Sunday, August 31, 2008

POLICE STATE: Massive police raids on suspected protestors in Minneapolis

Protesters here in Minneapolis have been targeted by a series of highly intimidating, sweeping police raids across the city, involving teams of 25-30 officers in riot gear, with semi-automatic weapons drawn, entering homes of those suspected of planning protests, handcuffing and forcing them to lay on the floor, while law enforcement officers searched the homes, seizing computers, journals, and political pamphlets. Last night, members of the St. Paul police department and the Ramsey County sheriff's department handcuffed, photographed and detained dozens of people meeting at a public venue to plan a demonstration, charging them with no crime other than "fire code violations," and early this morning, the Sheriff's department sent teams of officers into at least four Minneapolis area homes where suspected protesters were staying.
Jane Hamsher and I were at two of those homes this morning -- one which had just been raided and one which was in the process of being raided. Each of the raided houses is known by neighbors as a "hippie house," where 5-10 college-aged individuals live in a communal setting, and everyone we spoke with said that there had never been any problems of any kind in those houses, that they were filled with "peaceful kids" who are politically active but entirely unthreatening and friendly. Posted below is the video of the scene, including various interviews, which convey a very clear sense of what is actually going on here.
In the house that had just been raided, those inside described how a team of roughly 25 officers had barged into their homes with masks and black swat gear, holding large semi-automatic rifles, and ordered them to lie on the floor, where they were handcuffed and ordered not to move. The officers refused to state why they were there and, until the very end, refused to show whether they had a search warrant. They were forced to remain on the floor for 45 minutes while the officers took away the laptops, computers, individual journals, and political materials kept in the house. One of the individuals renting the house, an 18-year-old woman, was extremely shaken as she and others described how the officers were deliberately making intimidating statements such as "Do you have Terminator ready?" as they lay on the floor in handcuffs. The 10 or so individuals in the house all said that though they found the experience very jarring, they still intended to protest against the GOP Convention, and several said that being subjected to raids of that sort made them more emboldened than ever to do so.
Several of those who were arrested are being represented by Bruce Nestor, the President of the Minnesota chapter of the National Lawyers' Guild. Nestor said that last night's raid involved a meeting of a group calling itself the "RNC Welcoming Committee", and that this morning's raids appeared to target members of "Food Not Bombs," which he described as an anti-war, anti-authoritarian protest group. There was not a single act of violence or illegality that has taken place, Nestor said. Instead, the raids were purely anticipatory in nature, and clearly designed to frighten people contemplating taking part in any unauthorized protests.
Nestor indicated that only 2 or 3 of the 50 individuals who were handcuffed this morning at the 2 houses were actually arrested and charged with a crime, and the crime they were charged with is "conspiracy to commit riot." Nestor, who has practiced law in Minnesota for many years, said that he had never before heard of that statute being used for anything, and that its parameters are so self-evidently vague, designed to allow pre-emeptive arrests of those who are peacefully protesting, that it is almost certainly unconstitutional, though because it had never been invoked (until now), its constitutionality had not been tested.
There is clearly an intent on the part of law enforcement authorities here to engage in extreme and highly intimidating raids against those who are planning to protest the Convention. The DNC in Denver was the site of several quite ugly incidents where law enforcement acted on behalf of Democratic Party officials and the corporate elite that funded the Convention to keep the media and protesters from doing anything remotely off-script. But the massive and plainly excessive preemptive police raids in Minnesota are of a different order altogether. Targeting people with automatic-weapons-carrying SWAT teams and mass raids in their homes, who are suspected of nothing more than planning dissident political protests at a political convention and who have engaged in no illegal activity whatsoever, is about as redolent of the worst tactics of a police state as can be imagined.

Brick by Brick, a Weekend Warrior Builds a Medieval Retirement Home

Casper and Diane Noz and their castle in Snelling, Calif., which Mr. Noz has been building for 20 years.
Published: August 30, 2008
SNELLING, Calif. — Most days, the talk here among the farmers and almond growers along this stretch of two-lane blacktop 18 miles from the nearest on-ramp concerns heat units — as hot summer days are known — and the hull split that signals the approach of almond harvest season.
Caspar Noz in the stairway of one of the turrets. He laid the brick, built the staircase, and installed the stained-glass windows.
Jim Wilson/The New York Times
A suit of armor at the entrance to the castle, which also has a moat. Diane Noz and her granddaughter Emma Huber are at right.
But there is also the Kasteel Noz, the turreted brick castle with two towers and a moat that Casper Noz, a 51-year-old contractor who was born in the Netherlands, has been obsessively building by himself almost completely by hand on weekends for the past 20 years.
“They think it’s odd, but everyone just accepts it now,” Dan Mallory, who runs the nearby Roberts Ferry Nut Company, said of the ultimate do-it-yourself project in his midst, from which a turret-silhouetted view of Half Dome in Yosemite can sometimes be gleaned through the Central Valley haze. “Casper is very meticulous.”
Mr. Noz, a father of three, has been known to throw an occasional flaming arrow from the top of the castle into a fire pit as a celebratory gesture during birthday parties. An independent contractor, he specializes in agricultural buildings, including fumigation rooms for almonds and walnuts, as well as modest home additions and remodeling — for which there is still a demand, he said, despite the foreclosure crisis set off by what he calls “the ‘have-it-today’ mentality.”
Instant gratification does not appear to be in Mr. Noz’s world view. Although he did not set out to build a castle, dissatisfaction with his own blueprints for a home with a grand entrance eventually carried him back to the landscape of his youth in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the fortified medieval city that was the home of the Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch. There, “the night views were all lit up with castles,” Mr. Noz recalled. “Things look so much nicer with a castle.”
It is one thing to have a castle built; it is quite another to build a castle. With the exception of eight months off because of injuries he sustained in a car accident, Mr. Noz has worked on his castle — designed strictly from his childhood memory — every weekend since 1988, mixing his own mortar in a wheelbarrow, forging the iron bolts, latches and other hardware, making the oak doors and fir spiral staircases and laying the bricks, about 40,000 and counting, by hand (he occasionally uses a forklift). Including slate for the roofs, imported from China, and the odd gargoyle, Mr. Noz estimates he has spent $150,000 so far, and 500 hours a year.
The grand plan is for Mr. Noz and his wife, Diane, an Iowa native who works as a special education aide, to retire here, though the castle is only half-completed, with four more towers to come. Its Rapunzel-like forms rise surrealistically from a dried-up reservoir, about a 15-minute drive from the Nozes’ home on a quiet suburban street in Denair (population 3,400). Even there, the Noz touch is apparent in the basketball hoop attached to a miniature bell tower in the driveway — with a real bell — and an indoor fish pond under the staircase, currently fishless because of a slow leak.
Mr. Noz first visited the United States in 1977 as a 20-year-old on a family vacation. Several months later, his father, Francis, a patent attorney, bought his son a plane ticket to San Francisco, where Mr. Noz eventually became an apprentice to a high-rise builder. To his European eye, California was the promised land. “I looked at those houses in America, which were a bunch of two-by-fours, and thought, boy, this is easy — anybody can build a home in the U.S.”
Mr. Noz is thought to be the first person to file plans for a medieval castle with the Merced County building department. He was required to meet state seismic regulations and load requirements, said Lydia Clary, the county’s supervising building inspector, and an architect was required to sign off on the plans. Ms. Clary said she was struck by Mr. Noz’s unusual attention to detail. “He actually vacuumed the footings, or holes for the concrete foundation, so there wouldn’t be any loose dirt,” she said.
Rosie Burroughs, whose organic grass-based dairy adjoins the castle, has watched her neighbor’s progress with fascination.
“He has an incredible gift of creativity,” Mrs. Burroughs said. Locally the castle has become the go-to place for Halloween potluck dinners and seventh-grade Renaissance field trips in which students joust with swimming-pool noodles.
But it was not always so. Mrs. Burroughs recalled her first encounter with Mr. Noz. “I had a gun drawn on me,” she said. “Ten years later, we got reacquainted.”
Even before the castle, the landscape was changing, as open grasslands susceptible to scourges of grasshoppers gave way to dusty almond orchards. The evolution was the result of Caterpillar tractors that could rip through the hardpan and drip irrigation systems that allowed orchards to grow on hillsides, away from gravity-fed canals.
Today, almond orchards are the castle’s unofficial pleasure gardens, though few outside the neighborhood know it exists. But on Labor Day, it may have its moment of glory, as foodies from Slow Food Nation in San Francisco — in what is billed as “the largest celebration of American food in history” — tour grass-based dairies, stopping at the castle for a lunch of regional wines and cheeses. Their guide will be Joel Salatin, the grass-farming hero of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” by Michael Pollan.
But as a dream house, the Kasteel Noz is unlikely to stir the popular imagination in the manner of a legendary castle down the coast.
“Just like me, he had a heck of an idea,” Mr. Noz said of William Randolph Hearst. “But he didn’t lay a single brick.”

Friday, August 29, 2008

John Edwards To Speak At U of I

Less than a month after John Edwards admitted having an extramarital affair, the University of Illinois says the two-time presidential candidate has agreed to speak on campus in October.

And according to the university, an Edwards representative says the former North Carolina senator is looking to add to his public speaking load.

University spokeswoman Robin Kaler said Thursday said a student group has booked Edwards to speak October 14 at Foellinger Auditorium on "The American Dream." Tickets are free, but the student group is paying Edwards $65,000.

Kaler says the group gave Edwards a chance to back out after he acknowledged earlier this month that he had an extramarital affair with a filmmaker hired by his political action committee during his most recent bid for the presidency.

"The agent responded that (Edwards) is adding to his calendar, and that the fee has gone up," Kaler said.

She declined to identify the agent.

Edwards couldn't be reached by phone or e-mail through his former campaign office or a think tank with which his wife, Elizabeth, is affiliated.

Edwards is making other public-speaking appearances. Salem State College spokesman Jim Glynn says Edwards and his wife, Elizabeth, are scheduled to speak in September at the Massachusetts school, an appearance booked before Edward's admission of affair.

Edwards also made an unsuccessful bid for the vice presidency as Democrat John Kerry's running mate four years ago.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Woman spots baby’s eye cancer online

U.K. mom saw tumor that doctors missed: ‘Anybody would have done it’
By Bob Considine
It wasn’t easy for Madeleine Robb to send an e-mail to another mom warning that her baby might have a deadly form of eye cancer. But she’s glad she did it — and so is the mother of 1-year-old Rowan Santos.
“I didn’t want to scare her,” Robb told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira from London on Thursday. “But then I weighed out the options. If something wasn’t wrong, then no real harm was done. If something was wrong, I really had no option, so obviously I had to tell her.”
Just hours after reading the e-mail, Megan Santos of Riverview, Fla., learned from a doctor that Rowan has a potentially deadly form of childhood cancer called retinoblastoma.
Although Rowan will, unfortunately, lose her left eye, Megan Santos has called Robb, who hails from England, a “hero,” because the online diagnosis may have saved her baby’s life.
The two moms, who each gave birth to a daughter on the same day, spoke for the first time on the phone on Wednesday. But it was a newer form of communication, the Internet, that provided the vital information and the lifesaving link.
Crucial correspondence
Santos and Robb first met online through chat on a pregnancy Web site,, when they were both expecting. Their respective daughters, Rowan Santos and Lileth Robb, were born on the same day last August, spurring a continuing friendship through regular e-mails and photo-sharing.
When Santos posted a photo of 1-year-old Rowan on the Web site, her friend across the Atlantic noticed a white shadow in the baby’s left eye.
Robb, a 32-year-old business analyst with no medical training, found the image curious, so she did some research on the Web. She learned that the white area could be a symptom of an eye cancer called retinoblastoma.
Though it was the first time she’d ever seen the symptom, Robb explained, “I’d seen a news article here in the U.K a few years ago, something similar, and it just sparked a memory of that. Also, the word ‘cancer’ sprang to mind with the same memory. So obviously I was quite concerned and just decided to do more research.”
From her home in Stretford, England, Robb sent a concerned e-mail to Santos. Immediately, Santos made an appointment with Rowan's doctor. The next day, Aug. 8, she was referred to an ophthalmologist. A series of tests revealed Rowan did have a cancerous tumor growing on her retina.
Rowan will lose the eye sometime this winter, and there are rounds of chemotherapy ahead. But Santos has nothing but gratitude for the e-mail warning she believes saved her daughter’s life.

At 5,280 Feet, the Party Atmosphere Is Thin

EVEN if the modern presidential convention has become a largely symbolic affair, the constant flow of nightly parties and celebrations has always been reason enough to keep the stodgy tradition going.
But this year at the Democratic National Convention, there is a new complaint being whispered by disgruntled guests: partying in Denver is a downer.
“Normally at conventions, you’d have people regaling you with what happened the night before,” said Emil Hill, a Washington communications executive who has been party-hopping steadily all week. “This time, not a single person has given me a story. I guess when you lose two elections in a row, people learn from that.”
Blame nervous Democrats who are remembering their brash optimism in 2000 and 2004. Or the party leaders who have warned attendees not to drink because of the altitude. Or the tangled logistics of getting around Denver, with its sprawling layout that has left delegates, executives, lobbyists and the news media stranded in hotels up to 30 miles from the convention site, and locked in battle over scarce cabs at midnight. (It’s hard to party when you can’t get home.)
Or even the distracting presence of some young people — staff members of the Republican war room set up here — who have mischievously crashed social events and helped themselves to free liquor all week long.
Some high-powered lobbyists who were circulating at their own parties, where few members of Senator Barack Obama’s staff were in attendance, blamed the Obama campaign’s anti-corporate, anti-lobbyist attitude for the tame night life at the convention.
“The parties are flat,” a Democratic lobbyist said. “There’s a sense that the parties are completely detached from the populist excitement that undergirds Obama’s appeal.”
After the much-anticipated speech by Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Tuesday night, a media-and-politics-heavy crowd packed Lure Lounge for a party sponsored by Politico and the Glover Park Group, confidently billed as “The Best Party in Denver.”
As a line of weary reporters formed outside, Joe Lockhart, the former Clinton mouthpiece, held court in one corner of the dimly lighted bar, and Representative Rahm Emanuel, Democrat of Illinois, chatted up a crowd of people in another, as his security detail waited outside.
Around 11 p.m., Bill Burton, the press secretary for Senator Obama, sat in the shadows in the back of an upstairs room, intently typing on his laptop. Standing a few feet away was the actress Ashley Judd, who arrived in a red-and-white sundress and without a spot of makeup. (After chatting politely with another guest about her home state of Kentucky, she jumped into a cab 20 minutes after her arrival.)
Blocks away, a party was underway in the lobby of the ultramodern Jet Hotel in lower downtown. The musician Moby worked his way around the room, and cocktail waitresses in tiny black halter tops carried shots of liquor on trays.
But in spite of the youthful crowd and free-flowing drinks, some guests still fretted out loud about Mr. Obama.
“The one thing that Democrats have learned is that if anyone can lose an election, it’s the Democrats,” said Kevin Bondelli, the owner of a design and consulting firm in Arizona. “In the last eight years, we’ve become a lot more respectful of the Republican political machine.”
Of course, there was no dampening the enthusiasm of some convention goers. At a “Sex, Politics and Cocktails” party on Monday, sponsored by the Planned Parenthood political action fund, Bill Walsh, a delegate from South Carolina, dressed the patriotic part in a cowboy hat and a button-down shirt in an American flag pattern. “The air is thin and we’re all high,” Mr. Walsh said.
The actress Aisha Tyler showed up at the same party, brimming with excitement and fresh from hearing Michelle Obama’s prime-time convention speech. “I was in tears,” she said, adding that the Planned Parenthood bash was “a hot party.”
Dan Abrams, the MSNBC anchor who recently lost his prime-time show, was spotted at event after event, wearing a muscle tee and bobbing to the music at a party on Monday night.
But a “Rock the Vote” concert later that night, with a musical appearance by Jakob Dylan, was only sparsely attended, said one guest who left early out of boredom. The red carpet outside a Rolling Stone-Trojan Condoms party was nearly empty for hours after its scheduled beginning. (Cindy Adams, the New York Post gossip columnist, walked in and out in 10 minutes. When asked what she thought of Denver, she answered, “Blech.”)
At a party on Monday sponsored by GQ and Maker’s Mark bourbon, the normally exuberant Terry McAuliffe lingered near the entrance, looking sober. Upstairs, a D.J. played, but only a few people were dancing.
Joe Trippi, the Democratic strategist who was a top adviser to both Howard Dean and John Edwards, got wistful after watching Senator Edward Kennedy’s speech. “Things were a lot better in 1980,” Mr. Trippi said before leaving the party with his wife.
There has been no shortage of Hollywood celebrities roaming around town this week, including Jennifer Lopez, Sean Penn, Susan Sarandon, Daryl Hannah, Alan Cumming and Ben Affleck. There have been concerts by Death Cab for Cutie, Melissa Etheridge, Rufus Wainwright and the Black Eyed Peas.
Still, there was a distinctly subdued mood at parties like the “Red Hot Affair,” sponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus Institute. There, as almost everywhere, Democrats acted as if it was too soon to celebrate. “There’s still a lot of apprehension and maybe nervousness about what actually may happen on Election Day,” said Malcolm Grace, a former Democratic staff member in the House of Representatives; he now working as a lobbyist.
Kweisi Mfume, the former N.A.A.C.P. president, said there is “a sense of fulfillment in the air that at the same time doesn’t allow anyone to take anything for granted.”
Or maybe it was just the altitude. Partygoers who crowded into the bathroom at “Red Hot Affair” complained of headaches from altitude-induced dehydration.
And June O’Neill, the New York State party chairwoman, warned that in the thin Colorado air, alcohol is absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream. “As you enjoy all the events that Denver and the convention have to offer, please monitor yourself,” Ms. O’Neill wrote in a letter to the members of her delegation. “And remember that drinks may go to your head faster than you’re used to in New York.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Leaving Fear Behind

Leaving Fear Behind (in Tibetan: ‘Jigdrel’), a truly incredible documentary film shot by Dhondup Wangchen and other ethnic Tibetans from inside Tibet, about bringing Tibetan voices to the Beijing Olympic Games. The footage was smuggled out of Tibet under extraordinary circumstances. The filmmakers were detained soon after sending their tapes out, and remain in detention today.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Walking from Milwaukee to Chicago

by John Greenfield
It’s a Thursday evening in late June and I’m clutching a pint in the Exchequer Pub on Wabash, not drunk but completely trashed after walking a hundred miles. Kirsten Grove, the Chicago Department of Transportation’s pedestrian program coordinator, and other CDOT staff who’ve met us there raise a toast to my trek. I smile weakly and thank them but I’m distracted by my aching back, sore legs and especially my throbbing feet.
I’ve bicycled from Chicago to Milwaukee a dozen or so times, including several trips during the dead of winter on the annual Frozen Snot Century ride. But lately I’ve been getting interested in walking as a form of travel that helps me take in more of my surroundings by slowing me down.
This year I’ve made a project of hiking the length of some of our city’s key thoroughfares, like Halsted, Grand and Archer. On each trip I met cool people, ate good food, saw fascinating scenery and drank in dive bars I’d never have noticed pedaling by three times as fast.
After I checked out the book Biking on Bike Trails between Chicago & Milwaukee by Peter Blommer, it occurred to me that walking between the two cities would make for a memorable journey. Blommer details a route that takes advantage of the many multi-use paths along the way - 80% of the itinerary is car-free.
I decided to hike from the Milwaukee Art Museum to the Art Institute of Chicago over four days. To cover 25 miles a day I’d have to travel fast and light so rather than take a tent and sleeping bag I opted to “credit card camp,” staying at fleabag motels. I packed a messenger bag with the bare necessities and caught the Amtrak Hiawatha north on a Monday morning.
The Milwaukee pedestrian coordinator, Dave Schlabowske, whose brother I know from the Chicago music scene, had agreed to walk me part of the way out of town. He meets me at the station and we hoof it to Lake Michigan and the Calatrava-designed art museum with its skeletal, retractable wings. I officially start my journey at 10:40 am.
Schlabowske suggests we backtrack to the Milwaukee River and stroll south along the city’s new riverwalk lined with cafes and brewpubs. The promenade was the brainchild of ex-Mayor John Norquist who resigned during a sex scandal and now heads the Congress for the New Urbanism, based in Chicago.
After Schlabowske says farewell at the confluence of the Milwaukee, Menomonee and Kinnickinnic rivers, I follow signs for Route 32, the secondary highway that leads to Illinois, hugging the lakeshore. Soon I spy the Allen-Bradley Clock Tower, the world’s largest four-faced clock with octagonal faces nearly twice as large as Big Ben’s.
At 1st and Kinnickinic St. a mural depicts civil rights figures from around the world, from Nelson Mandela to Hmong leader Vang Pao; from Cuban political theorist Pedro Campos to Milwaukee fair-housing activist Father James Groppi. Crossing the Kinnickkinnic River I’m in the Bayview neighborhood with its many quirky independent businesses.
Grabbing a salami sandwich at an Italian grocery owned by Father Groppi’s family, I head east to Cupertino Park for a view of a marina and the city’s modest skyline. From there, as recommended by Blommer, I pick up the Oak Leaf Bike Trail heading southeast out of town past pebbly beaches full of Canada geese and into lush woods.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Questions for Dennis Kucinich - The Wild Card "Before you ended your quixotic bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in January and continued on as a congressman from Cleveland, did you believe you could really be president? No one runs unless they think they can.

But you’re a vegan. Do you think America is ready to elect a non-beef-eating president? I think America is ready for a president with a blood pressure of 90 over 60 who could beat most people half his age in a sprint.

I see you are scheduled to speak at the convention on Tuesday, at the Pepsi Center, which sounds like the name of a soda plant. Why is it called that? My guess is that Pepsi probably bought the naming rights. Naming rights are another thing my subcommittee — the Domestic Policy Subcommittee — is looking into.

What is the point of having a convention when the candidate has been preselected? Isn’t it just an excuse for a party? This is a great opportunity for Democrats to come together, to indicate our solidarity on providing jobs; helping people save their homes; health care for all; retirement security.

Is it hard to come together with people you have sharp disagreements with? When it comes to uniting for the American people, that’s what we do. That is what we have always done. Democrats are famous for their ability to come together.

I never thought of you as such a booster. I am not a booster by any means. But Barack Obama is our candidate. We have to be practical about this.

You’ve met with opposition from Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats for continuing to push for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Cheney. The process of democracy is a slow process, and it’s important that I do what I know to be the right thing.

But why bother with impeachment when Bush is on his way out of Washington anyhow? This president is capable of taking us into war, in October, on the eve of an election, to try to change the outcome of the election. We need to keep the ability to impeach at the ready in the event that this president continues to exercise a wanton approach toward the use of power, particularly the war power. The events in Georgia are a premonition.

A premonition of what? A premonition of an attack on Iran. When Georgia moves against South Ossetia as the Olympics are starting, the Bush administration begins its own Olympics — the war Olympics.

Are you saying the Bush administration is likely to declare war soon just to help Republican candidates pick up some votes? Well, you know, they increased the funding to Georgia a while back for military purposes.

You think President Saakashvili of Georgia was encouraged, possibly by the American government, to cry victim? Look. Saakashvili had an American lobbyist who is now part of the McCain campaign, and I am sure he was given advice. The idea of striking during the Olympics would have to come out of Madison Avenue. We have to be able to see through this. And the one thing I have shown an ability to do is to cut through the b.s.

Have you had a chance to talk to President Bush lately? The last time I had a word with him was at the State of the Union address. I told him, “Mr. President, I wish you peace.”

How did he respond? He said, “I know you believe that.”

What should we make of your friend Shirley MacLaine’s recent memoir, in which she mentions that you once spotted a U.F.O. at her house? I saw something, absolutely. I don’t know what it was. It was unidentified.

What did it look like? End of story for me. Around Washington, the truth is an unidentified flying object."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Anthropology & the Online Community

Oh, to be young and insured

Cost of new mandate to extend coverage remains in dispute
By Bruce Japsen | Chicago Tribune reporter
August 21, 2008
Sitting at a Deerfield sandwich shop Wednesday, a group of friends, all recent college graduates, discussed a worry many in their demographic share: no health insurance.
Zachary Herrmann, 24, is uninsured for the summer until he starts teaching at Evanston Township High School, while Miles Schermerhorn, 22, said his sister, not wanting to press her luck, recently spent several days at home waiting for insurance through graduate school to kick in.
"It definitely was nerve-racking to my parents because, God forbid, something catastrophic happens and you're uninsured," said Herrmann, who graduated last year from Stanford University with a master's degree in education.
Young adults 19 to 29 represent the fastest-growing segment of the uninsured in the U.S.; they lack coverage at a rate twice as high as that of adults 30 to 64. Some choose to gamble and go without, figuring they are young and healthy, while others struggle to pay premiums or work jobs just for the benefits.
The good news is that when it comes to reducing the ranks of the uninsured, young adults may be an easy group to tackle. The reason, in insurance industry parlance, is the risk pool. Some experts say that because young people generally are healthier, they tend to bring in more money than insurers pay out in health costs.
A new law pushed through by Gov. Rod Blagojevich this week and set to take effect Jan. 1, which will require insurers in Illinois to let young adults stay on their parents' policies until 26, reflects a growing trend among states and big business. These moves to bring more young people under protection cost money, but they won't be a huge factor in contributing to rising health-care costs, say actuarial analysts at some of the world's biggest health benefits consulting firms.
"Clearly, a bigger risk pool is always better," said Todd Swim, a worldwide partner with the Chicago office of Mercer, an employee benefits consulting firm. "The cost of the average person in this age category is very low."
Support for the idea crosses party lines and has been implemented or soon will be in more than 20 states, generally requiring coverage through 24 or 25. In New Jersey, the state requires coverage through 30.
In Illinois, some insurers removed young adults from family policies at 21 or upon college graduation, though some companies have moved up the age limit.
"We are seeing a lot of employers considering moving to 25 if their children are full-time students," Swim said.
The Illinois law, which some business groups want to challenge, would allow young adults to stay on their parents' policy until 26 regardless of where they live or what they are doing.
The law won't apply to all insurance plans because many large employers self-fund their plans and answer to the federal government, not the state.
In the latest U.S. census report on the number of uninsured adults, there were 8.3 million people 18 to 24 out of nearly 47 million Americans who had no medical coverage in 2006.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Barack Obama's 'lost' brother found in Kenya

George Hussein Onyango Obama, Senator Barack Obama's long lost brother was tracked down living in a hut on the outskirts of Nairobi

Senator Barack Obama's long lost brother has been tracked down for the first time living in a shanty town in Kenya, reports claimed.

By Nick Pisa in Rome
Last Updated: 3:54PM BST 20 Aug 2008

George Hussein Onyango Obama, Senator Barack Obama's long lost brother was tracked down living in a hut on the outskirts of Nairobi Photo: Guy Calaf, Vanity Fair, Italy
The Italian edition of Vanity Fair said that it had found George Hussein Onyango Obama living in a hut in a ramshackle town of Huruma on the outskirts of Nairobi.
Mr Obama, 26, the youngest of the presidential candidate's half-brothers, spoke for the first time about his life, which could not be more different than that of the Democratic contender.
"No-one knows who I am," he told the magazine, before claiming: "I live here on less than a dollar a month."
According to Italy's Vanity Fair his two metre by three metre shack is decorated with football posters of the Italian football giants AC Milan and Inter, as well as a calendar showing exotic beaches of the world.
Vanity Fair also noted that he had a front page newspaper picture of his famous brother - born of the same father as him, Barack Hussein Obama, but to a different mother, named only as Jael.
He told the magazine: "I live like a recluse, no-one knows I exist."
Embarrassed by his penury, he said that he does not does not mention his famous half-brother in conversation.
"If anyone says something about my surname, I say we are not related. I am ashamed," he said.
For ten years George Obama lived rough. However he now hopes to try to sort his life out by starting a course at a local technical college.
He has only met his famous older brother twice - once when he was just five and the last time in 2006 when Senator Obama was on a tour of East Africa and visited Nairobi.
The Illinois senator mentions his brother in his autobiography, describing him in just one passing paragraph as a "beautiful boy with a rounded head".
Of their second meeting, George Obama said: "It was very brief, we spoke for just a few minutes. It was like meeting a complete stranger."
George added he was no longer in contact with his mother and said:"I have had to learn to live and take what I need.
"Huruma is a tough place, last January during the elections there was rioting and six people were hacked to death. The police don't even arrest you they just shoot you.
"I have seen two of my friends killed. I have scars from defending myself with my fists. I am good with my fists."

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Man says fish salad gave him 9-foot tapeworm "CHICAGO - A man who contends he got a 9-foot tapeworm after eating undercooked fish has sued a Chicago restaurant.
In the lawsuit filed Monday, Anthony Franz said he ordered salmon salad for lunch from Shaw's Crab House in 2006 and fell violently ill. He later passed the giant parasite, which a pathologist determined came from undercooked fish, such as salmon.
Franz's lawsuit seeks $100,000 from Shaw's and its parent company, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, contending the restaurant's staff was negligent in serving him improperly cooked fish."

Friday, August 15, 2008

America's Hard-Drinking Cities

Austin, Texas, is famous for its parties. People flock from around the world to attend events like the annual South by Southwest film and music festival. And when they get there, chances are they make like the locals and throw back a few cold ones--because Austin may be the hardest-drinking city in America.

Austin ranks high for its drinking habits across the board. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC's) 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey, 61.5% of adult residents say they have had at least one drink of alcohol within the past 30 days, and a staggering 20.6% of respondents confess to binge drinking, or having five or more drinks on one occasion.

Some residents attribute those numbers to the city's sizable population of college students. Austin is home to several schools, including the University of Texas at Austin, one of the largest universities in the country.

"I imagine that's probably why the city's on [the list]," says Hunter Darby, manager of Austin's Dog & Duck Pub. "Sixth Street in Austin is like a tiny version of Bourbon Street. It caters a lot to a younger crowd who are right at age 21. They'll just go from bar to bar to bar. ... There are a ton of bars per human being in this town."
Coming in second on the list is Milwaukee. This city, known as "the nation's watering hole," has a long reputation as a city built on beer. It was once the nation's top beer-producing city, home to four of the world's largest breweries: Schlitz, Pabst, Miller and Blatz. Legendary sitcom characters Laverne and Shirley fixed bottle caps on one of the city's assembly lines. Even the town's baseball team--the Brewers--reflects its boozy past.

Rounding out the top five hardest-drinking cities are San Francisco; Providence, R.I.; and Chicago.

To determine the cities with the highest alcohol consumption, we started by making a list of the 40 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S.--geographic entities defined by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget for use by federal agencies in collecting, tabulating and publishing statistics.

We then examined data from the CDC's 2007 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System Survey (BRFSS), a nationwide system that collects information on health risk behaviors, preventive health practices and health care access.

In this survey, the CDC develops a core questionnaire and provides it to state governments, which then perform telephone surveys asking more than 350,000 American adults about their health.

Due to state-by-state variations in the handling of the survey, the BRFSS isn't a perfect way to measure drinking habits. But since its data come directly from citizens, it does provide a good idea of regional variations.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

To Provoke War, Cheney Considered Proposal To Dress Up Navy Seals As Iranians And Shoot At Them

Speaking at the Campus Progress journalism conference earlier this month, Seymour Hersh -- a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist for The New Yorker -- revealed that Bush administration officials held a meeting recently in the Vice President's office to discuss ways to provoke a war with Iran.

In Hersh's most recent article, he reports that this meeting occurred in the wake of the overblown incident in the Strait of Hormuz, when a U.S. carrier almost shot at a few small Iranian speedboats. The �meeting took place in the Vice-President's office. 'The subject was how to create a casus belli between Tehran and Washington,'" according to one of Hersh�s sources.

During the journalism conference event, I asked Hersh specifically about this meeting and if he could elaborate on what occurred. Hersh explained that, during the meeting in Cheney's office, an idea was considered to dress up Navy Seals as Iranians, put them on fake Iranian speedboats, and shoot at them. This idea, intended to provoke an Iran war, was ultimately rejected:

HERSH: There was a dozen ideas proffered about how to trigger a war. The one that interested me the most was why don't we build -- we in our shipyard -- build four or five boats that look like Iranian PT boats. Put Navy seals on them with a lot of arms. And next time one of our boats goes to the Straits of Hormuz, start a shoot-up.

Might cost some lives. And it was rejected because you can't have Americans killing Americans. That�s the kind of -- that�s the level of stuff we're talking about. Provocation. But that was rejected.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

U.S. Men Earn Surprising Bronze Behind China and Japan

Horton, Artemev Lift an American Team Decimated by Injury
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 12, 2008; 9:48 AM
BEIJING, Aug. 12 -- It was an unlikely band of Olympians that marched onto the floor of Beijing's National Indoor Stadium in red, white and blue Tuesday.
With no Olympic experience and no appreciable international credentials among them, the lightly regarded U.S. men's gymnasts were considered fortunate simply to breathe the same air as reigning world champions China, having barely qualified for the team finals after injury sidelined its twin stars, Paul and Morgan Hamm.
But with heads held high, the hastily assembled cast of understudies and supporting actors staged a gritty performance at Beijing's National Indoor Stadium -- brave, inspired but hardly error-free -- to win bronze.
It was only the fourth time a U.S. men's gymnastics team had earned a place on an Olympic podium. And it's doubtful an Olympic medal of any color has meant more.
"Every tear shed, and all the toil in life -- it's all worth it," said Raj Bhavsar, 27, who had twice been passed over for an Olympic berth before being plucked from the ranks of alternates two weeks ago.
China, as expected, won its first Olympic gymnastics gold, rallying from a shaky start to vindicate a choke-filled performance at the 2004 Athens Games.
With a different gymnast delivering its top score on five of the six mandatory events, China finished with 286.125 points, cheered on by a flag-waving, capacity crowd that alternated between chants of "Go China!" and "Go Yang Wei!"
Japan, the 2004 Olympic champions, took silver with 278.875 points.
And the Americans, who were well positioned for silver with two events remaining, held off Germany for the bronze with 275.850 points.
Houston's Jonathan Horton, 22, proved the Americans' chief asset, pacing his teammates on the rings, vault, high bar and floor.
Justin Spring of Burke threw himself into his high-bar routine with such vigor that he almost flew off the apparatus. But he hung on, thanks to fingertips of steel. And his daring whipped his teammates into a fist-pumping celebration.
But the clutch performance of the day came from Sasha Artemev, named to the squad less than 24 hours before the Games began, who salvaged the Americans' medal hopes on the team's final routine of the day.
China got off to a disastrous start, with none of its gymnasts nailing his floor-routine's final landing. The crowd fell silent, scarcely believing that China was sixth among the eight countries competing.
The Americans started surprisingly strong, standing in third after a clean, solid showing on rings.
Under the sport's new scoring system, gymnasts are graded by two measures: the difficulty of their routines and the quality of the execution.
Each gymnast's routine is assigned a "start value" based on its difficulty, which varies widely.
On nearly every apparatus, China's start values exceed other countries, which means its athletes begin with a higher score.
But the final score is what remains after deductions are taken for errors of execution. As a result, it can be just as prudent to perform moderately difficult routines perfectly, as it can to perform dazzling routines with a few errors.
Fully aware they couldn't match China's acrobatic prowess, the Americans put a premium on consistency. And it served them well in the early going, as they crept from third, to second and then to first.
But China surged ahead on the vault and solidified its lead with a marvelous display of power and control on the parallel bars.
Meantime, the Americans stumbled on the floor, setting an ominous tone for their final event -- the pommel horse, their well-known weakness.
But that's precisely why U.S. coaches tapped Artemev to replace Morgan Hamm. It was a gamble, given Artemev's penchant for high-flying stunts he can't always control. But it was a necessary gamble.
The pressure couldn't have been greater. Just minutes before, Joey Hagerty's missteps on the floor exercise dropped the U.S. from silver to bronze.
With their medal prospects eroding, the U.S. men gathered in a group embrace. Someone said it felt like an NCAA championship rather the Olympics. And that's the spirit they adopted, forgetting any notion of medals and banding together as if fighting for school pride.
"We knew no one has ever had a perfect meet," Spring said. No one pointed a finger of blame. Instead, they put their faith in the three teammates about to perform on the pommel horse.
"I told the pommel-horse guys, 'I love you, no matter what happens,' " Spring said. "And that's true."
Artemev was their closer, having waited all morning to compete on this one apparatus.
"We said, 'Let go and swing big!'." Bhavsar recalled. "He tends to do better when he swings big."
And Bhavsar clasped his hands and hoped for the best.
The tiny Artemev stood tall, delivering a routine that lacked the technical difficulty of China's best but soared with passion.
"It's absolutely phenomenal," said U.S. assistant coach Miles Avery. "I don't know how many other teams could have done that, given what this team went through. A lot of people thought that without Paul and Morgan, we had nothing. But we did. We had a lot."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

fixin' a hole

I am in San Diego, chillin at Paxon's apartment. Matt drove me down this morning from LA, and I am burnt from the ride - he has a brand new jeep and the top was down the whole time. We had lunch, and I went solo to the beach afterwards. The waves are huge and it was SOOO much fun to just play in the water and do my best not to be ground in the wake like a salt n pepper grinder.

Man, LA was so great, and Matt is the absolute best!! I wandered around friday afternoon, went to runyon canyon and some guitar stores on sunset. That night, Matt, Rebecca and I went to see Jon Brion at Largo. My jaw was dropped the entire time in awe of his genius. For real. He's so amazing. Words don't do justice. In between sets, we ran across the street to a japanese bistro to score some alcohol, since the new Largo doesn't have a liquor license. We downed hot saki and sapporo in about 20 minutes flat. It was silly and lots of fun. During the 2nd set, I was thinking to myself how, if I were a professional music, my part-time job would be to see other musicians. Just to absorb all influences and styles. But it seems like most don't do that -- I mean, would Alicia Keys or someone like that be at a jon brion show? Probably not because they would have to face their own inadequacy. Again, the man is genius -- apparently, he has an on-going friday night residency at largo. He plays a combination of piano/organ/other weird electronic gadets, drums, and a boat load of other guitars. He loops tracks, he builds elaborate sounds until it evolves into a song - his own and great covers. Throughout the show he asked the crowd for suggestions - and we would just yell songs or artists, etc., until he got inspiration and went from there. At one point, someone's like "more beatles!" and so, he's like, OK, but I need a little help -- will Mr. Schwartzman take the stage? And up from the row behind us, surrounded by his little gaggle of hipster beauties straight out of an American Apparel ad (fashion mullet? check. Ironic unnecessary glasses? check.) and bearded dudes, Jason Schwartzman takes the stage and mans the drums. They bring out a bass player, and proceed to jam on a few beatles' hits. So cool. I guess true artists are open-minded and fearless, and DO check out other acts. Oh yeah, and towards the end, someone yells out "Pet Sounds!" and he laughs, and is like, the whole album? And proceeds to do an entire pet sounds medley, bits of each song, by himself on the piano. beat that people, beat that.

Saturday, we had lunch at Home, in Silver Lake. We spent the afternoon lounging around the pool in matt's apartment complex, a few people drinking beer and listening to the cubs game. He lives a block from the laugh factory, where there were camera crews getting interviews regarding Bernie Mac's death. Sad to see a good chicago man go. The Marquee said "Make God Laugh."

Matt and I had dinner at Father's Office - AMAZING burger and a wicked beer selection. Later that night, after an evening of trivial pursuit at the apartment, matt and I left the game to go w/ his friend to the Key Club to check out an art show. Well, the downstairs bar where it was happening closed up after about 20 minutes (we missed the most of the nights activities), so we had to go upstairs where we were treated to a ridiculous Van Halen cover band. Big hair, tight pants, frightening dance moves. So fun. oh yeah, and the guy who's art was being shown told us that jessica simpson and tony romo were at the club. didn't see them tho. yawn.

I guess that brings everything up to speed. I've gotta get some food and explore more of San Diego. From what I've seen, its a postcard come to life. I'm so jealous of Darcy! Paxon's apartment is only 3 blocks from the beach. Man, I could get used to that!

Friday, August 08, 2008

Fish Cannot Carry Guns

We made it to California. I'm sitting at Matt's kitchen table, in a super-nice apartment just off of Sunset Blvd. In case anyone was worrying I was having too much fun, I will refer only vaguely to the interim days of traveling through Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. It was hot; it was miserable. Carlsbad Caverns = cool/slightly scary. I walked it alone, this giant cavern 750 ft below the earth. During the walk, I latched onto families doing summer vacations, not envying the grumpy children or resentful looks husband and wives exchanged, but nonetheless, was too scared not to want company! That evening, I walked about 2 miles into town till I found a Chili's, which stood out like an oasis. I sat alone at a table near the bar and ordered a salad and a grey goose/tonic. I think an alien from Roswell would have fit in just as equally. Haha.

Phoenix: stayed with Karen & Michael - they have a beautiful house in Scottsdale; they fed us and entertained us. I spent yesterday floating in their pool, which is more like a giant outdoor bathtub.

We had dinner last night at the Rainbow Bar & grill. Darcy and I had lunch today in Silver Lake - I wanted to scope the hipsterpotamuses. She just went onto San Diego; I think I'm just gonna roam around this afternoon.

L.A. seems to be this weird Roman-esque city where real life Gods walk w/ the common folk. It would be odd to live here and constantly be reminded of the small class of people who are more successful than you are, and therefore somehow inherently better. Ads, signed photos on the wall, or even real life encounters -- as we got into town last night, Robin Thicke cut us off at the stop light in his brand new black porche, his dog in the passenger seat. I don't know; the other thing I noticed last night and today -- i like this city because you can really let your freak-flag fly, and its perfectly OK. You won't be judged. You can be who you want, wear what you want, and its not a source of judgement or ridicule necessarily. So that's nice.

And the last thing I wanted to say -- I'm almost done with V.A.L.I.S, Philip K. Dick's auto-biography/exegesis. It has stretched my mind far and thin, like a trampoline upon which the author is jumping. Generally speaking, I'm realizing that I've been reading too much for the past few months and I've reached an impasse where instead of the information I seek helping and guiding me, its completely thrown out what I thought was the map. I had dreams of my mind being like a building, and like the closed bookstore, seeing all the furniture and decorations thrown out to start new. But instead of just re-painting and starting over, I've reached another level where the walls have been torn down, the foundation has been dug-out, and now there's nothing but a field, where I lay and watch the clouds drift by. "What do you want to do?" passerbys ask, and I can only laugh at the question.

Weird, I know. I'm not sure what to do about it though.

MPGs, meet GPMs

If you're looking to save gas, upgrading from a 28 mpg Ford Focus to a 46 mpg Toyota Prius is certainly a better choice than upgrading from a 15 mpg Dodge Durango to a 20 mpg Nissan Murano, right? Wrong. Over 10,000 miles, choosing the Murano-Dodge swap will save you 26 more gallons than the Prius-Focus switch.

The detailed answer as to why the Durango-to-Murano switch is a bigger gas saver puts this forum right at the heart of a fuel-efficiency labeling polemic that, if not at full, raging debate status yet, perhaps ought to be.

As any red blooded American will tell you, fuel economy is measured in miles per gallon (mpg). Unless, of course, you're in Europe, where it's measured in liters per 100 kilometers (l/100km).

To avoid any conversion migraines, not to mention the usual disdain, teeth-gnashing and downright fury provoked by all things metric, think of the European standards as gallons per mile (GPM). That's how Duke University business school professors Richard P. Larrick and Jack B. Soll did it in a fascinating recent study of the subject, called "The MPG Illusion" in the respected journal Science.

They examined how consumers fail to do the math required to figure out how much gas a particular vehicle will consume, focusing instead on the MPG number alone. The problem is that improvements in MPG have an inverse relationship to fuel savings, which is a fancy way of saying that fuel savings are dramatically reduced as you move further up the fuel economy scale.

Unfortunately, that fact escapes all but the most mathematically-inclined observers. The Toyota Prius in the above example consumes 217 gallons to go 10,000 miles, while the Focus consumes 357 -- an 18 mpg difference, or 64%, that yields 140 gallons in savings. The Murano, on the other hand, consumers 500 gallons, compared to 666 for the Durango -- a 5 mpg, or 33%, difference that yields 166 gallons in savings

But if vehicles were measured in GPMs -- expressed, say, as gallons per 1,000 miles -- the actual fuel savings between any two vehicles would be far more obvious. The Prius rates a 21, the Focus a 35.7, the Murano a 50 and the Durango a 67, and it's immediately clear that the latter switch is better than the former.

This reasoning can be helpful, for example, for families considering whether to ditch the gas guzzler or the midsized sedan in their quest to be more fuel efficient. As the authors of the study say

Reliance on GPM “nudges” people to better decisions because it does the math for them.

Perhaps the most famous (infamous?) application of this reasoning was performed by Green Car Journal, which, in a surprise decision, named the Chevrolet Tahoe Hybrid its green car of the year for 2008. The behemoth hybrid gets only 21 mpg, compared to 16 mpg for the non-hybrid version. That provoked scorn from environmentally conscious drivers who felt unimpressed by a 21 mpg rating. But using GPM, it's suddenly clear that over 10,000 miles, the hybrid saves a driver an impressive 149 gallons, or 24%.

Of course, there is a big canard buried in these kinds of comparisons: they make the assumption that the only alternative to something like the Chevy Tahoe is the Chevy Tahoe Hybrid. If the driver instead chooses a Toyota Highlander hybrid, rated at 26 mpg, the savings work out to 240 gallons, or 39%. And if they pick a Prius...

-- Ken Bensinger

One Nation, Under a New Obama Salute

George Bush had his three-fingered W salute that supporters flashed when greeting him at presidential campaign events in 2000. And now, if a Los Angeles creative agency gets its way, Sen. Barack Obama will see fans meet him with his own salute like the one above. "Our goal is to see a crowd of 75,000 people at Obama's nomination speech holding their hands above their heads, fingers laced together in support of a new direction for this country, a renewed hope, and acceptance of responsibility for our future," says Rick Husong, owner of The Loyalty Inc. Husong tells me that he got the idea after seeing the famous Obama-Progress poster by artist Shepherd Fairey. "We wanted to get involved some way," he says. So, the agency came up with their own a symbol of hope and progress that also plays off Obama's name. "We thought, 'Let's try and start a movement where even while walking down the street, people would hold up the O and you would know that they were for Obama,' " says Husong. Much thought went into the relatively simple idea. "You interlace your hands in a circle, the interlacing being a symbol of different types of people coming together and the circle a symbol of unity," he says. Their design, unlike Fairey's, is free, and Husong is urging people to download it and print it on posters and T-shirts. "We want to see it everywhere, but more importantly we want this sign to take the world by storm."

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Dave Barry: Lost in Chinese translation

DAVE BARRY: Here I am with the Stone of the God of Longevity. I didn't even know there was a God of Longevity, let alone that he had his own stone.

BEIJING -- In ancient times, a Westerner had to journey for months, even years, to reach China. Today, thanks to modern air travel, it takes much longer. I estimate that the plane I was on flew around the entire Earth three times before we got here. By the time we landed, I had a near-fatal case of a medical condition that is known, technically, as ``monkey butt.''
But now that I've showered, I'm excited to be here for these historic Olympic games, the first ever hosted by this proud and ancient culture, which has given the world so many important inventions, including gunpowder, paper, fireworks, Chinese checkers, gravel, celery, nitrogen, the pyramids, instant replay and The Twist. But despite its storied past, China is not a museum: It is a modern economic superpower that manufactures basically every product that comes in those plastic packages that you can't open without a machete.

China is the world's most populous nation, with a population of more than 1.3 billion, making it home to one out of every four people on Earth. Think about what that means. It means that if you belong to a family of four, one of you lives here. (To find out if it's you, check your driver's license.)

The Olympics are a HUGE deal for China. Everywhere you look in this teeming capital city, you see vague shapes in the distance that might be large impressive Olympic things if you could actually get a good look at them, which you can't because the air is swarming with toxic particles the size of Milk Duds. The Chinese government has been trying to reduce air pollution by shutting down factories -- thereby threatening the world's strategic supply of Guitar Hero -- and ordering Beijing residents to cease teeming during the Olympics. But air quality is still a big issue, as evidenced by the controversial decision by the International Olympic Committee to allow marathon competitors to ride motorcycles.

Nevertheless, there will be no problems whatsoever during these Olympics, which will without question be the greatest Games ever held. Why do I say this? I say it because Chinese government authorities are closely monitoring us journalists and controlling our use of the Internet. They can cause trouble for us if we write something they don't like, or mention a topic they want us to avoid, such as


So the Chinese government is a little scary. There are police and army officers stationed roughly every 14 feet throughout Beijing; I'm pretty sure there's one in my hotel closet.

On the other hand, the regular civilian Chinese people I've met are wonderful hosts, unfailingly friendly and helpful. You need a lot of help here, since most of the writing is in Chinese, which is basically a giant secret code designed to prevent you from having any idea what the hell is going on. For example, as I type these words, I'm drinking some kind of beverage, but I don't really know what it is, because the only words on the label that I recognize are ''100 percent.'' I suspect that Chinese authorities are watching me on a hidden camera and going, ``He's DRINKING it! Ha ha! Tomorrow we will give him transmission fluid.''

Likewise, when I get into a taxi, I show the driver a slip of paper with Chinese writing on it, helpfully written by a hotel staff person. I think this writing says, ''Please take me to (name of destination).'' But it could just as easily say, ``I wish to fondle a panda.''

Fortunately, my hotel has English-language TV. Last night I saw a public-service commercial that ended with this appeal: ''Please, do not eat shark-fin soup.'' I pass this along in case you were considering it.

My hotel also has Western-style bathrooms. This is a luxury in China, which, while it was busy inventing gunpowder, fireworks, etc., apparently did not have time to get around to plumbing. You have to carry your own toilet paper, because many public bathrooms here don't have it. Ideally, you would also carry your own toilet, because many bathrooms don't really have that, either. What they have is basically a miniature bathtub in the floor. That's all I am going to say on this subject.

But I am getting nitpicky. Overall, the Chinese have done an amazing job of preparing for the Olympics, and they've gone out of their way to make their foreign visitors feel welcome. I look forward to attending the Games, and even more to getting to know this fascinating country. So if you'll excuse me for now, I'm going to take a taxi to go see the Great Wall. Or, fondle a panda. Whatever this piece of paper says.

Monday, August 04, 2008

what we crave: waffle house and biophilia

Back at the hotel room again. Last night's plan for music and drinks in the beer garden ended up just being dinner and drinks. Maybe there was no band (even tho we saw one there earlier that day) because it was Sunday night, or maybe because the universe likes to contradict me anytime I make a declarative sentence ("you can't throw a stone"...).

We finished up about 10:30, and looked at each other and said, "now what?" And the answer was what tens of millions of americans apparently have also come up with -- Let's go see Dark Knight. So we went to the Alamo Alehouse, where you can watch the movie AND drink beer and eat food. I had a Shiner Bock on draft; it was great -- batman was pretty good. It was weird to see the streets of Chicago and be a 1,000 miles away. Scenes of downtown make me think of work which make me twitch a bit.

Today we had breakfast at Waffle House at Darcy's insistence (she says she woke up hungry, even though she had a chicken-stuffed avacado last night at about 9pm). Then we went to Town Lake and rented a double kayak. We did 2 miles in about an hour and a half. It was hot as hell, so we mostly just floated near the shore and counted turtles -- 114! The whole lake/river thing is lined with beautiful trees and cliffs and at certain points, giant houses atop said cliffs. It was very nice and satisfied my need for biophilia that Chicago tends to crush.

Afterwards, we went to Barton Springs Pool. I can best describe it as half creek/half pool.
Apparently, the water is 68 degrees year round, and is in fact open 365. There are little fishes and seaweed type plants, but the sides are cement like a pool. The bottom is the natural rock, very slipperly, and very deep at certain points. It was refreshing, and it was awesome. If I lived here, I would go here all the time.

So now I'm just sitting here waiting for Darcy to get ready. Dinner/drinks is our most likely plan. At 10pm, there's a $2 showing at the downtown Alamo Alehouse of a Pete Seeger documentary. I guess they do music movies every monday, with other specials like horror movies and exploitation films throughout the week. This will be the true test in my mind of the people of Austin: packed house or completely empty? How many people care about Pete Seeger? ToBeDetermined...

All and all, I'd say the people here are very nice. They say hi and make conversation and all that to which the city has jaded me to. Last night, and again today at the pool, I've come to this tiny conclusion: there are tons of 20-something girls with huge tattoos. On their neck, sleeved arms, giant portraits on their backs, etc. I guess there's lots of hip kids in general, and a diverse population overall. All good things.

We leave early tomorrow for Carlsbad Caverns. She just informed me its 7 hours of driving.
"When the Lord made me, he made a ramblin' man"

UPDATE: The documentary played to a packed house! It was awesome -- it was even on a 35mm film, specially given to the theater to play. So, too cool!! And, I ate a giant plate of country-fried steak, which I've always loved and apparently is the texas special.

Diamonds in the Rough

Sunday, August 03, 2008

A Blog a Day...

keeps the heat away.

Darcy and I are back at the hotel room after an afternoon of exploring Austin. We got into town yesterday around 4pm - exhausted from the 15 hour drive. But it wasn't that bad at all - a combination of "I Am America and So Can You" audiobook, Geoff's CD collection, and Classic Rock Radio kept us going. Somewhere around 4am, I discovered I can sing great harmonies to Bob Seger's "Turn the Page"...

We had dinner and drinks on 6th St last night. It's a freakin' circus. Its about 5 blocks of bar after bar after bar, intermixed with t-shirt shops and pizza-by-the-slice joints. Bouncers offer "$2 drinks, no cover", or even free drinks, as you pass by. Gotta court the pedestrians away from the competition I guess. We ended up in a blues bar, naturally. Decent band. Seemed like most places had all-Dude mediocre rock bands. We were sleeping by 11:30.

It's about 100 degrees of dry heat today. We drove around, looking for the non-tourist cool places. We had organic coffee, cheap japanese lunch, and browsed thrift stores and world markets. So yeah, I guess we found it. Then we went down by the park/river area, but it was too crowded to stay. We did end up taking a nice walk through the "Pre-Historic Gardens."

We're gonna go to the hotel pool now. Tonight we're planning on having dinner in that same area we were today; there was a cool place with a big outdoor patio and live music (but you can't really throw a stone here and not find music).

"Keep Austin Weird"? Dont' mind if I do...

Feds now arrest your laptops at border

Not content with taking your shoes and confiscating your water, now the Department of Homeland Security is gunning for your laptops.

As the Washington Post reported yesterday, Border Patrol and Customs agents can now "detain" laptops "for a reasonable period of time" to "review and analyze information."

They don't need probable cause under the new policy. Doesn't matter if you're a U.S. citizen or foreign visitor. Officials can hold the laptops indefinitely. Or hard drives, flash drives, cellphones, iPods, pagers, beepers, video and audio tapes. Ditto papers, documents, books, pamphlets, even litter.

"It's not our intent to subject legitimate travelers to undue scrutiny, but to ensure the safety of the American public," wrote Jayson Ahern, U.S. Customs deputy commissioner, in a recent policy paper.

Arguing that border searches of laptops have already uncovered intellectual property rights violations, extremist Jihadist literature, video clips of IEDs and child pornography, he pledged the government would never disclose confidential information "without lawful authority."

The policy has been on the books for awhile, but just confirmed under pressure from civil rights and business groups worried about increasing reports of laptop confiscation.

"Truly alarming," said Sen. Russell D. Feingold (D-Wis.). Added sci-fi blogger Annalee Newit, "Who will defend the rights of the detained laptops?"

-- Johanna Neuman

Friday, August 01, 2008

By Alex Balk 08/01/08 10:00 AM
Much in the same way I was asked by a co-worker this morning if I didn't think it might be a little early to be drinking (answer: "Come back and talk to me when you're as dead inside as I am"), a similar query presents itself as to the video above: "Are we really going to the cute animal posts so soon today?" Well, yes! It's been a miserable week in a terrible month of a horrible summer, and, hell, if The Today Show is gonna run something about the dog that adopted the tiger cubs, who am I to keep it from the rest of the world? Also? So so cute! Sigh. Hopefully a celebrity will OD soon. I can't take much more of this.

Cafe serves up coffee with conservative flavor

Latte-swilling liberals welcome, too, owner says
By Stacy St. Clair | Chicago Tribune reporter
July 31, 2008
From the moment customers enter the front door, the Conservative Cafe is serving up caffeinated doctrine.
Ann Coulter books sit stacked by the fireplace, and a picture of Ronald Reagan hangs on the wall. Fox News plays on all the televisions, and stock market quotes scroll along an electronic ticker above the cash register.
Behind the counter, owner Dave Beckham smiles proudly in a khaki T-shirt that reads "Zip It, Hippie." The shirt is for sale at the Crown Point, Ind., cafe, along with ones that say "Peace through Superior Firepower."
"It's a change from the traditional liberal bastion coffeehouses," Beckham says. "No one is going to bad-mouth America in here."
Friends warned Beckham to stay away from the conservative theme before the cafe opened in October. The former art teacher says he came up with the idea about five years ago, after souring on Starbucks and the other higher-end coffee chains.
He didn't like piped-in folk music, specialty drinks with faux-Italian names or patrons who frittered the hours away on laptops or listening to iPods. The atmosphere, he said, seemed an affront to Midwestern values he learned growing up in northwest Indiana.
"Coffee shouldn't be about sitting in a cafe for 12 hours," Beckham says. "Coffee gets us through our workday. It's what we drink before we make steel for the rest of the country or head out into the fields."
As his disdain for the coffee chains coincided with his fear of an erosion in national pride, Beckham made plans for the Conservative Cafe, an old-fashioned java joint near the Crown Point town square. There were two Starbucks within 3 miles of the shop, but Beckham and his wife, Jill, were convinced his pro-United States decor and Indiana roasted coffee would strike a chord with the community.
"We're trying to push back against the media and those in Europe who are anti-America," he said. "And it feels good to do it."
Since the opening, Starbucks has announced plans to close one of its Crown Point locations and Beckham has begun pondering franchise opportunities for his cafe. He acknowledges Starbucks' downturn stems from a sagging economy and the company's massive growth, but he believes his success proves that some people are turned off by traditional coffeehouse culture.
Crown Point resident Matthew McPhee is one of them. He doesn't feel comfortable in trendier coffeehouses, where he sometimes doesn't recognize the music and often doesn't agree with the political conversations. He prefers the Conservative Cafe, where red-white-and-blue bunting hangs outside the brick building and patrons can buy T-shirts that read, "Silly liberal. . . . Paychecks are for Workers."
"I like it here," he says. "I don't have to worry about listening to beatnik poetry or some political ideology that makes me want to vomit."
During his weekly visits, McPhee usually orders a "Radical Right" coffee, the cafe's strongest roast. His other options are conservative, moderate and liberal—the latter of which Beckham describes as a "Colombian decaf with no substance."
The decor may poke fun at liberals, but Beckham says they're welcome in his establishment. In the first few weeks after opening, for example, he extended his operating hours to accommodate an ideologically mixed group of "Hannity & Colmes" fans, who wanted to watch the show and debate the topics.
What's more, Beckham's partner, Bill McCall, is a—gasp!—Democrat.
"Conservative doesn't mean you belong to a certain political party," McCall says. "It's a way of thinking. It goes beyond politics."
Beckham and McCall say they still aren't drawing paychecks from the cafe. But Bob Metz, Center Township's supervisor of commercial assessments, says the shop has passed the six-month mark by which many fledgling eateries in the area falter.