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January 5, 2006
Step Right Up!

Today's Washington Post contains the surprising finding that average people will actually pay money to enjoy a grim spectacle, particularly if it makes their own dismal situation in life look rosey by comparison.  The Post couldn't have said it better: 
"Mountains of debris, collapsing houses, a weather-ravaged stadium: It's yours for $35 per person ($28 for children)." 

Some people might say this is comparable to honoring the fallen at Ground Zero after 9/11.  Folks would visit the site and come to terms with the loss.  It was a form of therapy.

This is different.  After 9/11, most folks held off for a polite interval - at least until the rubble was removed and families of the dead had a chance to grieve in peace.  I don't remember anybody charging admission to see the smoking ruins.  New Orleans is a place that is still coming to terms with its new reality.  Even as life goes on in the French Quarter, large swaths of the city and surrounding parishes remain uninhabitable.  There is institutional uncertainty about what to tear down, what to rebuild, and what to give up on altogether.  Former residents are cast far and wide.  I was there a few weeks ago and, believe me, this is a place that is not being rebuilt - it's being built.  Big difference.

Charging rubberneckers to take a cruise through the lower ninth ward in an air conditioned coach is like selling pieces of the collapsed World Trade Center.  There is nothing to be learned here.  This is eye candy for the morbid.

At least it's a local company that is reaping the benefit.  Gray Line New Orleans is the carrier, and they'll be happy to take you on a "three-hour bus tour of the devastation."  I recall another "three hour tour" that ended badly - this one with castaways and Ginger (well, I was always a Mary Ann guy myself).  What a wonderful twist if our Katrina cruisers were to get lost in the lower ninth, never to be heard from again!  Serves 'em right.

In a sign that all is not lost, some cruisers are showing signs of remorse:  "I felt guilty about going out and looking, but it's something we had to do," said Toni Stone of Harrisonburg, Va.  Really, Toni - did you have to?

Get The Picture?
January 7, 2006
Oh, Kazakhstan!

Reuters reports that Nursultan Nazarbayev, the President of Kazakhstan, has grown tired of his country's old national anthem.  Perhaps the President wanted a fresh new tune to accompany the breeze of liberty that his people enjoy now that he has secured yet another seven year term after soundly defeating the meek and oppressed opposition.  Nothing secures the blessings of liberty like a strong, unchecked executive.  The United States is living proof.

Or maybe the Prez just wants to celebrate Kazakhstan's independence - the previous anthem was an old Soviet tome and Kazakhstan secured independence around the time of the Soviet Union's demise.  "The text should reflect the heroic centuries-long struggle of our ancestors for independence", according to Nazarbayev.  Well, we did just cross a century boundary, but I think N is stretching things when he describes the Kazakhstan independence movement as a "centuries-long struggle".  Then again, who's going to argue with him?  And maybe I just don't know enough about central Asian history.  Maybe he's talking about independence from the Mongols or something.

Nazarbayev, an old steelworker who usually doesn't allow himself to appear quite so joyous in public as the above picture suggests, lets his soft side come through on his web site,, where he has been known to open with poetic entreaties to his fellow citizens.  Check it out, but be prepared for slow downloads. 

The US has been pretty tight lipped about the political situation in Kazakhstan, particularly in light of our mission to nurture, promote, facilitate and otherwise secure democratic forms of government across the planet.  Our own President, in a letter to Nazarbayev had this to say: 

“Dear Mr. President! Under your leadership, Kazakhstan has become one of the world’s leaders in non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

The United States is also grateful for Kazakhstan’s steadfast friendship and solidarity in the Global War on Terrorism, particularly the outstanding service of the KAZBAT detachment in Iraq”.

Two things I caught right off.  The exclamation point and the KAZBAT.  Very scary, this KAZBAT.  Just what are they up to, anyway?  I'm guessing that W can be thankful for learning a thing or two from N.  Things like how to accumulate power in a single branch of government and, preferably, in a single close-knit group within that branch.  Also, how to apply mysterious groups like the KAZBAT to domestic security.  

Why Is This Man Smiling?
Oh, Now I Understand . . .
Still, I suspect that there are other reasons for our eagerness to jump into bed with N.  It didn't take long for me to find out - see diagram at right.  I'll bet the Kazakhs pay a fortune for gas, even as the spigot to the world is wide open - that's just a hunch.  Seems like oil has replaced money as the root of all evil.
I haven't heard N's idea for a new anthem, but maybe he can use some help.  I do know that the title will be "Oh, Kazakhstan".  Where can we go with that?

Oh, Kazakhstan.  Oh, Kazakhstan
How heavy lies your burden.
Oh, Kazakhstan Oh, Kazakhstan
Your Nazy's here for you.

Freedom 'scapes
Your clutching grasp
But we've got oil
And that's a blast

Oh, Kazakhstan.  Oh, Kazakhstan
Got a problem, call KAZBAT..
Oh, Kazakhstan. 
Where oil wells pierce the gloom.
Don't be afraid,
'cause Nazy's a nice guy.

With anxious glance,
we move along
being mindful of KAZBAT.

At least there's oil,
which will make us rich
while we wait patiently for rights.

God free our land
From all our bonds.
Oh, Kazakhstan
You deserve nothing less..
Oh, Kazakhstan
"Don't Worry, Be Happy"

Sung to the tune of "Oh Christmas Tree"
Sung to the tune of "Oh, Canada"
Christmas in Kazakhstan
Hope The Canadians Can Take a Joke
January 9, 2006
The Associated Press reports that Georgia farmers are in a state of panic.  The wild hogs "are eating anything they can find, from turtle eggs to garbage to the carcasses of other animals."  The garbage and rotting carcasses make sense - but why through in the turtle eggs?  Can't these pigs leave any nest unscathed?  I'm picturing farmers guarding their homesteads against ravaging hoards of beasts with a shotgun in one hand and a bottle of JD in the other.  Kind of like Night of the Living Dead, except, unlike zombies, you don't need a rifle to take a pig down.

The scariest aspect of the tragedy is the fact that the wild pig population is exploding.  Steve Ditchkoff, an associate professor of wildlife at Auburn University, calls wild hogs "one of the greatest ecological threats to the U.S., and right now, we have no way to control them."  What happened to acid rain, toxic chemical wastes and noxious industrial emissions?  You telling me that pigs are a bigger threat?  I'm not buying it.  And if the professor is really having a problem controlling the pigs, I'd suggest that there are thousands of well-armed Georgia farmers that have a solution at the ready.

Oh, and the professor has a profit motive for all this fear-mongering.  He's planning a boondogle in Alabama called the 2006 National Conference on Wild Pigs for May of this year.  Any academic with an interest in the problem and a healthy expense account is welcome to attend.  I can't wait to read the research papers.

AP leaves this little tidbit out until the end of the peice:  "Both pseudorabies and swine brucellosis have been found in Georgia hogs."  Why didn't you say that!  Let's quarantine Georgia.

Night of the Feral Pig

Concerned about Avian flu?  Losing sleep over relentlessly increasing global temperatures?  Suffering from post traumatic stress disorder over the recent spate of horrific catastrophes?  You ain't seen nothin' yet.  Wild feral pigs are literally eating everything in site in Georgia.

An Example of a Good Pig
January 12, 2006
letting us all know what precious little we can do to mitigate the effects of this looming public health catastrophe. 

Here are some examples for the stout-hearted:

They don't mention duct tape, but that might come in handy too.  But the most startling thing about this list is how utterly benign it is.  Aren't we all doing this kind of stuff already?  Listen, I understand that they probably aren't ready for this and don't have a lot of good stuff on the shelf to dish out.  But why open the web site with a confident statement list this:

"You can prepare for an influenza pandemic now. You should know both the magnitude of what can happen during a pandemic outbreak and what actions you can take to help lessen the impact of an influenza pandemic on you and your family. "

OK, how about ten doses of Tamiflu right now?
News From a Secure Homeland

As word seeps out that pandemic flu is creeping east across the steppes of Asia and into the nether reaches of Europe we should all take a moment to get real scared.  And if you're one of those practical sorts who is always looking for the silver lining, you'll be happy to know that the Department of Health and Human Services has launched a new web site dedicated to

Note To Self:  Avoid This Creature
January 13, 2006

X-Rated Checkpoints

Straight from the folks who just rolled out a ubiquitous, real-time vehicle tracking system we can now look forward to full-frontal nudity at airport check-ins.    The British are testing the feasibility of a new system "capable of digitally strip-searching travelers" to identify potential evil-doers.  This is a form of full-disclosure that I can do without.  It's not the x-ray vision that bothers me so much, it's the digital search.  Sounds painful.

The new scanning technology is being tried at Heathrow and any other major transportation hub that the local security geeks can shoehorn in.  Assuming the searchees remain in blissful ignorance about the examination process, I predict a successful outcome.  The security guards will surely have a thumb or two on that scale.

Let's hope our own venerated TSA doesn't get it's mitts on this gadget.  Thinking back on the luggage fiasco,  I'm imagining the endless varieties of mischief that can be perpetrated with nude photos of hapless travelers.  Within six months I predict that everybody that has passed through an airport in the US will show up on the Internet in their birthday suit.  Happy Birthday!

Avian Flu Update

Good news today from Reuters.  Genetic tests of the avian flu virus now bouncing around in Turkey show that, while the virus is mutating, it's "probably not enough to make it more dangerous yet."  Wait a minute.  Weren't we told that we needn't get too concerned about this avian flu nuisance since it doesn't propagate easily between people, and that we should only start to worry when we see evidence that it is mutating in humans?  Isn't that what's happened here?  And we're supposed to relax because it didn't mutate "that" much?  How much is too much?  Is anybody measuring that?  How will we know?  I guess when rush hour traffic on the beltway starts to ease up.

Pay No Attention To That Man Behind The Curtain
January 16, 2006

Don't Eat Arizona Snow

Remember when Lucy warned Charlie Brown not to eat December snow?  Her reasons were philosophical - only pure winter snow satisfies the gourmet palette and December is one of those schizoid months when we turn the page from one season to the next.  December snow is for those that lack the will to await that which is to come, and those who partake have forsaken their right to enjoy the fruits of January.  Well, if you ski in Flagstaff you've got a different reason to abstain - they're proposing to use treated wastewater to manufacture the snow.  And it doesn't get any better in January.  Kind of makes you want to make the detour to Aspen, doesn't it?
I'll be the first to admit that I'm not much of a skier so what the hell do I know, but I've never thought of Arizona as a big draw for the skiing aficionado.  If you want to ski out west, you go to Aspen or someplace like that, right?  Wrong.  The Arizona Snowbowl is a day trip for the Phoenix crew, who are not overly choosy about the flavor of the snow since they're lucky to have any at all living in a desert and all. 

Besides, the wonderful environmental credentials that come from using recycled water easily make up for the poor eating qualities of the resulting precipitation.  According to the Washington Post's description of the Snowbowl's proposal "treated effluent would be delivered by pipeline from Flagstaff, a few miles southeast."  At which point it would be quickly converted into snow good enough for even the most discerning tastes - skiers' that is, not eaters.  And the folks in Flagstaff get something too - every time they flush they can imagine themselves contributing to the fun of their cohorts on the slopes.

There's only one problem.  The Snowbowl, which is privately operated, sits on federal land.  A number of Indian tribes have objected to the proposal, claiming that the land is sacred.  Imagine, if you will, a huge pipeline spewing treated sewage atop your places of worship and the graves of your ancestors.  Would kind of get you uptight, right?  So maybe the Indians have a point.

Snowbowl officials are naturally eager to get things squared away.  You see, the proposal is "essential to ensure the survival of the ski area, which has struggled with short seasons because of lack of snow."  Let's see.  Arizona.  Desert.  Snow?  I know skiing is popular and all, but could it be that there are some places on earth where God just didn't intend for man to ski?
Be Careful Where You Land!