Friday, December 30, 2005

2005: A Wretched Year

I'm not going to whine about how personally miserable 2005 has been for me. Nevertheless, being housebound for the summer had a wonderful benefit: I discovered the blogosphere and made some wonderful friends here.

Thanks to all of you--too numerous to name. The right sidebar lists the blogs I frequent, and I count many of these bloggers as my friends.

I extend a special thanks to my dear friend Mustang, who showed me the ropes when we co-wrote "Our Own Gullibility."

Happy New Year to all my fellow-bloggers, some of whom do not have their own sites, and to the commenters and the silent readers who come here!

Now, for a few amusing items to end 2005 or to start 2006, from News of the Weird, as published in the December 25, 2005 edition of the Washington Post:
Not the Brightest Crayons in the Box
DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick told a middle-school class that the U.S. Congress is different from the Texas legislature because in Washington, there are "454" members on the House side and "60" in the Senate.
--Associated Press, April 15

Guv'mint at Work
TOUGH WORK IF YOU CAN GET IT City Council member Yvonne Lamanna, 58, filed a workers' compensation claim against the city of Penn Hills, Pa., after she threw her back out while taking her seat at the Feb. 7 council meeting.
-- Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, March 9

THE LAWS OF IRONY ARE STRICTLY ENFORCED When CNN/USA Today/Gallup pollsters asked in a telephone survey whether President Bush is a "uniter" or a "divider," 49 percent said a uniter and 49 percent said a divider.
--CNN, Jan. 19

DO I LOSE MY PLACE IN LINE? As a registered sex offender in California, James Andrew Crawford was required to notify authorities if he adopted a new "domicile" for more than five days. He was arrested in May for noncompliance after he camped out for two weeks in a theater line waiting for "Star Wars: Episode III" to open.
--North County (Escondido, Calif.) Times, May 19

Body and Soul
DANGERS THE SURGEON GENERAL MISSED Smoke started rising from Israel's then-finance minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he was sitting for a radio interview in Jerusalem in May, causing him to fling his jacket off. He had stuffed his lighted cigar inside a pocket to comply with the room's no-smoking policy. And in Foreman, Ark., Jeff Foran, 38, suffered facial injuries when he impulsively leaped from a fast-moving car just to retrieve his cigarette, which had blown out a window.
--Reuters, May 30; Associated Press, May 23

At the Edge of Credulity
PLEASE DON'T BOTHER TO RELOAD In an early-morning shootout on June 4 at the Homewood housing complex in Pittsburgh, two undercover officers and a suspect exchanged at least 103 gunshots without anyone getting hit. (The first bullet did shatter the windshield of the officers' car, however.)
--Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, June 5; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, June 5

The Entrepreneurial Spirit
THE REALITY SHOW IS NEXT At a new theme park in El Alberto, Mexico (near Mexico City), wannabe migrants to the United States can test their survival skills at an obstacle course that replicates the rigors migrants must endure while sneaking across the border. Admission price: about $13.50.
--Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Feb. 20

Just Criminal
FINAL NOTE: Police in New Scotland, N.Y., arrested Corianna Thompson, 45, in April for the murder of her mother, then released her last month without charges while they investigate "additional leads." Thompson's birth name was Corey Wayne Balashek. Before his sex change, he served nine years in prison for the 1981 strangulation of an Albany nurse. Authorities believe Thompson/Balashek is the first American, let alone the first middle-name-Wayne, to be arrested for murder in both genders.
--Albany (N.Y.) Times Union, April 11, November 18

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Thursday, December 29, 2005

Will I Get One?

Jury Summonses Sent in Convicted Terrorist's Death Penalty Trial

Maybe, but I bet that the court won't let me serve.

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"Georgetown Jihad"

[Also posted at Northern Virginiastan]

From Lee Kaplan's December 29, 2005 article "Georgetown's Jihad " (All emphases by Always On Watch):

Never let it be said that the American college educational system ever missed an opportunity to promote the aims of terrorists and their allies when it came to money. Stop the ISM has received notification that the Palestine Solidarity Movement (PSM), the name the International Solidarity Movement (ISM) uses for its member groups in the United States, is going to have its fifth annual conference at a major American university-this time Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

The following announcement was put out to ISM activists in the United States:

Palestine Solidarity Movement

Fifth Annual Divestment Conference

("Fifth Annual National Student Conference of the Palestine Solidarity Movement")

Georgetown University

February 17 - 19, 2006

More information to come.

A quick call to President George DeGioia of Georgetown University netted no response or comment from his office or staff about the event. Another call placed to the campus office of communications to verify the event was actually scheduled was also met with no response. According to Fabiola Joubert in the campus Office of Communications, she could not confirm or deny the event and said she had no idea where to find a schedule of campus events for the Washington campus. She referred this reporter to Eric Smulson, campus press officer, who was "in meetings" and "unavailable."

The Palestine Solidarity Movement has held national conferences on major university campuses four out of the last five years, first at UC Berkeley, then U Michigan, Ohio State and Duke University. At the last conference held at Duke University in 2004, Huwaida Arraf, one of the PSM's main organizers, admitted that the Palestine Solidarity Movement works with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, all illegal terrorist groups per the US state department. That particular event was also found to be an anti-Semitic hate fest which also produced articles in the campus newspaper later attacking Jews in America as a "privileged class." At the earlier event at U Michigan, chants of "Kill the Jews" were heard among the attendees. Divestment from Israel is a major theme, an attempt to hurt the Israeli population and force it to capitulate to PLO demands; in other words, an extension of the Arab boycott against Jews in the Middle East for having their own country. Public reaction to the 2004 Duke event no doubt made finding a venue for another conference difficult which might explain why there was no such conference held at a major university in 2005....

Georgetown's Arab studies department has always had an anti-Israel slant due to wealthy Saudi and Palestinian Arab donors. Middle East Studies professor John Esposito, who frequently speaks as an apologist for militant Islamic groups, is based at Georgetown. He heads Georgetown’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. That fits nicely with the new theme of the PSM...

One of those Saudi donors to Georgetown is the omnipresent Prince Alaweed Bin Talal. Bin Talal was the Saudi sheik who accused Israel of "slaughtering the Palestinians" as he offered a ten million dollar check to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuiliani at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center disaster. Giuliani refused to accept the check. Bin Talal is one of the major financiers of Hamas, having contributed over 400 million dollars to date to the terrorist organization.

That Georgetown would look the other way comes as no surprise. One of Bin Talal's "gifts" to Georgetown University was the second largest one in the University's history-20 million dollars. No doubt after Duke, the PSM had trouble finding an American university willing to host such a venue again, but money talks and Georgetown listens....

Go here to enable links in the article.

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Christmas Murders

When the following story first broke, I immediately thought of Truman Capote's book In Cold Blood, which detailed the 1959 murder of the Clutter Family in Holcomb, Kansas. But the Christmas Day murders here in Fairfax County occurred much closer to home, less than ten miles from my house:
"Police yesterday described a harrowing scene at the Great Falls home where a triple slaying occurred Christmas morning, with the 27-year-old gunman rampaging through the spacious residence, shooting two victims at bedside and one cowering in a closet.

"Shocked neighbors, friends and law enforcement officials struggled to make sense of the killings, which occurred less than an hour after the gunman, identified as Nathan Cheatham, allegedly killed his mother, Sheila Cheatham, at her McLean home eight miles away. The bloodbath ended when Cheatham shot himself in the head with the 9mm handgun, bringing the day's death toll to five, authorities said.

"The lone survivor, a 20-year-old man who called police, had sought refuge in the basement of the Great Falls home....

"Police identified the victims in the Great Falls home as Adam Sebastian Price, 19, a friend of Cheatham's, and his mother, Janina C. Price, 50. They had moved from their longtime home in another part of Great Falls a few weeks ago and appeared to be renting the Sycamore Springs Lane house, which is owned by a retired U.S. diplomat, neighbors said. Also slain was Christopher James Buro, 20, a friend of the Price family whom Cheatham apparently did not know, police said....

"Cheatham had moved back to his mother's home in the past few weeks after living for a while with two brothers elsewhere in Fairfax County, police said. Sheila Cheatham, 53, ran a day-care center, Mother Nurture, on her property. Acquaintances described her as enthusiastic about her business and delighted with a new beachfront condo in Fort Walton Beach, Fla., one of several properties she owned. They said she was divorced from Nathan's father, who was described by one of his co-workers as a former Navy SEAL....

"Police said a witness saw Sheila and Nathan Cheatham in a car together at their home about 9:30 a.m. Gunshots rang out a short time later but were not reported to police, they said. After killing his mother, investigators said, Nathan Cheatham went to Great Falls.

"Sometime that morning, Cheatham had called the Price family to see whether he could come over, police said. They turned him down, according to police. But he headed to the quiet, wooded neighborhood anyway.

"Police said Cheatham, driving his Ford Ranger pickup, drove up to the Price home, a two-story, 3,600-square-foot residence on a hill. He started firing even before he entered the house. 'He was not trying to hide that he was coming,' said Maj. Bob Callahan, commander of the Fairfax police criminal investigations bureau.

"Police believe Cheatham broke into the house and methodically went from room to room, looking for his victims. He fired more than 50 shots in all, reloading as he hunted down the victims while they scrambled for their lives, police said.

"One victim was found slain inside a bedroom closest, where the person apparently was trying to evade the gunman. The other two were found dead next to beds. Authorities said all the victims had been shot multiple times in the upper body.

"'Once he started shooting, it did not take long,' Callahan said.

"Buro was found in a first-floor bedroom. He had been staying at the Prices' home for about a week, police said. Buro, of Vienna, had been doing odd jobs since graduating from Langley High School, said his stepfather, Ralph Hendry. Buro had also had a recent scrape with the law, having appeared in court two weeks ago in connection with a minor theft charge, according to public records.

"Janina Price was found in the master bedroom, and her son Adam was discovered in a second-floor bedroom.

"'It appeared that they probably were still asleep or in their rooms when everything started,' Callahan said. 'It certainly appears that people in the house heard gunshots and tried to take cover in their rooms....'"
According to a follow-up article,

"On the night before she died, Sheila Cheatham was desperately worried about her son Nathan, saying he hadn't slept in 48 hours and was suicidal because he believed he was in trouble with the law.

"Billy R. Hicks, a Springfield criminal lawyer who represented Nathan Cheatham in a 2002 drug case, said yesterday that Sheila Cheatham called him Christmas Eve for advice on how to help Nathan, 27, who had vowed to kill himself rather than allow police to arrest him.

"'She was frightened for him,' Hicks said. 'She said he was suicidal and extremely paranoid because of something that occurred two or three days earlier.' Hicks said he recommended that she seek to have her son committed for psychiatric treatment....

"Cheatham's fear of an imminent arrest was unfounded, law enforcement sources said yesterday. There is no record that Cheatham had had trouble with police in the weeks before the killings. Investigators have not determined a motive in the slayings, the sources said, but they are focused on two theories: that Cheatham, who had a history of mental health issues, had a psychotic episode, or that drugs were involved.

"Court records and the sources indicated that Cheatham and the shooting victims had a history with drugs -- some with cocaine and others with prescription painkillers -- and might have known one another through a drug connection...."
Cheatham's criminal record shows that he had several brushes with the law, including arrests for assault and battery, concealing a weapon, and escape. In 2002, he was was charged with possession of cocaine. Some two years later, a judge disposed of Cheatham's case after Cheatham successfully completed his probation and community service. Possibly he had no felony record because sometimes judges' dispositions here result in an expunged record.

According to the follow-up article,

"In November 2004, probation officer Sheila W. Ellis wrote to the court that Cheatham 'fully complied' with conditions of his probation and never tested positive for drug use during random screens.

"'We are happy to report that the subject did so well at his community service placement that he was hired as a paid employee,' Ellis wrote. The charge was dismissed last December. Court records indicate Cheatham was hired at Claude Moore Colonial Farm, a privately operated history museum in the National Park Service near his McLean home
Claude Moore Colonial Farm, closed from December 12 through March 30, is a frequent destination for elementary-school field trips and advertises as follows on the park's web site:
"A visit to the Claude Moore Colonial Farm is a visit to another world ...the world of an 18th Century family living on a small, low-income farm just prior to the Revolutionary War. The year is 1771 ... won't you come and visit?"
Thank God that the park was closed! The possibilities of what Cheatham might have done at the park which schoolchildren here so love don't bear thinking about. Although it is laudable that Ms. Ellis recommended her probationee for a job, I question if an individual as unstable as Cheatham should have done his community service and then have been recommended for employment at a public facility such as Claude Moore Farm. Certainly management at Claude Moore Farm must have known that Cheatham had a criminal history because his probation officer, in her official capacity, got him a position there in the first place.

Is Cheatham's story another tale of a druggie gone mad? Probably. But the first article also provides this information:
"Friends recalled Cheatham in his earlier years as a respectful youth who was gifted at drawing. But in recent years, he had run into trouble, with emotional problems, convictions on minor assault and concealed weapon charges, and arrests on drug charges, according to police, public records and friends."
Schizophrenia compounded by drug use? Schizophrenia caused by drug use? Hard to say. At this point, many questions about the murderer and the victims at the Prices' house remain unanswered. Toxicology results for all those who died here on Christmas morning will be available in about three weeks, and those results may provide further clues as to motivation. Cheatham's brothers may also have some answers as to possible motivation, particularly if serious mental illness predated their brother's drug usage.

Mass murders in Fairfax County are almost unheard of--certainly on Christmas Day and especially in the prosperous, upscale McLean/Great Falls area. After all, Fairfax County is not Hollywood. But tragedy, drug-fueled or otherwise, knows no geographical boundaries.

Typical of the Washington Post, the second article tries to find something positive in the story of lives taken and lives ruined:
"News also emerged yesterday about Max, the Price family's black Labrador retriever mix, who was shot at the Great Falls home. He is expected to fully recover, said Michele Angel, a veterinarian at the Hope Center for Advanced Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.

"Angel said Max was shot three times: in the head, the right foreleg and the chest. Now that the bullets have been removed and his wounds cleaned, Max is doing well and eating and drinking, she said. He might be released as soon as today [December 28].

"'He's a big love with a great personality,' she said. 'Even though it was tragic, it just made my holiday . . . just that you can have something good come out of this.'"
I wonder where Max will now call home.

Update 1 (Thursday, December 29, 2005, 1:05 P.M.) from New Details Emerge About Killer's Mental State:
"...Sandra Lebowitz, who hosted Nathan and Sheila Cheatham for Thanksgiving dinner at her Sterling home, said that although Nathan seemed to be in decent spirits, she was stunned as he joined guests in saying what he looked forward to in the coming year.

"According to Lebowitz, he said, 'I'm looking forward to going on to the next life.'

"'That quote haunts me,' said Lebowitz, a meeting manager for a consulting firm. Lebowitz added that, according to Sheila Cheatham, her son had recently stopped taking medication for an anxiety disorder, although she did not explain why....

"Friends of Sheila Cheatham's said that Nathan, one of five sons she raised, was an extremely sensitive boy devastated by his parents' divorce. He was 12 when Cheatham's marriage to Bill Cheatham Reed, a naval officer, dissolved.

"'He never got over it,' said a friend who dated Sheila Cheatham in the early 1990s and spoke on condition of anonymity because he is now married.

"The friend added that Sheila Cheatham asked Reed to help pay for psychiatric care for Nathan...."
Update 2 (Thursday, December 29, 2005, 6:14 P.M.) from NBC-4:
"A man who shot and killed four people before turning the gun on himself has been linked to two other shooting incidents, according to police. One of his victims also is linked to the shootings....

"Detectives said they have connected Adam Price and Cheatham, 27, to two shooting incidents on Dec. 21. Investigators said that the two men allegedly drove along the 900 block of Utterback Store Road in Great Falls at about 5 a.m. and shot two bullets into a home. No one in the home was injured.

"Investigators said that at about 7 a.m., the two allegedly shot several times in the 500 block of Utterback Store Road. No homes were struck and no injuries were reported. [A recent broadcast on NBC-4 showed some bullet holes in some of the houses along Utterback Store Road]

"Police said the two cases were still under investigation when the shootings occurred Christmas Day.

"Investigators believe that Cheatham grew concerned about police discovering his involvement in these shootings."
More information, including some pictures, is available at NBC-4. This channel is constantly updating the story.

Update 3 (Sunday, January 1, 2006, 10:42 A.M.) from an article in the Washington Post:
"Sheila Cheatham considered it her mission in life to help parents raise strong and healthy children.

"At Mother Nurture, the day-care center she ran in her McLean home, she encouraged parents dropping off their children to consult her reference library of books on nutrition, discipline and creative learning techniques. She lectured young mothers on the importance of breastfeeding. She broadened her own education with workshops and seminars by leading specialists on childrearing....

"The basement of the big white house on Lewinsville Road was warm and welcoming. It was filled with toys, a long picnic table for meals, cheery murals on the walls and a floor painted to look like a garden with steppingstones...

"Cheatham had struggled to find help for 27-year-old Nathan ever since his emotional and behavioral problems became apparent in early adolescence. Over the years, she took him to therapists, drug counselors and psychiatrists. When he was 15, she had him hospitalized for depression. She gave him a job at her day-care center. To help him foster a sense of independence and self-reliance, she even bought a house near Falls Church where he could live with his two younger brothers....

"For all the ideas Sheila Cheatham had for other parents, none seemed to work for Nathan. There were therapists and nutritionists. She spent countless evenings in group counseling sessions for parents and teenagers at the old Fairfax courthouse. She even attended sessions alone, watching other parents interact with their children in an attempt to pick up any fragment of insight that might help...."
This lady did all that she could to deal with the incomprehensible.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2005


I had this Washington Post article before Christmas, but have waited until now to post the following excerpt:
A Sept. 11 Tribute Sits in Decay
Settlement to Decide Who Pays for Firehouse's $2.5 Million Repair

Sunday, December 18, 2005

"Arlington County's new fire station on South Hayes Street was supposed to open this year as a state-of-the-art tribute to the firefighters of Engine Company No. 5, the first responders to the fiery scene at the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Today, the $4.3 million building sits incomplete and nearly abandoned, the construction site shuttered since the general contractor was fired in June. Inside, black mold grows on the walls. Shoddy brickwork on a curved wall above a set of glass windows is visible from the street.

"What went wrong with Fire Station No. 5 -- a messy battle that has included charges and countercharges of malfeasance between Arlington County and Dynasty Construction Inc. -- will probably one day be decided by a judge.

"But for now, Arlington County has a decaying building that may cost as much as $2.5 million to repair and complete, a bill that could be passed on to county taxpayers, pending the outcome of a settlement with the contractor's insurance company.

"Firefighters who have observed the drama say privately that the county has only itself to blame. Records show that when the county awarded the contract to Dynasty in October 2003, officials were deeply enmeshed in a battle with the contractor over the remodeling of the Arlington Arts Center, which has had similar mold problems and years of delays....

"The president of the Bethesda firm, John Barrett III, denied that his company is at fault and said that county workers caused the delays in both projects by failing to get construction permits and other approvals on time....

"The current firehouse -- a low-slung brick building just south of Pentagon City shopping mall -- holds a special place in the hearts of many nearby residents. Locals flocked there in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, working day and night to organize the massive outpouring of food and donations that streamed in...."
I recall some of the media coverage of that firehouse in the days after 9/11. Calls for a better fire station came from different quarters, and all were in agreement that it was way past time for improvements to the old facility.

In both New York City and here in the Washington, D.C. area, the brave 9/11 firefighters--heroes--responded quickly and without hesitation, despite the possibility, now understood to be remote, of the additional danger from radiation or from biological agents. Arlington County can do better than to allow a delay in the promised tribute to the bravery and sacrifice of Engine Company No. 5. Furthermore, the new fire station is more than a tribute: it is a necessity in growing Arlington County. Shame on the politicians who have allowed and continue to allow the delay in recognizing the 9/11 heroes and in protecting the citizens and the taxpayers!

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Celebrate Christmas!

Stop by CatHouse Chat every day to celebrate the Meaning of the season.
Scroll down for the most recent postings here at Always On Watch.

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Friday, December 23, 2005

Merry Christmas!

Please read "God's Christmas Present." Once you start the scrolling, this site will scroll by itself. If you have speakers, turn them on to hear a piano rendition of "O Holy Night" as you read the poem and view the art work.
(Hat tip: Skylark)

Not long ago, one of my students asked me, "What is your favorite Christmas carol?"

Without hesitation, I responded, "Of the Father's Love Begotten."

I discovered this beautiful, lesser-known hymn some thirty years ago when I was a church organist. "Of the Father's Love Begotten" is often used as an a capella processional or as a processional with handbells during Advent season, both at services and at Christmas concerts. The words speak to the divinity. sovereignty, and immortality of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Note the refrain: "Evermore and evermore."

Of the Father's Love Begotten

Of the Father's love begotten,
Ere the worlds began to be,
He is Alpha and Omega,
He the source, the ending He;
Of the things that are, that have been,
And that future years shall see,
Evermore and evermore.

O ye heights of heaven, adore Him;
Angel hosts, His praises sing;
Powers, dominions, bow before Him,
And extol our God and King;
Let no tongue on earth be silent,
Every voice in concert ring,
Evermore and evermore.

Christ, to Thee with God the Father,
And, O holy Ghost, to Thee,
Hymn and chant and high thanksgiving,
And unwearied praises be;
Honor, glory, and dominion,
And eternal victory,
Evermore and evermore.

--Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, 348-c. 413
Translated by John M. Neale, 1818-1866 and Henry W. Baker, 1821-1877
To be sung to Divinum Mysterium, 13th Century Plainsong, Mode V
[Click here to read all the verses and to hear the music]
Visit CatHouse Chat for further articles and meditations.

May the Lord grant you the peace and blessings of this Holy Season.
--Always On Watch

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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Cameo And The Christmas Tree

I'm in my first year of blogging, and I figure that I'm entitled to so a cutesie Christmas posting, so here's mine:

Cameo, our youngest cat of a little over four years, is one-fourth Siamese. As she is mostly Russian Blue, she doesn't have the appearance of a lean Siamese; in fact, she's smoky-gray, except for the dainty white spot on her chest and built like a little firegplug. Every annual check-up at the vet brings the warning, "You'd better watch her weight." Keeping Cameo's food intake to a lower level is easier said than done, however, because she steals the other cats' food before she eats her own--and none of the other three girls mess with Cameo's feeding station.

True to her Siamese heritage, Cameo is busy, busy, busy. I suspect that Christmastime is her favorite time of year because the season provides her with more opportunity for getting into trouble. From the moment that I wrestle the decorations out of that miniscule guestroom closet (A man built this house in 1940, and apparently he didn't believe in closet space or in enough electrical outlets, for that matter), her eyes glow with mischief.

As soon as my husband struggles into the front door with the large box containing the artificial tree dragged from the rafters of the shed, Cameo dives headfirst into the box. We guess that she detects the scent of mice as our shed is infested with those vermin. As the box gets progressively empty, she watches intently as we assemble the tree. First, we lay out all the branches so that we can match the back prongs to the now faded color scheme on the "trunk." It never fails: Cameo leaps from the box and drags off one of the branches into the dining room, and I shout, "Cut that out! Leave that tree alone." But after a few minutes of struggle with her, the tree is up. We loop a piece of twine around the trunk and fasten the tree to the window ledge. I don't want that tree tipping over and coming home to find the angel-topper's porcelain head in pieces on the floor!

Next come the lights. Of course, strings of lights have to be plugged in and tested, and Cameo participates in checking the lights too. The string itself is interesting, but when those bulbs come on, Cameo seems to feel that it's her duty to double-check that each bulb works, and she makes every effort to bite each one. As we wrap the lights around the tree, the trailing strands probably remind her of her favorite toy, the laser gun, so she becomes ecstatic with the thrill of pursuit. Again, I scream, "Cut that out!" followed by "Leave those lights alone!"

The first decorations to be placed on the tree are the strands of beads. We store the beads in plastic bags and, no matter how carefully we've put them away at the end of the Christmas season, somehow they get all tangled up, so we have to disentangle them. Cameo has no interest in a ball of tangled strands, but once they're laid out as separate strands, she goes into action. "Cut that out! Leave those beads alone."

Assembling the tree and putting on the lights take less than an hour. But then the real fun begins for Cameo--putting on the ornaments! She watches carefully as each ornament is placed. Then she spies the empty boxes. Small though they are, Cameo feels that it's her obligation to inspect those boxes and to try to secrete herself therein. "Cut that out! Leave those boxes alone!"

After hours of work, the tree is glowing with lights and ornaments, and all of us--my husband, the four cats, and I--sit back to inspect the results. Our tree has no tinsel, of course: tinsel can be fatal to cats. They love to eat it, and tinsel and digestive tracts are not a good match. We learned that lesson with a previous cat; fortunately, the vet got to her in time, and Laxatone took care of the problem. But my husband and I decided that, from that point on, our Christmas tree would go tinselless rather than risk losing a beloved pet.

As soon as the tree is completely festooned, Cameo goes after those ornaments on the lower branches. Unlike another cat I once had, she has no particular favorites to scramble for. Rather, any ornament on a lower branch is her target. I grab the water spritzer and soak her good. "Cut that out! Leave that tree alone!" Sheepishly giving me that what-did-I-do look, she goes to the radiator, which is still tantalizingly close to the tree, and pretends that the tree isn't really there.

Inevitably, we have to leave the house within hours of decorating the tree. Either work calls or we have to run an errand. You guessed it! When we return home, the lower branches are bare. Sometimes the ornaments disappear, only to be found during spring housecleaning; sometimes the ornaments are just below the branches or in the gift bags. We put the ornaments back on, once again, with "Oh, Cameo, can't you just leave that tree alone?" Her eyes are round with innocence.

Every evening, we go through the same routine: Cameo secretes herself under the tree as soon as the switch is thrown, I shout "Cam-eee-ooooooo!," she swats at an ornament, and I grab the water spritzer. "Cut that out! Leave that tree alone!" Sometimes the very sight of the spritzer does the job, and I don't have to soak the tree skirt and any presents under the tree as I attempt to shoo her out from under the tree. Being a little klutzy, Cameo usually dislodges an ornament or two in her scramble to the radiator. I sigh and readjust the tree. My husband says, "Leave that cat alone."

Cameo's first Christmas was the most disruptive for the tree, but the most entertaining as well. After several days of the above routine with the spritzer, Cameo decided to be sneakier in her approach. While I was busy polishing the silver tea service, she removed all the ornaments on the lower branches. My hands were full, so I let that defiance go and waited to see what she would do next. She went to her toy box, and, one by one, retrieved her toys and placed them on the lower branches. If I hadn't seen this with my own eyes, I wouldn't have believed it! Then she sat back to survey her work. Within a few minutes, she stalked, then attacked the tree and swatted her "ornaments" all over the house. To our regret, Cameo has never again repeated her tree-decorating efforts.

My husband and I have had cats all our married lives, and we've noticed that most cats lose interest in a Christmas tree as they get older. In fact, because of that waning interest, until we got Cameo, we had become accustomed to using only felt and plastic ornaments for each cat's first Christmas tree and returned to using the breakable ones as the years passed. But Cameo seems to be a true Siamese--ever curious--and we don't foresee adding many breakables during her lifetime, especially on the lower branches.

I hope that I don't have to soak Cameo too many times this year. After all, it is Christmas and the season of good will. I don't want "the little portly" to catch cold!

Uh oh! She's staring at the tree again right now. Where is that spritzer?

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Monday, December 19, 2005

Strife At The Washington Ballet

From "All Toes Point To The Picket Line," a December 16, 2005 article in the Washington Post:

"For the second night in a row, the Washington Ballet has canceled its Nutcracker performance because of labor strife. It announced last evening that it would scrap tonight's show -- just as its dancers, dressed in coats and boots instead of costumes, were throwing up a picket line on the slick sidewalk outside the show's venue, the Warner Theatre.

"The impasse has dashed the hopes of hundreds of ticket holders counting on seeing the holiday ballet that the company has performed for more than 40 years. It also occurs at the worst possible time for the company, which derives much of its annual revenue from the three-week Nutcracker run.

"Yesterday's performance was canceled after management and the dancers' union, the American Guild of Musical Artists, failed again to agree on an employment contract. Management had also canceled rehearsals this week.

"'We belong onstage,' said one dancer, sighing yesterday afternoon and contemplating marching outside the same theater where the ballet began performances Dec. 2. 'It's ridiculous.'...

"On the mezzanine level of the Marriott on Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday afternoon, the dancers prepared to go on the picket line....

"'YES!' they shouted, then began stringing around their necks the posters that read: "Washington Ballet Dancers are LOCKED OUT. No contract -- no Nutcracker. DANCERS NEED YOUR HELP. BOYCOTT THE WASHINGTON BALLET.' Silently, they filed out of the room, sneaking looks at themselves in the mirror.

"The dozen and a half dancers walked down Pennsylvania Avenue, turned left on 13th Street and formed a circle in front of the Warner Theatre, where they began to walk and chant: "No contract, no Nutcracker.' 'What do we want?' 'A contract.' 'When?' 'Now.'

"By 5:30 p.m., they numbered more than 50. The dancers had been joined by members of the stagehands union, the wardrobe union and others. The Metropolitan Washington Central Labor Council inflated a 15-foot rat with red eyes and mouth. Around its claws hung two placards. The last two times the council used the rat were against an asbestos-removal company and a demolition contractor accused of unfair labor practices.

"With their toes pointed out, the dancers marched in the rain...."

According to this story from NBC-4 on December 17, 2005, all remaining performances of Nutcracker have now been canceled because a successful contract could not be negotiated. A forty-year-old Christmas tradition here in Washington, D.C., will not be one of the usual highlights of the season this year.

Continue reading....

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Civil Liberties, National Security, And Presidential Powers

All emphases in this blog article are those of Always On Watch.

As the headlines "Renewal of Patriot Act Is Blocked in Senate" and "On Hill, Anger and Calls for Hearings Greet News of Stateside Surveillance" appear in the December 17, 2005 edition of the Washington Post, a perhaps lesser known, December 16, 2005 story has also appeared on the Internet:
"...The order Bush signed in 2002 has allowed the agency to monitor the international phone calls and international e-mails of hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States, the report said.

"Government officials credited the new program with uncovering several terrorist plots, including one by Iyman Faris, a central Ohio trucker who pleaded guilty in 2003 to supporting al-Qaida by planning to destroy the Brooklyn Bridge.

"A federal judge in Virginia sentenced Faris in October 2003 to 15 years in prison for aiding and abetting terrorism, plus five years for conspiracy.

"Faris’ ex-wife, Geneva Bowling of Columbus, said Friday morning that she hadn’t heard about the NSA program but said it sounded appropriate if it helps catch terrorists.

'If you’re asking me if that’s fair, I think it is, because they don’t play fair. They don’t do anything fair. It’s not in their vocabulary,' she said.

"Bowling said she has assumed since before Faris’ arrest that federal agents had tapped her phone, and she didn’t mind.

'Anything they need to do to correct this problem is justified,' she said...."

Already, President Bush has made a statement about the surveillance in his weekly radio address:

"As President, I took an oath to defend the Constitution, and I have no greater responsibility than to protect our people, our freedom, and our way of life. On September the 11th, 2001, our freedom and way of life came under attack by brutal enemies who killed nearly 3,000 innocent Americans. We're fighting these enemies across the world. Yet in this first war of the 21st century, one of the most critical battlefronts is the home front. And since September the 11th, we've been on the offensive against the terrorists plotting within our borders....

"The authorization I gave the National Security Agency after September the 11th helped address that problem in a way that is fully consistent with my constitutional responsibilities and authorities. The activities I have authorized make it more likely that killers like these 9/11 hijackers will be identified and located in time. And the activities conducted under this authorization have helped detect and prevent possible terrorist attacks in the United States and abroad....

"This authorization is a vital tool in our war against the terrorists. It is critical to saving American lives. The American people expect me to do everything in my power under our laws and Constitution to protect them and their civil liberties. And that is exactly what I will continue to do, so long as I'm the President of the United States."

What is the correct balance between civil liberties and national security? I expect that over the next several months we'll be hearing a lot about this issue. And if--God forbid--we endure another attack such as that of 9/11, will debating that balance be worth the price of human lives? If only foresight were as reliable as hindsight!

Continue reading....

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Saudi Prince, The Universities, Fox News, and The Pentagon

I entered a similar piece to Northern Virginiastan on December 13, 2005.

Reproduced here in its entirety is a December 13, 2005 article in Robert Spencer's Dhimmi Watch:

"Harvard University and Georgetown University each announced yesterday that they had received $20 million donations from Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Alsaud, a Saudi businessman and member of the Saudi royal family, to finance Islamic studies.

"Harvard said it would create a universitywide program on Islamic studies, recruit new faculty members in the field, provide more support for graduate students and convert rare Islamic textual sources into digital formats to make them widely available.

"'For a university with global aspirations, it is critical that Harvard have a strong program on Islam that is worldwide and interdisciplinary in scope,'" said Steven E. Hyman, Harvard's provost, who will coordinate adopting the new program.

"Georgetown said it would use the gift - the second-largest it has ever received - to expand its Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, which is part of its Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. It said it would rename the center the H.R.H. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

"The prince, who is said to be in his late 40's or early 50's, and was fifth on the Forbes 400 list of wealthy people this year, with a fortune of $23.7 billion, has made a variety of other sizable gifts, including $20 million to the Louvre and to other universities.

"One gift that backfired, however, was a $10 million check he gave Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani in October 2001 for the Twin Towers Fund, a charity to help survivors of uniformed workers who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. The prince had expressed his condolences for the lives lost and condemned 'all forms of terrorism,' in a letter accompanying the gift.

Mayor Giuliani returned the gift when he learned that a news release quoted the prince as calling on the American government to "re-examine its policies in the Middle East and adopt a more balanced stance toward the Palestinian cause."

It added, 'Our Palestinian brethren continue to be slaughtered at the hands of Israelis while the world turns the other cheek.'...

Martin Kramer, the author of Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle Eastern Studies in America, which contends that the study of the Middle East and Islam is politically biased, said last night, 'Prince Alwaleed knows that if you want to have an impact, places like Harvard or Georgetown, which is inside the Beltway, will make a difference.'...

In making the two gifts, the prince focused on the importance of uniting disparate cultures.

Harvard's news release quoted him as saying that he hoped Harvard's Islamic studies program 'will enable generations of students and scholars to gain a thorough understanding of Islam and its role both in the past and in today's world.'
Here is more information about the Saudi prince's gift to Georgetown University, from the December 13, 2005 Washington Post article:
"'As you know, since the 9/11 events, the image of Islam has been tarnished in the West,' said Alwaleed, who is chairman of the Riyadh-based Kingdom Holding Co. and has extensive business holdings in Europe and the United States.

"He said his gifts to Georgetown and Harvard will be used 'to teach about the Islamic world to the United States,' and the new programs at American University in Beirut and American University in Cairo will 'teach the Arab world about the American situation.'

"The $20 million gift to Georgetown is the second-largest ever received by the Jesuit-run university, school officials said. It will be used to expand the activities of the university's 12-year-old Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

"'We are deeply honored by Prince Alwaleed's generosity,' said a statement from Georgetown President John J. DeGioia, who met Alwaleed Nov. 7 in a Paris hotel to sign documents formalizing the donation....

"The Georgetown center, part of the university's School of Foreign Service, will be renamed the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. The $20 million will endow three faculty chairs, expand programs and academic outreach, provide scholarships for students and expand library facilities, Alwaleed said.

"Center director John L. Esposito said in an interview that 'a significant part of the money will be used to beef up the think tank part of what the center does.'

"Up to now, he said, the center has not had enough resources 'to respond to the tremendous demand that is out there, from the government, church and religious groups, the media and corporations to address and answer issues like, "What is the actual relationship between the West and the Muslim world? Is Islam compatible with modernization?" Now we can run workshops and conferences [on these subjects] both here and overseas.'

"When asked about the comments that caused the rejection of Alwaleed's gift to New York, Esposito said: 'There is nothing wrong with his expressing his opinion on American foreign policy. Clearly, it was done in a constructive way. He was expressing his enormous sympathy with the United States but also trying to give people the context in which this [terrorist attack] occurred.'"
My prediction: Harvard and Georgetown University will become an Islamic apologist centers with significant impact as it burnishes the image of Islam, thanks to the influx of Saudi dollars.

Prince Alwaleed has other investments as well. In September 2005, I blogged information about Prince Alwaleed here and here, when it was revealed that he had invested in the Fox News Network.

Some additional information about the Saudi Prince's impact on news coverage at Fox surfaced on December 7, 2005:
Saudi Billionaire Boasts of Manipulating Fox News Coverage

"WASHINGTON -- Accuracy in Media (AIM) is urging a full inquiry into a report that a Saudi billionaire caused the Fox News Channel (FNC) to dramatically alter its coverage of the Muslim riots in France after he called the network to complain. The Saudi billionaire, Al-waleed bin Talal, is a friend of News Corporation chairman Rupert Murdoch and controls an influential number of voting shares in the company.

"'This report underscores the danger of giving foreign interests a significant financial stake in U.S. media companies,' declared Cliff Kincaid, editor of Accuracy in Media.

The controversial comments came at an Arab media conference featuring representatives of Time magazine, USA Today, PBS, The Wall Street Journal, and other news organizations. The conference and the Saudi Prince's growing influence in News Corporation are among the subjects of a new December-A AIM Report that has just been posted at the AIM website ( The report raises the specter of Arab money influencing News Corporation and other U.S. media companies.

Liberal journalist Danny Schechter, a participant in the conference, reports that Al-waleed, who is a member of the Saudi Royal Family and investor in the Fox News parent company News Corporation, gave an interview boasting that he had called Fox to complain about coverage of the 'Muslim riots' in France. He said he 'called as a viewer' and 'convinced them to change' the coverage because 'they were not Muslim riots but riots against poverty and inequality.' And 'they changed' the coverage, the Saudi reportedly said.

Another report on the comments, carried by the Dubai-based newspaper the Khaleej Times, says that Al-waleed personally called Rupert Murdoch to complain. The Saudi said, 'After a short while, there was a change' in the coverage.

An AIM call to Fox News asking for comment was not returned. This is not the first time that Al-waleed has made controversial statements. His $10 million contribution to a 9/11 fund was rejected when he blamed the terror attacks on U.S. Middle East policy. Fifteen of the 19 terrorist hijackers on 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia."
A lengthy report about radical Arabs seeking influence over the U. S. news media from Accuracy in Media (AIM) is available here. The following is an excerpt from the introduction to the article:
"Are the U.S. media being courted by those who hate America? Or is an honest attempt at 'international understanding' at hand?

"The Arab Thought Foundation, which has strong financial connections to Saudi Arabia, is convening a conference in early December that is advertised as being designed to 'enhance interaction between Arab and international media organizations and bridge the gap between them.' It is an invitation-only meeting in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates, one of only three nations, along with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, that recognized the Taliban regime in Afghanistan....

"Advertised speakers include Karen Elliott House, publisher of the Wall Street Journal; David Ignatius of the Washington Post; Ed Bradley of CBS and 60 Minutes; Barbara Slavin of USA Today; Pat Mitchell, President and CEO of the Public Broadcasting Service; Matthew Winkler, editor-in-chief of Bloomberg News; and Jim Kelly, managing editor of Time magazine. 'Proud Sponsors' include Reader's Digest, CNBC, and Al-Arabiya television....

"The conference program also features a 'spotlight' on Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, described as 'one of the world's most influential investors.' That is certainly the case. He has just accumulated a significant financial interest in a major American medium that is trusted by conservatives—News Corporation, parent of Fox News Channel....

"Bakr Mohammad Bin Laden, general director of the Bin Laden Group in Saudi Arabia, a construction company based in Saudi Arabia, is a member of the Board of Trustees of the Arab Thought Foundation.

"Despite the popular notion that Osama bin Laden is the black sheep of the family, the bin Laden Group, three Saudi princes and the government of Sudan have been sued by 9/11 Families United to Bankrupt Terrorism for allegedly bankrolling al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden and the Taliban."
The Islamification of our universities and the news media continues apace, financed by Saudi dollars.

Perhaps the universities and Fox News should do some additional reading before those Saudi dollars are put to use. The following is from a December 14 article by Paul Sperry, author of How Muslims Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington :
"Four years into the war on terror, U.S. intelligence officials tell me there are no baseline studies of the Muslim prophet Muhammad or his ideological or military doctrine found at either the CIA or Defense Intelligence Agency, or even the war colleges.

"But that is slowly starting to change as the Pentagon develops a new strategy to deal with the threat from Islamic terrorists through its little-known intelligence agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity or CIFA, which staffs hundreds of investigators and analysts to help coordinate Pentagon security efforts at home and abroad. CIFA also supports Northern Command in Colorado, which was established after 9/11 to help military forces react to terrorist threats in the continental United States.

"Dealing with the threat on a tactical and operational level through counterstrikes and capture has proven only marginally successful. Now military leaders want to combat it from a strategic standpoint, using informational warfare, among other things. A critical part of that strategy involves studying Islam, including the Quran and the hadiths, or traditions of Muhammad....

"So far the conclusions of intelligence analysts assigned to the project, who include both private contractors and career military officials, contradict the commonly held notion that Islam is a peaceful religion hijacked or distorted by terrorists. They've found that the terrorists for the most part are following a war-fighting doctrine articulated through Muhammad in the Quran, elaborated on in the hadiths, codified in Islamic or sharia law, and reinforced by recent interpretations or fatwahs.

"'Islam is an ideological engine of war (Jihad),' concludes the sensitive Pentagon briefing paper. And 'no one is looking for its off switch.'...

"'Strategic themes suggest Islam is radical by nature,' according to the briefing, which goes on to cite the 26 chapters of the Quran dealing with violent jihad and the examples of the Muslim prophet, who it says sponsored 'terror and slaughter' against unbelievers....

"According to the Quran, jihad is not something a Muslim can opt out of. It demands able-bodied believers join the fight. Those unable -- women and the elderly -- are not exempt; they must give 'asylum and aid' (Surah 8:74) to those who do fight the unbelievers in the cause of Allah....

"In analyzing the threat on the domestic front, the Pentagon briefing draws perhaps its most disturbing conclusions. It argues the U.S. has not suffered from scattered insurgent attacks -- as opposed to the concentrated and catastrophic attack by al-Qaida on 9-11 -- in large part because it has a relatively small Muslim population. But that could change as the Muslim minority grows and gains more influence.

"The internal document explains that Islam divides offensive jihad into a 'three-phase attack strategy' for gaining control of lands for Allah. The first phase is the 'Meccan,' or weakened, period, whereby a small Muslim minority asserts itself through largely peaceful and political measures involving Islamic NGOs -- such as the Islamic Society of North America, which investigators say has its roots in the militant Muslim Brotherhood, and Muslim pressure groups, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose leaders are on record expressing their desire to Islamize America.

"In the second 'preparation' phase, a 'reasonably influential' Muslim minority starts to turn more militant. The briefing uses Britain and the Netherlands as examples.

"And in the final jihad period, or 'Medina Stage,' a large minority uses its strength of numbers and power to rise up against the majority, as Muslim youth recently demonstrated in terrorizing France, the Pentagon paper notes.

"It also notes that unlike Judaism and Christianity, Islam advocates expansion by force. The final command of jihad, as revealed to Muhammad in the Quran, is to conquer the world in the name of Islam...."
So what are those Saudi dollars donated to two premier American universities and invested in our news media financing? A greater understanding of Islam or the first phase of jihad?

Continue reading....

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Coming Soon? Your Cell Phone As Your ATM!

According to this item from a recent edition of Time magazine,
"Customers of ATMs long ago decided they could do without a teller. Now Steven Atkinson has a bolder idea: they can also do without the cash. His company mobileATM has developed secure software that allows cell-phone owners in Britain to check their bank balances using their handsets. That may sound trivial, but 37 banks in Britain, including First Direct (the roughly $12 billion phone and PC division of giant HSBC) and RBS (Royal Bank of Scotland), have approved it.

"Why? Because, says Atkinson, consumers make 150 million balance inquiries every month using 55,000 traditional hole-in-the-wall ATMs. MobileATM wants to redefine convenience. 'When you ask the question "Where is the nearest ATM?" I want the answer to be "It's in your hand," says Atkinson, who was born in 1969, the year that Chemical Bank in New York City opened the world's first modern ATM.

"If mobileATM is to provide a truly compelling service, shouldn't it also allow users to move cash around? 'You have to walk before you can run,' says Richard Kimber, chief executive of First Direct, who notes that consumers will be able to buy top-up credit for pay-as-you-go mobile phones. He also envisions a day when British commuters might be able to purchase subway rides using their mobileATM, the next step in turning your phone into your wallet."
Is this technological development a good one? My husband has lost three cell phones in that last two years. Losing a cell phone is bad enough without having to worry about the finder--or thief--using it to access a bank account.

The possibilites for abuse of the-cell-phone-as-ATM are endless. Next thing you know, your cell phone will be ripped off and used to steal your identity!

Continue reading....

Monday, December 12, 2005

Hospitals Are Dangerous Places

According to a December 11, 2005 article in the Washington Post, a nine-year-old boy died as a direct result of an English hospital's reuse of what should have been one-time-use medical equipment:

The Consequences of Cuts:
Reused Oxygen Tube Was Cheaper but Led to Death of Boy During Routine Surgery

"DAGENHAM, England -- The boy's name was Tony. But he liked to call himself 'Alfredo' just because. He baked banana bread. He daydreamed so often that his teachers worried. His mom would catch him kneeling by his bed praying, but he never talked about it. That was his secret.

"And his bike -- oh, did he love that bike. On Christmas morning in 2000, he hopped on it for the first time, teetered and chirped in delight, 'Whoohey'!

"That moment they still have. It's on home video. Tony's mom and dad don't watch it much anymore, not since July 17, 2001. That's the day Tony severely cut the tip of his right index finger on the chain of the bike. He was supposed to get stitched up. It was supposed to be routine. Except by the next morning, Tony was dead at the age of 9.

"The cause of Tony Clowes's death was 'irreversible cerebral anoxia,' oxygen starvation of the brain, according to hospital records. His parents believe their son was the victim of cost cutting.

"The hospital where Tony was to undergo minor surgery had reused oxygen tubes designated as single-use devices, according to police, government investigators and a coroner's jury. Asleep on the pre-operating room table, Tony could not breathe because the cap of another device had accidentally lodged itself inside his oxygen tube. A nurse had found that reused tube stuffed in the back of a hospital drawer.

"New, the oxygen tube cost less than $2. Used, it cost the hospital pennies.

"Although British regulators strongly discouraged the practice, Broomfield Hospital, where Tony was treated, acknowledged then that it was reusing single-use devices against the recommendation of the devices' manufacturers. Hospital officials declined to comment for this article.

"Since Tony's death, Britain has cracked down on the reuse of single-use medical instruments. But the practice has flourished in other parts of the globe, driven by cash-strapped hospitals' need to find savings.

"...Last month, the trust that runs the hospital pleaded guilty to failing to ensure Tony's health and safety; the penalty has not yet been decided.

"It has been more than four years since the accident, but Tony's mother, Carol, now 43 years old, still cannot bring herself to collect Tony's cremated remains, though they sit not five minutes away at A.G. Butler Funeral Directors.

"'I'm not ready to say this is just ashes,' she said."

The article also points out that this same practice of reusing certain medical devices has spread to other countries, including France, Germany, China, and the United States. In fact,
"...[I]t is becoming increasingly common in the United States, where the practice originated, and is condoned by government regulators despite periodic reports of patient injuries...."
A second article in the same edition of the Washington Post contains the following information:
"A growing number of U.S. hospitals, including at least eight in the Washington area, are saving money by reusing medical devices designated for one-time use, ignoring the warnings of manufacturers, which will not vouch for the safety of their reconditioned products.

"Hospitals are not required to tell patients that reconditioned devices will be used in surgery -- surgeons themselves often do not know. The Food and Drug Administration regulates the practice, and many hospital administrators say reusing single-use devices is not only cost effective but also poses no threat to patients because the instruments are cleaned with such care that they are as good as new.

"But single-use devices have malfunctioned during reuse, federal records and interviews show. In one instance, an electrode from a catheter broke off in a patient's heart. In another, a patient's eyeball was impaled. And an infant who for months gagged and retched on a resterilized tracheal tube now can take food only from a tube attached to his stomach....

"The FDA allows manufacturers to choose between getting approval for a device to be used once or multiple times. Companies are frequently choosing one-time use, which means their products do not have to be as sturdy, their liability is diminished after the first use and they are ensured a steady stream of replacement orders. The manufacturers often ship the devices sealed individually in sterile packaging, marked with warnings that they are not to be reused....

"Hospitals in all 50 states and the District, including many of the nation's leading hospitals, are believed to reprocess at least some single-use devices. In the Washington region, the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, where the president gets his checkup, at first said it did not use reprocessed devices. But after The Post independently confirmed that it does, the medical center said it does use them on a limited basis. So do Suburban Hospital Healthcare System in Bethesda, four Northern Virginia hospitals in the Inova Health System, and George Washington University Hospital and Greater Southeast Community Hospital in the District. 'Because of the rising cost of health care and medical supplies, reprocessing is a cost effective way to provide a high quality product to our patients,' GWU said in a statement. The other hospitals echoed the sentiment....

"Device makers say the single-use tag is not just a label. 'Single-use devices typically contain difficult-to-access areas that create barriers to cleaning and permit blood, tissue or other bodily fluids to contaminate the reprocessed device, allowing potential transmission of viral and bacterial infections,' said Stephen J. Ubl, president and chief executive of the Advanced Medical Technology Association, which represents device makers worldwide..."
Early this year, I lost one of my most favorite relatives, my cousin-in-law Jim. As far as I know, the cause of his death wasn't a reused medical device. Yet Jim's death and the above-cited article have a connection: unnecesary medical risks were taken and not on the part of the patient.

A few years back, the doctor noticed that Jim's cholesterol level was a bit elevated. Therefore, even though Jim's cholesterol was only marginally high, as a preventive measure, the doctor prescribed a statin. Jim had never been seriously sick a day in his life, but he followed his doctor's orders. The result: an unusual and severe reaction to the statin. The reaction went undiagnosed for some time--that's how rare the complication was!

As a result of the wasting of muscle tissue, Jim began having chest pains and was admitted to the hospital. All cardiac tests were normal, but by this time, the doctors had realized their neglect of the reaction to the statin. As a precaution, Jim underwent the procedure for the insertion of a pacemaker which, it turned out later, he didn't even need. Despite its supposed sterility, this pacemaker had antibiotic-resistant staph contaminating it.

Jim, a big jokester and a fine athlete, became disheartened at his ever mounting aches and pains. He wasn't the man he once had been. Over a period of some months of massive doses of various medications for the stubborn staph infection, Jim sank into chronic illness with cardiac and respiratory complications, became housebound, and had to retire early--on disability.

Last March, after some four years of one type of misery or the other, Jim succumbed to congestive heart failure. When I got the phone call that Jim had passed, I couldn't believe it! His wife and I are first cousins, but not of the see-each-other-every-day or whine-about-your-problems type, so that phone call caught me unawares. When I saw my cousin's number ocme up on Caller I.D., my first thought was "One of the girls is getting married!" But when I learned the horrible details of Jim's course of illness, I became angry--very angry. Certainly Jim's many doctors had had the best of intentions, but what happened was medical error compounded by medical error.

Jim's funeral was not a celebration of life, though the occasion was time for the whole family to gather. We gathered under a cloud of sadness and injustice. Jim was too young to have died in such a manner. He left behind his wife of some forty years and seven children: two of his own and five adopted boarder babies. Those children ranged in age from thirty-eight to seven years of age, and the youngest ones will never get to know their wonderful Dad as well as they should have.

This Christmas will be this family's first without husband and father. I suspect that it will be a sad time for that family, despite the September birth of the widow's first grandchild, with whom Jim's second daughter was, unbeknownst to any of us, pregnant at the time of his death.

Then, this past weekend, I read those above-cited article in the Washington Post. Today, December 12, 2005, "Reused Devices Attract Entrepreneurs, Scrutiny" appeared in the the newspaper and made the point that recycling these medical devices is big business. In many ways, this article is more of the same as the first two, with hollow promises of more oversight by the FDA. The final paragraph is chilling:
"Some think more oversight is needed. Massachusetts has introduced a bill that would require hospitals in that state to obtain permission from patients before using a refurbished single-use device on them. U.S. hospitals are not required to obtain such patient consent. The Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council said not enough has been done to 'protect patients from potential contamination and injury from reprocessed' single-use devices. The trade group said the savings hospitals accrue from reprocessing 'may come at the price of jeopardizing patient safety.'"
Whatever happened to "First, do no harm"? Patients here in the United States have come to expect state-of-the-art medical care. These reused medical devices, however, put patients in jeopardy and bring unnecessary grief to their families. Who will be held accountable?

Continue reading....

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Flight 93 Memorial

As published in Blogwatch, in the December 12, 2005 edition of Time Magazine:
"When the Sept. 11 memorial design was unveiled this fall for Flight 93's crash site in Pennsylvania, LITTLE GREEN FOOTBALLS and other conservatives decried it as a 'monumental insult,' largely because the crescent of red maple trees resembled an Islamic prayer station, pointing toward Mecca. Some critics tipped their hats last week at the bowl-shaped redesign, above, until ERROR THEORY pointed out that the 'Islamo-fascist shrine ... still contains all of the features that made it a terrorist memorial.; One element that was retained: the flight path lined with 44 translucent blocks, one for each person who died in the crash--including the four hijackers."
Last summer, Michelle Malkin had this to say about the original design for the Flight 93 Memorial, The Crescent of Embrace:
"...These were Americans who refused to sit down and be quiet and allow Islamic terrorists unfettered control over the flight stick of history. These were doers, not hand-wringers, who engaged in a violent and valiant struggle against evil.

"I remind you of all this because the official Flight 93 memorial unveiled last week is now embroiled in overdue public controversy. Funded with a mix of public money and private cash (including a $500,000 grant from Teresa Heinz's far-left Heinz Endowments), the winning design, titled the 'Crescent of Embrace,' features a grove of maple trees ringing the crash site in the shape of an unmistakable red crescent. The crescent, New York University Middle East Studies professor Bernard Haykel told the Johnstown, Pa., Tribune-Democrat, 'is the symbol of ritual and religious life for Muslims.'

"Some design contest jury members reportedly raised concerns about the jarring symbol of the hijackers' faith implanted on the hallowed ground where the passengers of Flight 93 were murdered. But their recommendations to change the name of the memorial (to 'Arc of Embrace,' or some such whitewashing) were ignored. Memorial architect Paul Murdoch, whose firm emphasizes 'environmental responsibility and sustainability," did not return calls and e-mails seeking comment, but he did emphasize to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that his creation was about 'healing' and 'contemplation.' He is also proud of his idea to hang a bunch of wind chimes in a tall tower at the site as a 'gesture of healing and bonding.'

"Wind chimes? Hey, why not add pinwheels and smiley face stickers and Care Bears while we're at it, too?

"Let's set aside the utter boneheaded-ness of using a symbol that, inadvertently or not, commemorates the killers' faith instead of the victims' revolt. The soft-and-fuzzy memorial design of 'Crescent of Embrace' still does injustice to the steely courage of Flight 93's passengers and crew. It evokes the defeatism embodied by those behind a similar move to turn the 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero in New York City into a pacifist guilt complex.

"This is no way to fight a war. Or to remember those who have died fighting it.

"A proper war memorial stirs to anger and action. We all remember passenger Todd Beamer's last heard words as he and his fellow Americans prepared to take back the plane from al Qaeda's killers, don't we?

"No, the phrase wasn't 'Let's meditate.' It was 'Let's roll.'"
The name for the redesigned Flight 93 Memorial is Sacred Ground, but some of the elements of the first design remain the same. Error Theory has extensive analysis of the latest design and proclaims it "an Islamo-fascist shrine."

Update (Sunday, December 11, 7:51 P.M., EST): According to an email received from someone who has read this blog article, the memorial's architect claims that most of Error Theory's points are not part of the new design. However, the original design was as Malkin explicated.

Note (Monday, December 12, 7:08 A.M., EST): See comments 8 and 9 for some information from a link provided by Sissy Blue.

Continue reading....

Friday, December 09, 2005

Freaky Coincidences

According to a December 9, 2005 story in the Washington Post, Fairfax County Police are shaking their heads over a series of coincidences involving two murder-for-hire cases:
"The two women, both named April and with the middle name Dawn, lived in different parts of Fairfax County and dated 22-year-old men. Now, both women have been charged in separate murder-for-hire plots with trying to have those boyfriends killed, police said yesterday.

"In what authorities called a bizarre coincidence, police charged April Dawn Shiflett, 33, with plotting the slaying of her 22-year-old boyfriend and charged April Dawn Davis, 27, with soliciting the murder of her former significant other, also 22. Police released the information yesterday, though the two were charged a week ago.

"Murder for hire is an unusual charge, and Fairfax police said announcing two separate plots on the same day, involving two women with the same first name, is extraordinary.

"'It is weird. We checked and double-checked to make sure they are, in fact, two separate incidents. We actually woke up the detectives,'' said Lt. Richard Perez, a police spokesman.

"He called the common thread of the name April 'a freaky coincidence.' The undercover officer was the same in each case....

"Despite the similarities in how the women were arrested, Perez said no specific crackdown is underway on murder-for-hire schemes."
This week, my middle-schoolers submitted their surprise-ending sequels to Guy de Maupassant's short story "The Necklace," in which Madame Loisel, dissatisfied with her station in life and ever the social climber, faces the awful consequences of pride. In an attempt to impress everyone at a hoity-toity party, she borrows a diamond necklace from a wealthy friend and loses it. In fact, the borrowed necklace was paste. But not knowing that the necklace had no value, the Loisels give up their material possessions and their middle-class status, go into debt to buy an exact and outrageously replica of the lost piece, and work for ten long years to pay off the debt incurred. Thus Madame Loisel ironically loses her youth, beauty, and class status in a well-intentioned and face-saving attempt to "do the right thing." One student's sequel portrayed the Loisels as eventually receiving back as recompense the valued replacement piece--a just resolution--but concluded his story with these words:
"Together they decided to sell the necklace because of all the grief it had caused them. The husband had been saving for a hunting gun ten long years ago and had given his wife that money to let her buy herself a dress for the party. Now he could finally get himself a gun and do something he had wanted to do for a long--kill his wife."
After reading his story aloud to the class, the student-author hastened to point out his use of "could," which creates an ambiguous ending in the modern style of leaving the reader guessing as to the plot's resolution. The class loved his story, and so did I!

Concluding a short story with a surprise ending is an accepted and fairly common writing technique. O. Henry, author of "The Gift of the Magi," used the surprise ending as his trademark. In the 1960's, Rod Serling of the The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock of Alfred Hitchcock Presents were fond of such plots, and those of us who grew up on such fare grew to love those twists at the end of each week's show. Stephen King, best-selling author of the last part of the Twentieth Century, has credited Sterling in particular with inspiring his work. Many of my generation have, therefore, grown to expect and even to predict surprise endings.

As the Fairfax County Police have just discovered, surprise endings and amazing coincidences happen in real life, too. And I can add a personal twist to the Washington Post's story of the two Aprils: One of them worked as a waitress in one of my favorite restaurants. Now, had I also known the other April, I'd have a bang-up ending for this blog article!

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Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Pandamania Coming To Town

The following item appeared in the December 4, 2005 edition of the Washington Post:
Tai Shan Set for Public Viewing

"The National Zoo's giant panda cub, Tai Shan, goes on public view Thursday for those who have obtained tickets to the Panda House via the zoo's Web site. More than 40,000 free, timed-entry tickets have been made available through Jan. 8.

"More than 13,000 tickets have been distributed to the general public. An additional 27,000 tickets have been offered to members of Friends of the National Zoo, a zoo support organization. Several thousand of those are available, FONZ said, and will be offered again to members next week.

"A limited number of same-day tickets will be available for zoo visitors.

"Members of the public who have tickets will have to show identification that matches the name on the ticket. Zoo officials said they are doing this to discourage selling of the tickets for profit and to guard against ticket duplication.

"'We urge panda fans to wait for additional free tickets to become available rather than spending money on what is intended to be a free ticket,' FONZ spokesman Matt Olear said in a statement. 'As Tai Shan matures and becomes more active and independent, not only will we extend viewing hours, but members of the public will likely have an even greater opportunity to see the cub.'"
Tai Shan is the cutest thing ever! Nearly every day, we here in the Washinton area get to see his antics on television. We ooh and aah and say, "I don't want to give him back." After all, he was born here. Doesn't natural birthright make Tai Shan an American citizen?

Washingtonians are suckers for panda stories. After all, Tai Shan is the first panda born at the National Zoo to survive more than just a short time.

For pictures of Tai Shan, go here to click on each week on the left sidebar. Each week also has information to read in the text in the center of each week's window.

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Sunday, December 04, 2005

CAIR Didn't Like This One

I found the link to the following letter to the editor of the Tribune & Georgian on the CAIR web site, under "Incitement Watch":
Western appeasement will only embolden Islamic terrorists

"Dear Editor, This Muslim Islamic terrorist thing is getting out of hand and many Americans are turning into a bunch of wimps. There is a global jihad going on and America has become no better than France and other Western nations that are in denial. This is especially true in regard to the media.

"Americans are woefully ignorant of world history. The first time that most Americans seriously considered the term Islamic terrorism was after the World Trade Center caved in. And then, after a few months of whoop-de-do artificial patriotism, they settled back to their usual mundane worries over gasoline prices, credit card balances and watching fantasy shows on television.

"The violence and butchery of Islam has resurfaced. After six centuries of lying dormant like smoldering algae in the cesspools of the world, these creatures from the black lagoon of history have returned, and they are using the same weapon that they used in the dark ages: terrorism. It’s the only weapon they have because they have been busy spending the last six centuries mutilating their own kind, killing members of their own families and strapping bombs to fools to be able to take a long hard look at themselves and wonder why it is that they can’t even make an automobile or build a building that won’t fall down during an earthquake.

"Yet, they believe they can win because they have observed something new to Western culture; we have now become appeasers and would rather negotiate than fight. That is our weakness and they know it. They also know that any weakness can be exploited. And that is the purpose of terrorism: to exploit a people’s weakness long enough for the weak to begin negotiating. And negotiating with terrorists is a weakness that can be further exploited.

"The Islamic terrorists have found that salient weakness in America; first in the media that excuses their terror and refers to Islamic terrorists as freedom fighters, insurgents and people who only have an opposing view. Then they found weakness in people who are easily manipulated because they have never been educated in world history.

"It’s a shameful indictment of their apathy and appeasement when the broadcast and print media refuse to air and print opposing views to Islamic radicalism for fear they will be inundated with scorn from Islamic sympathizers who spend their time searching the Internet and newspapers for anything that might resemble an affront to their so-called religion of peace. When are these people of peace going voice their affront to their brothers and sisters who are not so peaceful? I’ll answer that: never, because they agree with their terrorist brothers and sisters.

"When the national broadcast media and local newspapers refuse to publicize opposition views to radical Islam, they have become appeasers, and appeasers always bring more death and destruction to the world.

"The first rule of war is to kill your enemy first. You lose fewer of your own people that way."
CAIR advertises its condemnation of terrorism. The web site so states in several different sections. What does CAIR find so objectionable in the above letter? Is CAIR powerful enough to put pressure on newspapers so that such publications will hesitate to publish certain letters to th editor?

Note: I went back to CAIR's web site but couldn't seem to find the above "Incitement Watch." Trust me--I found the above letter on the CAIR web site. The disappearance (and sometimes reappearance) of items from CAIR's web site is nothing new. Read here, and see the photos here for CAIR's amusing manipulation of a hijab photo.

Many of CAIR's articles focus on what Muslims find offensive. At 6th Column Against Jihad, read a large portion of Hugh Fitzgerald's analysis "Aren't YOU Offended That Muslims Are So Easily Offended by Everything Non-Muslims Say or Do?"

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