National Public Radio journalist Bill Moyers was honored with the Global Environment Citizen Award (presented by Meryl Streep) by the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School. In his acceptance speech, he spoke of “Armageddon Politics“:

“It may come as a surprise to some people that God’s plan involves the full-scale destruction of the planet we inhabit. In some bizarre manner, He, the Creator God and Father of Jesus, wants to destroy the world in order to save humanity — or a select portion of it, anyway. But then it makes sense that the Supreme Being who created this world has the right to annihilate it, doesn’t it? It does to some people. And not just a few, either. The promise of a planetary holocaust is actually cherished by millions of God-fearing Christians around the world, and strategically anticipated by the politicians who lead them.”

If those “politicians” include George W. Bush (and some think this is so), then my friends, we all may be in deep shit. Hey, if you believe that the world is due to end anyway, why worry about tossing a few nukes around?

My apologies — I didn’t intend for this post to become so damn depressing when I began writing it. Anyway, to return to Osho where I started from, perhaps a possible solution in Iraq would be to flood the area with as many women as possible from all over the world who would be willing to sex up the insurgents, thereby neutralizing their will to fight. Make love, not war. Okay, I admit it’s not very realistic or practical — but does anybody have a better idea? If so, please raise your hand; I and everyone else (except maybe Donald Rumsfeld) would love to hear it.

Another blog comic

Tuesday, April 25th, 2006

Credits: Dean Young & John Marshall, © King Features Syndicate

Blows against the empire

Monday, April 24th, 2006

It’s rant time, folks.

To my utter delight, broadcast television stations are saying they have had enough, and are fighting back against the heavy-handed censorship imposed on them in the name of “decency” by the Federal Communications Commission. The major television networks and their affiliates are asking appeals courts to overturn decisions by regulators finding broadcasters violated so-called decency standards.

The Fox, CBS, NBC, and ABC networks have filed suit with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York to declare the decisions by the FCC unlawful. More than 800 other television network affiliates have joined the court efforts, including those of the Hearst-Argyle chain. The broadcasters say privately that this could become the test case long awaited by those who seek to challenge the government’s ability to police the airwaves.

In the last several years, the government has slapped millions of dollars in fines against broadcast stations, including a record $550,000 for a single incident — Janet Jackson’s infamous “wardrobe malfunction” during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show. Other offenses have included an episode of “NYPD Blue” in which the word “shit” was used, and U2 frontman Bono’s exclamation of the phrase “fucking brilliant” while accepting an award at the 2003 Golden Globes.

According to the Reuters article:

“The FCC overstepped its authority in an attempt to regulate content protected by the First Amendment, acted arbitrarily and failed to provide broadcasters with a clear and consistent standard for determining what content the government intends to penalize,” the broadcasters said in a statement.

The key phrase above is “clear and consistent standard”; what is or is not considered acceptable to be aired these days is extremely unclear. There is one set of standards for over-the-air broadcast stations, another for cable-only networks, and yet another for pay-per-view and premium subscription services. Throw in “safe harbor” rulings that permit certain words during specific times of the day but not others, and the whole situation becomes very murky. Rules are enforced inconsistently, leaving program producers and stations unsure about exactly what might trigger the ire of the FCC.

Not surprisingly, the action does not sit well with the Parents Television Council, better known as “Uncle Taliban” for their unrelenting efforts to sanitize the airwaves by applying their own conservative religious and moral standards to TV programming. PTC President Brent Bozell called the lawsuit “shameless”, further claiming, “The networks’ principles have now been unmasked for everyone to see. Their actions today are indecent in and of themselves.”

This bit of twisted logic comes from the organization singly responsible for approximately 95% of all complaints lodged with the FCC over matters of “decency”. The PTC’s founders would prefer that TV shows had never left the 1950′s, when married couples slept in separate beds, Father Knew Best, and the strongest expletive ever uttered was “Gosh!”. Their stated goal of “protecting children” may be noble, but it’s misguided; responsibility for what children see is best left to parents, not the government. And I certainly don’t want self-righteous watchdogs like the PTC or Donald Wildmon and the “American Family Association” telling stations what they should or should not broadcast. (The AFA regularly rails against the so-called “Homosexual Agenda”, and thinks the greatest TV program ever made was “The Waltons”.)

In my mind, there is no doubt that the FCC has exceeded its mandate and is clearly operating beyond its Constitutional limits. It’s about time that stations stood up to the FCC, and I think it’s also time for ordinary people like you and I to say that we are sick and tired of these conservative goons pushing their alleged “decency” standards on those of us who have enough brains to figure out for ourselves what is or isn’t acceptable viewing in our own living rooms. Let’s join newsman Howard Beale when he exorts us, in Paddy Chayefsky’s Oscar-winning 1976 movie “Network“, to say, “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it any more.” There are enough lawyers, lobbyists and flacks in this country to ensure that “community standards” are self-enforcing. We don’t need Uncle Taliban telling us what is obscene.

One final note: it is apparently a little-known fact that every single television set found in use today has a special built-in electronic device to prevent unwanted material from being viewed in the home.

It’s called the “off” switch.

A pimple on Goliath

Saturday, April 22nd, 2006

Check out this amazing video clip which purports to show hooded pranksters scaling a fence and painting graffiti on the engine cowling of Air Force One. It’s an elaborate hoax: the filmmakers rented a 747 Jumbo Jet and painted it in the colors of Bush’s plane to make the video in San Bernadino, California. But the result was so real-looking, the Air Force had to check to make sure the slogan “Still Free” hadn’t actually been plastered on the side of the “real” plane.

“I wanted to do something culturally significant, wanted to create a real pop-culture moment,” said Marc Ecko of Marc Ecko Enterprises, who staged the spoof. “It’s this completely irreverent, over-the-top thing that could really never happen: this five-dollar can of paint putting a pimple on this Goliath.”

The two-minute clip has been circulating on the Internet for several days, generating much speculation as to how the most heavily guarded aircraft in the world could have been “tagged”. It was only on Friday that the prank was revealed. While Ecko declined to state how much it cost to rent the cargo jet for the video, he did say “It’s not cheap. You have to be rich.”

In the words of Bono, “fucking brilliant.”

Amen

Friday, April 21st, 2006

Today’s “Zits” strip hits a little close to home… (click it for a larger version)

Credits: Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman © King Features Syndicate

Yes, some people really are that stupid

Thursday, April 20th, 2006

Occasionally, I stumble upon a news item that causes me grave concern for the future of our species. This is one of those stories. In Miami, a 76-year old man has been arrested for passing himself off as a doctor — by going door to door offering free breast exams. Allow me to pause for a moment to let that sink in.

Dum-de-dum, la de da….

OK. Yes, that’s right, this guy was going door-to-door offering free breast exams, and at least two (possibly more) women actually took him up on it. From the article:

One woman became suspicious after the man asked her to remove all her clothes and began conducting a purported genital exam without donning rubber gloves, investigators said. The woman then phoned the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, and the suspect fled.

For the men in the audience who are laughing so hard right now that they may not be able to fully comprehend this, imagine the following scenario: a stranger carrying a black bag shows up at your door claiming to be from the local hospital. He says, “Hey, it’s your lucky day, Mack. I’m offering free circumcisions today.” He then proceeds to take out a dull pocket knife, a used handkerchief, and a bottle of Listerine.

You say, “Sure, no problem,” and drop your drawers.

Actually, this ploy was used in a funny and effective video for Breast Cancer awareness, but to think that anyone would be dumb enough to actually do this simply restores one’s faith in the innate stupidity of mankind.

Some of the more cynical among us never lost it in the first place.

She’s sexy, but she’s dead … is that wrong?

Wednesday, April 19th, 2006

A bizarre ad for the video game Hitman is currently appearing in the April issue of PC Gamer magazine. Featuring a beautiful, scantily-clad woman who appears to be dead lying on a gold bedspread with a bullet in her head, the tag line reads: “Beautifully Executed.”

I’m not sure how people are supposed to respond to this. Is a murder/necrophilia fantasy supposed to make anyone want to buy the game? Is it appropriate to push this ad at teenagers? Adrants magazine says: “People read way too much into this stuff.” Maybe so, but I suspect a lot of parents will disagree. Edgy video games are nothing new (think Grand Theft Auto), and to be fair, the Hitman series doesn’t contain nearly the kind of gratuitous gore featured in some of the splatter-fest shooter games of the mid-90′s. Still, this strikes me as some pretty strange marketing.

I guess I have now officially become Too Old.

Justice

Monday, April 17th, 2006

Like many Americans, I find myself watching the Zacarias Moussaoui trial with a combination of interest and disgust. It’s much like watching the proverbial train wreck; painfully disturbing, yet so fascinating that it’s hard to look away. Moussaoui is probably the single least sympathetic individual ever to stand trial in the history of this country’s legal justice system. To the consternation of his defense team, he has gone out of his way to curse, mock and insult the victims of 9/11 and their families, clapping his hands and smiling with glee at video of the planes hitting the twin towers. His only regret about that day, he claims, is that it was not followed by further attacks and that more people did not die. Only Osama Bin Laden, were we to apprehend and try him, would likely generate more revulsion.

While there has always been debate concerning the morality of the death penalty, most would agree that there could hardly be a person more deserving of it than Moussaoui — and therein lies the paradox at the heart of the difference between Western society and the fundamentalist radicals he claims to represent. On the one hand, we would like to show the rest of the world that the United States has compassion and respect for life unequaled by any other nation on earth. To spare this despicable terrorist — convicted of complicity in the worst crime ever committed against the American people — would show clearly (we might like to think) how enlightened and civilized we are. But while such an act of mercy might resonate with much of the world, it is unlikely to be effective against the very people who seek to perpetrate these crimes against us. We in the West celebrate life, in all its diverse and wondrous forms, and regard it as the most blessed gift a human can possess. Death is a last resort, something to be avoided and postponed at all costs. To Islamic radicals, however, life on this earth is but a temporary pit stop on the way to Paradise, where wine, women, and endless pleasures await them. Death is to be welcomed, a glorious reward that many can hardly wait to collect.

So, this creates a no-win dilemma for the jury considering Moussaoui’s fate. If they spare him, it sends a message to the radicals that we are a weak and ineffective society. But to execute him would make him a martyr; for many Islamic fundamentalists, there is no greater glory than to stand up to your enemies, curse them to their faces, and then be put to death by them. We would be giving him exactly what he wants.

The trial has caused many of us to relive the chaos and horror we felt on September 11th. Few things have been more gripping than the prosecution’s use of testimony by victim’s families, graphic video of the event (including footage of people choosing to jump from the building to their death rather than be burned alive), and perhaps most disturbingly, the 31-minute tape of the Flight 93 cockpit voice recorder. For the first time, many have now heard (or read in the transcript) exactly what the last few minutes of life were like for the heroic passengers and crew of the doomed jetliner. This comes as the Universal Studios movie “United 93” is about to appear in theatres on April 28th; hopefully, the timing of these two events is merely coincidental, and not a cynical attempt by the movie’s producers to use the trial to generate publicity for the film. However, the movie is controversial enough even without the added emotion of the trial. Despite the fact that it was made with the full cooperation and support of the passengers families (and a portion of the proceeds from the film will go into a fund benefiting the victims), there is still a significant percentage of the public who feel it is too soon to transform the tragedy into entertainment. Writer and director Paul Greengrass states that the basis for the movie is “the belief that by examining this single event, something much larger can be found — the shape of our world today.” Nevertheless, there have been reports of people walking out in protest from theatres where the trailer for the upcoming release has been shown.

September 11, 2001 is one of those dates in our history where everyone will always remember where they were and exactly what they were doing when it happened. It was the same way for many of us old enough to remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, or for the generation before that, the attack on Pearl Harbor. I can recall the day with stark clarity. I was the engineer for the local University radio station, and part of my routine was to go through all the equipment when I arrived for work each day to make sure everything was in good order before the students began classes. While checking our Associated Press news computer to see if it had crashed overnight (which it was prone to do), a bulletin came in about a “plane hitting the World Trade Center in New York”. Like many people who heard these initial reports, I misunderstood the gravity of what had happened — thinking the “plane” was a small private aircraft that had wandered off course, or perhaps the pilot had a heart attack or otherwise became disabled while at the controls. So I continued about my maintenance tasks with no particular sense of urgency, wandering back to my office for a coffee break about a half hour or so later. Hardly anyone was in the building yet. At that point, I remembered the earlier news story and flipped on the TV set in my office out of curiosity, expecting to see the tail of a Cessna or Piper Cub sticking out of the side of the building.

Moments after I tuned in to the live coverage, the second plane slammed into the the south tower. For the next several hours I stood transfixed, staring at the TV in open-mouth shock as the events of that terrible day continued to unfold (and be replayed over and over again). My overwhelming sensation was incredulity: “how could this be happening in America?” I am sure most of us felt the same, or worse.

So, what to do with Moussaoui? Personally, I think he should be granted his wish to die. This will show that not only are we a just society that holds a person accountable for their crimes, but we are also gracious enough to grant him the ticket to Heaven that he so dearly desires. However, lethal injection is too good for this terrorist: he should be forced to walk the plank, like the pirates of olden days. But instead of dropping him into deep shark-infested waters, the plank should be suspended at the top of the Empire State Building, 102 stories above the streets of New York. Then, let Moussaoui experience first-hand the final moments of the tortured souls forced to plunge to their deaths on September 11th, his last view of this earth being the Mecca of capitalism that he so despises. It would seem only fitting. Even though we know in our hearts that such vengeance would be wrong, it might bring some sense of closure for many who are frustrated by our inability to apprehend and punish the true masterminds behind the tragedy.

On the other hand, we could lock him up and make him live out the rest of his natural life in prison. For him, that would be a fate worse than death.

More cats in the news

Friday, April 14th, 2006

Stories about cats continue to captivate the public’s attention. Following the saga of Emily in France last year and this gripping drama only two weeks ago, here’s another cat tale (sorry) just in time for CatBlogging Friday today:

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NEW YORK – With Molly the fugitive feline sending out distress calls from a few feet — or maybe just inches — away, animal rescue and city experts tried anew on Thursday to lure the 11-month-old black cat from the innards of a 19th century building where she has been trapped for nearly two weeks.

The low-key drama, with no end in sight, was playing out in the basement wall and ceiling of a Greenwich Village delicatessen, where Molly had been official house mouser until wandering into a narrow space between walls and becoming lost in what rescue supervisor Mike Pastore described as “a maze of beams and pipes, going every which way.”

With city building officials on hand to supervise, more bricks were hammered out in the cellar of the 157-year-old, four-story building on Hudson Street. The edifice is part of a landmarked historic district where alterations are prohibited without official permission. Pastore said he hoped Molly’s situation would be seen as enough of an emergency “so that we can knock out a few more bricks.”

In another move, two kittens were brought to the scene in carry-on cage, in hopes that their mewing might trigger Molly’s maternal instincts enough to draw her out.

Pastore, field director for Animal Care & Control, a private organization with a city contract to handle lost, injured and unwanted animals, said the rescue was the most difficult in his experience. “I’ve done this dozens of times — even in zero neighborhoods where you’re lucky to get out alive,” he said.

Molly’s meowing could be heard so clearly on the sidewalk outside the building that it seemed she might be a foot or less inside the wall, though blocked from view by vertical studs and other obstructions. “She’s right there,” said Pastore. “I’d like to be able to reach in and grab a piece of fur. That’s what’s so frustrating.”

On Wednesday, bricks had been carefully removed at various spots to give Molly an escape route. Molly stayed put. Pastore’s team later got a fleeting look at Molly through a tiny video camera snaked into the crawl space, but could not reach her. A cage, baited with food, was left overnight. Molly didn’t bite. Even catnip, the feline aphrodisiac, had no effect on the timorous tabby.

Amid the activity, business went on inside Myers of Keswick, a delicatessen that specializes in meat pies, clotted cream and other British food specialties. “I’m very busy,” said proprietor Peter Myers, who opened the store 20 years ago and kept Molly to catch mice. Television and newspaper reporters were on hand, and the story was making headlines across the United States and abroad.

On Thursday, a self-described “cat therapist,” Carole Wilbourne, knelt on the sidewalk next to the building’s outer wall and tried to coax Molly out with what she hoped were soothing words. “I hear you, sweetheart,” she cooed. “Come on, Molly, you can do it…everybody wants you to come out… nobody’s going to hurt you.”

After a few minutes, one of Pastore’s aides, wearing a surgical mask, emerged from the dusty cellar and asked Wilbourne to stop. “I think you’re stressing her out,” she said. Wilbourne complied, saying that she had been trying to “give inspiration” to the wayward cat. “I care,” she told reporters. “I wouldn’t be doing it if I didn’t.”

(Source: The Associated Press)

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Cat therapist? People get paid good money for this? Now, there’s a career I should investigate. Just call me “Mr. Toast, the Cat Whisperer“. You may laugh, but I’m getting a secret message from a telepathic tabby (right) at this very moment; he’s telling me that a fresh crop of thrilling cat pictures and stories can be found starting each Sunday evening at the Carnival of the Cats. This week’s host is Begin Each Day, and if you look into my messager’s psychic (or is it psycho?) eyes, you will suddenly feel an irresistible urge to surf on over there and check it out… :^)

I hope everyone has a great Easter weekend!

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Update! Molly has been rescued!!

Life-changing device

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

In the photo to the right, I’m holding a pager … your ordinary, garden-variety beeper. They’re not quite so common these days, now that everyone has a cell phone glued to their hip, but if you’ve ever had a job that required you wear a beeper and be “on call”, you understand the strange combination of respect and loathing you felt for this device. The main reason to hate it was for its intrusiveness. The damn thing could go off at any moment, any time of the day or night, and it didn’t matter where you were or what you were doing when it did. You could be eating dinner, or watching a movie, or having sex — it didn’t care. You’d have to respond to it. You might feel like throwing it against the wall instead, but if you failed to quickly answer the page, sooner or later you’d have to explain why to your boss. Do that once too often and you might be out of a job.

It seemed that most of the time, it would go off in the middle of the night when you were sound asleep, interrupting the most wonderful dream with the reality that someone, somewhere, needed to talk to you about something important right now. Sometimes you’d be lucky; whatever problem they needed to contact you about could be solved quickly and simply over the phone, and you could then relax and go back to sleep. Other times, you’d have to get dressed and go in to work; something was seriously amiss that only you could fix. And of course, that was the flip side of it — the reason you respected the beeper as well as hated it’s goddamn insensitive electronic guts.

It meant that you were important.

Whatever particular knowledge or ability you possessed was so highly regarded by your employer, they gave you this device so that you and your skills could be available at a moment’s notice. (Hopefully, you were paid handsomely for this as well.) Minor consolation that this may be, the point is that most people are at worst irritated and perhaps inconvenienced to have their beeper go off.

When this particular beeper that I am holding goes off, it will mean something entirely different.

It will mean that someone, somewhere, has just died — and a doctor at the scene has determined that this person’s lung(s) are available for transplantation.

It will mean that the hospital’s computer has generated a “match run” of the most suitable recipients for this organ, and my name is at the top of this list.

It will mean that no matter where I am or what time of day it is, I will have to drop everything, grab a suitcase that is packed, ready and waiting by the door, jump into the car and get to the hospital (150 miles away) in less than three hours, and undergo probably the most complicated and extensive surgery known to modern medical science.

It will mean that, if for whatever reason things don’t go well in the operating room, that my remaining life expectancy from the moment the beeper goes off could be measured in hours. There is about a ten percent chance of this, which is not insignificant odds.

Even under the best of circumstances, it will mean that when I regain consciousness after the surgery, intubated in critical care, my arms will be strapped down so that I’m unable to respond to the instinctual urge I am told that I will have to rip the tubes that will be keeping me alive out of my throat.

However, this moment will also mark the beginning of my recovery. After roughly two to three weeks in the hospital, I will have gained enough strength to be released. Rejection of the transplanted organ will be the main concern, and I will have to live within 30 minutes of the hospital for at least the next three months. For the first 30 days after my release, someone will have to be with me every moment around the clock, in case something goes wrong. I will have to be on a regimen of anti-rejection medications for the rest of my life; my body will always consider my new lungs to be “foreign objects” and fight to expel them, so my immune system must be suppressed to prevent this from happening. This will open up an entirely new set of problems for me, as I will be much more susceptible to other opportunistic infections that “normal” people shrug off with perhaps a slight temperature and a couple of aspirin. The flu could literally kill me.

But it will also mean that after I am fully recovered from the surgery, perhaps six months later, if everything has gone according to plan, I will be able to breathe normally, without supplemental oxygen, for the first time in years. Getting up and walking to the bathroom will not make me out of breath. My world will no longer be limited to the 50-foot radius of my oxygen hose. I can ride a bike again. I can walk along the beach, or down the railroad tracks like I used to do when I was a kid. I won’t have to park in a “handicapped” space any more.

In short, I will get a second chance at life.

How long this will last is anyone’s guess. Lung transplantation has the poorest post-surgical survival rate of any major procedure, decreasing roughly ten percent each year; even heart transplant patients fare better. If I am still alive five years after the beeper goes off I will be considered “average”; I’ll get perhaps seven or eight years if I do well, and ten or more if I am extremely fortunate. But those are way better odds than I have right now.

That is what this beeper represents to me. It’s amazing to realize what power this little hunk of plastic and electronic parts has over my future. It scares the shit out of me and fills me with hope, all at the same time.

Bush: “completely nuts”?

Monday, April 10th, 2006

The diplomatic and political world is a-twitter this morning over this article appearing in the April 17th issue of The New Yorker magazine. Written by independent investigative journalist Seymour Hirsch (who broke the recent Abu Ghraib and Vietnam-era My Lai massacre scandals), it claims that the Bush administration is fine-tuning plans for a military strike against Iran. These plans reportedly include the possible use of “bunker buster” tactical nuclear weapons to take out hardened targets buried deep underground. The article was widely reported in the press over the weekend; on Sunday, an administration spokesman downplayed prospects for American military action, calling the reports “ill-informed”, but stopped short of an outright denial. Today, Reuters reports that British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told BBC Television that a U.S. military strike was “not on the agenda” and any idea that Washington could use tactical nuclear weapons against Iran was “completely nuts.”

While I essentially agree with Straw’s assertion, I unfortunately also think that “completely nuts” is an apt description of Bush’s foreign policy decisions to date, and that it would be a mistake to consider such an idea as totally impossible. Military strategic planners have contingencies for everything, and you can be certain that a nuclear strike against Iran, while unthinkable to most people, is a scenario that has received considerable analysis at the White House and Pentagon. Whether or not Bush would actually order the military to do something so foolhardy is open to debate. There are hopefully enough safeguards in place to prevent any President or rogue commander from launching nuclear weapons in a “Dr. Strangelove” style mental breakdown, but it’s no secret that Bush considers Iran to be a serious danger to the world. From the Hirsch article:

There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change. Iran’s President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has challenged the reality of the Holocaust and said that Israel must be “wiped off the map.” Bush and others in the White House view him as a potential Adolf Hitler, a former senior intelligence official said. “That’s the name they’re using. They say, ‘Will Iran get a strategic weapon and threaten another world war?’ ”

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.”

If Bush decides that the threat of an Iranian nuclear device possibly causing the destruction of Israel is serious, there are any number of ways to bypass the standard chain of command and launch a strike. One such scenario is called “false flag”, and would consist of a covert action by the U.S. military cloaked in the garb of another entity, designed to provoke an attack by “real” American forces. Bush considered such a plan three years ago; there was discussion about flying a plane over Iraq clad in United Nations colors, in the hope that the Iraqis would shoot it down and justify an invasion. (Bush ultimately decided on the “weapons of mass destruction” ploy instead.) And according to grand jury testimony by indicted White House aide “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney intentionally peddled lies to the public in order to bolster the case for war.

Most people will dismiss this latest report as sabre-rattling by Washington designed to pressure Iran into negotiations. I am not so sure. As Bush’s popularity continues to evaporate, I am afraid he is becoming so desperate that he might think a pre-emptive nuclear war is a viable option.

There is madness afoot in the halls of power in the United States. God help us all.

Gathering of the (feline) clan

Saturday, April 8th, 2006

We see all three cats hanging out together so infrequently, that it’s cause for notice (and a picture!) when it does happen. They tend to be more comfortable in their own separate spaces. Callie and Tiger, being siblings, are naturally close to each other, but when we brought Fuzzy (the Tuxedo cat) into the house we weren’t completely sure that they would all co-exist peacefully. There had been some hissing, growling and grumbling through the screen when Fuzzy first appeared outdoors. Fortunately, they have come to tolerate each other very well, as you can see from these photos:

That Fuzzy and Callie are sleeping side-by-side as you see them above is particularly amazing to us. Callie is especially fussy about being touched, so for her to allow Fuzzy this close is extremely rare. (Of course, it could be that she was asleep and unaware of it.)

The weather in East Texas was beautiful today — clear and breezy, temp in the pleasant low 60′s — making it a perfect day to open the windows and doors. This never fails to attract the cats. They love the smell of the outdoors, and also enjoy watching the birds at our backyard feeder.

We wonder if Fuzzy is thinking “I used to live out there!” in the photo above, but if so, he doesn’t seem to miss it all that much. On the contrary, he has completely adapted to being an indoor kitty, and seems to greatly enjoy the company of his new family.

For more cat photos and stories, don’t forget the weekly Carnival of the Cats; #107 is hosted this time around by The Scratching Post, so be sure and pay a visit. Have a great week!

National Library Week

Thursday, April 6th, 2006

As I am married to a librarian, I would be remiss (not to mention foolhardy) not to point out that this — April 2nd through the 8th — is National Library Week. Search engines have become so sophisticated nowadays that it’s easy to think that the Web has all the answers, and libraries aren’t relevant anymore. But think again. Libraries have always been places for education, self-help and lifelong learning. Today, they’re at the forefront of the information age, providing computers, Internet access, databases and more. At your library, you have access to nearly everything in print and online. You also get something that bookstore down the street doesn’t have: the knowledge and expertise of a librarian to help you find what you’re looking for. Your local librarian is the ultimate search engine.

If you haven’t been in a library lately, it’s not what you remember — it’s even better. Want to research your thesis? Find the latest child care information? Write a resume? Surf the Web? Get homework help? Or maybe you just want to curl up with your favorite book and enjoy some peace and quiet. It’s all at your local library, and National Library Week is a great time to come in and see what’s new. Many libraries are holding special promotions this week to celebrate, including guest author appearances, pajama parties, children’s stories, poetry readings, create-your-own-book demonstrations, coffee-donuts-n-books, games, and a host of other programs. Check with your local library for details.

(This public service message brought to you by Mr. & Mrs. Toast!)

Stick a fork in him

Thursday, April 6th, 2006

He’s done.

Or, if I may shamelessly quote Fafblog:

Fare thee well, Tom DeLay! After years of diligently and thanklessly serving his donors, his lobbyists, and himself, the former House majority leader is leaving the United States Congress. He has endured one of the cruelest smear campaigns in recent political memory, a bitter and protracted effort to paint him as a criminal simply because he broke the law. And who in his position could have done otherwise? Even a heart as pure as Tom DeLay’s was bound to be seduced by the corruption of Washington, a magical land where the streets are paved with kickbacks, corruption flows like sweet wine, and lobbyists condense on the morning grass with the newfallen dew. Indeed, one can hardly ride the metro these days without picking up fifty thousand dollars in illegal campaign contributions.

In case you missed it

Wednesday, April 5th, 2006

If you happened to be awake this morning at two minutes and three seconds after 1 AM, you experienced a unique moment in history. For it was exactly:

01:02:03 04/05/06

This particular sequence won’t happen again in our lifetimes — at least for another 100 years — so I hope you enjoyed it! However, if you’re a numerologist who gets their jollies on this sort of thing, you still have the following dates to look forward to:

02:03:04 05/06/07
03:04:05 06/07/08
etc., until
09:10:11 12/13/14


(Hat tip to Boris Oglebskii)