Saturday, December 02, 2006

Saturday Morning Cartoons

Calvin & Hobbes

A Personal Note...

Some of you, through the course of careful reading and/or e-mail exchanges, have been aware that I have not been feeling very well for a few weeks now. I've been coughing 24 hours a day, a really nasty achy cough from way down deep in my chest.

The coughing was so bad at time, I nearly passed out. I couldn't lie down without coughing. I couldn't stand up without coughing. I couldn't sit for very long without coughing. If I yawned (which I rarely did, what with all the coughing removing the excess CO2 anyway), I coughed. If I stretched up to reach something, I coughed.

I haven't been sleeping very well, and while I never developed a fever, I never felt comfortable temperature-wise.

Now, I say this with all due respect, because I know of at least two doctors who read this blog, but....well....doctors are assholes.

OK, that's a bit unfair. The HMO system in this country forces them to be as superficial in treating patients as possible. We all should keep in mind that 95% of the times that we call a doctor because we're "ill," it's something the body can usually treat on its own, and we're really just calling to get relief from the symptoms.

So two weeks ago, when I showed up on my doctor's examining table, he poked a tongue depressor in my mouth, looked under my eyes, up my nose, in my ears, and pronounced that I had a sinus infection. Yea, he listened to me breathing, but since he hadn't heard me coughing during the visit, he assumed I was OK in my chest.

Gave me a prescription, and sent me on my way with the advice that if it wasn't better in a week, he'd refer me to an ENT. And in fact, that drug did help me that night, even tho I was still waking up coughing, I could at least breathe better than I had in many weeks.

A week passes, and while I had the initial bump in health, nothing was happening with regards to the coughing, which we both assumed was because of my post-nasal drip. I call and get a referral to an ENT.

Meanwhile, if anything, my coughing is getting worse, to the point where I have fits at night where I almost pass out, and certainly I scare the cat off the bed. I can't sleep comfortably at all on my bed, so I grab some pillows and go sleep on the couch, which for some reason I can get at least a decent hour's sleep on in between fits.

I see the ENT. He does even less poking around than my GP (same HMO, but this guy gets a higher fee because he's a specialist), and says its not a sinus infection but an allergic reaction. He switches my prescription to something else, and sends me on my way, despite my very detailed description of my coughing and hacking. He had his back turned, studying my chart and making notes. Or calculating his bill. I can't say, although they were damned quick to have a total when I walked out to reception.

I switch meds and things only get worse. Yesterday, I called him up and asked to see him again, because clearly this wasn't doing anything, and all I really want was a good night's sleep: my body can handle the rest, I'm sure. With that, because my cough has been getting worse and worse, I have a fit on the phone.

Gee...suddenly, I guess hearing his patient honk like a goose gets through to him...he recommends I go back to my GP and have a chest Xray, to see if I may have bronchitis or something like that.

I manage to get a six o'clock appointment, yesterday, Friday (and here, I have to tip my hat to my GP, so let me modify that "assholes" comment earlier...not only did he see me almost after hours, but he did it knowing his mother was in a nearby hospital, preparing to die sometime this weekend...many kudos and thanks, Dr. K).

Finally, someone takes a careful listen to my cough and my breathing, and drops a bombshell: I may have asthma.

For many people, asthma is a chronic-but-not-life-altering condition. For me, it could be yet another of life's obstacles to doing what I like doing, and what I was hoping to make a living at: scuba diving.

I obviously don't have all the details yet, so I can't make an objective judgement based on information available, but from what I know of asthma, it could potentially prevent me from diving if its not controllable. It's a little hard getting an inhaler into a regulator underwater, it seems.

I walked out of his office, three new prescriptions in hand (one for cough medicine, thank god!), in a daze. On the one hand, I'm kind of glad. I had thoughts it might be some form of fibrosis, and some people had mentioned pneumonia (which could be indicative of something else underlying it), and yea, living in New York City, and having breathed in the Trade Center fumes, thoughts that it could be cancer or mesothelioma danced into my head late at night.

On the other hand, it's asthma. It's that fat kids know, the guy you always picked last for football because he had to stop in the middle of a play to use his inhaler? And that fat kid thing is going to keep me from living out my dream of making underwater videos.

Well, fuck it. I can't sit and whine about it. I have to keep moving on in life, and deal with it as it comes. I figure things aren't as bad as I'm afraid they are, nor as good as I'm trying to convince myself they are. And that's OK. It wouldn't be my first dream that's been crushed and betrayed by my body.

But I do have to admit the entire experience has left me a little disillusioned with the state of the American medical profession. Neither of these doctors did anything wrong, both played by the rules of the game, but for the want of listening, really listening, to a patient...well, who know what might have happened?

I've been hacking for three weeks now. Who knows what kind of damage has been done to my vocal cords, and my voice? Right now, I don't have one to speak of. I used to have a beautiful voice, a voice that got paid so people could listen to it. An actor's main tool. His lifeblood is not in his vein but in his lungs.

We have the finest medical care in the world, if you can get it and afford it. But what good is that if we lose the one thing that makes a doctor a doctor: the ability to listen and empathize with a patient's sufering?

And I say this as an articulate American who visited two private doctors in their own offices. Imagine the kind of care a poor family is getting at a local clinic or emergency room, where they sit for hours at a time, waiting to be seen by a doctor who's juggling four other charts simultaneously, who may not speak perfect English and can't describe the symptoms being suffered?

And it shows. It shows in our mortality rates. It shows in our declining life spans (which peaked, not surprisingly, during the Clinton years). It shows in our obesity epidemic and in our asthma epidemic (which just added a new member last night) and in our exploding diabetes shows.

And it's shameful that we don't have a single-payer health care system that pays doctors a fair fee and allows them to practice medicine, not triage.

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Friday, December 01, 2006

Friday Kitten Blogging

I thought I'd try something different today...
ThumbPer, the Water Cat

Friday Music Blogging

The endangered LA palm tree, as immortalized by Neil Diamond

December 1st

You Probably Missed This Story....

U.S. Warns of Terror Threat to Banking Web Sites
Posted by Sara Lepro on Dec 01 2006 05:48:29 PST

The U.S. government has issued a warning to the financial services industry about a possible internet-based attack by a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda, but said the attack was unconfirmed and posed no immediate threat.
....which may be a good thing or bad.

I think the American people are tired of terror alerts that fizzle out into nothing, and the television networks and stations are reflecting that in their coverage of stories like this.

Two years ago, this story would have been one of the top three on a telecast. I only heard about it this morning because I happen to spot a blurb on the ticker of BBCWorld News.

More details:
A person familiar with the warning said the threat, which came from a group called “ANHIAR al-Dollar,” called for attacks to begin today and run through December to avenge the U.S. for keeping terrorism suspects at the Guantanamo Bay naval base in Cuba. The group, whose goal is to destroy the databases of online stock trading and banking web sites, is said to have ties to al Qaeda.
Clearly, this will be a denial of service attack, which means that Al Qaeda will attempt to shut down a server by bombarding it with hits, thus making it next to imopssible to access the server to do your online banking.

More a nuisance than a terror attack, but should they have something else planned, some sort of virus/worm/trojan horse to embed in the banking software, this could be a major problem for people worldwide. Imagine going to your banking site and finding someone had cleaned out not just your account, but the accounts of everyone who banks there. Now imagine that happening to every bank in America.

The government would never be able to make good on all the funds they've guaranteed thru the FDIC, much less any other assets held in these accounts.

And we'd all be bankrupt. And the country along with us.

Just keep your eyes open, folks.

Terrorists As Political Factions

The recent election of the Palestinian Legislative Council which has a plurality of Hamas candidates, coupled with today's unrest in Lebanon, raises an ugly prospect: The United States will have to deal with both Hamas and potentially Hizbollah as political, and not just as terrorist, entities.

Let's get up to speed on what's happening in Lebanon:
BEIRUT (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of flag-waving Lebanese poured into central Beirut on Friday for a Hezbollah-led protest aimed at bringing down the Western-backed government, which has vowed it will not yield to the pressure.

Pro-Syrian Hezbollah and its allies have called on Lebanese from across the country to take part in the opposition protest. It is due to start at 3 p.m. (1300 GMT) and will be followed by an indefinite sit-in near the government offices.

Hezbollah, which is backed by Syria and Iran, has branded the government a U.S. puppet.
Syria occupied Lebanon until 2005, and recent election results indicate a strong anti-Syria movement in Lebanon.

Hizbollah, as the article mentions, is backed by Syria. Hizbollah is also a minority partner in the ruling coalition in Parliament, controlling some 27% of the seats (along with the Resistance and Development Bloc), and as seems apparent from today's demonstration, can turn out throngs for support. Too, Hizbollah demonstrations have usually been followed by anti-Syria demonstrations of equal of greater masses, but there's a wrinkle here: the recent Israeli bombing campaign in southern Lebanon, which may have pushed many people into Hizbollah's camp, particularly as Hizbollah have been seen to be the main force in rebuilding the devastated regions.

Clearly, Israel is in a bit of a pickle: Hamas on one side, Hizbollah on the other, both gaining political legitimacy.

When you give an angry group a little bit of money, it goes and buys weapons. When you give an angry group a lot of money, it goes and buys power. This, I think, is what has happened here.

The region has a history of terrorist-like groups obtaining power, most notably in Israel itself: the Haganah, a paramilitary organization that operated in then-British controlled Palestine. Formed to defend Israeli settlers in predominanatly Arabic Palestine (when it appeared the British didn't want to get involved), after the Hebron massacre and subsequent exile of Jews from that city, armed itself heavily, and joined with the British during the Arab revolt in the late 30s.

By the end of World War II, however, the Haganah turned against Britain, and started bobming train stations, police stations, and radar towers. It also spun off the Irgun, which was a radical splinter faction of Haganah, and created even more terrorist-like activity.

After Israel received its independence, however, the Haganah was instantaneously turned into the Israeli Defense Forces, and became part of a legitimate government. In fact, most of the names of early Israel history come out of Haganah: Yitzhak Rabin, Ariel Sharon, Moshe Dayan, and Dr. Ruth Westheimer (huh?).

So there is precedent for this type of transformation, and the United States should be actively encourage the participation in the democratic process of these groups, and not trying to marginalize them or worse, try to prevent them from obtaining power legitimately.

It's going to be a tough sell to the American people and to the Israelis, but I believe that our commitment to democracy demands that we take this position: we cannot impose half a democracy and walk away, just because the alternative outcome, a government that is hostile to our interests, is a likely outcome.

Our own nation was founded by a group of subservives who, for their time, were considered terrorists: they didn't fight by conventional rules, they struck and terrorised towns by dumping tea dressed in frightening costumes, they employed mercenaries, and fought on holidays!

We turned out to be pretty OK, all things said. This may be a situation where we have to grin and bear it, because a free people is free to do precisely what it wants, including what we DON'T want it to do.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Your Thursday Morning Voice Of Doom

So you're reading the paper and you come across this:Gaia scientist Lovelock predicts planetary wipeout

Ya might put down your spoon and read on...
LONDON (Reuters) - The earth has a fever that could boost temperatures by 8 degrees Celsius making large parts of the surface uninhabitable and threatening billions of peoples' lives, a controversial climate scientist said on Tuesday.

James Lovelock, who angered climate scientists with his Gaia theory of a living planet and then alienated environmentalists by backing nuclear power, said a traumatized earth might only be able to support less than a tenth of it's 6 billion people.

"We are not all doomed. An awful lot of people will die, but I don't see the species dying out," he told a news conference. "A hot earth couldn't support much over 500 million."

"Almost all of the systems that have been looked at are in positive feedback ... and soon those effects will be larger than any of the effects of carbon dioxide emissions from industry and so on around the world," he added.
Let me jump in and explain a little. Right now, the increases in carbon are additive: industrial and engine exhaust adding to the system incrementally. What "positive feedback cycle" in this instance indicates is best described by use of an apparently illogical statement: It's getting hotter because it's getting hotter.

See, the earth has maintained a fairly static temperature throughout man's existence, because just enough heat was created to compensate for the heat lost to space. Change either dynamic, and you have either a heat wave or an ice age, take your pick.

But because these were at levels that were self-correcting, and because no additional factors came into play until less than three hundred years ago, nature was able to balance the books and pay the tax at the end of the year.

Now, we're facing a real crisis, what other scientists have termed a "tipping point," where the additional carbon in the air has created circumstances that may cause runaway greenhouse effects that will only amplify themselves.

For example, polar ice caps radiate heat away from the planet because they're white. They also regulate ocean temperatures and cause ocean currents as ice melts to fresh water which then dilutes the salt water around it, making that less dense. The denser saltier water is forced under the lighter, less saline water, and thus you have a current.

Melt the polar ice caps because you've added heat to the atmosphere, and you've hit a triple whammy. Which means MORE heat is added to the atmosphere, because not only are you adding more carbon artificially, but you're removing the mechanism that can shed heat more efficiently.

In other wards, you're spending a buck but getting a $1.50 in matching funds. That's what a positive feedback cycle is.

That 8°Celsius number is important, by the way, because it represents just about the difference in temperature between the last ice age and the current planetary condition. Since the last ice age, as water levels have risen, the earth lost land mass equivalent to the continent of Africa. Africa represents about 6% of the earth's land mass currently, but also notice that with eight degrees more heat, there are vast tracts of land in Europe, Asia, and the Americas which would become thoroughly uninhabitable desert.

Just thought you ought to know.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Hump Day Marx Brothers

The Marx Brothers Explain The Conservative Program For Affordable Housing For Poor Americans

From Russia, With....Love?

I think we can start to classify this as "Putin's Putsch":
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Yegor Gaidar, architect of Russia's market reforms, was being treated in a Moscow hospital on Wednesday after coming close to death with a mystery ailment during a visit to Ireland, friends and family said.

Gaidar, 50, who unleashed economic shock therapy before the dust had settled on the ruins of the Soviet Union, fell unconscious with unexplained symptoms on November 24 during a visit to Dublin to present his new book -- Death of the Empire.

[...]Gaidar, who now heads the Institute for the Economy in Transition, fell ill a day after former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko died in a London hospital from radiation poisoning.
There used to be a word used extensively during the cold war, particularly in spy movies: "liquidation," which was particularly sexy when said with a deep fauz-Russian accent-- "leequee...dayshun"

This is now the fourth mysterious illness/death in the past three years, and the third this year alone. Along with Litvinenko, Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, was shot dead last month in Moscow. Indeed, another target, Anatoly Chubais, narrowly escaped a roadside bombing and machine gun fire, not in Iraq, but on his way to his office in Moscow last year.

And of course, who could forget the poisoning of Viktor Yushchenko, elected President of Ukraine in 2004?

Is Putin behind it all? Certainly, he stands to gain from any one of these deaths/illnesses/attacks, as they involve Ukrainian bids for more autonomy, something Putin has been dead set against, despite the recent movement towards that autonomy fostered under Yeltsin (indeed, Gaidar and Chubais worked in Yeltsin's administration).

Why should this bother us? Well, Russia has a history of tyranny, for one thing, for another, this is the man, Putin, whom George Bush claimed to understand just from looking into his eyes (not a very good judge of character, unless Bush actually likes fascists), who once remarked that the fall of the Soviet Union was history's greatest tragedy.

These are all pretty much happening out in the open, which says either the KGB has lost its touch (Putin was head of the FSB, successor to the KGB) or the KGB had nothing to do with it, which opens a whole new can of worms (Russian mob taking orders from the government, or traditionalists?)

Events are unfolding. We ought to keep an eye on this.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Memo To Bush

To: President George W. Bush

From: Actor212

Re: Exit Strategy From War Zone

This is how you do it:
RIGA (Reuters) - NATO forces should be able to hand over responsibility to Afghanistan's security forces gradually in 2008, the alliance's secretary-general said on Tuesday.

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer gave a glimpse of NATO's exit strategy from its most dangerous combat mission in a speech to a security conference hours before the start of a summit of alliance leaders in Latvia.

"I would hope that by 2008, we will have made considerable progress ... and effective and trusted Afghan security forces gradually taking control," he told the Riga Conference, appealing to allies to provide more troops with fewer national restrictions on their use in the meantime.
No "As they stand up, we'll stand down," focus-group tested bromides. No "benchmarks." Hell, this isn't even a real timetable, it's so watered-down and ambiguous as to be nearly-meaningless, but the point is, it's a positive step in a direction that makes it clear the intent of NATO is to get the hell out of a country it's not necessarily particularly welcome in before it's run out on a rail.

See, true leadership, true courage, is the ability to stand up and say what you want to do, and give people an idea of how you'll go about it.

Three years ago, if you had stood up and said "We'll be in Iraq longer than we were in World War II," people would have been pissed, but your approval ratings right now would be higher than they are, simply because you spoke the truth about the length of stay, and perhaps even gave a good rationale for it ("If we left this job half-done, we'd leave Iraq in open civil war, and I don't want be responsible for that.")

You know, admitting that maybe you made a mistake, but were prepared to fix it, at least a little?

But as you've stood your ground, America has slid down the slippery slope of disgrace, and no matter how strong the rope is, or how powerful your aerobically-conditioned heart is, you cannot possibly single-handedly hold this nation up at the pinnacle of its prestige and respect in the world, just after 1993. You aren't Bill Clinton. In fact, you're a fucking idiot.

As an American, I'm ashamed that you aren't at the forefront of efforts to unite the world, to bring peace and stability to all nations, not just the ones you cherry pick for their resources. I read the papers daily and find examples of other nations' leaders holding talks, negotiating treaties, finding common ground. Hell, Hugo Chavez is making good on his promise to provide low-cost heating oil to the urban poor through Citgo! How embarassing for you that those urban poor are in the Bronx, in New Orleans, in Detroit and Cleveland and Cincinnati and St. Louis, all great American cities?

I love my country. I am a patriot of the first order. But when my government turns out to be worse than a third rate banana republic run by a tin-plated socialist dictator, when my president is the crazy uncle who has to be kept locked up in the attic when the family gets together to discuss the troubles of the world, I have to cringe.

, ,

Bringin' The Snark

Hot and Fresh to Your Computer


Seeing this picture on the Today Show this morning made me reflexively place a call to the free clinic. After listening to the story, I needed to shower, but realized I was so deep in the muck, I ran down to the car wash and asked for the $99 detailing special, which included inside vacuuming, and a chassis bath.

Monday, November 27, 2006

A Rose By Any Other Name...

Brother Rancor has uncovered the latest in politically correct terminology.

I no longer miss meals. I suffer from "low food security".

They Is None So Blind....

...As he what will not see:
An issue the United States hopes to highlight at the NATO conclave is the amount of money that member countries pay in proportion to their other commitments. The defense outlays of some NATO partners are less than half those of the United States -- as a percentage of gross domestic product.
Umm, no duh!

Of course, none of them is currently engaged in a unilaterally-declared invasion of a sovereign state that had done nothing to American interests since, oh, I don't know, ever? Sure, thirteen years before we invaded this time, Hussein had invaded a tiny emirate off the Saudi Arabian border called Kuwait and correctly, the US and NATO, along with other United Nations members, sent armed forces into repel the invasion.

But you see, Mr. Bush, they're called defense forces because you're supposed to use them to stop someone from hurting you or your friends, neither of which Iraq had done in quite some time. Now, true, NATO is the nominal authority in Afghanistan right now, and perhaps on that basis, they ought to pony up a bit more coin, but as far as I can see, there's no need to bankrupt western Europe for a fight you've avoided for as long as you could: the hunt and capture of Osama.

I can't say I blame them for leaving the US twisting in the wind. One can only imagine the hue and cry you and your Republican cronies would have raised if, say, France was beating up on Qatar over some imagined slight or other, and having a tough time of it.

You'd probably call it "justice," and not ante up one dime more.

, ,

Don't Forget About Poland!

Looks like it's just us and Palau now...
LONDON -- Britain said Monday it expects to withdraw thousands of its 7,000 military personnel from Iraq by the end of next year, while Poland and Italy announced the impending withdrawal of their remaining troops.

Polish President Lech Kaczynski said his country, a U.S. ally in Iraq and Afghanistan, would pull its remaining 900 soldiers out of Iraq by the end of 2007. And Italian Premier Romano Prodi said the last of Italy's soldiers in Iraq -- some 60-70 troops -- will return home this week, ending the Italian contingent's presence in the south of the country after more than three years.
Both Britain's Foreign and Defence Secretaries have now given a clear indication that Britain intends to withdraw a significant number of troops, somewhere around 50%, by December 2007. Tony Blair has promised to step down as the head of the ruling Labour Party (and as Prime Minister) ahead of the September 2007 Trade Unions Congress, which gives us an even more precise timetable for Britain's withdrawal from Iraq.

The timing of this announcement has other domestic political import for Blair. Just as recently as this summer, M.P.s from Labour were calling for him to step down, and like Bush, saw his power in Parliament evaporate as his own party turned into what is the political equivalent of Iraq, a civil war, with Blair representing the far right wing of his leftist party (as opposed to Bush, who merely represented the farther right wing of his far right wing party). We can expect further hints like this as Blair tries to cobble together some form of legacy for his administration that doesn't tie his name to the words "Bush" and "lap dog".

Much patching and smoothing over will be required for Blair to come up with some sort of agenda over the next ten months. The deep rifts he has driven into both Labour and the UK will require his full attention, and I suspect that this withdrawal will be much sooner rather than later.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Uhhhhh, Hang On A Minute Here...

In the analysis of Dick Cheney's short visit to Riyadh today, comes this administration-planted tidbit:
With Iraq on the brink of all-out civil war, the Bush administration has begun a new push to break the cycle of violence by enlisting the help of moderate Arab nations while also tackling the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In what is shaping up to be a crisis summit, President George W. Bush will meet Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki in Jordan on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the security situation in Iraq.

The United States wants Saudi Arabia to use its influence with Iraq's Sunni minority to help stabilize the country after more 200 people were killed in a Shi'ite stronghold near Baghdad on Thursday in the worst single attack since Saddam Hussein was overthrown in April 2003.
(emphases added)

One wonders how the Saudis were suddenly considered "moderate"...
The hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 11 were reported to be:

Mohamed Atta (Egyptian)
Waleed al-Shehri (Saudi Arabian)
Wail al-Shehri (Saudi Arabian)
Abdulaziz al-Omari (Saudi Arabian)
Satam al-Suqami (Saudi Arabian)

Mohammed Atta is believed to have flown Flight 11 into the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Aboard United Airlines Flight 175 the hijackers were reported to be:

Marwan al-Shehhi (from the United Arab Emirates)
Fayez Banihammad (from the United Arab Emirates)
Mohand al-Shehri (Saudi Arabian)
Hamza al-Ghamdi (Saudi Arabian)
Ahmed al-Ghamdi (Saudi Arabian)

Marwan al-Shehhi is believed to have flown Flight 175 into the South Tower.

The hijackers aboard American Airlines Flight 77 were reported to be:

Hani Hanjour (Saudi Arabian)
Khalid al-Mihdhar (Saudi Arabian)
Majed Moqed (Saudi Arabian)
Nawaf al-Hazmi (Saudi Arabian)
Salem al-Hazmi (Saudi Arabian)

Hani Hanjour is believed to have flown Flight 77 into the Pentagon.

The hijackers aboard United Airlines Flight 93 were reported to be:

Ziad Jarrah (Lebanese)
Ahmed al-Haznawi (Saudi Arabian)
Ahmed al-Nami (Saudi Arabian)
Saeed al-Ghamdi (Saudi Arabian)

Ziad Jarrah is believed to have crashed Flight 93 into the Pennsylvania countryside to prevent or end an assault by the passengers.
It seems to me that an overwhelming number of the Muslim Arabs that hate the United States, hate the government for supporting the sheiks of the Saud family, are in fact Saudi Arabians.

And since there's a deft little sleight-of-hand game going on here...those sheiks, in order to keep peace internally, fund the various terror organizations and the "minor league" madrassahs within its borders. Meaning that Saudis are directly and indirectly responsible for funding the insurgency in Iraq which has blown up into full-scale civil war that has emboiled and is bankrupting the United States, nominally the Saudis strongest ally.

Time and time again, we've seen where "moderate" Saudi Arabia has played us like a bad violin for their own purposes, to the detriment of both US power and prestige worldwide.

I think it's time to change the fiddler.