My collection of rants and raves about technology, my kids and family, social/cultural phenomena, and inconsistencies in the media and politics.


Grand Canyon viewing deck

On a decidedly lighter note than my last two entries, I came upon a story about a glass-bottomed walkway an Indian-owned resort company is building over the Grand Canyon.

A horseshoe shaped skywalk will jut out 70 feet horizontally from the lip of the canyon, giving paying customers a view 4000 feet straight down to the canyon floor, as well as a from-the-inside view of the walls. The installation will be at the Hualapai Tribe's reservation, about 200 miles drive west of Grand Canyon National Park.

During our recent visit to Grand Canyon, our guide (Marvelous Marv, see our picture of him) noted that the master plan for the park calls for cutting back public access. They will seek to block all private vehicles, instead bussing visitors through the park with selected stops for photos. He pointed out the large number of foreign visitors, who pay $250 for a 5 hour bus ride from Las Vegas to spend less than an hour taking pictures. A glass-bottomed walkway like this seems like just the kind of thing to attract busloads of tourists, who are more interested in "having been there" than in the park itself.

The walkway, with a glass bottom and sides, will be supported by steel beams and will accommodate 120 people, though it is designed to hold 72 million pounds, said Sheri Yellowhawk, chief executive officer of the Grand Canyon Resort Corp., the tribal-owned company that is overseeing the project.

The project is still seeking an insurer.



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AP: "Humans are not that special"

The London Zoo has an exhibit this weekend which lowers mankind to the same level as animals.

Entitled "Humans", it includes eight volunteers on a rock ledge inside a bear enclosure, demonstrating that humans are no better than any animal.

Visitors stopped to point and laugh, and several children could be heard asking, "Why are there people in there?"

London Zoo spokeswoman Polly Wills says that's exactly the question the zoo wants to answer.

"Seeing people in a different environment, among other animals ... teaches members of the public that the human is just another primate," Wills said.

Despite growing evidence to the contrary, the institutionalized theory of evolution continues to get plenty of press through events like this one.

Tom Mahoney, 26, decided to participate after his friend sent him an e-mail about the contest as a joke. Anything that draws attention to apes, he said, has his support.

"A lot of people think humans are above other animals," he told The Associated Press. "When they see humans as animals, here, it kind of reminds us that we're not that special."

Mark Ainsworth, 21, heard about the Human Zoo on the news.

"I've lived in this country for nine years and have never come to a zoo," said Ainsworth. "This exhibit made us come to the zoo. Humans are animals too!"

Only some of them, Mark. Only some of them.

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." Genesis 1:26 (NIV)


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Is it racist to require a photo ID?

That's what the American Civil Liberties Union, Georgia Association of Black Elected Officials and Rainbow/PUSH Coalition seem to think.

As reported at CNN, the state of Georgia has received approval from the Justice Department for a change in their voting laws. The Voting Rights Act of years ago requires states with a history of suppressing minority voting to get federal permission to change their voting laws. While it would be nice to think this isn't necessary, I don't see any great harm in having the rule in place, either.

After all the voter fraud in the last presidential election, many states have been looking for ways to keep voters honest. With the approval from the Justice Department, Georgia becomes the first state to require photo ID for voters.

I think this is a common-sense solution. If you say you are entitled to vote, you should be able to prove your identity to the polling official before they let you exercise your right to vote. We require photo IDs to board an airplane, write or cash a check, cross our borders, or even to enter many buildings. Why should we not require a photo ID for our most important civic duty?

The Republican-backed measure sparked racial tension during the state's legislative session last spring. Most of Georgia's black lawmakers walked out at the state Capitol when it was approved.

Democrats had argued the idea was a political move by the GOP to depress voting among minorities, the elderly and the poor -- all traditional bases for Democrats.

The measure would eliminate the use of several currently accepted forms of voter identification, such as Social Security cards, birth certificates or utility bills.

Quick: which of these do you have on your person right at this moment? Social Security card, birth certificate, utility bills (Indiana requires two, from different utilities), driver's license. If you're like most people, you probably only carry your DL, perhaps also your Social Security card. I bet if they kept any records, they'd find that 95% or more of ID's presented at the polls were photo ID's anyway.

"The decision to clear the measure now gives Georgia the most draconian voter identification requirement in the nation," said Daniel Levitas of the American Civil Liberties Union's Voting Rights Project in Atlanta.

Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, a veteran of the civil rights movement, said, "It is unbelievable, it is unreal the Department of Justice -- an agency who is supposed to protect the American public by enforcing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 -- is now involved in attempts to weaken the act.

"This decision takes us back to the dark past of literacy tests and other insidious devices that were carefully devised to hamper the participation of all of our citizens in the political process," Lewis said.

"carefully devised to hamper"? If I lived in Georgia and was a minority, elderly or poor, I would be offended at that statement! He is implying people who are poor, old, or not white don't have photo IDs. I'm not positive, but I think all 50 states issue a "State ID" with photo for identification of non-drivers. There's usually a nominal fee to obtain the card - perhaps they think these folks can't afford it?

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, head of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said he was disturbed by the federal decision.

"My fear is that this will spread across the country like a virus," he said. "This just shows how the anti-civil rights' machinery is in motion."

Please note that protecting the vote has two major components: 1. Making sure legitimate voters can vote unimpeded; and 2. Making sure nobody votes illegitimately. Most of the outcry from the Democrats focuses on the first point - accusations of turning away legitimate voters, or making it hard to reach polls. The second point is at least as important if not more. Guaranteeing I can register my one vote is only useful if I can be sure that others are not recording multiple illegitimate votes. I don't mind being outvoted by a true majority, but stuffing the ballot box with fake votes is not right, no matter who does it or for what reasons. Allowing fake votes dilutes the value of the honest votes.

Rev. Jackson, if you really want to protect civil rights, please make sure you are protecting my right to have my vote count in full.



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President Bush sleights Cindy Sheehan

From DrudgeReport (not sure how long the link will work):


Wed Aug 24 2005 16:53:27 ET

NAMPA, Idaho -- President Bush today took direct aim at Cindy Sheehan, the anti-war protester who has set up camp near the Bushes Texas ranch and purports to speak for military moms who, like her, have lost a son in the Iraq war.

Speaking to hundreds of Idaho National Guardsmen, the president singled out military mom Tammy Pruett of Pocatello, Idaho, whose husband and five sons have all served in Iraq.

"Tammy has four sons serving in Iraq right now with the Idaho National Guard: Eric, Evan, Greg and Jeff. Last year her husband, Leon, and another son, Aaron, returned from Iraq, where they helped train Iraqi firefighters in Mosul.

"Tammy says this -- and I want you to hear this -- 'I know that if something happens to one of the boys, they would leave this world doing what they believe, what they think is right for our country.'

"And I guess you couldn't ask for a better way of life than giving it for something that you believe in. America lives in freedom because of families like the Pruetts."

The crowd, made up mostly of military family members, broke into cheers and chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!"

So let's review. Cindy Sheehan's adult son volunteered to be in Iraq and died in service to his country. The President met with Cindy, and she was initially very complimentary, saying how much he comforted her at such an awful time. Now she is waiting outside his gates to "talk with him" in a somewhat less concilatory way, and Dubya not only doesn't meet with her, but finds another family in a similar situation but with a very different outlook to talk about.

FYI, that's about as close as you get in national politics to a full on "in your face."


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Hidden pictures...

On a much lighter note, here's an optical illusion image. This is rated PG-13 (partial, non-revealing nudity), but it'll make you giggle. At least the guys. hiddenwaterfall.jpg


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More from MEMRI-TV


I went back to read the rest of that interview with the terrorist and looked at some of the other resources on MEMRI TV. The site has video for streaming or download and transcripts of news events from all over the middle east and a few other places (including the US-based Al-Hurra TV).

I did a sample search of all stations on the pre-selected subject of "Suicide (Martyrdom) Operations". Here's a few samples:

Iranian President-Elect Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, July 25, 2005, Iranian Channel 1

Art reaches perfection when it portrays the best life and best death. After all, art tells you how to live. That is the essence of art. Is there art that is more beautiful, more divine, and more eternal than the art of martyrdom? A nation with martyrdom knows no captivity. Those who wish to undermine this principle undermine the foundations of our independence and national security. They undermine the foundation of our eternity.

Yes, that's the man who will be in charge of Iran, along with those nuclear facilities that have been reactivated for "peaceful" purposes. Just imagine how "artistic" he could be with a few hundred pounds of plutonium?

Excerpts from a discussion between a Sunni Mufti and a Shi'ite Mufti, July 24, 2005, ANB TV

Al-Amin: How can you be a martyrdom-seeker, while targeting peaceful and innocent civilians?

Al-Jozo: Some of the martyrdom operations in Palestine have targeted civilians - soldiers as well as civilians. A Palestinian who lives on his land and is punished undeservingly does not distinguish between civilians... He views them all as Zionists.

Al-Amin: He may not distinguish, but Allah does.

Al-Jozo: All the Zionists... They are all occupiers.

Host: This argument proves that there is no agreement among Muslims about who is a mujahid and who is not.

This is just the essense of the discussion. I'd recommend reading the whole thing.

The founder of "The Creative Thinking" center in the UAE, Dr. 'Ali Al-Hamadi, July 21, 2005, Iqra TV

Al-Hamadi: Haven't we heard about the blessed mothers in Palestine who go to their sons and prepare them for martyrdom for the sake of Allah? The son sets out and on his way, he calls his mother from his cellphone, and tells her: "I've arrived at the place, I am going in." Then he says, "I'm ready," and the mother guides him and encourages him until she hears the bombs go off over the cellphone. Then she bows, thanking Allah for granting her son martyrdom for His sake. Then she utters cries of joy and refuses to accept condolences. She does not open a grieving tent, but rather a congratulation tent, because Allah granted her son martyrdom. Such Hansaa-like women have appeared again in our times. Some of these women commit martyrdom themselves. They may be married women or students, but even so, they are not tempted by this life, and they carry out martyrdom operations for the sake of Allah.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ramadan Abdallah Shalah, July 17, 2005, Al-Arabiya TV

Shalah: Did I send him? Did I force him? They made the decision themselves. He wants to fight. He wants to become a martyr, because the alternative is such a life... You know what is happening in Palestine. Therefore, he believes, and I too believe, that this path of martyrdom is the solution...

Host: ... Will lead him to Paradise.

Shalah: It will lead him to Paradise and replace the hell he's in. We are victims.

Host: But these were civilians.

Shalah: What "civilians"?

Host: When you carry out an operation against the Israeli army, you are not required to...

Shalah: The most important Arab journalist...

Host: But against 16-year-old girls who went shopping?

Shalah: Look, some time ago I heard (Muhammad Hassanein) Heikel, who is the most prominent Arab journalist, one of the most important Arab journalists these days, and he said that the distinction between civilians and soldiers in a modern state - a Nation State - is a lie. This civilian uses ballot boxes to bring Sharon to power, and she supports his policy.

Host: They will support Sharon even more now.

Shalah: I don't care. I condemn the killing of civilians in London and New York, by the way, but I do not condemn the killing of civilians in Netanya, because the people in Netanya live on my land, and they are killing me in Tulkarm, Jibalya, and Gaza.

He says I don't care and I believe him.

These interviews and reports aren't on some secret terrorists-only broadcast, but the equivalent of the evening news. I can't help but notice the similarities to our own mainstream media: a message is repeated over and over without being challenged until people believe it. Many of these stations are state-controlled, showing only a government- or even religion-approved message. In our country, we don't get the "luxury" of a consistent message from media and our government, though freedom of speech and the right to listen to whom we choose are obviously important liberties. Thank goodness for talk radio, Fox News Channel, and the other sources who are, if not supported, at least tolerated as they tell a different story.


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If there was any doubt...

If there was any doubt of the intentions of al Qaeda, look no further than this transcript of an interview with a terrorist. (If that link doesn't work, see the post at Austin Bay Blog).

Abed: "They gave Abu Sajjad $4,000."

Interrogator: "And you?"

Abed: "They gave us $400."

Interrogator: "A religious leader gave you $400? Okay. Did the operation target Muhammad Baqer Al-Hakim specifically, or the Al-Imam Ali mosque?"

Abed: "No... The people in charge, Mullah Al-Raikan and Al-Zarqawi, targeted Al-Hakim specifically."

Interrogator: "Why in this specific place? Why would they try to target Muhammad Baqer Al-Hakim near the Al-Imam Ali mosque? It is the mosque of the Emir of believers. Didn't you think of all the innocent people around?"

Abed: 'There were also people from Iraqi military intelligence, from the Fidayin, and the internal security, who were also involved in this operation."

Interrogator: "So Mullah Raikan had ties with the old internal security and military intelligence?"

Abed: "And they are still in Mosul."

Interrogator: "What other operations?"

Abed: "Operations we carried out in Mosul."

Interrogator: "Like what?"

Abed: "Against headquarters in Mosul. The headquarters of Mas'oud..."

Interrogator: "Mas'oud Rajab?"

Abed: "Yes. Against Jalal Talabani. We attacked them on the first day of Ramadan 2003."

Interrogator: "What squad did you tell me you belong to? Abu Sajjad's?"

Abed: "Yes."

Interrogator: "The groups you mentioned... Each group had a special mission?"

Abed: "Each group had suicide bombers, who are Afghans, not Iraqis."


Interrogator: "Is this Jihad raping women? Is this Jihad?"

Abed: "It is because they collaborated with the Americans."

Interrogator: "That's why they were raped?"

Abed: "Yes."

Interrogator: "A student who is simply going to her university is kidnapped, raped, and then slaughtered?! This was an American collaborator?!"

Abed: "Mullah Al-Raikan would give the names to the squad commander."

Interrogator: "My information says that they were kidnapped and brought to Mullah Al-Raikan's headquarters. True or false?"

Abed: "He would interrogate them."

Interrogator: "Were they raped after the interrogation?"

Abed: "Yes. He would give them to the squad, and they would kill them. Some would rape them."

Interrogator: "You bastards. This is Jihad? You call this Jihad? "

Interrogator 2: "What was your role in these operations?"

Abed: "I would stand at the entrance to the headquarters. It was a house, and they would bring them there."

Interrogator 2: "Did you participate in the rape and murder?"

Abed: "No. Just one who worked for the PUK. She was a Kurd."

Interrogator: "In the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan?"

Abed: "Yes. We brought her too."

Interrogator: "And you raped her?"

Abed: "Yes."

[Via Austin Bay Blog and The Middle East Media Research Institute]


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"She Does Not Speak for Me"

This article in Opinion Journal by Ronald R. Griffen, the father of a soldier killed in Iraq about the same time as Cindy Sheehan's son. Griffin has been getting both less and more press than Sheehan in all the places you'd expect it.

Mrs. Sheehan has become the poster child for all the negativity surrounding the war in Iraq. In a way it heartens me to have all this attention paid to her, because that means others in her position now have the chance to be heard. Give equal time to other loved ones of fallen heroes. Feel the intensity of their love, their pride and the sorrow.

To many loved ones, there are few if any “what ifs.” They, like their fallen heroes before them, live in the world as it is and not what it was or could have been. Think of the sacrifices that have brought us to this day. We as a country made a collective decision. We must now live up to our decision and not deviate until the mission is complete.

Thirty-five years ago, a president faced a similar dilemma in Vietnam. He gave in and we got “peace with honor.” To this day, I am still searching for that honor. Today, those who defend our freedom every day do so as volunteers with a clear and certain purpose. Today, they have in their commander in chief someone who will not allow us to sink into self-pity. I will not allow him to. The amazing part about talking to the people left behind is that I did not want them to stop. After speaking to so many I have come away with the certainty of their conviction that in a large measure it’s because of the deeds and sacrifices of their fallen heroes that this is a better and safer world we now live in.

Those who lost their lives believed in the mission. To honor their memory, and because it’s right, we must believe in the mission, too.

We refuse to allow Cindy Sheehan to speak for all of us. Instead, we ask you to learn the individual stories. They are glorious. Honor their memories.

Honor their service. Never dishonor them by giving in. They never did.

Reportedly, has moved in to help the event gain momentum. That seems like an odd place for a self-proclaimed "non-partisan" group to invest its time, don't you think?

[Via Little Green Footballs]


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Back from vacation, and a quick shot

Back in the office today. All the pictures are out in the gallery: Just saw this interesting piece in the New York Times, via DrudgeReport, which suggests that the politically balanced reporting from Fox News may not have any measurable effect. Read for yourself and decide if they're full of it, or if it makes sense.


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More vacation pix

Tonight, La Quinta, with a wired connection (woo hoo!). I finished uploading the Grand Canyon pictures (note the new URL), and uploaded more pictures with today's tour of the Painted Desert.



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Grand Canyon, F117, etc.

I'm trying to upload pictures of our adventure each day. Grand Canyon (Aug 11) Courtney's reup ceremony in front of an F117 Stealth Fighter (Aug 8) and before I showed up, Trish and the kids went to the St. Louis Arch and a volcano cave (I forget the name). The Grand Canyon pix are uploading as I type this, over a wireless connection. I'm getting full 54Mbps wireless, but I think this hotel has a dialup because my peak speed is slightly less than 56K! I guess I'll have to finish uploading at our next stop. There are 110 pictures in this folder on my hard drive, so if you see less than 6 pages, I'm not finished.

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Crystal's got a blog

The toomuchblue forums have been in a state of disrepair for some time now. Rather than patch up a system I first installed as a way for blogging (now obviously unnecessary), I was looking to take the forums down. Crystal has been using them quite a bit as something of a diary/blog. I encouraged her to look into real blogging software, and she's kicked it off this week. Have a look at Crystal's Randomness, including much of the interesting content from the old forums. Yay, Crystal.


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Another installment of all things electronic, geeky and cool. The Atari 2600 lives - Via Wired Gadget Labs, a report on the new Atari Flashback 2, remake of the original Atari 2600 on a single chip. For $30, it comes with 40 games (some originals, some new ones created by fans). It's the classic chassis, and all the old controllers work. (Nothing ever compared with the Atari joystick.) It doesn't have a cartridge slot, but have no fear, the creator has posted instructions on how to add a cartridge slot yourself. Some of the instructions are actually silk-screened onto the printed circuit board. (A clone of the original Nintendo is here) Grenades with eyes - The Firefly (PDF release here) is a disposable camera designed to be fired from a standard-issue M203 grenade launcher attached to M16 or other assault rifles. As it flies, it takes 8 seconds of video which it sends back to a wireless PDA. When it hits, well, it crashes down pretty hard -- they're calling it "single-use". Still, invaluable in figuring out enemy positions during a firefight. This really redefines the term "point and shoot". Suicide knife rack - It's twisted, but somehow kinda funny. This might just remind you how sharp your knives really are. Looks like it comes with the five knives shown. Flexible light panels - flat sheets of plasticy material which can be wrapped around anything, then apply a current and they light up. "CeeLite panels typically consume very small quantities of electricity relative to incandescent, neon and florescent lighting. CeeLite is essentially a light emitting capacitor structure with phosphor sandwiched between the electrodes." Flip through the pictures to see their standard sizes up through 4' x 8'.


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Things you don't want to hear getting on an airplane I'm walking down the jetway at Houston Hobby airport. One of the pilots is standing at the controls on the phone. He said something about an address--he wasn't talking in a hushed voice or anything--maybe getting directions to El Paso? Anyway, at the same time, I noticed an odd European-sounding siren. He finished his call just in time to get in line in front of me. Honest to goodness, this is the conversation we had. Me: "So what's with the siren?" Pilot: "I was wondering that myself. I think it's the jetway or something." Me: "Is the jetway being pulled over for speeding?" Pilot: (laugh) "I don't know what it is - I've never heard that sound before." Now, I'm not one to get nervous about things that aren't quite right on an airplane. I know the standards are very high for the critical components, and if the pilots aren't worried, I don't need to be worried. I'm just thinking what someone more nervous might think, having a pilot admit "I don't know what that warning signal means". As a consultant, I've been taught that it's OK to say "I don't know" when you don't know, but it should be followed up with "...but I'm going to find out for you." Seems to me most pilots would have some instinct about "things you don't say to passengers". I don't mean to beat up on this pilot, by any means. I set the informal tone of the conversation and he was responding in kind. It's just that his last line triggered the mental cringe that means "don't say that to clients". Out of instinct, I deadpanned it, and thereby lost the flow of a rather nice conversation.


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