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December 27, 2005
Next Time Take The Train
Pastor's Wife Loses Cool

Seems like the "smiling Pastor" has something to frown about.  Joel Osteen, whose syrupy, saccharine brand of evangelism is sweeping the nation, has a bitchy wife.  Here, you be the judge.

They're taking their seats in the first class cabin of a holiday flight to Vail for a little family getaway when Victoria (that's her name) noticed some leftover liquid residue on her seat.  Unaccustomed to doing anything quite that messy for herself, she immediately consulted a flight attendant, who 
asked her to wait patiently while she tended to a more pressing matter.  Patience is also something Ms. Osteen rarely comes into contact with, and she really wanted to sit down bad, so she grabbed another flight attendant by the wrist and insisted on immediate service.  Bad move.  Assaulting a flight attendant may be OK in heaven, but down here it's a felony.  F-E-L-O-N-Y.  

Ms. Osteen was whisked off the plane along with her brood (Pastor included), where they moped in the departure lounge until a charter flight could be arranged to take them to their destination.  Their spokesman, Don Iloff, had a much milder spin to put on it:  "In semantics, they might have been asked to be removed.  Really, it was more of a mutual thing."  Who are the parties involved in this "mutuality"?  I suspect it came down to something as direct as "Leave nicely before we have your asses hauled off the plane in handcuffs."  I'd be inclined to follow instructions at that point too.

What's this guy doing going to Vail the day after Christmas?  He's the spiritual leader of the largest church in the nation.   Wouldn't you think he'd stick around awhile and celebrate the anniversary of our savior's arrival with his parishioners?  There are a few more things you need to know about this guy to get the big picture.

I picked up a copy of the Pastor's recent bestseller - "Your Best Life Now" - where he espouses a form of Christianity that encourages believers to have faith that God is watching out for them exclusively.  Wait a minute - wasn't it Jesus that said that only two things really matter - love your God and love your neighbor?  I don't remember anything about loving God because you'll get good stuff for Christmas, or a good parking spot, or special attention when trying to stow extra baggage in the overhead compartments on a crowded flight (the last two are real examples from the book).  This guy is preaching an evangelism of entitlement.

When a book is brimming with inane anecdotes like this it's hard to pick a favorite, so I just pulled out my copy and opened to a random page.  I wasn't disappointed.  Osteen describes one of those boys-will-be-boys stories in which he gets pulled over for speeding in the town that his father was preaching in.  The trooper eyes Osteen warily and asks him if he is related to the preacher.  Never one to question authority, the wimpy Osteen says "It all depends on whether you like him or not."  Evidently he would have sold his father's soul to escape a citation.  Luckily his father's preaching satisfies the local PD, and Joel's wish (er, prayer) was granted.  Then he closes the thing out by saying "The point is, of course, that I received preferential treatment, not because of me, but because of my father."  And he doesn't mean the Holy Father, either.  I think this guy is missing something profound.

Victoria show up in the book a lot too, and it didn't take me long to find a ridiculous anecdote that involves her.  You see, Victoria loves to shop.  One day she was shopping with the Pastor and picked out "a few items" and, when Joel went to the register to pay the cashier discretely informed him that the stuff was going to be on sale in a day or so, so she might as well give him the sale price.  Then she found something wrong with one of the garments and gave him another discount.  Joel thinks this is Gods favor working to make his life easier.  I think God has more important things to worry about, and Joel just happened to run into a nice cashier.  I'll bet Victoria was beside herself when she found out that he bought a damaged item for her. 
December 28, 2005
Got Milk?

Goodbye fiber, hello Vitamin D.  Researchers now say you should chug an extra glass of the white stuff in the morning to fortify your body against those nasty cancer germs (or whatever it is that causes cancer).  Oddly enough, Vitamin D seems to work only on colon, ovarian and breast cancers.  Wouldn't you think it would be good for bone cancer?  That's for next week's news.

This new development was discovered by a couple of scientists pawing over 64 studies that had previously been completed.  These guys did no original work of their own - it's like the Cliff's Notes of science.  And if these studies have been lying around just waiting for a PhD with a flair for investigative science, why are we just now hearing about it?  

And what's the best way to supplement your daily intake?  No, it's not an extra glass or two of milk, which would add to our nation's existing obesity epidemic.  The same theorists that found the Vitamin D link are advising people to spend more time in the sun - the human body becomes a Vitamin D factory when soaking up the rays.  Be careful, though - too much sunlight can cause skin cancer.  Oh, and high doses of Vitamin D are toxic and may cause an excess of calcium in the blood - extreme cases may lead to death.  

Isn't healthy living fun!
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 know 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 KAZMAT 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 KAZMAT..
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 KAZMAT.

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 
January 9, 2006
The Associated Press reports that local 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 throw 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 boondoggle 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 piece:  "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