So Where the Heck is...

Åland? That's what we were wondering last night when we spotted a letter with foreign postage from "Åland." It looked like the language was Swedish, but a Swedish stamp would have said "Sverige." One stamp had a ladybug, the other a white-furred ermine. Well, Google searches work wonders, even if your A key doesn't have the little circle on the top. It turns out that Åland is "a demilitarised Swedish-speaking region" off the east coast of Sweden that actually is part of Finland but is mostly autonomous. Population: About 26,000. It looks like it would be an interesting place to visit, but only in the summer, of course. I like the little coats of arms for each of the 16 municipalities. It reminds me of the various ones that each of the districts in Berlin have.


Ernesto: Plenty of Nothing

Ernesto is officially a bust. Nothing but a bit of a breeze and a few sprinkles. Almost all of the schools in nearby counties are closed today (Charlotte County, which was hammered by Hurricane Charlie in 2004, is the lone exception), and most government offices as well. The mail, however, will be delivered.

I've seen worse weather driving to work on a thundery night. And that suits me just fine. A disaster averted is a good thing.


Ernesto: Fizzle?

The guys on The Weather Channel in places like Islamorada and Miami Beach say that not much is happening there yet with the storm approaching. Some rain, some gusty wind, but nothing intense and long-lasting. I called my work hotline number and as of the last update on the recording at 6:00 p.m., it's business as usual. The peak of the storm is supposed to hit our area around 8 to 9 a.m., which is just after I drive home. We're on the weak side of the storm, but I suspect tomorrow's drive home will be a pain in the neck, so if they offer a chance to leave early, I'll take it. Weather.com shows predicted peak sustained winds for tomorrow morning both for work and for where I live at about 27 mph. That's nothing compared to Charlie or Wilma.

More in the morning when I get home from work.


Offered Without Comment

Woman Crashes When Teaching Dog to Drive

A woman in Hohhot, the capital of north China's Inner Mongolia region, crashed her car while giving her dog a driving lesson, the official Xinhua News Agency said Monday.

No injuries were reported although both vehicles were slightly damaged, it said.

The woman, identified only be her surname, Li, said her dog "was fond of crouching on the steering wheel and often watched her drive," according to Xinhua.

"She thought she would let the dog 'have a try' while she operated the accelerator and brake," the report said. "They did not make it far before crashing into an oncoming car."

Xinhua did not say what kind of dog or vehicles were involved but Li paid for repairs.

Track Watching

Like most Floridians, I keep a watchful eye on what's going on in the tropics during hurricane season. And so I've been watching the projected track of Ernesto (currently a tropical storm, although it may regain hurricane status later) as it crossed Haiti and as it prepares to cross Cuba.

Originally, it looked like the storm would hit Jamaica and pass south of Cuba, then head into the Gulf of Mexico and menace the Texas or Louisiana coast. As each day has passed and each new update arrives from the National Hurricane Center, however, the track has moved further and further east. Suddenly, a storm that wasn't supposed to affect us at all was headed directly toward us.

Last night's 8 p.m. update had the storm moving right off the coast to our west, and making landfall somewhere around Venice, to our north. The 11 p.m. update was even scarier, with the storm coming right over the top of us. However, this morning, the center line is now tracking even further east, and it looks like we'll catch the western edge of the storm as it tracks up the middle of the peninsula towards Lake Okeechobee. We're still in the cone of uncertainty, of course, and hurricanes rarely move in straight lines, but it's better to be on the west side of the cone when the track has been consistently moving eastward. And of course, the strongest winds and heaviest rainfall usually are in the northeast quadrant of a hurricane. If the current track continues, that's very bad news for Miami-West Palm Beach-Fort Lauderdale, because they could catch the brunt of the storm, and especially bad news if the storm should suddenly intensify when it exits Cuba.

At this point, I'm cautiously optimistic that I'll be going to work Wednesday night and that the power (please, God!) will stay on. I've got my hurricane supplies ready. Hopefully I won't need them.


Bad Judgment?

Here in Florida, the judges on county courts and state circuit courts are elected by the voters. Indeed, a lot of the mail I've processed lately has been campaign literature for judicial candidates. I don't know how they do it in Indiana, but I would not vote for the judge in the following AP story:

Judge Detains 5 Over Ringing Cell Phone

CROWN POINT, Ind. - A judge detained and questioned a row of spectators when a cell phone rang for a third time in her courtroom, later ordering two people to serve community service for contempt of court.

When no one admitted having the ringing phones Wednesday, Lake County Criminal Court Judge Diane Boswell told all five people in the row to sit in chairs reserved for jail inmates. They stayed there for more than an hour until the morning court call ended.

Boswell found three people in contempt of court because they initially refused to say who had the ringing phones.

Cynthia Cannon of Gary agreed to pay a $100 fine after admitting that her phone was one of those that went off. The judge ordered her to do community service, but Cannon declined, saying she can't work or sit for long periods of time due to a disability.

Verdell Berry Jr., of Merrillville, said he had two phones. One was off, the other he turned off when Boswell warned the gallery about the phones. The sound of it powering down is what she heard, Berry said.

He admitted he didn't speak up to explain that when Boswell first asked.

Shonique Freeman, of Gary, said she knew it was Berry's phone, but she didn't offer the information, either.

Boswell ordered both Berry and Freeman to serve 40 hours of community service.

"The next time you come to court, don't bring your cell phone," Boswell said. "And when the court asks a question, answer the question."

Now, I don't have a problem with the judge punishing the boorish behavior of the cell phone owners. They should have turned the phones off before going into the courtroom, and pretty much deserved what they got. However, I have to question the judge's cognitive ability, because after she made Ms. Cannon sit in a chair for over an hour, the woman tells her "I have a disability that won't let me work or sit for long periods of time" and the judge believed it! And so Ms. Cannon gets off with a $100 fine, while the other two have forty hours of community service. I'll tell you, my time is worth a hell 0f a lot more than $2.50 an hour, so I'd rather pretend to be a gimp and pay the fine, too. Sorry, Judge, I don't think you're bright enough to be interpreting the law.


Eggheads Downsize Solar System!

Planet unemployment up 11%! Reid, Pelosi: Bush to Blame!

Astronomers Say Pluto Is Not a Planet

End of a world: Women, minorities, astrologers hardest hit

Okay, I'll Admit It...

I really like some commercials. Lately, it's been the "What's In Your Wallet?" credit card people. I love the pillagers, and the one where they formed a band called "The Pillage People"... priceless.

I saw one on ESPN a couple of nights ago (and again just now) for Nike, featuring lovely tennis player Maria Sharapova walking past New Yorkers who serenade her with "I Feel Pretty" on the way to her match. It's actually pretty clever. If you haven't seen it yet, here is a link to the commercial on the Nike site. Enjoy.

Update: Note that you have to click on the MIDDLE picture at the bottom of the screen (the one where Maria's wearing the plum-colored blouse) to watch that particular video clip.

Later: Is that Jack Nicholson driving the cab?

Speaking of Multiculturalism...

I read an online article yesterday about the upcoming season of "Survivor," in which the four initial teams will be divided by race. There will be a black team, a white team, an Asian team and a Latino team. The show's producers say that they are doing it because they got complaints that the show didn't have enough "diversity." This will put an end to those complaints.

Now, I haven't watched the show since its original incarnation in 2000. Once was enough for me; I didn't feel like watching the same script played out by different actors, even if it was on a slightly different set. Still, this is an interesting wrinkle on how to divvy up the contestants. I know that during at least one of the show's 12 "seasons" (they grow two crops a year; reality television is fertile ground) they initially divided the contestants up by sex.

There was a discussion about this on ESPN Radio last night while I was driving in to work, and both of the guys were aghast, thinking it a horrible idea. "Not politically correct," they observed. It will, however, make people talk around the water cooler. Controversy draws attention.

I guess the question is whether any one particular ethnic group would have an advantage in any of the particular types of competition. My guess would be "probably not," because these will be individual members of those groups, who may or may not have the stereotypical strengths and weaknesses that their groups are thought to possess. In the end, the advantage usually accrues to those who are young, fit and have some kind of useful skill. One should not forget the aphorism about "age and treachery," however.


Any Color You Want, As Long As It's...

Ah, sweet absurdity. This one will make you laugh.

At work, the Diversity Committee has been sponsoring a little weekly contest all through August for "Multicultural Month." They show a picture of a celebrity or celebrities, who must be identified along with their cultural "heritage." They included a few hints about the country. Well. You would think that something called the "Diversity Commitee" would be hypersensitive to making sure that all of the major ethnic groups were represented in the contest. But you would be thinking wrong.

The first week, the celebrity was Angelina Jolie (French). The second week, the celebrity was Antonio Banderas (Spanish). At that point, I had to challenge the person running the contest for being Euro-centric and non-inclusive by writing up a little sign and putting it next to the entry box. "Where are the Africans? Where are the Asians? Where are the Antarcticans?" I asked, tongue firmly in cheek. I then demanded that Chilly Willy the penguin be chosen for Week 3, in order to acknowledge the aspirations of Antarctican-Americans.

"We demand more diversity in our multi-culturalism," I said. Sometimes I just can't help myself.

Well, you'd think it would have been a teachable moment. Again, you'd think wrong. Instead of Chilly Willy, they chose three Italians. Now comes week four, and what do we get? The Irish! In four weeks, they have chosen people of European descent four times. And in this case, they've chosen four nationalities who might see each other at Sunday Mass at the local Catholic church. I don't know how the Polish got left out!

When Henry Ford came out with the Model T Ford, he said that customers could have their Model T in any color they wanted, as long as it was black. Apparently we can have our multiculturalism in any color we want, as long as it is white.

Where's Denzel Washington or Wesley Snipes? Can't a brother get a break? What about Yao Ming? Nobody of the Asian persuasion?

It's kind of like going to the ice cream shop and ordering scoops of four different types of vanilla ice cream. "I'll have vanilla, French vanilla, vanilla vanilla-ripple and vanilla fudge chunk." That's vanilla fudge, mind you.

And this is the friggin' "Diversity Committee" running this! The people running the program aren't with the program!

The mind boggles.


Spotted in the Mail #2

It's my bicentennial 200th post, so before the world ends tomorrow (courtesy of the evil Iranians), we'll have a light-hearted post today.

It's all about finding your niche. There are people out there who want to buy just about everything, and you can make a living if you have the product that they want.

Case in point: I saw a postcard in the mail today from a company selling "animal-friendly" yoga mat bags. Here is a link to their boutique page, showing the various types of yoga mat bags. It is, of course, located in New York, although I suppose that it could just as easily have been in Los Angeles or San Francisco. There has to be a critical mass of yoga devotees who have a yoga mat and need a fashionable-but-animal-friendly bag in which to carry it around. Well, I wish the folks at RoZCoo success. It's the American way: Build a better yoga mat bag and the world will beat a path to your door, or in this case, your web site.

The lovely model is Catie Parker, whose web site link was also listed on the postcard, as well as that of the photography company that took the pictures. I like the music on Catie's web site, but the meowing cat when you click on the links might be a bit too cutesie...


Why I Love the New York Post

The great headlines, of course! You might have seen the story about the Israeli woman whose life was saved by her silicone breast implants. The Post's headline: 'Rack' saves gal from ruin.

Sometimes they verge on genius.


The Party Purges Thought Criminal Lieberman

News from yesterday's primary: The Democrats in Connecticut have purged one of the few remaining voices of sanity and civility in their party, as millionaire challenger and left-wing anti-war candidate Ned Lamont defeated incumbent Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman.

To me, it was all reminiscent of George Orwell's novel 1984. Lieberman was obviously guilty of insufficient orthodoxy to the fundamental principles of Demsoc (Principle #1: "Hate George W. Bush before all others"), and no doubt of thoughtcrime as well. Unlike most of the members of the Party, he didn't take part in the daily "Two Minutes Hate", in which the despised visage of George W. "Goldstein" Bush would appear on the telescreens to induce paroxysms of insane fury among the party faithful. That right there showed dangerous unorthodoxy. He just didn't bellyfeel Demsoc.

And the thoughtcrime: His failure to understand that the true enemies of the Party were not the Islamofascist terrorists who flew jet airplanes into skyscrapers or two-bit tinhorn dictators or mad mullahs seeking nuclear weapons, but rather the Republicans. Yes, it was the Republicans who were worthy only of rancor and venom, according to Democrat Party chief Howard Dean, whose quotes included "I hate Republicans." Civility, working together across the aisle for the benefit of the country, no, there could be none of that. There was no room for compromise. The Party was at war with the Republicans; the Party had always been at war with the Republicans. The Ministry of Truth (aka Reuters - haha, just kidding!) told them so. Eurasia, Eastasia, eh, they could take care of themselves. Not the Party's problem.

And so, the thought criminal Lieberman was purged, sent to Room 101 in an attempt to make him confess his many crimes. But a funny thing may happen in November: The proles may get a chance to vote for him as an independent. Not that it would really change anything, of course. One sane, civil Senator is not enough to redeem a Party.


You've Got to Be Kidding Me

You would have thought that the anti-Bush drive-by media would have found everything possible to criticize about the President by now, but ABC News has blazed new territory: How Much Is Too Much: Is the President Too Chunky?

Folks, this is what a fat President looks like. I'll bet that President Taft could probably have kept up with Babe Ruth in a hot dog eating contest, although both would probably have been defeated by 144-pound Takeru Kobayashi.

Lighten up, ABC.


"Speaking Lebanese"?

The talking head gal on Fox News just noted that the Lebanese guy who was yakking "live" was "speaking Lebanese." I just rolled my eyes. I'm guessing that he was speaking Arabic, but hey, that's just me.

I'm flashing on the Vapors' "Turning Japanese." I really think so...

Second Positive

The results are in. Floyd Landis' second urine sample also tested positive. Dude! Did you really think you could get away with it? It's amazing the stuff they can do with spectroscopy these days. They can tell from which field in Peru that a coca leaf came from, for Pete's sake. Did you think they couldn't tell the difference between natural and synthetic testosterone?

Speaking of stupid, how about this new UN draft resolution between the USA and France regarding the war between the Israelis and Hezbollah? Last I saw, the USA and France weren't the ones fighting. The UN is pretty much worthless for making or keeping peace, worthless as tits on a boar hog. If you see the blue helmets coming, you should run, not walk, in the other direction, because a best-case scenario usually means that the "peacekeepers" will be sexually molesting your women and children in exchange for food and water. A worst-case scenario usually means genocide (Rwanda, Bosnia, etc). Personally, I want to see the Israelis keep killing terrorists. Dead terrorists don't cause any problems in the future.


"The Life Grew Better and More Cheerful"

While writing about Castro the other day, and comparing him and his elderly brother to the geriatric Soviet leadership in the mid-1980s, I went on an internet link odyssey.

First, while I remembered Andropov as the short-lived successor to Brezhnev, I drew a blank on the guy who came after him and before Gorbachev. Well, the internet search engines can find anything, anything at all, that you might want to know about. The Wikipedia entry for the Soviet Union gave me a nice list of the leaders of the Soviet Union. And the winner is: Chernenko! Both Andropov and Chernenko lasted just over a year apiece before dying in office, which had to have been expensive for the CPSU, since they would have had to print up a bunch of new pictures and send them out to all of the party functionaries to put up on their walls.

All of the other vital information about the Soviet Union was on the main Wikipedia page, including a musical link for the national anthem. Alas, my computer doesn't have whatever program plays .ogg files. However, another quick internet search took me to an archived article from radio station WFMU's blog, with a link to a Windows Media video file for the Hymn of the Soviet Union. It even has English subtitles, and the words are oh-so-ironic. "Sing to the Motherland, home of the free," indeed.

Even more interesting was a link to Lev Borodulin's "Rarities of the USSR Photochronicles" page. If you've got the time, look through the galleries at the old black-and-white pictures. Warning: Do not look at this picture! Don't say I didn't warn you! A 1930s-era Soviet bikini (yes, I know there were no bikinis yet at that time) is a very scary sight. And doesn't the fellow who is pointing in the picture over the gallery title "The life grew better and more cheerful" look a lot like Alan Alda?

So do you ever feel nostalgic about the good old days of the Cold War? Things were so much simpler then. It was us vs. the Evil Empire, and while the peaceniks were advocating unilateral disarmament, and mopes like Sting were singing that "there's no such thing as a winnable war, it's a lie we don't believe any more", a funny thing happened: We won. We outspent the Soviets into submission; we could afford guns and butter, they couldn't. The Soviet Union withered away in the way that the capitalist countries were supposed to do when true communism had been achieved. Sort of like what Jackson Browne sang about in "Lawyers in Love" back in 1983:

Last night I watched the news from Washington, the capitol
The Russians escaped while we weren't watching them, like Russians will
Now we've got all this room, we've even got the moon,
And I hear the USSR will be open soon
As vacation land for lawyers in love

Almost prescient. Of course, the Russians themselves and the various peoples in the other successor nations are still there. It was just the Soviet government that had disappeared. It was almost the diametric opposite of a neutron bomb.

After it happened and the strange new world of 1992 appeared, we suddenly realized that we had been pushing hard against something that we hadn't didn't know was there. It was only the abrupt absence of resistance and the lurch we felt when we kept pushing for that one moment, that caused us to understand how hard we had been pushing.

In a post-9/11 world, it seems in retrospect like it was a much less complicated world, and much less dangerous than it seemed at the time. Of course, we know in hindsight that we weren't going to get annihilated by the Soviet nuclear arsenal, that the peaceniks were woefully wrong, that the "99 Red Balloons" alarmists had bet on the wrong horse. Because of the way things turned out, Ronald Reagan is remembered as a visionary, not a dangerous warmonger. It's not often that you get that kind of swift historical judgment.


Talkin' About My G-G-Generation

The Boomers aren't the only ones getting old. Cuban dictador Fidel Castro seems to be full of incipient mortality, to the delight of the Cuban exile community in Miami. The 79-year-old tyrant just underwent intestinal surgery, and has handed off power to his 75-year-old kid brother, Raul. Just temporarily, so they say.

No "get well" message from Washington, of course. The European Union sent a nice one, though:

"We wish that President Fidel Castro and Cuban democracy (have) a quick recovery, that's all we can say," EU spokesman Pietro Petrucci said.

Ouch! For "Cuban democracy" to recover, they need to have Jesus go down there to the tomb and say, "Lazarus, come forth!"

It must be lonely being a communist these days. The Soviet Union is history, as are all of the Iron Curtain dictatorships of the proletariat. China has gone all heretical, and while still autocratic, seems to have embraced capitalist concepts like "trade." Nobody left but the pariahs in North Korea and Cuba, aging devotees of a discredited religion.

And the best successor that the Bearded One can come up with is his 75-year-old brother. Nepotism. Charming. At least we're allowed to elect our own leaders from our leading political families like the Bushes and Kennedys and Clintons, and we're free not to vote for them as well. No such choice in Cuba. The aging Cuban leadership reminds me of nothing so much as the Soviet gerontocracy in the 1980s after Brezhnev died. I think that Lenin's still under glass in Red Square, fifteen years after the Soviet Union crumbled into dust. Maybe Fidel can get a similar mausoleum for himself in Havana. I suspect they'd need a splash shield for it, though, when all those exiles eventually come back and turn it into an open-air urinal.