Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Does that mean there have to be whips, chains, and hot candle wax?

From a professional newsletter I received today:

Can a social worker date a relative of one of her clients?

Perhaps. Will the "dating" be plutonic with no sexual contact?

Message board comment of the day

Republicans look out for themselves, and I assure you, are not succeptable to brainwashing.

Or to correct spelling, I suppose. I saw this somewhere and thought it was too good to keep to myself.

Col. Karpinski says soldiers, to avoid rape, died of dehydration

Col. Janis Karpinsky, former commander of Abu Ghraib prison, testified in New York last week that Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez covered up the cause of death for some female soldiers who died in Iraq. According to Karpinsky, whose testimoney was done for the Commission of Inquiry for Crimes Against Humanity Committed by the Bush Administration, several women refused to drink liquids late in the day in order to avoid walking the long distance to the latrines. Because there were no lights, the soldiers feared being sexually assaulted or raped, Karpinsky said.

According to the testimony, these women did not drink liquids after 3:00 or 4:00 p.m., and in the 102 degree desert heat, they died of dehydration in their sleep.

Karpinsky also testified that, though there was a telephone number female assault victims could call, the soldiers had no phones, and even if they did, the only voice at the other end was a recording.

Halliburton subsidiary gets "emergency" detention facilities contract

Kellogg, Brown & Root, the subsidiary of Halliburton, has been awarded a $385 million contingency contract by the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Immigration and Customs component to support ICE facilities "in the event of an emergency."

The contract, described as competively awarded, will be executed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the agency which drowned New Orleans, and provides "temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs."

So there you have it. More prisons, more "persons of interest," and more money for Halliburton. Welcome to the new America, and enjoy your stay.

Coretta Scott King dead at 78

The widow of Martin Luther King Jr. and a strong spokeswoman for peace, justice, and civil rights, King had been in bad health for a while. King advocated an end to poverty, war, racism, sexism, and the abuse of gay citizens, and will be very much missed by those who care about justice.

Monday, January 30, 2006

From a speech by George W. Bush in April of 2005

To a gathering of the press:

"There's got to be some sense of privacy. I don't want you reading my private email, email between my daughers and me."

Wendy Wasserstein has died

I didn't even know she was sick, so I am both shocked and very saddened at the news. She was one of my favorite playwrights, and she did some other very funny writing, like the time she parodied Hillary Clinton with a "listening tour" of Fishers Island when she "discovered" she was really a WASP.

What a loss.

Breaking news--George W. Bush claims he does not know Tom DeLay

Though there are many photographs available over a period of many years to suggest that Bush is indeed acquainted with DeLay, Scott McClellan insists that his employer "may have met Delay" once, but does not "know him" and has had no photos taken with him.

When asked where the dozens of photos of Bush and DeLay came from, Bush replied, "I believe they have been PhotoShipped by those who seek to destroy America."

Advance copy of State of the Union address

Blah, blah, blah...security...blah, blah, blah...security...blah, blah, blah...elections in Iraq...blah, blah, blah...protect Americans...blah, blah, blah...our brave men and women...blah, blah, blah...my authority...blah, blah, blah...security...blah, blah, blah...activist judges...blah, blah, blah...American values...blah, blah, blah...freedom...blah, blah, blah...those who wish to harm us....blah, blah, blah...security...blah, blah, blah...jobs...blah, blah, blah...Puerta and Karatantcheva suspended for using steroids...blah, blah, blah...security...blah, blah, blah...my job to protect...blah, blah, blah...terrorists...blah, blah, blah...protect American values...blah, blah, blah...nukular...blah, blah, blah...progress in Iraq...blah, blah, blah...victory...blah, blah, blah...security...blah, blah, blah...grow the economy...blah, blah, blah...will not turn and run...blah, blah, blah...support our troops...blah, blah, blah...bring democracy to the world...blah, blah, blah...security...blah, blah, blah...God bless America.

FEMA failed to use trucks, boats, planes, and security officers to rescue Katrina victims

Newly released documents prove what Louisianians already knew--that FEMA failed to give hundreds of trucks, boats, and planes the go-ahead to rescue missions in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The federal agency also called off its search and rescue mission on September 1, three days after Katrina hit.

The Department of the Interior alone offered to send 300 dump trucks and other vehicles, eleven aircraft, and 400 law enforcement officers, but FEMA did nothing to utilize the offer, despite its complaint that security was the reason for calling off the search and rescue mission.

Happy Birthday, Vanessa Redgrave

Arguably the greatest woman in theatre of the past century (she is generally considered the quintessential Rosalind in As You Like It), Redgrave has also had a very successful film career, turning in marvelous performances in such films as Blow-Up, Camelot, Isadora, and Prick Up Your Ears, and almost stealing two films--Julia and Howard's End--in supporting roles.

I fulfilled my lifelong desire to see her on the stage in 2002, when I attended a performance of the Broadway production of O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, which co-starred Brian Dennehy, Robert Sean Leonard, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (currently starring in the acclaimed film, Capote, and whom I considered the weak link in the cast). She was electrifying, and hauntingly beautiful.

Long-time human rights activist Redgrave turned down the Order of the Dame in 1999, endearing her even more to her admirers.

How to complete your finals match, even if you are sick and losing

For some reason, the sports press hasn't picked up on this yet, but here is the real corker of the Australian Open: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia won the junior girls' championship at the Open, 1-6, 6-2, 6-3, despite the fact that she was sick with heat illness, dizzy, had a leg injury, took a medical break, and was down 1-6, 0-2 in the second set,

This is in sharp contrast to the retirement (at 1-6, 0-2 in the second set) of Justine Henin-Hardenne, who left most of us with a really bad feeling about her, even those of us who have tried to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

A note to The L Word producers

I don't play tennis, but my service motion would probably be better than Dana Fairbanks'. The few tennis scenes from last season showed Fairbanks using poor shot form; tonight's episode showed her looking even worse. And to make it laughable, she was "serving" aces.

Season 3 is a bust, though tonight's episode was worth watching because the great Dana Delany was the guest star. Next week marks the return of Rosanna Arquette as Cherie, so I'll probably get drawn in again.

Substantial amount of AIDS funding goes to religious groups

There was a time in America when the above headline would not have aroused suspicion; we would have expected a certain number of religious organizations to apply for and receive grants to help fight a serious syndrome that causes devastating disease and death. Religious organizations have taken an active role in promoting a number of social programs, from the Vietnamese resettlement effort to providing food for the nation's poor.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

God didn't make Adam and Steve...

No, God made Larry and Steve, which is a hell of a lot worse.

Poor Trent Lott

Mississippi Governor and major Bush suck-up Haley Barbour says Mississippi is doing really well, post-Katrina, but Senator Trent Lott would not agree. When the storm took down Lott's 154-year old house, Bush told him, "There's going to be a fantastic house. And I'm going to look forward to sitting on the porch."

Better settle for a stump, George. Five months after the hurricane hit, there is not only no house going up, but, Lott says, "I don't even have a FEMA trailer."

Pardon me while I take some time here to weep copious tears of sympathy.

But seriously, folks...my lack of sympathy for Lott has nothing to do with the fact that he has two other houses; the well-off can suffer losses in a natural disaster, just like other people. No, my lack of sympathy is related to the fact that Lott is an activist--a former leader, in fact--in a group that wants FEMA dismantled, that doesn't give a damn about what happens to people after a natural disaster, and that is too incompetent to even know that "a storm was comin.'"

When the chickens come home to roost, they can peck you to death. Ask poor Trent Lott.

I remember when a commercial like this would have been pulled off the air

I am disgusted by the latest Charter Communications television advertising spot, which shows two young women eating at a casual restaurant and discussing a movie they missed on Showtime. Out of nowhere comes a psuedo-smooth young man, who forces his way into the seat next to them, literally shoving them over, and explains to them the details of Charter's "On Demand" features.

Do the women say "What the hell do you think you're doing, forcing yourself on us?" No, they giggle. And when he asks them questions, they go all coy and...giggle. They look like passive idiots who are actually kind of pleased that a strange man interrupted their conversation and invaded their space.

And the saddest thing is--I bet most people watching the spot think it is either annoying or cute, but not an insult to women, which it is.

Happy days are here again

FEMA has given Louisiana a two-month extension on its first payment of the money the state owes the federal agency. That is really good news because, in two months, Louisiana will be rolling in money.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Hail, mighty Mauresmo!

Some of us have waited years for the great French player, Amelie Mauresmo, to win her first Grand Slam title. Known as the biggest head case on the tour (though I think she has been eclipsed in that area by a few others), Mauresmo has tended to get tight at important times and lose big matches. Now, however, she is a Grand Slam winner: She has won the 2006 Australian Open women's championship.

But, oh, the circumstances...Mauresmo's opponent was four-time Grand Slam winner Justine Henin-Hardenne, known for both her physical and mental toughness. In 2003, Henin-Hardenne played the U.S. semifinal--an epic match against Jennifer Capriati--with severe stomach cramps. She won, and said she didn't know if she would be well enough to compete in the final. She did, and she won the title.

In 2004, Henin-Hardenne contracted a virus that did her in for the entire season. Before she realized how serious her illness was, though, she went to Athens and won an Olympic gold medal (Mauresmo, by the way, was her silver medalist opponent).

Today, though, tough-as-nails Henin-Hardenne took a medical break after the beginning of the second set, and retired shortly thereafter, complaining of stomach pains. In her press conference, she said her shoulder had been hurting and she had doubled her dosage of anti-inflammatory meds. Also, she said her stomach had been hurting for a few days. All well and good, though she managed to beat Maria Sharapova in a three-set match in the semifinals.

"I had nothing left to give," Henin-Hardenne said of her retirement. People are suspicious that Henin-Hardenne, though feeling bad, retired to get out of losing miserably. Mauresmo took the first set, 6-1, and was up 2-0 when Henin-Hardenne retired. Or as one fan put it, "Mauresmo's backhand made Justine sick."

We will never know what really happened, and we are left to take Henin-Hardenne at her word, but her past record of toughing it out, and the fact that it was a Grand Slam final, makes her decision to retire seem suspect to some. On the other hand, having had a debilitating virus may have left Henin-Hardenne a weaker specimen than she used to be. At any rate, it has probably left her less likely to take risks with her health. Complicating the issue is the fact that, the day before the final, Henin-Harden said: " I never felt as good as now. Even if I played well in a couple of tournaments, I wasn't feeling physically as well as I am feeling right now."

In her interview, Henin-Hardenne gave Mauresmo--who played cleverly and beautifully--very little credit, saying instead that her illness gave her opponent plenty of time to set up perfect shots. When asked if she felt sorry for Mauresmo's getting cheated out of the great moment of a Grand Slam match point, she said "I'm first feeling sorry for myself, then I can feel sorry for her." It was honest, but it was a sharp contrast to the reserved Mauresmo, who--instead of enjoying the thrill of throwing her racquet in the air or falling to her knees--went to sit beside her injured opponent and console her.

Mauresmo told the press she had no idea her opponent was ill until she took the medical break. She did, however, reveal that on the morning she played her own quarterfinal match against Nicole Vaidisova, she woke up with a stiff neck and could not get it to move during the match. And Mauresmo's only comment regarding playing to the finish was "I was prepared to die on the court today."

For those of us who have waited so long for Mauresmo to achieve this, it was bittersweet indeed, for we wanted to see her throw her racquet in the air and take a run around the court. Fortunately, she got to do that when she won the WTA Year End Championships in Los Angeles in November.

Mauresmo's unusal final was only part of the strange circumstances. Her third round opponent, Michaella Krajicek, retired with heat illness after the first set, which Mauresmo won 6-2; and her semifinal opponent, Kim Clijsters, retired with an ankle injury at 7-5, 2-6, 2-3.

Odd though it was, it was still a Grand Slam victory. Mauresmo has one of the most beautiful games in women's tennis--superb court movement, an outstanding one-handed backhand, an amazing variety of shots, and a court grace than cannot be taught. Mauresmo also has a lot of class, and her fans are thrilled to see her finally achieve what has eluded her for so long.

How we help Iraqi women

We kidnap them.

Bush appoints chief Abramoff prosecutor to the federal bench, but not to worry

Noel L. Hillman, chief prosecutor in the Abramoff case, has stepped down because it was discovered that George W. Bush just happened to have appointed him to a federal judgeship on Wednesday. The White House called the appointment "routine" and said it would not have affected the investigation. Democrats are calling for a special prosecutor to investigate the timing of the routine appointment.

Bush slaps down Louisiana plan, then accuses Louisiana of having no plan

Yesterday, on Al Franken's Air America radio show, Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu said that if George W. Bush doesn't like the Baker Plan, then the least he can do is suggest an alternative, rather than just saying "no, no, no, and no."

But, Bush says, the widely supported (by both parties) Baker Plan is unacceptable, and according to Bush:

Folks in Congress will want to spend money based upon a specific strategy. We've got to get comfortable with how to proceed. The plan for Louisiana hasn't come forward yet.

Pardon me, but it has come forward not once, but twice. When Congressman Richard Baker met some opposition to his widely praised bill, he brought it forward again, with the message that he was willing to drop the bond purchase aspect of it if he could get it passed. The likelihood of passage was high, but on Tuesday, Bush announced he was against it.

Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco, offended by Bush's announcement that the state has no plan, says that the $6.2 billion in block grants which Bush is calling sufficent would help one in ten of people whose houses were damaged by flooding during Hurricane Katrina, and would ignore economic development and infrastructure repair.

Though a few members of Congress continue to blame New Orleanians for property damage over which they had no control, most have expressed a desire to get on with helping the city and the entire Gulf Coast recover from a tragedy which was caused, in part, by a federal agency, and made much worse by another federal agency.

In this latest version of Bush's continuing portrayal of the Red Queen, Louisiana is blamed for presenting a plan, then blamed for not presenting one. Meanwhile, no one seems to care that Halliburton, on whose behalf we invaded Iraq, has "misplaced" $9 billion, and that the U.S. budget has been wrecked by an expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars for a fake war.

Friday cat blogging--Australian Open edition

We cheered for all our favorites...

Did our best to follow those Hingis lobs...

And now we're ready for the final!

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Homeland Security in Georgia makes big arrest

And sends a vegan to jail.

Can we put the threat level down now?

Let me haul out my violin

And play a really weepy tune for student Doug Anglin, who has filed a federal civil rights complaint against Milton High School in Boston because, he claims, the school discriminates against boys.

How does the school discriminate against boys? According to Anglin:

The system is designed to the disadvantage of males. From the elementary level, they establish a philosophy that if you sit down, follow orders, and listen to what they say, you'll do well and get good grades. Men naturally rebel against this.

But wait--there's more: "He also wants the school to abolish its community service requirement, saying it's another burden that will just set off resistance from boys, who may skip it and fail to graduate as a result."

Anglin also wants the school to give academic credit for sports, as well as art and drama, and for the school to allow students to take courses on a pass/fail basis so boys could take advance courses without fear of ruining their academic records. His father says that since boys have been discriminated against, the school system should increase their grades retroactively.

Anglin also alleges that girls face fewer restrictions at the schoool. The only example he gave was that girls may wander down the hall freely without getting passes, but boys may not. If this is true, it should be corrected, of course. But the bulk of Anglin's complaints revolve around a simple belief that testosterone makes boys act in ways over which they have no control. Following orders, listening to the teacher, and performing community service is just so girly-man.

How many Senators does it take to start a filibuster?

...it does not take 41 Senators to start a filibuster. It takes one Senator to start a filibuster.
Stone Court lays it out for you right here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

When the "f" word is the only right word to use

Just Ain't Right gets it right.

Family values, as brought to you by the right wing

If a porn star can attend a state dinner and advise George W. Bush on "important national issues," then why shouldn't acting House Majority Leader Roy Blunt's political action committee receive its largest donation from a successful phone sex operator?

White House rejects Baker Plan

Anyone who reads the news saw this coming: The administration's hurricane recovery czar, Donald Powell, has been described as "noncommittal" toward the re-introduction of the Baker Plan to Congress. Sure enough, yesterday, the White House announced its opposition to the bill, citing the sufficiency of block grants instead. Congressman Richard Baker, the bill's author, claims that the $6.2 billion provided by Congress is far from sufficient to effect recovery in the areas of Louisiana hit by hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The Baker Plan would create a government agency to buy flood-damaged houses and pay off the mortgages.

Down to four

The Australian Open women's semifinals are set: number 2 seed Kim Clijsters v. number 3 seed Amelie Mauresmo, and number 4 seed Maria Sharapova v. number 8 seed Justine Henin-Hardenne. The only one of the four who has been at her best in this tournament is Mauresmo, who is hitting sharp and clean. Henin-Hardenne still can't get her serve to work (she lost it in her comeback from an illness), Sharapova is all over the place, and Clijsters is dealing with both an injury and her usual demon--zoning out in the middle of the fight.

Anything can happen, however. Mauresmo can have one of her mental meltdowns, Clijsters can snap out of it, Sharapova can find her way again, Henin-Hardenne can prevail without a good serve.

Things to watch for:

How Clijsters moves--Though she says the anti-inflammatory meds keep her from feeling pain, she will be playing her sixth match of the tournament, and that may put a lot of stress on her hip.

How Mauresmo hits to the Clijsters backhand--Martina Hingis gave Clijsters a lot of unwanted spin, and if anyone else on the tour is capable of giving her even more, it's Mauresmo. She played smart against Patty Schnyder, taking away Schnyder's chief weapons, and she has the talent to do the same to Clijsters.

How Sharapova uses her serve--If she's on, she'll get a lot more first serves in than her opponent, which could make the difference in a tight match, especially a match with Henin-Hardenne, who doesn't have a weak side.

How Henin-Hardenne runs Sharapova around the court--though Sharapova's movement is much better than it was, she is still vulnerable to someone who can take early control of the ball.

When have we heard this before?

There has been a near total lack of cooperation that has made it impossible, in my opinion, for us to do the thorough investigation that we have the responsibility to do.

The Bush administration is stonewalling the Congress.

We have been trying--without success--to obtain Secretary Rumsfeld's cooperation for months.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

The indoor winter garden

H. 'Green Goddess'

H. 'Green Goddess' glows in the foreground; H. 'Orange Sovereign' and H. 'Las Vegas' are in the background

Problem with comments

If you leave a comment and it doesn't show up, that's because there is something wrong with Blogger comments, or at least with mine. Some of them aren't showing up until hours later. I've contacted Blogger about this--it doesn't appear in their Known Issues or Blogger Status. Anyway--your comment will show up at some point.

Pat Cash, Martina Hingis, and delusions

Not that many days ago, former Australian tennis pro Pat Cash said of Martina Hingis's return to tennis: "If Hingis expects to come back and start winning Grand Slam titles again, I am afraid she is deluded."

Well, Hingis just took Australian Open number two seed and world number two Kim Clijsters to three sets in the 2006 quarterfinals. Hingis got off to a dismal start, unable to find any kind of rhythm, and losing 2-6 to the hard-hitting Clijsters. But then, in the second set, she returned to her old ways of forcing errors from her opponent and doing anything to create confusion. She won the second set 6-2, and lost the third 4-6. She actually had a chance to take the match, to the amazement of not only Cash, I'm sure, but all of us: Even her biggest fans--and I'm one of them--didn't think she could do this well her first time back at a Slam with almost no match preparation.

Cash is right about one thing--that Hingis's "old demons are going to re-emerge quickly" if she continues to be outhit by power players. Hingis is definitely hitting harder than she used to, which is helping her a lot in rallies, and which is probably enough to see her through. But her serve is still her greatest problem. She had been getting a lot of first serves in at the Open, so--even though they were not extremely fast--she had achieved an excellent first serve percentage, and the little extra speed she put on them helped her a lot.

But when she played Clijsters, Hingis had trouble getting her first serve in, and her second serve was dismal. Also, her first serve speed slowed down against Clijsters, and was sometimes slower than Clijsters' second serve.

What this means is that Hingis, whose game is probably better than when she retired in 2002--harder hitting, more net play--will still not be able to compete at the very top unless she can do something about that serve. My suggestion would be for her to pay a call on Robert Landsdorp and have him put her through the same ball-hitting grind he put Maria Sharapova through when he was coaching her. She will have to do something, for sure.

But back to Pat Cash. Does he really think the great Hingis would return to the tour if she hadn't prepared herself for the biggest matches of all? To return after 3 1/2 years and push someone like Clijsters to a three-set match is an amazing feat in sports. I hope Cash was watching. Who's deluded now? I wondered, but then, it was Pat Cash who once referred to women's tennis as "two sets of junk." If that's what Hingis was delivering, then take me to the junkyard...please.

Mark Morford has a suggestion for a new movement

I like it. He calls it "Operation Screw With the DOJ and make Lynne Cheney Squirm." Details here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

And now, for a little good news

I didn't realize until I read Pandagon and Pam's House Blend that the Ocean County Homophobic Five had finally relented--thanks to public outcry--and voted to allow Laurel Hester's benefits to go to her partner.

What an Alice In Wonderland world--Deny benefits to someone who isn't your spouse, then deny you the right to have a spouse.

Note to sports media: Get Ova yourselves

In her quarterfinal round against Nadia Petrova, Maria Sharapova was careless, out of sorts, and lucky, in that Petrova pretty much came apart at the seams. The commentators, though focused on Petrova's dismal performance (she was also injured), did comment several times on Sharapova's poor performance, too. But they did what they always do--act as though it were the first time they had ever seen Sharapova play a less than stellar game.

This is the same careless Sharapova who was soundly defeated by Petrova and Mauresmo at the 2005 Year End Championships, who had all kinds of problems with movement at the 2005 French Open, and who was double-bageled by Lindsay Davenport in the semifinal of the 2005 Pacific Life Open.

I do not care for Sharapova's court screaming and her sex-pedaling persona, but I think she is an excellent tennis player. However, she has vulnerabilities that can be exploited by more experienced players. There's nothing wrong with that; she's still very young. My problem is with the tennis broadcast media, who simply cannot see the big picture when it comes to the Russian star. Every string of unforced errors, every cluster of double faults, every mental lapse, is a unique, never before seen anomaly. Mary Joe Fernandez is the worst in this department, but she is not alone.

We all know Maria can play really well. But she is far from perfect, and it does her no favors to pretend otherwise.

Australian Open contenders deliver vastly different degrees of tennis

With the quarterfinals half finished, we have already seen our share of surprises, though we have not seen that much good tennis. Recognition has to go to:

Tszvetana Pironkova, who held her nerve and knocked Venus Williams out of round one

Daniela Hantuchova, who, showing much of her old form, dispensed of Venus's sister in the third round

Maria Kirilenko, whose level of competitive play against world number one Lindsay Davenport was tough, creative, and almost successful

Samantha Stosur, who lost her nerve against an almost equally nervous Martina Hingis, but who proved why her fans yell, "Smash-em Sam!", winning beautiful points at the net over and over. Once thought of as a doubles-only player, Stosur is coming into her own in singles.

Amelie Mauresmo, who--given her sometimes fragile psyche--could have let the talented young Nicole Vaidisova scare her, but chose instead to dispense of Vaidisova cleanly and with authority

Lindsay Davenport, who played through a freak ankle injury which all but destroyed her ability to serve, but which didn't put her on the wrong side of the handshake until she met up with Justine Henin-Hardenne in the quarterfinals

Ashley Harkleroad, whose very slow return to professional tennis got her through two qualifying rounds and past the talented Shaui Peng. It was her tough luck to meet Sharapova in the second round, but she played very well against her and should be proud of her performance.

Martina Hingis
, whose match statistics are incredible, and who is playing the same terrific game she always played, but with more power and more trips to the net

And another kind of recognition should go to:

Serena Williams, who insists she's just fine, thank you, but who is out of shape and not a threat to anyone at the top of the tour

Maria Sharapova, who bragged to the press about how she could defeat Nadia Petrova under any circumstance (and making excuses for her loss to Petrova at the Year End Championships), and then proceeded to play an absolutely horrible match against Petrova in the quarterfinals. Making unforced errors repeatedly and double-faulting again and again, Sharapova was completely out of form. Of course, the commentators acted, as they always do, as though this were the very first time Sharapova had ever done something like this.

Nadia Petrova, who did manage to do something difficult: She played even worse than Sharapova. Petrova made 49 unforced errors in two sets, couldn't stop double-faulting, and let the old temper-prone Nadia rule her terrible game. (In all fairness, however, she played part of the match with bleeding blisters and had to have the trainer come in twice.)

Iveta Benesova, who has a fine game (she defeated Mary Pierce), but whose training at the Nadia Petrova School of Emotional Control made her easy pickings for Martina Hingis

Halliburton exposed troops and civilians to contaminated water

And did so knowingly, according to documents cited in an AP article featured by Jinky the Cat.

Halliburton disputes the allegations, which were made by the company's own employees and documented in a number of emails. According to complaints, troops and civilians at Camp Junction City in Ramadi, had to drink and wash in untreated water, despite the availability of bottled water.

Woman in Florida doesn't want people reading Lolita

Terry Blaes of Dunnellon, Florida (wouldn't you know it?) has some peculiar ideas about what she calls "the American way."

Blaes is concerned that Nabokov's Lolita may be "obscene by today's standards." "I want you to think about the effect of literature on the people who read it, children and adults," Blaes said. (But of course. Because if your husband reads Lolita, he's going to dump you immediately and pick up a 12-year-old girl.)

Blaes asked the Marion County Commission to determine whether the novel should remain on public library shelves, and the Commission voted 3 to 2 that it should stay on adult fiction shelves. That means that 40% of the Commission do not believe adults have the right to check out and read classic literature.

The county attorney has been given the task of deciding whether Lolita is indecent for minors. If the attorney gives it the go-ahead, the Commission will have to decide whether to put it on the shelves or keep it behind the librarian's desk.

Blaes thinks the fate of Lolita in Marion County should be decided by the community, however, because "...that's the American way of dealing with controversial books."

No, Terry. The supposed American way--the way set forth in our Constitution--is to let individuals read what they want.

Update on what the White House knew about Katrina

The memo from Homeland Security, warning that storm surge could breach New Orleans levees, reached the White House situation room at 1:47 a.m. on August 29.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Key Katrina recovery Congressman not interested in Baker Plan

Congressman Tom Davis of Virginia, who chairs the committee investigating issues surrounding Hurricane Katrina, is not like most of New Orleans' recent Congressional visitors. Davis is not a fan of the Baker Plan, which would provide a federal buyout of damaged houses, he says he is not ready to support Category 5 storm protection for New Orleans, and--as the New Orleans Times-Picayune pointed out on Sunday--he does not want to hear about the federal government's role in the failure of the city's levees.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

Department of Homeland Security warned of levee breach

Documents released Monday show that the Department of Homeland Security was warned on August 28 that the storm's surge could breach levees and leave New Orleans flooded for weeks or months. The information came from the department's National Infrastructure Simulation and Analysis Center. The warning was issued in the event that Katrina would be a Category 4 or 5 storm. It turned out to be a Category 5 storm, but was a Category 3 by the time it hit New Orleans. All the same, Chertoff and Brown--not to mention the birthday cake-eating guitarist--were warned.

Why anti-choice people enrage me--Part 1

Aside from their obvious desire to control women's bodies (and in the case of the women, their willingness to give up control of their own bodies and the bodies of their daughters)...

I am a psychotherapist. Almost every day of my life, I talk with people whose parents neglected them, beat them, slapped them around, put them down, played head games with them, humiliated them, or sexually abused them. The parents may have been ignorant, they may have been alcoholic, they may have been filled with rage. It doesn't matter. They took on the responsibility of being parents and they failed miserably. They did not cherish their children, but rather, used them as outlets for their own feelings of insecurity, bitterness, narcissism, and anger.

Children who are not cherished grow up to be adults who are depressed, frightened, confused, characterologically impaired, addicted, and/or antisocial. They often abuse or neglect their own children.

Hopeless teenage mothers who are not cherished by their own families frequently become pregnant so that "someone will love me." This narcissistic " mothering" is a terrible type of child abuse, in which the child exists only to make the mother feel less empty inside. Once the baby shows signs of being a separate human being, the mother generally begins taking her rage and disappointment out on her or him, and sets up a competition between herself and her helpless offspring.

The notion that America cares about its children is pure nonsense. Child protection services are terribly understaffed, most types of child abuse cannot even be reported, and intervention programs are few and far between. As fundamentalist churches become more powerful, the idea of abusing children, a la James Dobson, becomes more the norm. Every week, someone says to me, "I was whipped really hard with a belt (or an extension cord, or a stick), but that was the way they did things then." Then I have to tell that person, "Well, that's the way they do things now, too."

To encourage people with no parenting skills to have children, and then to discourage the provision of those skills--either out of lack of interest or fundamentalist Christian belief--is to guarantee the continuation of violence in America.

Why anti-choice people enrage me--Part 2

The very people who stand in front of abortion clinics, heckling frightened young women, are the same people who would say "huh?" if you brought up the subject of factory farming with them. They are willing to go to jail to save a fetus, but will sit down to dine on cows, sheep, pigs, and chickens that have been obscenely tortured, then inhumanely killed. They will wear leather without flinching, and do not want to know about the terrible treatment of the lab animals that were used to make their lipstick and aftershave.

Many of us do not think that being human means we have the right to eat and wear other animals. That is our deep conviction. But even realizing that many others do not feel that way, it is nevertheless puzzling that anyone would consent to eating and wearing animals who have been tortured, whose entire lives have been filled with misery, and whose deaths have been painful. But that is what factory farming is all about.

When confronted with the reality of factory farming, people say "I don't want to know."

Of all the social movements which I do not support, the one I can best understand is the anti-choice movement because I understand someone's trying to value life. But to value only pre-human life is, to me, bizarre. A fetus (or a brain-dead woman) must be saved, no matter what. But a living, breathing, endangered human child, or a living, breathing, tortured non-human creature simply does not matter at all.

Sabatini elected to Hall of Fame

Every tennis generation produces a player of such grace, it is a joy to watch her. Maria Bueno, the great Evonne Goolagong, Hana Mandlikova, and today's Amelie Mauresmo are all examples. In the mid- to late 80's, it was Gabriela Sabatini, who has been elected to the International Tennis Hall of Fame. Though the rivalry between Steffi Graf and Monica Seles is the one most talked about during that period, there was also a strong rivalry between Graf and Sabatini, and the two were sometimes doubles partners.

Sabatini, with her athletic grace, hard hitting, and impressive topspin play, was often able to best Graf, but not in the really big events. The one exception was the 1990 U.S. Open, in which she defeated Graf, 6-2, 7-6, after beating Mary Joe Fernandez, Leila Meskhi, and Helena Sukova in preceding rounds. Sabatini was a finalist in the 1988 U.S. Open, and the 1991 Wimbledon championship. She also won a silver medal at the 1988 Olympics, and she won the WTA Year End Championships in 1988 and 1994. Sabatini was a Grand Slam semifinalist multiple times. Sabatini and Graf won the Wimbledon doubles title in 1988.

Sabatini has 27 career singles titles and 14 career doubles titles. She played on Argentina's Fed Cup team for several years, and is the first woman from Argentina to be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Why we blog for choice

Blog for Choice Day was yesterday, but we can never stop talking about the subject. Here is one reason.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Once again, God forbid we should ever use the "w" word

In calling the Australian Open tonight, Cliff Drysdale referred to the "lady chairperson." The allergy to the word "woman" is not just an American illness.
Today, the 33rd anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is as good a time as any to stop saying "Roe v. Wade will never be overturned." The most chilling photo I can recall from recent history is this one--a group of priveleged white men beaming over their victory in once again controlling women's and girls' bodies, and that was just a couple of years ago.

Roe v. Wade has already been chipped away at like a slab of peppermint bark, and there is no reason to believe--with the impending ascent of Samuel Alito and the exit of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, that the chipping will not continue. In fact there is every reason to believe otherwise: Alito has already stated that the Constititution does not protect a woman's right to choose. In 1991, he wrote an opinion upholding a Pennsylvania law (which was struck down) that required a woman to inform her husband of her intention to get an abortion. Alito based his opinion on his belief that spousal notification did not create an undue burden for a woman, a belief founded on the absence of a specific number of women who would be harmed or inhibited by the statute.

In another case, Alito, though upholding the Supreme Court's definition of a person with regard to the Fourteenth Amendment, referred to fetuses as "human beings who are not Constitutional persons."

In other words, there is ample reason to believe Alito will join Justice Scalia's camp in interpreting law in such a way that Roe v. Wade is continually weakened.

Then there is the matter of recently installed Chief Justice John Roberts, who has declared that Roe v. Wade was "wrongly decided" and should be overturned. Roberts has also argued that Operation Rescue has not conspired to deny women equal protection, and that doctors who receive federal funds should not be allowed to talk with their patients about abortion procedures. And he has favored significantly restricting the means for poor women to obtain information about abortion services.

If you are a young woman and are reading this, consider it a big splash of cold water in your face. There are numerous (too many to count, actually) reasons why thousands of us have done everything in our power to get people to see the danger the entire country has been placed in by the Bush administration's deception, Constitution bashing, environment destroying, and support of the wealthy at the expense of everyone else. But if that means nothing to you, maybe this will: the Bush administration and all who sail with them do not want you to exercise control over your own bodies.

Find an older woman and ask her what it was like when women and girls had to travel hundreds of miles to get an abortion, or when abortions were done by people with little skill, resulting in infection, sterility, and even death. Ask her what it was like when the wealthy got abortions, but everyone else got maimed, or had no procedure done at all. Ask her what it was like when men decided that pregnancy was irreversible, even if those same men and their sons and brothers failed to take responsibility for birth control.

Once we give up control of our bodies, all other so-called autonomy becomes practically nonexistent.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Happy Birthday, ACLU!

The ACLU was founded 86 years ago today. Proud to be a card-carrying member.

Update on Laurel Hester--not good news

The Ocean County Homophobic Five have turned down her request again.

Australian Open progress report

Kirilenko came out smokin'
but somehow Davenport held on.
Daniela could not be broken,
now Serena--she's long gone.
It's crunch time for Kuznetsova;
poor Kim may have to withdraw.
No one talks about Petrova,
but she's sharp from what I saw.
Patty Schnyder's not a closer;
Amelie looks shaky too.
Wow--those serves from Sammy Stosur!
kickin' like a kangaroo.
The Aussie heat is frightening--
it overcame Myskina.
Sharapova serves like lightning.
(Who in heaven is Vesnina?)
Henin-Hardenne will have to make do
with a serve that is no threat.
Krajicek still could have a breakthrough,
but it hasn't happened yet.
Can Vaidisova still advance
or will Flavia upset her?
Does Schiavone have a chance?
Her game keeps getting better.
Although we don't know which athlete
will be the year's first Slammer;
it seems unlikely such a feat
could be pulled off by Bammer.
Sanchez Lorenzo, Roberta, Aiko,
and that doubles wonder, Vivi--
it's possible they all might go
Before they're on your TV.
So many seeds already felled--
Dementieva, Pierce, Safina,
Golovin and Groenefeld,
both Venus and Serena.
And though the doubters said she'd never
advance beyond round one,
the mighty Hingis, sharp as ever,
is enjoying quite a run.

Friday cat blogging--the Paris series

One of the lions at Notre Dame

Cats above a balcony wall

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Congresswoman Slaughter drops a bombshell

A big one.

Democrats in Georgia push for Bible class in schools

The plan of offering an elective course on the Bible--its influence on literature, art, music, culture, and politics, of course--is alive again in Georgia, brought to you by a group of Democrats who suddenly think it's a dandy idea.

Republicans say the Democrats are simply pandering to faith-based voters in an election year. No kidding.

One of my fantasies is that these courses are offered, and how will anyone possibly get away with teaching the Bible's influence on literature, art, and culture? Because that person would have to teach metaphor and parable and analogy, and oh my god...what do you mean, the burning bush is a symbol?!

Google refusing to hand over records to White House

The Bush administration, in an attempt to revive an Internet child protection law struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court, has asked a federal judge to order Google to turn over some material from its databases. Google, when issued a subpoena for the material last year, refused to turn it over.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

Quote of the day

George W. Bush, on whether Laura Bush would ever run for the Senate: "She's not interested in running for office. She's interested in literacy."

God knows she has her work cut out for her on the homefront, and so far, she hasn't proven to be much of a literacy teacher. She also has some issues with spelling, and then there's that pesky problem of not reading enough to have a clue about what is going on in the world.

I find Brown's apology puzzling

Michael Brown is now saying, "Oops, the Katrina disaster really was my fault," and I do not know why. Yes, thousands of documents have been released that disprove the Rove/Hughes version of things, and that destroy Brown's Congressional testimony, otherwise known as a Pack of Lies. But the news media hardly went out of its way to report that Brown was lying, and the American people are hardly known for their burning desire to know the truth. In other words, there is no reason to believe that Brown was "found out" and had to own up to his lies.

Dropping like flies, part 2

Iveta Benesova holds the baseline in her doubles final at the 2005 Family Circle Cup

The third round hasn't begun yet, and many seeds have already been eliminated from the women's side of the Australian Open. The lastest to go are Ana Ivanovic, Sania Mirza, Gisela Dulko, Anna-Lena Groenefeld, Dinara Safina, Marion Bartoli, and--the shock of the tournament so far--number five seed Mary Pierce, who was defeated by Iveta Benesova in straight sets. Seeds already eliminated are Venus Williams, Elena Dementieva, Ai Sugiyama, Klara Koukalova, Anabel Medina-Garrigues, Tatiana Golovin, Vera Zvonareva, Nathalie Dechy, Elena Likhovtseva, and Jelena Jankovic.

Martina Hingis has moved into the third round and will play Benesova next.

Anastasia Myskina was the tournament's first heat stroke victim. She was unable to get any oxygen and had to receive treatment. It earned her a bagel in the second set, but she won the match. In the third set, her opponent, Jamea Jackson, also succumbed to the heat, which wasn't expected to get bad until the weekend.

Though she was defeated by Maria Sharapova in the second round, Ashley Harkleroad's return to tennis looks good. She qualified for the Australian Open, beat tough Chinese player Shuai Peng, and played extremely well against Sharapova, hitting solid ground strokes, showing a lot of good footwork, and exhibiting a very nice serve.

Kim Clijsters' injury is bothering her, but she is playing. However, when she is seriously challenged in a later round, the injury could be her undoing.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Mayor Wonka

Chris Rose strikes again.

Track the Dirty 30 and get some fast beer money

Oh, to be a college student at UCLA. By just turning in your professor for saying something "radical," you get up to $100. I know a $100 doesn't go far these days, but you can still get a lot of beer for it, and even a movie and a pizza. The Bruin Alumni Association wants to expose instructors who are "abusive, one-sided, or off-topic" in advocating their political ideologies. The group claims it is concerned about radical professors of any ilk, but so far, it can't seem to come up with any right-wing names.

On the other hand, Bruin has published a list of the "Dirty 30," all of whom are liberal. One of its projects has been to look at the types of petitions signed by professors, and the Bruin group was oh, so shocked that some of them did not favor a federal court appointment for good old UCLA alumna Janice Rogers Brown. Oh, the disloyalty!

According to Andrew Jones, head of the Bruin group, students who have complained about "radical" professors in the past have done a bad job of documenting those claims, so Bruin will pay for tapes and notes of professors' lectures. UCLA students who sell course materials without the consent of their instructors are in violation of university rules and raise issues of copyright, so the Bruin group is likely to run into trouble early on.

Quote of the day

From a letter to the editor in today's New Orleans' Times-Picayune, referring to Mayor Nagin's Martin Luther King Jr. Day remarks: "Apparently, he has a chocolate chip on his shoulder."

The problem with so-called "progressives"

Shakespeare's Sister hits the mark with her post, "Progressives still not getting it," in which she argues that what the left needs isn't new ideas, but some commitment to the ideas it already is supposed to represent. The last line is my favorite: "If you want to avoid being head-thumped with identity politics, then start identifying."

Amen, Sister.

The ignorance factor in America

When did America become an anti-intellectual country? Was it always? I cannot judge from my childhood and adolescence because I spent them in a narrow-minded community that may or may not have represented mainstream America. On the other hand, I spent my childhood and adolescence in a community where education was a priority. We had one of the country's top high schools in my city, so the other high schools were also excellent, just as a way of keeping up. I received a very good education.

Of course, it goes without saying that any society that believes that women and minorities are not entitled to equal rights with white men is not going to produce a nation of educated people because it does not want to. We have come a long way in offering equal educational rights to women (only thirty years ago, women were driven, by harrassment, out of law schools and medical schools), but we have much farther to go in providing equal educational facilities to people of color.

Nevertheless, the strong anti-intellectual streak in the United States seems to go beyond our refusal to educate everyone equally. Political candidates who are well-educated are made fun of. Institutions such as Harvard and Princeton are reviled for being "liberal," and students who pursue liberal arts degrees are looked down on as participants in pure folly, destined to live useless professional lives.

Most shocking is the number of students in our colleges and universities who not only say they have never read a book, but who boast about it. If they have never read a book, how did they get into a university? I meet adolescents--fairly bright adolescents--in my work who say they do not read at all (fortunately, I also meet many who love to read).

Appropriate grammar and syntax have almost departed the English language; even on National Public Radio, the errors are numerous. The frame of reference is a forgotten institution: People seem to me to have little sense of historical context. Every new film, every new political event, every new social trend is viewed as though it has no precedent, as though it hangs alone in the scheme of things.

Americans show continuing signs of ignorance. Ignorance about history, about their own language, about other cultures, about current events, and--most dangerous of all--ignorant about the of mechanics of logic and reasoning, and of the very process of critical thinking. It is getting harder and harder to have a discussion or debate about anything because logical fallacies have taken over almost any rhetoric about anything.

I do not think this worship of ignorance began with religion--I'm not sure how it began--but some religious groups have now exploited it. Once they got their foot in the door of the classroom, they introduced everything from abstinence programs that teach the inferiority of women to "intelligent design."

Then there is that common American response to almost eveything: "I'm too busy." Too busy to read, too busy to keep up with current events, too busy to do fact-finding, to busy to respond to art.

If this trend--contempt for reading, loss of frame of reference and context, lack of critical thinking skills--continues, we will become a nation of completely stupid people with superficial educations and a deep suspicion of anyone who loves knowledge. We are already that, to some degree. People who cannot think for themselves allow others to think for them.

The indoor winter garden

H. 'Orange Sovereign'

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Clueless in Africa

While touring Africa and defending her husband's use of international AIDS funds to market abstinence, First Lady Laura Bush said: "I'm always a little bit irritated when I hear the criticism of abstinence, because abstinence is absolutely 100% effective in eradicating a sexually transmitted disease."

She went on to say: "In many countries where girls feel obligated to comply with the wishes of men, girls need to know that abstinence is a choice."

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

Glenn Beck coming to a cable box near you

Media Matters for America is reporting that CNN has hired Glenn Beck. I think it's a breath of fresh air for CNN to be upfront about its right-wing agenda instead of pretending it doesn't have one, and to be upfront about the fact that it is not a news network, but a collection of extraordinarily bad third-rate circus acts.

Beck, you will recall, fantasized on the air about killing Michael Moore, called Nick Berg's father a scumbag, and announced how much he hated the families of the September 11 victims.
Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has rejected former vice president Al Gore's call for a special prosecutor to investigate the legality of civilian surveillance by the NSA. Gonzales describes the program as "very targeted and limited," and that is supposed to make me feel better. Put aside for a moment (I know it's difficult) the fact that declaring a national emergency because of a fake war would give the executive branch any justification for spying without warrants. There is also the fact that only a fool would believe anything that comes from the White House because the lies have become too numerous to even list. Spying on citizens, encouraging inhumane treatment of detainees, and operating secret prisons are just the things we know about, but they are enough to make a total mockery out of the beliefs that America is a moral leader and puts its citizens' safety first.

Gonzales says "We need to know who the enemy is. We need to know what the enemy is thinking." Tell that to Jane Fonda, who was followed and spied on by the FBI for years, and whose official dossier contains fabrications of such outrageous proportions, they are very funny, if you don't count the fact that the Nixon administration--exploiting America's abhorrence to fact-seeking-- effectively smeared her for life. Or Yoko Ono, who, with her husband John Lennon, was dogged by the government for years because they were so "dangerous." Or Coretta Scott King, whose husband was a favorite spy target of J. Edgar Hoover, who tried to blackmail King and who encouraged him to commit suicide.

When imperialistic, corporatist, greedy creators of war are the ones deciding who the "enemy" is, you can bet that the enemy will be someone who stands against imperialistic, greedy warmongering.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Quote of the day

Tszveta Pironkova, on being asked if she had spoken with her father/coach since her enormous upset of Venus Williams in the first round of the Australian Open:

No, I haven't yet. I called but my sister was screaming on the phone. They were all watching the game. She said he went out to clean his brain because he was very excited, and I should call him when I finish this press conference.

God now speaking to someone besides Bush and Pat Robertson

God, in the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is now speaking to New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, a Republican who registered as a Democrat two days before his election, but who never bothered to find out how a Democrat, or any non-Republican, would govern. Nagin suggested today that the recent destruction brought on by Katrina, Rita, and other disasters means that "God is mad at America."

He also said: "This city will be a majority African American city because that is the way God wants it to be."

Nagin also said he had had a recent conversation with Dr. King. There are a lot of New Orleanians who wish Nagin would spend less time talking with God and Dr. King, and more time addressing their questions about housing, jobs, levees, and schools.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Dropping like flies

The first round of the Australian Open is only part-way done, and several seeds are already packing to go home. The big shocker of the day was the defeat of number 10 seed Venus Williams by Bulgarian player Tszavetana Pironkova, 2-6, 6-0, 9-7. Pironkova put on a show of beautiful passing shots, very skillful footwork, prime fitness, and if not nerves of steel, nerves good enough to see her through some very rough spots. I missed the first set, in which she was apparently trying to find her rhythm. She found it, making few unforced errors, continually exploiting Wiliams' unreliable forehand, and getting back shots that slower players would not have gotten back. She had considerable help from Williams, who made dozens of unforced errors, spraying balls outside the court on a regular basis.

At 5-3 in the third set, Pironkova served for the match, but Williams did not let her get even one match point. Williams then held serve to even it at 5-all. This was when Pironkova's play became wobbly, and she looked like she might fold from the pressure; the Williams sisters are known for pulling enormous rabbits out of hats at moments like this. But she hung in through a very long third set (in all the Grand Slams but the U.S. Open, the tiebreak is not used, but play continues until a player leads by two games).

Also out is number 9 seed Elena Dementieva, who was defeated 7-5, 6-2 by Julia Schruff; seed number 26, former Top 10 player Ai Sugiyama, fell to veteran and former Wimbledon champion Conchita Martinez. Also, last year's great French hope, 24th seed Tatiana Golovin, was beaten by Mara Santangelo in three sets.

The other sad story of the day was the first round defeat of Jelena Dokic, a former World number 4 who is trying to come back from a virtual disappearance from tennis. And I was disappointed to see one of my favorites, Anabel Medina-Garrigues, also lose in the first round.

And though her win is overshadowed by so many other upsets, former American hope Ashley Harkleroad, who has returned to tennis, defeated China's talented Shuai Peng.

Kwan headed to the Olympics

No, it isn't about tennis, but I do have more than a passing interest in women's figure skating, so I have been following the "Will Michelle Kwan go to the Olympics?" question carefully. Kwan has not been able to compete this year because of injuries. The Olympic team of three is selected by giving one slot the winner of the U.S. Championships, and the other two to two skaters who have competed especially well in the last year, even--theoretically--if they do not place in the top three in the U.S. Championships.

Last night, Sasha Cohen finally won the U.S. Championships, something that has heretofore eluded her. Cohen is a skater of amazing skill and artistry who tends to choke in big moments. Kwan, the most decorated American female figure skater of all time (and the second most decorated of all time, period), is also a skater of amazing skill and artistry, who tends to choke at the Olympics. Kimmie Meissner placed second in the U.S. Championships, and third place was won by Emily Hughes, sister of former Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes, a technically brilliant but uninspired skater.

Women's figure skating has, unfortunately, gone the way of women's gymnastics--all technical skill and not much art. It is a shame. Of course, there will always be incredibly graceful skaters like Kwan and Cohen, and unusually exciting skaters like the great Kristi Yamaguchi, but more and more, we will see a lot of struggling to get the most point-heavy techniques into a routine, especially under the new scoring system.

The U.S. Figure Skating International Committee has decided that Kwan may go to the Olympics, based on the weighty fact that she is, well, Michelle Kwan. I am glad, and I am also glad for Cohen. The incredible Irina Slutskaya of Russia will also be competing, and I suppose I have no real favorite. If any of the three of them wins a gold medal, I will be very pleased, yet sad for the other two. This is Kwan's last chance, for sure, so a big part of me wants her to win the gold, though I have become a diehard Slutskaya fan. All three are wonderful athletes and bring a lot of class to figure skating.

Fans who watched the U.S. Championships got treated to a couple of surprises. The exciting skater Beatrisa Liang placed third in the short program and skated so well, she raised everyone's expectations of her. And Stephanie Rosenthal, though she placed eighth overall, turned in the two most innovative pieces of choreography anyone has seen in a long time, bringing the audience to their feet.

The discomfort of clearing out the bookshelves

There is a decent collection of books about film, music, and related subjects

Soon (I apply the term loosely)-to-be-read books in a basket on the nightstand

There are books all over this house--gardening books on an Oriental-inspired English-type bookcase in the living room, unclassifiable (and largely unnoticed) books on a bookcase behind the sofa, huge books in a jute crate near the fireplace, more huge books on a Mexican pedestal in the dining room, cookbooks in a basket on the kitchen counter, more books in a basket on the second shelf of the nightstand (I knew a woman whose husband referred to her nightstand as "the black hole of literature"), books in bookcases in my husband's office, and more books in there awaiting their new home on a revolving bookcase.

But they are not the problem. The problem is the set of four tall bookcases in my home office. Every couple of years, I go through them to see what I can get rid of, usually giving them to the prisoners at Angola. It is a painful process, partly because I cannot stand to part with a book, partly because it is tedious manual labor, but perhaps mostly because of the guilt created by the task.

A few years ago, I took all of my work-related books and hauled them to my office (the one where I go to work), bought a new bookcase, and set them up in there. I rarely look at one, but I'm not ready to get rid of them, and they make a fine addition to the office. A few years before that, I forced myself to get rid of my collection of public speaking textbooks. I haven't taught in years, and they were just taking up valuable space in a house that has a minimum of places to store things.

And so it goes. I do not own that many books, but the ones I do own take up so much space. Every time I perform this dreaded task, I get rid of dozens of books, and sometimes entire categories of books. This time, I let go of my complete Robert B. Parker set (Spenser and others), my complete Julie Smith Skip Langdon and Talba Wallis sets, and my complete Linda Barnes set. I also tossed out books in every other category except drama, poetry, and classic and modern literary fiction. I did it because I needed to have space for new books, and I also needed more space for other items on the shelves, since my home office is small and every nook and cranny is occupied with pens, ink, cds, stationery, literary magazines, office supplies, and electronic parts.

So there I was, wiping down the shelves, sneezing from the dust, and forced to look at all the books I have bought and never read: Ironweed, Woman on the Edge of Time (I have, however, read several other Piercy novels), Paris Trout, Mountain Windsong. The Mary Gordon novel that I have started three times but have never gotten beyond the first one hundred pages of (I generally can't put her novels down). A collection of essays by the wonderful Otto Friedrich. As an adult, I am not a very well-read person. When I was an adolescent, I was extremely well-read, but something happened. The things I haven't read would shock you, and I won't embarrass myself by revealing them here. In many cases, I have read only one of a famous author's books; in other cases, I have read none at all. And of course, I have forgotten the dozens of classic novels I read when I was young, though I feel they must somehow be part of my consciousness.

There were also books people had given me that I had never read: novels by Barbara Kingsolver, Tony Hillerman, Iris Murdoch. An Aldous Huxley (my favorite novelist in high school) novel given to me over thirty years ago that I have yet to read. A book about Gertrude Stein and friends, and biographies of Carson McCullers, and Grace Kelly.

It was an ugly job, though my office bookshelves look a lot better today. The fact of the matter is that there are dozens more books I could get rid of--books about political events, books about language, books about miscellanous topics--that I will probably never read, or even look at, again, but I cannot bear to part with them. Not at this time, anyway. And even my prized shelves of biographies and books about film and music may never get a second reading, but they are treasures.

I am currently re-reading To the Lighthouse, and when I finish, I will have to decide whether to proceed with the books in my nightstand basket or take the plunge and try one of the unread items haunting me from yesterday's task. "So many books, so little time," the saying goes, but it helps if you actually take the time to read.

Number of journalists killed in Iraq approaching Vietnam figure

Via What Do I Know? comes the news from The Times that the number of journalists killed in Iraq is only six shy of the total killed in Vietnam in twenty years. Sixty journalists have been killed, some in highly suspicious circumstances, in just two years.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Mary J. Blige spreads common falsehood about PETA

Fur-wearing singer Mary J. Blige recently said: "Those PETA people don't want to mess with me, they don't want to throw paint on my coat..."

PETA condemns all vandalism, including the throwing of paint on someone's fur coat. It is not PETA members who do that.

Personally, I would like to see paint thrown in her face.

Iranian nuclear power--connect the dots

According to sources in one of our largest, most prosperous oil services companies, one of Iran's chief nuclear program officials was able to get key nuclear components easily because they were sold to him by...all together now!...Halliburton.

Mugabe and American hunters

Here is what one American woman does on her vacation. And here is why she is allowed to do it.

A million little excuses

James Frey is a liar. Writing a "memoir" with a lot of fake information, or "embellishments," as Frey likes to call them, is lying.

Oprah Winfrey, who is already teaching the children that it is cool to wear fur and to be a famous animal abuser, is now teaching them that it is okay to lie. She defends Frey's book, A Million Little Pieces, by saying "What is relevant is that he was a drug addict... and stepped out of that history to be the man he is today and to take that message to save other people and allow them to save themselves."

Excuse me. What is relevant is that he is a drug addict (or is he?!) and drug addicts lie. As anyone who has suffered substance addiction knows, putting away the substance does not put away the behavior. And the message is that you can stop using drugs, con thousands of readers, get an American icon to cover your back, and make a ton of money.

Winfrey, who endorsed A Million Little Lies for her book club, just needed to say "Hey, the guy conned me, too." Instead, she is not only defending Frey, she is blaming the publisher for now knowing the book contained "embellishments." Now, I could quickly make a long list of things publishers do that infuriate me, but failing to exercise supernatural powers would not be on it.

The madness does not end with Oprah. Consider this headline in the South Bend Tribune: "Book provokes debate on memoirs." What debate? The lead reads " Does the author of a memoir have an unspoken contract with readers to be true to the facts?" That a journalist would even stoop to ask this question tells you what you need to know about the place of honesty in American culture.

Several years ago, the term "creative nonfiction" came into being as a way to describe vibrant nonfiction narrative. Personal essays, for example, are creative nonfiction, as are not quite so personal descriptive narratives. Once the term came into being, however, writers immediately rushed to assume it meant the writer could make things up. I cannot tell you how many seemingly intelligent writers thought that the existence of such a genre gave them a license to "embellish" their descriptions of actual events.

We do not know whether anything in Frey's book is true because we now know he is a liar. But even if we assume that the things he says are true really are true, he has still produced a literary sham, and the best we can do is debate whether it is okay to do so.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Farewell, Gary Rhine

I have learned why Rhino's Blog has disappeared: Gary Rhine died on January 9 when his small plane crashed. His funeral will be held on January 15 in San francisco, and there will be a memorial service in Los Angeles at a later date.

I know I join many others in saying how sad I am that Gary is gone.

On the allure of Bond "girls"

Last night, I saw Bond Girls Are Forever again, just because it happened to be on. Bond Girls Are Forever is a mildly entertaining look at some of the women who have starred in the James Bond movies, with the highlight being an appearance by Honor Blackman.

Toward the end, some of the actors discuss the newer term, "Bond women," as opposed to "Bond girls." The new term came about because, as the Bond movies evolved, the females stopped being there just to look glamorous and have sex with Bond, but rather to look glamorous and perform Bond-like stunts, thus matching the star's toughness and cleverness.

I don't remember who it was--most of the Bond females are a blur to me since I stopped watching the movies years ago (and didn't much like them when I did watch them)--but one of the women, when asked "Bond girl" or "Bond woman?" said: "Bond girl! That's sexier, isn't it?"

The more I thought about that, the more disturbing it became--that an unformed female, a child, is considered more sexually interesting than an adult female. Of course, it is disturbing enough that the actor's goal was to be sexy, but I guess if you star in Bond movies, your goals are limited.

Friday cat blogging---winter dreams edition

The only thing better than flannel is flannel that has a person under it

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Australian Open begins Monday

Qualifying rounds are being played now, and the main event begins Monday. Heavy favorite Kim Clijsters is a bit in doubt. She had to withdraw from the Medibank International tournament in Sydney because of a hip strain. An MRI shows there is no torn muscle, so the injury isn't serious, but her presence at the Australian Open is not guaranteed at this time.

World number one and top seed Lindsay Davenport, another big contender, is in good health, as is Justine Henin-Hardenne, though I do not know if her serve is back to its 2003 quality. Last year--her comeback year--it was notably poor, though no one in the tennis press seems to want to talk about it. Defending champion Serena Williams has been battling a knee injury. Her first-round draw, Na Li, is no walk in the park, nor is Henin-Hardenne's first-round draw, Marta Domachowska.

Other contenders are Venus Williams, Amelie Mauresmo, and Maria Sharapova. I like to think Patty Schnyder is a contender, though most do not consider her to be one. Schnyder has not quite gotten to that top rung yet, though Melbourne's rebound ace surface should be perfect for her game.

Comeback player Martina Hingis drew Vera Zvonareva in the first round. Zvonareva, once a Top Ten player, is now number 30 in the world and trying to make her way back. This is not the easiest draw for Hingis.

The "it" factor at the Australian Open is always the heat. The heat rules are ridiculous, and some players--notably Hingis and Schnyder--have succumbed to it in the past.

"Start takin' it to the streets..."

Start takin' it to the streets. Boom, boom, boom, boom. There's twenty! Cha-ching.

That is what Marrero, Louisiana pastor Grant Storms said to a group of anti-gay activitists at the International Conference on Homo-Fascism in 2003 in Milwaukee. But when Action Wisconsin pointed out that Storms was advocating the murder of gay people, Storms sued the group for defamation of character.

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

Iraq and al Qaeda--still not friends

The Heretik points out that, once again, Iraq is taking up arms against al Qaeda. The difference this time? The New York Times has finally noticed that the two are not chummy.

The Bomgardner-bashing is beneath contempt

The tears of Martha-Ann Bomgardner have triggered another flood--a deluge of nasty, cynical, derisive, mocking, accusatory remarks. Suggestions that Bomgardner should "suck it up" (Imus), that she faked crying (Daily Kos), and that other people have real things to cry about (almost every liberal message board and blog you can think of) have popped up all over the place.

Yes, I agree that if I were married to a duplicitous, Bush-selected right-wing judge, I would cry, too. But that is not the issue. The issue is that some women cry more readily than others, and that--assuming she loves her husband--it is painful for her to hear certain things said about him, even if they are true, and even if she lives in denial about them.

Bomgardner has already been raked over the coals because of her fashion sense (because, after all, isn't that all we ever have to discuss about a woman?) by compassionate liberals on the Web, and now she has to pay for showing emotion. Women always pay for showing emotion, except when they don't, and then they are "cold."

The news media is having a field day with the mean old Democrats who made the little lady cry, yes. But that is not Bomgardner's fault. Leave her alone.

Bush to be greeted by New Orleanians with a little something extra

New Orleanians cannot resist costuming. When I lived there, it was amazing how many reasons I could conjure up for wearing a costume. And the city will not disappoint when the resident arrives in Jackson Square today. Citizens in life jackets plan to crowd the square and demand coastal restoration and Category 5 levee protection.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

A look at Judge Alito's decisions on law enforcement

The Yale Report on Alito examines categories of decisions rendered by Judge Samuel Alito throughout his career. One of those categories, "Responsible Law Enforcement," provides a summary of Alito's decisons regarding the powers of law enforcement agencies and the rights of the accused:

Doe v. Groody--Alito dissented from the majority in that he would have allowed the strip search of a ten-year-old girl and her mother, even though neither of them was named in the search warrant. Alito wrote that he was aware of "no legal principle that bars an officer from searching a child (in a proper manner) if a warrant has been issued and the warrant is not illegal on its face."

(Continue reading at MoJo Blog)

Promising WTA tour player suspended for doping

16-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva, who has charmed tennis fans with her feisty play and artless conversation, won't be charming them for at least two years. Karatantcheva has been given a two-year suspension for doping, the longest suspension ever given to a female tennis player. In addition, Karatantcheva will lose all of her ranking points, and forfeit the almost $129,000 she won from the 2005 French Open on, the period when she tested positive twice for the steroid, nandrolone.

Karatantcheva claimed her nandrolone level was high because she was unknowingly pregnant. She also claimed she had not testified before the Anti-Doping Commission.

The young Bulgarian is best known for upsetting Venus Williams in the Round of 16 of the 2005 French Open. That victory made her the youngest female--15 at the time--to ever reach the quarterfinals of the French Open.

Global warming causes changes in gardening hardiness zones

A Japanese azalea, whose usual bloom time is October, has given us its most prolific bloom in December and January, despite a number of freezes

For decades, those of us who garden in the U.S. have known with certainty which of the ten gardening hardiness zones we were in, and which of the sub-zones. That has changed now. The National Arbor Day Foundation has recently updated the zones, and there are significant changes in that several zones have become warmer. My own zone, already warm, has been changed to reflect an even hotter climate.