Saturday, March 31, 2007

Nose Roundup?

No, no, no ...

NEWS Roundup!

Well, I've been a tad under the weather, and a bit disappointed in any number of things, so let's do a little recap, shall we?

1. The US Attorney Scandal: Okay, it's a given that these yahoos serve at the pleasure of the President, but that does NOT mean they have to give him blowjobs every day. And to hear the Attorney General acting like fucking John Mitchell is just pathetic. Gonzales is a bootlicker, a real estate lawyer whose entire career up to now centered around making sure that Laura didn't find out exactly what George was doing down in Ciudad Juarez.* Time for him to go, and many of the GOP Archimandrites are starting to agree with the Dems on this.

2. Iraq: Wee-doggies, it was fun to watch the Congress act like they actually had some balls, wasn't it? Of course, Our Dear Leader had to act like a two-year-old and start kvetching about it. George, George, George - all you have to do is add one of your famous "signing statements" and everything will again be Hunky and Dory in your own private little world. Sure, you know the statements I mean - those little slips of paper you've used to circumvent over 600 laws in your six years of power, you disgusting petulant little drunkard.

3. Iraq, again: And gee whillikers, boys and girls, exactly what country do you think Senators McCain and Lieberman were referring to when they talked up about how you or I could walk unarmored and unescorted in parts of Baghdad? Especially when the Army told the inhabitants of the Green Zone that they need to wear armor and helmets just to walk from one building to another. Sort of a disconnect there, folks.

4. Ian Paisley and Gerry Adams: Now THIS I did not expect. Ian Paisley's been a fire-breathing voice of Protestant violence against the Catholics in Northern Ireland, while Adams (a onetime commander in the IRA) is the leader of Sinn Fein. To see the two of them sit down and sign a power sharing agreement for Northern Ireland actually made me start feeling hopeful.

5. There is NO #5.

6. A Palestinian woman was stopped at a border checkpoint at the Egyptian border, and the PA guards thought she looked a bit hefty - in all the wrong places. So they searched her and found she was smuggling three young crocodiles into Gaza to sell to the zoo there. Now, THAT'S weird.

Those are the high points of the news over the past week or so.

* Oops, almost forgot - according to certain traditions there's a bar in Ciudad Juarez where one can see an actual Dog and Pony Show. Exactly what that means I'll leave to your jaded imaginations.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Vacation Pictures - The Hofgarten

This is the north side (the back door) of the Residenz, the home of Bavaria's kings when they decided to live in Munich. It houses two museums, one devoted to the house and its furnishings, and the other is the Schatzkammer or Treasury. But that isn't our subject right now; we're looking at the Hofgarten or Court Garden - sort of the "back yard."
A pullback shot showing the perimeter of the garden in relation to the north entrance. There is a double line of trees surrounding the garden, leaving a nice shady walk to beat the sun.

Between the Hofgarten and the Residenz is an imported Egyptian obelisk, and this enterprising fellow was using a ladder and a lift in order to take a rubbing of the hieroglyphs on it.

A view down the perimeter lane surrounding the garden. The trees did a great job of damping down traffic noise and people were enjoying the place.

The central gazebo of the Hofgarten, dedicated to the Greek goddess Diana.

This former palace is at the east end of the Hofgarten, and is now the Bavarian Staatskanzlei (State Chancellery), the seat of government for the state. Bavaria describes itself as a Free State within the Federal Republic, and they try to go their own way in terms of various domestic policies.

Another view of the State Chancellery with an equestrian statue of the guy who started it all - Otto the First, the first Duke of Bavaria.

Here's a horse's-ass view of Duke Otto I, looking west out over the Hofgarten. Right in front of him is the state war memorial.

The Hofgarten is laid out in the prevailing fashion when it was first set out - very geometric and precisely centered on the gazebo. The dome and bell towers in the distance to the left is the Theatine Church of St. Kajetan, notable for its odd yellow color.

A view looking northwest. Hidden by the trees is a shopping arcade, done in an Italian style.

This picture gives you an idea of the size of the gazebo.

Here's one of the fountains inside the gazebo. The decorations include coral and seashells.

Vacation Pictures - The Old Botanical Garden

Back in 1813, the King of Bavaria commissioned an architect to build a botanical garden under a huge steel and glass greenhouse similar to the Crystal Palace in London. In 1931 the greenhouse burned to the ground, but the garden was rebuilt. The original gate pavilions (being made of stone) and the central statuary group are still present, and the gardens were a nice place to relax and rest my feet for a while.
Here's the central statuary group as seen from the eastern entrance. The entire park is bordered by trees and bushes that help screen out traffic noises.

The central statuary group is a statue of Hercules, surrounded by a small reflecting pool.

At the north end of the gardens stands a Kunstpavilion, or Art Pavilion. It was showcasing a collection by local artists at the time, and the admission cost was only 2 Euro (about $2.60).

It's a bit difficult to see, but the neon sign over the doorway reads "Kunst Ist Kein Luxus" (Art is not a Luxury). And whoever put that sign up is quite right - art is necessary to uplift and add beauty to our lives.

Soccer art was the theme of the exhibit, and these two photographs (with accompanying commentary on the right) explored the fascination people have with association football and its connections with religion. If you've ever watched the World Cup or the UEFA Champions league matches, you'll understand why. Hell, if you live in the Deep South in the US, you'll know what I'm talking about.

This abstract is titled "Meinschaft" (Team). Pretty self-explanatory.

The sculpture is titled "Goalkeeper," and it interested me because of its almost medieval rendering. The features of the players are very stylized and crowded together in the group, making it look almost like a cathedral relief.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Vacation Pictures - German Alps #1

Hurrah, mountains! After seeing the sights in and around Munich for the first week of my vacation, I boarded a train for a trip down to the German Alps. My childhood was spent in the Appalachians and right now I'm living a sea-level existence. To see actual mountains was a treat.
The town of Garmish-Partenkirchen has two things to attract visitors - it was the birthplace of the composer Richard Strauss, and it's been the site of the Winter Olympics. It's a small town, but had a touristy feel (it gets a lot of winter business).

To get to the Zugspitze, you board a train at the Olympic station. The train (a light commuter line) connects Garmisch with a string of small villages set among alpine meadows. Pretty.

Once you get on the cog railway, you start going up ... and up ... and up, sometimes at a fairly steep angle. About a third of the trip goes into a tunnel that puts you on the plateau on one of the mountain's shoulders.

This is the Sonn Alpin restaurant, on the plateau at the 2600-meter level. The cog railway's terminal is in the basement, and behind the place is the cable car terminal to get up to the summit.

This view is looking south at parts of the glacier that usually cloaks the mountains year-round. Global warming has made a lot of the Alpine communities start thinking of what to do when the glaciers disappear entirely. The structure on the right is a chapel, built in remembrance of those who tried to climb the mountain and didn't make it.

Another view of the chapel. The altitude difference really hits you (especially if you've been living at about 120 feet above sea level for 30 years). Just climbing up to the chapel left me winded and my heart galloping. I had to sit down on the rock steps for a few minutes.

The interior of the chapel, really a lovely little place.

Okay. Here's the view from the cable car terminal at the summit. The glacial remnants are the white that you see. In the center of the picture is the Sonn Alpin, and just above it and to the right is the chapel. I estimate that the chapel was about a hundred yards away, and about fifty feet or so higher than the restaurant.

Vacation Pictures - German Alps #2

And here's the second half of my trip to Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the highest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze.
As you can see it was a beautiful day at the summit, the weather very clear (it was a bit chilly, but nothing I couldn't handle - besides, with the sun beating down I felt pretty warm). This view is down into the valley towards the town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen.
The cable car that provides a direct route to the summit has its terminal at this lake, called the Eissee. The glaciers that once covered this region year-round scooped the earth out of the way, and the lake itself is fed from glacial runoff.
This view is out toward Austria. I can only guess how far away the horizon is, but my guess would be about 40 miles.
Yours Truly at the summit's observation platform. The cross behind me marks the actual summit of the mountain, at 9,734 feet above sea level.

The cross is accessible, if you're willing to risk your life on cable railings and metal ladders to reach it. I decided not to try.

Quite a view, huh? Again, this is looking east toward Austria, but down (out of shot at the bottom is the plateau where the resort and the ski lifts are).

Part of the summit's outpost is a weather observatory, and you can see by the sky that there'd be very good seeing for optical telescopes.

One of the views on the way back down the mountain, after the cog train came out of the tunnel. These pictures, I remind you, were taken in mid-October as the leaves were turning. I took a lot of pictures of trees.

Here's the Eissee again, as seen from the cog railway. The scenery is lovingly tended and spectacular.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Is The Florida House Of Representatives On Drugs?

This ...

... is not this ...

... nor should it ever be.
I don't usually talk about local or state politics in these pages, reserving my spleen for the fearsome train wreck the current Federal administration is making of the country as a whole, but this started to make my blood boil. It's an article from the March 8th edition of the Lakeland (FL) Ledger:
GOP Property Tax Bill Clears House Panel
The Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE - The first half of a Republican plan to cut local property taxes by nearly $5.8 billion cleared a House panel Wednesday on a party-line vote, with Democrats complaining it was being railroaded through the chamber. The legislation is being pushed by House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, and other Republican leaders. The partisan 10-5 vote in the Government Efficiency and Accountability Council came only a day after the Legislature opened its annual session with Rubio urging lawmakers to focus on problem-solving, rather than politics.
Democrats said they objected to the quick vote, not necessarily the GOP bill, because its ramifications are not yet fully known. Lobbyists for cities and counties also objected, saying the tax relief would force them to cut services ranging from law enforcement to libraries. "What is the rush?" asked Rep. Franklin Sands, D-Weston. "This is only day two of a 60-day session."
Rep. Carl Domino, R-Jupiter, responded: "Procrastination equals inaction. We need to do something."
- snip -
It would roll property taxes back to their Jan. 1, 2001, level, but allow for annual increases to account for population growth and inflation. The rollback would affect city, county and other property taxes, except for those levied by school districts.
- snip -
Polk County would see a 29 percent tax rate reduction, meaning the county would lose $78.4 million a year. Advocates, though, pointed out local government bodies could exceed the property tax cap through a "super majority" vote - a simple majority plus one member, or two-thirds of the full membership. They also said cities and counties could make up for lost taxes by charging user fees for certain services, although other legislation may also require a super majority vote for that.
To partly offset revenue losses to local governments, the amendment also would increase the statewide sales tax from 6 percent to 8.5 percent. Cities and counties, though, would face the same $5.8 billion overall loss.
(read the rest of the article)
Now, think about all the things that the county or city government in your area does for you that you hardly ever notice, let alone think about - police, fire, EMS, parks and recreation, libraries, etc.
Now imagine the city or county being unable to pay for those things, or having to eliminate some of those items in order to pay for essentials.
I own a home and am self-employed, so I stand to gain some advantage by having my property taxes cut. But what about those people who work for the local government, and could conceivably see their pay cut by 25%, with a 3.5% hike in sales taxes?
Is the gas station going to lower its current $2.59 a gallon for regular unleaded to help them out?
Is the supermarket going to lower food prices?

Methamphetamine's a big problem in Florida, so I can only assume that the Republicans who voted this out of committee were either high or completely dissociated from reality (I'm a Republican, so no partisan brickbats, please).
The problem here, I think, is that House Speaker Marco Rubio desperately wants to be Governor after Charlie Crist, and wants to make his bones by getting this monstrosity passed. Unfortunately, I don't think anyone on the GOP side of the aisle in Tallahassee has bothered to think about the worst case scenario.
Which would jibe very well with the attitude up in Washington, where "Plan B is to make Plan A work."

Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Time Out to Rant

I'm going to pause in the posting of my vacation pictures for a moment to vent a bit. Have patience, please.

Earlier today I had occasion to watch a show on MTV. Yes, I actually watched MTV, although the channel has been largely moribund ever since they stopped playing music videos.

The show I watched was called My Super Sweet 16.

For those who haven't seen it, it shows for the cameras the lengths and expense some people will go to give their daughter a memorable sixteenth birthday party.

Our star for this episode was a rather svelte girl from Tennessee - not fat, but with lush curves on her that made her look twenty. To be fair, her parents are rich, judging from the gigantic McMansion they live in (pace Al Gore, I wondered what their light bills were).


They gave this young woman a $82,000 six-door stretch Hummer (even though she didn't yet have her license), a $20,000 diamond-studded wristwatch and a $125,000 "sweet sixteen" party at a posh hotel in New York City for her and what looked like a hundred of her school chums. This party included a hip-hop star (probably a B-lister) and at least three dress changes on the part of the guest of honor. She even had a young lad from her school act as her escort, much to the annoyance of her actual boyfriend.

Now, I'm watching this tribute to wretched excess and all I can think of is the Fall of Rome in 476. As more and moore of the Upper One Percent concentrate more wealth in their hands, the gap between them and the rest of us will widen and deepen until Something Happens to correct the imbalance.

I will leave it as an exercise for the student to determine what that Something might be.

What do you think?

Friday, March 02, 2007

Vacation Pictures - The English Garden

Bavaria's kings decided to make their capital, Munich, as pretty as possible, so they commissioned a series of parks for recreation. The largest of these is the English Garden, a swath of green about three miles long by one wide. There are several artificial lakes and streams in it, fed by a small diversion of the Isar River.

Now, I know I posted this picture before, but it bears repeating - yes, that's a surfer. The Isar River is reasonably fast-flowing, and narrowing it through the diversion speeds it up. The waves you see are caused by a series of concrete baffles just under the surface to slow the water down.

Pretty, eh? A lot of the Garden is just huge open fields where people can hold impromptu soccer matches, run, let their dogs play, or (in summer months or in warm weather) sunbathe naked in certain spots.

Like all big cities, Munich does have a graffiti problem, as you can see. Some of these marks are gang symbols.

A Chinese Tower in an English Garden. Well, why the hell not? There's a restaurant to the right in this picture, and a biergarten further on. I had bratwurst there for lunch.

Further north of the Chinese Tower is a large artifical lake. You can rent boats there and enjoy the simple pleasure of rowing among the ducks.

South of the Chinese Tower is a Japanese tea house, on a small island. It was closed when I visited.

One of the entrances to the garden. There are a couple streets and numerous paths crossing through the park.