Wednesday, December 31, 2003
Head bumps run in families, but only randomly. My mother has had them, but a couple of years ago I mentioned to my brother that I was going to the dermatologist to have a couple of head bumps removed, and he wondered "what the fuck are you talking about?" So he apparently does not get head bumps.
I know people who have them pulled at their earliest manifestation, but I usually wait until they get a little bigger. Indeed, I had one pulled yesterday, and the incision point is mildly throbbing this morning, so the topic is on my mind.
Basically, the dermatologist numbs the area of the scalp under which the cyst squats, makes a small incision, and generally can remove the cyst "intact." If you get them removed early they are about the size of a pea, but because I generally put off annoying surgical procedures mine get somewhat larger. My standard is probably the size of a kidney bean, but a couple of years ago I had one about the size of a grape, which provoked some surprised commentary from the otherwise laconic doctor.
What I can't figure out is why insurers pay to have these things removed. They are harmless, and naturally occuring. It seems to me that their extraction is a matter of aesthetics, rather than medical necessity, and as an employer I wonder why we pay for this procedure. My dermatologist quite candidly wonders the same thing. I suppose that reimbursement for the removal of pilar cysts is a minor example of our national confusion over the depth and breadth of health care coverage.
Jenkins' point is the obvious one -- that the British were happily slamming down bangers made from chewed up infected cows for years, and total British deaths from human variant CJD (which is the really bad thing humans get if they are in fact infected by BSE) are still under 150 after more than a decade. While there have been a lot of scare stories about the long incubation period for the disease, deaths peaked a couple of years ago and (according to Jenkins) total casualties from the original British outbreak should not exceed 200 people. This after more than 200,000 cows were infected, and in many cases slaughtered and dumped into the food chain of a sausage eating country. You're a lot more likely to die in your bathtub.
The politics of this are equally stupid, and the Democrats (notably Howard Dean) have really missed a chance to make an intelligent argument. As the Washington Post points out, both Howard Dean and John Kerry have been arguing that the presence of the single infected cow is the result of poor safety practices for which the Bush Administration is responsible. This is ridiculous, as even the Post acknowledges: "The trouble is that, at least at this stage, there is no particular reason to think that the regulatory systems designed to prevent an outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in this country didn't function as intended."
The real failure of the Bush Administration, in my opinion, was in its reaction to the Canadian case last May. Instead of taking the high road and declaring that the risk posed by BSE to human health is trivial, the Bush Administration joined other countries in piling on Canada, inflicting great economic damage. Now it is payback time, and every country in the world with a beef industry to protect is using this as an excuse to keep out American beef.
If Howard Dean were interested in making some sense, he would have argued that the Bush Administration's "unilateralist" response to Canada's BSE case last May was yet another example of the United States "going it alone" at the expense of our allies, and that once again average Americans (or at least cattle producers) are suffering because of "arrogance" in the White House. That's an argument that would have been consistent with Dean's themes, and intelligent to boot. But he didn't make it, and instead proliferated the myth that American beef is in some way dangerous because of BSE.
Monday, December 29, 2003
Sunday, December 28, 2003
"However, realizing that al Qaeda was gunning for him and would try again, the Pakistani ruler was prepared. DEBKA-Net-Weekly's counter-terror sources report that in addition to the American jamming equipment, the president provided himself with a second gadget designed in Israel especially for detonating explosive belts carried by suicidal terrorists. This gadget is still being developed for the American army in Iraq. Instead of stopping a timer to gain one minute for escape, this system detonates the bomb belt on the terrorist's body.
"Israel's development of this device has been guided by three objectives:
"1. To acquire the ability to pre-empt a suicide bomber by detonating his charge before he reaches target, thereby cutting down casualties.
"2. Of late, Palestinian terror groups have taken to using advance parties to conceal a would-be suicide killer's bomb belt at safe drops like mosques or caves, where he picks it up a short time before he sets out for attack. The new system once perfected can be used to detect a suspected terrorist's hiding place and blow his belt up before he straps it on.
"3. Israeli intelligence has received word of a new weapon developed by al Qaeda and the Lebanese Hizballah in partnership: an explosive that is not activated by the bomber but is preset to blow up at a given time regardless of whether he is caught before he strikes. It also acts as back-up for faulty mechanisms. The two terror groups started working on their pre-timed device after the partial miss of the two British bombers, Muhammed Hanif and Omar Sharif, in their attack on a Tel Aviv bar on April 30, 2003. Hanif blew himself up, while Sharif's bomb-belt was faulty.
"The Israeli device is still experimental. It will undergo further testing before it goes into service."
While this may not be true -- DEBKAfile tends to frame rumors and speculation as if they were established fact -- it would be great if we were learning how to blow these guys up before they kill.
"...I am calling all people that truly care about honest representations of American History in Hollywood to standup and boycott the heavily promoted film, Cold Mountain. At a cost of $80+ million dollars and sporting a stellar cast and crew, this adaptation of Charles Fraizier's acclaimed bestseller opens Christmas Day everywhere and is being touted as the film to beat at the Academy Awards. It has generated glowing reviews for Disney, Miramax and all involved. It is also a sham; a slap in the face of African Americans everywhere, whose ancestors gave their lives in the Civil War, fighting for true freedom (sorry, President Bush!) from the most heinous slavery system known to modern man: the American Slavery System. How could a 3 hour film depict life in the heart of Virginia and North Carolina during the Civil War use 30 seconds of Black people picking cotton as its total reality of slavery during this period? In an article in the Washington Post, the film makers have said that slavery and racism were simply 'too raw' an emotional issue to present in their film. In other words, who would want to see a love story with the beautiful Jude Law and Nicole Kidman set in the reality of the Southern monstrosity of slavery.
"The film depicts one of the more important battle decisions in the Civil War; a battle in which the Union trained Black soldiers to tunnel under Confederate lines; a battle in which Blacks suffered their highest rate of casualties of any Union division in the fight! This is the great battle that opens Cold Mountain. You tell me if you spot ANY Black actors in the film fighting. It plays like Saving Private Ryan another film in which Black contributions to history -- namely the Battle at Normandy -- are completely excised from a major film. Shame on you, Hollywood. Shame on you!"
The author goes on at some length comparing Hollywood's documentation of the Hollocaust with the many fewer movies that realistically depict slavery, which is a diversion that weakens his argument. His basic point is very well taken, however. I'm not big on boycotts (although I did convert my alcoholic beverage intake entirely "coalition of the willing" products last winter), and I will probably see the movie, but I gladly help along his argument by posting it here.
Saturday, December 27, 2003
Friday, December 26, 2003
Howard Dean is certainly correct that our system should not "prejudge jury trials," but if he is going to be an effective candidate in the general election he is going to have to act, at least, that he is outraged by the atrocities Bin Laden committed on September 11. Calling for Bin Laden's head is the right and vote-getting thing to do, and if Dean does not start doing so he is going to get crushed in November.
More troubling is that Dean apparently "questioned whether the Bush administration's use of force against Iraq had anything to do with Libya's announcement that it will scrap its programs for weapons of mass destruction." Who is he kidding? As Charles Krauthammer argues very lucidly, if sarcastically: "Yeah, sure. After 18 years of American sanctions, Moammar Gaddafi randomly picks Dec. 19, 2003, as the day for his surrender. By amazing coincidence, Gaddafi's first message to Britain -- principal U.S. war ally and conduit to White House war councils -- occurs just days before the invasion of Iraq. And his final capitulation to U.S.-British terms occurs just five days after Saddam Hussein is fished out of a rathole."
Anybody who argues that the Iraq war had nothing to do with Libya's capitulation has to explain why the Clinton Administration didn't get the job done years ago. After all, if mere diplomacy, without the credible threat of force, could get Libya to surrender its nuclear weapons program, what was holding Clinton back?
The day started poorly, in that both Starbucks and its worthy back-up, the Durango Coffee Shop, were closed (apparently both were unwilling to incur blasphemy risk). On the brink of the pit of despair, we noticed that the “Buzz Café” was open, so we were in fact able to caffeinate before hitting the slopes. The Buzz Café is run (or on this day was staffed) by a bearded ski town type who looks and speaks as though he gets his buzz in many different ways. Nevertheless, he made excellent espresso drinks and thereby earned a huge tip just for being there on Christmas Day. “Thanks, man.”
The skiing was pretty good, notwithstanding several minor catastrophes. Nobody committed a “yard sale” (a fall that distributes skis and poles around the slope, some distance from the fallen skier), but we were definitely a bit jinxed. On our second chairlift ride, number one son dropped a ski pole into some bushes along the edge of a run, and had to ski back down to retrieve it. Of course, number one daughter heaped massive scorn on number one son for this atrocity, scorn-heaping being one of her real talents. She suffered some serious karma backlash, though, when the next time she got on a chairlift she lost both poles and her left ski. We decided that this was an “embarkation yard sale,” which number one daughter nevertheless tried to claim was still “not as lame” as number one son’s lost pole, since it happened at the base of the lift instead of in the middle of the ride. Not surprisingly, she refused to countenance any alternative characterization.
I strongly reinforced the widely held view that I have poor gross motor skills. Cruising behind the crowd (there were something like eleven of us, ages 8 to 72, skiing together) on a gently sloping “green” run, I managed to catch an edge and fall in such a way that the handle of my pole smashed into the right lens of my goggles, and then slid along my cheek to my lower jaw before the pole snapped and I came crashing to the ground. My goggles cracked, and I got a fat lip and a nice swell going on my lower jaw. Just call me Contusion Boy.
Of course, everybody tried to make me feel better about it by sharing their own stories of spectacular falls, but the ugly truth was that nobody really could understand how it was possible to wedge a ski pole between one’s eyeball and the ski. I assure you, it is.
Athletic ability is definitely not distributed evenly. Our South African au pair had never been on skis until Tuesday. She took a two-hour private lesson, spent another couple of hours tooling down the bunny slopes, and yesterday managed to get through a day skiing with the rest of us without falling once. She is looking forward to skiing in the eastern Transvaal when she goes back home in July. Who knew there was skiing in Africa?
Thursday, December 25, 2003
"I’m burying my career so substantially in these interviews that it’s painful. But I think that there are some questions that demand honest answers.
"I think that Tolkien says that some generations will be challenged. And if they do not rise to meet that challenge, they will lose their civilization. That does have a real resonance with me.
"I have had the ideal background for being an actor. I have always been an outsider. I grew up in colonial Africa. And I remember in 1955, it would have to be somewhere between July the 25th when the school holiday started and September the 18th when the holidays ended. My father took me down to the quayside in Dar-Es-Salaam harbor. And he pointed out a dhow in the harbor and he said, 'You see that dhow there? Twice a year it comes down from Aden. It stops here and goes down [South]. On the way down it's got boxes of machinery and goods. On the way back up it’s got two or three little black boys on it. Now, those boys are slaves. And the United Nations will not let me do anything about it.'
"The conversation went on. 'Look, boy. There is not going to be a World War between Russia and the United States. The next World War will be between Islam and the West.'
"This is 1955! I said to him, 'Dad, you’re nuts! The Crusades have been over for hundreds of years!'
"And he said, 'Well, I know, but militant Islam is on the rise again. And you will see it in your lifetime.'
"He’s been dead some years now. But there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think of him and think, 'God, I wish you were here, just so I could tell you that you were right.'
"What is unconscionable is that too many of your fellow journalists do not understand how precarious Western civilization is and what a jewel it is.
"How did we get the sort of real democracy, how did we get the level of tolerance that allows me to propound something that may be completely alien to you around this table, and yet you will take it and you will think about it and you’ll say no you’re wrong because of this and this and this. And I’ll listen and I’ll say, 'Well, actually, maybe I am wrong because of this and this.'
[He points at a female reporter and adopts an authoritarian voice, to play a militant-Islam character:]"‘You should not be in this room. Because your husband or your father is not hear to guide you. You could only be here in this room with these strange men for immoral purposes.’
"I mean… the abolition of slavery comes from Western democracy. True Democracy comes from our Greco-Judeo-Christian-Western experience. If we lose these things, then this is a catastrophe for the world."
Food for thought, and pretty damn unusual thinking from a movie star.
Credit where credit is due - I spotted this on Andrewsullivan.com.
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
On Monday, though, we deposited the children with their aunt and cousins and drove to Mesa Verde National Park, which is not far from here. Mesa Verde is the home of more than 600 Ancestral Puebloan ruins, many of which are lodged into the sides of cliffs and thereby preserved under the shelter of the overhanging rock. We took a guided tour of Spruce Tree House, and otherwise drove around to various points with good views of Cliff Palace, the Sun Temple, and other famous ruins. These archeological sites are incredibly cool, and should be on everybody’s list of North American places to visit.
From the little I could pick up on the tour and in the museum, the Ancestral Puebloan civilization occupied the Mesa Verde area for about 1000 years, but only occupied the cliff dwellings that have been so well-preserved for about a century, roughly 700 years ago. There is some debate among scholars as to the reasons that the Ancestral Puebloans abandoned the cliff dwellings after such a short period, but the theory adopted by the National Park Service rangers (the main source of my knowledge on the topic) was that there was a 25 year drought in the 13th century that eventually forced them to pack up and move on.
I always wonder about these mass migrations and other civilization-spanning decisions. What was the bureaucratic dynamic? Did they disagree about it? If so, who made the call to leave? Who suffered the most when they all packed up and left? For example, the Sun Temple is a large, uncompleted project of undetermined purpose (though archeologists, in naming it the “Sun Temple,” are obviously speculating that it was intended for ceremonial purposes). I figure that any group undertaking as ambitious as the Sun Temple had to have a project manager, or maybe several, who were very wrapped up in its construction over many years. Did the Sun Temple project manager go completely bananas when the chief made his decision to abandon the cliff dwellings? Or was the whole thing just hashed out in some friendly Puebloan politburo designed to resolve these kinds of differences in opinion? I’m guessing that they had a huge argument, and probably came to blows. After all, we apparently no longer refer to these people as the “Anasazi,” since it means something like “eternal enemies” in Hopi. I bet they had to kill the guy, he was so pissed off.
So whenever you work really hard on something that your thoughtless boss or uncaring client nullifies with one sweeping decision, think of the poor Sun Temple project manager.
Tuesday, December 23, 2003
Monday, December 22, 2003
Yesterday we traveled to Durango, via Denver, and things went both terribly and according to plan. Terribly, in that we had to work our way through a six (6) hour layover in Denver airport. According to plan, because, as my wife would say, we “meant to do that.” It seems that by accepting an incredibly long stop in Denver we were able to save roughly $400 per ticket. While there were moments yesterday when I thought that six hours in Denver for $400 X 5 was a bad trade, it actually didn't even rank in my running list of hideous travel experiences. In the event, I was able to play around with my new digital camera, stuff a bunch of Christmas cards into envelopes, drink two beers, surf the web via a wireless connection I picked up in the bar, eat a tuna steak, get a poorly-executed chair massage (price = 1% of our savings from the five hour layover), read from my book and the huge pile of newspapers and magazines I lug around, watch the people (who are generally much more attractive than in New Jersey) and delete a bunch of superceded emails from my Inbox, which is about as productive as I usually am on a Sunday afternoon. And, apart from a constant stream of sarcasm, the children behaved well, so we didn’t have to threaten any unenforceable sanctions.
The only unscheduled glitch was related to the capacity of the little propeller plane that United proposed to fly over the Rockies to Durango. A few minutes before flight time they announced that our plane was subject to “weight limitations.” They asked people to volunteer to be bumped not because there weren’t enough seats, but because the people in the seats, plus their baggage, just added up to too much weight. Since I didn’t see any real “belt over, palms back” fatsos in the gate area, it must have been the bags. Hey, it was probably our bags, in that we are humping clothes and ski equipment for five people and Christmas presents for something like 13 people.
The troubling part was that having asked for bump-volunteers and not getting any, they did not actually force anybody off the plane. Instead they announced that they were “crunching numbers” to figure out whether the number of children would let them fly without kicking somebody off. I did not find it comforting that the success of our flight over the Rockies in the snow turned on any employee of United Airlines, up to and including the CFO, “crunching numbers,” or that the inputs to such number crunching included the difference between a child's weight, eye-balled by the gate attendant, and an adult's weight, also so eye-balled. But we made it.
Sunday, December 21, 2003
If you visit their site, consider reading their article suggesting that Saddam was being held captive, rather than in hiding, when U.S. soldiers arrived.
Saturday, December 20, 2003
"For users in the State of California, U.S.A. Place the following sticker in a blank area of the product manual.
WARNING: Handling the cord on this product will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling."
I am relieved, for once, that I live in New Jersey.
Friday, December 19, 2003
From the Commanding Officer at MWSS-171 to his Marines.
Marines and Sailors,
As we approach the end of the year I think it is important
to share a few thoughts about what you've accomplished directly,
in some cases, and indirectly in many others. I am speaking about
what the Bush Administration and each of you has contributed by wearing
the uniform, because the fact that you wear the uniform contributes
100% to the capability of the nation to send a few onto the field to
execute national policy. As you read about these achievements you are
a part of I would call your attention to two things:
1. This is good news that hasn't been fit to print or report on TV.
2. It is much easier to point out the errors a man makes when he makes
the tough decisions, rarely is the positive as aggressively pursued.
Since President Bush declared an end to major combat on May 1...
... the first battalion of the new Iraqi Army has graduated and is on active
... over 60,000 Iraqis now provide security to their fellow citizens.
... nearly all of Iraq's 400 courts are functioning.
... the Iraqi judiciary is fully independent.
... on Monday, October 6 power generation hit 4,518 megawatts-exceeding the
... all 22 universities and 43 technical institutes and colleges are open,
as are nearly all primary and secondary schools.
... by October 1, Coalition forces had rehab-ed over 1,500 schools - 500
more than scheduled.
... teachers earn from 12 to 25 times their former salaries.
... all 240 hospitals and more than 1200 clinics are open.
... doctors salaries are at least eight times what they were under Saddam.
... pharmaceutical distribution has gone from essentially nothing to 700
tons in May to a current total of 12,000 tons.
... the Coalition has helped administer over 22 million vaccinations to
... a Coalition program has cleared over 14,000 kilometers of Iraq's 27,000
kilometers of weed-choked canals which now irrigate tens of thousands of
farms. This project has created jobs for more than 100,000 Iraqi men and
... we have restored over three-quarters of prewar telephone services and
over two-thirds of the potable water production.
... there are 4,900 full-service telephone connections. We expect 50,000 by
... the wheels of commerce are turning. From bicycles to satellite dishes
to cars and trucks, businesses are coming to life in all major cities and
... 95 percent of all prewar bank customers have service and first-time
customers are opening accounts daily.
... Iraqi banks are making loans to finance businesses.
... the central bank is fully independent.
... Iraq has one of the worlds most growth-oriented investment and banking
... Iraq has a single, unified currency for the first time in 15 years.
... satellite TV dishes are legal.
... foreign journalists aren't on 10-day visas paying mandatory and
extortionate fees to the Ministry of Information for "minders" and other
... there is no Ministry of Information.
... there are more than 170 newspapers.
... you can buy satellite dishes on what seems like every street corner.
... foreign journalists (and everyone else) are free to come and go.
... a nation that had not one single element - legislative, judicial or
executive - of a representative government, now does.
... in Baghdad alone residents have selected 88 advisory councils.
Baghdad's first democratic transfer of power in 35 years happened when the
city council elected its new chairman.
... today in Iraq chambers of commerce, business, school and professional
organizations are electing their leaders all over the country.
... 25 ministers, selected by the most representative governing body in
Iraq's history, run the day-to-day business of government.
.... the Iraqi government regularly participates in international events.
Since July the Iraqi government has been represented in over two dozen
international meetings, including those of the UN General Assembly, the Arab
League, the World Bank and IMF and, today, the Islamic Conference Summit.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs today announced that it is reopening over 30
Iraqi embassies around the world.
... Shia religious festivals, that were all but banned, aren't.
... for the first time in 35 years, in Karbala thousands of Shiites
celebrate the pilgrimage of the 12th Imam.
... the Coalition has completed over 13,000 reconstruction projects, large
and small, as part of a strategic plan for the reconstruction of Iraq.
... Uday and Queasy are dead - and no longer feeding innocent Iraqis to the
zoo lions, raping the young daughters of local leaders to force cooperation,
torturing Iraq's soccer players for losing games, or murdering critics.
... children aren't imprisoned or murdered when their parents disagree with
... political opponents aren't imprisoned, tortured, executed, maimed, or
are forced to watch their families die for disagreeing with Saddam.
... millions of longsuffering Iraqis no longer live in perpetual terror.
... Saudis will hold municipal elections.
... Qatar is reforming education to give more choices to parents.
... Jordan is accelerating market economic reforms.
... the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded for the first time to an Iranian -- a
Muslim woman who speaks out with courage for human rights, for democracy and
... Saddam is gone.
... Iraq is free..
... President Bush has not faltered or failed.
... Yet, little or none of this information has been published by the Press
corps that prides itself on bringing you all the news that's important.
Iraq under US-led control has come further in six months than Germany did
in seven years or Japan did in nine years following WWII. Military deaths
from fanatic Nazi's and Japanese numbered in the thousands, and continued
for over three years after WWII victory was declared.
It took the US over four months to clear away the twin tower debris, let
alone attempt to build something else in its place.
Now, take into account that Congress fought President Bush on every aspect
of his handling of this country's war and the post-war reconstruction; and
that they continue to claim on a daily basis on national TV that this conflict
has been a failure.
Taking everything into consideration, even the unfortunate loss of our brothers
and sisters in this conflict, do you think anyone else in the world could
have accomplished as much as the United States and the Bush administration
in so short a period of time?
These are things worth writing about. Get the word out. Write to someone you
think may be able to influence our Congress or the press to tell the story.
Above all, be proud that you are a part of this historical precedent.
God Bless you all. Have a great Holiday.
Thursday, December 18, 2003
All the best,