Saturday, October 07, 2006

Walking the Walk

Dozens of Amish mourn schoolhouse killer:

Dozens of Amish neighbors came out Saturday to mourn the quiet milkman who killed five of their young girls and wounded five more in a brief, unfathomable rampage.

Charles Carl Roberts IV, 32, was buried in his wife's family plot behind a small Methodist church, a few miles from the one-room schoolhouse he stormed Monday.

His wife, Marie, and their three small children looked on as Roberts was buried beside the pink, heart-shaped grave of the infant daughter whose death nine years ago apparently haunted him, said Bruce Porter, a fire department chaplain from Colorado who attended the service.

About half of perhaps 75 mourners on hand were Amish.

I am probably the least religious person you'll ever meet, but this moved me.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

I Can't Believe I've Never Heard of This Before

I've heard of people inhaling their drinks, but this is ridiculous:

State officials in the land of Old Grand-Dad, Jim Beam and Wild Turkey are pushing to ban a device that vaporizes liquor and allows people to inhale the intoxicating fumes for a quick high without the burn of hard liquor.

Teresa Barton, head of the Kentucky Office of Drug Control Policy, said banning alcohol vaporizers is a matter of public safety, not preserving the state's sipping whiskey industry. She said such devices could become 'a real deadly trap' because they have 'no purpose other than to get you drunk.'

So far, 17 states have banned them, including California, New York, Florida, Illinois, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and several others are considering doing so, said Sherry Green, executive director of the National Alliance for Model State Drug Laws. Tennessee, the home of Jack Daniels, already prohibits the vaporizers.

'When you inhale alcohol right into the lung tissue, that gets drawn right into the blood supply immediately, so it's a very rapid onset of the intoxicating effect, and so has obviously very high abuse potential,' said Robert Walker, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky Center on Drug and Alcohol Research.

Walker said alcohol vaporizers bypass altogether the tactile pleasures of drinking wine with a fine meal or a cold beer with a pizza: 'You're going strictly to the intoxicating effect of alcohol.'"

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

Latest Newspaper Column

You remember a few weeks ago, I was describing the hilarious journey of Florida Republican senatorial candidate Wacky Kathy Harris.

Harris seems to be on a quest to run the absolute worst campaign ever, which has included statements like "if you don't elect Christians, they'll legislate sin." For some reason, Jewish people in Florida (and there a few of those, I hear) didn't think that was a real cool thing to say.

Now, however, it's not just Wacky Kathy making with the outrageous statements. Republicans in general seem to have fallen prey to a veritable epidemic of foot-in-mouth disease.

The most famous gaffer is, of course, Virginia senatorial candidate George Allen. Allen's running against James Webb, former secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan.

A Webb campaign staffer, an American citizen of East Indian descent, was videotaping Allen at a campaign stop, perhaps waiting for Allen to say something stupid. Allen was happy to oblige. He referred to the dark-skinned staffer as "Macaca or whatever your name is" and sneered "welcome to America and the real world of Virginia."

Now, I would have thought that telling a native-born citizen "welcome to America" because of his skin tone would be the offensive part, but that shows how little I know. People began concentrating on what the heck "Macaca" meant. Some pointed out that it was a derogatory term used for dark-skinned people in North Africa, where Allen grew up. Others said it means "monkey." Allen apologized, but insisted he hadn't meant anything by it and it was just a nonsense name. You know, like "Sambo."

Macaca-gate was just beginning to die down when Allen put his foot in it again. A local news reporter brought up the fact that Allen's grandfather was Jewish and asked, somewhat snidely, "when Jewish identity ended."

Now, this was undeniably a stupid question. And Allen, by golly, gave a stupid answer. He started off OK, pointing out how irrelevant the question was and talking about religious freedom. If only he'd shut up there.But then he lit into the reporter for, in his words, "casting aspersions on people for their religious beliefs."

Uh, wait a minute, people said. Mentioning Jewish ancestors is "casting aspersions"? Was Allen saying Jewish heritage really was something to be ashamed of? The debate over that continues to rage, and it's costing Allen in the polls.

Then there's Montana Sen. Conrad Burns, a crusty old bird who's being challenged in a tight race by Democrat Jon Tester. The first signs of the Burns meltdown appeared when he cornered a group of Virginia firefighters who'd flown 2,000 miles to help fight a forest fire in Montana.

"You're doing a piss-poor job," Burns sputtered at them, showing what might be called a Pre-911 attitude towards first responders. (He later apologized.)

Then things got a little bizarre. On several occasions, Burns started talking about Hugo, a "nice little Guatemalan man" who worked for him, about how he'd asked Hugo for his green card, and how Hugo had refused. Burns later said he'd been joking, obviously forgetting that Republicans are not currently known for their sense of humor about immigrants these days.

Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for Federation for American Immigration Reform, sniffed, "If you have the very people who are responsible for making the laws mocking them, it's a pretty good indication of why we have 12 million people breaking the law."

During a fundraiser with first lady Laura Bush, Burns said the United States is up against a faceless enemy of terrorists who "drive taxicabs in the daytime and kill at night." Bet Conrad's going to have a little trouble finding a taxi next time he lands at Dulles.

(Actually, cab drivers can be a little scary. I had one in Philadelphia that I'm convinced was trying to kill me, and that was just the way he drove).

But the real prize for stupid, oh-my-God-he-didn't-say-that-did-he statements has to go to Illinois House candidate Peter Roskam. In a recent debate, Roskam, the designated heir apparent to the egregious Henry Hyde, charged that his Democratic opponent, Tammy Duckworth, wanted to "cut and run" from Iraq.

So what, you say? Isn't that a standard Republican response to anyone who dares ask questions about why we're still bogged down in Iraq, when are we leaving, and how?

Well, maybe. But in this case, the comment was in stunningly bad taste. See, Tammy Duckworth won't be doing much running from anything. She can't. She lost both legs fighting in Iraq when an RPG hit the helicopter she was flying.

Now, do I think that Roskam meant to poke fun at Duckworth's injuries? Naaah. If he'd really meant to denigrate the service of a wounded veteran, he'd follow the Republican playbook by passing out purple Band-Aids and getting Ann Coulter to claim that Duckworth was really just on the way to drink beer when she was shot down.

No, Roskam was just mindlessly spouting off standard Republican catchphrases without really thinking about what he was saying. You know, sort of like the Bush administration.

Those crazy Republicans. What will they say next? Stay tuned.

Monday, October 02, 2006

I'm Calling You Out, John Connolly

Bouchercon Post the First:

Okay, so I didn't win the Shamus. I'd only be mad, though, if I'd lost to a crappy book or one by an author I can't stand personally. This was not the case. Louise Ure's Forcing Amaryllis, which did win the Shamus for Best First Novel, is really good, and Louise herself is very cool, so it doesn't hurt to lose. Much.

The blow was cushioned by the fact that I was sitting with the First Offenders crowd, three lovely and charming ladies and Jeff Shelby, who all kept the hilarity level up, even as their favorite, Offender Lori Armstrong, went down in flames right along with me. There's a picture over at FO with me, Lori and fellow nominee Harry Hunsicker that pretty well sums it up.

Oh, and as for the title of this post: I was on a panel (ably moderated by Kevin Burton Smith) entitled "I Could Kick Your Ass...Or My Character Could." Admittedly, as titles go, it's not, say, Marjorie Morningstar. But it was a pretty good conversation between panelists and audience, if I do say so myself. We did get wind, however, that some sawed off Irish runt name of Connolly had been talking smack about the panel beforehand, claimimg that "you know they're a bunch of total wimps," or some such. Pretty brave talk from someone who didn't , you know, actually show up. Had he done so, he might have enjoyed a little chat with me, Brett Battles, John McFetridge, or even with Michael A. Black, one of our panelists who's a former cop and a kickboxer as well.

But it's okay. I'm a Southerner, and we have famously long memories. Our paths will, no doubt, cross again. And when we do, mark my words, Connolly. It's on.

Oh yeah, muthafucka, it's on.