Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Another look at Sharia law...

In yet another example of Sharia law barbarity, Saudi Arabia recently beheaded a woman for being a witch, after a trial that, it's presumed, looked a lot like this.  However, buried in Uri Friedman's story on this bit of Islamic pleasantry was a reference to "an Eritrean national [who] was imprisoned and lashed hundreds of times for "charlatanry"..."  Wow, I thought, maybe there are some aspects of Sharia law we could learn from; these charlatanry provisions, for example.  Imagine if the FBI formed an Anti-Charlatanry Unit, charged with rooting out and expunging charlatanry wherever it existed.  Why, I would personally turn in 535 members of Congress, the entire management groups of Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Department of Education, and the Department of Energy, the entire Nevada State legislature, and the Clark County School Board.  Oh, yes...the Special Charlatanry Prosecutor would have a full docket.

Don't get me wrong...I consider Sharia law a barbaric anachronism that should have died at the Battle of Lepanto (Lesson: Mess with capitalists and you'll get your ass kicked, Islam), but "charlatanry" laws...think about it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

The wussification of America continues...

What do you get when you raise a generation of kids in playgrounds covered with foam rubber?  Cowboys wearing helmets and body armor, that's what...

The National Finals Rodeo is in town and the Las Vegas Sun, which normally alternates between acting like the UNLV student newspaper and the Nevada Democratic Party newsletter, is all rodeo, all the time.  Today's edition even includes a column by a stripper - I could not make this shit up - who admits that cowboys are actually very nice in spite of the fact that they are all - gasp! - Republicans.

I digress...

Bull riders wearing helmets and body armor...W.T.F??  Sure...riding bare-back on an evil-tempered, 2000 pound animal, who by the way, has strap cinched around his gut to make him even more grumpy, is a dangerous gig.  But isn't that the point?  Don't get me wrong here.  I am not the sort that goes to rodeos and roots for the bulls (Bullfights, yes, but not rodeos).  It seems to me that part of the challenge of bull riding is overcoming a perfectly rational, perfectly understandable fear and engaging in something that "normal" humans can't even conceive of doing.  Part of the reason we watch bull riding is, not so much to observe the skills involved, but to sit there and marvel that there are people who even do things like that.  When you remove the risk and, consequently, remove some of the "fear factor," you somehow diminish the sport.

Mountaineering has gotten to a point where essentially anyone with enough money and free time can get to the top of Mount Everest.  That being the case, where is the challenge and the subsequent sense of accomplishment?  It would seem that bull-riding is heading to where anyone with enough body armor will be able to hop on a bull.  Hell, as soon as my Master Chief Spartan body suit, complete with regenerating electromagnetic armor and shield lock feature, shows up, I'll probably give it a shot.

But maybe that's just me...

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Butch up...

I put this up on Twitter this afternoon.  The University of California at Davis, the media, and the Occupy Wall Street crowd are all up in arms that the UCD police pepper-sprayed some of the OWS protestors there.  Maybe the cops over-reacted, maybe they felt legitimately threatened, who knows?  But at the end of the day this was pepper spray.  Pepper spray.  A chemical considered so non-lethal that anyone can walk in off the street and buy some.  Please.

Okay, protestor wannabees, let's talk about protests.  Tienanmen Square was a protest.  I wrote about it in one of my first blogs.  The protest at Tienanmen Square was so effective that the Chinese government had to call out their army, send tanks into the square, and start killing people. in dead.  You were sprayed with pepper spray.  Think about that.  What happened in Tienanmen Square was, literally, world changing.  It put the most populous country in the world on a course that, in a few years, changed it from a third world backwater to what will be the dominant economy in the world within the next ten years.  You, on the other hand, just got pepper-sprayed and roundly ignored.

Your little encampments are being tolerated because you're threatening no one.  Certainly not Wall Street, the banks, or "evil" corporations, who are ignoring you because they have the law on their side.  The "law" that exists because it is supported by the power of the government, which oddly, you seem to have no issues with.

If you want to to take your "movement" beyond the exercise in quasi-intellectual masturbation that it has become to a legitimate protest, make sure you are protesting against the right things to the people who are really responsible...and when the police start using bullets instead of pepper-spray, you'll know you're on the right track.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

It's all fun and games until someone gets hurt...and that's how it should be.

Driving in to work today, I found myself stopped at a light next to a large step van belonging to TotTurf, which purports to supply "playground safety surfacing."  What. The. Fuck.  Have we come to a point where we've become so wussiefied that we have to cover the world with foam rubber to protect "the children"??

Warning!  Geezer rant sequence initiating in 3, 2, 1...

When I was growing up, we had playgrounds and those playgrounds were made of galvanized steel pipe and surfaced variously with concrete, asphalt, gravel, or just plain dirt.  By today's standards these places were safety nightmares.  Kids fell down and they bled, kids jumped, fell, or were pushed off these abominations and they broke bones, bruises and lacerations were so common we didn't even think about them...and note:  We usually only played at these playgrounds under adult supervision.  Why, you may ask?  Quite simply, by our standards of "fun," playgrounds were just plain boring.  Left to our own devices, we had far better ways of entertaining playing with fire.  This was back in the days when people burned their garbage and everyone had a "incinerator" (generally, an old oil drum) in their back yard.  Burning garbage was one of my brother's and my "chores."  Heh.  Little did our parents know that we would have burned all that stuff, and more, without being told.  But trust me, we were absolutely zealous about getting every last bit of combustion out of every last bit of garbage.  Poking the fire with sticks was required, flames leaping 10 feet in the air, a goal, and showers of sparks, a source of joy.  Setting parts of the garden on fire in our zeal only added to our entertainment as it required a scramble to get the hose to put the fire out.  Good times.  As I type this, I am looking down at a scar the size of a quarter, acquired when my brother flung a flaming, molten piece of plastic at me in one attempt of ours to maximize the spark generation rate.

The town I grew up in was in a transition from rural to suburban and our house backed up to a cattle ranch...and not just any cattle, it was a Brahma bull ranch that raised bulls for the rodeo.  The primary fixture in the pasture behind our house was Black Dempsey, an enormous, retired rodeo bull who, it was rumored, had actually killed a few rodeo clowns, or so the story went.  Black Dempsey presided over a harem of a few dozen cows, who exceeded even him in bad temper when calves were around.  Of course, the pasture was strictly off-limits and the penalties for disobeying parental dictates were threatened to be particularly fearsome - this, in a day and age when corporal punishment was a daily occurrence.  Naturally, we never passed up a chance to climb the fence and mingle with the livestock.  I suspect my brother and I escaped goring and/or stomping solely for two reasons:  1) Small boys can easily hide in 3 foot high field grass and 2) Our half springer spaniel/half cocker spaniel dog was an absolutely fearless cow chaser, in spite of his ridiculously short legs.  Good times.

Within walking distance of our house, there was a landlocked piece of undeveloped and wooded property that was bounded on one side by Little Cottonwood Creek (known simply as "the Crick" in the local lexicon).  Of course, there were as many parental edicts against going anywhere near "the Crick" as there there were involving the bull pasture.  So what to do with 4 acres or so of forest?  BB guns wars, of course.  These were highly organized, if infrequent, events with pre-chosen teams and agreed upon starting times and starting points.  I marvel even now that several dozen 12 year old boys were able to put these events together in complete secrecy.  A BB gun war involved, as one might expect, showing up with a BB gun - I had to borrow one - with whatever protective gear you might deem necessary and running about "the Grove" as it was called, shooting the other team.  No rules and we didn't keep score.  We would fight until we ran out of ammunition or were completely exhausted, which generally didn't take too long as a heavy winter coat was standard body armor and these wars were always in the summer.  In retrospect, this was all appallingly dangerous, but we never had any injuries outside of returning home sporting a few telltale round bruises.  Good times.

I really feel sorry for the kids whose concept of "fun" involves a foam rubber covered swingset.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More bad vacation ideas...

In my on-going efforts to stay abreast of bad vacation choices, even incipient ones, I have come across this story: Take a Volcano Vacation.  Well, sure...who doesn't have a hankerin' to see molten lava spewing hundreds of feet into the air?  However, let's review this "tempting" offer:
  1. It's in the Congo.
  2. It's Nyiragongo, referred to by Forbes as "the world's deadliest volcano."
  3. It's an actively erupting volcano.
  4. Armed escorts are required.
  5. Reread #4: Armed escorts are required.
But, not to worry..."experts" say that it is perfectly "safe."


Monday, November 14, 2011

Perceived risk

The Chevy Volt catching on fire recently has gotten a lot of attention and has many people raising the issue of how dangerous electric cars might be.  The car in question was being used by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in some routine crash tests that every new vehicle is subjected to.  In the crash test, the vehicle's battery was damaged and three weeks later, the car burst into flames in a NHTSA storage facility.

I'm not a fan of the Volt and tend to agree with Johan de Nysschen, the president of Audi, when he called it "a car for idiots."  However, my assessment of the Volt has nothing to do with how safe it is.  Let me repeat, the car was involved in a crash and three weeks later it caught on fire.

Some perspective:  The Chevy Volt has a 16 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery (to be specific, since there are a lot of flavors of lithium-ion out there, it has a lithium manganese oxide/graphite battery manufactured by LG Chem of South Korea).  For you techie types, that is 57 million joules of stored energy...a big battery by any measure, but it has to be; it takes a lot of energy to move 3700 pounds of metal and plastic around.  However, ponder truck has a 23 gallon gas tank.  When full, that is 3 billion joules of stored energy; more than fifty times what was sitting in the Volt's battery.  Twenty-three gallons of gasoline, properly dispersed and ignited, would flatten several city blocks...and yet none of us thinks twice about getting in these mobile explosive devices we call cars and driving around at high speeds with other mobile explosive devices driven by individuals whose driving skills are almost always vastly inferior to our own.

Let's get a grip here.  While we still don't know the root cause of the recent Volt fire, at the end of the day, my bet is on the problem being a lack of understanding of how to deal with a damaged battery. Remember  it took three weeks for this fire to start.  If the battery had been fully discharged prior to putting the car in storage, chances are we would never have heard this story.

Speaking as someone who has seen his share of battery fires, the most likely cause of death for any electric car owner is: boredom.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Knowing who you are...

Travel is inherently a self-centered activity.  Surrounded by strangers, each of whom is intent on their own plans and destinations, loaded into and unloaded from metal tubes with the same courtesy  afforded cows on their way to slaughter - and less personal space, it is hard to avoid devoting your full attention to getting yourself and your baggage to your destination with as little discomfort and inconvenience as possible.

If you travel enough on a given airline, you'll invariably find yourself elevated to one "elite" status or another.  This is, of course, a sham as the benefits in most of these programs are inconsequential and do little to make travel any more civilized.  However, given the generally dehumanizing nature of travel these days, it is hard of avoid a slight feeling of self-importance when an airline lets you board slightly earlier than the mass of hoi polloi.

With these observations, I present the following vignette recorded by Paul Theroux in Dark Star Safari:
The best story about the Cairo Railway Station, told to me by a man who witnessed it unfold, does not concern a luminary but rather a person delayed in the third-class ticket line.  When this fussed and furious man at last got to the window he expressed his exasperation to the clerk, saying, "Do you know who I am?"  The clerk looked him up and down and, without missing a beat, said, "In that shabby suit, with a watermelon under your arm, and a third-class ticket to El Minya, who could you possibly be?"
...and aren't we all holding third-class tickets to El Minya these days?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The 99 percent...

This picture appeared on the Occupy Wall Street website along with many other, similarly presented tales of woe and I don't doubt that this young citizen posed for this with the very sincere intention of telling his story and showing his solidarity with America's downtrodden.  But, in reading his little bio-in-Sharpie, I am forced to conclude that this is nothing more than the pathetic - and really embarrassing - admission of a failed life.

I will assume, Mr. Ex-Printer Repairman, that you are not so morbidly stupid as to have paid 87 Large to be trained as a printer repairman.  Under that assumption, you obviously borrowed eighty-seven thousand dollars to get a degree in something that did not make you employable when you graduated.  One can only wonder what your degree is in, but at the end of the day, it doesn't matter.  At your age, I borrowed $36K to buy a house and it scared the crap out of me, but I recognized that I would end up with a house.  Did you know what you would end up with after your $87K expenditure?  Did you have a plan beyond spending four years on an all-expenses-paid bong binge?  Did you have an inkling of what the job market was for the skill you had chosen to train yourself in?  Or were you just fucking clueless on the concept of "borrowing"?  Whatever.  You took $87,000 of someone's money and now they want it back.  Welcome to the real world.  Be grateful you didn't borrow from someone who ties delinquents to some cinder blocks and tosses them in the East River.

Listen, broheim, I've been unemployed twice in my life and also underemployed for something like 3 years, although admittedly not underemployed-squared as your toilet cleaning job would seem to be, and it sucks.  Totally sucks.  Suckity-suck-suck-sucks.  I could even argue, with some legitimacy, that my unemployment was not my fault and the result of dark forces at work, incompetent corporate overlords, yadda, yadda, yadda.  However, for all that, it never even crossed my mind that anyone should be involved in fixing my problem except me.

I'll leave you with two thoughts, Mr. Ex-Printer Repairman:

  1. The real unfortunates in your Sharpie bio are your cats.  Unlike you, they didn't get to pick the loser life they now have.
  2. Capitalism has been much, much better to me than the government ever was.  Food for thought as you have your hand out for some of the alleged "Obama stash."

CORRECTION:  On closer examination, it would appear that, contrary to using a Sharpie as I stated, Mr. Ex-Printer Repairman used the mad skillz he picked up as a printer repairman and actually printed his bio.  Apparently, mom's basement is fully wired.  However, he did print it using Comic Sans font, which further highlights what a loser he is.

    Saturday, October 8, 2011

    A geek's tale...

    Nobel Prizes are all in the news right now, so here's a Nobel Prize story:

    In 1922, Niels Bohr was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his work on the structure of the atom.  Bohr’s model, where an atom is represented as a micro-solar system with electrons orbiting a central nucleus, is the one most people are familiar with.  Unlike some recent Nobel Peace Prize awards, Bohr’s Nobel Prize was well-deserved and made him quite a celebrity in his native much so that the Danish Academy offered Bohr lifetime free occupancy in the Danish House of Honor.
    The Danish House of Honor was originally the palatial estate of the founder of the Carlsberg Brewery, Jacob Christian Jacobson.  When he died, Jacob left his entire estate, including the brewery, to the charitable Carlsberg Foundation.  The Foundation turned Jacob’s house into the so-called Danish House of Honor, occupancy of which was reserved for Denmark’s most distinguished citizen, and was considered to be the most prestigious address in the country, outside of the king’s palace.  An invitation to live in the House of Honor was considered a very significant honor and Bohr's being awarded lifetime occupancy is indicative of his celebrity at the time.  The House of Honor was located immediately adjacent to the Carlsberg brewery and one of its many perks was a hard-plumbed line to the brewery that provided an infinite supply of fresh-from-the-brewery beer.  Sweet.

    Bohr’s tenure in the House of Honor was interrupted by the Nazi invasion of Denmark in 1940.  Although the American Embassy had guaranteed the Bohr's safe passage to the United States, Bohr decided to stay to help insure the safety of the Jewish scientists on his institute’s staff.  He also found himself in a minor dilemna - and this is the "geek" part of the story:  Max von Laue and James Franck had given him their gold Nobel Prize medals for safekeeping.  However, with the Nazi occupation, sending them out of the country was impossible as exporting gold was illegal and, since each laureate’s name is prominently engraved on the medal, could not be done without incriminating von Laue and Franck, who were both still in Germany at the time.  Keeping them was also dangerous as the Nazis, who were desperate for hard currency to finance their war effort, would confiscate them for the value of their gold if they were discovered.  Bohr came up with a physicist’s solution, in a very literal sense, to the problem.  He dissolved the medals in acid and stored the solutions in unmarked jars on his laboratory shelves.  These jars sat out the war unmolested and, afterwards, the Nobel Foundation recovered the gold and recast the medals.
    Side note:  I don't doubt that some might claim that Bohr actually came up with a chemist's solution to his dilemma, but physicists have always claimed that chemistry was nothing more than the smelly part of physics.
    Another side note:  Bohr remained in Denmark until 1943 when it was learned that the Nazis were about to start rounding up Jews (Bohr's mother was Jewish).  Bohr's international celebrity was such that he was able to travel to Stockholm where he convinced the Swedish government to agree to intern any Danish Jews that made their way to Sweden.  The Swedish government also sent a formal letter of protest to the Nazis, which was made public.  The publication of the letter had the effect Bohr desired; the Danes were alerted to the imminent danger to their countrymen and when the Nazis began their round-up, there were no Jews to be found.  The Danes, to their eternal credit, had hidden their Jewish citizens away and began to smuggle them into Sweden.  Of the 7,000 Jews living in Denmark at that time, only 284 were picked up by the Nazis.

    Monday, October 3, 2011

    Following up on: Bad vacation choices

    This just in:  An elderly French woman, reportedly confined to a wheelchair, was abducted by gunmen from yet another Kenyan luxury resort located near the Somali border.  Once again, I'm left to wonder what part of "near the border of Somalia" is confusing people.

    and an interesting bit of trivia:  Recent Iranian prison dweller nee' free-spirited hiker, Shane Bauer has a degree in "Peace and Conflict Studies" from the University of California at Berkeley.  There's all kinds of things I could say about this information, but why bother?  The jokes just write themselves...

    Sunday, September 25, 2011

    Bad vacation choices...

    When your camping trip ends with you spending two years in an Iranian prison, I think it is safe to say that you made a poor vacation choice.  While we are all glad that Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer have been "released" and are now back home - and let's be clear that, all political posturing aside, they were ransomed, plain and simple - we should not forget that these two were in prison because they decided to go backpacking in Iraq, close to the Iranian border.  What the hell?  Did these two mouthbreathers grow up on Planet Pollyanna?

    In truth, bad vacation choices, like Josh and Shane's, are made all the time and I am tempted to start up an annual award for the worst vacation choice.  But first, what constitutes a "bad" vacation choice?  Let's rule out vacations that are ruined by force majeure - or acts of God, if you will.  For example, a vacation in Thailand is not necessarily a bad choice, even though vacationing on the Thai coast on December 26, 2004 ended up being an egregiously bad idea.  Let's also rule out vacations ruined by the unknown and people who deliberately put themselves in harm's way.  Case in point, the Farralon Islands, off the coast of California, were discovered to be the home of one of the largest great white shark populations in the world when a tour boat full of divers suddenly realized that there were a lot fewer divers getting back into the boat than had initially jumped off.  It's hard to say this was a bad vacation choice - unlucky, to be sure - because none of the divers realized they were serving themselves up for a sharks' buffet.  Nowadays, however, anyone diving near the Farralons is clearly in the "thrillseeker" category.  So, for the purposes of discussion, a "bad" vacation choice will be one where a reasonable man would look at the situation and say, "That's not just foolish, it is borderline insane." and when I say, "reasonable man" I mean, me.

    Without further ado, here are some recent examples:

    Hendri Coetzee - Kayaking on the crocodile-infested Lukuga River in the Congo.  What could possibly go wrong?  Well, getting eaten by a crocodile kind of comes to mind...which is exactly what happened to "legendary" kayaker and adventure guide, Hendri Coetzee.

    Bicycle touring in Lebanon - Most people would hesitate to tour Lebanon in an M-1 tank, let alone on a bicycle, but a bicycle tour of Lebanon's Bekka Valley seemed like a good idea to seven Estonians who subsequently were - wait for it - abducted by armed gunmen.

    Pleasure boating in pirate-infested waters - You have a sailboat.  Don't you just want to stay far, far away from the Pirate World Headquarters, also known as Somalia?  Apparently not, since Somali pirates have captured private yachts sailing off the Somali coast, not once, but twice in the past few years.  The first was a British couple who were held hostage for over a year and were released for a $1 million ransom...and the pirates kept their boat.  The second was a yacht with four Americans, who the pirates killed before the Navy could mount a rescue attempt.  Just so.

    Any vacation anywhere near Somalia - An exotic safari at a luxury resort in Kenya.  What could be better?  Well, almost anything, as it turns out...if that luxury resort happens to be near the freaking border of Somalia!!  Per the BBC story, "Tourist resorts have not been targeted before but the site is near Somalia and Somali pirates could be involved."  Ya think?

    Dances with polar bears - I've written about this before.  Camping when there is nothing between you and a hungry polar bear but a few layers of ballistic nylon?  Bad idea.  But this is not just the case in the Great White North; right here in the western U.S. of A., grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park have started gobbling up tourists like they were pick-i-nick baskets with legs.  Yeah, I know you're thinking, "Damn! That's scary.  Next time I go to Yellowstone, I'll be packing heat."  Let me make a few points here.  First, it may not be entirely legal for you to have a firearm in a national park.  Second, if you worry at all about the previous point, what part of "concealed carry" are you not understanding?  But, finally and most importantly, even having a gun probably won't help, as this particular "feel good" article points out.

    Any place Paul Theroux has written about - This man is a gifted writer and a ruthlessly adventuresome traveler, but he also seems to live a charmed life in that he has traveled through some of the most lawless parts of the world and has never had anything really bad happen to him.  I suspect that there are few other people who would be that lucky.  My advice?  Let Theroux make the bad vacation choice and then you can read about it.  A couple of his more recent books I would very much recommend are Dark Star Safari and Ghost Train to the Eastern Star.

    This is my current list of bad vacation choices I don't doubt that there will be further additions as the year progresses.  Your nominations for what I plan to call the Hendri Coetzee Memorial Bad Vacation Award are also welcome.

    UPDATE: Our two intrepid ex-Iranian prisoners, nee' carefree hikers, held a press conference today wherein they announced that they were held by the Iranians for two years purely because they were Americans.  Wow.  That is exactly the kind of deep thinking I would expect of anyone who plans a vacation in northern Iraq.  Holy crap, Skippy, where have you been for the past 20 years?  Did you think the Iranians were going to give you a big, wet kiss when you wandered into their country?  A little bit, I am beginning to think that the Iranians really had these guys in protective custody because they recognized that any Americans hiking in northern Iraq were clearly too stupid to walk around without supervision.

    Saturday, September 17, 2011 a luggage problem.

    This scene from Joe vs. The Volcano captures the dilemma all frequent travelers face: Getting your stuff from Point A to Point B.  As the luggage salesman says, "Out there, it's just you and your luggage."  Overnight trips aren't a problem...throw a shirt, underwear, and socks in the Adventure Bag and I'm good to go.  Two to three day trips are equally trouble-free...extra clothes in a small, carry-on bag and the Adventure Bag with its usual collection of gear suffices nicely.

    Now, when I say small, carry-on bag, I really mean a small bag that I physically pick up and carry on the airplane...and "small" means it takes up about a quarter of an overhead bin.  This, I recognize, is in marked contrast to the three other major classes of "carry-on" luggage: backpacks, shopping bags, and wheelie bags.  I accept day packs as perfectly legitimate carry-on luggage and have, on occasion, resorted to using one.  However, to men who travel wearing a suit and a back pack: "Buy yourself some 'big boy' luggage and grow up."  Also note that I specify "day pack" here.  See that overhead bin, Sparky?  Only a third of it is yours.  The rest belongs to your two seat mates.  They may choose to use it or not.  That is their prerogative as a fellow passenger.  Don't presume to make the decision for them by being a selfish asshole and throwing your big-ass piece of luggage up there.

    Shopping bags are an unfortunate, but sometimes necessary, piece of carry-on luggage.  However, I have to say that if you find yourself using plastic grocery bags as carry-ons on even a semi-regular basis, you really need to rethink your travel strategy.

    Wheelie bags.  Wheelie bags are one of the most diabolical evils ever foisted upon the traveling public...and, like most diabolical evils, it, at first, seemed to be a good thing.  A bag, with wheels and a handle, that you wouldn't have to carry, just pull behind you like a grown-up version of a little red wagon.  What could be better?  Why nothing, nothing at all...until you have a plane full of people trying to maneuver their bloated wheelies down a narrow 757 aisle and heft them up and stuff them into an overhead bin.  The GI's in World War II presciently invented the word "blivet" to describe this situation...and men, if you are young and in good health, and I see you trotting down a concourse with a little wheelie carry-on bag trailing behind you....well, let's just say that I have to assume you are flying off to see a Cher concert and your wheelie contains your "in-drag" costume.  Man up, bro.

    Having said all this, on extended trips when I have to check luggage, for years, my "go-to" bag has been a Land's End duffel that has served me long and well:

    I have survived for multiple weeks out of the contents of this bag...and had enough extra room to pack trinkets for family members for the return trip (Attention female relations: Those Prada bags you're sporting around came back from Shanghai in this bag).  But there's a problem here.  After a few trips of lugging this bag through the Frankfurt airport through tunnels like this:

    I realized, like Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, that I was getting too old for this shit.  I needed to trade in my old faithful duffel for a wheelie bag that I could check  in.  Let me stress that this, given my tirade about wheelies earlier, would only be for luggage that I have to check, because whenever I cannot carry - as in hold in my hands - my carry-on luggage onto a plane, that will be a signal that I need to stay home sitting in my rocker wrapped in a shawl. Either that, or start going "dress-up" to Bett Midler concerts.

    So, after having just lugged my Land's End duffel through the Honolulu airport, I decided I needed to buy a wheelie bag I could check.  After doing a lot of research, I've decided on this one, (Click on the "fit1" picture) because sometimes, the redhead likes to travel with me.

    Sunday, September 11, 2011

    Botanical Darwinism... the oleander that grows by the Fortress of Solitude.  It's really pretty bad-assed.  I recognize that bad-assery is not normally a quality that one ascribes to plants, but let's recap:  The Fortress of Solitude is in the middle of the Mojave Desert, no rain to speak off, hotter than Satan's sauna in the summer, and what passes for "soil" here is a mixture of powdered gypsum and lime.  It's not very plant-friendly and yet, here is this giant oleander that gets no attention from me outside of my checking, once a year, that my drip system is not giving it anymore water than it deserves, which isn't very much because I'm a cheap bastard.  Not only does it survive, it thrives.

    Three years ago, I embarked on a major trimming of this bad boy.  I was not gentle.  There was a chainsaw, a Sawzall with a 12 inch branch trimming blade - there's a horror movie right there, and every other sawing, cutting, and snipping device imaginable involved.  At the end of two days, I had hauled three truckloads of dismembered oleander parts away.  Did it care?  No.  It just kept sprouting and growing.

    The oleander is actually four separate plants and, two years ago, in what we now refer to as the Unfortunate Water Softener Incident, the two plants on the left of the picture above were subjected to a flood of brine.  It killed them.  Dead.  Dead as a plant can get.  Leaves wilted, dried up and dropped, leaving nothing but a bunch of naked sticks sticking up, like a giant's wienie roast gone wrong.  Nothing to do, I thought, but grab the chainsaw, cut this all out and start over.

    But, it turns out, salt to an oleander is like cobra venom to a honey badger.  It doesn't kill, it just turns the oleander into a sleepy fuck for a while.  Three weeks later, I noticed new sprouts on the stumps and, now, look at the picture above.  Can you tell the difference between the two plants on the left and the two plants on the right?  No.  No, you can't, because the oleander just doesn't give a shit what you do or don't do to it.  God forbid, I should ever fertilize this son of a bitch.

    Having been convinced of the invincibility of the oleander, we've come to terms with the beast.  A couple of times a year, I trim the big guy to a) keep the homeowner's association busy bodies out of my hair, b) let the neighbors keep their view of the Strip, and c) allow me to open my back gate.  In turn, the oleander provides an effective screen that prevents passers-by from observing what's going on in my back yard as well as supplying biomass.  Lots and lots of biomass.  In the past 6 months, I've dumped something like twenty 30-gallon barrels of oleander trimmings onto my compost pile, which is a good thing.

    But still...
    Here's a close up of Mr. Oleander.  The light green stuff you're seeing is what has grown since I trimmed it back last week.  It's like the bastard is almost defying me.

    All I can say to that is, "How about a little FIRE, Scarecrow??"

    Thursday, August 18, 2011

    Tone deaf...

    Here's our president in Iowa yesterday.  What's that behind him?  Pallets.  Stacks and stacks of pallets.  Apparently, our president - and no one in his entourage - appreciates the significance of this back drop.  Here's a clue, Mr. President:  Out here in the real world, beyond the bubble of the Washington Beltway that you and the rest of this country's pampered political class live in, pallets are used to ship stuff.  All kinds of stuff.  Food, clothing, machine tools, television sets, windows, toilet paper, paint, detergent, newsprint...all the stuff of commerce, at one point or another, was sitting on pallet in a truck or a rail car being shipped from Point A to Point B.  So what's with all those empty pallets behind you, Mr. President?  Here's another clue:  They are there because nobody is shipping "stuff" and nobody is shipping "stuff" because no one is buying "stuff."  Since no one is buying "stuff," other people are not even making "stuff" to ship.  I find it hard to believe that your administration is so clueless as to stage a photo-op in front of such a clear symbol of the wrecked economy you're presiding over, but there it is...

    You want more symbols, Mr. President?  Drive west on I-10 out of Phoenix, get off at the Salome Road exit, and drive up through Bouse towards Parker.  See all those miles and miles of freight cars sitting on sidings out there in the middle of nowhere?  They're there for the same reason all those empty pallets are stacked behind you in Iowa.  Stage a photo op there.

    For a different type of photo op, head north up to Flagstaff.  Stop in at the Lumberyard Brewing Company there.  Nice place.  Have a seat in the outdoor patio, order a beer, and have lunch.  You could even have a press conference there, but I wouldn't suggest it.  You see, the Lumberyard is right next to railroad tracks and every 10 minutes, you'd be interrupted by a freight train passing.  Freight trains hauling nothing but shipping containers, stacked two high.  Shipping containers with names like "Hanjin" and "Yuan" on them.  Shipping containers filled with "stuff" - on pallets, of course - made in places with names like Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Suzhou, Baoding, and Fengxian.  Full shipping containers headed east, empty shipping containers (and pallets) headed west for Long Beach and then by boat back to Shanghai.  Yeah...there's a picture for your campaign, Mr. President.

    But, be that as it may, enjoy your vacation.  I certainly don't begrudge you your ten days off.  After all, tens of millions of Americans have been taking way, way more time off than that lately...only outside of the Beltway, we call it "unemployment."

    Monday, August 15, 2011

    Casting call...'s been announced that Hollywood will be making a movie about the killing of Osama bin Laden that will be released next October.  Let's just step back from the political ramifications of this and give some thought to the movie itself.  Issue #1 - as John McLaughlin would say - casting.  Who get's to play our president?  Interesting question.  But since I live in Las Vegas, I'm inclined to take odds on these things.  So here goes:

    1. Denzel Washington - Obvious choice after Man on Fire - and if you haven't seen this movie, fix that deficiency RIGHT NOW! - I'll give Denzel 5-4 odds
    2. Chris Rock - Denzel would play Barack straight, Chris would be a better Obama, but would go for laughs. 2-1
    3. James Earl Jones - Just this guy's voice should be president. Imagine that you're Vladimir Putin and you pick up the Red Telephone and Darth Vader is on the other end. I'd say, "Advantage USA!"  But no resemblance to Obama. 4-1
    4. Morgan Freeman - Pretty much the go-to guy when it comes to portraying a black man with "gravitas," but too old. 6-1
    5. Harrison Ford (in black face) - Interesting concept, since Harrison has already shown he can do a credible president-as-action-hero role and Hollywood has already demonstrated that they have no issues with cross-ethnic casting (The Prince of Persia was just a white guy).  However, I think not. 15-1
    6. Bill Pullman (in black face) - Closer to Obama in body type, but see Harrison Ford above. 12-1
    7. Wesley Snipes - Wesley could totally pull this off (see Passenger 57), but I think he's in prison or on parole or something. 9-1
    8. Charlie Rangel - Gunnery Sgt. R. Lee Ermey, USMC Ret. demonstrated that Marines can step into a movie role and turn it into an iconic tour-de-force.  I see Charlie totally doing this, but I suspect that Hollywood is a little risk-averse these days. 10-1
    9. Bruce Willis/Alan Rickman - Admit it, you'd want either of these guys purely to hear them say, "Yippie-kai-yay, mother-fucker!" 18-1
    10. A carrot with googly eyes stuck on it (I'm indebted to @Tots4Masses for this)- Admittedly, this would add a certain authenticity to the role, but Hollywood is going to be on a deadline and CGI is expensive. 25-1
    11. Simon Pegg - A crazed white Scotsman portraying a black American president would be a totally daring interpretation, but I think it could work.  20-1
    12. Phineas and Ferb - Think about it..."Aren't you a little young to be hunting down diabolical Al-Queda masterminds?" "Why, yes. Yes, we are..." 35-1
    I'm open to suggestions here and, of course, will alter the above odds as updated information warrants.  Obviously, Barack Obama is only one role in a cast of hundreds...outside of Joe Biden, who will be 100% animatronic.


    There are two additional entries:
    1. JarJar Binks - Thanks to the Cheesemistress for this one.  Like the googly-eyed carrot (see above) JarJar would add a certain authenticity to the roll, but would be far more animated.  However, there were rumblings of racial stereotyping associated with his early work. 18-1
    2. Tim Meadows - Same age as the president and there's a strong resemblance with the potential for providing a certain comedic twist to the role.  I gotta go 7-5.