Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Giant Centipede Terrorizes British Doctor. Bush To Tap Strategic Petroleum Reserve?

Giant Centipede Terrorizes British Doctor

In what reads like a bad Sci-Fi channel movie plot (and yes, I know that statement is redundant) a British doctor played a nerve-wracking game of hide and seek with a giant South American centipede in his London home. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

LONDON - Aaron Balick expected to find a tiny mouse rustling behind the TV in his apartment. Instead, he found a venomous giant centipede that somehow hitched a ride from South America to Britain.

"Thinking it was a mouse, I went to investigate the sound. The sound was coming from under some papers which I lifted, expecting to see the mouse scamper away," the 32-year-old psychotherapist said Wednesday. "Instead, when I lifted the papers, I saw this prehistoric looking animal skitter away behind a stack of books."

He trapped the 9-inch-long creature between a stack of books and put it in a plastic container. The next day he took it to Britain's Natural History Museum, which identified the insect as a Scolopendra gigantea — the world's biggest species of centipede.

The Scolopendra gigantea has front claws that are adapted to deliver venom when it stings, which can lead to a blistering rash, nausea and fever. The sting is rarely life-threatening, but painful.

Full Story

I can sympathize with this man. Years ago, on vacation on the Caribbean island of Barbados, I was walking around the corner of a building and nearly walked into a spider web that contained a spider as big as my hand, with legs as long as my fingers. I was lucky that the sun was shining on the strands of the web, which caused me to slow my pace or else I'd have walked right into the spider, which was suspended just at head height. I'm normally not squeamish about spiders. Hell, most of the time they mind their own business and act as unpaid bug exterminators, but when I see one that could barely fit into my first-baseman's mitt I tend to get a little nervous, especially when you consider that the tropics are home to a wider variety of poisonous spiders (as well as many other species of insect) than are found here in New England.

Anyway, I gave that bad boy a wide berth, even finding time to remember the line from the first Crocodile Dundee film in which Mick says to the boys at the bar In New York, "Not to insult your black widow spider, but our funnel web spider can kill a man in eight seconds just by looking at him!" A bit of hyperbole, yes, but the funnel web really is one of the most poisonous spiders in the world, and of the many things I saw in Australia this past January and February, I am thankful that a funnel web spider was not among them.

Bush To Tap Strategic Petroleum Reserve In Effort To Seem Like He Gives A Shit

In an effort to approximate the behavior of a caring human being, President Bush claims he is going to tap the nation's Strategic Petroleum Reserve in the wake of the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

WASHINGTON - President Bush raised the possibility Wednesday that Hurricane Katrina will lead to even higher gasoline prices and shortages in some areas, even as his administration moved to release oil from an emergency government stockpile and to temporarily ease pollution standards on gasoline and diesel fuel.

What a bunch of bullshit. Even if Katrina had never happened, these bastards were still going to urge the easing of pollution standards as part of President Asswipe's "Dirty Skies" initiative.

"Our citizens must understand the storm has disrupted the capacity to make gasoline and distribute gasoline," Bush said in a Rose Garden speech after meeting with top officials to discuss the crisis. "A lot of crude production has been shut down because of the storm," Bush said after returning from his Texas ranch to oversee federal relief efforts. He flew over some of the affected area on his way.

Well what happened to the production before the goddamned storm? Or is this just another case of you fronting for your oil industry backers? What our citizens must understand is that their President is a greedy oil man who is a bought-and-paid-for oil industry shill who will twist any situation into a "what do you expect me to do?" scenario.

The decision to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve was an effort to keep production of gasoline and other fuels steady. Rising gasoline prices have taken a political toll on Bush, helping to drive down his approval ratings to an all-time low.

The oil reserves — about 700 million barrels of crude oil stored in underground salt caverns in Texas and Louisiana — were last tapped in September-October 2004 during disruptions caused by Hurricane Ivan.

Full Story

I suppose we should be glad that the dumb brute has agreed to free up some of this reserve, even if his motives are less than pure in doing so. But just wait until January when he'll claim that he is "shocked, shocked I tell you!" to find that it gets cold in New England, and that home heating oil prices that a sudden dramatic price increase is just one of them there coincidences.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Digby's Bell Curve Smackdown. Venezuelan President Better Man Than Dubya Or Robertson.

Digby's Bell Curve Smackdown

One of my frequent stops on these Internets is the invaluable Hullabaloo by Digby. This is my first excerpt from his blog, and it's a beauty. It concerns the recent revivial of the malignantly controversial book The Bell Curve, and Digby provides an interesting take on the subject by asking the question "But what would the Intelligent Design crowd make of this matter?" Excerpt:

So what happens when the Bell Curve meets up with the Discovery Institute? Will the racist Darwinians have the nerve to ask why the "Intelligent Designer" came up with the really, really fucked up idea that the big brained white guys like them got the tiny penises and the small brained, big dicked blacks got all the big-titted, hot assed women? Will the Discovery Institute fellows feel compelled to drop their pants to prove that the IDer in chief knew what he was doing?

Full Story

To view the whole piece, click on the link and scroll down to Comic Designer. The excerpted paragraph has the distinction of not only asking the obvious question regarding the "debate" between evolution and ID, but it also one of the funniest things I've read in a long time. Atrios has also been devoting considerable bandwith to this noxious subject over at Eschaton in an attempt to help illuminate the landscape. My feeling is that the irony of this angle will easily be lost on the folks who so desperately need to see the underlying truth, namely that The Bell Curve promotes a nasty agenda, and does so with particularly sloppy research, as both Digby and Atrios ably prove.

Venezuelan President Offers Aid In Wake Of Katrina

Proving, as if that was a hard thing to do, that he is a better man than both the American Extremist Christian Cleric who called for his assassination and the American President who is probably giving serious consideration to this ugly notion, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is stepping forward with a generous offer of reduced price oil to aid the U.S. in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Yahoo News AFP excerpt:

CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez offered to send food and fuel to the United States after the powerful Hurricane Katrina pummeled the US south, ravaging US crude production.

The leftist leader, a frequent critic of the United States and a target himself of US disapproval, said Venezuela could send aid workers with drinking water, food and fuel to US communities hit by the hurricane.

"We place at the disposition of the people of the United States in the event of shortages -- we have drinking water, food, we can provide fuel," Chavez told reporters.

Full Story

This is quite a gesture from a man who likely has a price on his head. Maybe Mr. Chavez is simply taking the position that you keep your freinds close, but you keep your enemies closer. In any event, it will be that much harder for the neocons to make the Reverend Robertson's wet dream come true without showing themselves as the twisted sleazebags they are.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Jesse Helms To Publish Memoirs. Reading Public Pretends To Give A Shit.

In a move that is certain to cause little excitement, Jesse Helms, former North Carolina Senator (R - Batshit Crazy), announced the upcoming release of his memoirs. Yahoo News AP Wire excerpt:

RALEIGH, N.C. - Jesse Helms, writing with the same passion that made him the archconservative of the U.S. Senate for 30 years, renews his criticism of abortion in a memoir being published this week, comparing it to both the Holocaust and the Sept. 11 attacks.

"I will never be silent about the death of those who cannot speak for themselves," the former senator wrote in "Here's Where I Stand," which is scheduled for release Tuesday. The North Carolina Republican, known as "Senator No" for his consistent efforts to block what he considered liberal initiatives and unqualified foreign policy appointees, makes clear his views on abortion and other issues have hardly moderated since he left office in 2003.

Helms wrote there was no conservative plan to take over national politics just like-minded people rising through the ranks. "While this majority shift is often referred to as a 'revolution,' it was, in my view, the anticipated result of a steady evolution," he wrote.

Helms devotes an entire chapter to his views on race relations, defending his record challenging most of the nation's civil rights legislation as a 1960s television commentator and as a senator. "I felt that the citizens of my community, my state and my region of the country were being battered by this new form of bigotry," he wrote. "I simply could not stay silent in the face of this assault and I didn't."

Helms suggests the South could have integrated voluntarily if the federal government had not intervened. He wrote, "I believed right would prevail as people followed their own consciences." He claimed he opposed creation of a national Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 1983 in part because the Senate rejected his amendment that would have unsealed the FBI'
s files on the civil rights leader. Helms contends King's advisers included Communist sympathizers.

Full Story

I remember writing a piece for a bunch of my fellow political malcontents about the upcoming 1996 elections in which I profiled some of the biggest Republican pricks who had been fouling the discourse at that time. It was a rich field that included such noted assholes as Phil Gramm, Newt Gingrich, Pat Buchanan, Strom Thurmond and Senator Helms. It was a veritable Murderer's Row of Foaing At The Mouth Conservative Craziness. How crazy were these vermin? That year's Republican ticket of Bob Dole and Jack Kemp seemed calm and measured in comparison.

The last two lines of the final paragraph of the news excerpt pretty much sum up what a petty little bastard Helms was during his career. If you want to give Helms the benefit of the doubt about his stance on the MLK holiday by throwing that red herring Commie nonsense out there (get herring...Commie...ah, never mind...), rather than call the man the racist thug he is, then you simply regard him as a McCarthy style paranoid. However, his preceding lies in the excerpt about the South coming to its senses and integrating on it's own is pure bullshit. Unfortunately, the Helms legacy lives on in Tom DeLay, Tom Coburn, Jim Inhofe and a host of other hollow little scumbags. It is almost as if "Senator No" is still with us as the push to abolish Social Security, reverse Roe v. Wade, and the effort to undermine affordable health care and compromise workers conditions is now in full swing -- an effort he helped to start with his backward thinking and regressive attitudes.

My other problem with this goon is that he single-handedly helped to screw up the Commonwealth of Massachusetts by torpedoing the Bill Weld nomination to be Ambassador to Mexico when Bill Clinton tapped the then Massachusetts Governor on the shoulder. Helms hated Weld because Weld, as a member of Attorney General Edwin Meese's staff during Ronald Reagan's first term as President, resigned in protest over the WedTech scandal that eventually brought Meese to his ugly knees in disgrace.

Helms never forgave Weld for that and he spitefully put the fork to the man. Weld, in anticipation of his new post, turned the keys to the store over to his Lieutenant Governor, Argeo "Paul" Cellucci, and thereby inadvertently started a steady decline in the fortunes of the Commonwealth (that included the ascendacy of Jane "Not So" Swift and her troubles, and now the Bush-friendly Mitt Romney). If Weld had the simple instincts to realize that he'd be walking into the lion's den with Helms ready to devour him, he probably would never have resigned during the confirmation process, and, when eventually denied, could have simply come back to the Bay State where his touch as one of the few sane Republicans in history, helped restore the fortunes of the Commonwealth after the inconsistent reign of Michael Dukakis (one of the worst Presidential candidates in history). But maybe my praise of Weld is misplaced, as it seems he is testing the waters for a Gubernatorial run in New York. Weld is reportedly meeting with Bush Administration fixer Karl Rove, which is definitely a sign that he has crossed over to the dark side. Too bad. He was a damned good governor.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Clutch Grabwell Plantation Club Show Review. Iraqi President Says No To Death Penalty For Saddam.

Clutch Grabwell Plantation Club Show Review

Last night Clutch Grabwell rocked a small gathering at the Plantation Club in Worcester, Massachusetts. The boys were in fine from from the moment they hit the stage with longtime favorite "Precious Time". Lead singer John Boyle was undeterred by the fact that the crowd of 60-odd people was smaller than most crowds to whom they have performed at this venue, even going so far as to guess that the sparse numbers were due to the public's eagerness to indulge themselves in the new Wendy's Ranch Sandwich that is too good for words (insert heavy sarcasm).

Some of the covers were "Burning Down The House" by The Talking Heads, "Vehicle" by the Ides of March (with a little dig at Bo Bice tossed in) that featured a slinky guitar solo from Mark Campbell and "Suspicious Minds" by Elvis Presley (complete with Johnny harassing couples on the dance floor during the verses).

The rhythm section of Tony Dintino on drums and Jeff Campbell on bass guitar held the groove for Mark's guitar solos and for some nice back-and-forth interplay between the two horns of Lennie Peterson on "electric" slide trombone and Andrew Hickman on saxophone. Peterson, who designed the band's logo, threw out some chaotic sounds as Hickman provided a jazzy feel to his fluid runs. John Boyle was his usual self-consciously conspicuous self as he danced on chairs and mingled with the people on the dance floor as he belted out the songs.

Overall, it was a typical performance from these masters of mixing musical genres as they ran the gamut from jazz-influenced heavy rock to funky R&B that kept the fans dancing and singing along throughout the evening.

Iraqi President Says No To Death Penalty For Saddam

In yet another potentially bad bit of news for the Bush Administration concerning the mess they've made in Iraq, new Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said he would not agree to the death penalty for Saddam Hussein if the notion comes up during the upcoming former Iraqi leader's trial. Yahoo News APF story excerpt:

BAGHDAD (AFP) - Iraqi President Jalal Talabani said in remarks that he would not sign a death sentence against his ousted predecessor Saddam Hussein even if it costs him his job.

"Once his (Saddam's) interrogation is over, he will go before a tribunal," Talabani told Dubai-based Al-Arabiya news channel in an interview. Should a death sentence be issued against the former dictator, "I will not sign it," he said.
"I am a man of principles. I cannot forego my principles for the sake of my post. If there is a clash between the post and the principles, I will give up the post and keep the principles," Talabani said in a snippet aired in advance of the full interview broadcast.

Talabani said in May that he would not sign a death sentence against Saddam, whose trial on charges of crimes against humanity during his iron-fisted rule over Iraq
is expected to come up within the next two months.

Full Story

An interesting rumor about Saddam's trial is that the Bush people are attempting a plea-bargain. Now a logical question about that possibility is: If the case against Saddam Hussein as the absolute incarnation of evil, hell-bent on destroying the United States is so strong, then why the hell would U.S. prosecutors even think about a plea-bargain? Possible answer: Because to let Saddam take the witness stand in his own defense would be to open up a potentially embarrassing can of worms for George Dubya and his Daddy. Especially when he tells the court about the cozy chemical weapons deal he made with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld back in the early 1980s when Rumsfeld was a Reagan White House fixer.

That story can be found at the incomparable Bartcop site, issue 1223. Scroll about halfway down the page to the story titled: Who Will Testify At Saddam's Trial from Joe Conason's New York Observer column.

Bartcop Issue 1223

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Fans Attempt To Save Hendrix's Home From Being Demolished.

From a story on Miss Templeton's Horslips and Other Music, it appears that Jimi Hendrix's Seattle home is to be demolished, and that fans of his from all over the world are gathering there in an attempt to save it. Excerpt:

The boyhood home of Jimi Hendrix, widely considered to be the greatest of all rock guitarists, is to be destroyed next week after a failed attempt to turn it into a museum and community centre. Fans of the guitarist are expected to travel to Seattle from around the world to protest against the demolition. Friends of Hendrix, who died in London in 1970 after bingeing on sleeping pills, say that they will stand in front of the wrecking ball.

Reporting on this story gives me the exact opposite feeling of that when I reported on the unveiling of Philip Lynott's statue last week. What is going on in Seattle? Has everyone forgotten that Hendrix raised the bar to an almost impossibly high level for other rock guitarists to reach? Or has the hangover from the "grunge" period caused everyone to forget that there was music in that region before Nirvava and Pearl Jam? Listen to the tone and shake your head at the technique and feel behind songs like Little Wing, Third Stone From The Sun, Red House, Voodoo Child and the unforgettable Woodstock rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. In baseball terms, Hendrix was the late 1960s guitar-playing equivalent of Babe Ruth when he became a full time outfielder and outhomered every team in the American League in 1920, 1921 and 1922.

Sometime, sooner rather than later I hope, I'll get around to making my Top Ten Guitar Players List, and you can be sure that Mr. James Marshall Hendrix will be Number One.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Lance Armstrong Versus...Dick Pound? Smut Attack Tribute To Fast Times At Ridgemont High? Clutch Grabwell To Rock Worcester!

Lance Armstrong Versus Dick Pound!

Seven-time Tour de France winning bicyclist Lance Armstrong is once again in the position of having to defend himself against doping allegations. Among the investigators is a fellow named Dick Pound. Yahoo News AP Wire excerpt:

Even facing the most serious drug allegations of his career, Lance Armstrong says he sleeps well at night. The seven-time Tour de France champion continues to try to beat back reports in the French media that he used a banned blood booster in his first tour victory in 1999. On Thursday, he lashed out at the French lab that produced the findings in question.

There's a setup here and I'm stuck in the middle of it," Armstrong told The Associated Press. "I absolutely do not trust that laboratory," he said.

The French sports daily L'Equipe reported Tuesday that new exams on six urine samples Armstrong provided during the 1999 tour resulted in positive results for the red blood cell-booster EPO.

Armstrong's comment came after Dick Pound, head of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said officials had received the lab results and would review them. Armstrong also said that while Pound might trust the lab that tested the samples, "I certainly don't."

Full Story

One has to wonder if this investigator's name is what is driving this latest examination of Mr. Armstrong's chemical makeup. But let's not go there. Instead, why don't we focus on the fact that Armstrong is arguably the most poked, prodded and tested athlete in the world. Why then, after every previous allegation of this type has shown Armstrong to be clean, should we expect a different outcome this time? Besides, the man is retiring. Mister Pound, and all the other Lance-beaters should just let it go already.

Man Suspected of Smut Attack on Over 300 Cars

This story comes from Yahoo's Odd News section and deals with a man suspected of scratching hundreds of cars with phallus-like gouges. Reuters excerpt:

BERLIN (Reuters) - German police have arrested a 31-year-old man they caught vandalizing two cars by scratching large penis-shaped gouges into them and said they believe he may be responsible for similar markings found on hundreds of others.

A police spokesman in the western city of Bochum said on Friday the man was under investigation for vandalizing around 330 vehicles in the region over the last few months, most of which had also been marked with the same penis insignia.

Full Story

That's quite a resume this guy is building. I am reminded of the scene in the 1982 film Fast Times At Ridgemont High (Mr. Hand, where are you now that we truly need you!) in which the character of ticket-scalper Mike Damone (played by Robert Romanus) knocked up Stacy Hamilton (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh), then refused to take responsibility. Stacy's friend, Linda Barrett (played by the achingly gorgeous Phoebe Cates) decided to get revenge by spray-painting the words "Little Prick" on Damone's locker and car. Maybe this perp decided to "one-up" this punking as a tribute. Mr. Dick Pound was unavailable for comment...

Clutch Grabwell To Rock Worcester!

Tomorrow night, Clutch Grabwell will rock the Plantation Club in beautiful Worcester, Massachusetts. This band must be seen to be believed. Featuring a wide, energetic mix of originals (like the heavy funk of Slow Train, the slamming Rising Son and the infectious R&B groove of Talkin' To Myself) and covers (how do the songs Gozilla by Blue Oyster Cult, Surrender by Cheap Trick and Mustang Sally by Wilson Pickett grab youse?), this band never fails to deliver the goods.

Band Home Page

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Overseas Pollution Regulation Lawsuit Involving U.S. Federal Developers To Proceed. More Philip Lynott Statue Dedication News.

Hey, It's Not Polluting If It's Not In My Back Yard...

In what will likely be called another case of "judicial activism" by clowns like Tom DeLay, a federal judge has ruled that government agencies whose actions overseas contribute to global warming can be sued. Yahoo News AP Wire excerpt:

SAN FRANCISCO - Environmental groups and four U.S. cities can sue federal development agencies on allegations the overseas projects they back financially contribute to global warming, a judge has ruled.

A coalition of environmental groups sued two government agencies that provide loans and insure billions of dollars of U.S. investors' money for development projects overseas. Many are power plants that emit greenhouses gases such as carbon dioxide that are believed to be a leading cause of global warming.

"This is the first decision in the country to say that climate change causes sufficient injury to give a plaintiff standing, to open the courthouse door," said Ronald Shems, a Vermont attorney representing Friends of the Earth. That group, in addition to Greenpeace, Boulder, Colo., and the California cities of Oakland, Santa Monica and Arcata, sued the government agencies. They argued that the National Environmental Policy Act, the law requiring environmental assessments of proposed projects in the United States, should apply to the U.S.-backed projects overseas because they contribute to the degradation of the U.S. environment.

The agencies, known as the Overseas Private Investment Corp. and the Export-Import Bank of the United States, claimed that U.S. environmental regulations do not apply to overseas projects, and that the courts have no right to intervene.

Full Story

This is what the anti-regulation crowd refuses to get through their thick skulls. As compromised as our environmental standards have become under President Useless Moron, they are still much higher than those in many other nations, some of whom are clients of these development agencies. They either don't believe, or they do believe but simply don't care, that environmental standards should be applied across the board.

For example, if I own a paper mill on the banks of a river, and, for the sake of convenience I dump my waste into that river, I may not be in violation of my state's laws regarding clean water. However, if that river flows across the border of a neighboring state just a few miles away that has tougher pollution standards, then I am in violation of that state's clean water regulations. The same standard should apply from country to country, because air and water pollution do not recognize borders between states and nations.

Philip Lynott Statue Dedication Photos

Philip Lynott's Statue dedication photos from last Saturday's celebration (and a review of the accompanying show that featured several ex-Lizzy guitarists) have been posted on the Thin Lizzy A Rock Legend web site here.

Thanks to the resourceful Miss Templeton for carrying the story on her blog, Horslips and Other Music (see my links list for more details).

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

American Extremist Christian Cleric Fallout. Early Softball Playoff Exit.

American Extremist Christian Cleric Fallout

I present an article from the Independent UK that describes, in rich detail, the hypocrisy of the United States in it's dealings with South American countries like Venezuela and Chile. Excerpt:

Venezuela is living in the shadow of the other 11 September. In 1972, on a day synonymous with death, Salvador Allende - the democratically elected left-wing President of Chile - was bombed and blasted from power.

The CIA and the US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, had decided the "irresponsibility" of the Chilean people at the ballot box needed to be "rectified" - so they installed a fascist general, Augusto Pinochet. He "disappeared" at least 3,000 people and tortured 27,000 more as he clung to power right up to 1990. Since the Venezuelans elected Hugo Chavez, their own left-wing democrat, in a 1998 landslide, they have been waiting for their 11 September. That's why it did not surprise anyone here this week when Pat Robertson - one of America's leading evangelicals and a friend of George Bush - openly called for a US-backed murder of their President.

Laydez Primera, 34, has been doing an eight-hour shift. He explains: " Los esqualidos [the squalid ones, as the opposition is often called] and Bush have tried everything to get rid of Chavez. They know we have elected him in totally open elections, but they don't care. They have tried forcing a recall referendum in the middle of Chavez's term, but the President won by 60 per cent. They have tried saying the elections were rigged, but the opposition asked Jimmy Carter to come and watch the elections, and he said they were totally free. He didn't say that about the election of Bush in Florida! And they even tried staging a coup. We will never, never forget that."

The coup, the coup. Everybody here has their stories about the 2002 coup d'Etat, and the strange 47-hour Presidency of Pedro Carmona Estanga, the head of Venezuela's equivalent of the Confederation of British Industry. (Pat Robertson's call caused a cascade of memories to burst across the streets of Caracas.) That April, Chavez was kidnapped and removed from power in a decapitation of democracy orchestrated by the media, a few generals and the wealthy. Carmona dissolved the Supreme Court, the Constitution and the elected National Assembly and assumed control of the country. This was immediately welcomed by the Bush administration.

But wait. I don't understand. How can George "Freedom Is God's Gift To Everyone" Bush have welcomed such a blatant disregard for the democratic process? Read on...

Washington was eager to ensure the largest pot of oil outside the Middle East - providing 10 per cent of US domestic imports - was placed back under the control of US corporations, rather than a left-winger with his own ideas about oil revenue. It later emerged the US had been funding the coup leaders. Only the story didn't end there. Venezuela refused to be Chile.

Judith Patino, a 57-year-old grandmother and street-seller who lives in one of the shanty-towns in the west of Caracas, explains: "We would not let our democracy be destroyed. We refused. Everybody from this barrio [district], everybody from all the barrios, went on to the streets of Caracas. We were afraid, we thought there would be massacres, but we had chosen our President and we were governing our own country and we would not surrender." More than a million people took to the streets, surrounding the Miraflores Palace - the President's residence - and calling for Chavez to return.

Los Esqualidos scurried away; Chavez returned to the Miraflores by helicopter, and Caracas erupted into what one young woman told me was "the biggest, maddest party Venezuela has ever seen". Yet, three years on, the country is still split. There is the rich 20 per cent, who for more than a century received all the oil profits - until Chavez came to power and began to distribute them more widely. They welcomed the coup and rejoiced at Robertson's comments. And, glaring at them across a chasm of incomprehension, there is the poor 80 per cent, who defended Chavez.

Full Story

Does this really surprise anyone who has been even halfway aware of what The United States has done in Central and South America for decades? Unfortunately, Robertson, who can correctly be called an American Extremist Christian Cleric, merely said the things he said about calling for Chavez's assassination knowing that there are a lot of people in this country who would say: "Hey, that's not a bad idea."

Just in case Mr. Bush is thinking about taking Mr. Robertson's advice, let's look at a couple of key numbers:

* Result of presidential election in 1998: 56.2 per cent for Chavez
* Result of 2004 referendum on whether Chavez should stay in power: 58.3 per cent vote in his favour

To put those figures in context, President "I Have To Live My Life" Bush's present popularity rating is below 40%. I wonder how he'd do if the Democrats had the vision, numbers and balls to call for a referendum on his performance. Oh wait, that's right. He has the Diebold voting machines. Never mind...

Early Softball Playoff Exit

Last night saw the early exit from the playoffs for my softball team. After having a 7-1 lead at the end of three innings, we lost by a disgusting 24-14. After grabbing the early lead, it was as if a switch had been flipped to reverse everything we had done well up to that point. The main problem was shoddy defense. In particular, our third baseman, shortstop and left fielder began to play as if they'd never caught a ball in their entire lives as we gave outs away by the truckload over the final four innings.

One interesting thing happened that you rarely see. The situation: We have a runner on first base with one out and a power-hitting lefty at the plate. Said batter lofted a deep fly to right-center field where, after a momentary bobble, the outfielder maintained control and made the catch for the out. However, the second the ball touched the outfielder's glove, our runner, who had tagged up, sprinted for second, then, because of the bobble, made it all the way to third. The opposition, thinking that our guy left early, relayed the ball back to first base, at which point the umpire correctly called our man safe. This lead to a semi-heated discussion, but the umpire calmly explained the rule which says that a baserunner doesn't have to wait until a fielder has total control of the ball to tag and advance, because advancement is triggered on "first contact" with the ball. I can't recall ever seeing this played out at any level of ball in which I've played, or watched, but I had been aware of this provision, so it was good to see that this umpire knew the rule. After the clarification, yours truly then drove the man in from third with a single to right, which gave us the 7-1 lead. Little did we know that this play would be the highlight of our evening. Oh well, there's always next season!

Monday, August 22, 2005

Scientists Find Homo Erectus Skull In Georgia (The Former Soviet Republic - Not The State). Softball Playoffs Begin. Happy Birthday Yaz.

Homo Erectus Skull Found In Former Soviet Republic

The following story, from the Yahoo News science section, shows that early man's presence in Europe was more extensive than has been previously thought to have been the case. Excerpt:

TBILISI, Georgia - Archaeologists in the former Soviet republic of Georgia have unearthed a skull they say is 1.8 million years old and part of a find that holds that oldest traces of humankind's closest ancestors ever found in Europe.

The findings in Georgia, which researchers said were a million years older than any widely accepted pre-human remains in Europe, have provided additional evidence that Homo erectus left Africa a half-million years or more earlier than scientists had previously thought.

Million-year-old fossils of hominids — extinct creatures of the extended ancestral family of modern humans — have been found in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, but not in Western Europe. Georgia is south of the Caucasus Mountains and northeast of Turkey, but is considered part of Europe.

Full Story

This is big folks. As previously noted, this means that early man was thriving in an area of the world that was not supposed to have been heavily settled for hundreds of thousands of years after the date of this find. I just wonder what the Intelligent Design crowd is going to make of this discovery.

Softball Playoffs Begin

My wage-slavery facility softball league begins its playoffs tomorrow night, and my team is scheduled to play in the first of two games to be played. We finished the regular season with ten wins against six losses, which was good for a seventh place finish (out of 18 teams). The playoffs are divided into two divisions, first place through tenth place and eleventh place through 18th place. We get the tenth place team in game one. These guys beat us by one run (one of three one-run losses we suffered) as we didn't hit the way we can. It's a single-elimination format, so it's all or nothing beginning tomorrow night. This notice is to inform my eight loyal readers why there may not be a post tomorrow.

Happy Birthday Yaz

Also, Happy 66th Birthday to Red Sox Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski. Yaz was the American League Most Valuable Player in 1967, the Impossible Dream club that came from a 9th place finish in 1966 to win the AL pennant and take the St. Louis Cardinals to seven games in the 1967 World Series before eventually succumbing to Cadrinals ace Bob Gibson's dominance. Yaz is also the last big leaguer to win his league's Triple Crown, which came in his MVP season of 1967 when he had a .326 batting average, 44 home runs (tied with Harmon Killebrew of the Twins) and 121 runs batted in. Yaz also led the AL in runs scored with 112, hits with 189, total bases with 360 and slugging percentage with a .622 mark. He also won a Gold Glove for his stellar defense in left field. Yaz was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1989. He holds Red Sox career records in hits (3,419), doubles (646), total bases (5,539), runs batted in (1,844) and runs scored (1,816).

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Music Review - Tony Iommi's Fused. Red Sox Update.

Fused - Iommi

Legendary Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi has a new solo CD out. The CD, titled Fused, was released last month during the same week that the Ozzfest North American Tour kicked off (funny timing that...), and is the third collaboration between Tony and former Deep Purple/Trapeze singer/bassist Glenn Hughes (the first two are the 1987 release Seventh Star, and The 1996 DEP Sessions released earlier this year).

The CD was produced by Bob Marlette, who gives the overall sound a slick, yet hard-hitting quality. Veteran session drummer Kenny Aronoff keeps the beat with dexterity and power throughout as Iommi's heavy riffs and biting solos grind away in tandem with Hughes's powerful vocals and pumping bass lines. Here's a song-by-song rundown:

1. Dopamine, the first single, which displays a typical set of Iommi riffs with a fiery wah-wah tinged solo to balance Hughes's confident delivery.

2. Wasted Again is a bit slower, and features some of the few higher-end vocals from Hughes.

3. Saviour Of The Real comes across as a song that purposely avoids heavy solos and tempo changes, and doesn't really stand out on this CD. If not for the intospective lyrics Hughes provides, the song would be very forgettable.

4. Resolution Song is a very moody piece with even more of Hughes's soul-searching lyrics.

5. Grace starts off slowly, but gradually builds and has a nice optimistic feel to it when compared to the previous tracks.

6. Deep Inside a Shell has a repetitive Iommi riff and a solo that seems way too short.

7. What You're Living For is a faster, more up-tempo track that features a Iommi terrific double-tracked solo played over multiple riffs.

8. Face Your Fear features some of Hughes's most heartfelt vocals balanced against even more of Iommi's powerful riffs.

9. The Spell has a heavy doom-like quality to the riff that starts the song, and Hughes proves that he can handle the lower range of his vocal register with confidence and power.

10. I Go Insane is an epic that last more than nine minutes, and is the best track of this CD. It is also the final track, and is a fitting end as it contains multiple time changes that seem so abrupt that they could easily be classified as songs within a song. The highlight is the slow, bluesy solo Iommi churns out as Hughes puts it all on the line in his powerfully convincing manner.

Overall, the sound quality is slicker than that of the 1996 DEP Sessions, and some of the songs lack a bit of urgency as a result, but that isn't such a negative given the quality of the writing and playing that these English hard rock veterans have produced. The CD is a solid "A", and fans of both Iommi and Hughes should be quite pleased to add it to their collections.

Red Sox Update

The Red Sox salvaged a split in their four-game series against the Angels in Anaheim with a 5-1 victory this afternoon. The win, combined with the Yankees 6-2 defeat at the hands of the AL Central-leading Chicago White Sox moves the Red Sox back to a four game lead over the Pinstripes in the AL East.

The game was scoreless into the 8th inning as Angels starter Paul Byrd kept the Sox bats off balance with a variety of breaking pitches and an 87-mile-per-hour fastball that he was able to place just out of the fat part of the strike zone for most of the game. The Sox finally got to Byrd when Edgar Renteria hit a three-run homer, his 7th of the season. Manny Ramirez followed a David Ortiz BUNT SINGLE with his 33rd homer of the season to give the Sox a 5-0 lead.

Sox rookie starter John Papelbon pitched into the 6th inning before turning it over to the Mikes (Myers and Timlin) who kept the Angels off the scoreboard. Curt Schilling, who will apparently rejoin the starting rotation later this week in Kansas City, surrendered the Angels lone run in the bottom of the 9th inning.

A few words about Mr. Papelbon. He is a keeper. His fastball hums in between 91 and 95 MPH, and he is developing a nasty split-fingered pitch that has a deadly drop. He seems to have good command of his pitches and he has a nice, smooth delivery. He is also not afraid to pitch inside to the big bats, as he proved when he backed Angels slugger Vladimir Guerrero up on a high 0-2 fastball that set up a nice high fastball that Vlad chased for the strikeout. A lot of veteran pitchers have trouble executing this maneuver, and this kid did it as if he had been pitching for ten years. In recent years, Papelbon would have been traded as part of a package to another team that was out of contention for a proven veteran for the stretch run. Three starts isn't a large sample from which to evaluate someone, but I hope the Sox don't deal him away because he looks like he can be a big winner in the big leagues for a long time.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Remembering Philip Lynott And Thin Lizzy.

Today marks the 56th anniversary of Philip Lynott's birth. The first real Irish "rock star", Philip hit it big with his band Thin Lizzy after their 1976 releases Jailbreak and Johnny the Fox. So, on this anniversary, I feel, as a huge fan, that it is necessary to share my observations, thoughts and a couple of stories.

Philip Lynott's, and by extension, Thin Lizzy's career, can be summed up in eight broad periods:

1. The "Hello Word, Here I Am" period from 1969-1973 when Lizzy emerged on to the music scene as a trio. Belfast guitarist Eric Bell wound his way around songs like The Rocker, Little Girl In Bloom, Little Darlin' and Vagabonds of the Western World. The band's sound varied between folky and highly charged psychedelia.

2. The "Settling On A Direction" period from 1974-1976 when, after Eric Bell left the band, Philip brought in another Belfast-born guitarist, Gary Moore for a short stint before going with the classic duo of Brian Robertson from Glasgow, and Scott Gorham of Los Angeles. The band was trying to find a sound, and the two albums released in 1974, Nightlife, and in 1975, Fighting, showed flashes of potential with songs like Sha-La-La, Suicide and Still In Love With You, but the formula hadn't quite gelled.

3. The "Holy Shit Batman! WE MADE IT!!!" period from 1976-1978 that saw Lizzy break big all over the world. Their first release of 1976, Jailbreak, produced classics like the title track, The Boys Are Back In Town, Emerald, Warriors and Romeo And The Lonely Girl. Bad luck hit and the boys were forced to cancel a U.S. tour due to Philip having been stricken with hepatitis. But, determined to strike while he was hot Philip and the boys made the best of a bad situation by writing the songs for their second release of 1976, Johnny The Fox. The iron was still hot as proven by such songs as Johnny, Rocky, Borderline, Don't Believe A Word, Fools Gold, Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy The Weed and Massacre. It was at this point that everyone began to see what a strong storyteller Philip was.

More bad luck struck when Brian Robertson severely cut his hand in a pub altercation and was sidelined. The 1977 album, Bad Reputation, featured just a few solos from the wild Scotsman as most of the work fell to Scott Gorham, who proved more than able to rise to the occasion. Songs like the title track, Soldier Of Fortune, Southbound, Opium Trail, Dancing In The Moonlight and Dear Lord showed the diversity of the band as they went from lilting melodic passages to fiery aggressive ones in a seemingly effortless manner.

1978 saw the band at their peak with the release of their first live album, the classic Live And Dangerous. Back in the fold, Brian Robertson was simply brilliant on songs like Emerald, Don't Believe A Word, Rosalie, Baby Drives Me Crazy and The Rocker. But his finest moment was the first solo on the reworked Still In Love With You. I must own at least two dozen versions of this song, mostly live versions, and it's a tough call, and I know the song was a Gary Moore original, but Robbo gets the nod for his passionate performance. Scott Gorham provided an equally strong solo on the latter part of the song, and provided plenty of punch on songs like Massacre, Southbound and Dancing In The Moonlight. Drummer Brian Downey, who I have shamefully neglected to mention until now, did a fantastic job on the drums, combining power and dexterity. This man is woefully underrated in the pantheon of rock and roll drummers. Through it all, Philip's pulsating bass and gritty vocals carried the message that Lizzy was now officially a monster.

4. The "Now Let's Broaden Our Horizons A Bit" period of 1979 that saw a final parting of the ways with Robbo, and yet another chance for Gary Moore. That year produced the classic Black Rose, A Rock Legend, and was arguably the most ambitious work Philip had yet done. Songs like Do Anything You Want To, Toughest Street In Town. S & M, Waiting For An Alibi, Sarah, Got To Give It Up and Roisin Dubh (Black Rose) A Rock Legend showed a band firing on all cylinders. Newcomer (recomer?) Moore announced his presence with authoritah and gave Scott Gorham and extra kick in the pants as well as they played some ridiculously intricate harmony and back-and-forth pieces on the magnificent title track. Philip and Brian also played on Gary's solo album Back On The Streets. Things could only get better, right?

5. The "The Hardest Part Isn't Getting To The Top, It's Staying There" period from 1980-1982 that saw Gary Moore replaced by Pink Floyd guitarist Snowy White for the releases of the albums Chinatown and Renegade. Now a lot of people seem to think that these albums are crap, but how the hell can songs like We Will Be Strong, Chinatown, Sugar Blues, Genocide, Renegade, Hollywood and Angel Of Death be dismissed in such a cavalier manner? I think part of the reason was that Darren Wharton was brought in as a fulltime keyboard player, and a lot of fans couldn't stomach the concept of this tough-guy band going "soft". Another thing that annoyed people was Snowy's apparent lack of enthusiasm or showmanship. I saw Lizzy in Boston on the Chinatown tour, and Snowy's blues-tinged versions of Still In Love With You and the slow version of Don't Believe A Word were simply masterpieces, whether he stood in a corner with his back to the wall, or whether he was playing while riding a unicycle on a tightrope across a pool of water that contained sharks with fricken laser beams attached to their heads. In other words, it didn't matter! The man could play. Unfortunately for Snowy, perception began to become reality and he left in late 1982.

Philip inadvertently added to the perception that things weren't well in the Lizzy camp by releasing two solo albums during this period, Solo In Soho and The Philip Lynott Album. The songs on these albums were much lighter and more experimental than anything he'd done with Lizzy, and were more of an outlet for his softer side. Songs like Yellow Pearl, Old Town and Ode To A Black Man respectively showcased Philip's awareness of new technology, his sense of nostalgia, and his political leanings.

6. The "Did We Give Up When The Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?!?" period of late 1982-1983 that saw the last studio release, Thunder and Lightning hit the streets with the help of youngster John Sykes, formerly a guitarist with the Tygers Of Pan Tang. Sykes had played with Philip on a single, Please Don't Leave Me, after which time Philip asked Sykes to join the band. Sykes joined, and the energy level of the band seemed to rise with him as he simply burned his way through his solos on the title track, This Is The One, Holy War, Baby Please Don't Go and Cold Sweat. Scott Gorham kept up his end of the bargain on The Sun Goes Down and Bad Habits. The subsequent tour was announced as a farewell tour that began as a two-month affair that stretched into a year. As a tribute, most of the former Lizzy guitarists like Eric Bell, Robbo and Gary Moore stopped by to stand in on some songs to provide an extra thrill for the fans.

7. The "Goodbye Everybody, I've Got To Go" period of late 1983-1985 that saw the release of the live album Life. The aforementioned appearances by all the former Lizzy guitarists were featured on several songs and gave the album an increased level of significance as a result. There was little doubt that Thin Lizzy had gone out with a bang, but Philip still had the bug. He took a band to Scandinavia that consisted of John Sykes, Brian Downey, Magnum keyboardist Mark Stanway and rhythm guitarist Doish Nagle. Philip liked this band so much that he was making it his next project, which he called Grand Slam. Unfortunately, David Coverdale of Whitesnake made Sykes an offer he couldn't refuse, and Philip's ace guitarist was gone. Downey left after that, to be replaced by Robbie Brennan, and after a bit, Sykes's replacement, Laurence Archer, came on to do a decent job of filling such big shoes.

Unfortunately, nobody seemed interested in Philip's new band, despite the number of great reviews their shows had gotten. Gary Moore then came calling to ask Philip to lend his voice to the song Out In The Fields for Gary's Run For Cover album. The song was a hit, and it helped to raise Philip's profile to the point where he began to record a solo album while working with Moore, Robin George and Huey Lewis. A single, Nineteen, a Grand Slam number, was released featuring George on guitar. Things seemed to be on the upswing as the end of 1985 approached.

8. "The End". After having collapsed at his home on Christmas Day 1985, Philip died on January 4th, 1986 at age 36, leaving the music world shocked, saddened and lost in thoughts of what might have been.

As I said before, I saw Lizzy in 1980 with Snowy, but I also saw them in 1978 at the tender age of 16 in Boston when they shared the bill with Blue Oyster Cult at the old Paradise Theater. Gary Moore had taken over for Robbo for that show and played his ass off. At the time, I didn't realize Lizzy was an Irish act, so it came as a bit of a surprise when this tall black dude began his between-song banter with a thick brogue. I also saw the Scott Gorham/John Sykes Thin Lizzy that came around last year with Deep Purple and Joe Satriani, and I have to say, they sounded damned good! John did a hell of a job on vocals, and I think Philip would have been proud of his performance. Also, back in 2000, on a vacation in Ireland, I was lucky enough to see Brian Downey's band Blues Up Front play at Slattery's on Camden Street in Dublin.

The Lizzy legacy is the absolutely insane amount of guitar talent that played in that band. Let's review: Eric Bell, Gary Moore, Brian Robertson, Scott Gorham, Snowy White and John Sykes. Any ONE of those guys in your band would have been a bloody coup. Philip had all of them. Plus, the notion of two lead guys who could play harmonies was barely a factor in hard rock when Lizzy began the practice. The only other bands I can think of who did this at that time would have been Wishbone Ash and Judas Priest. All the other two guitar bands had one lead guy and another who just played chords. Lizzy helped to change all that, and countless bands have been influenced by them for it.

Philip's personal legacy is one of many faces. He was the swaggering tough guy, the ladies man, the hopeless romantic, warrior poet, the loving son and father. His sense of timing was unreal, as he could sing a verse "outside" the beat better than anyone. He also made himself into a terrific bass player who could even play some lead guitar when the mood suited him. Critics said he had a huge ego, but if I was trying to put up with some of the extreme personalities of men like Gary Moore and Brian Robertson as they behaved at that time, then I think a big ego would have been a necessary part of Philip's arsenal of weapons. Not too many bands can undergo that many personnel changes in such short time periods and still stay on top of the ball. Thin Lizzy did, and it was all due to Philip Lynott's perseverance and dedication to his vision.

I understand that the extremely hard working Roisin Dubh Trust had their efforts finally pay off with the unveiling of the Philip Lynott statue in Dublin yesterday (Thanks to Miss Templeton for providing a link to RTE radio which broadcast the ceremony). It is certainly a long overdue honor for the man who put Ireland firmly on the map in rock and roll.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Cindy Sheehan To Return To Haunt Dubya. Roberts Scoffed At O'Connor Promotion.

Cindy Sheehan To Return To Haunt Dubya

Cindy Sheehan, mother of Casey Sheehan, a soldier killed in Iraq, says she isn't going to let the fact that she had to leave her campsite outside President "I Have To Live My Life While I'm Wasting Those Of Your Sons and Daughters" Bush's Crawford hideout to tend to her ailing mother derail her efforts to meet with The Man Who Is Never Wrong. Excerpt from The Independent:

Cindy Sheehan, the crusading mother of an American soldier killed in Iraq, has pledged to return soon to her anti-war encampment outside the Texan ranch of President George Bush, hours after she rushed to Los Angeles to tend to her ailing mother.

Ms Sheehan, who has become a standard-bearer for protesters against the Iraq war across the United States, left the roadside camp late on Thursday after being told her 74-year-old mother, Shirley Miller, had suffered a stroke and was in hospital. More than a hundred supporters of Ms Sheehan remained at the site in Crawford and spirits rose when they heard that she intended to return soon.

Chuck Hagel, a Republican senator from Nebraska, urged Mr Bush to meet with Ms Sheehan as soon as possible. "I think the wise course of action, the compassionate course of action, the better course of action would have been to immediately invite her in to the ranch," he told the CNN news channel. He argued that most Americans were now comparing Iraq directly to Vietnam.

As my buddy Bartcop might say, why aren't the damned Democrats saying what Hagel has said? And what is this semblance of sanity Hagel is exhibiting? Just remember, before we get too optimistic about this, that Hagel owns Diebold -- the voting machine company that helped Bush in 2000 and 2004 (not to mention having helped several other Republicans like Saxby Chambliss (R - War Hero Basher) in the 2002 mid-term elections).

But not everyone looks so kindly on Ms Sheehan. Some groups accuse her of casting shame on the US military. Supporters of the war and of President Bush drove in a convoy past the protest site, triggering fears of a weekend confrontation. And the conservative group Move America Forward has unveiled a new TV advert designed to counter the Sheehan message. It features the group's founder, Deborah Johns, whose son is a marine in Iraq. "I'm here to tell you that military families support our troops AND their mission - in spite of what people like Cindy Sheehan say," she says. "Cindy Sheehan certainly doesn't speak for me, our military families or our men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan."

That last quote is typical of the way these people are twisting what Mrs. Sheehan is saying. She has not said that she is speaking for anyone but herself, and all the lies, distortions and exaggerations from slime like Bill O'Reilly, Michelle Malkin, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh cannot change this simple fact. These partisan hacks can pretend all they want that Mrs. Sheehan is "being used" by Michael Moore, and that this is just another "liberal plot" to make the Chief Bungler In Charge and his crew look even more incompetent than they have already shown themselves to be. The fact remains, as English MP George Galloway told Minnesota senator Norm Coleman (R - Grandstanding Chump), that everything the Bush Administration claimed as it marched to war with Iraq has turned out to be wrong. Galloway's speech:

If the aforementioned media whores cannot grasp this simple truth, then it is they who examine their motives, and stop trying to divine those of a mother who has lost far more than they have in this disaster.

Full story link:

Roberts Scoffed At O'Connor Promotion

More potential bad news for President "I Don't Give A Shit" Bush's Supreme Court nominee John Roberts has come to light in the form of a memo that basically accused President Reagan of pandering to "mere women" by nominating Sandra Day O'Connor to be the first woman Supreme Court Justice. San Francisco Chronicle excerpt:

As a lawyer in the Reagan White House, John Roberts scoffed at the notion of elevating Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to chief justice as a way to close a political gender gap, calling it a "crass political consideration."

On another topic, Roberts, who was nominated as a justice by President Bush last month, advised the White House to strike language from a description of a housing bill that referred to the "fundamental right to be free from discrimination." He said that "there of course is no such right."

Wow, after two lead paragraphs like that, it is hard to see why Ann Coulter hates Roberts so much. Ann's Stupid Story:

More than 38,000 pages of documents released this week by the National Archives offer new details that portray Roberts as embracing the conservative philosophy of the Reagan administration. Some Democrats and liberal interest groups called anew on Friday for the release of more documents that might shed light on Roberts' views. His confirmation hearings are to begin Sept. 6.

"Many of the documents made it clear that as a junior official in the Reagan administration, he was part of an intense effort to impede progress on numerous key issues, such as progress on equal rights for women," said Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., a member of the Judiciary Committee that will consider Roberts' nomination.

Added Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J.: "The question before the Senate is whether this is the person who should replace the first female justice of the Supreme Court."

Nice ironic twist there, and good on ya Frank for stating it as such.

In an Aug. 2, 1984, memo, Roberts responded to a former member of the Federal Reserve's Board of Governors, John E. Sheehan, who had written President Reagan to suggest an election-year strategy that Roberts described as closing the "so-called 'gender gap.'" Reagan was more popular among men than women.

Well, as I stated earlier, given each new revelation about what a reactionary troll Roberts has turned out to be, I am still amazed that the extreme right wingnut crowd continues to refer to him as a sugar-plum fairy. Now if only a few more Democrats would speak out with Senators Kennedy and Lautenberg, maybe we can derail this nomination and slow the momentum of the Bush Administration's efforts to bring back feudal serfdom.

Full story link:

Thursday, August 18, 2005

4,200-Year-Old Bulgarian Burial Mound Treasure Found.

In an interesting archeological discovery, a Bulgarian burial mound was found to contain a large quantity of golden ornaments that date back as far as the legendary city of Troy, and may even be older. AP story, courtesy of Google News:

SOFIA, Bulgaria - Bulgarian archaeologists have unearthed about 15,000 tiny golden pieces that date back to the end of the third millennium B.C. — a find they said Wednesday matches the famous treasure of Troy.

The golden ornaments, estimated to be between 4,100 and 4,200 years old, have been unearthed gradually during the past year from an ancient tomb near the central village of Dabene, about 75 miles east of the capital, Sofia, said Vasil Nikolov, an academic consultant on the excavations.

"This treasure is a bit older than Schliemann's finds in Troy, and contains much more golden ornaments," Nikolov said. Heinrich Schliemann, an amateur German archaeologist, discovered the site of ancient Troy in 1868 and directed ambitious excavations that proved he was right.

The treasure consists of miniature golden rings, some so finely crafted that the point where the ring is welded is invisible with an ordinary microscope. "We don't know who these people were, but we call them proto-Thracians," Nikolov said. They likely were ancestors of the Thracians, who lived in what is now Bulgaria and parts of modern Greece, Romania, Macedonia and Turkey until the 8th century A.D., when they were assimilated by invading Slavs.

"The buried man was cremated, and then an earth mound was piled over his ashes and his riches, suggesting that he was part of these people's social elite," Nikolov said.

Bozhidar Dimitrov, director of the National History Museum of Bulgaria, said the site consisted of a settlement and three mounds, and excavations would continue. "This is the oldest golden treasure ever found in Bulgaria after the Varna necropolis," Dimitrov said.

The golden artifacts from a vast burial complex discovered in the 1970s near the Black Sea port of Varna date back to the end of the fifth millennium B.C. and are internationally renowned as the world's oldest golden treasure.

This find could be Trojan in origin, but the location of the mound, in Western Bulgaria, is across the water from where Troy was located in Western Turkey, making it less than a 100% sure thing. I recall writing a history report on the Trojan War back in high school, circa 1979, and wasn't too amazed to discover that my classmates did not realize that Troy was an actual place. I WAS amazed to find that my history teacher was as ignorant as my classmates, and he gave me a C+ for writing, as he put it (if my memory is correct) "some interestingly well written fiction". I also recall arguing with him to check my sources, as cited in my bibliography. He declined. I then recall actually going to the goddamned library and hauling all my source material to his office. He steadfastly refused to read a single page, but revised my grade to B- for my persistence. Or something...

Anyway, the stories of the ancient world are obviously far from complete, and it is discoveries like this one that whet the appetite of the imagination when one thinks about how those people lived their lives.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Richard Branson To Lead Us To The Final Frontier? Baseball/Softball Updates.

Richard Branson To Lead Us To The Final Frontier?

I present a story from that deals with the potential for a fleet of suborbital spacecraft to be built by a joint venture between Virgin Galactic and a company called Scaled Composites. And yes, the Virgin is a subsidiary of Richard Branson's company. Excerpt:

A go-ahead was given last week by the U.S. Department of State's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC) that clears the way for exchanges of technical information between Scaled Composites of Mojave, California and Virgin Galactic of the United Kingdom to build passenger-carrying suborbital spaceliners.

Among its duties, DDTC administers and enforces International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR).

Putting it in ITAR terms this is one small step for ITAR, one big leap for Virgin Galactic, said Will Whitehorn, President of Virgin Galactic the space tourism endeavor that is a subsidiary of British entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group.

Not that I don't want to see this succeed, but where the hell are they going to fly if we only have one lousy space station in orbit. I know, the term used was "suborbital" due to it's heavy dependence on the design of the craft built by Burt Rutan that won the 10 million dollar Ansari X prize. Read on...

Last month, Branson, announced that he had teamed up with aerospace designer, Burt Rutan of Scaled Composites to form a new aerospace production firm: The Spaceship Company.

Details about the new company were unveiled at the Experimental Aircraft Association's (EAA) AirVenture air show held July 25-31 in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. The Spaceship Company will build a fleet of commercial suborbital spaceships and launch aircraft. Scaled Composites is to be under contract for research and development testing, as well as certification of a 9-person SpaceShipTwo (SS2) design, and a White Knight Two (WK2) mothership to be called Eve.

Whitehorn said last week's clearance to begin the exchange of technical information was a process spread over five months time. The DDTC understood the commercial rather than the military nature of the project, he said, and bodes well in the long-term, perhaps, for other private-sector space efforts.

I like the sound of this. It's just too bad that NASA can't even upgrade twenty-year-old space shuttle technology. Could this be the first step in making NASA as obsolete as it has been behaving for so long? But before all six of my readers get too excited, take a look at the ticket prices:

The “going rate” for seats onboard Virgin Galactic suborbital spaceships are price tagged at $200,000 each.

“We have a significant level of deposits now…nearly $10 million worth,” Whitehorn said. Some people are paying the full price to be founders and some are putting down deposits to fly in the future, he said.

Hmmm, I guess I'll be confining my flights to Pittsburgh, Vegas and Sydney (subtle hint to boss). It is still expensive as hell to get payloads into space from the surface of a planet. That is why a fully functional space station, no wait, make that space stations, plural, is so important. Once those are operational, you can build these craft in orbit, and launch them from right there where they are built, saving untold amounts of money. Branson has made everything else he has tried work, and Rutan made this whole thing possible with his design. Let's hope this partnership will succeed in getting mankind moving in this bold direction.

Full story:

Baseball/Softball Updates

Last night was the end of the regular season in my wage slavery organization softball league. We ended the season with ten wins and six losses. Playoffs begin next week. My team has won its last four games and is in a good position to win the league championship.

In major-league action, the Red Sox lost another tough one in Mowtown to the Tigers 6-5 as slob David Wells gave up five runs in the first inning. As great as this Red Sox offense is, it is too much to ask the bats to come back from such large early deficits every night. Sure they are averaging eight runs a game during the last three weeks, but the pitchers are giving back an average of six or seven. Now the Sox travel to the west coast to play the AL West leading Angels.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Late Night Catch-Up. Curt Weldon Full Of It. Johnny Damon Was Right...

Late Night Catch-Up

I'm back at the keyboard after having dealt with the following issues: Playing out the league softball schedule (with a 12-5 win on Wednesday, my team is now 9-6 with one game to go tomorrow night before the playoffs begin), power outages and water in my basement (the result of torrential rains that fell this weekend).

Curt Weldon, Old Shoe Salesman

But now I'm back to report on the story with which I last left you, namely the crap about there being some type of Clinton-esque conspiracy to keep law enforcement stupider than they should have been vis-a-vis the alleged "knowledge" that Mohammed Atta was under surveillance as early as 1999. It turns out that Pennsylvania Congressman Curt Weldon (R - Lying Shitbag) was less than "certain" about the information that led to his accusations of last week. Excerpt from Kevin Drum's Political Animal via Atrios:

In a particularly dramatic scene in Weldon'
s book, Countdown to Terror, the Pennsylvania Republican described personally handing to then-Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, just after Sept. 11, an Able Danger chart produced in 1999 identifying Atta. But Weldon told Time he's no longer certain Atta's name was on that original document. The congressman says he handed Hadley his only copy. Still, last week he referred reporters to a recently reconstructed version of the chart in his office where, among dozens of names and photos of terrorists from around the world, there was a color mug shot of Mohammad Atta, circled in black marker.

So: Weldon is no longer certain Atta's name was on his original chart? Isn't that the kind of thing that would stick in your memory banks?

And he gave Hadley his only copy? Then how did he have a poster-size copy of the chart again without Atta's name a few months later?

What's more, if Atta's name wasn't on the chart in 2001, 2002, 2003, or 2004, why did the chart suddenly have a color mug shot of Atta in 2005? Hmmm?

The first paragraph of the excerpt is taken from the Time magazine report that shows the original New York Times story to be bogus. The three questions that follow are Drum's sensible inquiries, because Weldon, it turns out, is, in the words of my grandfather, full of old shoes. The only question that remains is, will the Democrats, or the saner Republicans do anything about it?

Full story link:

Johnny Damon Was Right After All...

The Red Sox cracks are showing. Well, ackshully, it's just one huge crack, and not David Wells bending over to pick up an El Guapo sandwich. Nope, it is Curt Schilling. Fresh off the heels of a just-ended Red Sox defeat, in which he surrendered a 6-4 lead to lose 7-6 to the Detroit Tigers, it is safe to say that centerfielder Johnny Damon's misgivings about letting Schilling rehab back to the starting rotation by letting him close games in Keith Foulke's absence, was a mistake of Bush-like proportions.

Let's review: Since taking this role, Schilling has given up 22 hits for 13 earned runs (5 home runs) in 20 1/3 innings. That makes his ERA a whopping 5.75. His fastball is usually at 90-91, and he has had trouble with location on several occasions. I have no doubt he is giving it his all, but the obvious question to ask is, is he healthy enough to be out there in any capacity? I'd like to think that manager Terry Francona and his staff know more about these things than I do, but the results are there for all to see. The Sox now have a 3 1/2 game lead over the Yankees, who beat Tampa Bay 5-2 this evening. Not a good time for cracks to begin showing as the sprint portion of the marathon begins.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

9/11 Hijackers "Well Known" To Law Enforcement?

WASHINGTON - The Sept. 11 commission will investigate a claim that U.S. defense intelligence officials identified ringleader Mohammed Atta and three other hijackers as a likely part of an al-Qaida cell more than a year before the hijackings but didn't forward the information to law enforcement.

Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa. and vice chairman of the House Armed Services and Homeland Security committees, said Tuesday the men were identified in 1999 by a classified military intelligence unit known as "Able Danger." If true, that's an earlier link to al-Qaida than any previously disclosed intelligence about Atta.

Sept. 11 commission co-chairman Lee Hamilton (R-Bush Family Toady) said Tuesday that Weldon's information, which the congressman said came from multiple intelligence sources, warrants a review. He said he hoped the panel could issue a statement on its findings by the end of the week.

"The 9/11 commission did not learn of any U.S. government knowledge prior to 9/11 of surveillance of Mohammed Atta or of his cell," said Hamilton, a former Democratic congressman from Indiana. "Had we learned of it obviously it would've been a major focus of our investigation."

The Sept. 11 commission's final report, issued last year, recounted numerous government mistakes that allowed the hijackers to succeed. Among them was a failure to share intelligence within and among agencies.

Good old Lee Hamilton. He did such a fine job of generalizing the holes in the intelligence with that "the report recounted numerous government mistakes that allowed the hijackers to succeed" bullshit so as not to embarrass our incompetent president and his cabinet. But what else could we have expected from a man who helped deflect scrutiny from the crimes committed by Reagan and Bush I during Iran-Contra?

According to Weldon, Able Danger identified Atta, Marwan al-Shehhi, Khalid al-Mihdar and Nawaf al-Hazmi as members of a cell the unit code-named "Brooklyn" because of some loose connections to New York City.

Weldon said that in September 2000 Able Danger recommended that its information on the hijackers be given to the FBI s
o they could bring that cell in and take out the terrorists." However, Weldon said Pentagon lawyers rejected the recommendation because they said Atta and the others were in the country legally so information on them could not be shared with law enforcement.

Weldon did not provide details on how the intelligence officials identified the future hijackers and determined they might be part of a cell.

A good guess why is that they had the details all along, but, like the vacationing president and the eerily incompetent National Security Adviser (now Secretary of State) Condi "I believe the PDB was titled Bin Laden determined to strike at U.S." Rice, they couldn't be bothered to do their fucking jobs.

Full story:

Jay Severin was ranting about this story as I listened to his knuckles scraping away on the local Fascist radio station, and it was all about "blame Bill Clinton", as if the perceived disconnect between different arms of law enforcement only occurred between 1993 and 2000. Jay, I have a ready answer for you: 36 days. In case you are, as I suspect, clueless as to what that time frame refers, it is the time between Condi, Colin, Cheney, Rummy, Wolfie and President Brain-Dead reading the August 6th Presidential Daily Briefing titled "Bin Laden determined to strike at U.S." and when the planes struck the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in D.C. and the field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

And lest we forget, when Bill Clinton ordered air strikes against Iraq, he was accused of "wagging the dog" to divert attention from Monica Lewinsky. Maybe if the morally and hypocritically motivated Republicans who thirsted for Clinton's head on a platter had stepped back, maybe law enforcement would have done a better job of tracking these men, since they would have been spending less time and money combing through every Arkansas trailer park in search of Paula Jones clones to tell Kenny "Trojan Man" Starr that Clinton once looked at them for more than eight seconds.

Oh, and while we are on a "lest we forget" footing, remember when the World Trade Center was attacked in 1993 a mere five weeks into the new Clinton presidency? Clinton didn't sit in some classroom reading "My Pet Goat" for an eternity. He didn't hide the Constitution on us. He didn't call for people he deemed to be terrorists to be thrown into cells at Gitmo without charging them with a crime. Bill Clinton did none of those things. He simply worked like a madman to track, capture and prosecute those guilty of the attack. In addition, there was none of this finger-pointing at the Bush I or Reagan administrations as to why they hadn't handed Clinton adequate intelligence to handle such situations. There is a lesson for President Petty Little Shithead, but as usual, he's on vacation and doggone it, that brush has to be cleared!

Monday, August 08, 2005

No US Cricket Team For Upcoming Tourney

It appears that the United States will not be sending a team to play in an international cricket tournament scheduled to take place beginning in late August. LA Times excerpt:

LONDON -- The United States was tossed out of an international cricket tournament after an election dispute left the Americans unable to decide on a team. The International Cricket Council on Monday replaced the United States with the Cayman Islands in the ICC Intercontinental Cup.

Okay, pay attention. The US has over 280 million people. The Caymans have about 50,000. Is there really a greater percentage of cricketeers in the Caymans than in the U.S.? Answer: Yes. The Caribbean is a hotbed of cricket activity, which is a holdover from when many of those island nations were British colonies. I saw some cricket action in Barbados several years ago, and they take it quite seriously (I also saw some cricket when I was in Australia in early February). I guess the question shouldn't be why was the U.S. replaced by the Caymans, but why was the U.S. even considered in the first place?

The action follows a March election at the U.S. Amateur Cricket Association in which two factions claimed leadership. "We are not able to wait any longer, as it is necessary to finalize details of the competing teams," ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed said. Regional qualifying in the Intercontinental Cup is Aug. 27-Sept. 2 in Toronto.

Hold it right there. The USACA held an election in March to determine the direction the team would take, and that matter is still unresolved? Just asking...

The winner of a series featuring Bermuda, Canada and the Cayman Islands advances to the semifinals and final beginning Oct. 23 in Namibia. The tournament is for countries just below the level of the world's 10 test-playing nations, led by Australia, England, India, Pakistan and South Africa.

If we think of this in terms of baseball and it's hierarchy of leagues, test match play is the equivalent of the major leagues, while these teams would probably be considered on a par with Triple-A.

The USACA says about 10,000 players -- primarily expatriates from south Asia and the Caribbean -- compete in weekend games in the United States, mostly in California, Florida and around East Coast cities.

Full Story:,1,5587106.story?coll=sns-ap-othersports-headlines

Cricket is a hell of a fascinating game. I'm a rabid baseball follower, so some of the similarities between the two games became readily apparent as I watched my most recent action at the Sydney Cricket Grounds on a 32-degree day this past February (Sorry, that's 32 Celsius, which is 90 Fahrenheit. Yes, it was Southern Hemisphere summer!), and if I ever found myself in the fortunate position of getting back there again (to escape the worsening Northeast winters of course), I think I'd find myself becoming a regular at the SCG.

Continuing with the baseball comparison, we have the bowler who is equivalent to the pitcher who throws to one of two batsmen. The batsmen are partnered and hit and run in tandem. The batsmen stand at opposite wickets that are placed 22 meters (about 67 feet) apart. When the ball is hit, the batsmen run to the opposite wickets before one of the nine fielders can get the ball back to either of the wickets (three pegs nearly three feet high and about ten inches apart). None of the fielders wears a glove except for the wicket keeper, equivalent to the catcher (who also wears shin guards).

The ball, about the size of a baseball, is made of cork, and is covered with leather, and has one raised seam. Bowlers are required to throw the ball in a straight-arm fashion, and there is ackshully an umpire who watches this to make certain that the bowler's elbow does not bend by more than 13 degrees!

The batsman, who wears a helmet, mask, shin guards and swings a bat that is flat on one side and round on the other, hits until he is either run out (by not gaining his wicket before the ball strikes it, or is tagged by the bowler or wicket keeper), put out (as when a batter hits a lazy fly that an outfielder catches) or misses the ball which strikes the wicket (equivalent to a strikeout). Batsmen can bat for a long time and compile lots of runs. Each wicket counts as one run.

Oh yeah, also, think of the area where our batters stand to face the pitcher. Now move that area to the exact middle of the field. Everything is in play--NO FOUL TERRITORY! The fielders tend to bunch up, but still have an impossible area to cover, which is why many test match scores are of the 348-321 variety. Each bowler bowls a series of overs, or six balls, and the bowlers are constantly moving from the pitch to the field in a free substitution manner.

There is a raised boundary that circles the field just before the stands begin. If a batted ball bounces past it, like a ground rule double, it counts as four runs, or a "four". If a batted ball goes into the stands on the fly, like a home run, that counts as six runs, or a "six". Good batters average between 30-40 runs per match (operating like a .300 hitter with 30 homers). 50 runs is referred to as a "half-century". 100 as a "century", and the almost unheard of 200 is a "double-century". The stats are a bit arcane, but I think if I had a chance to delve further into them I'd find myself looking at cricket numbers the same way I do those for baseball.

I'm quite certain I've missed something with this description of a game I've only seen twice in person (so feel free to correct me if you have more extensive knowledge of this game than I do), and maybe half-a-dozen times on television, but it is an interesting game that contains a great deal of strategy and drama.