Saturday, October 31, 2009

Federalism, California Style

Despite the best efforts of the Feds, a glimmer of sanity continues to persist in the Golden State:
...a black market in marijuana might persist if the legal product were heavily taxed. But that's an argument against high taxes, not against legalization. Several witnesses also noted that marijuana would still be prohibited under federal law, meaning that producers and sellers would still be vulnerable to arrest and prosecution. But that is exactly the scenario that needs to play out if we are going to see any serious progress in ending the war on the drugs. Will the federal government go to war with a state that legalizes the cultivation and sale of marijuana within its borders, or will it find a way to live with a diversity of state policies in this area (as the Constitution requires)? The Obama administration's move toward a less aggressive posture vis-a-vis medical marijuana, assuming it is genuine, could point the way to a federalist experiment that resolves some of the questions raised by opponents of legalization.
California has serious problems, but a Draconian drug policy isn't one of them. This is one area where California really could be ahead of the curve.

No Shoes, No Socks, No Flogging

Allah apparently doesn't like sockless women:
Militants who control parts of Somalia's capital city are beating women in broad daylight for violating their radical brand of Islamic law, according to local officials and witnesses in Mogadishu.

"Just today, Al-Shabaab dispatched men with whips to the streets around Bakara market and they are flogging any woman who is found not wearing socks," according to a female maize trader at the Mogadishu market, who spoke Thursday.

She did not want to be named for security reasons.

In the past two days, more than 130 people, including women who were not wearing headscarves and men chewing dried khat leaves, have been detained for violating Al-Shabaab's interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, according to witnesses and officials.
I'm not sure if socks were mentioned in the Koran or not. And what kind of socks are appropriate for True Believers? Does Allah have some kind of a foot fetish we're not aware of?

At Least They Didn't Sing "Mammy"

When is blackface not racist? Apparently when it's done for publicity:
Just weeks after supermodel Lara Stone posed in blackface for French Vogue and an Australian sketch comedy group parodied the Jackson Five in blackface, models on the latest episode of Tyra Banks' America's Next Top Model appeared in blackface for a photo shoot challenge.

On Wednesday's episode of "ANTM" cycle 13, Banks asked the six remaining contestants to pose as "hapa" or women from mixed cultural backgrounds in a sugar cane field in Hawaii.

"What happens when men and women from different places come together? Babies! Lots of babies that are from different cultures. A mix. Hapa. Hapa means half in Hawaiian," Banks explained.

The shoot has the media calling foul.

"Tyra crossed the fine line from tasteless over to offensive when she put the remaining six contestants in ethnic garb and gave them biracial identities," wrote Gazelle Emami at the Huffington Post. "Call it what you want, but that's basically a euphemism for putting them in blackface."

On Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch blog, Margaret Lyons wrote that the "real" challenge for the six models was "Acting like there's nothing socially charged at all about race-as-costume!" and at AOL, a recap of the episode ran under the headline "Tyra Banks Puts 'Top Models' in Blackface. When Did This Become OK?"
Maybe Ted Danson was just ahead of his time...

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Send Us Your Tired, Your Skilled

Why arguments against allowing skilled workers to move abroad fall flat:
The belief that skilled emigrants must cause public losses in the amount of their training cost is based on a series of stereotypes. First, large numbers of skilled emigrants are funded by themselves or by foreign scholarships. A survey of African-born members of the American Medical Association conducted by one of the authors found that about half of them acquired their medical training outside their country of birth. Second, many skilled emigrants serve the countries they come from for long periods before departure....

Skilled migrants also tend to earn much more than unskilled migrants, and on balance this means that a university-educated migrant from a developing country sends more money home than an otherwise identical migrant with less education. The survey of African physicians mentioned above found that they typically send home much more money than it cost to train them, especially to the poorest countries.
Improving foreign relations and bridging cultures aside, it would seem these are exactly the sort of people the West (in particular, the US) should encourage to bring their skills to our shores. A "Brain drain" can work both ways.

A Lean, Mean, Communist Machine

On the irony of China being better prepared for the Great Recession than the West:
Almost every country in the Western world entered the crisis ill prepared. Governments were spending too much money and running high deficits, so when they had to spend massively to stabilize the economy, deficits zoomed into the stratosphere...China entered the crisis in an entirely different position. It was running a budget surplus and had been raising interest rates to tamp down excessive growth. Its banks had been reining in consumer spending and excessive credit. So when the crisis hit, the Chinese government could adopt textbook policies to jump-start growth. It could lower interest rates, raise government spending, ease up on credit, and encourage consumers to start spending. Having been disciplined during the fat years, Beijing could now ease up during the lean ones.
What does it say about Keynesian economics when even Communists realize they don't work? There's a reason they're regarded as a rising world power. The fact that they've figured out this money thing is something we could take some lessons from.

The Selling Of Stupidity

The line for future Darwin Award candidates forms here:
In certain parts of the US, vaccination rates have dropped so low that occurrences of some children’s diseases are approaching pre-vaccine levels for the first time ever. And the number of people who choose not to vaccinate their children (so-called philosophical exemptions are available in about 20 states, including Pennsylvania, Texas, and much of the West) continues to rise. In states where such opting out is allowed, 2.6 percent of parents did so last year, up from 1 percent in 1991, according to the CDC. In some communities, like California’s affluent Marin County, just north of San Francisco, non-vaccination rates are approaching 6 percent (counterintuitively, higher rates of non-vaccination often correspond with higher levels of education and wealth).
At some point, their should be some liability for people whose own kids were infected by these "Educated" know-nothings. If there's anyone left to sue, that is.

"I Was Only Heading To The Toilet And Found God."

So sayeth a shopper as the Lord of Hosts apparently favors cheap furniture:
A bearded face, with long flowing hair, is plainly visible on the wooden door of the men’s toilet in the Braehead outlet of the Swedish furniture and meatballs giant.

There is some debate over whether the face truly represents the Son of Man, or whether it is in fact Gandalf out of the Lord of the Rings, or even a member of ABBA.

One shopper said: "It takes you by surprise. It is really clear in the wood.

"I was only heading to the toilet and found God.

"My wife thought He looked like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings but it is definitely more like the Turin Shroud.

"It's certainly not what you expect to find in an Ikea store. Mind you, you need a little divine intervention to get out of here sometimes."
Well, why not? He was a carpenter, after all. Although I would think he'd rather punish the Swedes for ABBA.

Know Your Enemy

So, a question for liberals-is he more like Bush, or Nixon?
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) accused the White House on Wednesday of "street-brawling" with opponents, and said the West Wing's strategy of freezing out opponents amounts to a latter-day "enemies list," a reference to an infamous practice of President Richard Nixon.

"An 'enemies list' only denigrates the Presidency and the Republic itself," Alexander said on the Senate floor. "These are unusually difficult times, with plenty of forces encouraging us to disagree. Let’s not start calling people out and compiling an enemies list. Let’s push the street-brawling out of the White House and work together on the truly presidential issues: creating jobs, reducing health care costs, reducing the debt, creating clean energy."

Alexander quoted from a POLITICO article headlined "White House plan: Neuter the Chamber."

"According to Politico," Alexander said, "the White House plans to 'neuter the United States Chamber of Commerce," an organization with members in almost every major community in America. The Chamber had supported the president’s stimulus package and some of his early appointments, but has problems with his health care and climate change proposals."
When in doubt, neuter your enemies? It doesn't exactly sound like the Age of Transparency now, does it?

When He's Right, He's Right

Dick Cheney has entered into another war of words with The One:
Recently, President Obama’s advisors have decided that it’s easier to blame the Bush Administration than support our troops. This weekend they leveled a charge that cannot go unanswered. The President’s chief of staff claimed that the Bush Administration hadn’t asked any tough questions about Afghanistan, and he complained that the Obama Administration had to start from scratch to put together a strategy.

In the fall of 2008, fully aware of the need to meet new challenges being posed by the Taliban, we dug into every aspect of Afghanistan policy, assembling a team that repeatedly went into the country, reviewing options and recommendations, and briefing President-elect Obama’s team. They asked us not to announce our findings publicly, and we agreed, giving them the benefit of our work and the benefit of the doubt. The new strategy they embraced in March, with a focus on counterinsurgency and an increase in the numbers of troops, bears a striking resemblance to the strategy we passed to them. They made a decision – a good one, I think – and sent a commander into the field to implement it.

Now they seem to be pulling back and blaming others for their failure to implement the strategy they embraced. It’s time for President Obama to do what it takes to win a war he has repeatedly and rightly called a war of necessity.
I don't agree with Cheney on a lot of things, but here he hits the mark-if Obama is serious about not allowing Afghanistan to become another Vietnam, then he needs to follow through in a crucial area of foreign policy. The bad guys didn't go away just because Obama wanted to rightfully change the tone. Now Obama needs to prove that he's still serious about going after them.

Sweatin' To The Hippies

Seriously, why do people shell out thousands of dollars for this stuff?
“There were people throwing up everywhere,” said Dr. Beverley Bunn, 43, an orthodontist from Texas, who said she struggled to remain conscious in the sweat lodge, a makeshift structure covered with blankets and plastic and heated with fiery rocks.

Dr. Bunn said Mr. Ray told the more than 50 people jammed into the small structure — people who had just completed a 36-hour “vision quest” in which they fasted alone in the desert — that vomiting “was good for you, that you are purging what your body doesn’t want, what it doesn’t need.” But by the end of the ordeal on Oct. 8, emergency crews had taken 21 people to hospitals. Three have since died.

Mr. Ray, who calls himself a teacher of “practical mysticism” and has gained widespread exposure through writings and an appearance on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” has come under intense scrutiny in the New Age movement that is a cottage industry here. The Yavapai County sheriff, Steve Waugh, has opened a homicide investigation, but Mr. Ray has not been charged.
At what point are people responsible for their own stupidity? I'm not saying Mr. New Age guru shouldn't be charged, but at some point, maybe the people inside the "Sweat lodge" should have realized it wasn't quite as advertised?

White Town

Over at, Aaron M. Renn notes something that conservatives have long known:
Among the media, academia and within planning circles, there’s a generally standing answer to the question of what cities are the best, the most progressive and best role models for small and mid-sized cities. The standard list includes Portland, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis, and Denver. In particular, Portland is held up as a paradigm, with its urban growth boundary, extensive transit system, excellent cycling culture, and a pro-density policy. These cities are frequently contrasted with those of the Rust Belt and South, which are found wanting, often even by locals, as “cool” urban places.

But look closely at these exemplars and a curious fact emerges. If you take away the dominant Tier One cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles you will find that the “progressive” cities aren’t red or blue, but another color entirely: white.

In fact, not one of these “progressive” cities even reaches the national average for African American percentage population in its core county. Perhaps not progressiveness but whiteness is the defining characteristic of the group.
It's probably true that white liberal guilt was at least partly responsible for Obama's win, but black areas also tend to vote largely Democratic. So, it's not just an issue of whether white liberals are hypocrites. It's more that African-American voters at least vote mostly from a sincere conviction that the Democrats speak to them, whereas white liberals look to the Democrats as a rationale for their own supposed superiority.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Cult Of Sanity

The folks over at Cracked Magazine explain why otherwise sane people join cults:
...Around 95 percent of cult members are perfectly sane (when they join up, anyway), with no history at all of real psychological problems. They're not stupid, and they're not crazy. Of course this only serves to make cults even scarier. How in the hell do these groups get people--who are every bit as sane and smart as your best friend--to join up?

As social animals we are hard-wired to want to belong to a group. It's a need as basic and real as hunger or sex. When we get cut off from our group--say we lose a job, or move to a new city, or break up with our girlfriend--we go a little crazy. Cults are very, very good at finding people in that exact moment of weakness, and saying exactly the right things. Those pamphlets that sound so corny and transparent to you, read like a glorious breath of fresh air to somebody caught in one of those rough spots.
Maybe this explains the current state of the Republican Party...

R.I.P. Kyoto

Kyoto is dead, long live Kyoto.
The landmark Kyoto climate treaty, a global warming pact negotiated 12 years ago, is unlikely to live on after its 2012 end date.

During climate talks in Bangkok last week it became apparent that after the treaty's initial term ends, a new treaty will almost certainly take its place.

Diplomats from the U.S. and 15 other major economies will meet on Sunday in London to talk about a new global warming agreement.

The news leaves many countries in the developing world frustrated. The key to the Kyoto pact was that many industrialized countries had promised to reach emissions reduction targets on a specific timetable.
Now why would developing countries be upset? If anything, they're the ones who would stand a chance to be hurt the most by Kyoto and have been pushing the most for its demise and their right to expand their economies. Now, hopefully, they'll have that chance despite the best efforts of environmentalists to try and tell them what's good for them.

God Is My Idea Man

Umm, okay:
"We went and met with Michael, and [director] Kenny [Ortega] said, 'Michael, you've got to stop. We've got an incredible show, we don't need any more vignettes.' Michael said, 'But Kenny, God channels this through me at night. I can't sleep because I'm so supercharged.' Kenny said, 'But Michael, we have to finish. Can't God take a vacation?' Without missing a beat, Michael said, 'You don't understand -- if I'm not there to receive these ideas, God might give them to Prince.'"
Well, I guess Prince has the big guy's ear now...

Fox Hunt

On why the folks who defend Fox News against apparent "Attacks" by the Obama administration may be protesting too much:
A central part of the collective identity built by conservative Republicans in the current political environment is their belief that they possess knowledge and insight that the majority of Americans – whether too lazy or too misguided to find it for themselves – do not possess. A combination of conservative media outlets are the means by which they have gained this knowledge, led by FOX News (“the truth tellers“), and to a lesser degree conservative talk radio. Their antipathy and distrust toward the mainstream media could not be stronger, and they fiercely defend FOX as the only truly objective news outlet.
I have long been willing to give Fox credit for being willing to be different from CNN and MSNBC, but the claim by some on the right that they are any more objective than their rivals has to be taken with a large grain of salt.

How The Meltdown Happened

At least somebody is still paying attention:
As the housing market collapsed in late 2007, Moody’s Investors Service, whose investment ratings were widely trusted, responded by purging analysts and executives who warned of trouble and promoting those who helped Wall Street plunge the country into its worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

A McClatchy investigation has found that Moody’s punished executives who questioned why the company was risking its reputation by putting its profits ahead of providing trustworthy ratings for investment offerings.

Instead, Moody’s promoted executives who headed its “structured finance” division, which assisted Wall Street in packaging loans into securities for sale to investors. It also stacked its compliance department with the people who awarded the highest ratings to pools of mortgages that soon were downgraded to junk. Such products have another name now: “toxic assets.”
Unfortunately, these clowns don't seem to have learned their lesson-and neither has Uncle Sam for being willing to give these crooks even more money to waste.

Knowledge Is Power

Tyler Cowen argues that the Internets are spreading the wealth of knowledge to the masses:
[A] way the Web has affected the human attention span is by allowing greater specialization of knowledge. It has never been easier to wrap yourself up in a long-term intellectual project without at the same time losing touch with the world around you. Some critics don’t see this possibility, charging that the Web is destroying a shared cultural experience by enabling us to follow only the specialized stories that pique our individual interests. But there are also those who argue that the Web is doing just the opposite—that we dabble in an endless variety of topics but never commit to a deeper pursuit of a specific interest. These two criticisms contradict each other. The reality is that the Internet both aids in knowledge specialization and helps specialists keep in touch with general trends.
In this regard, it could be argued that the Web is perhaps the first true example of socialism in action-it levels the playing field, becomes the great equalizer, and causes the old institutions to wither away. Or maybe it just means more people don't need several years of fancy book learnin' to find what they want to know.


Well, this would be a first:
Pigs still can't fly, but this winter, the mayor of Moscow promises to keep it from snowing. For just a few million dollars, the mayor's office will hire the Russian Air Force to spray a fine chemical mist over the clouds before they reach the capital, forcing them to dump their snow outside the city. Authorities say this will be a boon for Moscow, which is typically covered with a blanket of snow from November to March. Road crews won't need to constantly clear the streets, and traffic - and quality of life - will undoubtedly improve.

The idea came from Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who is no stranger to playing God. In 2002, he spearheaded a project to reverse the flow of the vast River Ob through Siberia to help irrigate the country's parched Central Asian neighbors. Although that idea hasn't exactly turned out as planned - scientists have said it's not feasible - this time, Luzhkov says, there's no way he can fail.
Kind of like bringing true democracy to Putin's Russia, bringing an end to the country's infamous winters may be a lot easier said than done. Still, for sheer chutzpah, you've got to give the guy credit for trying.

Up, Up, And Away

So it turns out the biggest non-story of the week was faked:
Authorities in Colorado say criminal charges are expected to be filed against Richard Heene, a storm-chasing father whose giant Mylar balloon ascended into the sky earlier this week, sparking fears that his 6-year-old was aboard.

"We do anticipate at some point in the future, there will be some criminal charges filed with regards to this incident," Larimer County Sheriff Jim Alderden said.

The saga captured the nation's attention early Thursday afternoon, after authorities reported the family's homemade helium balloon was set adrift, apparently with young Falcon Heene inside.

Since then, speculation has mounted over whether the incident was a hoax by the father, who has appeared with his family on ABC's "Wife Swap," and posted videos of storm chasing and other activities online.

Earlier Saturday, in an impromptu press conference outside his home, Heene told reporters the runaway balloon incident was "absolutely no hoax."
Well, it seems the kid was smarter than Dad when he blew the whistle. There's a fine line between being an eccentric and just being a nut.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Doomsday Delayed (Again)

Waiting for 2012 to hearld the end of the world? You may be in for a disappointment:
...most archaeologists, astronomers and Maya say the only thing likely to hit Earth is a meteor shower of New Age philosophy, pop astronomy, Internet doomsday rumors and TV specials such as one on the History Channel which mixes "predictions" from Nostradamus and the Mayas and asks: "Is 2012 the year the cosmic clock finally winds down to zero days, zero hope?"

It may sound all too much like other doomsday scenarios of recent decades - the 1987 Harmonic Convergence, the Jupiter Effect or "Planet X." But this one has some grains of archaeological basis.

One of them is Monument Six.

Found at an obscure ruin in southern Mexico during highway construction in the 1960s, the stone tablet almost didn't survive; the site was largely paved over and parts of the tablet were looted.

It's unique in that the remaining parts contain the equivalent of the date 2012. The inscription describes something that is supposed to occur in 2012 involving Bolon Yokte, a mysterious Mayan god associated with both war and creation.

However - shades of Indiana Jones - erosion and a crack in the stone make the end of the passage almost illegible.

Archaeologist Guillermo Bernal of Mexico's National Autonomous University interprets the last eroded glyphs as maybe saying, "He will descend from the sky."

Spooky, perhaps, but Bernal notes there are other inscriptions at Mayan sites for dates far beyond 2012 - including one that roughly translates into the year 4772.

And anyway, Mayas in the drought-stricken Yucatan peninsula have bigger worries than 2012.

"If I went to some Mayan-speaking communities and asked people what is going to happen in 2012, they wouldn't have any idea," said Jose Huchim, a Yucatan Mayan archaeologist. "That the world is going to end? They wouldn't believe you. We have real concerns these days, like rain."
More on past doomsday fears here. It does seem we can't get away from this morbid fascination with our own demise.

Barack The Nation-Builder

Who says the neocon vision is dead?
While success in Afghanistan may not look the same as it does in Iraq, I believe there is a very good chance that a stable democracy can survive there. If it does, it would be good for the Afghan people, good for the security of the region, and good for the United States. The heroism of Afghan voters who turned out this past August in spite of the Taliban's violence should inspire us to stand by their side until security and stability are established in their country.

There are four primary components of any foreign policy: vision and strategy; quality of the leadership team; domestic strength; and capacity to manage crises. Weakness in any of these realms can lead to overall failure.

On vision, President Obama is very inspiring. He has given moderates in Muslim countries room to move by speaking to them directly and respectfully, while at the same time continuing to wage an aggressive and necessary battle against radical Islamists who have declared war on the U.S. However, he has made too many apologies. And at this point, his strategy is too naïve and has too little coherence to be called a strategy. If the issue of foreign policy had been more important in his presidential campaign—and therefore important to the electorate—I might be more critical. And if I weren't a supporter, my judgment would be harsher. But in this realm, I'm still hoping for improvement.

On the quality of the leadership team he has recruited, President Obama has excelled. Across the board, from Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the president has assembled an exceptional team. Their depth of experience and intellect provide him the kind of judgment and analysis he needs to make tough choices.

The way we have provided development assistance to the government in Afghanistan hasn't improved the lives of the Afghan people. A cloud of illegitimacy hangs over President Hamid Karzai because of the recent election. Even friends of the Karzai administration have reported cronyism and corruption.

Yet despite these setbacks, our leaders must remain focused on the fact that success in Afghanistan bolsters our national security and yes, our moral reputation. This war is not Vietnam. The Taliban are not popular and have very little support other than what they secure through terror.

Afghanistan is also not Iraq. No serious leader in Kabul is asking us to leave. Instead we are being asked to withdraw by American leaders who begin their analysis with the presumption that victory is not possible. They seem to want to ensure defeat by leaving at the very moment when our military leader on the ground has laid out a coherent and compelling strategy for victory.

When it comes to foreign policy, almost nothing matters more then your friends and your enemies knowing you will keep your word and follow through on your commitments.
I believe in defeating the Taliban. But when you hear Democrats sounding like Bush-era Republicans during the early years of the Iraq war, one has to wonder just how serious they are now.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Killer Capitalism

I'm not so sure I see the connection:
Shizuka Kamei, Japan’s new Financial Services Minister, has launched an “astonishing”, full-frontal assault on corporate Japan, in which he charged the country’s largest companies with raising the national rate of family murders.

The domestic murder rate has advanced in Japan, he said, “because companies have stopped treating humans the way they should be treated”....

Mr Kamei’s philosophy appears to hark back to a period of Japanese corporate life when companies were encouraged to think of “sufficient” levels of profits and then circulate the excess throughout the rest of the economy, an often woefully inefficient practice that prompted many outside observers to question whether Japan was a capitalist country at all.
So, when Japan was sitting pretty during the Seventies and Eighties, shouldn't that have been a peak period for murder? And if capitalism is a homicidal economic philosophy, does that mean that a recession actually lowers the murder rate? Or only makes murder an option to those who can afford it?

Obama's Major Award

Not everybody thinks he deserved it:
Lech Walesa, the dissident turned Polish President, who won the Peace Prize in 1983, spoke for many, declaring: “So soon? Too early. He has no contribution so far.”

Mr Obama’s domestic critics leapt on the award as evidence of foreigners fawning over an untested “celebrity” leader. Rush Limbaugh, the US right-wing commentator, said: “This fully exposes the illusion that is Barack Obama."

Speaking later, Mr Obama said that he was “surprised and deeply humbled” by the unexpected decision and announced that he would donate the £880,000 prize, due to be awarded in December, to charity.

“Let me be clear. I do not view it as recognition of my own accomplishments but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations," he said.
Well, I suppose that's fairly humble for a guy who's been in office for less than a year. Put me in with those who think it might have been a tad early, although I do appreciate his different tone which could eventually have earned him the prize.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Our Bodies, Our Hard Drives

Are we entering an age in which we are literally just made up of spare parts?
“When your hard drive dies, you can go to the nearest computer store, buy a new one, and swap it out,” Keasling said. “That’s because it’s a standard part in a machine. The entire electronics industry is based on a plug-and-play mentality. Get a transistor, plug it in, and off you go. What works in one cell phone or laptop should work in another. That is true for almost everything we build: when you go to Home Depot, you don’t think about the thread size on the bolts you buy, because they’re all made to the same standard. Why shouldn’t we use biological parts in the same way?” Keasling and others in the field, who have formed bicoastal clusters in the Bay Area and in Cambridge, Massachusetts, see cells as hardware, and genetic code as the software required to make them run. Synthetic biologists are convinced that, with enough knowledge, they will be able to write programs to control those genetic components, programs that would let them not only alter nature but guide human evolution as well.
But is the human body merely run on nature's software? And how far down this road do we go?

A Wild And Crazy Guy

Should we really be all that surprised by this?
An ex-"Late Show" intern unmasked herself Saturday as one of David Letterman's former flings - and sources revealed the randy funnyman keeps a bachelor pad atop the Ed Sullivan Theater.

"I was madly in love with him at the time," said Holly Hester. "I would have married him. He was hilarious."...

[There was a] year-long, secret romance... she said, until the funnyman called it off because of their age difference.

Outside what is believed to be Hester's country home in Sebastopol, Calif. - in ritzy Sonoma County - a middle-aged man lashed out at a Daily News reporter last night. "Get the f--- out of here. We're being offered a lot of money for this s---," he said.
Ah, neighborhood privacy-which apparently only goes as far as the next offer from the National Enquirer. Meanwhile, there's more on the woman who blew the whistle on Letterman's antics:
A "Late Show" office worker in 1997, Birkitt quickly developed a role as Letterman's Girl Friday. She went on to appear in several skits as his comic foil. Behind the scenes, their relationship became intimate, sources said.

"The creepy relationship that Letterman maintained with Stephanie was obvious and not normal," an insider said. "She was able to do anything and everything ... It was pretty well known that Stephanie was the one that Letterman was having fun with."
Well, since when has anything Letterman done been normal? As he himself admitted on his show, he did some creepy stuff and he should be held accountable. But blackmail is one of the lowest forms of trickery there is, and it will be interesting to find out just how much this woman had her hooks into Dave for. Stay tuned.

Cheeseburger-Eating Surrender Monkeys

Oh, the horror:
Lovers of France's two great symbols of cultural exception – its haute cuisine and fine art – are aghast at plans to open a McDonald's restaurant and McCafé in the Louvre museum next month.

America's fast food temple is celebrating its 30th anniversary in France with a coup -the opening of its 1,142nd Gallic outlet a few yards from the entrance to the country's Mecca of high art and the world's most visited museum.

The chain faces a groundswell of discontent among museum staff, many already unhappy about the Louvre lending its name and works to a multi-million pound museum project in Abu Dhabi.

"This is the last straw," said one art historian working at the Louvre, who declined to be named. "This is the pinnacle of exhausting consumerism, deficient gastronomy and very unpleasant odours in the context of a museum," he told the Daily Telegraph.

Didier Rykner, head of The Art Tribune website found the idea "shocking".

"I'm not against eating in a museum but McDonald's is hardly the height of gastronomy," he said, adding that it was a worrying mixture of art and consumerism. "Today McDonald's, tomorrow low-cost clothes shops," he said.
Next thing you know, those uncouth Americans will be infecting France with their movies and TV shows. Zut alors!

California Failin'

The Golden State's luster may be gone for good:
The state that was once held up as the epitome of the boundless opportunities of America has collapsed. From its politics to its economy to its environment and way of life, California is like a patient on life support. At the start of summer the state government was so deeply in debt that it began to issue IOUs instead of wages. Its unemployment rate has soared to more than 12%, the highest figure in 70 years. Desperate to pay off a crippling budget deficit, California is slashing spending in education and healthcare, laying off vast numbers of workers and forcing others to take unpaid leave. In a state made up of sprawling suburbs the collapse of the housing bubble has impoverished millions and kicked tens of thousands of families out of their homes. Its political system is locked in paralysis and the two-term rule of former movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger is seen as a disaster – his approval ratings having sunk to levels that would make George W Bush blush. The crisis is so deep that Professor Kenneth Starr, who has written an acclaimed history of the state, recently declared: "California is on the verge of becoming the first failed state in America."
Years of living and spending beyond its means, a clueless legislature and a now-weak and soon to be former Governator-if California truly does show the rest of the country the future, we may be in deeper doo doo than anyone thought.

Atomic Ocean

What could go wrong? Constructed by the state nuclear power firm Rosatom, the 144 by 30 metre (472 by 98 foot) ship holds two reactors with ...