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Saturday, 17 January 2009
Dissident Journalist in Sri Lanka shot dead; predicted own assassination
Topic: Opinion

Lest we, in our comfort and complacency, take our own freedoms and civil liberties for granted... I share this story with you. Lasantha Wickramatunga was the editor of a newspaper in Sri Lanka. The Sunday Leader is often critical of the government, and he advocated transparency and was fierce in his defense of freedom of the press. This week, Wickramatunga joins 10 other Sri Lankan journalists who have been assassinated in the last 2 years for speaking out. Below I will post the entire text of the BBC newswire story on Wickramatunga's assassination, as well as the essay he had written about why he does what he does, an essay which became his own obituary, haunting in its predictions and searing in its indictments.  I'm sure this story will get little play in the US right now since we're busy with other things - oh so many other things - but I hope his story, and his essay, will move you as it had moved me. I hope this story remind us all, 378 years after John Winthrop gave us our City on a Hill, 220 years after the US Constitution gave us our freedom of speech and assembly, 50 years after that freedom was guaranteed for all Americans, that there are still those whose very freedom of conscience is suppressed everyday in the brutality of totalitarianism, by governments that cannot tolerate dissent; that there are those who fight this suppression, unbeknownst to us, with their very lives

Wickramatunga writes in his essay, And Then They Came For Me:

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic... well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you'd best stop buying this paper.”

I ask you not to forget it, and not to forget the journalists who will not knuckle down to despots, and who pay for their duty with their lives. These journalists may live in far away places most Americans have trouble finding on a map, may have names we can't pronounce, may even have religions that we do not approve of; but we share with them a common humanity, and a common desire - ours fulfilled and theirs not - for freedom of thought, and a life lived without fear.

Story from the BBC regarding Wickramatunga's assassination:

The editor of a Sri Lankan newspaper often critical of the government has been shot dead in Colombo.

Police say Sunday Leader editor Lasantha Wickramatunga was shot by unidentified gunmen on motorcycles as he drove to work in the city suburbs.

He died from head wounds after nearly three hours of surgery, doctors say.

Correspondents say Mr Wickramatunga had numerous run-ins with the government. It is the second major attack on the media in Sri Lanka this week.

On Tuesday, gunmen armed with grenades ransacked offices of the largest private TV broadcaster in the country. 

Journalists in Sri Lanka have suffered a string of recent attacks and media freedom groups say intimidation and violence make it one of the most difficult countries in the world in which to report.

Amnesty International said in November that at least 10 media employees had been killed in Sri Lanka since 2006.

Some reporters say the intimidation has got worse as the war has intensified with the Tamil Tigers.

The BBC's Roland Buerk in Colombo says the government has been accused of encouraging the violence, by branding reporters seen as critical rebel-sympathisers and enemies of the state.

Sri Lanka's government has condemned the incidents and ordered full police investigations.


Television pictures of Mr Wickramatunga's car showed blood-stained seats and bullet holes in the windscreen.

"We tried our best to revive him but we couldn't," hospital director Anil Jasinghe told the AFP news agency.

Police spokesman Ranjith Gunasekera said gunmen on two motorcycles had escaped after carrying out the attack. No arrests have been made.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa said in a statement he was "grieved and shocked" by the killing and ordered police to investigate.

The campaigning group Reporters Without Borders said: "Sri Lanka has lost one of its more talented, courageous and iconoclastic journalists.

"President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his associates and the government media are directly to blame because they incited hatred against him and allowed an outrageous level of impunity to develop as regards violence against the press."

Mr Wickramatunga, 52, had been highly critical of government policy and the war with the Tamil Tiger rebels. He received numerous death threats through his career and was detained on several occasions because of the controversial nature of his stories.

In his last editorial he accused the president of pursuing the war to stay in power.

"Winning the war? Then there must be elections around the corner. It is no secret that the war has become Mahinda Rajapaksa's recipe for electoral success," he wrote.

He also criticised opposition parties for staying "mute", suggesting journalists were having to do their job for them.

"That is why more journalists have been attacked in recent years than have opposition politicians," he said.

Mr Wickramatunga's death follows Tuesday's attack on the MBC group in Colombo. He worked for the channel as a presenter on a weekly current affairs programme.

MBC had been criticised by the government for its coverage of the war against the Tamil Tigers.

More than a dozen intruders held guards at gunpoint and shot up equipment, causing extensive damage.

Wickramatunga's essay/obituary:

Courtesy of the Sunday Leader, posted by Associated Press.

No other profession calls on its practitioners to lay down their lives for their art save the armed forces and, in Sri Lanka, journalism. In the course of the past few years, the independent media have increasingly come under attack. Electronic and print-media institutions have been burnt, bombed, sealed and coerced. Countless journalists have been harassed, threatened and killed. It has been my honour to belong to all those categories and now especially the last.

I have been in the business of journalism a good long time. Indeed, 2009 will be The Sunday Leader's 15th year. Many things have changed in Sri Lanka during that time, and it does not need me to tell you that the greater part of that change has been for the worse. Terror, whether perpetrated by terrorists or the state, has become the order of the day. Indeed, murder has become the primary tool whereby the state seeks to control the organs of liberty. Today it is the journalists, tomorrow it will be the judges. For neither group have the risks ever been higher or the stakes lower.

Why then do we do it? I often wonder that. After all, I too am a husband, and the father of three wonderful children. I too have responsibilities and obligations that transcend my profession, be it the law or journalism. Is it worth the risk? Friends tell me to revert to the bar. Others, including political leaders on both sides, have at various times sought to induce me to take to politics. Diplomats, recognising the risk journalists face in Sri Lanka, have offered me safe passage and the right of residence in their countries. Whatever else I may have been stuck for, I have not been stuck for choice. But there is a calling that is yet above high office, fame, lucre and security. It is the call of conscience.

The Sunday Leader has been a controversial newspaper because we say it like we see it: whether it be a spade, a thief or a murderer, we call it by that name. We do not hide behind euphemism. The investigative articles we print are supported by documentary evidence thanks to the public-spiritedness of citizens who at great risk to themselves pass on this material to us. We have exposed scandal after scandal, and never once in these 15 years has anyone proved us wrong or successfully prosecuted us.

The free media serve as a mirror in which the public can see itself sans mascara and styling gel. Sometimes the image you see in that mirror is not a pleasant one. But while you may grumble in the privacy of your armchair, the journalists who hold the mirror up to you do so publicly and at great risk to themselves. That is our calling, and we do not shirk it.

Every newspaper has its angle, and we do not hide the fact that we have ours. Our commitment is to see Sri Lanka as a transparent, secular, liberal democracy. Think about those words, for they each has profound meaning. Transparent because government must be openly accountable to the people and never abuse their trust. Secular because in a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural society such as ours, secularism offers the only common ground by which we might all be united. Liberal because we recognise that all human beings are created different, and we need to accept others for what they are and not what we would like them to be. And democratic... well, if you need me to explain why that is important, you'd best stop buying this paper.

The Sunday Leader has never sought safety by unquestioningly articulating the majority view. Let's face it, that is the way to sell newspapers. On the contrary, as our opinion pieces over the years amply demonstrate, we often voice ideas that many people find distasteful. For example, we have consistently espoused the view that while separatist terrorism must be eradicated, it is more important to address the root causes of terrorism. We have also agitated against state terrorism in the so-called war against terror, and made no secret of our horror that Sri Lanka is the only country in the world to routinely bomb its own citizens. For these views we have been labelled traitors, and if this be treachery, we wear that label proudly.

Many people suspect that The Sunday Leader has a political agenda: it does not. If we appear more critical of the government than of the opposition it is only because we believe that - pray excuse cricketing argot - there is no point in bowling to the fielding side. Remember that for the few years of our existence in which the UNP was in office, we proved to be the biggest thorn in its flesh, exposing excess and corruption wherever it occurred. Indeed, the steady stream of embarrassing exposes we published may well have served to precipitate the downfall of that government.

Neither should our distaste for the war be interpreted to mean that we support the Tigers. The LTTE are among the most ruthless and bloodthirsty organisations ever to have infested the planet. There is no gainsaying that it must be eradicated. But to do so by violating the rights of Tamil citizens, bombing and shooting them mercilessly, is not only wrong but shames the Sinhalese, whose claim to be custodians of the dhamma is forever called into question by this savagery, much of which is unknown to the public because of censorship.

What is more, a military occupation of the country's north and east will require the Tamil people of those regions to live eternally as second-class citizens, deprived of all self respect. Do not imagine that you can placate them by showering "development" on them in the post-war era. The wounds of war will scar them forever, and you will also have an even more bitter and hateful Diaspora to contend with. If I seem angry and frustrated, it is only because most of my countrymen - and all of the government - cannot see this writing so plainly on the wall.

It is well known that I was on two occasions brutally assaulted, while on another my house was sprayed with machine-gun fire. Despite the government's sanctimonious assurances, there was never a serious police inquiry into the perpetrators of these attacks. In all these cases, I have reason to believe the attacks were inspired by the government. When finally I am killed, it will be the government that kills me.

The irony in this is that, unknown to most of the public, Mahinda and I have been friends for more than a quarter century. Although I do not attend the meetings he periodically holds for newspaper editors, hardly a month passes when we do not meet, privately or with a few close friends present, late at night at President's House. There we swap yarns, discuss politics and joke about the good old days. A few remarks to him would therefore be in order here.

Mahinda, when you finally fought your way to the SLFP presidential nomination in 2005, nowhere were you welcomed more warmly than in this column. So well known were your commitments to human rights and liberal values that we ushered you in like a breath of fresh air. Then, through an act of folly, you got yourself involved in the Helping Hambantota scandal. It was after a lot of soul-searching that we broke the story, at the same time urging you to return the money. By the time you did so several weeks later, a great blow had been struck to your reputation. It is one you are still trying to live down.

You have told me yourself that you were not greedy for the presidency. You did not have to hanker after it: it fell into your lap. You have told me that your sons are your greatest joy, and that you love spending time with them, leaving your brothers to operate the machinery of state. Now, it is clear to all who will see that that machinery has operated so well that my sons and daughter do not themselves have a father.

In the wake of my death I know you will make all the usual sanctimonious noises and call upon the police to hold a swift and thorough inquiry. But like all the inquiries you have ordered in the past, nothing will come of this one, too. For truth be told, we both know who will be behind my death, but dare not call his name. Not just my life, but yours too, depends on it.

Sadly, for all the dreams you had for our country in your younger days, in just three years you have reduced it to rubble. In the name of patriotism you have trampled on human rights, nurtured unbridled corruption and squandered public money like no other President before you. Indeed, your conduct has been like a small child suddenly let loose in a toyshop. That analogy is perhaps inapt because no child could have caused so much blood to be spilled on this land as you have, or trampled on the rights of its citizens as you do. Although you are now so drunk with power that you cannot see it, you will come to regret your sons having so rich an inheritance of blood. It can only bring tragedy. As for me, it is with a clear conscience that I go to meet my Maker. I wish, when your time finally comes, you could do the same. I wish.

As for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I walked tall and bowed to no man. And I have not travelled this journey alone. Fellow journalists in other branches of the media walked with me: most of them are now dead, imprisoned without trial or exiled in far-off lands. Others walk in the shadow of death that your Presidency has cast on the freedoms for which you once fought so hard. You will never be allowed to forget that my death took place under your watch. As anguished as I know you will be, I also know that you will have no choice but to protect my killers: you will see to it that the guilty one is never convicted. You have no choice.

As for the readers of The Sunday Leader, what can I say but Thank You for supporting our mission. We have espoused unpopular causes, stood up for those too feeble to stand up for themselves, locked horns with the high and mighty, and made sure that whatever the propaganda of the day, you were allowed to hear a contrary view. For this I - and my family - have now paid the price that I have long known I will one day have to pay. I am - and have always been -ready for that. I have done nothing to prevent this outcome: no security, no precautions. I want my murderer to know that I am not a coward like he is, hiding behind human shields while condemning thousands of innocents to death. What am I among so many? It has long been written that my life would be taken, and by whom. All that remains to be written is when.

That The Sunday Leader will continue fighting the good fight, too, is written. For I did not fight this fight alone. Many more of us have to be - and will be - killed before The Leader is laid to rest. I hope my assassination will be seen not as a defeat of freedom but an inspiration for those who survive to step up their efforts. Indeed, I hope that it will help galvanise forces that will usher in a new era of human liberty in our beloved motherland. I also hope it will open the eyes of your President to the fact that however many are slaughtered in the name of patriotism, the human spirit will endure and flourish. Not all the Rajapakses combined can kill that.

People often ask me why I take such risks and tell me it is a matter of time before I am bumped off. Of course I know that: it is inevitable. But if we do not speak out now, there will be no one left to speak for those who cannot, whether they be ethnic minorities, the disadvantaged or the persecuted. An example that has inspired me throughout my career in journalism has been that of the German theologian, Martin Niemoller. In his youth he was an anti-Semite and an admirer of Hitler. As Nazism took hold in Germany, however, he saw Nazism for what it was: it was not just the Jews Hitler sought to extirpate, it was just about anyone with an alternate point of view. Niemoller spoke out, and for his trouble was incarcerated in the Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps from 1937 to 1945, and very nearly executed. While incarcerated, Niemoller wrote a poem that, from the first time I read it in my teenage years, stuck hauntingly in my mind: First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me. If you remember nothing else, remember this: The Leader is there for you, be you Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, low-caste, homosexual, dissident or disabled. Do not take this commitment for granted. Let there be no doubt that whatever sacrifices we journalists make, they are not made for our own glory or enrichment: they are made for you. Whether you deserve their sacrifice is another matter. As for me, God knows I tried.

Lasantha Wickramatunga

Posted by conniechai at 11:57 AM PST
Updated: Saturday, 17 January 2009 12:14 PM PST
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Monday, 23 June 2008

Thanks a lot, Congressman Phil Gramm.  Hope you enjoyed your new oil-money yacht, hookers and blow... also prepare to enjoy hell in your gasoline drawers.

The Enron Loophole is the nickname for a provision written into the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA) of 2000 that was drafted by lobbyists for Enron and inserted in the bill by then Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) that deregulated an aspect of the market Enron sought to exploit with its “Enron On-Line” trading program, the first Internet-based commodities transaction system.

The “Enron loophole” Gramm had added to the bill took exchanges and derivative oil contracts out of supervisory oversight and caused the California energy fiasco shortly after.

Go to to take action! Write to your senators.

And while we're on the subject, I wish McCain would stop it with the 'gas-tax holiday' already (seriously, does that man not have an economic adviser?).  It's well past bread and circuses now.  Throwing the public a stupid bone like that doesn't get anywhere near fixing the root of the problem - speculation and unregulated trading.  Neither does drilling in Alaska; according to the Energy Information Administration, drilling in ANWR will result in additional oil production of a peak in 2024 at 870,000 barrels a day, trimming $0.75 (in 2006 dollars) off the projected cost of a barrel of oil by 2025.  That's right, less than one dollar off per barrel of oil. It'll take 10 years for production to begin & cost more than than it will benefit. It's a terrible business decision that no company with viable long-term goals would even consider.

Not only will opening up ANWR to drilling not bring us enough oil, the oil companies already have approved off-shore drilling leases for areas they're not using, and which they refuse to drill, meanwhile lobbying congress to open up Alaska.

Gasoline drawers also await the oil industry lobbyists in hell, where they can reminisce over old times with Phil Gramm.

Posted by conniechai at 11:03 AM PDT
Updated: Monday, 23 June 2008 3:32 PM PDT
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Friday, 20 June 2008
If you have nothing to hide, Citizen, you have nothing to fear.
Topic: Opinion


House approves ex post facto immunity for telecommunications companies who particiated in warrant-less wiretapping.

Article I, section 9 of the U.S. Constitution

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed.

(No capitation, or other direct, Tax shall be laid, unless in Proportion to the Census or Enumeration herein before directed to be taken.) (Section in parentheses clarified by the 16th Amendment.)

No Tax or Duty shall be laid on Articles exported from any State.

No Preference shall be given by any Regulation of Commerce or Revenue to the Ports of one State over those of another: nor shall Vessels bound to, or from, one State, be obliged to enter, clear, or pay Duties in another.

No Money shall be drawn from the Treasury, but in Consequence of Appropriations made by Law; and a regular Statement and Account of the Receipts and Expenditures of all public Money shall be published from time to time.

No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince or foreign State.


Posted by conniechai at 12:51 PM PDT
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We will not run a Gulag: On the Habeas Corpus decision at SCOTUS on 6/12/2008
Topic: Opinion
He that would make his own liberty secure, must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.
Thomas Paine
US patriot & political philosopher (1737 - 1809)
As an immigrant and a naturalized American, I am pleased to find myself in this superior country; to see that the three branches of US government check each other; how unlike Venezuela under Hugo Chavez or Pakistan under Pervez Musharraf! How wonderful that we have term limits for the presidency, so unlike Cuba under Fidel Castro! How reassuring that our court system is designed to be transparent, that we are protected from extrajudicial action, unlike those poor sods in Colombia who met the Death Squad in the night.

All these things make us a great nation, a great nation of laws, where people have rights. For all these reasons I am pleased with last Thursday's SCOTUS ruling on habeas corpus. The dissenting justices (SCOTUS decision was 5-4 split) may believe that foreign citizens do not have the same legal rights as American citizens; how about those prisoners who are Canadian citizens? British citizens? Were it wrong to indefinitely detain a Canadian who is accused (but not charged) with rape-murder, were it not wrong to do same with him when accused but not charged with terrorism? And if so, does that extend to Afghans or Pakistanis? If not, why not?

The designation of "enemy combatants" allows our government to detain people indefinitely.  No charge, no trial. Kind of like how Communist China treats its dissidents (believe me, I know about this).  Kind of like how Communist USSR used its gulags. Aren't we better? Shouldn't we be? Habeas corpus is a foreign (literally) concept to dictators like Robert Mugabe or Idi Amin; it should not be foreign to our nation of laws. Violation of habeas corpus has the power to negate every other right; its exercise or suspension need to be watched more carefully than ever before.  We already have warrant-less wiretapping in place; and to those who say that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear, some Chinese political prisoners who disappeared in the night would like a word with you. Except, they can't, 'cause they've disappeared.

The prisoners are suspected of, not charged with, terrorism. Our government do not recognize them as prisoners of war, and therefore exempt ourselves from the Geneva Convention; they are also not suspected criminals, exempting them from US law.  It's pat and convenient, but it creates a logical and moral hazard to deny prisoners habeas corpus on a whim. The fact that they are Muslim males do not make them guilty; if it were so, then every white disaffected Christian male in Oklahoma with a bad haircut should be locked up indefinitely with no appeal nor representation, on the grounds that they'd all want to bomb federal buildings a la McVeigh.

But of course we wouldn't do that - it would be illegal.

Posted by conniechai at 12:49 PM PDT
Updated: Friday, 20 June 2008 1:01 PM PDT
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Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Topic: Opinion

For those of you paying attention to something other than the Iraq War, gas prices, and Fox News' insistence that Obama is a secret Muslim who will kill us all - The California Supreme Court this week ruled that that ban on same-sex marriage is illegal, therefore gays can get married now.  Much jubilation from both the homosexual community and the wedding industry in California - "We're going to sell so much cake!" says bakery owner.

Which leads to my story.

Yesterday while driving hither and yon through Santa Ana for work meetings, I drove past the old court house in Santa Ana, in which the now legal gay weddings were taking place.  I know, just by driving past, what was going on the courthouse within, because the sidewalk without was occupied by protesters holding pickets condemning the homosexuals for their sins. One protester's sign said that he loved Jesus and that the gays were denying God.  I wonder how these self-proclaimed "Christians" finds room in their souls to hate, if their hearts are full of Christ. 

There are a lot of opportunistic jokes about gay marriage, for example Chris Rock: "Go ahead, let them get married. Let them be as miserable as the rest of us!" or my own favorite trope – "Of course gay marriage is bad! What's bad for children? Divorce. What's the leading cause of divorce? Marriage. Ergo, more people getting married, means more people will get divorced, which means more bad for the children! Please won't somebody think of the children!"

Joking aside, I guess I'm not on top of this 'Sanctity of Marriage' thing or how gays ruin it.  A lot of things make mockeries of marriage - domestic violence, spouses who can't stand one another, people who married for money or power rather than love - but I can't imagine how homosexuals mock marriage. "Nyah nyah nyah, we don't have to pay alimony to our gold-digging trophy ex-wife and you do?" (We're looking at you, Heather McCartney). Seriously, how have two women, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon,made a mockery of marriage by receiving legal recognition of their 55+ year commitment to each other? Marriage is a social contract, not a biological one; if it were a biological one, no marriage would last past when the young born of the marriage are grown.  The Los Angeles Catholic Archdiocese released a statement that says the Church holds to the view that marriage is between a man and a woman for creation of new life.  So, to all the Catholic heterosexual couples out there who suffer from infertility – a great, big 'screw you and your failed union' from your church leaders. You're welcome.

The 'slippery slope' argument posits that allowing homosexual marriages will lead to polygamy and bestiality (yes, I know…).   This is a classical fallacy that is easily addressed.

Historically, marriage has never been, in most societies, limited to one man and one woman. Biblical patriarchs had more than one wife at a time; men of means in many cultures had junior wives or concubines, which in modern society would mean mistresses.  In at least one central Asian culture, plural marriages are polyandrous rather than polygamous, through which means do the family prevent its wealth from being fractured away via its sons.  My objection to polygamy is that traditionally the concubines and mistresses were subjugated in powerless roles and were not given choices. My grandfather had a wife and a concubine, and children from both women; neither woman chose it, and both were unhappy (my grandfather was something of a jerk, apparently; he acquired a Japanese concubine after WWII but discarded the poor woman after the novelty of boinking the enemy wore off).

The key here, is INFORMED CONSENT, and it is here that the slippery slope claim falls apart. Homosexuality does not equal polygamy does not equal bestiality.  The polygamous cults in the US are wrong, because they consider 13-year-old girls as marriageable, with absolutely no informed consent; therefore it is child rape, and therefore it is wrong.  The lack of informed consent is also what makes bestiality wrong – dumb animals cannot say yes or no (or neigh, if we're talking about horses – sorry), therefore, sex with an animal is animal abuse. Now, if we're talking about adults who are capable of informed consent, and are able to agree to the arrangement and make legal contracts to protects assets and agree on support of minor children (basically, everything entailed in a marriage), then have at it, my fellow Americans!  The US Supreme court struck down bans on interracial marriages in 1967, and OMG the white race didn't get destroyed, the nation didn't disintegrate, and we're pretty much through with the anti-miscegenation nonsense by now (Most of us anyway - there will always be some mouth-breathin' coloreds-hatin' cross-burnin' slackjawed fools somewhere). One day we'll be through with this too.

Coming round to where I started here, I still don't know why it matters to the protesters what two consenting adults do?  Doesn't matter to me.  I myself will never have a gay marriage, so none of this is really any of my business. Which, let me point out, includes a day-job that requires me to be somewhere in the middle of the morning on a workday, and not available to picket on the sidewalk against strangers doing private things that don't involve me. I would like to say that when needed, I will rise up in protest; but we all know that's not going to happen - being of an apathetic and indolent disposition, I'd just write about it in my blog, get a coffee and a cookie (you know, one of the nice ones with the macadamia nuts and not too much sugar), and call it a day.

Posted by conniechai at 12:53 PM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 18 June 2008 7:18 PM PDT
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Wednesday, 28 May 2008
Colorado River Aqueduct
Topic: Personal

Bruce and I went on an inspection tour of the Colorado River Aqueduct by the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.

The area near where we were staying also supported a population of burros, descendants of those who were released into the desert after the construction completed in the 1940's.  A small herd came to the camp to investigate; they were tame enough for us to feed with apples but feral enough that they would not allow too much petting, not to mention riding (Bruce's weekend ambition was to catch a burro and ride it).


Turbine at intake station

Posted by conniechai at 11:56 AM PDT
Updated: Wednesday, 28 May 2008 12:05 PM PDT
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Friday, 15 February 2008
Is Eating Out Cheaper than Cooking at Home? Shenanigans!
Topic: Opinion

By Christian Science Monitor

By the time he's driven to the farmers market, bought the organic veggies and spent an hour cooking a meal for himself and his wife, Mark Chernesky figures he's spent $30.  That's why recently, after fighting rush hour, the Atlanta multimedia coordinator dashed in to Figo, a pasta place, for hand-stuffed ravioli slathered with puttanesca sauce. "I'll get out of here for $17 plus tip," he said.  Crunch the numbers, and across America the refrain is the same: Eating out is the new eating in. Even with wages stagnant, time-strapped workers are abandoning the family kitchen in droves.

I call shenanigans on this article.  It's a marketing piece for the restaurant industry! If that guy make a special trip for ingredients to cook one meal, then yes, it will cost more than running to his local take-away, but that's a function of his haphazard planning rather than the costs of food.  If this guy planned his dinners as carefully as he plans his work projects he'll learn that you can amortize the cost of food the way you capitalize depreciation of fixed assets.  Except in this case, the assets are not fixed but they are delicious.

The problem is that if you never cook at home and then make one special meal, you'll think it's expensive because you have to buy all of the food + all the spices. That's expensive; a good bottle of olive oil can set you back $10 at the grocery store, a container of sea salt $5 and one of good pepper another $5, so you think "OMG $20 just to get oil, salt and pepper". But once you do it for a while and have a decently stocked kitchen, it's much cheaper than eating out. No one uses a whole bottle of olive oil or a whole jar of pepper in one meal; the cost of the ingredients are all spread over the number of meals. It is much more eocnomical to eat at home if you're content with simple foods and don't need gold-sprinkled foie gras or panda steaks to be happy.

Further down in the article cited above, we get another justification that if you factor in the cost of your time then spending time cooking just isn't worth it.  One guys says "When I add my hourly rate, the time to cook at home, I can instead take my family out to dinner, and it comes out pretty even." That's a specious argument - he's essentially claiming that he is paid his hourly rate every hour of his day, which would mean that a movie will cost him 2x his hourly rate + cost of tickets and popcorn, and reading a magazine will cost him 1/2 hour of his hourly rate + cost of the magazine.  I bet he doesn't think about going to the movies or reading a magazine in terms of his hourly rate, then why does he think it applies to cooking a meal for his family? 

If someone doesn't like cooking and prefers meals from a restaurant, then they should just own up and say so; there's nothing wrong with that. Why do people need to justify it? It's hardly a sin for which you need to plead indulgence. I don't like to bake and I would no sooner make my own pie crust as knit my own damn socks, but I won't tell you that it's because it costs less to buy a pie crust than baking it once you factor in my hourly rate!

For example, a complete dinner for four:

1.5 lb beefsteak $15.00 (gourmet organic grass-fed)
4 young potatoes $0.60 (from a bag @ $2.50)
1 box mushrooms $2.50
1 med onion $0.50 ($1.00 per lb)
1 head garlic $0.25 (from 4-head sack @ $1.00)
½ stick butter $0.50 (from 4-stick pack @ $4.00)
2 tablespoons flour $0.05 (from 1 lb bag for $2.00)
1 frozen pie crust $1.50 (from 2-pack @ $3.00) Of course I buy frozen. What do I look like, Laura Ingalls?
Pinches salt and pepper $0.02 (from 1 lb sea salt @ $5 and medium jar pepper @ $5)
1 loaf French bread at grocery store bakery $1.00
½ butter, softened, for bread $0.50
a little crushed rosemary to add to butter $0.02
½ gallon ice cream $2.50
1 box seasonal berries $2.00
Wine: $20 (restaurant markup'd make this $40 or more)
Gas for cooking meal $0.02

Total ingredients when purchased at store in multi-packs: ~$67.
Sounds like a lot? Those multi-packs (box of butter with 4 sticks, a sack of garlic that has 4 heads, bag of 16 potatoes, etc) will go for more than one meal.
Actual cost for meal: ~$47
Serves 4 at less than $12 each -
  • gourmet beefsteak pie with mushroom and onions
  • warm bread with rosemary butter on side
  • a glass of wine to go with
  • ice cream with berries for afters
Where in a restaurant anywhere can you get this deal?
This might take 20 minutes prep and 20 minutes bake, plus 20 minutes cleanup = 1 hour that I wasn't going to be paid anyway.

Not expecting company?

½ lb large shrimp $5.00
sprig of dill-weed $0.05
sprig of basil $0.05
pinch salt and pepper $0.02
1 cup cream $0.50
1 cup stock $0.50
2 tablespoon olive oil $0.10
1 tablespoon vinegar $0.10
1 box pasta $0.50
1 bag store salad $1.50

Feeds 2 @ less than $5 per person, sautéed shrimp with herb and cream sauce served over pasta, plus salad with oil and vinegar dressing.  Cheaper than any restaurant anywhere.

Posted by conniechai at 3:19 PM PST
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Tuesday, 29 January 2008
Banjo Patterson, cowboy poet Down Under.
Topic: Fun

Clancy of the Overflow

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
    Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
   Just on spec, addressed as follows, “Clancy, of The Overflow”.

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
    (And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
’Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
    “Clancy’s gone to Queensland droving, and we don’t know where he are.”

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
    Gone a-droving “down the Cooper” where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
    For the drover’s life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
    In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
    And at night the wond’rous glory of the everlasting stars.

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
    Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
    Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all.

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
    Of the tramways and the buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
    Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
    As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
    For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

And I somehow rather fancy that I’d like to change with Clancy,
    Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal—
    But I doubt he’d suit the office, Clancy, of The Overflow.

Waltzing Matilda

Oh there once was a swagman camped in the Billabong,
    Under the shade of a Coolabah tree;
And he sang as he looked at his old billy boiling,
    “Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda, my darling,
     Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?
Waltzing Matilda and leading a water-bag—
     Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?

Down came a jumbuck to drink at the water-hole,
    Up jumped the swagman and grabbed him in glee;
And he sang as he put him away in his tucker-bag,
    “You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me!”

Down came the Squatter a-riding his thorough-bred;
    Down came Policemen—one, two, and three.
“Whose is the jumbuck you’ve got in the tucker-bag?
    You’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me.”

But the swagman, he up and he jumped in the water-hole,
    Drowning himself by the Coolabah tree;
And his ghost may be heard as it sings in the Billabong,
    “Who’ll come a-waltzing Matilda with me?”

The Man From Snowy River

There was movement at the station, for the word had passed around
    That the colt from old Regret had got away,
And had joined the wild bush horses — he was worth a thousand pound,
    So all the cracks had gathered to the fray.
All the tried and noted riders from the stations near and far
    Had mustered at the homestead overnight,
For the bushmen love hard riding where the wild bush horses are,
    And the stock-horse snuffs the battle with delight.

There was Harrison, who made his pile when Pardon won the cup,
    The old man with his hair as white as snow;
But few could ride beside him when his blood was fairly up—
    He would go wherever horse and man could go.
And Clancy of the Overflow came down to lend a hand,
    No better horseman ever held the reins;
For never horse could throw him while the saddle-girths would stand,
    He learnt to ride while droving on the plains.

And one was there, a stripling on a small and weedy beast,
    He was something like a racehorse undersized,
With a touch of Timor pony—three parts thoroughbred at least—
    And such as are by mountain horsemen prized.
He was hard and tough and wiry—just the sort that won’t say die—
    There was courage in his quick impatient tread;
And he bore the badge of gameness in his bright and fiery eye,
    And the proud and lofty carriage of his head.

But still so slight and weedy, one would doubt his power to stay,
    And the old man said, “That horse will never do
For a long and tiring gallop—lad, you’d better stop away,
    Those hills are far too rough for such as you.”
So he waited sad and wistful—only Clancy stood his friend —
    “I think we ought to let him come,” he said;
“I warrant he’ll be with us when he’s wanted at the end,
    For both his horse and he are mountain bred.

“He hails from Snowy River, up by Kosciusko’s side,
  Where the hills are twice as steep and twice as rough,
Where a horse’s hoofs strike firelight from the flint stones every stride,
    The man that holds his own is good enough.
And the Snowy River riders on the mountains make their home,
    Where the river runs those giant hills between;
I have seen full many horsemen since I first commenced to roam,
    But nowhere yet such horsemen have I seen.”

So he went — they found the horses by the big mimosa clump —
    They raced away towards the mountain’s brow,
And the old man gave his orders, ‘Boys, go at them from the jump,
    No use to try for fancy riding now.
And, Clancy, you must wheel them, try and wheel them to the right.
    Ride boldly, lad, and never fear the spills,
For never yet was rider that could keep the mob in sight,
    If once they gain the shelter of those hills.’

So Clancy rode to wheel them—he was racing on the wing
    Where the best and boldest riders take their place,
And he raced his stock-horse past them, and he made the ranges ring
    With the stockwhip, as he met them face to face.
Then they halted for a moment, while he swung the dreaded lash,
    But they saw their well-loved mountain full in view,
And they charged beneath the stockwhip with a sharp and sudden dash,
    And off into the mountain scrub they flew.

Then fast the horsemen followed, where the gorges deep and black
    Resounded to the thunder of their tread,
And the stockwhips woke the echoes, and they fiercely answered back
    From cliffs and crags that beetled overhead.
And upward, ever upward, the wild horses held their way,
    Where mountain ash and kurrajong grew wide;
And the old man muttered fiercely, “We may bid the mob good day,
    No man can hold them down the other side.”

When they reached the mountain’s summit, even Clancy took a pull,
    It well might make the boldest hold their breath,
The wild hop scrub grew thickly, and the hidden ground was full
    Of wombat holes, and any slip was death.
But the man from Snowy River let the pony have his head,
    And he swung his stockwhip round and gave a cheer,
And he raced him down the mountain like a torrent down its bed,
    While the others stood and watched in very fear.

He sent the flint stones flying, but the pony kept his feet,
    He cleared the fallen timber in his stride,
And the man from Snowy River never shifted in his seat—
    It was grand to see that mountain horseman ride.
Through the stringy barks and saplings, on the rough and broken ground,
    Down the hillside at a racing pace he went;
And he never drew the bridle till he landed safe and sound,
    At the bottom of that terrible descent.

He was right among the horses as they climbed the further hill,
    And the watchers on the mountain standing mute,
Saw him ply the stockwhip fiercely, he was right among them still,
    As he raced across the clearing in pursuit.
Then they lost him for a moment, where two mountain gullies met
    In the ranges, but a final glimpse reveals
On a dim and distant hillside the wild horses racing yet,
    With the man from Snowy River at their heels.

And he ran them single-handed till their sides were white with foam.
    He followed like a bloodhound on their track,
Till they halted cowed and beaten, then he turned their heads for home,
    And alone and unassisted brought them back.
But his hardy mountain pony he could scarcely raise a trot,
    He was blood from hip to shoulder from the spur;
But his pluck was still undaunted, and his courage fiery hot,
    For never yet was mountain horse a cur.

And down by Kosciusko, where the pine-clad ridges raise
    Their torn and rugged battlements on high,
Where the air is clear as crystal, and the white stars fairly blaze
    At midnight in the cold and frosty sky,
And where around the Overflow the reedbeds sweep and sway
    To the breezes, and the rolling plains are wide,
The man from Snowy River is a household word to-day,
    And the stockmen tell the story of his ride.

Brief biography of Andrew Barton ‘Banjo’ Paterson, 1864-1941



Posted by conniechai at 9:22 PM PST
Updated: Tuesday, 29 January 2008 9:56 PM PST
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Wednesday, 27 June 2007
Kentucky Countryside
Topic: Personal


Posted by conniechai at 12:23 PM PDT
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Tuesday, 22 May 2007

Topic: Personal

Bruce and I took Austin to the San Diego Zoo on Saturday. I took some videos of the animals being active (the polar bears one is the best IMO) on the visit and posted them to YouTube.

Polar Bear




Posted by conniechai at 1:27 PM PDT
Updated: Friday, 29 June 2007 8:05 AM PDT
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