Friday, October 31, 2008

Doofus Of The Day #98 and #99

Truly, we've been blessed with an abundance of Doofi this week. We've had at least one every day, and nine all told (including today's pair) since last Sunday. I wonder what the last day of the week will bring tomorrow? Will we reach our century of Doofus awards? Watch this space!

Anyway, Doofus #98 is a collective award - to US investment banks. Having just begged and pleaded for a $700 billion rescue package, which has added enormously to the national debt and for which our children's children will still be paying, what have they done? Let Max Hastings describe their incredible arrogance and greed.

The nine biggest U.S. investment banks have set aside $108 billion for staff compensation in the forthcoming year.

A mean-spirited California Democrat, Henry Waxman, has written them a letter. He wants to know how they can justify this figure when they have just received $125 billion in aid from the U.S. government.

Waxman says: 'I question the appropriateness of depleting the capital that taxpayers just injected into the banks through the payment of billions of dollars in bonuses.' And so say all of us.

Sour jokes apart, it defies belief that when the bankers of America and Britain have presided over the greatest disaster in the history of capitalism, they are still awarding themselves telephone number pay deals.

Aggrieved bankers say that they have lifestyles to support. Many are paying mortgage interest on multi-million pound homes in London's Holland Park or New York's Upper East Side. They have school fees to meet, boats whose crews must be paid, homes in the Bahamas to fund.

But to the rest of us, watching our savings and pensions shrink towards invisibility, the latest numbers show that the rulers of the financial system still inhabit a fantasy zone.

They refuse to acknowledge that this is year zero, a new and shockingly different world which they themselves have created. They proclaimed the law of the jungle, the free market. When this failed, they demanded and received vast sums of our money to save them from its consequences.

Millions of people around the world are going to lose their jobs, many more their homes, still more their savings, as a result of the bankers' arrogance and incompetence. The least we expect is that they should share some part of our pain.

A mere 50 per cent cut in multi-million pound rewards is not enough. As a matter of common decency, a small gesture of contrition, no bonuses whatever should be paid this year. Bonuses for what achievement? For ruining us all?

I couldn't have put it better myself. A giant Doofus award and a monster one-finger salute to the fat-cats of the corporate banking world! Grrr!

I sincerely hope that Congress does something to prohibit the use of 'rescue package' money for paying out bonuses or incentives of any kind. They owe that to us, the taxpayers who are ultimately the ones who'll have to pay for the rescue. Anything less would be a dereliction of duty.

Are you listening, Congress?


Anyone there?

Ah, well . . .

Doofus #99 is also collective, to the Swansea town council's road sign department in Wales: but it's somewhat lighter-hearted. According to the BBC:

When officials asked for the Welsh translation of a road sign, they thought the reply was what they needed.

Unfortunately, the e-mail response to Swansea council said in Welsh: "I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated".

So that was what went up under the English version which barred lorries from a road near a supermarket.

"When they're proofing signs, they should really use someone who speaks Welsh," said journalist Dylan Iorwerth.

Swansea Council became lost in translation when it was looking to halt heavy goods vehicles using a road near an Asda store in the Morriston area

All official road signs in Wales are bilingual, so the local authority e-mailed its in-house translation service for the Welsh version of: "No entry for heavy goods vehicles. Residential site only".

The reply duly came back and officials set the wheels in motion to create the large sign in both languages.

The notice went up and all seemed well - until Welsh speakers began pointing out the embarrassing error.

Red faces at the council - and, I'm sure, a lot of smiles from passing Welsh speakers!


A doofus, partly redeemed!

Yesterday I awarded our Doofus Of The Day award to the Australian Environmental Protection Agency, for releasing a highly dangerous saltwater crocodile a thousand miles from its native territory - right in the middle of a tourist mecca!

Today comes the news that they've partially redeemed themselves, by recapturing the crocodile. It'll now be transported back to its native area - where tourists are rather less commonly featured on the menu - and released there.

One wonders what they'll think of next. Since they're so keen on wildlife, how about recreating the long-extinct Tasmanian Wolf, the largest known marsupial carnivore, by crossing a kangaroo with a dingo? Makes about as much sense as releasing a hungry croc among tourists!


Communists still don't have a sense of humor!

I'm delighted to read that the Communist Party of St. Petersburg, Russia, is as dour, sour-faced and humorless as ever. They apparently think that James Bond is the real thing! According to the Times, London:

Bond girls often come to a sticky end but Olga Kurylenko will be hoping that the Communists never get hold of her.

Kurylenko, the Ukrainian actress who plays Bond's sidekick in Quantum of Solace, has been condemned by the Communist Party of St Petersburg for aiding “the killer of hundreds of Soviet people and their allies”. Apparently oblivious to Bond's fictional nature, it accused her of assisting “a man who worked for decades under the orders of Thatcher and Reagan to destroy the USSR”.

In an appeal to the actress on its website, the party said: “The Soviet Union educated you, cared for you and brought you up for free but no one suspected that you would commit this act of intellectual and moral betrayal.”

It is not the first time the Communists of St Petersburg — or Leningrad, as they would rather it be called — have taken aim at perfidious Western films. Earlier this year they claimed that the film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, set in the Cold War in 1957, was a vehicle for crude anti-Soviet propaganda and lambasted the antics of Harrison Ford and his ruthless Russian nemesis Cate Blanchett, calling them capitalist puppets.

The party declared that Ford had “no future in Russia any more” — a message that apparently failed to reach the country's cinemagoers, who flocked to see the film at a record 808 screens.

The Communists are, however, willing to rehabilitate Kurylenko — if she delivers her co-star, Daniel Craig, into the clutches of Russia's secret services for interrogation. “Let him tell what other plans are being written in the Pentagon and Hollywood to discredit Russia and drive a wedge between the Russian and Ukrainian peoples,” it said.

Sergei Malinkovich, the leader of the city party, told The Times: “Everyone knows that the CIA and MI6 finance James Bond films as a special operation of psychological warfare against us. This Ukrainian girl sleeps with Bond and that means that Ukraine is sleeping with the West.”

. . .

Kurylenko was accused of collaborating with the enemy by starring alongside the British spy while the struggle against Nato was continuing. It told her: “How could you desert your homeland in its moment of need? Do you really want Crimean girls to be raped by cruel and stupid American marines? Where is your patriotism?”

Fears of ideological contamination apparently did not prevent Mr Malinkovich, 34, from claiming that he had already seen Quantum of Solace, even though it does not open in Russian cinemas until next week. “I watched a pirate DVD,” he explained.

It is to laugh . . .


Salute to a hero

From the Northwest Guardian, official newspaper of Fort Lewis, Washington:

The deep boom of an explosion shook the ground and awoke Staff Sgt. Christopher Waiters from sleep on April 5, 2007. The 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Soldier had bedded down seconds before at the end of a nine-hour guard-duty shift in Old Baqubah.

A vehicle-borne improvised explosive device had detonated on a street nearby, engulfing a Bradley Fighting Vehicle and its crew in flames,That insurgent attack led to the events that culminated in Waiters’ receiving a Distinguished Service Cross, only the 17th awarded since the war on terrorism began and the first to a Fort Lewis-based Soldier.

The DSC is the Army’s second highest award given for “extraordinary heroism ... while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing or foreign force,” according to the Army regulation that governs military awards, AR 600-8-22. The regulation states, “The act or acts of heroism must have been so notable and have involved risk of life so extraordinary as to set the individual apart from his or her comrades.”

Waiters arrived at Fort Lewis Monday from his new duty station, Fort Wainwright, Alaska, to receive the award from Army Vice Chief of Staff, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, in a Thursday ceremony at Soldiers Field House. Waiters visited Monday with reporters at I Corps headquarters to recall the day 18 months ago when he put the lives of fellow Soldiers above his own.

Prep for the worst

“Hey, Voodoo, let’s go,” Waiters struggled from sleep, responding to his nickname shouted by fellow medic, Sgt. Joseph Miller.

Waiters was a specialist and senior line medic attached to A Company, 5th Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment in April, back in Iraq less than a month after R&R leave.

His battalion, Sykes Regulars, had moved in March to Diyala Province from Baghdad while he was on leave in the states. The initial 5-20 Inf. Bn. mission was to clear the date palm groves that enveloped the provincial capital of Baqubah.

Waiters readied his medical evacuation Stryker vehicle for casualties on the ride to the site of the burning Bradley.

“In the war on terror,” he said, “there are no little wounds. It’s all big stuff. You’re thinking the worst-case scenario. We train our medics that way.”

The MEV drove in tandem with Attack 5, company executive officer, 1st Lt. Timothy Price. The medic from Lacey pulled out his burn kits, with special gauze, blankets, dressings, Vaseline.

“We pulled around the corner,” Waiters said, “and the whole street’s on fire. Folks everywhere. People are running. People are shooting.”

The Stryker vehicles pulled up to form a makeshift security perimeter next to a soccer field about 80 meters from the burning Bradley, Price facing west and the MEV east. Both started firing at enemy gunmen. Waiters saw two “trying to hook quick right on me” and engaged them with his M-4 rifle. But his mind was on the Soldiers trapped in a BFV across the field. He turned to Miller.

“I’m leaving,” he said to his friend.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Miller said.

“I gotta go,” Waiters said. He remembered his friend again warning him as he dropped the ramp of his Stryker and sprinted into the chaos.

“You might not come back,” he heard Miller’s voice behind him.

“All I could think of was burning truck, casualties, American Soldiers injured,” Waiters said.

“Awesome thing to behold”

Price said the after-action-review process determined that the Bradley had been targeted because it straddled a main north-south avenue of approach for the insurgents. As dramatic as the explosion was, the VBIED had only triggered a complex, three-sided ambush.

“It happened so quick,” Price said. He was talking to Miller as he pulled up to the site in his Stryker, together formulating a plan for suppressing enemy gunmen from multiple directions while getting to the casualties as quickly as possible.

“By this time, Doc was already out of the Stryker, dismounted like a flash and was gone,” Price said. “It was already happening. There was a moment of disbelief. All of the sudden, there he goes, bullets flying down the road. It was one of those surreal moments. Hell, he’s about 10 steps ahead of me, already en route to the casualty. It was a pretty awesome thing to behold.”

As Waiters dashed into the open street, an insurgent truck came at him through the smoke with its gunner firing. A U.S. .50-caliber machine gun made short work of the vehicle. Waiters dodged the wreckage and sprinted the rest of the 80 meters to the burning Bradley.

“When I got about halfway down the road, you start thinking about things,” he said. “What am I doing? I’m not going to lie to you. I was scared as hell. But part of me just said keep going. I thought, ‘I’m already in hell, Might as well keep going.’”

He attracted small arms fire from all directions as he pulled the first American crewman out of the vehicle. Waiters helped him regain his breath in smoke-filled lungs, then wrapped his burned hand. When another Bradley rolled up to help with security, he loaded the wounded Soldier on board and went back to the burning one.

Waiters saw the gunner’s hand snake out of the turret. Despite the flames, he went through the top, grabbed him and pulled out the gunner. He shielded his body as he dragged him to the same Bradley that helped with the first casualty, getting him to precious oxygen.

No one left behind

As he gasped for breath, he told Waiters of a third crewman in the crippled Bradley. Without hesitation, the medic turned heel and went back to the vehicle, now almost completely in flames. He tried to get into the turret again, but this time it was hopeless.

“I couldn’t because of all the diesel fuel burning up there,” Waiters said. “I ran around to the back, kicked open the escape hatch and climbed in.”

He saw the arm of the third crewman, but when he grasped it, he realized there was no way the Soldier could have survived. He stepped out to catch his breath and assess, then tried to accomplish his recovery mission of the body.

Suddenly, 25mm. rounds began cooking off and bouncing around the inside of the vehicle.

“I couldn’t breath and I lost sight of the Soldier,” he said.

He struggled to breathe and see. With his clothes charred and the bottoms of his boots melted, he ran back to his vehicle to get a body bag. He returned once more, climbed into the troop compartment and pulled out the deceased crewman.

Soon afterward, another medical team arrived to take control of the scene and Waiters, Miller and crew sped the casualties to the nearest forward operating base for medevac.

Nobody should have lived

Another medic on the scene, Sgt. Jeffrey Anello, said he was shocked when he surveyed the wreckage. “Seeing the Bradley smoldering and knowing he was able to retrieve two of the Soldiers in it alive, it was amazing,” Anello said. “By the looks of it, nobody should have been alive. We’re very proud of Sgt. Waiters, serving alongside him for three-and-a-half years. It sets a standard for us, of putting others before yourself, to do your job.”

His former XO said he was awed by Waiters actions that day, but not surprised.

“This wasn’t the first time Doc Waiters put himself in harm’s way to help his boys out,” Price said. “He and Doc Miller went on hundreds of patrols. The guys were always glad to have Doc Waiters and Doc Miller along because they knew they’d do whatever it took to get our guys back.”

Though he has only a single Purple Heart, Waiters survived a number of near misses.

“He got hit in the head once in Buhriz in the helmet, got nicked in the shoulder on patrol with us one night north of Baqubah, had a water bottle shot out from his face earlier in the deployment, and got nicked in the wrist in Old Baqubah,” Price said. “This guy has been in harm’s way many times before this happened. He’s being modest when he says he was just doing his job. The guy is a true hero for what he did.”

From one combat veteran to another, SSgt. Waiters, a heartfelt "Saaa-LUTE!"


Another groaner . . .

By e-mail from Tom G.:

California vintners in the Napa Valley area, which primarily produces Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio wines, have developed a new hybrid grape. It acts as an anti-diuretic, and is expected to reduce the number of trips older people have to make to the bathroom during the night.

The new wine will be marketed as Pinot More.


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Doofus Of The Day #97

My, but this week's producing Doofi like no other!

Today's Doofus award is a collective one, to Australia's Environmental Protection Agency. They seem to have forgotten, in their collective environmental enthusiasm, that humans need protection too!

A crocodile which has caused beaches to be closed at a north Queensland tourist mecca has gone missing as authorities admit the reptile was deliberately moved to the area.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said yesterday that the 3.5m crocodile had been trapped near the Cape York community of Bamaga earlier this year and released more than 1000km south, in a creek near Townsville, as part of satellite tracking program Crocs in Space to see whether it would establish a new home range.

The beast subsequently began to frequent Magnetic Island, just off Townsville, where beaches have been closed.

Tourism operators on the island are incensed and say they will seek compensation for lost business.

The EPA said it hoped a 3pm (AEST) satellite fix will determine the whereabouts of the crocodile.

"EPA is sympathetic to the Magnetic Island business operators and is endeavouring to catch the crocodile at the earliest opportunity," said Mike Devery, EPA Wildlife Branch Manager.

Labor Member for Townsville Mike Reynolds said he was "absolutely flabbergasted" that the EPA had allowed the crocodile to be released at Cape Cleveland.

He had asked Sustainability Minister Andrew McNamara to ensure no crocodile was released so close to Townsville residents in the future.

"I have had a number of contacts from Magnetic Island residents, business owners and tourists who are all concerned about the presence of such a large crocodile in this urban area," Mr Reynolds said.

Townsville-based marine scientist Walter Starck accused the EPA of "criminal stupidity" in moving the beast.

Dr Starck said the EPA didn't notify the public of the move.

"If a private citizen were to do something like that, my God, they'd be subject to horrendous fines and penalties," he said.

"There's absolutely no scientific justification for it - we have hundreds of thousands of large crocodiles all across the top of Australia living in places where there are no people," Dr Starck said.

As state parliament sat in Cairns, Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg today questioned Tourism Minister Desley Boyle over the "hare-brained scientific experiment".

In case US readers aren't familiar with the type of animal in question, it's a saltwater crocodile. These are very dangerous creatures indeed, known to attack humans. The picture below shows one jumping from the water in the Kakadu National Park, Australia.

This breed of crocodile is responsible for the single most horrific mass attack by crocodiles on humans ever recorded, at Ramree Island, off the Burmese coast, during World War II. According to Peter Capstick, in his book, 'Death In The Long Grass':

At the time that Burma was being retaken by the Allies, about 1,000 Japanese infantrymen became caught between the open sea and the island of Ramree, deep in mangrove swamps crawling with crocs, expecting to be evacuated by ships that never arrived. Trying to retreat, they found themselves cut off by the British Royal Navy in such position that they could not regain the mainland. When night came, so did the crocodiles. Witnesses on the British ships have told of the horror of the mass attack on the men, of the terrible screaming that continued until dawn, when only 20 men out of 1,000 were left alive. Certainly, some were killed by enemy fire and others by drowning, but all evidence points up that most were slaughtered by the big salt-water crocs.

I knew Peter Capstick in South Africa, and when I first heard this yarn from him, I was a bit skeptical: so I did some research. I was amazed to find that his story was accurate. It is, indeed, mentioned in official reports and in memoirs written by those who served there. What a ghastly way to die!

And that type of crocodile, dear readers, is what the Australian EPA chose to release a thousand miles south of its normal range, right in the heart of tourist country! Doofi, for sure!


The bureaucrat is quicker than the eye . . .

I have to laugh at this report from Sweden.

Officials with Sweden’s Road Administration (Vägverket) have denied a driver’s request for a licence place with what at first glance appears to be a completely innocent combination of characters.

Recently, the agency received a request from an individual who wanted a licence plate reading X32IARO.

Despite no obviously offensive reference in the desired combination, Vägverket nonetheless rejected the application.

“It looks like something completely different when seen through a rear-view mirror, and on the road, many end up reading things through the rear-view mirror,” said Vägverket spokesperson Mikael Andersson to the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper.

When read in reverse, as it would be seen through a rear-view mirror, X32IARO suddenly appears as ORALSEX.

Andersson explained that the agency has no specific set of rules for how applications are reviewed and that the hidden meaning of seemingly harmless set of letters and numbers just happened to be uncovered by a Vägverket employee reviewing the application.

“It’s not like we have a checklist for how we check the applications, but it requires a certain degree of creativity to discover inappropriate words,” said Andersson.

The guiding principle is that a licence plate shouldn’t be offensive, regardless of whether it’s read forwards or backwards.

One wonders why the applicant wanted that particular plate. To shock other motorists? Or was he/she advertising? Could this denial represent a restraint of trade?


Some spectacular images!

The BBC and the Natural History Museum in England jointly sponsor an annual Wildlife Photographer Of The Year Competition. The winners of the 2008 competition have just been announced, and the 2009 competition is open to entrants.

Winner overall was this amazing image of a snow leopard in the mountains of Central Asia, taken by Steve Winter (a very appropriate name, given the season depicted in the photograph!).

David Maitland took this picture, which he called 'Deadlock', in the forests of Belize.

According to the BBC:

"The snake had failed to get its jaws around the whole of the frog's head," he recalled.

"It wouldn't let go, presumably because the frog would have leapt away. But it couldn't swallow it, either."

Neither of the creatures showed any sign of giving up in the three hours that David sat in a cramped position.

"It was a complete stalemate," he added. In the early hours, when the pair had moved beyond the focus of his lens, David decided to call it a night.

When he returned in the following morning, there was no sign of the pair and no clue to which had finally broken the deadlock.

This picture of eagles fighting over the carcass of a moose was taken by Antoni Kasprzak in Poland.

Ira Meyer of the USA photographed this arch in a 50-meter iceberg off the coast of southern Greenland. He calls the picture 'Window On The Ice Melt'.

Brian Skerry of the USA took this picture of a right whale near the Auckland Islands of New Zealand.

He comments:

Swimming with a 14-metre-long, 70-tonne whale, off the Auckland Islands, New Zealand, was the single most incredible animal encounter I have ever had. It was probably memorable for the southern right whale, too, which became fascinated by my dive buddy. Almost certainly the whale had never encountered humans under water, and was as curious about us as we were about it.

Fascinating photographs! There are lots more at the competition gallery. Highly recommended viewing.


Revenge was sweet - but was it worth it?

I have to confess a sneaking sympathy for a man in Hartington, England.

When Martyn Wright discovered his girlfriend was having an affair with one of his own employees, the plant hire boss was determined to have his revenge.

And with a fleet of heavy machinery at his disposal, the businessman knew just how to strike back.

Yesterday a court heard how Wright crushed love-rival Anthony Simpson's 4X4 with a 13-ton digger after discovering risque text messages from the worker on girlfriend Linda Kirkham's mobile phone.

The father of two walked free from Chesterfield Magistrates' Court in Derbyshire with a 12-month conditional discharge after pleading guilty to criminal damage.

But he was ordered to pay his victim £2,500 compensation after district judge Liz Harte told him she had 'listened carefully to the circumstances in which this offence was committed.'

Speaking outside court, Wright, 30, said: 'Every bloke in the country who has been in the same position as me would cheer what I did'.

He added: 'When I finished I just parked up the digger and went home to wait for the police to arrive.

'But I've no regrets about what I did - he deserved it.'

Many of us who've been in similar positions might well have been tempted to do something similar - although not quite as spectacular!

That applies to the opposite sex, too. Who can forget the classic case of Lady Sarah Graham-Moon? In 1992, she found out that her husband, Sir Peter, was having 'a bit on the side'. She proceeded to pour a gallon of white paint all over his prized blue BMW; took a pair of scissors to his custom-made shirts, and cut four inches off the left sleeves of 32 of his tailored Savile Row suits, jackets and overcoats (costing $1,000 or more each, some much more); stamped on a box of extremely expensive Cuban Montecristo cigars, flattening them into the floor, and threw six more boxes of them out of the window; and went around the village where they lived, leaving the contents of Sir Peter's prized wine cellar (vintage wines worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars a bottle) on people's doorsteps like milk bottles. Her actions, and their subsequent divorce, made headlines around the world.

Now that's revenge!


Wild weather!

I've always been interested in how a sudden and highly localized weather system can develop. These are reported from all over the globe. In a very specific, concentrated locality, the weather can turn extreme, even life-threatening, while only a couple of miles off in any direction, things are calm and peaceful. It's unusual, but happens often enough to keep things interesting.

The latest example hit a village in England last night.

Ottery St Mary, in Devon, was plunged into chaos by the storm in the early hours yesterday.

First, the area was battered by an astonishing 12in of hail in just two hours. This blocked drains, which led to widespread flooding as the rain began to fall.

More than 100 people had to be evacuated from their homes and 25 were airlifted to safety or rescued by firefighters.

After a day of heavy rain on Wednesday more than three inches of rain and hail fell between 6pm and 8am yesterday morning.

The Met Office said the 'hugely localised' weather system was less than 4 miles across and seemed ' to be centred on Ottery St Mary'.

The most severe weather hit just after midnight on Thursday but by 5am the entire town was cut off and coastguards scrambled helicopters to airlift residents.

Emergency services were inundated with calls from terrified home owners who watched helplessly as flood water rose to 5ft high in some places, and there were fears that hundreds of animals may have been killed in the floods.

Residents in Ottery St Mary said the town was unrecognisable after the hail storm..

Sarah Galliford said: 'I was woken up by the sound of hailstones thundering down on the roof. I thought it was the end of the world. I looked outside at about 1am and there was a river of ice coming down the street. It was a total freak of nature. It wasn't even on the weather forecast. They said there would be rain but nothing like this. It was absolutely crazy.'

Clara Pedmore added: 'There is 2ft 6ins of water on the road. I can't get out of the house.One farm nearby has lost about 500 sheep which were out in fields which are now completely underwater.'

Tony Fabry, who runs the town's post office, said: 'At one point I was watching beer barrels, sandwich boards and even a children's slide floating down the road.

'It was absolutely horrendous. It was a nightmare and it happened so quickly. The drains became blocked with hail and so when the snow melted it was just a deluge.'

Susanne Reed from Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said: 'It has been absolute chaos. It started just after midnight when we were out rescuing people stuck in their cars in flood water. It got worse and worse and one of our own crews got stuck in a 6ft hail drift. We have been rescuing people constantly.'

The Environment Agency said an 'unforeseeable and freakish' combination of factors had led to the extreme conditions in Ottery St Mary.

A spokesman for Devon and Somerset Fire and Rescue Service added: 'Around 1ft of hail fell in just two hours between 1am and 3am. Cars in the town were left tightly packed in ice and the drains were blocked meaning the water had nowhere to go.

The surrounding villages of Awliscombe, Rockbeare and Newton were also affected.

Weird stuff! It's no fun to be caught in such a freakish outbreak of weather. It happened to me once while climbing in the Cederberg ('Cedar Mountains') in South Africa. Fortunately, we were near a cave, and took shelter there for a full two days while the storm and its aftermath washed over the mountains. We were safe, but it was still a scary experience - as was the climb down afterwards, over steep paths made soggy and slippery by the mess.

(The Cederberg area isn't only famous for its mountains - it's also the only place in the world where rooibos ['red bush'] tea is grown. I still chuckle at a scandal that blew up in the 1970's. Local farmers had for years laid out rooibos tea to dry in the sun. Birds flying overhead had, inevitably, provided a 'downpour' of a different kind, and polluted the drying tea with their droppings. A chemist analyzed a packet of rooibos tea that he'd bought, and found fecal contamination, leading to an outcry among consumers. An enterprising tea farmer announced that henceforth, he was going to irradiate his tea with nuclear isotopes to kill all germs, thus rendering it completely pure and safe for consumption. The response from one South African columnist was something like, "Well, it may be irradiated birds**t, but it's still birds**t - and I don't drink birds**t!" Needless to say, more hygienic methods of drying the tea were swiftly developed.)


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A real groaner!

Via e-mail from Fred M.:

Two brooms were hanging in the closet.

After a while, they got to know each other so well, they decided to get married.

One broom was, of course, the bride broom, the other the groom broom.

The bride broom looked very beautiful in her white dress. The groom broom was handsome and suave in his tuxedo. The wedding was lovely.

After the wedding, at the wedding dinner, the bride-broom leaned over and said to the groom-broom, 'I think I am going to have a little whisk broom!'

'IMPOSSIBLE!' said the groom broom. 'We haven't even swept together yet! Or have you been sweeping around?'


Doofus Of The Day #96

Yes, the parade of Doofi continues . . .

Today's is the (incredibly lucky) idiot who decided to race a $166,000 Ferrari 360 Modena through the suburbs of Adelaide, Australia.

Reports differ on whether it was the owner driving it, or his teenage son. If the latter, one suspects the kid is grounded for life!

A householder, who gave his name only as Vlado, said: 'I was outside my house talking when we heard something fly up towards us and it was this black Ferrari.

'It sounded just like "zing-zing" as it roared past.

'I have never seen anything travel as fast as that in my life - particularly in a suburban street. It was really motoring.'

A short time later, said Vlado, he saw the Ferrari was wrapped around the pole.

'Those men were lucky to be alive because the pole split the car in two and it's ended up where the gear stick should be.'

The un-named driver and his passenger were taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for treatment, but their injuries were said to be not serious.

A doofus driver indeed! With luck like that, he'd better buy a lottery ticket, quick!


World's worst boxer?

From the Daily Mail in England:

The world’s worst boxer has finally thrown in the towel after 256 defeats.

Peter Buckley, 39, has lost more fights than any other boxer and says that his next, number 300, will be his last.

‘I’ve had my eye on the 300 mark for a while, and it’s a little milestone I want to achieve, but I don’t want to fight on,' he said.

The Birmingham-born Welterweight was honoured with a special ringwalk and presentation before his 200th fight in April 2003 at the MEN Arena in Manchester.

His final fight will take place at the Aston Events Centre in his hometown.

'I don’t know what I’ll do when it’s all over on Friday, but I’d love to stay in boxing in one capacity or another,” he told the Guardian.

‘Boxing has been good to me over the years. When I was a youngster I was in trouble with the police, a really wild kid. But the sport has given me a focus in life.’

Err . . . y'know, somewhere on the way to 256 defeats, I think most of us would have got the idea that it's time to change the focus!


Internet censorship in Australia

My friend Julie D. in Australia e-mailed me to alert us to a new threat to freedom of speech on the Internet in that country.

On her blog, she writes:

THE Federal Government is planning to make internet censorship compulsory for all Australians.

When the idea was first mooted, there was the concept of an "opt out" option, where users could contact their ISP and say "no, thanks" to this filtering.

This option has now been REMOVED.

When the plan comes into effect sometime next year ALL internet access through Australian ISPs will be censored.

As far as I am concerned, this is a very dangerous path to start walking down.

The Senator in charge of this travesty is Stephen Conroy and, despite trials being planned for later this year, he doesn't know what content the mandatory filters will bar!!!

According to this article there will be two levels of filtering - one level of mandatory filtering for all Australians and an optional level that will provide a "clean feed", censoring adult material. So we're not just talking about porn here.

I hope all right-thinking Australians will object in the strongest terms to such censorship. An opt-in program, designed to filter out pornography and undesirable Web sites on computers used by children, is one thing. A blanket Government-run 'filter' is entirely another. What happens when a particular party in power decides to 'filter' Web sites that express an Opposition viewpoint?

(If you don't believe that'll happen, there's a bridge in Brooklyn, New York City, that I'd like to sell you. Cash only, please, and in small bills.)

As with bureaucrats - politicians! Grrr!


Bureaucracy regains (a little) sanity - but not much!

I wrote yesterday about the Vietnamese Ministry of Health's plans to ban riders with small chests from using motorcycles, to the amusement (and fury) of many Vietnamese.

My friend Betty S. e-mailed me a link to this report, which claims that the Men From The Ministry are backtracking under the wave of scorn and derision that's come crashing down on them.

The Ministry of Health has agreed to withdraw a controversial health standard for motorists that have raised outcries from people for weeks, saying it is unreasonable and discriminatory.

The new health standard comprises of 83 prerequisites for motorists who want to ride motorcycles that are above 50cc, including an allowable chest size of not less than 72 centimeters regardless of the disabled.

Earlier on, the Ministry of Justice asked the Ministry of Health to stop issuing the new standard, saying it restricts people from using their own means of transportation – a violation of the constitution.

Tran Quy Tuong, the Deputy Chief of the Medical Treatment Agency under the Ministry of Health admitted to making mistakes in building the new standard.

The ministry is going to re-consider the standard, as it might reduce it by 40 prerequisites instead of 83, the deputy said.

An official of the ministry said on Monday that the issuance of health standards for motorists is a necessity. However, he reckoned that the standard included some prerequisites that were unsatisfying to a Vietnamese person’s physical human body.

The controversial standard also restricts motorists from riding motorcycles that are above 50cc if they are suffering chronic diseases such as hemorrhoids and sinusitis, or requires motorists who must be taller in a 1.45 meter and not be less than 40kg in weight.

Note the perennial bureaucrat on the defensive! They're being so generous in now planning to have only 40-odd 'prerequisites' instead of 83! How about knocking them down to no more than a dozen or so?

Bureaucrats! Grrr!


If you have a head for heights . . .

. . . and don't suffer from claustrophobia, you'll love this!

A new cave system has been discovered in China, the main feature of which is a vertical shaft fully 3,100 feet deep! That's not the deepest ever discovered (that honor goes to the Krubera cave system in Georgia, which is over 6,800 feet deep), but it's pretty spectacular nonetheless. Click the pictures for a larger view.

An international team of speleologists has been exploring the cave system for the past few weeks. More pictures and information may be found in the article.

I've explored the Cango Caves near Oudtshoorn in South Africa (which are worth seeing, if you're ever in the area), but by the time I was half-a-mile underground, I began to find it rather oppressing and claustrophobic. I prefer fresh air, thank you very much!

(By the way, there's a wonderful post at Dark Roasted Blend on 'Caves: The World Beneath The World'. The photographs are truly spectacular! Highly recommended reading.)


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Doofus Of The Day #95

This is shaping up to be the best week ever for Doofi! Four down already, and number 5 tonight!

Doofus #95 is a young Israeli student with more imagination than sense.

An Israeli teenager has been arrested after he donned a mask and prowled the streets of his town with a big rucksack and toy gun for a school project.

The boy, 15, was seized by police in the southern town of Ashdod suspecting he was a Palestinian militant.

The student was quoted as saying he was researching police reactions in the town and "just wanted to get an A+".

The stunt was considered highly risky in Israel, where attackers are often shot by police or civilians.

Ashdod police commander Chief Superintendent Danny Elgarat told the BBC the Jewish teenager in question was "normal" and could even be considered a "gifted" pupil.

He carried binoculars and wore his father's military fatigues as he made an appearance near one of the city's malls.

Anxious residents soon began calling the police, fearing the rucksack contained an explosive device.

After a search, armed officers located the youth, surrounded him and ordered him to freeze, at which point he revealed his identity.

"Had he attempted to flee he would unquestionably have been shot," the Israeli newspaper Yehdiot Ahranot pointed out.

The youth was later released on bail and was not charged.

"It's fine - he tested the police reaction," Mr Elgaret said.

Israel has faced numerous attacks on civilians by Palestinian militants in recent years, although there have been few in the past year.

Ashdod is located not far from the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by the militant group Hamas.

It's anything but 'fine', Mr. Elgaret! Imagine if some citizen or police officer hadn't waited to ask questions, but fired on someone they assumed to be a terrorist. If I'd been there, the odds are very good I'd have done so - and I think most of us who grew up in a terror-riddled environment would do likewise. We'd certainly feel absolutely horrible if it came out that we'd shot a dumbass student who should have known better: but I don't think I'd have lost too much sleep over it. Anyone who does something that stupid, in what amounts to a war zone, deserves all he gets! The results would simply have been chlorine in the gene pool . . .


The real King Solomon's Mines?

For centuries the fabled mines of King Solomon have been the object of searching explorers and imaginative novelists. H. Rider Haggard's book, King Solomon's Mines, was perhaps the most fanciful of the genre - and a rattling good read into the bargain!

Now it appears that the legendary mines may at last have been discovered.

In a discovery straight out of an Indiana Jones movie, archaeologists believe they have uncovered one of the lost mines of King Solomon.

The vast copper mine lies in an arid valley in modern-day Jordan and was created in the 10th century BC - around the time Solomon is believed to have ruled over the ancient Hebrews.

The mines are enormous and would have generated a huge income for the king, who is famed for bringing extraordinary wealth and stability to the newly-united kingdom
of Israel and Judah.

The announcement will today reopen the debate about how much of the Old Testament is myth and how much is history.

Archaeologists and treasure-hunters have searched for the mines for more than a century since the best-selling Victorian novel, King Solomon's Mines by H Rider Haggard, claimed they could hold a treasure of gold and diamonds.

But now, it seems the real version could have been closer to home, supplying the king with copper.

The ancient mine was found in a desolate region south of the Dead Sea in southern Jordan in an area called Khirbat en-Nahas, which means 'ruins of copper' in Arabic.

The region was known in the Old Testament as the Kingdom of Edom. By Solomon's time, it had become a vassal state, paying tribute to Jerusalem.

Digs at the site in the 1970s and 1980s suggested metalworking began there in the 7th century, long after the time of Solomon.

But Dr Thomas Levy, of the University of California, San Diego, and Mohammed Najjar, of Jordan's Friends of Archaeology, have dated it to the 10th century BC.

Dr Levy said: 'We have evidence that complex societies were indeed active in the 10th and 9th centuries BC and that brings us back to the debate about the historicity of the Bible narratives related to this period.

'We can't believe everything ancient writings tell us. But this research represents a confluence between the archaeological and scientific data and the Bible.'

The ancient site contains around 100 buildings, including a fortress, in the middle of 24 acres of land covered in black slag. The mine works are covered with trials and holes, and are big enough to be seen on Google Earth's satellite images.

The team also found ancient Egyptian artifacts at the site including a scarab and amulet from the 10th century BC.

When Solomon died, his kingdom was thrown into chaos and the Pharaoh Sheshonq is believed to have attempted to crush economic activity.

The findings are reported in today's issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Having grown up on Rider Haggard's vision of the mines, the reality is perhaps a little disappointing!

No evil witches or witch-doctors, no semi-naked savage heroines swooning over the explorers, no diamonds . . . but some real history, nevertheless.


Bureaucracy gone mad!

I thought I'd heard every variety of bureaucratic stupidity imaginable . . . but I was wrong.

Vietnam is considering banning small-chested drivers from its roads - a proposal that has provoked widespread disbelief in this nation of slight people.

The Ministry of Health recently recommended that people whose chests measure fewer than 28 inches (72 centimeters) would be prohibited from driving motorbikes - the most popular form of transport - as would those who are too short or too thin.

The proposal is part of an exhaustive list of new criteria the ministry has come up with to ensure that Vietnam's drivers are in good health. As news of the plan hit the media this week, Vietnamese expressed incredulity.

'The new proposals are very funny, but many Vietnamese people could become the victim of this joke,' said Le Quang Minh, 31, a Hanoi stockbroker.

'Many Vietnamese women have small chests. I have many friends who won't meet these criteria.'

'It's ridiculous,' said Tran Thi Phuong, 38, a Hanoi insurance agent. 'It's absurd.'

It was unclear how the ministry established its size guidelines or why it believes that small people make bad drivers.

Officials there refused to comment on its controversial proposal.

The average Vietnamese man is 5 feet, 4 inches (164 centimeters) tall and weighs 121 pounds (55 kilograms). The average Vietnamese woman is 5 feet, 1 inch (155 centimeters) tall and weighs 103 pounds (47 kilograms).

Statistics on average chest size were unavailable.

When Nguyen Van Tai, a motorbike taxi driver, heard about the proposal, he immediately had his chest measured. Much to his relief, Tai beat the chest limit by 3 inches (7 centimeters).

'A lot of people in my home village are small,' said Tai, 46. 'Many in my generation were poor and suffered from malnutrition. And now the Ministry of Health wants to stop us from driving to work.'

Vietnamese bloggers have been poking fun at the plan, envisioning traffic police with tape measures eagerly pulling over female drivers to measure their chests.

'From now on, padded bras will be best-sellers,' said Bo Cu Hung, a popular Ho Chi Minh City blogger.

That's all very well for the ladies, but what are the men to do? Become cross-dressers?

Bureaucrats! Grrr!


Truth will out . . .

Ten years ago, on October 29th, 1998, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) presented its report to President Nelson Mandela. This was followed by a final report in 2003.

There was (and remains) a great deal of confusion, anger and uncertainty about the TRC's report, and the way in which it was compiled. Those who were part of the structure of apartheid complain that it focused on their government, ignoring the equally vicious crimes of the so-called 'liberation movements'. Members of the latter, on the other hand, frequently didn't bother to appear before the TRC, claiming that their actions were part of a 'just war' and didn't need amnesty or explanation.

From my own perspective, I have to agree that the TRC seemed to focus far more on the evils of apartheid (which were evil enough by anyone's standards) and not nearly enough on the equally evil actions of the 'liberation movements'. This was a major factor in my decision to emigrate from South Africa. I'd offered to give testimony before the TRC in connection with a number of incidents to which I'd been a witness, involving both pro- and anti-apartheid forces. I was told, unambiguously, by two local officials of the TRC, that I was welcome to give evidence about (and against) the former: but if I mentioned the latter, I would be killed. Needless to say, this didn't seem particularly truthful or reconciliatory to me! However, not everyone would agree with my perspective. A contemporary article paints a rather more complimentary picture of the TRC's activities.

The TRC marked a new departure in international law, seeking to promote full disclosure of wrongdoing in exchange for amnesty and reconciliation. This was the opposite to the approach of the Nuremberg Trials after World War II, which sought to establish guilt and mete out punishment. The 1998 report of the TRC may be found here, and its 2003 final report here (both in PDF format, with long load times).

The South African TRC set the tone for many more such commissions in many other countries. Some have been more successful than others.

It's an important anniversary for me, because I remember the deaths of so many of my friends in South Africa. A number of them were discussed at TRC hearings, where those responsible confessed their actions. Sadly, that couldn't bring back the innocent persons who were murdered for no good reason - merely because members of the 'liberation movements' suspected that they were somehow opposed to their efforts.

May my dead friends rest in peace. The truth about their deaths may never come out . . . and they're beyond the need for reconciliation now.


Monday, October 27, 2008

I've been nominated . . .

. . . by the lovely Phlegm, of Fatale Abstraction, for a Superior Scribbler Award. Thanks, Phlegmmy!

According to the rules of the SSA:

  • Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.
  • Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.
  • Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!
  • Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.

The only problem is, most of those to whom I'd want to award the SSA have already been nominated for it by other bloggers! We're an incestuous bunch, aren't we? Since I can only choose five candidates, and leaving out those I know have already been 'tagged' for an SSA, I'll nominate:


Doofus Of The Day #92, #93 and #94

It's only Monday, and already it looks like a great week for Doofi!

Doofus #92 is a passenger on the French TGV express train.

A passenger on a French train had to be rescued by firemen after having his arm sucked down the on-board toilet.

The 26-year-old victim was trapped when he tried to fish out his mobile phone, which had fallen into the toilet bowl, and fell foul of the suction system.

The high-speed TGV train had to stop for two hours while firemen cut through the train's pipework.

The man was carried away by emergency services, with the toilet still attached to his arm.

"He came out on a stretcher, with his hand still jammed in the toilet bowl, which they had to saw clean off," said Benoit Gigou, a witness to the man's plight.

The incident happened on Sunday evening, aboard a train travelling in western France between La Rochelle and Paris.

Being carried off the train, in full view of everyone, with your arm stuck in a sawn-off toilet . . . that's gotta suck!

Lessons learned:

  • Don't drop your mobile phone into the toilet bowl;
  • If you do, don't try to retrieve it - it just ain't worth it!

Doofus #93 is a driver in Vienna, Austria.

An Austrian man, charged with drink driving, drove to a police station to complain about the charge whilst drunk, officials said on Monday.

The 65-year-old had his driving license and car keys first taken away from him on Sunday after driving while over the alcohol limit in the northern city of Linz.

He then went home, picked up his spare car keys, went back to the abandoned car and drove to police headquarters to explain why he was unhappy with the charge.

"When the driver tried to show police officers what had happened the first time, they detected he was still under the influence of alcohol," police said in a statement. The driver was charged a second time.

If at first you don't succeed . . .

Doofus #94 is a reluctant (and exceedingly dumb) bridegroom from Japan.

A Japanese man set fire to the hotel where he was due to get married at the weekend, rather than go through with the ceremony later the same day, newspaper reports said Monday.

Tatsuhiko Kawata, 39, had gone along with wedding plans despite already having a wife, the Yomiuri newspaper said.

"I thought if I set a fire I wouldn't have to go through with the wedding," the Yomiuri quoted him as telling police.

Guests at the hotel were evacuated and no one was injured when he set the fire in the early hours of Sunday morning at the resort hotel in Yamanashi Prefecture, west of Tokyo.

Kawata and his fiancee had been set to get married before 80 guests. He was arrested after suddenly cancelling the event and behaving suspiciously, the Yomiuri said.

Y'know, wouldn't it have been easier to simply say, "I've changed my mind!"???

With such a bumper crop of Doofi already, I'm almost afraid to see what the rest of the week will bring . . .


More ancient temples

Back in May I wrote about new discoveries at Stonehenge, and similar temples uncovered in Russia. Now there's news from Turkey about what may be the oldest temple in human history - at least, that we know of so far.

Six miles from Urfa, an ancient city in southeastern Turkey, Klaus Schmidt has made one of the most startling archaeological discoveries of our time: massive carved stones about 11,000 years old, crafted and arranged by prehistoric people who had not yet developed metal tools or even pottery. The megaliths predate Stonehenge by some 6,000 years. The place is called Gobekli Tepe, and Schmidt, a German archaeologist who has been working here more than a decade, is convinced it's the site of the world's oldest temple.

"Guten Morgen," he says at 5:20 a.m. when his van picks me up at my hotel in Urfa. Thirty minutes later, the van reaches the foot of a grassy hill and parks next to strands of barbed wire. We follow a knot of workmen up the hill to rectangular pits shaded by a corrugated steel roof—the main excavation site. In the pits, standing stones, or pillars, are arranged in circles. Beyond, on the hillside, are four other rings of partially excavated pillars. Each ring has a roughly similar layout: in the center are two large stone T-shaped pillars encircled by slightly smaller stones facing inward. The tallest pillars tower 16 feet and, Schmidt says, weigh between seven and ten tons. As we walk among them, I see that some are blank, while others are elaborately carved: foxes, lions, scorpions and vultures abound, twisting and crawling on the pillars' broad sides.

Schmidt points to the great stone rings, one of them 65 feet across. "This is the first human-built holy place," he says.

From this perch 1,000 feet above the valley, we can see to the horizon in nearly every direction. Schmidt, 53, asks me to imagine what the landscape would have looked like 11,000 years ago, before centuries of intensive farming and settlement turned it into the nearly featureless brown expanse it is today.

Prehistoric people would have gazed upon herds of gazelle and other wild animals; gently flowing rivers, which attracted migrating geese and ducks; fruit and nut trees; and rippling fields of wild barley and wild wheat varieties such as emmer and einkorn. "This area was like a paradise," says Schmidt, a member of the German Archaeological Institute. Indeed, Gobekli Tepe sits at the northern edge of the Fertile Crescent—an arc of mild climate and arable land from the Persian Gulf to present-day Lebanon, Israel, Jordan and Egypt—and would have attracted hunter-gatherers from Africa and the Levant. And partly because Schmidt has found no evidence that people permanently resided on the summit of Gobekli Tepe itself, he believes this was a place of worship on an unprecedented scale—humanity's first "cathedral on a hill."

With the sun higher in the sky, Schmidt ties a white scarf around his balding head, turban-style, and deftly picks his way down the hill among the relics. In rapid-fire German he explains that he has mapped the entire summit using ground-penetrating radar and geomagnetic surveys, charting where at least 16 other megalith rings remain buried across 22 acres. The one-acre excavation covers less than 5 percent of the site. He says archaeologists could dig here for another 50 years and barely scratch the surface.

Fascinating stuff! There's lots more at the link. Recommended reading for history and archaeology buffs.


Thoughts before the election #2: The truth is hard to find.

One of the most unpleasant pre-election thoughts is just how much lying is going on during this election campaign. It's gotten to the point where one can't trust most of what one reads or hears about the candidates, the parties, and their positions on the issues.

I think it's true to say that most of the bias in evidence comes from the left wing: but it's not confined to them. The right can be just as biased, just as determined to 'skew' the facts to suit their positions.

Consider the following.

THE NEWS MEDIA: Commentators from across the political spectrum have commented on how biased the news media have become. Orson Scott Card, a Democrat who voted for Barack Obama in the North Carolina primaries, has written an excellent article titled 'Would The Last Honest Reporter Please Turn On The Lights?' An excerpt:

Your job, as journalists, is to tell the truth. That's what you claim you do, when you accept people's money to buy or subscribe to your paper.

But right now, you are consenting to or actively promoting a big fat lie -- that the housing crisis should somehow be blamed on Bush, McCain, and the Republicans. You have trained the American people to blame everything bad -- even bad weather -- on Bush, and they are responding as you have taught them to.

If you had any personal honor, each reporter and editor would be insisting on telling the truth -- even if it hurts the election chances of your favorite candidate.

Because that's what honorable people do. Honest people tell the truth even when they don't like the probable consequences. That's what honesty means. That's how trust is earned.

Barack Obama is just another politician, and not a very wise one. He has revealed his ignorance and naivete time after time -- and you have swept it under the rug, treated it as nothing.

Meanwhile, you have participated in the borking of Sarah Palin, reporting savage attacks on her for the pregnancy of her unmarried daughter -- while you ignored the story of John Edwards's own adultery for many months.

So I ask you now: Do you have any standards at all? Do you even know what honesty means?

Is getting people to vote for Barack Obama so important that you will throw away everything that journalism is supposed to stand for?

Michael S. Malone, in an article titled 'Media's Presidential Bias And Decline', says this, amongst many other things (I recommend you read the whole article):

The traditional media are playing a very, very dangerous game -- with their readers, with the Constitution and with their own fates.

The sheer bias in the print and television coverage of this election campaign is not just bewildering, but appalling. And over the last few months I've found myself slowly moving from shaking my head at the obvious one-sided reporting, to actually shouting at the screen of my television and my laptop computer.

But worst of all, for the last couple weeks, I've begun -- for the first time in my adult life -- to be embarrassed to admit what I do for a living. A few days ago, when asked by a new acquaintance what I did for a living, I replied that I was "a writer," because I couldn't bring myself to admit to a stranger that I'm a journalist.

PRESSURE AND LOBBYING GROUPS: These are as guilty of bias as the news media. A few examples (out of many I could cite):

American Hunters & Shooters Association: This organization was set up this year by anti-gun, pro-gun-ban lobbyists to counteract the NRA (see below) and provide a 'false-flag' endorsement to anti-gun politicians. Gun Law News has done a good job of uncovering its members and those it supports. This organization claims to check politicians' claims against the 'facts' and correct any errors. Unfortunately, it's funded by the Annenberg Foundation, a notoriously progressive and left-wing organization: so it should come as no surprise that Factcheck's 'checks' are depressingly predictable - pro left-wing politicians, anti right-wing politicians.

National Rifle Association: This purportedly right-wing organization, demonized by the Left for many years, does indeed support the right to keep and bear arms, and is opposed to those politicians and parties who oppose this right. However, it's not above assigning good ratings to politicians whose records don't stand up to pro-gun-rights scrutiny, and is notorious for trying to 'hijack' others' efforts (for example, the recent District of Columbia vs. Heller court case) and take all the credit for them.

POLITICAL PARTIES AND POLITICIANS: These are the liars supreme. They're great at making promises, or passing laws to hand out largesse to the groups whose support they hope to win: but they're suddenly vague to the point of catatonic idiocy when pressed to explain who's going to pay for their ideas, or where the money's to be found. A couple of examples:

Medicare/Medicaid/Social Security: The silence on the cost of these programs from the candidates has been deafening. A recent article pointed out:

Peter Orszag is no conservative ideologue. The head of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) was a scholar at the liberal Brookings Institution before being picked for his current position by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. Yet, Mr. Orszag recently warned that the rising cost of federal entitlement programs, particularly Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, poses a grave threat to America's economic future.

According to Mr. Orszag, without dramatic reform, the cost of those three programs alone will rise from 18 percent of GDP today to 28 percent by the middle of this century and as much as 35 percent soon thereafter.

That means that just three federal government programs will be consuming between a quarter and a third of everything this country produces.

Paying for those programs would require raising both the corporate tax rate and top income tax rate from their current 35 percent to 88 percent, the current 25 percent tax rate for middle-income workers to 63 percent, and the 10 percent tax bracket for low-income workers to 25 percent. The impact on workers, businesses and the economy at large would be catastrophic.

Yet, discussion of entitlement reform has been conspicuously absent in the presidential campaign so far.

Health Care Reform: There's been much talk of 'single-payer plans' and 'health care for all Americans'. The fact that this will cost an astronomical amount, and there's no money available to pay for it, has gone conveniently unmentioned - as have the catastrophic problems affecting socialized medicine in almost all countries that have adopted it. As USA Today points out in an opinion piece:

To hear the ads approved by John McCain and Barack Obama, each other's health care plans would unleash the bubonic plague on America. Or, if not that, they would inflict some form of dreaded financial malady on an already suffering populace.

Obama asserts that McCain's plan would impose crushing taxes on the middle class and drain Medicare. McCain claims Obama's would involve socialized medicine managed by bureaucrats that would lead to economic ruin.

In truth, their attacks are loaded with hyperbole and falsehoods . . . Neither of the starkly different plans is as bad as the attack ads make it out to be, nor as good as its authors contend. While both include worthy ideas, they read too much like summations of party orthodoxy. What's needed is some bipartisan mixing and matching.

Unfortunately, such bipartisanship is sadly lacking.

Immigration Reform: All too often, those campaigning about this issue are falsifying the truth, and making their positions out to be something other than what they are. The classic example in this election cycle is the so-called 'Stop Illegal Hiring Act', Proposition 202 on the Arizona ballot. It claims to be what its title says, but in fact it's the exact opposite! It's funded and supported by those wanting to overturn a referendum-endorsed tightening-up of Arizona's laws against illegal immigration. The whole thing is an absolute disgrace, in my opinion. For more, see what Numbers USA has to say about this fraud. (And, yes, in the interests of full disclosure, Numbers USA is opposed to illegal immigration - as am I.)

BLOGS: Oddly enough, blogs are one of the best sources of information about the true facts of any situation - if, and only if, you read carefully and with understanding. Most blogs will make the positions of their authors clear, and you can thus read what they write with allowance for their built-in bias. On the left, we have sources such as the Huffington Post and Daily Kos. On the right, we have PowerLine and Right Wing News. There are individual commentators or bloggers or forums, such as Ann Coulter, Michele Malkin, Camille Paglia and the members of the Democratic Underground forum.

What am I driving at by listing the shortcomings of these sources? It's simply this:

If you want to make an informed choice when you vote, you can't rely on any one source to tell you the truth. You have to take the time and trouble to discover the truth for yourself.

Read widely, assess the perspective of the various commentators and sources, and decide for yourself which can be trusted. When you've done that, you can decide which candidate or party is most closely aligned with the values you hold dear. If none of them are close, pick the one that's closest. It's no good not voting because you can't find someone who meets every one of your requirements. Sometimes you have to settle for the lesser of two (or more) evils.

If you don't take the trouble to research the issues for yourself, and rely on what you're spoon-fed by the media and other pressure groups, you'll have only yourself to blame when you're blindsided by the consequences.