Friday, February 22, 2008

The joys of dentistry ...

OK, whoever leaked the news that John McCain was having an affair during the 2000 primaries clearly doesn't know their history. I sincerely believe it isn't true—by most accounts, the woman was getting too close to McCain and had to be ordered to keep her distance—but at any rate, Gennifer Flowers didn't sink Bill Clinton, so why should Vicki Iseman sink McCain? If Americans cared about that, Bill Clinton would never have become president.
But, the source of this scandal also completely disregarded male logic (which leads me to believe the source is a female—perhaps Iseman herself?). Think about it—what guy is going to cheat on his wife with a woman who is the spitting image of his wife?! Do you really need to possess an asparagus-and-two-potatoes to work that one out? Gennifer Flowers, Linda Tripp and Monica Lewinsky were as far from Hillary as could be, so it's no wonder Clinton felt at ease. But McCain and Iseman, where Iseman is almost scarily the visage of McCain's wife, Cindy? Please. You'd have to have no conscience at all and McCain is not that morally bankrupt. So there's nothing to this rumor at all. It's false as false can be.
But that's not what I wanted to discuss ...
The topic today is dentistry, and how it so often makes you feel like an inmate at Guatanamo.
A few months ago, on the plane back from Dublin, Ireland, a filling came loose and fell out while I was chewing some gum. Today, I had that filling replaced. But the tooth is located next to one that has caused me no end of grief.
When I mentioned that the filling-less tooth was sensitive, my dentist took that instrument that shoots cold air and water, applied it to the troublesome tooth in question and let loose with a blast.
"Aaaah!" I arched out of my seat.
"Yeah, see?" she replied. "That's the one. It needs further work."
Now having said this, my dentist is excellent. There's a stereotype that dentists in England are pretty bad because the English tend to have worse teeth than Americans. But my dentist here is better than any I've ever patronized in the States. Seriously. I'd trust her with any procedure. She's performed two root canals on me, and I'd never had a root canal before coming here. 'Nuff said. I trust her completely.
One of those teeth that had previously had a root canal performed on it was acting up again, so she gave me the usual horrible shot of novocaine—three shots of novocaine, actually, because that's how sensitive the tooth was—numbing the entire right side of my face, made me wait 20 minutes while she saw another patient, then invited me back into the room.
"Thanks for waiting, your jaw feeling heavy?"
My tongue and jaw were both feeling so numb and heavy that I could barely speak to answer. "I'dink'it'is," I slurred.
"Ah, good," my dentist replied. She took the drill to both my teeth, the filling-less one and the troublesome one. But she had trouble applying the fillings.
You see, I have a small mouth. A pitifully small mouth. I had to have my jaw widened at the age of 12, and my mouth is still small. Working on teeth in the lower corners of my jaw is hell. For me and the dentist alike.
At one point during the filling, she said to her assistant, "Can you believe I actually performed a root canal on this tooth here?" It almost sounded like she was bragging. I don't blame her.
Then, after finishing the two fillings, she cleaned my teeth, which involves taking a pricked implement that goes between your teeth, at the gum line, blasting water through the spaces. Can you say "OUCH"? Your face gets drenched in water from the upshots, and when the dentist finally tells you to rinse, you know what to expect: Nothing but crimson red. Five mouthfulls of water later, I was still spitting red. And I have pretty healthy gums, yet the bowl at the side of the dentist's chair looked like a murder scene.
And let's not even mention the novocaine itself, which took the better part of two hours to wear off. After about an hour and fifteen minutes, I felt my tongue return. Half an hour later, most of the lower right side of my face made an appearance again as well. The feeling of relief when you feel that substance breaking up is palpable. You appreciate it when the drill is slicing through your tooth, but once it's over, you can't wait for the numbness to be over.
And, of course, there's the ol' don't-eat-or-drink-for-two-hours-after-a-dental-procedure rule. I was desperate for a drink, but knew I couldn't have one, so I boarded the number 11 bus at Victoria and rode all the way to Liverpool Street. Then, I crossed the road and boarded the same bus back to Victoria! Seriously. I honestly didn't know what else to do with myself till I could rinse my teeth out with beer, so I just screwed aimlessly around London till I'd wasted two hours.
Oh, and did I also mention that, as of this writing, I've been up eighteen hours? Yep, I went to my dentist appointment right after work. So at a time when I should have already been snoozing in my marital bed, I was playing Sudoku and waiting for the assistant to call me into the torture chamber.
I know it's a necessary thing, dentistry. Got to take care of the ol' pearly whites. Keep 'em clean and do whatever is necessary for a good, healthy mouth.
But jeez!
She told me to see her again in six months. So, come August, do you think I should book a one-way ticket to Australia or what?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Godspeed, Kosovo

An independent nation was born this past Sunday, though it has technically existed since 1999. The Kosovars—90 percent of whom are related to their western neighbors in Albania—celebrated in Pristina, their capital, and across their land.
Serbs, meanwhile, have been protesting, rioting and pelting U.S. and E.U. embassies with whatever they can get their hands on. The Serbian capital Belgrade has seen massive unrest since Kosovo declared its independence.
Russia, Serbia's giant Slavic cousin, condemned the breakaway and those countries that supported it. President Bush recognized Kosovo's independence, the U.S. joining its European counterparts France, Germany, Britain and Italy in welcoming the world's newest nation.
Countries that did not give Kosovo their blessing includes Spain, China, Romania and Cyprus. When you consider that those countries have fought their own battles with separatist groups, it becomes clear that they think a dangerous precedent was set by the issue of Kosovo. (It will be interesting to see whether or not Canada provides support, if they conclude that supporting Kosovo legitimizes the Quebecois separatist movement.)
It is right and just to recognize Kosovo. This is the lastest stage in the break-up of Yugoslavia: if Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and, most importantly, Bosnia and Herzegovina could gain their recognized independence, why can't Kosovo? Montenegro broke away in 2006 and barely a squeak from the Serbs.
Serbia wants someone to bully and the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo are a prime target. Suddenly, they're squawking about "their land" being ripped from them? If the Serbs want to put Slobodan Milosevic and his campaign of genocide in the past, then they must drop their nationalist pretenses and allow Kosovars their independence without further protest and tell Russia to stay out of the affair.
Furthermore, how hypocritical would it be for the U.S. to not recognize Kosovo, when our entire history is based on a freedom to secede from the oppressive nation which controlled us? But at least the British weren't trying to exterminate the early Americans.
Kosovo—in addition to Albania—is a good friend to the U.S. and the West. They appreciate NATO's intervention in 1999, ending the genocide being committed against them. In recognizing Kosovo, the U.S. and E.U. are wrapping up the aftermath of that Balkans war and re-affirming our friendship with Kosovors who, like the Albanians, adore us. We could not let them down.
This is about a people's desire for liberation and to be able to decide their own future.
Good luck, Kosovo. Enjoy your freedom.

Friday, February 15, 2008

McCain for number 44

Right, I know two readers of mine who won't approve, but John McCain's got my vote for the Oval Office. I was set to endorse Mitt Romney, my home state's former governor, but then he dropped out. Romney, however, has since endorsed McCain, and so shall I. I also looked favorably upon McCain during the 2000 primaries.
I supported Bush throughout his presidency, and was proud to do so, but I believe his second administration has been a mixed bag. The man dug himself a hole with conservatives and didn't quite know how to work himself out of it. His constant attempts at a Constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriage to satisfy his social conservative base smacked of desperation. What he should have done was concentrate on illegal immigration, but, instead, backed that disastrous but thankfully failed immigration bill.
John McCain is no better on the subject of asylum status for illegal immigrants. What does it say to legal immigrants, who jumped through all the hoops, when they too could have just snuck in and been rewarded for it? McCain should know better to have voted for that bill and I take issue with him over it. But, to be fair to him, McCain did vote yes on making English the official language in government, yes on the Mexican border fence, and yes on limited welfare for immigrants.
Conservatives also don't trust his stance on the economy and rightly so. McCain voted against Bush's tax cuts, therefore raising the suspicion that he takes a lax view toward government spending. On this issue, I also take issue with him. But again, to be fair, he advises the use of veto power to reduce government spending, supports a Balanced Budget Amendment, and voted yes on the 1998 GOP budget.
However detestable I find Mike Huckabee—the man's a hypocrite to have made a career out of lecturing people to love thy neighbor and respect life while killing, frying and eating squirrels—he has elected on staying in the race in order to hold McCain's feet to the conservative fire. In this, Huckabee is performing a service to financial and social conservatives and we can only hope that McCain takes notice and acts on it.
There's a feeling amongst conservative Republicans that McCain is a neoconservative: strong on foreign policy, weak on domestic policy. If we social conservatives reward him with our vote, even if we hold our noses while doing so, he needs to return the favor and start listening to this important sector of the Republican electorate, on taxes and on illegal immigration.
But, our war against the Islamofanatics is far from over, and it's refreshing to know that McCain takes a tough stance. He supports the Afghanistan and Iraq efforts and has been very honest regarding said support.
McCain has also supported the repeal of Roe v. Wade, voted to bar HHS grants to organizations that perform abortions, and voted no to sex education programmes that put emphasis on contraception as opposed to abstinence. McCain has also voted yes to a ban on human cloning.
McCain opposes a ban on same-sex marriage, prefering to leave the matter to the states which is what I too have always argued, though he did vote yes on prohibiting gay marriage. He voted yes on an anti-flag burning amendment and voted yes on banning affirmative action hiring with federal funds. He has said that the First Amendment is not a shield for hate groups. The fact that he earned a big fat zero with the ACLU is all we need to know.
On crime, McCain supports the death penalty and more prisons. Although he supports restricting methadone treatment for heroin addicts, he has said that the drug war is being lost (which it is) and that more emphasis should be put on Reaganite "just say no" intiatives.
Some social conservatives don't like the fact that McCain believes in evolution, but he is no athiest. He has stated that he sees the "hand of God in nature." To deny that there's a Higher Power is absolutely ridiculous, and McCain knows this, but to deny the evolutionary process is equally ridiculous. It is an uncomfortable fact of political life that some in the Republican Party honestly believe that the Earth is only thousands of years old and that the sun orbits us, not vice versa. Reality check, anyone? Believe what you like, but don't expect any President to try to enshrine this nonsense in our Constitution.
Conservatives also bemoan the fact that McCain has criticized Guatanamo Bay. I support the Cuban dentention camp myself—and the upcoming trial of the six 9/11 planners may yet vindicate Guatanamo. But McCain is a victim of torture himself, having been captured by the North Vietnamese. It is hard for us to know, those of us who've not experienced torture ourselves, how strongly a man might feel about torture as a means of acquiring information when he has experienced it himself. So we must give McCain a pass when it comes to his antipathy toward Guatanamo.
McCain is also seen as liberal on the environment, but I am not so sure. As a "green" conservative, I appreciate McCain's support for greenhouse gas reductions and his stance on preserving natural resources for the future. McCain supports an end to commercial whaling and the illegal trade of whale meat, and he scored 40% on the Humane Society Scorecard on animal protection. But McCain has stated that we should focus on environmental results, not regulation and voted yes on confirming Gale Norton, not a popular figure with environmentalists, as Secretary of the Interior. The League of Conservation Voters rates McCain as having a mixed record on the environment. However, I think McCain can be trusted with environmental issues and will look for solutions that don't involve the usual undercurrent of Marxism that so often defines the environmental movement.
If we want the White House to remain in Republican hands, along with an amelioration in the world's attitude toward a Republican government, we could do worse than McCain. McCain will remain tough on America's right to protect itself while at the same time promoting a more positive image of the U.S.
The nightdragon endorses John McCain for the Republican candidacy and the Presidency.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

So bored with Valentine's Day ...

That special time of year again: Valentine's Day. Brought to you by the American Greeting Cards Association (and its European equivalents), working in tandem with the highest ideals of corporate bullshit.
Because you do realize that we're all being taken for suckers on this day, don't you?
Did you know that Chaucer invented the connection between the Valentines saints and romance? As with Christmas on December 25th, as with Easter in the spring, "Saint" Valentine's Day can trace its origins back to an erotic pagan festival, the Roman Lupercalia, which celebrated fertility and was held on February 15.
In his 1381 work The Parliament of Fowls, Chaucer wrote: "For this was on St. Valentine's Day, When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate." Prior to this time, no connection between romantic or courtly love and the Christian observance of the Valentines' February feast day existed. There were actual St. Valentines—three of them if history is to be believed—but their only real claim to fame as regards this day is that they all apparently died on February 14.
As with St. George's Day, the legend has grown way out of proportion to the actual history.
The Catholic Church obviously agreed with the rather arbitrary nature of Valentine's Day, axing it from its liturgical calendar in 1969.
Although Valentine's Day cards were exchanged from as early as 1840, it didn't take long for contemporary consumerist ideals to completely take over. Cards, chocolates, roses, lovers' specials this and lovers' specials that—it's a retailer's wet dream. I'm still waiting for the chocolatiers, the florists, the greeting card companies to send me an "I Love You" card. But, alas, it's probably a good thing considering I'd wipe my butt with it and mark it "Return to Sender."
I don't know about you, but I'm pretty tired of society's excuses to indulge in a consumerist frenzy. Any excuse to buy beyond one's financial limits and throw away what's beyond the Earth's limits to absorb, but never mind. This is a love thing!
If there is any saving grace to this putrid "holiday," it's the amusement it gives me to notice how some people act. You know, I'll be waiting at the train station and I'll observe how some people just have this look about them, this aura, which appears to suggest that they think that, just because it's Valentines' Day, someone, anyone, should bestow some sort of romantic affection on them. I mean, we've all seen the sort of sad-sack who'll stroll slowly past you and have this hopeful, expectant look on their face as if they're looking forward to you suddenly hugging them and asking if they'd like to have lunch with you. I call them the "Will You Be My Friend?" types (and, goddamn, there sure do appear to be a hell of a lot of them—here in London anyway). Well, on V-day, these people are nearly intolerable with their pleading eyes. Seriously, if I wasn't so concerned about appearing rude, I'd laugh in their faces. As it is, I just snigger behind my Sudoku puzzle.
Maybe next year, I'll slip these sorts of people my own handmade cards: "Happy V-Day. Your ass smells, go use a bidet!" Then I'll film them on my mobile phone when they start blubbering.
And that is about as much entertainment as I'm likely to feel on this day.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Star: July 2006-February 2008

Last Tuesday, we faced the sort of decision that we never look forward to: having one of our furry, twitchy-nosed kids put to sleep.
Star, one of the most affectionate, people-friendly rats we've ever had, had to be euthanized. You see, rats are very prone to a bacterial infection known as mycoplasma. Eventually, it ravages their respiratory system and it's just a matter of time until they become lethargic and struggle to breathe. Star had two days at the veterinarian's office, spending that time in an oxygen tank. But it was too late, the mycoplasma infection had done its irreparable damage. We were hoping antibiotics and oxygen would help her out and allow her a few more months, but it was simply not to be.
It's so unfair because Star was only 19 months old. Usually, mycoplasma doesn't kill until a rat is around 24 months old.
I still remember the way Star would playfully nip me whenever I flipped her on her back and scritched her belly. I laugh everytime I think about it.
Star really was a star. She won The London Paper's Pet of the Month award last February. Everyone who had the pleasure of making her acquaintance would never see rats the same way again. You never saw a creature so happy and full of life—until that hellspawn bacteria in her lungs took her life.
Godspeed, little Star. Mummy and Papa enjoyed every single second we shared with you.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

The "51st state of Britainshire?"

I just arrived back from two days in Paris, and I'm ticked off. But it's not the French I'm angry at. I didn't have a problem with anyone down there. In fact, one French waiter even affectionately play-fought with me as I made my way back to my table. No, I vowed to lighten up towards the French when they elected "Sarko the American."
On the morning of the day I left the Smoke for the City of Lights, Daily Mirror columnist Brian Reade's latest diatribe was published. I was one of the first to read it, as I was one of the few in possession of the paper hours before most people were (courtesy of my job).
The title of the piece was "US election fuss is a load of Baracks." You see, Mssr. Reade cannot even get excited about the prospect of a soft-on-terror Democrat getting elected because Americans, in the words of his favorite Yank, Michael Moore, will remain "the dumbest people on the planet, most of whom are in thrall to conniving, thieving, smug pricks." Yep, Michael Moore is an American hero alright, isn't he just?
Reade fulminates thusly:
Despite the hype, the candidates are a 21st century version of that plastic pop group The Monkees. Hand-picked clones cynically assembled to cover every base. There's a black one, a female one, an old one, etc.
And like beggars, all they do is yell "change" at passing strangers in the hope they'll help them out.
But we know they won't change a thing because whoever gets in power is simply the next reassuring front for corporate America.
They'll still be rightly seen by the rest of the world as Dick Dastardly, with Britain their ever-loyal Muttley.

Reade does have a point here, after a fashion. Corporate money does play a too-important role in presidential campaigns. And, as he so often loves to point out, Americans can be woefully ignorant, knowing very little of the world beyond their borders.
All you have to do, as an American ex-pat, is head into central London, hang by all the usual tourist traps such as Madame Tussaud's, the Tower of London, the Victoria & Albert Museum et al., and observe the reaction of your vacationing fellow countrymen. The feeling of embarassment on their behalf is palpable. The father will be haranguing some poor chappie who works at the tourist site: "Now listen, when's the next bus out of here? Well, we'd like to get back to our hotel at five o'clock. What do you mean you don't know? Isn't that your job? Well, where's the local Taco Bell? I haven't seen any since I've been here. What? What do you mean you've never heard of Taco Bell?!" The kids will be hollering, "Hey, Moooom, look at this! This is so cool!" Mom will then come waddling over in her muu-muu and exclaim for everyone within a three-mile radius to hear, "Oh my GAAAWWWD! That's wonderful! Oh WOOOWWWW!" Then she'll grab the nearest British person around she can find and say, "Gee, you're all so LUCKY to have stuff like this here!"
Quite frankly, it's easy to see why some Britons get a bad taste in their mouth when it comes to Americans. But, what they forget is that the great majority of us don't binge-drink and start tearing places apart, rioting and making the locals run for cover for the sheer hell of it. Ask any Spaniard—or any European—which he fears most: British or American tourists. I'd settle for a few loud, ignorant questions any day as long as I knew the streets around the local watering hole wouldn't be turned into a war zone come midnight.
Mr. Reade appears happy to ignore the high level of apprehension with which Europeans regard the British while concluding, "I just wish our government would be more honest and ask Washington if the rest of us in the 51st state of Britainshire could cast our vote too. Then at least those of us who didn't want to have a nice day could have the choice of burning our ballot papers or putting up some decent politicians to fight for independence."
Want to talk ignorance, do you, Mr. Reade?
At a time when Britain is getting sucked into the voracious monster known the the European Union superstate, when Gordon Brown signs away our sovereignty without even giving British voters the referendum on Europe that he promised them, when 98% of our foreign and domestic policy is being dictated to us by Brussels, Brian Reade and his ilk are complaining about becoming an American satellite? When the great majority of the British people are fretting over just how much control the EU is going to have over us, and pining for the independence Britain used to enjoy, Mr. Reade complains about how Britain is entitled to the American vote?
In short, we're being slowly but surely devoured by the Soviet Union Part II—the latest Evil Empire—and there are honestly those out there who fear that Britain is becoming, or has already become, the 51st state?
You need to take anything Brian Reade writes with a big grain of salt. After all, this is the same guy who wrote a lead column describing his colonic irrigation in gut-churning gory detail. It was then that I realized just how low this tabloid-dweller could go. The man honestly has no shame.
Mr. Reade, it's not your intestines that need flushing out, nor those of the dimwits who nod their heads approvingly whenever they read your anti-American venom. You and they need your brains sorting out.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Reprint: "Fred Phelps Can Kiss My A**"

My friends Eden and Kristen recently wrote entries protesting the hateful rally that the Westboro Baptist Church held at the funeral of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints' President Gordon B. Hinckley. The LDS church is just one of several organizations that the Westboro crew consider infidels and "fag enablers." Even though I'm not a member of the LDS—I'm not even a Christian, even though I proudly acknowledge that part of my people's bloodline and heritage (my father is Irish Catholic and my mother Episcopalian)—I feel compelled to add to my friends' fury at the Westboro morons.
I reprint in this space an article I wrote on my old blog and also published on concerning Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church to demonstrate the rage that I also feel towards this puerile lot:

Fred Phelps Can Kiss My Ass
published on, May 20, 2006:

It's not as if I find the extreme-Left, America-hating, anti-war loonies any less despicable than I always have. But, I think there's someone who could just possibly be even worse. His name? Fred Phelps.
The fire-and-brimstone preacher, who laughably calls himself a reverend and claims he's a Christian, is obsessed with homosexuals. He damns all to Hell who even dare to stick up for homosexuals. Like our troops for defending America — "fag nation" in "Rev." Phelps' eyes.
Phelps and his congregation at the Topeka, Kansas-based Westboro Baptist Church have praised 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina as punishment for a nation that, according to him, enables gays. He delivered an obscenity-laced sermon to praise the fatal beating of gay teenager Matthew Sheppard. His supporters regularly attend the funerals of those killed in Iraq, mocking the dead and their families for fighting for America. According to Phelps, if America wants to bring its ideas of freedom and democracy to Iraq, then Iraq will turn into a "fag nation" as well.
It would be wrong to assume, as a knee-jerk liberal would, that Christians have embraced this toxic-brained lunatic. It is simply not true. Even Jerry Falwell has spoken against him.
In his earlier days, Phelps tried to convert Mormons, insulting them in the process. He lived in Canada for a while. After blessing the U.S. with his return, the former pugilist continued to advocate beating as a patriarch's right. He once delivered a sermon at the Eastside Baptist Church in Topeka denouncing a female member of his congregation for being a whore when he learned that she was pregnant. While still in the employ of this same church, he punched his own infant son, Mark, several times in the face when he dared to squirm during one of his sermons. Now, as much as I hate the likes of al-Zarqawi or bin Laden, I doubt that even they are sub-human enough to beat up babies.
Phelps consumed large quantities of drugs and alcohol, terrorized his family, and may even have been involved in the death of a young woman. You get the point. He's a dangerous bastard.
Reading about his guy's past is painful. But even scarier than that is that this low-life is still around, still preaching, putting America down, insulting soldiers' families, and advocating violence against gays.
Phelps' hateful zealotry, masquerading as religious fervor, reminds me of another class of people: the Islamofascists. Phelps is definitely in their league. Ergo, shouldn't this guy and his followers be considered potential terrorists, as such a comparison would merit?
The last I heard, Congress was considering federal legislation against Phelps and the Westboro Church. It can't come fast enough. If we could hound the reclusive Branch Davidians — who never bothered nor hurt anyone but their own community — into killing themselves, then why leave the Westboro Baptist Church alone? If any cult in the country deserves to be surrounded by tanks and FBI agents, it'd be them. Hell, I'd even love it if the jackbooted boys of the ATF moved in on them; for once in my life, I'd cheer them on.
In the early 1990s, Congress expanded the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act to include hate crimes. So, why, damnit, is Phelps and his congregation not being targeted under this law's statutes? If they are free to protest, then obviously nothing is going to bring them into line with the law.
Spare me the diatribe about the test of a democracy being how we tolerate the most odious, scummy people to shout whatever garbage they like. If that's true, then why clamp down on fiery Islamic clerics as they have been doing in Britain? Exactly right, because their words lead to terror. And, God only knows when the 150-strong congregation of Westboro will turn their own hateful words into action. We are dealing with people who have lost all sense of reality. In my opinion, Phelps and his flock are capable of anything. Laughing at and hating them is not enough.
So here's what I suggest: A flamboyant Mardi Gras-style gay pride parade should roll past the church headquarters in Topeka, followed by a patriotic "Proud to be American float," complete with military brass bands. It would look like an odd combination, sure. But I firmly believe that gay activists and conservatives should act together to cause as much trouble for Phelps as is possible. This would be the much-needed 1-2 sucker punch that the pugilist "pastor" needs.
Either that or throw the whackjob into a padded cell for life.