Monday, November 30, 2009

Tiger Woods Told Wife She Ruined Thanksgiving

According to Radar Online this morning, just before his car crash Tiger Woods stormed out of their house after having argued with his wife for hours (reportedly over The National Enquirer story about his cheating), exclaiming, "You've ruined our Thanksgiving! Are you happy now?" You can read the entire article HERE.

Climate Data Dumped ("Value Added" Data Kept)

An article in The Sunday Times newspaper revealed yesterday that, "Scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) have admitted throwing away much of the raw temperature data on which their predictions of global warming are based. It means that other academics are not able to check basic calculations said to show a long-term rise in temperature over the past 150 years.....The data were gathered from weather stations around the world and then adjusted to take account of variables in the way they were collected. The revised figures were kept, but the originals — stored on paper and magnetic tape — were dumped to save space when the CRU moved to a new building. The admission follows the leaking of a thousand private emails sent and received by Professor Phil Jones, the CRU’s director. In them he discusses thwarting climate sceptics seeking access to such data. In a statement on its website, the CRU said: 'We do not hold the original raw data but only the value-added (quality controlled and homogenized) data.' ” You can read the entire article HERE.

Even before this latest revelation, The Economist published an article last week about this controversy that I agree with. You can read it HERE.

Evel Knievel Died Two Years Ago Today

Evel Knievel died two years ago today. He was one of my childhood heroes in the 1970s. Even his failed Snake River Canyon jump didn't dampen my enthusiasm, or that of my friends, for his daredevil motorcycle stunts. For years afterward, we continued to put up rickety plywood ramps and jump them with our bikes, without pads or helmets. And his name was always invoked, usually as a synonym for bravery, and almost always to goad other children into attempting bigger jumps than they wanted.

But that all came to a screeching halt in 1977 when the TV news reported that Evel was arrested for badly beating up a guy with a baseball bat. Evel pled guilty and was sent to jail. And with that, all of the goodwill he had built up among kids for years, starting with his "stunt cycle" toy from Ideal, seemingly evaporated almost overnight. No one brought his name up much after that, at least that I can remember.
It turns out that the guy he beat up with the bat, Sheldon Saltman, had written a book about Evel that had infuriated him. The book, Evel Knievel On Tour, painted Evel very unflatteringly as a womanizer, a wife beater, and a recreational drug user, all contrary to his squeaky clean, kid-friendly public image and his "say 'no' to drugs" moralizing from the stage before his jumps. So Evel sought out Saltman and had his bodyguards hold him down as he savagely beat Saltman to a pulp with a bat, even though it was later revealed that Evel had approved the entire text of the book before its publication.
Evel faded from public view after his release from jail. I don't remember hearing anything about him again for almost 20 years, when I read in the local newspaper that he had been arrested near San Jose, California on suspicion of soliciting prostitution while living in a mobile home. It illustrates how much I had loved him as a kid that, upon seeing his name in print for the first time in years, even in this dirty and diminished way, I immediately bought a VHS compilation tape of his greatest jumps, and loved it.
In the summer of 2007, Richard Hammond, the co-host of the widely popular BBC car show Top Gear, travelled to Evel's hometown of Butte, Montana, to meet him during the "Evel Knievel Days" event held there annually in his honor. Richard Hammond clearly loved Evel like I did. But instead of the daring man he idolized as a child, Hammond found a very sick and frail man hooked to an oxygen tank, a shadow of his former self, who could be a prickly jerk at times, and strangely maudlin and reflective at others. Just weeks later, Evel was dead.
What resulted was a compelling one hour BBC documentary that first aired on December 23, 2007, less than a month after Evel had died. Embedded below are two short clips from that show, each only 1 minute long. Together, they capture much of what I just described. I recommend watching them in sequence. In the first one, Richard Hammond is preparing for his first meeting with Evel by re-reading an old magazine interview Evel had given in 1974. Evel's discussion about the impact of his dangerous jumps on his family in that interview is given added poignancy by the fact that Richard Hammond himself was very nearly killed in 2006 when a jet-powered dragster he was riding for Top Gear crashed spectacularly, nearly killing him. In the second clip, Richard Hammond asks Evel a few questions after the two had watched clips of his most famous jumps.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tiger Woods To Do A "Kobe Special"

According to TMZ, Tiger Woods told a friend during a phone conversation on Friday, "I have to run to Zales to get a 'Kobe Special.'" The person on the other end of the phone asked Tiger what a "Kobe Special" was. The reply -- "A house on a finger." You can read the article by clicking HERE.

Ah, the healing power of jewelry. (See photos above.) But Zales, Tiger? Really?
You can also see photos of the "other woman" on the website of the National Enquirer. It was their article published last week about Tiger cheating with this "mistress" that reportedly set his wife off initially last Thursday. You can see the photos by going to this link:

Spy Anthony Blunt's Memoirs Are Released

This past July the British Library released an autobiographical memoir written by Anthony Bunt in the years immediately following his public exposure in 1979 as a long-time spy for the Soviet Union. Blunt died of a heart attack in 1983, at the age of 75. This manuscript had remained hidden away unseen in the library's archives for 25 years, pursuant to the wishes of the anonymous donor. Blunt, a distant relative of the Queen and a member of MI 5 during WWII (and the Surveyor of the Queen's Pictures thereafter), apparently characterizes his spying as a "mistake" in these papers. But even in this unpublished, handwritten memoir he relates what are now known to be lies about how he was initially recruited and about how long his career as a spy carried on after World War II.
After he was publicly exposed in 1979, he claims to have considered suicide but instead turned to "whiskey and concentrated work." The four years thereafter, before his death in 1983, were far from easy, and perhaps rightly so. He was famously jeered by the crowd when he tried to go see a movie at a Notting Hill theater in February 1980. And later that same month his lover of over 25 years, John Gaskin, threw himself from a sixth floor balcony in a suicide attempt (but survived).

Embedded below is a 6 minute piece from the British news program Newsnight about the release of this memoir by the British Library. It includes digitally remastered footage of Blunt himself. Noted espionage historian Christopher Andrew is also interviewed, as his Blunt's biographer Miranda Carter, each of whom comment on the errors and omissions in these memoirs. Andrew calls it a "conspiracy against self-knowledge."

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Tiger Woods: Injuries Caused by Wife, Not SUV

By now I'm sure you've heard that Tiger Woods was injured and taken to the hospital after crashing his SUV into a fire hydrant and a tree near his house, having left home at the curious time of 2:35 AM Friday morning. Tiger Woods himself has not yet discussed the accident with police, but is reportedly scheduled to do so later today.

The cause of the accident, and indeed why he was driving from his house at 2:30 AM, have not yet been revealed. But TMZ is now reporting that the lacerations to Tiger's face were not caused by his car accident, but rather by his wife before he got behind the wheel. Tiger and his wife had apparently gotten into an argument over rumors that he had been seeing another woman. As it became more heated, she scratched up Tiger's face before he fled in his SUV. She ran after him as he got into his car, angrily wielding a golf club, which reportedly distracted him and caused him to hit the fire hydrant and tree. According to TMZ, Tiger is also taking prescription painkillers for an injury, which, they say, may explain why he was "out of it" at the scene when police arrived. You can read the entire article HERE.

The Photo That Should Send The Salahis To Jail

It's also further revealing about her, I think, that Michaele Salahi's claim she was once a cheerleader for the NFL's Washington Redskins is now reportedly being disputed by the Redskins themselves, who say they have no record of her. (And is that the Prime Minister of India in the background of this photo?)
In that photo above Michaele looks like a pathological Cinderella, who desperately wants this magical night to never end but who knows she needs to flee the ball by midnight, before she turns back into the bankrupt, publicity-seeking, serial liar that she seems to be. (Embarrassingly for the secret service, it's being reported that the Salahis were never discovered as crashers at the state dinner, but rather left of their own accord at the end of the evening.)

Friday, November 27, 2009

White House Crashers Bankrupt, In Many Lawsuits

It comes as no surprise, really, that as more is learned about the couple who crashed the White House state dinner last Tuesday, Michaele and Tareq Salahi, the more predictably sketchy the "aspiring reality stars" appear to be. According to an article posted on, their primary business, a winery, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in February. Documents filed in that matter indicate that many of the flashy possessions of these "northern Virginia socialites" have been repossessed, including a 2004 Aston Martin. They also state that the business has not filed any corporate income tax returns since 2005.

The couple are apparently also named in 16 civil lawsuits in Virginia, sometimes as plaintiffs and sometimes as defendants, including multiple lawsuits with Tareq's own parents, who used to be the owners of that same winery. And they have not yet paid some of the judgements levied against them in some of those cases.
On the NBC Nightly News, Brian Williams, who also attended the same state dinner, discussed his impressions of the couple. They caught his eye because, he explains, they had a make-up person and a camera following them, which he thought was very odd for the occasion. The 2 minute segment is embedded below:

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Couple Crash White House State Dinner

It's a sign of our new "Balloon Boy" times, I think, that a publicity-seeking couple from norther Virginia, Tareq and Michaele Salahi, apparently crashed Tuesday night's White House state dinner uninvited. They later posted pictures of themselves at the event on Michaele's Facebook page, including the one above with Vice President Biden.

The couple was described in The Washington Post this morning as, "long time fixtures in local horse country society." Michaele, a former Redskins cheerleader, is apparently an aspiring reality TV star as well, like Ballon Boy's father, Richard Heene. (She is a finalist to appear on Bravo's upcoming Real Housewives of Washington.) This is the reportedly first time in modern history that anyone has crashed a White House state dinner.

If they lied to the Secret Service to get in, that would be a felony. I hope it will be, with jail time required in this instance. As a society, we need to keep ratcheting up the penalties for these sorts of stunts until they are successfully discouraged. Once the Salahi's realize how much legal jeopardy they have now put themselves in, and how much their related legal costs will be, I expect that they will quickly make a remorseful appearance on Larry King Live. That "walk of shame" in these type of situations is now as well choreographed as the entrance to a White House state dinner, unfortunately for us all.

Allen Iverson: "Practice" Remix

On ESPN, Stephen A Smith is reporting that Allen Iverson is going to announce his retirement from the NBA, following his abrupt departure from the Memphis Grizzlies earlier this season after only three games. He was reportedly unhappy coming off the bench rather than starting.

In recognition of this day, embedded below is a 4 minute rap remix of an absolutely legendary press conference that Iverson once held when he played for the Phildalphia 76ers years ago, in which he held forth on his disdain for practice.
"We're sitting here, I'm supposed to be a franchise player, and we're in here talkin' about practice," he says dismissively. "How the hell can I make my teammates better by practice?"
(This clip also intersperses a few short segments from some other legendary sports press conferences, including a drunk, long retired Joe Namath hitting on the female sideline reporter who is trying to interview him live on Monday Night Football.)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Another Bumper Sticker, Another Hypocrite

As I pulled out of my driveway this morning at 7:30 AM, I noticed an SUV coming up close behind me. It was being driven by a 50-ish white guy with closely cut grey hair. I soon came to a stop sign at the next block, and I got this sense that he was miffed when I came to a full stop before proceeding, rather than rolling slowly past it. I nonetheless continued on my way, but we soon came to another stop sign just one residential block later. Before my car had even rocked to a full stop this second time, he slammed on his car horn, hard and for several agitated seconds. So I just stayed there, stopped dead, and stared at him in my rear view mirror with a look of mock naive confusion. He quickly averted his gaze, let up off his horn, and passed me hard on the left, gunning his engine in a huff. As he passed, I noticed that he had two bumper stickers prominently pasted on his trunk (well above the bumper). One read simply, "Show Me The Birth Certificate" in block letters. The other was just like the one pictured above.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago about my ambivalence for bumper stickers, and the people who display them. Last time it was about a woman driving recklessly in a school zone whose car had an "Obama Mama" bumper sticker on it.
What type of person feels the compulsion to question publicly some minor anomalies in the President's Hawaiian birth certificate, while simultaneously insisting (by leaning on his car horn) that coming to a full stop at stop signs is not necessary or appropriate, despite being legally required?
Who knows. But I am sure that, completing the caricature, he was angrily calling me an "idiot" under his breath as he burned past me, which I find really ironic.

Monday, November 23, 2009

What If J Edgar Hoover Was A Soviet Spy?

I just finished reading a fascinating new book about the notorious British spies of the Cold War-era titled Treachery, by journalist and espionage writer Chapman Pincher. He emerged from retirement at the age of 95 to write this book, his first to be published in almost 20 years. It focuses on is his assertion, which he first advanced in his 1981 book Their Trade is Treachery, that Sir Roger Hollis, who worked in Britain's MI 5 for 27 years and ultimately rose to become its head from 1956-1965, was actually a long-time Soviet spy. (That's him at left.) The nearest US equivalent might be an accusation that J. Edgar Hoover was a Russian spy when he headed the FBI. A truly staggering, almost unthinkable assertion given the implications.

The book is a 600 page chronicle of an amazing amount of accumulated circumstantial evidence, gathered through decades of well-connected investigative journalism, fitted together, puzzle-like, with selected revelations culled from the myriad of autobiographies and analyses of selected KGB files that have been published by former spies (on both sides of the Iron Curtain) since the fall of the Berlin Wall. A huge part of the story is how the British "establishment" attempted repeatedly to hide or minimize the details of this case and others from the Americans and from the British public, by, among other things, repeatedly sheltering suspected spies from thorough investigations, or by entering into "sweetheart" deals with them to avoid prosecution entirely in exchange for even the most partial and uncooperative confessions.
Treachery is both the summation of a life's work, with the depth of perspective that only someone who has lived to the age of 95 can provide, as well as a fascinating look at how a compelling case against a suspected spy may be painstakingly built in the absence of a "smoking gun," through an accumulation of "little coincidences" and scraps of information. You can buy Treachery from Amazon by clicking HERE.
Coincidentally, an authorized history of MI 5 titled Defend The Realm, written by eminent espionage historian Christopher Andrew, was just released on November 3rd. It comes to exactly the opposite conclusion (based on Andrew's privileged access to selected MI 5 files): that the case against Roger Hollis is negligible and that there is no truth in the allegation whatsoever that he was a spy. You can read an article about this new book from the Times of London newspaper by clicking HERE.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

What's Wrong, Cookie Monster?

While reading with my two year old daughter this morning we came across this page, which caught my eye. That's the Cookie Monster, of course, with Oscar The Grouch. I remember them from my own childhood. But is that an apple he's eating? Wow Cookie Monster: "They" have gotten to you now, too, huh. Even you. Then truly no one is safe.....

But that was quickly trumped by the following passage in an "olde tyme" children's storybook we went on to read. One story, about a teddy bear named "Ted," was titled Tough Ted Loses His Growl. I hadn't ever heard of it before, so as I was reading it to her, every word was new to me. I quickly found myself unwittingly saying the following aloud:
"'If he doesn't stop complaining soon I'm going to stuff my hat in his mouth,' whispered Soldier to Clown as they sat on the shelf. 'Not if I put my juggling balls in there first!' said Clown. All the toys giggled."

Couldn't Happen To A Nicer Guy

Major Nidal Hasan, charged with killing 13 in the Fort Hood shooting spree, is paralyzed from the chest down, is incontinent and is in "severe pain," his defense attorney told ABC News. Since Hasan apparently screamed "Allahu Akbar" ("Allah is the greatest") during his rampage, let me be the first to offer back a hearty "Insha'Allah" ("If it is Allah's will") at the fact that he was not martyred, but rather finds himself as he is now.

Tuition Hike Sparks Riots At University of California

Embedded below is a 2 minute segment from the CBS Evening News last night about the outrage sparked at Berkeley, UCLA and other campuses following the announcement that the University of California is raising tuition by approximately $2,500 per student, to about $10,000 per year (not including room and board). But rather than just focus on the student riots, this piece makes surprisingly clear just how heavily subsidized public universities already are, as compared to private ones (whose annual tuition averages over $26,000), and that the majority of university students don't pay these full tuition fees anyway because they receive need-based financial aid. It also explains that this UC fee hike is variable, and that the greatest rise (of $2,500) will apply to only those students whose family incomes exceed $70,000 per year.

I light of all of that, the indignant sense of entitlement personified by the protesting UC Irvine student interviewed at the end of this piece is all the more remarkable. "They want us to bail out the UC system, and that's not our job. Our job is to get educated." So it's, what, my job?
And as an aside, what percentage of these angry, rioting students do you think applauded righteously at the Obama administration's decision to let the Bush tax cuts sunset in 2010, or at the proposed tax increases contained in the various health care reform bills currently being debated on Capitol Hill? (Somehow, the government taking more of your money without your consent seems a little less noble when they're suddenly thrusting their hands in your pockets.)

Watch CBS News Videos Online

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Hacked E-Mails From Climatologists Discuss "Trick"

Hackers broke into the electronic files of one of the world's foremost climate research centers this week and posted online an array of controversial e-mails from prominent climatologists.

In an article yesterday, The New York Times described them in part as follows. "The e-mail messages, attributed to prominent American and British climate researchers, include discussions of scientific data and whether it should be released... In one e-mail exchange, a scientist writes of using a statistical 'trick' in a chart illustrating a recent sharp warming trend...Some of the correspondence portrays the scientists as feeling under siege by the skeptics’ camp and worried that any stray comment or data glitch could be turned against them."

Myers And Wife, Elitist Spies For Cuba, Plead Guilty

Retired State Department worker Walter Myers, 72, and his wife, Gwendolyn, 71, who were arrested in June and accused of spying for Cuba for three decades, pled guilty yesterday in a deal that will see him languish behind bars for the rest of his life, but which also leaves open the possibility that she may be released in six years. Walter Myers reportedly agreed to a life sentence partly to help his wife get less prison time in the hopes that she would not die behind bars. (This is very similar to the way notorious spy Aldrich Ames and his wife Rosario were sentenced in 1994. Ames agreed to plead guilty and accepted a life sentence in return for his wife being given a mere 5 year prison term.)

Previously filed court documents indicate the couple received little money for their efforts, but instead professed a deep love for Cuba, Castro and the country's system of government. In a diary quoted in the federal affidavit released in June, Myers wrote, "The abuses of our system, the lack of decent medical system, the oil companies and their undisguised indifference to public needs, the complacency about the poor, the utter inability of those who are oppressed to recognize their own condition ... I can see nothing of value that has been lost by the revolution. The revolution has released enormous potential and liberated the Cuban spirit."

Myers is the scion of one of Washington's most storied families. His mother, Elsie Alexandra Carol Grosvenor Myers, was the granddaughter of telephone inventor Alexander Graham Bell. The Myerses lived in a luxury co-op complex in Northwest Washington that over the years was home to cabinet members, judges, congressmen and senators, including the late Barry Goldwater, according to the Washington Post. Under the plea deal, the couple agreed to forfeit $1.7 million in cash and property to the U.S. government, the total of Myers's State Department salary over the years, including their prized 37-foot Malo sailboat.
It gives insight into the flaws of the man that he could rail indignantly in his diary about America's perceived "complacency about the poor" while living in a luxury condo complex with cabinet members, judges and senators. It's also so telling about the elitist and patronizing motives behind their spying that Walter Myers also complained in his diary about, "the utter inability of those who are oppressed to recognize their own condition."
I also thought it was interesting how their spying tradecraft evolved over the years. Near the end of their careers, they were apparently sending encrypted e-mails from internet cafes. But at the start, 30 years ago, they reportedly delivered secret documents by exchanging shopping carts with their Cuban handlers in local grocery stores (a practice that Gwendolyn confessed they abandoned years ago once closed circuit TV cameras became more prevalent in stores).

Friday, November 20, 2009

Sy Sims Has Died ("An Educated Consumer...")

Sy Syms died this week at 83. He founded the "Syms" discount clothes chain in New York City in 1959, and was perhaps the first retailer to sell men's clothes at a discount. I remember going to one in Maryland as a kid. But even more I remember the tag line from the Syms commercials that aired on local TV back then, in which he starred. "An educated consumer is our best customer." Embedded below is a 30 second obit from the NBC Nightly News last night. Apparently Brian Williams remembered that line, too...

Tim Burton Exhibition At Museum of Modern Art

Starting on November 22nd, the Museum of Modern Art in New York is hosting an exhibition celebrating the work of director Tim Burton. While I've loved some of his movies (Ed Wood, Nightmare Before Christmas), I've been really underwhelmed by others (Sleepy Hollow, Sweeney Todd). But I almost always find his unique artistic sensibility (part "goth" horror; part whimsical, big-eyed vulnerability) intriguing and strangely compelling. And he reputedly does much of the pre-production concept artwork for his films himself. So I really wish that I could check out this exhibit.

Since it hasn't opened yet, the news focussed on the VIP gala held last night, and all the celebrities in attendance, including Johnny Depp. That doesn't interest me at all. But China's state-run television did a 2 minute piece on it (in English) for their international channel, CCTV9, that focussed on the substance of the exhibit, which I found interesting on a number of levels. You can reach it by clicking HERE.
Because I have always liked his unique artistic vision, I've repeatedly welcomed news that Tim Burton's next project might be an adaptation of some existing property that I already love. That's happened several times over the years. But I've found the resulting films to be a decidedly mixed bag, ranging from the phenomenal (1989's Batman), to the merely disappointing (2001's Planet of the Apes), to the totally unwatchable (1996's Mars Attacks!). At left is a Tim Burton concept drawing of the comic book villain Brainiac from this MoMA exhibition. He did this when he was set to direct Superman Returns. Looking at that drawing, I must admit that I am glad he didn't make that movie in the end, even more so since he reportedly wanted Pierce Brosnan to play Brainiac.

900 Lb. Man Dies In Lay-Z-Boy Recliner

A South Carolina man who reportedly weighed almost 900 lbs. has died of cardiac arrest at 33, after months without getting up from his Lay-Z-Boy recliner chair. After injuring his knee 9 months ago, he apparently never left his home again, or even walked at all. He just remained continuously in his recliner.

His wife blamed his death on a lack of health insurance. "If he would have had the proper care we tried to get for him back in March this would have never happened," his wife asserts in the two minute piece from a local TV news station embedded below. I feel badly for her. (What is barely alluded to in this piece is that this deceased man apparently just went to the bathroom in his recliner, and she, having been married to him only 2 years, dutifully cleaned up after him. That's amazing devotion.) But insurance coverage didn't kill him at 33. Nine hundred pounds did. Notice how every one of his relatives interviewed in this local TV news piece, including his wife, is also morbidly obese. (A police report said he weighed about 800 pounds, but his wife still insisted that he was closer to 500 pounds.)
Would our society as a whole benefit if other people weighing 900 lbs., with the myriad of chronic, costly and ongoing health problems caused thereby, were fully insured by a "public option"? Reportedly he was warned 9 months ago when in the hospital for treatment on his knee that his weight and lifestyle would kill him if he didn't make a drastic change. He was a school bus driver for 15 years, until his increasing weight made that impossible. But rather than alter his lifestyle, he apparently retreated to his mobile home and got heavier still.
It's also interesting to see what gets reported about any given story (and not) and where. What goes unmentioned in this local TV news piece is that he was apparently an associate pastor at a local church and that in his last, recliner-bound months, he filled his time by writing sermons and posting them on his internet site and by "talking to other people about religion on the internet," according to the Associated Press.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

ABC News: 50,000 Jobs Not Really From Stimulus

ABC News is reporting today that the non-partisan Government Accountability Office is now saying that more than 50,000 of the jobs that the Obama Administration has claimed have been created by their $787 billion "stimulus package" to date are related to projects that have not yet spent any stimulus funds. (That's more than 1 out of every 10 jobs that have purportedly been created by the stimulus, according to White House claims.) You can read the entire article by clicking HERE.

That's in addition to other embarrassing revelations yesterday about these White House job claims, including that $761,420 in stimulus funds had created 30 jobs in Arizona's 15th Congressional District -- a district that does not exist. And remember when the White House had to apologize for all of the inaccuracies in its initial stimulus-related job claims several months ago? (Is that Britney Spears singing, "Oops, I did it again..."?) As an aside, it's just coincidental that China, our largest foreign creditor, holds $800 billion of our Treasuries, almost exactly equal to the entire cost of President Obama's $787 billion stimulus package.

Obama: KSM To Get "Fair Trial" And Then Killed

NBC's Chuck Todd interviewed President Obama today. A 13 minute clip from that interview is embedded below. Much of it is just "blah, blah, blah." But I have embedded it below because of the President's response to a question from Todd at the 3:45 mark about whether he can understand why some find it offensive that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed will now get the legal privileges of an American citizen because he will be tried in the United States.

President Obama's response was telling, I thought. "I don't think it will be offensive at all when he's convicted and when the death penalty's applied to him."
After a follow-up question by Chuck Todd about that response (which was eye-wideningly resonant of President Bush), Obama immediately backpedals, at first insisting that he didn't just say that....

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Expedition To Antarctica For 100 Year Old Scotch

The Scottish distillers Whyte & Mackay have asked a team that will making an expedition to Antarctica in January to drill through the ice there to look for a lost cache of vintage "McKinlay and Co." Scotch whisky. It was left there 100 years ago, all that remains of the 25 cases of scotch shipped to the Antarctic by British polar explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton as part of his abandoned 1909 expedition. The company wants a sample of it for a series of tests that could decide whether to relaunch the now-defunct scotch.

I was a little surprised to learn that Shackleton took 25 crates of whiskey on his polar expedition, to be honest, and even more so to learn that 24 of the 25 cases had been drunk. That expedition had been a partial failure, his team having failed to reach the South Pole, and returning to port (in what has been called a "race against starvation") only in the nick of time to catch the ship home. At one point Shackleton gave his one biscuit allotted for the day to an ailing member of his team, who wrote in his diary: "All the money that was ever minted would not have bought that biscuit and the remembrance of that sacrifice will never leave me." But apparently they still found the time (and the strength) to get through 24 of the 25 cases of scotch.

I also found it funny that the international Antarctic Treaty apparently bars this last remaining case of scotch from being dug up entirely. Embedded below is a 2 minute TV news piece about this.

Actor Edward Woodward Has Died (Wicker Man)

British actor Edward Woodward has died. He was 79. According to his obit in The New York Times today, he was best known for two television series in which he starred. One was The Equalizer, which ran from 1985-1989, in which he played a retired secret agent who fought injustices that the police refused to address.

I never watched that show, however. I remember Edward Woodward as the star of the 1973 cult "horror" movie The Wicker Man, which is sometimes called the "Citizen Kane" of horror films. Not the risible remake of a few years ago starring Nicholas Cage. The original. In the film Woodward played a policeman lured to a remote island off the Scottish coast by reports of a missing girl. But to his dismay, he discovers by the end of the film that the enigmatic, unhelpful island villagers are not just insular. They are members of a celtic nature cult led by Christopher Lee. And Woodward's policeman has actually been lured there intentionally, to his death during their pagan May Day celebrations (filmed in joyful "Swinging 60's," hippie style). And his death, in the final, "terrifying" scene, is to be by burning in a Roman-era "wicker man," a two story wooden cage shaped like a human being.
I'm not a fan of "horror films." That term connotes excessive gore and gratuitous violence, at least to me. But there's no gore in this film. Almost all of the "horror" is psychological. It does have one "gratuitous" sequence nonetheless, however, in which 1960's "it girl" Britt Ekland dances topless in her bedroom in some sort of psychedelic trance. (Well, she mostly just hugs the walls and bangs on them rhythmically with her hand, in apparent attempt to seduce Edward Woodward, who is in the next room, dressed in full pajamas, straining to fight off her psychic "charms.") Embedded below is the original trailer for the film which features footage of both Britt Ekland's dance and the wicker man itself. I'll remember Woodward for those two scenes.

Lou Dobbs Explains Quitting CNN On Today Show

Embedded below is a 5 minute clip from NBC's Today Show. Matt Lauer interviews Lou Dobbs, and he does a much better job in this clip explaining the reasons behind his departure from CNN than he did on his own show last week. Dobbs says that CNN wanted to move toward being an opinion-neutral news network, in contrast to Fox News and MSNBC, and his own show was out of step with that. And apparently Lou Dobbs refused to change his on-air style.

While it goes unmentioned in this clip, the New York Post is reporting this morning that CNN paid Lou Dobbs $8 million to leave, substantially all of the total value of the remaining 2 years left on his contract with CNN.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

In Search Of.....Carlos The Jackal

I loved the TV show In Search Of... as a kid in the 70s. As a result, I've enjoyed periodically re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the assertions made and explanations proffered for the "phenomena" they examined. Today I re-watched an episode about Carlos The Jackal. Because he was a notorious international terrorist on the run when it first aired in September 1979, it is subtitled, "The World's Most Wanted Man." Other than a few sketchy details about his Venezuelan background and his own claims to have been involved in many of the most notorious terrorist incidents the 1970s, relatively little was known about him publicly at the time, giving him and his (alleged) exploits an even greater air of mystery.

But Carlos was handed over by Sudanese authorities in 1994 (as he was recuperating from minor surgery on a varicose vein on his scrotum, of all things). He has since languished in mostly solitary confinement in a French prison, where he remains to this day. As a result, much of his mystique has long since been stripped away. And much more is known about him (and what his did and didn't do) today.
Within the first 3 minutes of the start of this In Search Of.... episode, host Leonard Nimoy explains that, "Carlos was trained by Soviet KGB agents in Havana and Moscow." That, as it turned out, was a fiction. In reality he was largely self-trained and had been rejected by the KGB and many other organizations because he was deemed too erratic, unreliable, and vain. About half way through this episode Nimoy adds that, "International police sources, including Israeli intelligence, say that Carlos has not retired with his money. On the contrary, it is believed that he took an active role in planning the hijacking of the Air France airliner to Entebbe, Uganda." That was a critical part of his expanded legend, which also turned out to be entirely false.
The second half of this episode (embedded below) focusses largely on Carlos' real background. Even in 1979, Carlos was known to be the son of a wealthy Venezuelan businessman. His real name was Ilich Ramirez Sanchez. It details his early life as a jet-set international playboy in London, with a taste for women, a problem gambling, and a penchant for getting thrown out of universities, including Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow in 1970. Interestingly given this past, Carlos is reported to have now converted to Islam in prison. And from prison he published a book called Revolutionary Islam in 2003. ("No one ever seems to be Born Again on prom night," the comedian Dennis Miller once observed.)
Carlos the Jackal plays a major role in Robert Ludlum's 1980 novel The Bourne Identity. Indeed, in the novel Jason Bourne's mission was to smoke out Carlos from hiding by becoming the new "world's greatest assassin." It shows just how far the legend of Carlos The Jackal has been deflated in recent years that Carlos is never mentioned at all in any of the recent blockbuster movie adaptations starring Matt Damon.

CIA Gives Millions To Pakistani Spy Agency

There's an article in this morning's Los Angeles Times about the hundreds of millions of dollars paid by the CIA in recent years to the Pakistani intelligence service, the ISI. You can read it by clicking HERE. Among other things, the CIA has apparently funded a clandestine multi-million dollar "bounty" program to encourage the ISI to capture or kill top militants, under which the ISI was paid $25 million for the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 2003.

Despite the magnitude of these payments, perpetual misgivings linger about the reliability of the ISI. According to this article, "The ISI is a highly compartmentalized intelligence service, with divisions that sometimes seem at odds with one another. Units that work closely with the CIA are walled off from a highly secretive branch that has directed insurgencies in Afghanistan and Kashmir. 'There really are two ISIs,' the former CIA operative said. 'On the counter-terrorism side, those guys were in lock-step with us,' the former operative said. 'And then there was the 'long-beard' side. Those are the ones who created the Taliban and are supporting groups like Haqqani.' "

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: Then And Now

When the news broke that Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four other accused 9/11 conspirators were to be tried in civilian courts in Manhattan, something about the photos of the men struck me as odd. Why wasn't there a photo of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed? Remember him, the guy who at the time of his arrest in Pakistan in 2003 (at left in the photos above) looked like he'd been up all night compulsively downloading free internet porn? Well, it turns out he was pictured in those news photos after all. He'd just changed his look. That's the more recent picture of him at right in the photos above, which was released yesterday. Hmmmmm....

Where have we seen this little "trick" before? Oh, yeah, it was at the Saddam Hussein trial. Remember how Barzan Ibrahim al-Tikriti (photo at left), Saddam's half-brother and former intelligence chief, suddenly began wearing a shimagh (the traditional Middle Eastern men's head scarf) in court, as did "good old" Chemical Ali?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Jon Stewart On Lou Dobbs Quitting CNN

On The Daily Show last night, Jon Stewart discussed Lou Dobbs' abrupt departure from CNN. Embedded below is the 5 minute clip. The first 2 minutes fall pretty flat, but the last 3 minutes, where Stewart skewers Dobbs' very vague explanation for his departure, are pretty funny. Jon Stewart clearly doesn't like Lou Dobbs. I don't share that view. But I found some of this funny nonetheless.

Lou Dobbs has evolved over the years from the straight-faced, baritone-voiced anchor of the business show Moneyline on CNN into an increasingly opinionated populist commentator. I don't share some of his most infamous, more recent views. But I did watch Moneyline pretty regularly. And I have a pretty intense antipathy for those groups and TV commentators who have so casually and vehemently labelled him a "racist" merely because of his stridently expressed opinions on illegal immigration. (I remember watching a profile of him on 60 Minutes a few years ago which revealed that his wife is hispanic.)

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Coincidence? Soft Plea Deal For Balloon Boy's Mom

As part of a plea agreement reached with prosecutors, Richard and Mayumi Heene are to plead guilty on Friday morning to charges stemming from the 'balloon boy' incident on October 16th, according to a statement issued by Richard Heene's attorney. The mother, Mayumi, is expected to plead guilty to an offense of false reporting to authorities, a misdemeanor of the lowest level, while Richard is expected to plead guilty to the much more serious felony offense of attempting to influence a public servant.The threat of deportation for Mayumi was a factor in the plea deal negotiation, the attorney's statement said. "Mayumi Heene is a citizen of Japan. As such, any felony conviction or certain misdemeanors would result in her deportation, even though her husband and children are Americans."

Is it just coincidence that today Japanese authorities officially dropped all charges against an American man, Christopher Savoie, who on September 28th travelled to Japan and tried to snatch back his children from his Japanese ex-wife? (Only days before she had taken their 6 and 8 year-old children to Japan from Tennessee, in contravention of their child custody agreement, and then refused to send them back.)

San Diego Comic-Con 2010 4-Day Passes Sold Out

4-day passes for the 2010 Comic-con International San Diego, which won't be held for another eight months (in late July 2010), have now already sold out.

The total attendance at the four day event is now capped at 125,000 each year. Last month, only three comic books sold even 100,000 copies, with the #1 seller being a mere 137,000 copies. The only two that I still buy on a semi-regular basis sold 9,000 and 14,000 copies last month, respectively.

Those figures give a fairly stark numerical insight into how little "comic book" there really is in the San Diego Comic-Con each year now.

Lou Dobbs Quits CNN Abruptly Last Night

On his television show last night Lou Dobbs abruptly announced without warning that this was his last broadcast on CNN after 29 years. He reportedly told his staff only yesterday afternoon. He contract with CNN was to run for another 2 years, but CNN's president has released him from that obligation, he said. What will Lou Dobbs be doing next? As you will see if you watch the 3 minute clip from his show last night that is embedded below, he was very broad and vague when discussing his future plans. Will he be running for political office? (He will reportedly continue his daily radio show.)

Did he jump? Or was he pushed? His outspoken views about illegal immigration and continued questions about where President Obama was born seemed out of step with much of the rest of CNN's "hard news" programming. Might he be a better fit on Fox News or, given his background as the host of CNN's "Moneyline" for many years, perhaps even the fledgling Fox Business Channel?
I'm always a little skeptical when public figures abruptly resign their positions without any clear future plans. Did CNN become upset about reports that he had recently met with Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News? Or was this really about the fact that his ratings had reportedly dropped by over 30% in the last year, and that he had sunk to a close 3rd behind Fox News' Shepard Smith and Chris Matthews on MSNBC? Or might something else have happened behind the scenes (perhaps of a personal nature) that has yet to be revealed?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Aspray" Goes Where Other Deodorants Can't

Embedded below is a 2 minute infomercial for Doc Bottom's Aspray: the All Over Deodorant, a deodorant that "goes where other deodorants can't." Does this commercial really enthuse, "you can even Aspray your privates" while showing a man and a woman (each clothed) actually doing so? Yes. Yes it does.

Watch at the 30 second mark as the man confidently two pats his sweatpants afterward, and then gives himself a further, confident rub. And did that woman really spray it on her neck, like perfume, and then immediately lift her skirt? Now that's versatility....

The "Drunkest Guy Ever" Buys More Beer

Embedded below is a 2 minute clip by MSNBC's Willie Geist featuring security camera footage of a guy who is literally falling-down drunk trying to buy more beer at a convenience store, as well as footage of a forklift operator at a liquor warehouse who accidentally hits reverse instead of the brake...