Saturday, June 10, 2006

World Cup Recap, Part I

Well, the first two days of the 2006 FIFA World Cup are in the books, and so let's take a quick review:

Germany 4 Costa Rica 2

A surprising result. Not that Germany won, they'd have to be considered the favorites in the tournament, but that they gave up two goals to Costa Rica. Germany has a reputation for stellar defense....ya,hullo, this IS Germany, after all...but Paulo Wanchope, who had a spectacular tournament in 2002 in Japan, made it a much more exciting game than it had any reason to be, leading into the biggest upset so far in this tournament...

Ecuador 2 Poland 0

Make no mistake, this was no "lucky win". The Ecuadorans played gritty defense and tough attacking football close into the Polish goal. This was a must-win for Poland as they are in the same group as host Germany, who should walk through the group easily. As two teams from each group advance, Poland will now need two wins to guarantee advancement to the next round. Four points, meaning a win and a tie, would not necessarily guarantee a place in the elimination round. Ecuador need only a tie against Costa Rica or Germany to give themselves a 50-50 shot at the next round, and a win against either (most probably Costa Rica) would pave the way for them.

England 1 Paraguay 0

England practically disappeared in this game, and the side must be concerned about their lack of attack and spotty. ragged and selfish play. Their sole goal came about three minutes in and even that was an "own goal" by Carlos Gamarra of Paraguay, whose head magically appeared just under a David Beckham free kick, deflecting the ball just out of goalie Justo Villar's diving reach. Villar left the game five minutes later with what appeared to be a pulled muscle in his lower leg. This game had some firsts: the earliest replacement of a goal-keeper, and the first 1-0 World Cup game ever decided by an own goal. Wayne Rooney, the player England looks to for the offensive spark (and a real hooligan to boot) was listed as a possible substitute, but did not play, still smarting from the broken metatarsal in his foot, suffered at the end of the EPL season at Manchester United.

Sweden 0 Trinidad & Tobago 0

This was about as big an upset as Poland losing to Ecuador. T&T is the smallest nation ever to field a World Cup team and this was its first World Cup appearance, qualifying out of the Americas on what was basically a backdoor opening after only securing one tie in their first three matches, changing coaches and winning the next three and then crossing fingers. Faced with this enormous challenge of Sweden and having only one or two real bona fide international level players, one of whom, Marvin Andrews, was shelved with an injury, Trinidad & Tobago lost their primary goal keeper Kelvin Jack in warm ups to an injury, and had to bring on West Ham legend Shaka Hislop, the oldest goal keeper to ever play in the World Cup.

As if that wasn't enough work cut out for them, shortly after halftime star midfielder Avery John was sent off after two yellow cards, forcing T&T to play ten men for more than half the game. Freddie Ljundberg and his mates struggled hard, and were active and attacking, but somehow T&T, led by the incomparable Dwight Yorke in a showdown of two of Arsenal's heroes from recent history, kept the ball out of harm's way for the full 90 minutes.

Incredible story. Incredible match.

Argentina 2 Ivory Coast 1

The Ivory Coast team is quite the story: the country was divided by an extremely nasty civil war because of a militarey junta in 1999 and rigged elections in 2000 (gee...why does that sound familiar?). Rebels claimed the northern provinces. But now that the country has qualified for the World Cup, a truce has been called. One hopes that they will take the hint and take the next month to work out a permanent cease fire and solution.

Despite an aggressive defensive posture taken by Ivory Coast, led by the Arsenal star, Kolo Touré, Argentina slapped home a goal at 24 minutes (Hernan Crespo) on a marvelous rebound off a free kick that was blocked off. The Ivory Coast counterattack, led by Didier Drogba stormed on goal time and time again, but Argentina put away another goal on a beautiful feed from Juan Riquelme to Javier Saviola in the 38th minute. Saviola had about a mile on any side of him when he slid the ball under the goal keeper. Saviola then ruined the beauty of his goal by taking a yellow card.

Drogba drove home a ball in the 82 minute off a pass from Karay Kone. Chelsea of the English Premier League thus accounted for two of the three goals (Crespo is a Chelsea striker). Ivory Coast earned, but didn't not score, at least a point for this massive effort, particularly in the closing minutes when they threw everything they could at a far more talented Argentine side.

So What Do You Do, If...

What if your homeowners insurer calls it quits?

After collecting your premiums year after year, a homeowners insurance company can decide it doesn't want to do business with you -- or, for that matter, anyone in your community--anymore. This is a situation facing thousands of New York metro-area homeowners who learned in early February that they may be getting the heave-ho from the "good hands" of Allstate Insurance.

Allstate stopped writing new homeowners insurance policies in the eight-county region covering New York City, Long Island, and Westchester on Jan. 1. Now the company says it will also step up the pace of policy nonrenewals in the region.

Allstate, the largest home insurer in New York, cited its "catastrophic exposure" to losses if a severe hurricane were to hit New York's coastal areas. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) says the claim is "bogus," citing National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) statistics predicting that a category 4 hurricane or higher will hit New York City only once every 500 years and Montauk, Long Island once every 130 years. He thinks Allstate's move is nothing more than a political ploy to create a "false crisis" that will trigger public outcry for a taxpayer-financed fund indemnifying insurers from catastrophic losses produced by hurricanes and other major disasters.
What is insurance if not financial protection from a loss, even a disastrous one?

Keep in mind that Allstate (this article was written in February) is only one insurance company, and that only MetLife soon followed suit, but this tactic can spread quickly. It won't be easy to go to another insurer, mostly because insurer's don't like "exposure," or large areas of risk where they can lose money quickly. Think of it as spreading your chips around a reverse roulette table. If your number comes up, you lose 8-to-1, but all your other bets are returned to you with interest.

You'd want to put as little on the losing number as possible, so you place as little money on each bet as possible, keeping in mind that you earn interest on those bets that you win. Meaning you aren't going to sit on your stake, but go all-in on each spin. Similarly, insurance companies make their money in two ways: taking in premiums with the bet they'll never have to pay them out and then investing those premiums.

Now, you've owned a home on Long Island for ten, fifteen, twenty years, say. The last major hurricane to hit Long Island directly was Category 1 Gloria, back in 1985. Damage to most of Long Island? Minimal. Flooding along the shorelines, and into towns on the barrier islands, towns like Long Beach. Other than that, it was pretty much business as usual.

The last devastating hurricane to hit Long Island was in 1938, the legendary Long Island Express, an estimated Category 3.
Nearly 70 years ago, violent hurricane ripped across the south shore of Long Island, then largely farmland. The storm, locally dubbed the Long Island Express, sent 30- to 50-foot waves surging ashore, killing 50 people and 750,000 chickens in the Long Island counties of Nassau and Suffolk.
Too, in 1938, Long Island was mostly chicken and potato farms, whereas now some of the richest real estate sits on those sites. real comprehensive Federal protection, even in the areas of highest risk, like Long Beach, where people have taken to paying off their mortgages faster, rather than move ( need insurance in order to carry a mortgage. No insurance, and the bank forecloses), or:
"There are very few insurance companies that are willing to write homeowners' policies right now," says Denis Miller, a Long Beach insurance agent. He says he recently placed one customer with another major insurer, but for an extra $350 annually, almost a third of the prior premium.[....]

[Michael] Charles, now 55 years old, already feels the impact of living in a storm-prone area. For a single-story house with three bedrooms and an attic but no basement, he pays $2,350 for homeowners' insurance, including hurricane coverage. He also has flood insurance through the federal government. But federal flood-insurance figures suggest many Long Islanders aren't prepared for the worst. In Long Beach, only about 40% of households are covered by the federally backed flood-insurance program. That's a much lower percentage than in much of New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina; in many parishes in the metropolitan area, more than 60% of households had federal flood insurance when the storm hit.
What do YOU think is going on? Could it be that, oh, I don't know, the government is waiting for homes to drop in value so that their cronies, big real estate developers, can snap them up and then force zoning law changes, thus making enormous profits on major developments? Right now, there is only one high rise property on Long Island, and even that is right outside the city lines.

This could change as insurance becomes a lottery that only people who can absorb these high rates can afford. And the only way an individual can afford them is to pool his or her risk with a few other people, per square foot of residence. And the only way to spread that enough is through communal residences: apartments, and condos of sufficient density so that the individual exposure is minimal.

In other words, a city. Which is precisely why many people moved to Long Island to escape.

Clearly, this is not news to everyone who reads this blog, in particular Floridians and others in Hurricane Alley and perhaps Southern Californians in the earthquake belt, but make no mistake: as insurers whittle their risks ahead of the perceived dangers of global warming, they will look to as many places as possible to pull this stunt.

They ought to be called on it, now.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Jon Stewart Laying The Smacketh Down....

...on Bill Bennett over gay marriage...

Some BackGround On Zarqawi

Mr. Doggity and Katrina in my comments section below raised some interesting issues regarding Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi, that we in America seem to have either forgotten or not reported. I wanted to thank them at the top here, because I want to do a quick summary of who he is:

First off, make no bones about this. Al-Zarqawi was no friend to Iraq, nor was he a friend to the United States (at least not openly. But more on that later.):
Al-Zarqawi declares war on Iraqi Shia
Wednesday 14 September 2005, 22:37 Makka Time, 19:37 GMT

Iraq's al-Qaida leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi has declared "all-out war" on Shia Muslims in Iraq in response to a US-Iraqi offensive on the town of Tal Afar, according to an audio clip posted on the internet.

"The al-Qaeda Organisation in the Land of Two Rivers (Iraq) is declaring all-out war on the Rafidha (a pejorative term for Shia), wherever they are in Iraq," said the voice which could not be immediately verified but sounded like previous recordings attributed to al-Zarqawi.

"As for the government, servants of the crusaders headed by Ibrahim al-Jaafari, they have declared a war on Sunnis in Tal Afar," the clip added.
His sole objective was to protect Sunni Muslims, and to foment rebellion and turmoil in a contentious land.

Prior to 2003, Al-Zarqawi had little interest in Iraq or Iran, or in fact any issue outside of the Jordanian monarchy. In 1989, he travelled to Afghanistan to assist in the remnants of the resistance against the Soviet Union's invasion. Here, he met Osama bin Laden (whom you'll recall was at this point receiving funding from the CIA.) In 1992, he was arrested in Jordan for trying to overthrow the king, and served seven years. Shortly after his release from prison, he attempted to blow up a Radisson Hotel in Amman, Jordan which housed many Americans and Israelis. Fleeing Jordan, he ends up in Pakistan, where OBL gives him $200,000 to start Jund Al-Sham, a Jordanian movement designed to set up a caliphate in place of the monarchy.

After September 11, Zarqawi received a minor injury in Afghanistan and fled to Iraq where he received treatment in a hospital run by Uday Hussein, Saddam's son. Here is the only direct pre-war connection between Saddam and Al-Zarqawi: a band-aid.

Zarqawi settled in the northern regions of Iraq, where he was engaged in the anti-Kurd skirmishes there. Now, while that sounds like it would be in support of Saddam, Saddam is a wholly-secular figure, while Ansar al-Islam is an Islamist group. Further, Osama bin Laden had, in the past, denounced Saddam Hussein for not being an Islamist, and vowed fatwa against him (during Gulf War I.)

As I noted below, it wasn't until the February 2003 speech to the United Nations, where Colin Powell claimed Zarqawi was working hand-in-hand with Osama bin Laden AND Saddam Hussein (half right is still wrong on issues like this) that a connection between Al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein was made, using Zarqawi.

Curiously, Zarqawi and bin Laden seemed to be more rivals, and not-too-friendly ones, up to and shortly after this.

In 2004, the jig was up:
CIA Review Finds No Evidence Saddam Had Ties to Islamic Terrorists
. You may recall it was about this time that Bush started preaching the "freeing Iraq" trope.

Mr. Doggity points out this article regarding Zarqawi:
Zarqawi owed his rise to the US in two ways. His name was unknown until he was denounced on 5 February 2003 by Colin Powell, who was the US Secretary of State, before the UN Security Council as the link between Saddam Hussein and al-Qa'ida. There turned out to be no evidence for this connection and Zarqawi did not at this time belong to al-Qa'ida. But Mr Powell's denunciation made him a symbol of resistance to the US across the Muslim world. It also fitted with Washington's political agenda that attacking Iraq was part of the war on terror.[....]

No sooner was Saddam captured than the US spokesmen began to mention Zarqawi's name in every sentence. "If the weather is bad they will blame it on Zarqawi," an Iraqi journalist once said to me. It emerged earlier this year that the US emphasis on Zarqawi as the prime leader of the Iraqi resistance was part of a carefully calculated propaganda programme. A dubious letter from Zarqawi was conveniently discovered. One internal briefing document quoted by The Washington Post records Brigadier General Kimmitt, the chief US military spokesman at the time, as saying: "The Zarqawi psy-op programme is the most successful information campaign to date." The US campaign was largely geared towards the American public and above all the American voter. It was geared to proving that the invasion of Iraq was a reasonable response to the 9/11 attacks. This meant it was necessary to show al-Qa'ida was strong in Iraq and play down the fact that this had only happened after the invasion.
"The Zarqawi psy-op programme is the most successful information campaign to date."

Can't make it much plainer than that, now can you?

UPDATE: Mr Doggity points out that Greg Palast thinks the Bushies picked a fight with Zarqawi.

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Thursday, June 08, 2006

Good news! Really?

Yea, you've all heard the news already:
Iraq terror leader al-Zarqawi killed


June 8, 2006, 9:22 AM EDT

BAGHDAD, Iraq -- Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the most-wanted terrorist in Iraq who waged a bloody campaign of beheadings and suicide bombings, was killed when U.S. warplanes dropped 500-pound bombs on his isolated safehouse, officials said Thursday. His death was a long-sought victory in the war in Iraq.

Al-Zarqawi and several aides, including spiritual adviser Sheik Abdul Rahman, were killed Wednesday evening in a remote area 30 miles from Baghdad in the volatile province of Diyala, just east of the provincial capital of Baqouba, officials said.
I'm going to give credit where credit is due: the Bush administration has its first clear win since May, 2003.

It only took them three years to find a guy who produced more obscene videotapes than Pamela Anderson. AND he wasn't hiding in some non-descript mountain range on the border of Pakistan. He was in country, a country that had 100,000 GIs combing it for him.


So what does this mean?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing. It's a symbolic victory, to be sure, and would only be topped as a symbolic victory if they had actually killed him in a firefight. Something about killing a general in battle seems much more satisfying, but I bet the Bushies will take what they can get at this point.

Will it stop the insurgency? No. It might slow it down a little, but Zarqawi was an outsider, a Jordanian who utilized mostly foreign fighters to do his work, which was primarily to kill Iraqis. He had a particular fondness for those he viewed as collaborators, but he mostly stirred up the shit.

I doubt that's going to stop anytime soon, no matter what little bandaid of a government we put in place temporarily until the country blows itself up, merely to give us cover to get out first.

There are already rumours rampant that Al Qaeda in Iraq was no longer run by Zarqawi, that Abu al-Masri had already taken the day to day operations of the group, and Zarqawi was more of a propaganda figurehead.

Didn't seem to slow them down, that transition, which I feel may have taken place earlier this year, when there had been a definite lull in action.

Be that as it may, if I was President, I'd take this opportunity to get the hell out. Politically speaking, it's a chance to say, "Well, our job here is finished, we killed Al Qaeda in Iraq, so buhbye! Don't forget to write!" and move the hell out, ASAP.

They won't. Pity we're governed by idiots.

But, Abu? Good riddance.

UPDATE: Anybody remember this trope, one of Bush's greatest hits?
In Colin Powell's famous February 2003 speech to the United Nations urging war against Iraq, Zarqawi was cited as an example of Saddam Hussein's support for terrorism. In his speech, Powell mistakenly referred to Zarqawi as a Palestinian, but Powell and the Bush administration continued to stand by statements that Zarqawi linked Saddam Hussein to al-Qaeda.
I wonder which member of the White House Press Corps will make note of it...probably none, altho my money is on David Gregory. (Katrina, who reminded me of this and thus gets a tip of my straw boater, picks Helen Thomas)

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Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Democrats Work For Solutions...

At the top of my blog, I have one of my favorite quotes of all time:
Democrats Work For Solutions; Republicans Pray The Problem Will Go Away.
It's never been more true than during this, the fifth Bush year, and barring a turnaround in Congress, I don't see it ending anytime soon.

Take a look at the world around you, take a look at the big challenges and problems we face: Iraq, global warming, diseases, terrorism, Iran, China, Russia. Look at this administration's response to these problems.

Now look at what has their knickers in a twist: gay marriage and illegal immigration.

These are the issues the Republicans choose to focus on: non-problems. And boy, do they ever plow an enormous fount of energy into these suckers! Bill after bill after bill, all designed to eliminate a non-problem.

Gay marriage, for example. Who cares? My slick answer when asked about gay marriage is, "Sure, why should they get special treatment, let them be as miserable as the rest of us," but in truth, my feelings run pretty deep on this. Jesus tells us to accept people for who they are, and so long as there is love, we really don't have much to say in someone else's private affairs (Absenting children, of course, as Jesus was pretty clear how he felt about kids.)

Apparently, for Republicans, gay marriage ranks right after nuclear holocaust as a force that will destroy America. Using some bizarre calculus based on disparate Biblical passages, they actually have Jesus attacking homosexual behavior.

That's not the Jesus I know.

Illegal immigration is such a non-starter of an issue, I'm surprised someone hasn't cogently made the point that it deals with less than 4% of the population taking less than half a percent of the GDP, and that's based on the WORST estimates of services they use.

If a beggar came to me, and I had a hundred dollars in my pocket, would I give him 50 cents? You bet. Why should I care? That fifty cents will do him a lot more good than me, and maybe one day, he'll do something of fifty cents worth of value for me.

Yet here again, using this same "Republicalculus," Jesus is shunning these poor people.

That's not the Jesus I know.

Meanwhile, we have real issues to look at: Iraq, particularly in light of Haditha, has become a morass of a spider's web, so badly twisted and tangled that I'm not sure we can ever get out easily.

The right wing response to Haditha has been curious. "Let's not jump to conclusions, let the facts come out."

Yea, but think of Haditha in terms of members of the Bloods busting into four homes in Compton and killing 24 people, and you tell me what the reaction on the right would be? Because, in effect, that's what we have fighting in Iraq: not trained soldiers, but unsupported packs of the "Greens". Kilo Company, the band whose unit committed this atrocity, is 160 men patrolling a city of 90,000 civilians, many of whom it's fair to say look at the US troops as an occupation force, and who look upon their fellow citizens with suspicion and mistrust.

And this is their second (and for some, third) tour of duty in Iraq.

The Republican response to all this going on in Iraq? Nothing. "Stay the course."

Pray the problem goes away.

Global warming. Right now we are poised to be the hottest this planet has been in hundreds of millions of years, according to deep sea core samples taken and analyzed in the last five years. All this, when the planet should be heading towards a new Ice Age (sometime in the next three thousand years).

The Democrat response? Let's sign a worldwide treaty to limit emissions, and work with developing nations like India and China to leapfrog fossil fuel use to renewable energy sources.

The Republican response appears to be, "Let's wait for the Ice Age to fix things.

Pray the problem goes away.

Terrorism. The Democrat response was the appropriate one: hunt down the terrorists and bring them to justice (Canada seems to have taken the hint, as has the UK.) On President Clinton's watch, terrorists were caught, captured, tried, convicted and jailed, and even provided information regarding following attacks, including September 11.

The Republican response? Cut terror funding to the only cities hit by terrorists, while larding pork to small cities and towns that are crucial to their re-election efforts.

And pray the problem goes away.

And problems that I see, that others see, on the horizon: the showdown with China, the showdown with Russia, are being totally ignored by the "Ad hoc-licans" running this country now with their situational defensive efforts to fix shadows like Iran's nuclear capability. Make no mistake: unless we start to defuse the situation now, Russia and China will shortly confront us, the bully of the world, and there will be war.

"The West Wing" touched on this in its final season, having the US intervene in Kahzakstan between Russian and Chinese forces fighting over the oil fields, but let's take this one step further and realize that America is the single largest consumer of petroleum in the world, and we've been aggressively securing our supply from the Middle East.

It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out this *might* threaten the world's fastest growing petroleum consumer and one of its largest producers.

I hope George Bush is prayin' hard right now.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Comikng Soon To A Survivalist Near You

The Halliburton Survivaball

Oh yea. This will work:
Halliburton Solves Global Warming
SurvivaBalls save managers from abrupt climate change

An advanced new technology will keep corporate managers safe even when climate change makes life as we know it impossible.

"The SurvivaBall is designed to protect the corporate manager no matter what Mother Nature throws his or her way," said Fred Wolf, a Halliburton representative who spoke today at the Catastrophic Loss conference held at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Amelia Island, Florida. "This technology is the only rational response to abrupt climate change," he said to an attentive and appreciative audience.

Most scientists believe global warming is certain to cause an accelerating onslaught of hurricanes, floods, droughts, tornadoes, etc. and that a world-destroying disaster is increasingly possible. For example, Arctic melt has slowed the Gulf Stream by 30% in just the last decade; if the Gulf Stream stops, Europe will suddenly become just as cold as Alaska. Global heat and flooding events are also increasingly possible.

In order to head off such catastrophic scenarios, scientists agree we must reduce our carbon emissions by 70% within the next few years. Doing that would seriously undermine corporate profits, however, and so a more forward-thinking solution is needed.

At today's conference, Wolf and a colleague demonstrated three SurvivaBall mockups, and described how the units will sustainably protect managers from natural or cultural disturbances of any intensity or duration. The devices - looking like huge inflatable orbs - will include sophisticated communications systems, nutrient gathering capacities, onboard medical facilities, and a daunting defense infrastructure to ensure that the corporate mission will not go unfulfilled even when most human life is rendered impossible by catastrophes or the consequent epidemics and armed conflicts.

"It's essentially a gated community for one," said Wolf.

Dr. Northrop Goody, the head of Halliburton's Emergency Products Development Unit, showed diagrams and videos describing the SurvivaBall's many features. "Much as amoebas link up into slime molds when threatened, SurvivaBalls also fulfill a community function. After all, people need people," noted Goody as he showed an artist's rendition of numerous SurvivaBalls linking up to form a managerial aggregate with functional differentiation, metaphorically dancing through the streets of Houston, Texas.

The conference attendees peppered the duo with questions. One asked how the device would fare against terrorism, another whether the array of embedded technologies might make the unit too cumbersome; a third brought up the issue of the unit's cost feasibility. Wolf and Goody assured the audience that these problems and others were being addressed.

"The SurvivaBall builds on Halliburton's reputation as a disaster and conflict industry innovator," said Wolf. "Just as the Black Plague led to the Renaissance and the Great Deluge gave Noah a monopoly of the animals, so tomorrow's catastrophes could well lead to good - and industry must be ready to seize that good."

Goody also noted that Jean-Michel Cousteau's Ocean Futures Society was set to employ the SurvivaBall as part of its Corporate Sustenance (R) program. Another of Cousteau's CSR programs involves accepting a generous sponsorship from the Dow Chemical Corporation, whose general shareholder meeting is May 11.
No mention anywhere on the site about disgruntled employees or ex-spouses seeking alimony.

(NOTE: Heavy satirical content above)

Republican Bimbos

I have a theory about these obviously deluded broads. They're tolerated by the people who should most certainly despise them: opinionated and self-reliant women who (though they preach a gospel I have no reason to want to hear) speak their minds.

Take a close look at these pictures. What's the common point to all of them.


It's a pity these chicks don't realize that the only reason they're at all known is that guys can jerk off without changing channels from Fox News. The sum total of their existence can be measured in wet Kleenexes hitting the carpeting.

You'd think they'd be insulted by that degradation of being wholly objectified, but check out the photos. They clearly aren't. I mean the alternative is that they are cynically manipulating men to make money by using their bodies. And goodness knows we could never accuse the wholesome Ann "Clinton molests the help" Coulter of shaking her moneymaker at the boys, could we?

They have my pity. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Legislative Unfairness

One reason I am for the line-item veto for Presidents is stories like this:
Schumer changes tune on bioterror cuts

Newsday Washington Bureau

June 6, 2006

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Charles Schumer, who has likened $7 million in federal cuts to New York's bioterrorism programs to "rubbing salt in an open wound," voted to cut those programs by 10.4 percent last year, according to Senate records.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) is pressuring Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding to recalculate a new funding formula that disproportionately reduces aid to the state. Schumer, who red-flagged the issue during a news conference Sunday, will take his case directly to Gerberding today.
Sounds pretty horrible, right? Schumer sounds like a hypocrite and he ought to be strung up for changing his heart in such a cynical fashion now that he's up for re-election.

In December, Schumer didn't object to a unanimous voice vote approving a huge bipartisan spending bill that included $95 million in CDC bioterrorism cuts, largely because the measure also included restorations to student loan cuts and other domestic programs.

"There was 7 billion dollars in that bill, restoring student loans, health care, necessary things - every Democrat voted for it," Schumer said yesterday.
Oh. Well. Yea. I mean, terrorism happens, and we should be prepared for that eventuality, but you know, colleges cost a lot of money, and we could use some more infrastructure repairs.

So a vote that sounds, on the face of it, harsh and inconsistent actually comes down to a Hobson's Choice on the Senator's part: vote for it, and get a bundle of bucks to people who really need it, or oppose it, and watch them struggle even more.

And there's a clue there as to why the American legislative system is fraught with corruption and "pork": that any Congresscritter can amend any bill to add anything he or she wants, basically.

And it happens all the time and in theory, it should work like this: I have a bill that's sure to pass. Let's call it the "Feed Kids First" bill and provides funding for hot meals in schools.

OK, I introduce this bill on the floor of Congress, and talk it up a bit, how kids in Dubuque don't get a good breakfast because they're up early helping around the house, and how we ought to give them a chance to eat at school, take a little pressure off mom and dad, that sort of thing. No one has any real objection, but a Congresscritter rises and while lauding this bill, suggests a possible amendment to it, attaching some additional spending for research into why kids have to be up at four to help out around the farm, is there some way we can fix that problem, and eventually phase out this program.

I have no objection. The bill passes.

Here's how it works: I have a bill that might not pass, let's call it "Food For Inner City Kids", and I want your vote. You say, "well, I represent Dubuque, and we don't have too many inner city kids there, but tell you what. If you agree to attach to this bill an amendment to study wind farms, I'll vote for your bill."

So far, not so bad. But now let's vary the circumstances slightly. I really need this bill to pass because I'm up for re-election and my district is just finding out about my affair with a guy at the car wash and I need to pump a lot of money into the district, fast. In the gym lockerroom, I speak with a delegation from the "Congressional Llama Coalition." They refuse to vote for my bill, and their votes could persuade the "Buffalo Concordance" that my bill is worthwhile.

The "CLC" has a pet project of building a bridge to drive llamas over the Colorado at the head of the Grand Canyon. Ought to cost about a billion dollars, but it will go nowhere unless they can trade votes. The project is politically unpopular outside of the Llama Belt, and it would make a really embarassing headline in the papers if it passed alone. So they've attached that bill to a tax cut for people making $200,000 a year or more, which basically covers the editorial board of any media outlet of note. That bill *might* pass, or might not, depending on how big a fuss people can make over it. Obviously, that bill will be rammed through before anyone can read about it.

My co-sponsors hold their noses and agree that the bridge will be the main amendment to the tax cut bill, but that for our votes, they have to agree to include an amendment that allows 50% of the funding that I originally wanted, which may be enough (I've factored all this in when calculating my request, of course...the extra money would have gone to political payoffs).

So what happens is, a worthy program, feeding kids, gets buried in a legislative morass, rather than be passed on its merits. Why? Because the Llama Coalition is the party in power, and not my guys.

Thus ends today's civic lesson.

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Monday, June 05, 2006

Trudging Through A Storm

When I was a boy, perhaps eight or nine, New York City was inundated with a blizzard. It was the first one I could recall in my too-short life to that point, and so I was determined to get out in it and have some fun.

I built a fort, threw some snowballs at passing buses (in case anyone wants to know how I built my arm strength up to throw a football, that's how), and on the spur of the moment and to delay the inevitable march back upstairs to the warmth of the apartment, I decided to take a walk around the block and to feel what a blizzard really felt like.

Some of you have experienced blizzards first hand, so you know what it feels like. 35 mile-per-hour winds (or more), snow falling sideways, and in NYC, this is a wet snow, coming in off the seas, so it's icy and it stings, and has a vague salt taste to it.

I remember turning one corner, from Second Avenue down towards my home, and walking directly into the teeth of the wind. I was tired, cold, and all alone, but I trudged onward, knowing I only had a hundred yards or so to go. There was one other person sort of on the block: the doorman to a high rise building, trying to clear a path for people to get out of the building to walk their dogs, quickly.

I mention this trudging, cold and alone, because yesterday, my daughter's international award winning cat died. Not a pedigree, far from it, but a cat filled with personality and beauty that was almost instantly recognizable. Friendly to a fault with everyone, except maybe other cats, he was a "very fine cat indeed," as Samuel Johnson would say.

I was both the first and last person this cat came to, as we adopted him into our family twelve years ago as a four month old "adult" (that's what North Shore classified him as, and even had him in the old fogies section). My daughter had been bugging her mom and I for a cat, as we only had the one, and so one day, fate stepped in in the form of a dead car battery ahead of a three hour drive one October morning (the first, as I recall). The battery was replaced, but it was way too late to make the trip, so instead, we unpacked and heaed to North Shore Animal League.

Intriguing place, I have to say. They won't release a pet for adoption until they've fully vetted the new owners, including calling references.

We were browsing, when I saw this small black cat amidst a cage full of larger adults. I slid a finger into the cage, and all the cats except this one ignored me. He, on the other hand, came trotting over to me, and sniffed my finger and rubbed against it, marking me as his.

I brought my daughter over and the "old fogey" was still at the front of the cage, peering down at us. I lifted my daughter off the ground and he sniffed her as well. We got the attention of a handler, who opened the cage and carried the cat to a shelf along the wall where we could hold and stroke him.

The handler put him down, but another family had a grey tabby near there, who immediately came over to investigate us. This black cat practically knocked him off the shelf to get between us.

The rest is history.

Our cat (who will remain nameless in order to protect my daughter's privacy, as they are inextricably linked) had been ill for a while now, barely eating, unable to jump up onto the bed any longer.

Yesterday, while my daughter was showering, he came to me, begged to be on the bed. I lifted him up and petted his bony, scrawny body. He lay next to me for a moment, then jumped down to the floor.

I heard him cough, wheeze, and then begin to stir.

In his last moments, he walked into the doorway, looked up at me with terror in his eyes, pupils fully dilated despite the light, and coughed again. He turned a tight turn, and collapsed. He stopped breathing.

So, no snark. I'm mourning heavily, but I wanted to thank my cat (for in truth, he was mine, despite my daughter's ownership). And so here it is:

Thank you, from the bottom of my heart

Touch me
It's so easy to leave me
All alone with the memory
Of my days in the sun
If you touch me
You'll understand what happiness is

A new day has begun

And so, today I trudge.

UPDATE: Today, I heard from the company he was the "spokescat" for, who expressed their deepest sympathy and condolences and even posted a short obit on their website. I was very touched. It's been a while since he retired.

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Sunday, June 04, 2006

It's Been Twenty Five Years

Grim reminders of how it began

Newsday Staff Writer

June 4, 2006

In Barry Mann's blood flows a secret so ancient, so intricately scripted in his genetic code, that scientists are certain if they can crack it, they may well be on the way to holding back, even reversing the global tidal wave of AIDS.

Such a puzzle is only one of many as the world marks a somber milestone: the 25th anniversary of a report describing a rare pneumonia in five gay men. It was the first evidence of a deadly new disorder, one that irreparably crippled the immune system. Within the last decade, potent drug therapy has transformed the inevitably fatal infection into a manageable disease for a third of patients in the developed world.

Still, in its quarter-century sweep, AIDS has claimed 500,000 lives in the United States, among 25 million worldwide, statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show.
I want to pause here and talk about that.

We all know or know of someone who has died of AIDS. If you're lucky, that person is only as close as Freddie Mercury, a distant celebrity figure whose death brings some amorphous ambiguous sadness to you, along with a charity concert.

For me, the loss was far more personal. I won't embarass his name, family, or memory by mentioning him here, because I'm not sure how out of the closet he was. He was, however, a good friend and a dedicated, serious man who lifted himself out of impoverishment and blue collar roots to have had the opportunity to influence the direction of a substantive chunk of the world, at least for a few years.

But because he was gay, he truly could not live the life he wanted to, openly and honestly, as he was in nearly all other ways. More a diplomat than politician, he persuaded people to his viewpoint, bullying them if needed, but never felt the desire to lie to anyone. Except that this lie, the only one he was compelled by the society and culture he lived in, ultimately may have been responsible to some degree for his death.

He's been dead now somewhere on the order of fifteen years. It's not often that I miss him (curiously, I talked about him yesterday with my daughter), but today, it hits home.

OK, onto some good news on the AIDS front:
Yet the secret harbored in the 65-year-old Manhattan resident's cells could hold tantalizing clues. Mann is among a small but scientifically important group that has been exposed to the human immunodeficiency virus, but who seem surprisingly -- defiantly -- resistant.

In theory, such resistance stems from a defense some scientists suggest may have been passed down from hardy Northern Europeans who escaped the 14th century's Black Death. The trait seems to render a subset of descendants impervious to HIV.

"They think there is this Northern European gene pool that somehow survived the bubonic fleas," said Mann, who traces his ancestry to the British Isles. He is certain of his HIV exposure, having lived intimately with a man for eight years who died of AIDS in the late 1980s.

"I had to be exposed to it by him. And who knows? There were other sexual contacts and sexual partners that I had who were diagnosed as HIV-positive who also died," Mann said. "What they're trying to figure out is what it is that we have and to take it to the part of the population that can't resist it."

Mann is a volunteer in a study at NYU's Center for AIDS Research in Manhattan.
Too little too late, but this is one instance where I'm not sure that all the money we could have put towards research all these years would have brought the science of a cure any closer.

But I know this damned much: On average, a million people died each year worldwide, and we here in America, the richest and arguably brightest nation on the planet, did next to nothing because this was a "queer cancer". Until, of course, Rock Hudson died. Then we started taking notice.

And we have the nerve to wake up in the morning and call ourselves "Christians." Jesus walked with lepers. Jesus healed lepers, Jesus would probably be found today in some AIDS hospice in Africa, yet we turned our backs on 25 million people because we are scared of "them," some nebulous group of people-- who don't even represent the entire 25 million!-- who live a little differently than the rest of us.

Worse still, we have it within our powers to help stop the spread of this disease. We have it within our powers to help treat those already infected with HIV.

And yet, we do next to nothing, preferring to see our "thousand points of light" twinkle over the Africa veldt. The same "thousand points of light" that condemn homosexuality, and anyone who is suspected of being homosexual or condoning homosexuals.

Do we honestly think that, realistically, these groups are giving their best Christian efforts to solving this crisis?

We need to step in and help. Now. I don't want my daughter to ever tell her daughter about her friend who died of AIDS.