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Archive for November, 2008

How to call a pirate

All you need is a child.

“Mummy, mummy, please can I phone the pirates for you?”

“No.”

“Pleeeeez.”

By this time, with rain battering my windscreen and cars jamming the road, I was at the end of my tether.

“OK”, I said, tossing the phone into the back of the car.

“They are under P for pirates.”

A great account of what it is like to get a pirate on the phone via the BBC.

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An acceptable amount of melamine

After first saying that they could not determine a threshold for the safe amount of certain toxic chemicals in infant formula, Food and Drug Administration officials said Friday that trace amounts are safe.

“Amounts of the industrial chemical melamine or the melamine-like compound called cyanuric acid that are below 1.0 ppm [1,000 parts per billion] do not raise public health concerns,” said Stephen Sundlof, the FDA’s director of the Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

Considering that there is absolutely no nutrtional purpose for melamine to be in food products, I don’t find it reassuring that the FDA seems unconcerned about trace amounts. This is yet another example of how I feel the need to look out for my own health rather than trust the government to do it for me. But really how much power does an individual have to make informed decisions? Food packaging doesn’t tell you what you need to know, and I have no way of knowing what kind of feed is being fed to any of the animals that make the animal products I eat.

Update:

I think the CNN headline says it all.

fda

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Slumdog Millionaire

After gorging myself on turkey, stuffing, sides and a taste of 4 different desserts I went to see Slumdog Millionaire. I have a feeling this movie is going to be the sleeper hit of the season. Not only is it incredibly moving and well-made, but it has a lightness at the end of it that practically guarantees good word of mouth.

The movie starts with Jamal as a contestant on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. For each question that Jamal gets right we are taken into a moment of his incredibly tough upbringing as an orphan street child in India. The movie is about love, destiny and how we champion the underdog. I would love to tell you more, but I just can’t bring myself to ruin the movie for you. The clip that I’ve embedded is an example of the great photography in the film.

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The municipal zoo employees of Kushiro Japan may need one.

Puzzled zookeepers in northern Japan have discovered the reason why their attempts to mate two polar bears kept failing: Both are female.

The municipal zoo in the city of Kushiro in Hokkaido brought in a polar bear cub three years ago. They named it Tsuyoshi, after the popular baseball outfielder Tsuyoshi Shinjo, and waited until it reached reproductive age.

In June, the zoo introduced Tsuyoshi to its resident bear, an 11-year-old female named Kurumi, and waited for sparks to fly.

But much to the disappointment of zookeepers, Tsuyoshi never made any amorous advances toward Kurumi.

Earlier this month, zookeepers put Tsuyoshi under anesthesia to get to the bottom of the matter. That’s when they made their discovery: Tsuyoshi is a female.

Still, the Kushiro zoo plans to keep Tsuyoshi because he — or rather, she — has become immensely popular with visitors.

“I have rather mixed feelings, given the need for breeding, but Tsuyoshi is an idol for Kushiro,” Yoshio Yamaguchi, head of the Kushiro zoo, told Japan’s Kyodo news agency.

Tsuyoshi will even keep her name.

“We will not be changing it to ‘Tsuyoko’ since it is loved by citizens (by the current name),” Yamaguchi said.

“Ko” is a common suffix for a Japanese female name.

Meanwhile, Tsuyoshi’s “brother,” who was adopted by another zoo, has also turned out to be female, Kyodo reported.

Then again, how close do you want to get to a polar bear’s genitals?

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Stretching is a crime

Here is a hilarious article about neighbors in a wealthy Los Angeles community banning joggers from stretching in a popular traffic circle. Highlights include:

In the last six months, park rangers, dispatched by the Santa Monica Police Department in response to complaining neighbors, have stationed themselves on the corner of Fourth Street and Adelaide Drive during much of the day, at the ready to break up any unauthorized kickboxing. “I agree with the residents that they should not be rousted out of bed by a professional gym instructor at 6 in the morning saying, ‘One, two, three, four!’ ” said Bobby Shriver, a Santa Monica city councilman (“Recently re-elected with an even greater margin than I won by last time!”), who lives on Adelaide Drive but says he did not request the enforcement.

After 15 years of working out on the median, Mr. Birch arrived there one day in mid-September and saw five officers. “I went up to them,” he recalled, “and said, ‘What’s the deal here?’ They put up these trendy new yellow signs. The cops just looked at me and said, ‘We’ve been told by the watch commander that we’re supposed to run people off here.’ I told them I was going to break the law.”

So he did. One morning he showed up at the median, video crew in tow, and refused to cease doing situps. The exchange that followed was posted on YouTube.

“They let me do it for about three minutes,” said Mr. Birch, 63, “and then came over and said: ‘If you continue doing this, I will arrest you. It’s not allowed here.’ ”

Though he was arrested, he said, the officers did not handcuff him, to his chagrin. “I asked them to,” he said. “But they found out they could only do what was procedurally appropriate.”

Then the writer of this article has to put in a dig on Los Angeleans:

An extremely fit woman of indeterminate Los Angeles age pulled her Mercedes up to the curb on Adelaide Drive, popped open her trunk, pulled out a five-pound weight and began lifting.

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Ann Coulter’s jaw wired shut

With the exception of the economic turmoil, this is turning out to be one hell of a year.

WE HEAR…THAT although we didn’t think it would be possible to silence Ann Coulter, the leggy reaction- ary broke her jaw and the mouth that roared has been wired shut…

Via HuffingtonPost.

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US spied on Tony blair

That’s what David Murfee Faulk, a former Arab linguist who worked at a secret NSA facility, has told ABCNews.com. Murfee Faulk says he saw and read a file on Blair’s “private life” and heard “pillow talk” exchanged between Al-Yawer and his then-fiancee.

The U.S. and Britain have pledged not to collect information covertly on each other, several former intelligence officials told ABCNews.com — though this would by no means be the first time the U.S. was found to have done so.

Last month, Murfee Faulk and another former worker at the NSA facility revealed to the news network that the agency had listened in on private calls made by American journalists, aid workers, and soldiers stationed in Iraq. A Senate panel has said it is investigating those claims.

It all makes Tony Blair’s downfall a little more tragic. He was deceived by being given faulty “intelligence.” There was the ultra-embarrassing “yo, Blair” moment. Now we learn, the poor man was spied upon. Tony Blair is young. He could have had the tenure of a Thatcher. Instead, what is he?

I don’t know what’s worse: thinking Tony Blair knew WMD’s was a sham or that he was foolishly misled by George W. Bush. Either way this report is pretty depressing.

Via TalkingPointsMemo.

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I love hamburgers. In fact, the only thing that has kept me from becoming a vegetarian is hamburgers. In my sad attempts to go veg in the past, it was hamburgers that I craved. This weekend I went to Lunchbox Laboratory in Ballard. Hamburgers there cost $7. Add a side and a milkshake and you’re talking $15. Add mac and cheese and it goes up $2 from there. There is no table service. You stand in line and order then hope to find a seat in what amounts to little over 10 seats inside and a bit more outside. Your burger when ready is served on a fancy plate. Milkshakes come out in a beaker.

You would think that $15 for lunch is way too much to pay for when you’re not even being waited on, but this burger was hands down the best hamburger I’ve ever had. Everyone in the joint was eating with a knife and fork because the burger was so unbelievably big and so unbelievably drippy. But what a taste. The patty is a combination of sirloin, rib-eye and something else that I missed but it is by far the best hamburger patty known to man. There were easily 8 slices of bacon on the burger. The jalapeno cheese sauce was something to behold, and the yam fries I got on the side were great too.

Do something simple and do it well. I’m still dreaming about that burger today.

Photo of Lunchbox Laboratory meal via rockydoggydog’s Flickr photostream.

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My new commute

Two things have changed in my life: the location where I live and the location where I work. Happily, these two are quite compatible although bus service is sadly lacking. My bus should take me all of twenty minutes to get me to and from work. But here’s how it really went.

Day 1, Route 355: 30 minutes late consequently unbelievably packed bus with another 355 just behind it. Only just enough behind it that all of us squeezed onto the first one.

Day 2, Route 48: 15 minutes late unbelievably packed.

Day 3, Route 48: I saw the 4:54 bus rolling away at 4:53. I could not cross the street in time.  The bus was empty. The next bus at 5:14 was 15 minutes late, and as the minutes ticked by I knew that bus was going to be busier and busier. It was and the one just behind it was equally packed.

Day 6 – 10: I ride my bicycle. All is bliss.

My commute is about 25-30 minutes. I don’t have to wait or rush. I can leave at will. This must be how car commuters feel. Even in the rain, I prefer to ride my bike. Sure, there are death-defying moments everyday, but I do receive a health benefit at the same time.

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Pimped up Yugos

This BBC story must be seen to be believed, so do click.

A search on Flickr also revealed the following:

Via TheDamnMushroom

Via Sherlock77

Via BizzareRecords

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Months ago, I said there could never be another George W. Bush. I thought that Bush fans would be suspicious of any person who pretended to be like Bush. I’ve never been more wrong. Sarah Palin is so similar to Bush it’s striking.

Take for example Bush’ tendency to answer a question with a folksy non-answer. The answer to ‘what was your biggest mistake’ was trading Sammy Sosa. The answer to ‘what was your greatest achievement’ was catching some fish.

I enjoyed watching this interview of Katie Couric on David Letterman. Here’s the excerpt that made me write this post:

Katie: We ran almost virtually all of it [the taped interview]. There were a few Vice Presidential questions I asked Senator Biden and Governor Palin like what do they miss most out on the campaign trail.

Dave: And what did they miss, fresh moose meet?

Katie: She actually said she missed running every day and Senator Biden said he missed being Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

There is a pause, and then audience grasps the silliness of it all and giggles.

Via Huffingtonpost.

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Cat on a roomba

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We are now renting a house in Greenwood. It’s still in the city but not in the center of things as we were in Capitol Hill. We have decided not to order cable tv. We also do not have an antenna, so we have zero tv. I’ve been thinking about ordering the New York Times on the weekend so that I have something to do in all the spare time I will be having. What do you think? Suggestions are welcome.

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Another great one from David Horsey.

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I went to see the new James Bond movie Quantum of Solace this weekend. Did you know that there is now such thing as an AM matinee. I’m not sure if it’s everywhere, but we paid $6 a piece to see the show at 10:30 in the morning. The drawbacks are: who can eat popcorn at 10:30 in the morning? But I digress.

Quantum of Solace was a surprisingly fun popcorn movie (sans the popcorn.) I’ll admit I never saw any of the Pierce Brosnan Bond movies, but somehow I think I can safely say that I prefer this new franchise. I remember reading an article about the Pierce Brosnan movies where they described how difficult it was to update Bond. To make him less of an asshole when it comes to women, and to make women less bunny-like.

What is great about the Daniel Craig movies is that from the onset Bond is an asshole. He’s a thug. He doesn’t blink at using people to accomplish his goals. He doesn’t care if those he uses are innocent or if they are also women. If he does, we don’t really see it.

This James Bond is post-modern. The more cartoonish aspects of the character are suggested but never spoken. Take for instance the famous martini. Bond is drinking what appears to be a martini, the bartender describes the ingrediants of a martini, but the word martini is never uttered. How about those ridiculous vixen names? Bond asks a woman what her name is. Miss Fields, she answers. Fields, just Fields, he says. Just Fields, she answers. How’s that for post-modernism.

And of course there are the explosions and the car chases and the swanky environments on top of it. Mathieu Amalric is wonderful as the villain, though I’m still missing the great Mads Mikkelsen from Casino Royale. Mads does appear to have a credit for Quantum of Solace for the same character from Casino Royale. Somehow I missed that cameo. Too bad. I can’t get enough of Mads Mikkelsen.

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A 16-year-old schoolgirl is making a unique pitch to become the first woman to play professional baseball in Japan.

High school student Eri Yoshida was drafted by the Kobe 9 Cruise, a professional team in a new independent Japanese league that will start its first season in April.

“I always dreamed of becoming a professional,” Yoshida, who is 5-feet (152-centimeters) tall and weighs 114 pounds (52 kilograms), told a news conference Monday. “I have only just been picked by the team and haven’t achieved anything yet.”

Yoshida throws a side-arm knuckleball and says she wants to follow in the footsteps of Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, who has built a successful major league career throwing a knuckleball.

Yoshida took part in a tryout held earlier this month and passed with flying colors. The right-hander held male batters hitless for one inning in the tryout and her successful outing helped her become one of the 33 players picked in the draft.

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A great interview on Salon.

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The British cult classic Withnail & I has been an odd study for me. The movie had such an incredible reputation that I thought there was no way I could not like it, but when I saw it for the first time I was puzzled. I didn’t get it.

Over the last ten years I’ve seen the film perhaps a half dozen times. I think at last I have gotten it. Or at least, I recognize it’s a great film even if only in my own very special personal way. What can be difficult for an American to get is gay jokes sustained for over half the film. But I guess that is an integral part of British humor. See my previous post about this for reference.

What makes Withnail & I great for me ten years after the first time I saw it is Richard E. Grant’s fantastic performance. He so completely embodies his character. He relishes every word, every shrug, every eye movement. It’s something to behold.

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Anytime I start getting too cocky about how great America is the Department of Homeland Security brings me down:

U.S. officials say Europeans and others who travel visa-free to the United States must start registering their trips electronically as part of a new online security screening process which takes effect Jan. 12, 2009.

Jackie Bednarz, of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, says the new security measure replaces current paper forms that visitors from the 27 countries participating in the U.S. visa waiver program fill out when entering at airports and seaports.

The Electronic System for Travel Authorization, or ESTA, will enable travelers to notify the department about their travel plans via a Web site, http://www.CBP.gov/esta, before they purchase their plane tickets.

U.S. officials, announcing the updated plans Friday, say some 300,000 people from eligible countries, which include Britain, France, Germany, Australia and Japan, have already used the system during its testing phase, which started in August.

Welcome.

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Was Eckern treated unfairly?

Scott Eckern’s dramatic (no pun intended) exit from California Musical Theater for supporting Prop 8 has opened up a lot of heated dialogue about the so-called “hypocrisy” of the gay community who are “intolerant.” My friend R.J. commented on my previous post saying:

I think the donation was very very wrong but frankly it was his choice to make and it would be wrong for him to be pressured out of his job because people disagreed with his political actions. How would we feel If someone who opposed prop 8 had to resign from a conservative-minded company?

I’ll be honest that my initial reaction was to agree wholeheartedly with R.J. The Sacramento Bee has nothing but great testimonials from people who worked with Eckern. But I have to ask, what does that have to do with anything? So he was a great guy. I’ve written before about how my interactions with Mormons over the course of my life has been overwhelmingly positive. But guess what, some of the same-sex couples who got married over the course of the last year were great people too.

Perhaps some of the vocal critics of Eckern never had any interaction with California Musical Theater. Guess what, Scott Eckern never had any personal interaction with the thousands of same-sex couples who got married either. Eckern will find another job. Will the thousands of gay couples be able to get married as quickly? Will their lives and their childrens’ lives be in jeopardy until they do?

There is the prevalent liberal view point that we must be fair and tolerant to other groups just as we seek tolerance from them. I disagree. Tolerating intolerance is a form of intolerance. There has been much written on this topic which I will not link to here because I think it wrongfully scapegoats the Muslim community as the enemy of liberalism. The Mormon’s involvment with Yes on Prop 8 proves that Muslims are not the only intolerant group out there. However, feel free to do a google search and you can find a wide range of essays on the subject.

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The New York Times has an article up that describes some of the fallout from musical theatre producers, writers, composers and actors after the discovery that Eckern donated to Yes on Prop 8.

The sense of disappointment over the vote extended to Broadway. Jeffrey Seller, a producer of the show “Avenue Q,” which is scheduled to be part of the 2008-9 season at the California Musical Theater, said he had been shocked when he heard about Mr. Eckern’s donation.

“That a man who makes his living exclusively through the musical theater could do something so hurtful to the community that forms his livelihood is a punch in the stomach,” Mr. Seller said. “He didn’t just vote for it. One thousand dollars is a lot of money for an artistic director of a nonprofit.”

Marc Shaiman, the Tony Award-winning composer (“Hairspray”), called Mr. Eckern last week and said that he would not let his work be performed in the theater. “I was uncomfortable with money made off my work being used to put discrimination in the Constitution,” Mr. Shaiman said. He added, however, that the entire episode left him “deeply troubled” because of the potential for backlash against gays who protested Mr. Eckern’s donation.

“It will not help our cause because we will be branded exactly as what we were trying to fight,” said Mr. Shaiman, who is gay. “But I do believe there comes a time when you cannot sit back and accept what I think is the most dangerous form of bigotry.”

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When I first heard the story about how the Artistic Director of California Musical Theatre in Sacramento had given $1,000 in support of Yes on Proposition 8, I wondered what is California Musical Theatre. Proposition 8 in California would prevent same-sex marriage at the same time as revoking same-sex marriages already granted. I thought to myself, if California Musical Theatre is the organization that produces Music Circus then it is really a big deal. Well CMT is indeed the organization that produces Music Circus.

Music Circus produces several musicals ever summer in Sacramento. The venue is a circus tent which allows you to see musicals produced in the round — a somewhat uncommon format. I took a tour of Music Circus years ago and learned that because old stand-by Broadway musicals are the norm the shows are created and rehearsed on a much faster schedule than most theatres. Music Circus usually brings in a “star” to play the chum roles and the rest of the cast is comprised of the regular company. I’ve seen a few musicals in the tent and they do a good job. I would like to offer the disclaimer that it has been several years since I’ve lived in Sacramento so I haven’t been there recently.

This story of the Artistic Director Scott Eckern is fascinating. A man who is Artistic Director of a popular theatre company that produces musicals, secretly believes that many of his colleagues in the theatre should not be granted the same marital rights that he holds himself. He may come in contact with their families, but that does not sway him. Later there comes a time when his opinions are made known through a search of donors of Yes on Proposition 8, and he is undone. He resigns within days saying:

“I understand that my choice of supporting Proposition 8 has been the cause of many hurt feelings, maybe even betrayal. It was not my intent. I honestly had no idea that this would be the reaction. I chose to act upon my belief that the traditional definition of marriage should be preserved. I support each individual to have rights and access and I understood that in California domestic partnerships come with the same rights that come with marriage. My sister is a lesbian and in a committed domestic partnership relationship. I am loving and supportive of her and her family, and she is loving and supportive of me and my family. I definitely do not support any message or treatment of others that is hateful or instills fear. This is a highly emotional issue and the accusations that have been made against me are simply not true. I have now had many conversations with friends and colleagues,and I am deeply saddened thatmy personal beliefs and convictions have offended others. My choice to support the Proposition was personal, and does not represent the views and opinions of California Musical Theatre or the many people associated with the organization. I was required by law to identify my employer and occupation at the time of my donation.

This man is surely in denial. How can he at once say “I want to support not only my friends and loved ones, but everyone in their efforts to receive equal rights” and at the same time work to deny equal rights to a portion of the population.

In a way, I feel sorry for him. His heart is moving one way and yet his rigid background is pulling him another. I met an African American man once who told me his basketball coach wore a George Wallace button. His coach was a “kind man” yet no amount of input from his player would allow him to change his opinion that George Wallace and consequently segregation was a good thing. How can this be? How could he continue to connect with people of different races and yet believe in segregation. It’s a wonder.

Via Americablog.

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According to Rep. Paul Broun (R) from Georgia that’s what Obama is. It’s quite brilliant to get that two-in-one combination to work out logically.

A Republican congressman from Georgia said Monday he fears that President-elect Obama will establish a Gestapo-like security force to impose a Marxist dictatorship.”It may sound a bit crazy and off base, but the thing is, he’s the one who proposed this national security force,” Rep. Paul Broun said of Obama in an interview Monday with The Associated Press. “I’m just trying to bring attention to the fact that we may—may not, I hope not—but we may have a problem with that type of philosophy of radical socialism or Marxism.”

Broun cited a July speech by Obama that has circulated on the Internet in which the then-Democratic presidential candidate called for a civilian force to take some of the national security burden off the military.

“That’s exactly what Hitler did in Nazi Germany and it’s exactly what the Soviet Union did,” Broun said. “When he’s proposing to have a national security force that’s answering to him, that is as strong as the U.S. military, he’s showing me signs of being Marxist.”

Thanks Paul, but I’m afraid your first statement was right. It does sound a little bit crazy and off base. Just a little.

Are there any Republicans left who actually know what Marxism is?

Photo via superbastards.com.

Update: In case you were confused as to how one could be both fascist and communist, here’s another mindbender from Broun for you.

“The point I tried to make is that he is extremely liberal, he has promoted a lot of socialistic ideas, and it just makes me concerned,” Broun said Tuesday.

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Once again George W. Bush explains that the failings of his presidency were due to bad marketing — his choice of poor words “that conveyed the wrong message.” If only he could have sold himself better, everything would have been A-okay.

“I regret saying some things I shouldn’t have said,” Bush told CNN’s Heidi Collins when asked to reflect on his regrets over his two terms as president. “Like ‘dead or alive’ and ‘bring ’em on.’ My wife reminded me that, hey, as president of the United States, be careful what you say.”

The interview, aboard the USS Intrepid in New York, came after the president addressed a Veterans Day ceremony.

Shortly after the attacks of September 11, the president said of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden: “I want justice. There’s an old poster out West that said, ‘Wanted, dead or alive.’ ”

Bush was also criticized in 2003 for his answer addressing insurgents in Iraq.

“There are some who feel like that the conditions are such that they can attack us there. My answer is, bring ’em on,” he said then.

On Tuesday, the president also referenced the moment aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, during which he declared an end to major combat operations in Iraq.

“They had a sign that said ‘Mission Accomplished.’ It was a sign aimed at the sailors on the ship, but it conveyed a broader knowledge. To some it said, well, Bush thinks the war in Iraq is over, when I didn’t think that. But nonetheless, it conveyed the wrong message.”

I can’t wait until the day when we have a president who has the marvelous ability to self-reflect.

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