Sunday, August 19, 2007

News junkie riddle of the day

Q. How can you tell when your newspaper of record has lost its way?
A. When it thinks it's a quiz-style game show.

Word to the wise #1: Newspapers work better when games like this stay in the Arts & Entertainment section.

Word to the wise #2: It's best to avoid the irony of a "soldier's death" headline underpinning a cutesy game on what's supposed to be the front page.

Word to the wise #3:
Games like this work better when the illustration doesn't give away the answer.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sally gets wacked

Sally is one of my all-time favorites, but I had to wack her anyway. What could I do? She was blocking my view.

No, I'm not talking about a criminal act...though I guess you could call it a gardening crime.

You see, it's "Sally" as in Sally Holmes, one of the most lovely climbing roses ever. She has clusters of sweet apricot buds that open up into large, loose, single blush-white blooms, each topped off by a golden buss of anthers. A prolific bloomer, Sally starts with a big flush in the spring and reblooms in smaller bursts all summer and into late fall.

Sally is vigorous shrub. Once she gets settled in, she grows...and grows...and grows. And therein lies the rub.

It's my fault, really. I planted Sally in what seemed like a good spot against a bare wall outside the living room windows in my back garden. Everything was fine for the first several years, but recently we've had problems. She's overgrown. Her arching canes keep obscuring the small oakleaf hydrangea at her feet and blocking the entry to the crawl space.

Plus, Sally's supposed to be thornless, but her latest canes sport bright red thorns. Ouch!

Sally was out of control. Something had to be done. So I got out the pruning shears.

Actually, I got them out last winter and wacked Sally back pretty good. But by mid-summer, you could hardly tell. So this weekend, I wacked her again.

Now I'm considering a more permanent solution...yes, it may be time for Sally to join the relocation program. It would take a prodigious amount of digging, and I'd have to wack her back to the nubs, but it could work.

Now if I can just figure out a place in the front yard where the deer won't chomp on her....

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

So long, it's been good to know you (not!)

Here's the chorus from an old ditty to commemorate the impending resignation of Karl Rove.
A-rovin', a-rovin', since rovin's been my ru-i-in
I'll go no more a-rovin' with you fair maid.

See related article: "We'll go no more a-Rove-ing" on

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Statistics, lies and damn lies

Think things are looking up in Iraq because of the surge? Think again. As Juan Cole reports in "A Surge of Phony Spin on Iraq" in today:
...the reporters and editors who gave U.S. headlines such as "U.S. Death Toll in Iraq in July Expected to Be Lowest in '07" (New York Times) were being assiduously spun....

The dip in casualties is always substantial in July, since guerrillas usually prefer not to operate with heavy explosives when it is 120 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade.

And as a tally noted on Foreign Policy magazine's blog, the number of U.S. troop deaths in July, compared with previous years of the war, is anything but a turn for the better:

July 2003: 48
July 2004: 54
July 2005: 54
July 2006: 43
July 2007: 80
Meanwhile, the statistics for the hapless Iraqis themselves are no less discouraging. According to, the Iraqi civilian and military death toll from political violence in July 2007 was 1,690, a 25 percent increase from the July 2006 number, 1,280.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Elizabeth Edwards at BlogHer

I've always been impressed by Elizabeth Edwards. Seeing her at BlogHer last weekend was a treat.

She was interviewed in the closing session by Lisa Stone, one of BlogHer's founders. One of Stone's first comments to Edwards got a rise out of the crowd. Stone said, "You asked Ann Coulter to stop the personal attacks. Many women here have dealt with trolls."

"They don't go away if you ignore them," Edwards said, adding that "trolls are cowards" and the only way to make them go away is to "out them."

Edwards writes a diary for her husband John Edwards' campaign blog and comments on several other blogs. She said she views blogging as "the new town square," and as one of the "more intimate ways we can engage with voters." Blogging provides a venue for candidates to have an honest conversation with citizens, "not have some press person writing it for you."

One attendee asked how her many people review her blog posts before they're posted?

"That's an easy question," Edwards said. "Zero."

Edwards noted, "I write my own. I'm a nut about grammar. My blood pressure stays better if I write my own."

After the session, Edwards joined BlogHer attendees at the closing reception, where she spent 30 or 40 minutes talking with people. (That's where I took this photo.)

You can find more coverage of Elizabeth Edwards at BlogHer here and here.

BlogHer - techie highlights

If you couldn't attend BlogHer '07, or couldn't get to all the sessions that looked interesting (and, hey, who can be in two places at once?), the good news is that you can tap into the live-blogged coverage of the sessions here.

I attended several BlogHer sessions with a technical bent, including:

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Car dreams

I like cars. In part, it's probably the influence of my sister and brother-in-law, who have amassed a small collection of cars (the ones they drive regularly, plus an MG Midget, a restored Toyata Land Cruiser, and a soon-to-be-restored round-shouldered 1956 truck).

Their two young sons started down the car-collection road early. By the time he was 2, the 8-year-old could identify practically every make and model on the road...from a distance...and by the headlights alone at night. Yup, he's a car prodigy. He has hundreds of Matchbox cars, and his younger brother, now 4, isn't far behind.

I'm more of a wanna-be car lover. I learned to drive on my mother's 1966 VW bug, a great little car. After she'd had it a few years, she put some daisy decals on it (hey, it was the '60s!) and eventually let me paint it with flowers and vines.

When I was in high school, I wanted (but never got) one of those rounded 1960s Volvo sedans as my first car. In college, I lusted after an MGB-GT (the one with the hatch...I do have a practical streak). Instead, my first car was a 1972 Subaru FF-1 wagon, the first front-wheel-drive vehicle from Japan. It was a nasty gold color (my grandmother once described it as "shit brindle"), certainly not the most attractive vehicle I've ever owned, but eminently practical. I used it to haul bags of grain for my horse, and to move all my college-era belongings from one apartment to another. It was not the most reliable vehicle I've ever owned...but that's another story.

After that, I owned a string of cheap, (mostly) small cars...a Datsun (210?) hatchback that rode like a duck in choppy water, a couple of Mazda GLC hatchbacks (the first one got totaled, so I bought another), and a 1987 Nissan Stanza that was so underpowered it could hardly get out of it's own way, followed by a used Madza 626 with the same problem (you'd think I'd learn!). Now I drive a 2001 VW Golf 1.8 turbo, an antidote to all those years of anemic autos.

I'm considering getting a Mini Cooper S...which, come to think of it, looks a bit like an MGB-GT. (The more things change, as the saying goes, the more they stay the same.)

I guess you could consider this my mid-life crisis car...not that I'm having a mid-life crisis, mind you. But now that I'm in my mid-50s, I figure it's probably my last chance to own a really fun, peppy little know, while I can still get in and out of it without requiring assistance.

So lately I've been looking at car stats and reading reviews in Consumer Reports and elsewhere...which is what prompted this post. The immediate impetus: reading a fun review of the Scion XB, a homely little vehicle I have no desire to drive, in this morning's SF Chronicle.

Now you probably don't think of car reviews when you think of great writing, but this review by Dan Neil of the LA Times is masterfully written and highly entertaining. Here are the two opening paragraphs (once you get started, I'm sure you'll want to read the rest):
I suppose others have a more highly refined sense of aesthetics, but I just can't get behind the debate over the old vs. new Scion xB, the funky five-seat space wagon sold by Toyota's Gen Y-oriented brand. Aren't they both ugly?

Really. If you're serving, say, warthog for dinner - juicy, succulent, fall-off-the-tusk warthog - do you fret the relative pulchritude of warthog A compared to warthog xB? So it hardly matters if the redesigned car is more or less visually appealing than the original (model years 2004 to 2006). They both make babies cry. (Click here to continue reading....)

I'm not the only one who thinks Neil is a good writer. In 2004, he received a Pulitzer Prize for his "his one-of-a-kind reviews of automobiles, blending technical expertise with offbeat humor and astute cultural observations." If you love cars, or even if you don't, check it out.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Can you ID this hawk?

My husband and I have been watching hawks, and we're perplexed. Perhaps you can help us identify our mystery hawk.

We live on a suburban cul de sac on a hilltop in the Bay Area; the other side of our street borders an open space area. Besides a major updraft from the steep hill, there's one other factor that draws hawks to our neighborhood: quail...lots of them.

Several years ago one of our neighbors released some quail into the neighborhood. They thrived. They prospered. And, boy, did they multiply!

Now, we have mobs of quail. (I know...groups of quail are supposed to be called coveys, but I swear we have mobs. If you don't believe me, you should see my front yard garden...or what used to be my front garden, until the quail pock-holed it with their dusting craters and ate all my thyme and all the other small-leaved edgers. Now I tell people it's not so much a garden as great quail habitat.)

We really enjoy watching the quail, so I guess the garden damage is a fair trade-off. And, honestly, if it's not the quail destroying my garden, it's gonna be the deer, the rabbits and the gophers. This is tough territory for gardeners.

The hawks, though, are a bonus. What I really like is seeing a hawk first thing in the morning, perched on the railing of our back deck or in a nearby tree, just waiting for the quail to make their daily migration over our roof to the shelter of my shrubby front yard.

I've never seen a hawk catch one yet, but I have seen tell-tale clusters of quail feathers on the ground in my front yard. No wonder they're so flighty.

My husband and I have consulted multiple bird books and a couple of web sites, but we're still not sure what kind of hawk it is. Our best guess is a juvenile Goshawk (apparently the juveniles have yellow eyes; adults have red eyes), but it could also be a Cooper's Hawk.

If you think you can identify it, please leave a comment.