Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Oral History Of the Bush Administration- Including From The Administration Officals Themselves

I'm sorry, Mark, but it's pretty damning:

You can expect to see this dribble out over decades, just like LBJ's and Nixon's tapes.

Links 31 DEC 08,8599,1869068,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner,2933,472625,00.html,0,352937.story

For Hopeful Cynic 68:

More proof that TV is about to self destruct:

And you thought 2008 was bad for IT security:

Bank ripoffs to continue to 2010:

DeathBug adapts:

Weather for the Cousins From Texas:

The MSM notes a 4T, again:

Monday, December 29, 2008

Links 29 DEC 08,8599,1868863,00.html?iid=tsmodule,0,1775195.story

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Links 28 DEC 08

2 years old, and still true:,9171,1562974,00.html

One Trillion, Please:,8599,1868367,00.html

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Links 27 DEC 08,8599,1868829,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner

Hi, Justin:

And another TWO for Warm And Fuzzy Russia:

There Is No Depression:

Leap Second:,0,4523102.story

Friday, December 26, 2008

Late 26 DEC 08 Links

A Dark Year:

A negative exit interview (sorry, Mark):,2933,473068,00.html

26 DEC 08 Links

Death Of Scandal predicted by S&H:

The MSM notices a 4T:

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Late 25 DEC 08 Links

"Cuspers" Deserves It's Own Post

The MSM *finally* noticed:

Links 25 DEC 08

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Links 24 DEC 08,8599,1868651,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Late 23 DEC 08 Links

Links 23 DEC 08

Monday, December 22, 2008

Links 22 DEC 08

"The '80s did for money what the '60s did for sex.":

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Links 21 DEC 08,31682,1861543_1861868,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner,27574,24831036-1248,00.html

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Links 20 DEC 08

Double down of Afghanistan:

Reason Number One is Rani:,31682,1861543_1865068_1865069,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner

Iraq says GTFO to the Coalition:

Friday, December 19, 2008

Links 19 DEC 08,8599,1867105,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner,8599,1866398,00.html,8599,1867907,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Late 18 DEC 08 Links

Links 18 DEC 08

Copy and paste into your Address Bar:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Late 17 DEC 08

Links 17 DEC 08,0,5635106.column>1=38001/

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

16 DEC 08 Observations

Wow. the temperature is up a whole 4 F, to 18 F.

One of the most insidious dangers of trying to get well is to go out, and overdo it, while still in recovery. As I write this, my car is still covered in snow. Doggie treats, and caffeine are running low.

And going out in 18 degrees F is a surefire way to put myself back in bed, with a relapse. Cleaning off the car would require, for my not so healthy body, the equivalent of a half-day's work. Hence, I took today off. Another night of bed rest (with cabin fever), and umpteen bowls of chicken soup is required before I sortie again.

Max is not happy being trapped inside.

My friend M. De Poisson has finally caught this bug as well. We shared a commiseration call tonight. I warned him that there would be no posthumous Medal Of Honor if he pushed it too far by going back in tomorrow. Like me, he's a workaholic, and waaay too honorable for his own good.

Back to the double bowl of chicken soup...

16 DEC 08 Links


Copy, and paste into your Address Bar

Monday, December 15, 2008

15 DEC 08 Links

Copy and paste these into your Address Bar.,8599,1866326,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner

A Long Lesson To Learn

I just closed out my account on my favorite internet politics forum. I asked the webmaster to close me out.

My posts remain, but I've had time to think while I've been ill. After two decades on various internet fora, I've made friends, but I haven't changed the minds of those who will not listen. And in the process of trying to teach the pigs to sing and fly, I've annoyed my friends more than I have instructed the pigs. (Teaching a pig to sing wastes your time, and annoys the pig)

And trying to do so, is incredibly addictive for me. Too addictive; I have no doubt there is a 12-step program for internet debate addicts. Somewhere. :)

I'm not going to bother you with my idiocies, or those of my opponents. Suffice it to say that someday, there will be a headstone marker for me at Jefferson Barracks, which may be there a century or so, but of all the strutting and fretting on the internet will not make a difference. What will make a difference for me, is how I spend the time I have left.

So, I have chosen to say what I wish to say, here, with no obligation to set the world to rights. Also, I have no time clock to punch (on the forum), to record everything of note so that everyone can be as well informed as I think they should be.

This also saves them the humiliation of being scooped by me continually. :)

My friends on that forum can find me here, or by email. They have my permission to reproduce this post on the forum, hopefully in it's entirety. My opponents can brand me as a Communist Lesbian, if they wish to do so. (No offense intended to the lesbian community) They read this blog, too. Love those Google Tools.

Now, a half-hour of posting links, and the occasional observation will be sufficient. No more clocking in to the Great Debate needed. It will go on without me.

It's time to start enjoying *my* life.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

AARP's Basic Web Lessons

The AARP Guide To Address Bars

Address Bar, With Pictures

Address Bars

The AARP Guide To Copying, Cutting, And Pasting

How To Copy And Paste 2

An animated tutorial.

How To Copy And Paste

A how-to for users, who are uncomfortable with copying and pasting.

Today's Links 14 DEC 08

Much easier to keep adding links to one post per day, than to publish a thousand links.,8599,1865730,00.html,9171,1865962,00.html

Not Content With Losing The Second Civil War...

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Saturday 13 Dec 2008 Observations

If your eyes haven't given out on you looking at my Collected Links post, you should know that is only a fraction of what I would have emailed in my earlier days. Mostly, it is a day-by-day collection of what's happening outside the Doghouse.

What's happening inside the Doghouse is that I've got another episode of DeathBug. Had to go in Friday, and get antibiotics for ten days. The wind is howling outside, the doggie is frustrated that he's not going out, or getting cheeseburgers, and I've been reviewing my internet participation, with regards to real life.

I ran a Traveller game on Monday. Andy managed to turn things to the group's advantage, as usual.

As a result, I've started to re-discover Traveller. T5 is coming out, and I would like to look at the new Mongoose canon. Andy and Paul, of course, track everything, but I've got the better part of a decades worth of reading up to do.

My assistant leaves for his new job 2 JAN 09. My boss leaves for his next deployment this spring. I'm running out of people to annoy... :)

I'm probably too sick to make my church meeting Sunday. Not a very moral thing to do, to make everyone else sick.

So, I'm stuck with the internet for the rest of the weekend. Time to hit all the Traveller sites.

Welcome to winter.

Collected Links

I've been dumping most of my links into another site- neglecting my own. Here is a collection of links I've accumulated.

There are lots of them.

I apologize for not inserting the correct HTML to make all of them hot-linkable. Also, some of the links, particularly the MSNBC ones have a habit of disappearing over time. Some of them may require registration, such as the New York Times.

All that is needed is to copy the URL/address, and paste it into your browser's address bar. Here we go:,25197,24781911-7583,00.html,0,1932728.column,8599,1865766,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner,8599,1865790,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner,0,108304.story,9171,1864421,00.html,8599,1862660,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner,8599,1862733,00.html?xid=site-cnn-partner,8599,1861831,00.html,8599,1862307,00.html,28757,1643290,00.html,9171,1860919,00.html,8599,1858771,00.html,1518,589735,00.html,0,4539486.story

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Work Life Becoming Skinner Box

In hard times, fear can impair decision-making
By Gregory Berns
Published: December 7, 2008

WORK is feeling more and more like a Skinner box.

Technically, a Skinner box is an operant conditioning chamber — in other words, a cage that automatically trains a laboratory animal to associate flashing lights and levers with rewards and punishments. It was invented in the 1950s by B. F. Skinner, the experimental psychologist, to study learning.

A green light flashes, or the animal pushes the right lever, and it is rewarded with a morsel of food. But some operant conditioning chambers were built with electrified floors: a red light comes on, and zap!

It doesn't take long for a rat to figure out which light goes with the shock and which goes with the food pellet. All animals, including we primates, are good at making these associations. Pretty soon, we don't even need the light — the mere sight of the cage can send some of us into a state of apoplexy.

And while the workplace is not quite an electrified cage, I think I would prefer a brief jolt of electricity over the intermittent shocks of watching the blinking red arrow of the stock market or the jolts of cutback after cutback by businesses.

Everyone I know is scared. Workers' fear has generalized to their workplace and everything associated with work and money. We are caught in a spiral in which we are so scared of losing our jobs, or our savings, that fear overtakes our brains. And while fear is a deep-seated and adaptive evolutionary drive for self-preservation, it makes it impossible to concentrate on anything but saving our skin by getting out of the box intact.

Ultimately, no good can come from this type of decision-making. Fear prompts retreat. It is the antipode to progress. Just when we need new ideas most, everyone is seized up in fear, trying to prevent losing what we have left.

I am a neuroeconomist, which means that I use brain-scanning technologies like magnetic resonance imaging to decode the decision-making systems of the human mind. It is a messy business, but a few pearls of wisdom have emerged about the fear system of the human brain and how to keep it from short-circuiting sound decision-making.

My colleagues and I conducted a brain-imaging experiment with our version of a Skinner box. Instead of a box, our participants were inside an MRI scanner. Instead of using an electrified floor, we attached electrodes to the tops of their feet. Although not unbearably painful, the shocks were designed to be unpleasant enough that the individual would prefer to avoid them altogether.

The kicker was that they had to wait for the shocks. Every trial began with a statement of how big the shock would be and how long they would have to wait for it: a range of one to almost 30 seconds. For many people, the wait was worse than the shock. Given a choice, almost everyone preferred to expedite the shock rather than wait for it. Nearly a third feared waiting so much that, when given the chance, they preferred getting a bigger shock right away to waiting for a smaller shock later. It sounds illogical, but fear — whether of pain or of losing a job — does strange things to decision-making.

Some people showed strong fear conditioning, and their brains displayed it through early and strong deployment of neural resources to deal with the impending shock. Most of this activity appeared in the parts of the brain devoted to processing pain. That makes sense, but the activity rose well in advance of receiving the shock. All of this worrying took energy. It means that these extreme responders had less available neural processing power to deal with other tasks.

Why is this important? The reason has to do with the "endowment effect," the innate tendency to value things you own more highly than everyone else does. A recent brain imaging study showed that the same parts of the brain we observed in our experiment are also active when people must sell something they are attached to. The cause and effect have not been fully sorted out, but the implication is that when our brains sense pain, or anticipate loss, we tend to hold onto what we have. When everyone does this at once, the result is a downward economic spiral.

The most concrete thing that neuroscience tells us is that when the fear system of the brain is active, exploratory activity and risk-taking are turned off. The first order of business, then, is to neutralize that system.

This means not being a fearmonger. It means avoiding people who are overly pessimistic about the economy. It means tuning out media that fan emotional flames. Unless you are a day-trader, it means closing the Web page with the market ticker. It does mean being prepared, but not being a hypervigilant, everyone-in-the-bunker type.

I DON'T care what your business is, but if you think it will eventually come back to what it was — your brain is in the grips of the fear-based endowment effect. What I am doing is looking for new opportunities. This means applying neuroscience discovery to realms where it hasn't been used before.

I have teamed up with anthropologists to apply brain imaging to understand the biological roots of political conflict. I am starting another project to use brain imaging to predict which teenagers are likely to make fatally bad judgments and, hopefully, train them to make better decisions.

This strategy keeps the exploratory system of my brain active. And right now there are incredible opportunities to do something differently. Yes, they're risky, and some will fail. But while others wait for the storm to pass, I'm busy expanding into new areas. If I wait for money to start flowing again, the opportunities will have passed.

Gregory Berns, MD, Ph.D., directs the Center for Neuropolicy at Emory University.

Cops Vs Robbers, The Eternal Computer War.

Thieves Winning Online War, Maybe Even in Your Computer
Noah Berger for The New York Times

Phillip Porras, a computer security expert at SRI International, a science and technology research group.

Published: December 5, 2008

SAN FRANCISCO — Internet security is broken, and nobody seems to know quite how to fix it.

Despite the efforts of the computer security industry and a half-decade struggle by Microsoft to protect its Windows operating system, malicious software is spreading faster than ever. The so-called malware surreptitiously takes over a PC and then uses that computer to spread more malware to other machines exponentially. Computer scientists and security researchers acknowledge they cannot get ahead of the onslaught.

As more business and social life has moved onto the Web, criminals thriving on an underground economy of credit card thefts, bank fraud and other scams rob computer users of an estimated $100 billion a year, according to a conservative estimate by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. A Russian company that sells fake antivirus software that actually takes over a computer pays its illicit distributors as much as $5 million a year.

With vast resources from stolen credit card and other financial information, the cyberattackers are handily winning a technology arms race.

“Right now the bad guys are improving more quickly than the good guys,” said Patrick Lincoln, director of the computer science laboratory at SRI International, a science and technology research group.

A well-financed computer underground has built an advantage by working in countries that have global Internet connections but authorities with little appetite for prosecuting offenders who are bringing in significant amounts of foreign currency. That was driven home in late October when RSA FraudAction Research Lab, a security consulting group based in Bedford, Mass., discovered a cache of half a million credit card numbers and bank account log-ins that had been stolen by a network of so-called zombie computers remotely controlled by an online gang.

In October, researchers at the Georgia Tech Information Security Center reported that the percentage of online computers worldwide infected by botnets — networks of programs connected via the Internet that send spam or disrupt Internet-based services — is likely to increase to 15 percent by the end of this year, from 10 percent in 2007. That suggests a staggering number of infected computers, as many as 10 million, being used to distribute spam and malware over the Internet each day, according to research compiled by PandaLabs.

Security researchers concede that their efforts are largely an exercise in a game of whack-a-mole because botnets that distribute malware like worms, the programs that can move from computer to computer, are still relatively invisible to commercial antivirus software. A research report last month by Stuart Staniford, chief scientist of FireEye, a Silicon Valley computer security firm, indicated that in tests of 36 commercial antivirus products, fewer than half of the newest malicious software programs were identified.

There have been some recent successes, but they are short-lived. On Nov. 11, the volume of spam, which transports the malware, dropped by half around the globe after an Internet service provider disconnected the McColo Corporation, an American firm with Russian ties, from the Internet. But the respite is not expected to last long as cybercriminals regain control of their spam-generating computers.

“Modern worms are stealthier and they are professionally written,” said Bruce Schneier, chief security technology officer for British Telecom. “The criminals have gone upmarket, and they’re organized and international because there is real money to be made.”

The gangs keep improving their malware, and now programs can be written to hunt for a specific type of information stored on a personal computer. For example, some malware uses the operating system to look for recent documents created by a user, on the assumption they will be more valuable. Some routinely watch for and then steal log-in and password information, specifically consumer financial information.

The sophistication of the programs has in the last two years begun to give them almost lifelike capabilities. For example, malware programs now infect computers and then routinely use their own antivirus capabilities to not only disable antivirus software but also remove competing malware programs. Recently, Microsoft antimalware researchers disassembled an infecting program and were stunned to discover that it was programmed to turn on the Windows Update feature after it took over the user’s computer. The infection was ensuring that it was protected from other criminal attackers.

And there is more of it. Microsoft has monitored a 43 percent jump in malware removed from Windows computers just in the last half year.

The biggest problem may be that people cannot tell if their computers are infected because the malware often masks its presence from antivirus software. For now, Apple’s Macintosh computers are more or less exempt from the attacks, but researchers expect Apple machines to become a larger target as their market share grows.

The severity of the situation was driven home not long ago for Ed Amaroso, AT&T’s chief security official. “I was at home with my mother’s computer recently and I showed her it was attacking China,” he said. “ ‘Can you just make it run a little faster?’ she asked, and I told her ‘Ma, we have to reimage your hard disk.’ ”

Beyond the billions of dollars lost in theft of money and data is another, deeper impact. Many Internet executives fear that basic trust in what has become the foundation of 21st century commerce is rapidly eroding. “There’s an increasing trend to depend on the Internet for a wide range of applications, many of them having to deal with financial institutions,” said Vinton G. Cerf, one of the original designers of the Internet, who is now Google’s “chief Internet evangelist.”

“The more we depend on these types of systems, the more vulnerable we become,” he said.

The United States government has begun to recognize the extent of the problem. In January, President Bush signed National Security Presidential Directive 54, establishing a national cybersecurity initiative. The plan, which may cost more than $30 billion over seven years, is directed at securing the federal government’s own computers as well as the systems that run the nation’s critical infrastructure, like oil and gas networks and electric power and water systems.

That will do little, however, to help protect businesses and consumers who use the hundreds of millions of Internet-connected personal computers and cellphones, the criminals’ newest target.

Despite new technologies that are holding some attackers at bay, several computer security experts said they were worried that the economic downturn will make computer security the first casualty of corporate spending cuts. Security gets hit because it is hard to measure its effectiveness, said Eugene Spafford, a computer scientist at Purdue University.

He is pessimistic. “In many respects, we are probably worse off than we were 20 years ago,” he said, “because all of the money has been devoted to patching the current problem rather than investing in the redesign of our infrastructure.”

The cyber-criminals appear to be at least as technically advanced as the most sophisticated software companies. And they are faster and more flexible. As software companies have tightened the security of the basic operating systems like Windows and Macintosh, attackers have moved on to Web browsers and Internet-connected programs like Adobe Flash and Apple QuickTime.

This has led to an era of so-called “drive-by infections,” where users are induced to click on Web links that are contained in e-mail messages. Cyber-criminals have raised the ability to fool unsuspecting computer users into clicking on intriguing messages to a high art.

Researchers note that the global cycle of distributing security patches inevitably plays to the advantage of the attacker, who can continually hunt for and exploit new backdoors and weaknesses in systems. This year, computer security firms have begun shifting from traditional anti-virus program designs, which are regularly updated on subscribers’ personal computers, to Web-based services, which can be updated even faster.

Security researchers at SRI International are now collecting over 10,000 unique samples of malware daily from around the global. “To me it feels like job security,” said Phillip Porras, an SRI program director and the computer security expert who led the design of the company’s Bothunter program, available free at

“This is always an arm race, as long as it gets into your machine faster than the update to detect it, the bad guys win,” said Mr. Schneier.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Therapy For Civilians, Too

'Ordinary' pets to the rescue on human-animal therapy teams
Updated 4/30/2008 11:13 AM
By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY

DENVER — Most of the time, Biscuit the bulldog is just a regular stubby-legged young dude who runs around the yard collecting sticks and making everyone laugh with his goofy antics.

But each Friday, once he dons his green work vest, he adjusts his jowly mug into an expression of genial concern, discards all thoughts of canine capers and calmly sets about the business of cheering up stroke patients or encouraging children in their classrooms.

PHOTOS: See therapeutic pets in action in Colorado
FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT: Can a reporter and a rescued mutt become a therapy team?

"This is his calling," says his owner, Shannon Pryor, 28, of Wheat Ridge. She recognized Biscuit's highly empathetic nature when he was a wee pup and she was convalescing with a broken foot.

Pryor got herself and Biscuit registered as a pet therapy team through Denver Pet Partners when he was 1 year old, and now they spend Friday mornings at either the Easter Seals stroke rehabilitation center or at Pine Grove Elementary School.

Across the country, thousands of pets and their owners are spending time with the infirm, the depressed or the distressed, as well as with legions of children and adults in difficult straits who get a boost from the unconditional acceptance and cheerful demeanor of an animal.

Therapy dogs, as they are known, are not service dogs, which go through years of specialized training to assist people who have disabilities. Therapy dogs are house pets that have a special affinity for people, a placid demeanor and solid, reliable obedience skills. The ability they have to motivate, cheer, stabilize and calm people began to be widely publicized in recent years. Now, doctors, counselors, teachers, librarians, physical therapists and crisis managers are so convinced of the positive power of animals that they're lining up to request teams to spend healing time with people in their charge.

The pet-owning public is responding in ever-burgeoning numbers. The training program by the Delta Society in Bellevue, Wash., is used by dozens of therapy-animal groups nationwide. It has more than 10,000 teams registered and has experienced 6% to 8% growth a year. Similar growth is reported by Therapy Dog International in Flanders, N.J., which has 15,000 handlers and 18,000 dogs registered, and Therapy Dogs Inc. in Cheyenne, Wyo., which has more than 10,000 dog/handler teams. Thousands more people and pets are registered with smaller groups or simply do their thing without group affiliation.

Training sessions to help owners prepare usually are booked solid. "We always have a waiting list," says Denver Pet Partners' Diana McQuarrie, who conducts four sessions a year.

Cats and birds get into the act

With each passing month, the whole pet-therapy arena seems to evolve:

•Dogs aren't the only species being used. Cats, llamas, miniature horses, rabbits and birds have been trained and registered.

•Dozens of new applications are being tried. Therapy animals are frequenting schools to help with reading programs or with special-education students, funeral homes to comfort survivors, disaster sites to help quell the chaos and prisons to offer non-judgmental friendship. The U.S. military sent the first therapy dogs to a war zone in December to help the troops in Iraq.

"Every year we see more activity, more acceptance," says Marie Belew Wheatley, president and CEO of the American Humane Association in Denver. Wheatley is so convinced of the trajectory of pet therapy that American Humane took Denver Pet Partners under its umbrella last year and is creating a division this year to study and perpetuate the human/animal bond. A key goal will be to help communities establish or enhance programs. "I predict (pet therapy) will be an integral part of how maladies of all sorts are treated in the future," she says.

Contrary to popular belief, there's no ideal breed for this sort of volunteer work. "They can be 3 pounds to 150 pounds, of any breed," Delta Society's JoAnn Turnbull says. Some dogs have disabilities, and "30% of the dogs we register are from shelters or rescue groups."

Rewards are in the smiles

Stories abound about animals so adept at plugging into people in need "that the handlers are no longer guiding the dogs; the dog knows intuitively which person needs the most attention, and the handler just lets it happen," Turnbull says.

Says Therapy Dogs' Teri Meadows, "Getting a child to speak who has been quiet for months, or experiencing any of the hundreds of other happy reactions your dog can get from someone, well, there's just nothing else like it."

Pryor recalls the time Biscuit was sitting quietly with a stroke patient who was listlessly doing physical therapy, reaching forward to pet the dog, but only with her good side. Biscuit got up and lay on the side of the woman that had been damaged by the stroke, the side she wouldn't use. The therapist asked her to reach with that side and pat the dog. With great effort, she did.

"And Biscuit leaped up and licked her," Pryor says. "He knew this was a great moment, and it's almost as if he were congratulating her."

Licking of patients is a no-no, and Pryor told him to stop. But the woman announced she liked it "and smiled a huge smile, the first smile I'd ever seen from her."

Says Ursula Kempe of Therapy Dog International: "When a dog brightens the life of a person, it's the greatest. It's why people do this with their animals."

Doggies Help Troops With Stress

Dogs of war bring soldiers peace of mind
Updated 12/12/2007 10:10 PM
Todd Plitt, USA TODAY

Boe and Budge will be the first therapy dogs to help military people in Iraq who endure combat stress.


America's VetDogs, which trained Boe and Budge, is a subsidiary of the non-profit Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, which has trained thousands of dogs for the visually impaired since the 1940s.

The foundation in Smithtown, N.Y., made special provisions in its early days to serve military-service veterans and in 60 years has provided guide dogs for hundreds, officials say.

Three years ago the organization began training additional kinds of dogs for veterans with mobility problems and more recently has trained therapy dogs.

America's VetDogs ( became a distinct entity of the Guide Dog Foundation earlier this year.

By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY
Stressed troops in Iraq will get a first-of-its-kind holiday gift later this month: two long-eared, highly sensitive black Labrador retrievers that military officials hope will help soldiers navigate the ragged emotions of life in a war zone.

The specially selected and trained therapy dogs, Boe (pronounced Bo) and Budge, will be attached to combat stress units in Tikrit and Mosul, where "they'll be a vital part of the medical team" that helps troops struggling with stress, sleep disorders and event-related trauma, says Army Staff Sgt. Mike Calaway. He's one of two occupational-therapy assistants sent stateside to receive therapy-dog-handling instruction and return Boe and Budge to the 85th Medical Detachment combat-stress control unit.

This is the first time the military has placed therapy dogs in a combat zone, so it is unknown precisely to what degree troops will connect with and benefit from them. "We have a blank page," says Staff Sgt. Jack Greene. "We're writing on the page. We don't know what's going to be at the bottom of the page until we get there."

But at a minimum, the dogs "will be able to serve as an icebreaker and a communication link" between troubled troops and care providers, says Mike Sargeant, chief training officer for the non-profit America's VetDogs. Sergeant began preparing the 2-year-old Labs earlier this year after the Army queried whether the psychological benefits that therapy dogs provide stateside troops could be replicated in Iraq.

Jumping to the challenge

Therapy dogs offer affection without regard to "gender, race, disability or injury," says Sargeant, and in many settings, troubled people have come to regard the animal as "a safe haven of communication" and have opened up in ways they have not with humans. It's "too new to know just how far the magic will go" in a combat environment, he says, but he's convinced the two dogs are ideally suited to the challenge.

Boe and Budge are similar to each other in their affection for people and ability to tune into individuals' emotional states, but they have their own distinct personalities, Sargeant says. Boe is a stocky female with a playful nature who will cheerfully spend hours at someone's feet if that's what is asked, and Budge is a spunky male who's hard-wired to please.

Unlike guide or service dogs, therapy dogs aren't trained to alert people to ringing phones, maneuver them up or down stairs or pick up dropped items. Therapy dogs are trained to plug into humans and to be "completely non-judgmental," says Sargeant; that often prompts people to expose their vulnerabilities, uncap emotions and move past their difficulties.

Therapy dogs routinely undergo six to eight months of special training to ensure that, among other things, they'll keep their focus on people, no matter the distractions. Boe and Budge were put through additional paces to prepare for the sights, sounds and scents of a war zone. They've been acclimated to helicopter noise, explosions, gunfire, sirens and people from many cultures.

Also, most therapy dogs, which generally work with frail or ailing adults and children in hospitals, nursing homes, medical offices and other care facilities, are typically chosen for being "extremely soft with very low energy levels," Sargeant says, so they'll be content with prolonged inactivity. But knowing that the Army canines would be working very long days with people in their 20s, 30s and 40s who might benefit from some play or roughhousing with a dog, Sargeant wanted high-sensitivity dogs with great energy, and Budge and Boe qualified.

Both dogs know that when their therapy-dog jackets are put on, "they're on duty," Sargeant says. And no hurled tennis ball can cause them to lose their focus on people in their sphere. But when they're not working, they happily engage in raucous merrymaking.

The two dogs, born and trained on Long Island, N.Y., have spent 24 hours a day with their new handlers since Sunday, says Jeff Bressler, America's VetDogs executive vice president, and the four of them have undergone at least 10 hours of training with Sargeant every day since.

Four-footed foot soldiers

Boe and Budge will fly to Fort Hood in Texas this weekend, where they'll undergo military physicals with Army veterinarians and be commissioned as Army sergeants. Next week they'll board a military charter plane to Kuwait (they'll fly in the cabin, not in crates beneath the plane) and from there journey to their respective units. Although travel in Iraq is not always direct or precisely on schedule, they're expected to reach their destinations by Christmas or soon after.

Sending therapy graduates into a war zone thousands of miles away is sweetened by the knowledge that "we know they're going on a very important mission," Bressler says.

"I know what they can give back to people," Sargeant says. "I'm going to be proud."

Budge and Boe "will be in areas that are kept safe," he says.

When the dogs' tour in Iraq ends — possibly years from now — they'll likely be deployed with the handlers they have at that time to a new locale or reassigned to a military hospital in the USA.

Air Doggies!

Pilots fly doomed dogs to better life

By Sharon L. Peters, Special for USA TODAY
Puppy love is reaching new heights.

Pilots are donating their time, planes and fuel to transport dozens of dogs a month from overcrowded shelters where they face almost certain death to rescue groups and shelters several states away that are committed to finding them homes.

The mission-of-mercy relocations are flown by general aviation pilots who have signed on with the recently formed Pilots N Paws, a Web-based message board where pilots can access information about animals in need.

Once the electronic connection is made, dogs plucked by rescuers from death row — mostly in the South where sterilization rates are low and pet overpopulation is rampant — are loaded onto small planes and flown one, two or six at a time to rescue groups and shelters that have available space.

"These are wonderful dogs that simply had the bad luck of winding up in a place where there are too many pets in shelters," says Pilots N Paws co-founder Jon Wehrenberg of Knoxville, Tenn. The retired manufacturing executive and weekend pilot has flown scores of dogs from high-kill shelters this year. Earlier this month, his mission involved six small mixed-breed dogs from Knoxville's Young-Williams Animal Center.

The happy half-dozen enjoyed a smooth-sailing, 90-minute flight to Greensboro, N.C., where they were met by radio station executive Jennifer Hart, head of Animal Rescue & Foster Program, who had arranged foster care. One dog has been adopted; the others are receiving additional attention, socialization and training and should be ready for new homes soon after Thanksgiving.

Beginning of the journey

"Pilots N Paws has given about 20 of our animals a second chance," says Tim Adams, executive director of the Young-Williams shelter, which euthanizes 70% of the animals that land there. "We take in 17,000 animals a year, and Knoxville simply isn't big enough… to get new homes for them here. Twenty animals saved may not sound like much, but every one of them matters."

Pilots N Paws started operating in February soon after Wehrenberg offered to fly a Doberman in Florida to his pal Debi Boies of Landrum, S.C., who is a retired nurse, horse breeder and long-time rescuer. He began asking questions about the rescue world and learned about the passionate underground railroad of animal lovers who orchestrate days-long road journeys to save some of the 4 million to 6 million animals destined for euthanasia in U.S. shelters annually.

"I'd had no idea of the number of animals being euthanized, and the ordeal people and animals were going through in transports," Wehrenberg says. "Pilots love to fly. I believed that if we created a means for them to discover situations where they could fly and also save animals, many would do it."

He and Boies joined forces to spread the word, and within months, 85 pilots had signed on. Nearly 200 dogs have now been flown from several shelters and rescue groups to welcoming arms hundreds of miles away.

"For most of these dogs, the next walk they would have taken would have been to death's door," says administrative assistant Dawn Thompson of Falconer, N.Y., who for 18 years has taken in, nursed, socialized and re-homed more than 100 dogs a year from various high-kill areas. In recent months 30 have arrived via Pilots N Paws, and she's learned the ones that arrive by plane rather than ground transport "don't have the stress that two days on the road creates, and that makes them almost instantly adoptable."

'Doggy kisses' are worth gas

Each flight costs the pilot hundreds of dollars in fuel alone, not including routine maintenance and other operating expenses. Boies and Wehrenberg are working to gain non-profit status for the group so pilots could declare the fuel costs a charitable contribution. But the pilots aren't exactly agitating for that.

"Doggy kisses are worth the $6 a gallon," says Westminster, Md., businesswoman and small-plane pilot Michele McGuire. She was recently part of a two-leg rely that flew a 110-pound skin-and-bones Great Dane from Arab, Ala., where a rescue group saved it from euthanasia, to a new family in Baldwin, Mass.

"I don't know what (the animals') opinion of flying is, but it sure makes their trip a lot shorter," says Nick O'Connell, a Williamsburg, Va., contractor who did his first such flight earlier this month. The two-leg hand-off involved two pilots, several hundred miles and two chow-mix puppies rescued from a dump near Atlanta and delivered to their new family in Chesterfield, Va.

The animals are almost always remarkably calm about the adventure, O'Connell and other pilots report.

"It's almost as if they understand that this is their chance for life," Boies says.

Sometimes pilots scroll through the "Transport needed" section of Pilots N Paws and find a plea to fly an animal to a town or city they already were planning to visit.

Most times, however, they study the requests, see a need that touches them and offer their services.

Broomfield, Colo., software engineer/pilot Mike Boyd was involved in a multi-state, multi-person transport of a German shepherd in October, and he's aiming to do more missions. "To take my hobby and apply it to help this situation, well, it's just a great feeling," he says.

Adds O'Connell: "It is rewarding beyond my wildest imagination."

Monday, November 24, 2008

Stormy Weather Channel

NBC Fires Weather Channel Environmental Unit
Some on-camera meteorologists also let go

* The Capital Weather Gang's Winter Outlook *

NBC Universal made the first of potentially several rounds of staffing cuts at The Weather Channel (TWC) on Wednesday, axing the entire staff of the "Forecast Earth" environmental program during the middle of NBC's "Green Week," as well as several on-camera meteorologists. The layoffs totaled about 10 percent of the workforce, and are among the first major changes made since NBC completed its purchase of the venerable weather network in September.

Keep reading for more on The Weather Channel cuts...

The layoffs affected about 80 people, but left the long-term leadership of the network unclear, according to a source who requested anonymity due to the continuing uncertainty at the station.

Among the meteorologists who was let go was Dave Schwartz, a Weather Channel veteran and a viewer staple due to his lively on camera presentations. USA Today reported that meteorologists Cheryl Lemke and Eboni Deon were also let go.

The timing of the Forecast Earth cancellation was ironic, since it came in the middle of NBC's "Green Week," during which the network has been touting its environmental coverage across all of its platforms. Forecast Earth normally aired on weekends, but its presumed last episode was shown on a weekday due to the environmentally-oriented week.

Forecast Earth was hosted by former CNN anchor Natalie Allen, with contributions from climate expert Heidi Cullen. It was the sole program on TWC that focused on global climate change, which raises the question of whether the station will still report on the subject. Cullen's future role at the network is not known.

NBC released the following statement in response to questions about the firings:

The economic realities of recent months have created challenges for everyone in our business. In addition, when NBC Universal purchased the Weather Channel earlier this year, we expected that there would be cost synergies as part of a company reorganization. While it is always difficult to lose valued employees, we are doing our best to minimize the impact, and remain committed to providing the highest quality content that our viewers have come to expect from the Weather Channel.

By Andrew Freedman | November 21, 2008; 5:00 PM ET

Monday, November 17, 2008

Not So Recession-Proof

Locally, the Ameristar Casino just laid off 200.

Recession-proof? Maybe not this time
Gambling, smoking, even premium television could suffer in this downturn
Image: Card dealer
Think gambling is recession-proof? You might not want to bet on that.

By Allison Linn
Senior writer
updated 9:41 a.m. CT, Mon., Nov. 17, 2008

For years, Starbucks’ coffee drinks were considered the type of affordable luxury that could withstand the ebbs and flows of the U.S. economy.

Americans, the thinking went, might cut back on big expenditures like a new car or a new couch in an economic downturn, but they’d still feel justified in treating themselves to a frothy coffee drink when they were having to deprive themselves of so much else.

That sort of conventional wisdom was thrown out the window about a year ago, when Starbucks conceded that the once high-flying company was losing its footing. It has since been forced to close stores and lay off workers as profits have plummeted.
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While Starbucks certainly has made its share of missteps, it’s clear that part of its problem is simply that more and more Americans began to question whether they could really afford a $4 coffee drink when that money could be going to more pressing needs like gas, food or heating bills.

Starbucks isn’t the only company that could be hit unexpectedly hard in this downturn. As the country faces its worst financial crisis in decades, experts say sectors such as gambling, cigarettes and entertainment — all once considered relatively immune to economic hardship — could start feeling the pinch of the country’s current belt-tightening.

“The things that have been recession-proof in the past are proving to be punished by this recession,” said Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group.

That’s partly because this downturn — which has not yet technically been declared a recession — could end up being much worse than others in recent memory. But it also comes as more Americans are finding themselves with little if any savings, and less access to credit, leaving them with less money to spend on the escapist splurges that might otherwise have fared better in a downturn.

“The consumer is more cash- and credit-constrained than any time during the last four decades,” Flickinger said.

Flickinger also thinks the companies behind those sectors share some of the blame, because they aggressively pushed up prices for everything from movie tickets to premium television during the good times. That, in turn, is making it harder for some Americans to justify an increasingly premium TV package, or night at the movies, in downtimes.

The troubles for companies such as Starbucks also could be exacerbated by the fact that this economic downturn has included widespread difficulties in traditionally well-paying areas such as financial services.

“Some people that probably thought they were largely invulnerable to a recession are finding themselves vulnerable,” said Ken Mayland, president of the forecasting firm ClearView Economics.

Although it is still too early to say how much these sectors will be hurt by the downturn, some troubling signs are emerging.

Even — or especially — when times are tough, the common assumption has been that people will continue to gamble for relief and the hope of striking it rich. But Keith Schwer, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, notes that that type of thinking was based on the more shallow recessions such as the ones in 1991 and 2001.

With the economy appearing to be in deeper despair, gaming companies and the Nevada economy as a whole is already grappling with hard times.

MGM Mirage reported an 8 percent dip in casino revenue in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, and the company halted development of a new property in Atlantic City, N.J., citing the weak economy and tight credit conditions. Harrah’s Entertainment swung to a loss in the same period, and also blamed its woes on economic upheaval.

For Las Vegas specifically, Schwer said part of the problem is that gaming is now much more widespread in the United States, meaning that people can gamble locally without the expense of a trip to Vegas. Many gaming companies also were in the midst of expansion when the economy started to turn, meaning stiffer competition.

“Not only is the economy slowing and there’s less business, but we’re dividing it additional times with new properties,” Schwer said.

Conventional wisdom also has held that people will smoke and drink alcohol even when budgets are tight. But that assumption is now being tested. Altria Group, whose holdings include cigarette maker Philip Morris USA, recently told The Associated Press that it had started to cut jobs because of economic turmoil.

Even if they are cutting back elsewhere, many have believed that people will continue to think of their cable television as another utility, like water or electricity, and keep paying the bill even when their budgets get tight. But this time around, Flickinger said his research is showing that premium television is one of the first items people are cutting back on in parts of the country that have been hard-hit by layoffs or other labor strife.
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“The first thing to go is cable, the second thing to go is the phone, the third thing to go is the second car and then the fourth thing to go is the house,” Flickinger said.

While it’s still early days, there are signs those individual decisions are starting to impact providers. Satellite TV provider Dish Network Inc. recently reported a net loss of 10,000 subscribers in the third quarter ended Sept. 30, and it cited the weak economy as one factor in the loss of business. In a regulatory filing, the company also warned that bad economic conditions could impact consumer demand for pay-TV services going forward.

Those cable providers who have expanded into Internet and phone offerings may be better poised to survive a downturn because they have more diverse sources of revenue.

As the economic downturn continues, many also will be watching closely to see how much it will affect people’s appetite for sporting events. Rodney Fort, a professor of sports management at the University of Michigan, expects that sports revenue will be impacted by the downturn, with hockey and baseball feeling more of a pinch than basketball and football.

Still, he said it’s hard to say how much any sport will be impacted at this point because there isn’t reliable data from similar downturns in the past. While it’s true that attendance famously rose at sporting events during the Great Depression, Fort said it’s not clear that revenue also improved.

Fort also noted that the sports industry has changed substantially in recent decades. Not only has television revenue become much more important, but ticket sales have become more dependent on high-income fans and corporations willing to shell out for pricey boxes and season tickets.

Many also have traditionally believed that people will continue to splurge on a night out at the movies even when times are tight. But some expect that theory to be tested this time around as well. That’s partly because the cost of buying a movie ticket and snacks has risen substantially in recent years, and partly because it’s become easier to rent a DVD or get one for free from the library, and pop your own popcorn.

“(Watching) a DVD on the widescreen TV sets that a lot of people already have is a pretty good substitute for going to the movies, so I wouldn’t bet my life on the fortunes of movie theaters,” said Mayland, the economist.

Nevertheless, some in the industry remain optimistic. In a conference call with analysts last month, Regal Entertainment Group Chief Executive Mike Campbell conceded that prices have gone up, but said a trip to the movie theater remained less expensive than other forms of entertainment.

“Our industry is probably as recession resistant, based on historical facts, as any that I'm aware of,” Campbell said in the earnings conference call.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Generational Crime

I must now confess my heinous generational crime:

I was old enough to remember Kennedy's assassination, and young enough to miss Viet Nam.

This makes me a subset of the Baby Boomers called "Generation Jones". Since I went through the 70's as a teen, the economy crimped my employment chances. So I went into military service as an enlisted man. During my time, which ended Honorably (with all the right boxes checked off on my DD 214), I only experienced the ordinary close calls of military aviation. I saw no action, and never fired a weapon in anger (lots in practice).

I have now discovered that this is a sin without redemption. I am not a Holy Martyr of the Generation X Military Experience.

Worse than that, I am a conservative troubled by what has happened with our country for the last eight years.

This makes me less than dust, for Gen X warriors.

The Millenial/Gen Y warriors and I get along fine. I'm just a doddering old man, mostly harmless, and funny to boot. Occasionally, I'm even useful to them.

But for the X'rs I'm evil incarnate. How *dare* I question them?

Guess I'll just have to go to my grave, having predicted things right, and calling X'rs out on being wrong. Especially if they are reactionary idiots, who are intent on destroying conservatism as well as the military.

Words cannot express my sorrow. and regret. :)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Friday 14 OCT 2008 Observations

It seems my internet adversaries have had some effect with the pins and needles they've been sticking in my effigy: Today, I had to have a cyst removed from my right arm. Outpatient procedure, very efficient. Have to applaud the doctors and staff at SLU; they know their business. Still annoying. It would seem that I am matching my dog in the number of growths popping up...

Still feeling the effects of the upper respiratory infection as well. It's hitting my co-workers hard as well.

The Indians have landed a probe on the Moon. India and China seem to be in a race now.

NASA needs a teardown- and rebuild. We called it "zero-timing" in the Air Force, taking an aircraft back to zero flight hours through a complete rebuild at depot. NASA's Form 1 must have so many red diagonals in it, people must get astigmatism from looking at the agency's status.

(For non-USAF persons, Form 1 is the individual aircraft's service record/book. Must be read before any maintenance, and signed off on by the aircraft commander before flight)

Cold rain. Winter. I can feel the doggie getting frustrated, as am I.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Brooks Nails It, Again.

Op-Ed Columnist
Darkness at Dusk

Published: November 10, 2008

It’s only been a week since the defeat, but the battle lines have already been drawn in the fight over the future of conservatism.

In one camp, there are the Traditionalists, the people who believe that conservatives have lost elections because they have strayed from the true creed. George W. Bush was a big-government type who betrayed conservatism. John McCain was a Republican moderate, and his defeat discredits the moderate wing.

To regain power, the Traditionalists argue, the G.O.P. should return to its core ideas: Cut government, cut taxes, restrict immigration. Rally behind Sarah Palin.

Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are the most prominent voices in the Traditionalist camp, but there is also the alliance of Old Guard institutions. For example, a group of Traditionalists met in Virginia last weekend to plot strategy, including Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Leonard Leo of the Federalist Society and Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council. According to reports, the attendees were pleased that the election wiped out some of the party’s remaining moderates. “There’s a sense that the Republicans on Capitol Hill are freer of wobbly-kneed Republicans than they were before the election,” the writer R. Emmett Tyrrell told a reporter.

The other camp, the Reformers, argue that the old G.O.P. priorities were fine for the 1970s but need to be modernized for new conditions. The reformers tend to believe that American voters will not support a party whose main idea is slashing government. The Reformers propose new policies to address inequality and middle-class economic anxiety. They tend to take global warming seriously. They tend to be intrigued by the way David Cameron has modernized the British Conservative Party.

Moreover, the Reformers say, conservatives need to pay attention to the way the country has changed. Conservatives have to appeal more to Hispanics, independents and younger voters. They cannot continue to insult the sensibilities of the educated class and the entire East and West Coasts.

The Reformist view is articulated most fully by books, such as “Comeback” by David Frum and “Grand New Party” by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam, as well as the various writings of people like Ramesh Ponnuru, Yuval Levin, Jim Manzi, Rod Dreher, Peggy Noonan and, at the moderate edge, me.

The debate between the camps is heating up. Only one thing is for sure: In the near term, the Traditionalists are going to win the fight for supremacy in the G.O.P.

They are going to win, first, because Congressional Republicans are predominantly Traditionalists. Republicans from the coasts and the upper Midwest are largely gone. Among the remaining members, the popular view is that Republicans have been losing because they haven’t been conservative enough.

Second, Traditionalists have the institutions. Over the past 40 years, the Conservative Old Guard has built up a movement of activist groups, donor networks, think tanks and publicity arms. The reformists, on the other hand, have no institutions.

There is not yet an effective Republican Leadership Council to nurture modernizing conservative ideas. There is no moderate Club for Growth, supporting centrist Republicans. The Public Interest, which used to publish an array of public policy ideas, has closed. Reformist Republican donors don’t seem to exist. Any publication or think tank that headed in an explicitly reformist direction would be pummeled by its financial backers. National candidates who begin with reformist records — Giuliani, Romney or McCain — immediately tack right to be acceptable to the power base.

Finally, Traditionalists own the conservative mythology. Members of the conservative Old Guard see themselves as members of a small, heroic movement marching bravely from the Heartland into belly of the liberal elite. In this narrative, anybody who deviates toward the center, who departs from established doctrine, is a coward, and a sellout.

This narrative happens to be mostly bogus at this point. Most professional conservatives are lifelong Washingtonians who live comfortably as organization heads, lobbyists and publicists. Their supposed heroism consists of living inside the large conservative cocoon and telling each other things they already agree with. But this embattled-movement mythology provides a rationale for crushing dissent, purging deviationists and enforcing doctrinal purity. It has allowed the old leaders to define who is a true conservative and who is not. It has enabled them to maintain control of (an ever more rigid) movement.

In short, the Republican Party will probably veer right in the years ahead, and suffer more defeats. Then, finally, some new Reformist donors and organizers will emerge. They will build new institutions, new structures and new ideas, and the cycle of conservative ascendance will begin again.