12.31.2007

Goodbye 2007

I thought about doing a year-in-review recap of 2007, but hey, there's hundreds of those out there. It's been done, and probably by people with more insight than I have.

I could do my personal highlights of 2007, but you've seen most of those already if you read this blog on a regular basis. Although doing that stupid report in Roman numerals was a classic!

What is there left to say? 2007 wasn't too bad. It could have been better, but it could have been worse. And 2008? It's an election year, and that should tell you what direction things are likely to go.

So I'll just close by telling you to be careful out there tonight. Use your seatbelt, and if you drink, don't drive. I don't have so many readers that I can afford to lose any of them.

12.28.2007

Free Rice!

Free Rice is a site that tests your vocabulary, and for each word you get right, they donate 20 grains of rice through the United Nations to help end world hunger.

It's not easy. You start off at the default vocabulary level, and as you get words right, the level goes up. However, every time you get a word wrong, you drop a level. I maxed out at level 50 (the highest level in the game), but I didn't stay there long. I got 250 words right and donated 5000 grains of rice, and finished up at level 48. Give it a try.

12.27.2007

Playing For Keeps In Pakistan

Can anyone truly say that they are surprised by today's horrific news from Pakistan that former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated in Rawalpindi, almost certainly by Muslim terrorists? They play for keeps over there. I wrote about this a couple of months ago when she returned to Pakistan and more than 120 people were murdered by a bombing near her motorcade. It will be interesting to see what the repercussions of this end up being.

The Lobster Vanishes

I read with some amusement this article in The Guardian about German politician Sahra Wagenknecht's predicament. It seems that Frau Wagenknecht, a member of the Left MEP (communist) party, was caught on camera eating an expensive (€22 - around $32) and bourgeois lobster dinner when Feleknas Uca, a fellow member of her party, took some pictures of the event. Frau (or should I say "Comrade") Wagenknecht then had one of her assistants arrange to borrow the digital camera to take some pictures, and when it was returned to Frau Uca, the offending lobster pictures had been deleted, leading to a protest by Uca that brought the whole situation to light.

As so many American politicians have learned, it's not criminal acts (even against political correctness) that get you into big trouble, but trying to cover them up. As the article notes, Comrade Wagenknecht freely admits both to eating the lobster and to deleting the pictures, but feels that she did nothing wrong, saying that she is "fighting for a society in which everyone can afford to eat lobster." Some claim that the disappearing lobster pictures are a tactic of which Stalin would be proud.

But come on, folks! If you elect people who are steeped in the ideology of a discredited system like communism, what do you expect? The article tells us that the 38-year-old Comrade Wagenknecht was "brought up on the works of Marx and Engels, joined the East German communists in 1989, and allegedly mourned the fall of the Berlin Wall." That would have made her 20 years old at the time that East Germany became defunct. There's an old saying that if you aren't a communist at age 20, you have no heart, but if you are still a communist at age 40, you have no brain. Time's running out for Comrade Wagenknecht to show evidence of the latter.

I can't imagine why anyone in Germany would vote for an openly communist politician. Communism in East Germany was a total failure. The only way that they kept their citizens from fleeing to West Germany was by building a wall all along the border and shooting anyone who tried to escape. As an economic system, communism failed to provide a decent standard of living to the people. I know this for a fact, because I visited East Berlin back in 1985. The stores had very little in the way of consumer goods, and the products that were on the shelves were of shoddy quality. I would guess that the only people who got lobster in East Germany at that time were high-level Communist Party members.

12.26.2007

It's A California Christmas, Charlie Brown!

Wacky news from the Golden State, in a story that would never have made it into a Charles Schulz cartoon:
Santa in a G-string gets a DUI
A famous Hollywood location had a seasonally appropriate visitor Sunday night. But when the man got out of his car in front of Grauman's Chinese Theater, it was clear this was anything but a standard visit from Santa Claus.

The driver -- 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds -- was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving, in this case a misdemeanor, police said. In addition to a red Santa hat, he wore a blond wig, red lace camisole, purple G-string, black leg warmers and black shoes.

"We are pretty sure this is not the Santa Claus," Deputy Chief Ken Garner said.
Although it's been said, many times, many ways: "Jesus, Santa, put some frickin' clothes on! You're scaring the tourists!"

You don't even want to KNOW what that Santa would bring you if you were on the naughty list!

12.25.2007

Merry Christmas!

On this Christmas Day, I wish each and every one of you a very merry Christmas. I hope that you all have a joyful day with friends or family.

I'll be having lunch with Dad, and will call the rest of my family sometime during the day. So far, I've gotten some nice presents. My ex sent me a CD that I wanted, Mom sent me a huge (2-3/4 pounds!) jar of dark chocolate-covered dried cherries from Cherry Republic, and my friend Barbara sent me a very thoughtful gift of Christmas cookies, a six-pack of local micro-brew beer from North Carolina and a beautifully-wrapped mystery box.

Inside the mystery box was a smaller box, and inside of that, nestled in padding, was a tiny green-and-white election button that said "Vote Carter." (Barbara knows that I despise Jimmy Carter, who I consider to be both the worst president and the worst ex-president of my lifetime.) The cookies were delicious, I'm sure the beer is tasty (although I haven't tried it yet), and the button... was beautifully wrapped. I think that Barbara may have been a professional gift-wrapper in a previous life.

I wonder if there's some place I can exchange it for a "Vote Reagan" button?

12.24.2007

Christmas Greetings At Work

At my workplace, there's a bulletin board where people have put up Christmas cards and pictures of their children or pets. In the latter case, there are several pictures of dogs of various sizes, often wearing sweaters or fake reindeer antlers.

I was looking at those pictures, and noticed that there weren't any pictures of cats dressed up like that. I wasn't surprised. Dogs are long-suffering and will put up with a lot of stuff, and just look at you reproachfully as you take the picture of them wearing the fake antlers. Cats, on the other hand, ain't playin' that game. The average cat's reaction would be, "You put that on my head and I will claw bloody furrows into your arm." Believe it. If you want an elf hat on your cat, you'd better Photoshop it in.

12.21.2007

Insomniac Christmas Presents?

I usually eat lunch at work around 3 a.m. The TV in the break room is usually tuned to the local CBS affiliate, and the overnight news. Lately, the middle-of-the-night commercials have featured "The Clapper" and "Chia" products, including the Chia Scooby-Doo Head and the Chia grass planter for your cat to nibble on. It's as if they're trying to give people hints about possible Christmas presents for people that they don't really like well enough to give a real Christmas present.

All I know is that anyone who gets me a Chia Scooby-Doo Head for Christmas is likely to get fruitcake next year.

12.20.2007

Maybe Not Quite As Scary As It Sounds

I read the headline for this story and it sounded alarming:

Mohammed now second most popular boys' name in Britain

However, the story notes that that #2 rating includes all of the variant spellings of the name. The graphic accompanying the story showed that there were no other Islamic-sounding names on the boys' names list, and none at all on the girls' names list. It's not as if half of the kids were walking around in turbans and headscarves. It just shows that British Muslims are rather predictable when it comes to naming their sons.

Biggest surprise: The #1 name for baby boys in Britain is Jack. Not John, with Jack as a nickname, but Jack. I guess that the Pirates of the Caribbean movies must have been really popular over there. ("That's CAPTAIN Jack Sparrow!")

And Alfie is #10? Not Alfred, but Alfie? What's it all about?

12.19.2007

What's Up With That?

First, via Instapundit, I learned yesterday from New Zealand's Dominion Post that Peter Jackson, New Line Cinema and MGM have settled their differences and agreed that Jackson will be the executive producer for New Line Cinema's upcoming movie version of J.R.R. Tolkien's The Hobbit. (Note that he will be the producer, rather than the director, which was his role for the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy; another article claims that Jackson is "too busy" to direct the movies) Now, that's not really surprising, but the linked article notes that there will be two movies, rather than just one. What's up with that? The Hobbit is only 300 pages long, shorter than any of the three books in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Unless they plan to make two 90-minute movies instead of one three hour movie, they're going to have to really embroider the story. (Update: The first movie will be The Hobbit itself, the second movie will cover the 80-year period between The Hobbit and LOTR.) Another problem for The Hobbit may be that even more than in LOTR, there isn't much in the way of parts for actresses. You've got Gandalf, Bilbo Baggins, thirteen male dwarves, a dragon, some giant eagles, Bard the bowman, and Gollum. No Galadriel, no Arwen, no Eowyn. The article also notes that casting hasn't yet begun for the movies, which are planned for shooting in 2009, but that they will welcome back members of the original cast where possible. Hint: Ian McKellen should be Gandalf.

Second, TIME magazine has named their Person of the Year, and in a bit of an upset, it's Russian leader Vladimir Putin. What's up with that? Yes, Pooty-Poot beat out The Goracle. I'm sure that Al will demand a recount. Meanwhile, Gen. David Petraeus will just continue to march in Iraq. In my opinion, he is the one who was the real Person of the Year, since his counterinsurgency strategy has been so successful that even the MSM hasn't been able to deny it any longer (Harry Reid appears to be the last diehard denier). I'm a bit worried about Mr. Gore, however. The last time he suffered a setback like this, he put on forty pounds, grew a beard and went off into the desert for forty days and forty nights, before returning to public life as the leading prophet of global warming. Who knows what kind of unhinged behavior this defeat might lead to?

12.18.2007

Finding An Old Friend

The other day, I was looking for something in the closet and happened to stumble across a bunch of my distressed old t-shirts from the 1990s. They were worn and faded and mostly unwearable, but due to certain packrat tendencies, they hadn't been thrown out. One, however, looked to still be in pretty good shape, and it was one of my old favorites: The Bad Frog Beer shirt. The black fabric had faded to a dark gray, and the screen printing was somewhat cracked, but it still appeared to be wearable. And the distressed look is back in fashion.

On the front, the frog is flipping the bird with his right hand while clutching a bottle of Bad Frog Beer in his left, squatting on top of big yellow letters declaring "HE JUST DON'T CARE," with smaller red letters underneath saying "BAD FROG BEER." On the upper right, the motto "FLIP THE BIRD, GET A FROG." There's more artwork on the back, in a similar vein. Well, what the heck, I had to wear it to work, for the first time this century. It brought some smiles, especially to some of the old-timers who have been around long enough to remember when I wore it back in the distant past.

It's only when I take a good look at the back that I remember why it got taken out of circulation: There are a couple of small holes on the back along the edges of the screen printed letters, where the fabric is coming apart. Nothing obvious, but it's probably best for the shirt to go back into retirement. It did liven up my day with a wave of nostalgia, though. Maybe it's time for me to find their web site and order another shirt.

12.17.2007

Mistaken Identity

On Saturday, I got a letter in the mail from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, telling me that I owed them $1700 for money received over three months in 2006 in error, based on my deceased father's pension from Bethlehem Steel. There was only one slight problem: They had the wrong person! Same first and last name as mine, different person. My dad never worked for Bethlehem Steel, never received a pension from them, and is very much alive. The Social Security Number of the deceased Clyde, Sr. also was different than my dad's.

So this morning, I called the people at PBGC and they were very nice about it. I explained the situation, as well as the fact that my dad is alive and well and has been living here in Florida since the mid-1980s. Never worked for Bethlehem Steel. Never received pension benefits from them. I offered to give them his cell phone number if they wanted to verify that. The lady I talked to (named Bonnie, believe it or not) said that wouldn't be necessary. They took my address out of their computer and will continue looking for the other Clyde who cashed his dad's pension checks after he died. Good luck to them.

It wasn't news to me that there were other people out there who have the same name as mine. I did a phone number search a few years back and found about a dozen of them in the U.S. and one in Canada. My name is unusual but not unique. The only time in the past I've had problems with someone else with my name was a few years ago when the local property appraiser got my dad mixed up with me and tried to take away the homestead exemption on my property. I had to explain to them that Clyde, Sr. was the one buying and selling all those properties, and that Clyde, Jr. only owned the one property and was, indeed, entitled to the homestead exemption.

12.12.2007

Holy Cow!

It's probably just as well that Harry Caray isn't still alive, because his habit for mispronouncing players' names could lead to disaster with this one: Cubs, Fukudome reach preliminary agreement on four-year deal

I believe that's it's pronounced something like Foo-koo-doh-mee, although it seems like the second syllable gets shortened.

A Deja Vu Moment

The Republican presidential candidates are having a debate in Iowa that is being televised on Fox News Channel. For some reason, the Iowa newspaper that is sponsoring the debate invited Alan Keyes to participate as well.

Now, I'm one of those people who looks forward to getting the first few caucuses and primaries out of the way, so that the pretenders will see the writing on the wall and drop out of the race, and the remaining candidates can be viewed more seriously. I didn't even realize that Keyes had risen to "pretender" status. I didn't even know that he was running for president again. One would think that one stinging defeat in which he never got into the double digits in the national polls would be enough for any man's lifetime. Some people are just gluttons for punishment, I guess.

But while listening to him speak, in his very theatrical fashion, I suddenly realized who he reminded me of: Dr. Miguelito Loveless from the '60s television show "The Wild, Wild West." Loveless, played by the late Michael Dunn, also had an affected, theatrical oratorical style. Mr. Keyes is much taller than 3'10", and is black, but other than that...

12.10.2007

Don't Try This At Home, Boys and Girls

So I'm over on YouTube, just noodling around on the search engine, looking to see what they have in the way of videos by Cracker. I typed "Cracker" into the search block, and got pages and pages of stuff, most of it not Cracker. One video on the first page was intriguing: It was titled "fire cracker butt" and the thumbnail pic showed a monochrome view of a woman's backside with a bottle rocket sticking out. Well, I had to watch it, but of course, it had been flagged as not suitable for minors. So, I had to create a YouTube account with my birth date on it, so I could watch the more adult-themed stuff.

The clip was short, 1:23, and starts with the woman swigging down a glass of wine. "This is how we get women to let us put bottle rockets up their butts," the voice-over notes. The group adjourns outside, the tipsy woman skins her shorts down to mid-thigh and one of her friends puts the bottle rocket in her butt crack. "This may hurt," one of the guys notes, while the other one says, "Are sure you want to do this?" The first guy replies, "Too late now!" and lights the fuse. The bottle rocket sputters, shooting sparks onto the woman's posterior, but it doesn't launch! Uh-oh! And then the thing shrieks and explodes into a fireball, still next to the unfortunate woman's butt. It was, indeed, a Weapon of Ass Destruction. I hope she had health insurance!

Lesson to be learned: Alcohol and fireworks don't mix, no ifs, ands... or butts!

Soda Review

I picked up a couple of four-bottle packs of the holiday varieties of Jones Soda over the the weekend. I was hoping to try the Candy Cane, but the Target at which I was shopping only had Christmas Cocoa and Gingerbread Man, so those are the kinds that I got.

First the Christmas Cocoa: I've had chocolate soda before, and this tastes similar to that other one. It's a lot like the flavor of the candy-coating on a chocolate Tootsie-Pop, only liquid and carbonated. The only problem is that a chocolate soda can't contain the best parts of chocolate: The cocoa butter and milk fat that give good chocolate its rich, creamy taste. The soda doesn't really taste like hot chocolate. It's not bad, but not too memorable, either.

Now, for the really interesting one: The Gingerbread Man soda actually tastes quite a bit like a gingerbread cookie, with gingery spice notes. All that's missing is the gumdrop buttons. ("Is that a Shrek allusion?" Why, yes, it is.) It's a lot closer than the Gingerbread Pop-Tarts I tried last week out of curiosity. Not quite as good as Mom's gingerbread was, but good enough for a soft drink.

Finally, bonus coverage: I also got an eight-can pack of Strawberry Lime Jones Soda. The strawberry flavor tends to drown out the lime. It's more tart than sweet, probably because they use sugar cane rather than high-fructose corn syrup. Not bad, though.

It should be noted that all of these sodas are the full-sugar variety and have a high caloric content, so they should be enjoyed in moderation.

12.05.2007

Free Debra Lafave!

You might remember Debra Lafave, the sexy teacher who was convicted a couple of years ago for having sex with a 14-year-old male student. She was sentenced to three years house arrest and seven years probation, as well sex offender treatment, random drug testing and 200 hours of community service, all of which she has completed. But yesterday, she was arrested for violation of probation. Why? Well, she had been working at a restaurant as a waitress, and while working there, she had talked with one of her co-workers, a girl who happened to be 17 years old. And among the provisions of her sentence was that she was not allowed to have contact with minors.

Now, she wasn't having sex with the girl. She just had a normal conversation of the sort that you might have with your co-workers. But when her probation officer found out that one of her co-workers was a minor, she was forced to quit the job, and when it was found out that, horrors!, she had actually talked to the girl, well that was just too much.

So now they want to charge her with violation of probation and possibly sentence her to up to 15 years in prison, despite the fact that for the last two years, this poor woman has done everything she was supposed to. Look, she made a mistake fooling around with that kid a couple of years ago, but the way she's being treated now seems unnecessarily vindictive. And frankly, for someone who doesn't seem to be a threat to the community, it seems to be a waste of our tax dollars to try her again and then incarcerate her. I say, Free Debra Lafave! Let true justice prevail.

12.04.2007

More Stuff I'm Listening To

A few weeks back, I ripped both of my Belinda Carlisle CDs, Belinda (1986) and Heaven On Earth (1987). They'd been sitting on the shelf for years since the last time I'd listened to them. One thing about revisiting music after a long time is that you rediscover not just the hits, but the hidden gems on the album as well. Heaven On Earth has a couple of them: A great song titled "Nobody Owns Me" that I've played the hell out of on my iPod since mid-November, and this one, "Fool For Love," which YouTube has a live concert version of from 1988. It's okay if you find yourself singing along...



Bonus! Just because I like you guys, I'm adding this clip by my all-time favorite female vocalist, Susanna Hoffs, covering Bad Company's "Feel Like Making Love" in concert back in 1991. This is one sizzling clip!

12.03.2007

This Note's For You

My slow-motion ripping of my vast CD collection continues. Latest additions to the iPod: Paul McCartney's All the Best!, a double-dose of Stevie Nicks (Bella Donna and The Wild Heart), and an unusual CD by Neil Young and the Bluenotes, This Note's For You from 1988.

Why unusual? Well, Young's known for his hard-rockin' music and feedback-laden guitar solos, but This Note's For You is more like Neil Young meets the Blues Brothers. It has a horn section, for goodness sake! But it sounds great; it would be perfect background music for washing barbecue down with an ice-cold beer.

The title track is also unusual for Young, in that it is only 2:06 long on the album. That's two minutes and six seconds, NOT two hours and six minutes, by the way. Yeah, this is the same guy who does a fourteen minute long version of "Like A Hurricane" on the double-live CD Weld a couple of years later. (And, indeed, I also listened to that track last night as well.)

Anyway, here's the YouTube video of the "This Notes For You" (Note that due to a lawsuit, the band's name was changed from the Bluenotes to the Bluetones after the CD came out; also, embedding is disabled, so you'll need to go to the YouTube page if you want to see the video). Enjoy!

12.01.2007

December Arrives

When I was growing up, my brothers and I always looked forward to the first of December, because that was when my mother would hang up the Advent Calendar, starting the countdown to Christmas. We had a large felt wall calendar that Mom made, probably from a design she found in one of the women's magazines to which she subscribed.

This particular Advent Calendar looked like a two-story house, with numerous windows with the numbers from 1 to 23, and an arched front door with the number 24. Each window was a separate piece of decorated felt that was taped to the house and to be removed on that particular day in December, revealing a holiday picture (cut from old Christmas cards) every day. Each morning, my brothers and I would take a turn at removing the window for the day, and as December went by and more and more pictures were exposed, the excitement would grow. Christmas was coming! When the door with the number 24 finally came off on Christmas Eve, showing a manger scene with Mary, Joseph and the Christ Child, we knew that Christmas had nearly arrived.

And in our house, Christmas meant all sorts of good things, since Mom was a very good baker and cook. It meant pumpkin pie and mincemeat pie and pecan pie. It meant fudge and divinity and Christmas cookies. It meant hard candy in the candy jar and egg nog in the glass and hot chocolate in the mug (extra marshmallows, please!). It meant putting up the Christmas tree (a real one, of course), and stringing the lights, hanging the glass ornaments, putting on the tinsel and spraying on a light dusting of artificial snow. And it meant a small mountain of packages in brightly-colored paper under the boughs, as well as Mom telling us not to shake and rattle them as we tried to guess what was inside the ones with our names on them.

I wonder if Mom still has that old Advent Calendar, packed away some place? It wouldn't surprise me. It probably has the same sentimental value for her that it does for me.

11.30.2007

Will Kindle Catch Fire?

The latest hot gadget is the Kindle from Amazon.com. It's an electronic book reader that allows owners to purchase books wirelessly from Amazon for $9.99 (unless differently priced), as well as receive online subscriptions for certain magazines and newspapers automatically; currently Amazon has 90,000 titles available for the Kindle to download. It's a bit pricey at $399.99, but I expect that the price will drop somewhat over the next few months. The Kindle is so hot that you can't even get one right now -- they're sold out, but they'll have more coming. The Kindle will allow people to store about 200 books worth of content and carry it around in a portable gadget that weighs less than a pound. And you don't even need to have a computer, since it downloads the content via third-generation EVDO wireless, meaning you wouldn't have to look for a wireless "hot spot" for it to work. It only takes about a minute to download a book.

So is this the wave of the future for reading? I suspect for many people, it may well be. Some technophobes may not like it, however, preferring the feel of a real book in their hands to a soulless electronic device. Then again, I'm sure that scribes felt the same way when printed books replaced illuminated hand-copied manuscripts in the Middle Ages.

A device like the Kindle could certainly be a boon to students, if they were able to download all of their textbooks onto one. In the future, they probably will, and they'll hear horror stories from their parents about lugging heavy backpacks full of books from home to school and back again. The kid will just nod his head at the old fogies, then put his electronic reader and his micro-notebook computer into his ultralight backpack. That is, if they don't end up becoming one and the same device.

The reason that I think that the price will come down is that Amazon will want the device to become ubiquitous, like the iPod. The real profit will come from selling content for the device. Unlike dead-tree books, there will be no printing costs involved and no unsold returned books to write off. Nothing will be sent to the customer except for several megabytes of information. Other than the cost of electronic storage, maintaining the network and sending the data, the income will be almost pure profit.

Unlike dead-tree books, customers would be less likely to share them with friends, because sharing would involve lending out your Kindle, with your whole book collection on it. And because the downloads aren't going through a computer but directly to the device wirelessly as files in a proprietary format, and will have DRM built into it, there will be less of a piracy problem than the music business has. While it won't be impossible, it is likely to be much more difficult to do. You probably won't see a Bookster site arise for readers to share book files.

This is just a first-generation electronic reader, of course. You can expect to see added functions in the future, perhaps a built-in web browser, built-in voice recognition software as input for e-mail, etc. The Kindle supposedly can play MP3 files, although they come up randomly; expect more user control in future releases. Ultimately, I expect that we'll end up with some kind of a tablet computer that will be an all-in-one device with a few terabytes of memory onboard and EVDO wireless access to scoop up both free and premium content, in print, audio and video, and probably act as a video phone as well. At that point, it will be the ultimate killer application.

11.29.2007

Sports Bars: Happy

Most NFL fans: Not so much.

You see, there's a football game going on right now, between Green Bay and Dallas, both of whom have 10-1 records, probably the second-best game matchup of the year. Most football fans can't watch the game at home, however. Why? Because the game is on NFL Network, and many cable companies either don't carry the NFL Network at all because of a dispute over the rights between those companies and the NFL, or offer it only as part of a premium sports package.

My brother Kurt was complaining about this when he visited last week, noting that earlier in the season, he was unable to see a Chiefs game that was on NFL Network, even though he has the premium sports package from his cable company. I read that about two-thirds of American households don't have NFL Network, so this is the best game that most fans can't see.

The only option for many will be to venture out to the local sports bar and watch the game there. I would guess that tonight will be a banner night for business at the sports bars, probably better than most weekends. I myself have NFL Network, but unfortunately, I have to work tonight, so I'll miss the second half. The glass is half-empty, but most people don't have a glass at all tonight, unless they're lifting one in front of the big screen at the sports bar.

11.28.2007

The Perpetual Plastic Massacre

The neighbors across the street love the Christmas season. I mean, they really love it. From Thanksgiving on, they have Christmas lights on their house, on their trees, lining their driveway, etc. And they also love those giant plastic inflatable Christmas decorations. This year, they have nine of them, including the giant inflatable chimney on the roof. There are are also three giant Snow Globes, a Santa Claus, a Snowman, a Grinchy Claus, a Christmas Tree, and a Snoopy-style red doghouse. There's only one little problem with those giant inflatables:



This is what they look like in the cold (well, relatively speaking) light of morning. Every day, it's another plastic massacre. It's a good thing that they have an air compressor to reinflate them daily.

Perhaps it would be more appropriate to have a giant inflatable Jesus for Easter, except He wouldn't have to wait three days to rise from the dead.

11.25.2007

Book Report, As Promised

I mentioned last week that I'd finally gotten the copy of the book, Into The Wild by Jon Krakauer, that I had reserved at the library. Most of the time when you check out a book that isn't designated a "New Book," you get it for four weeks. However, when a book is popular and has a long list of people waiting for it, then the book gets treated like it's a new book and you only get it for two weeks, as was the case here. Why is it hot? Because the book was made into a movie, which has been playing for a few weeks but is probably still in your local theater. (And the re-issue of the book is currently #59 overall for books on Amazon.com.)

On the cover of the paperback version of the book is a modified version of the Author's Note by Krakauer that prefaces the book:
In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all of the cash in his wallet, and invented a whole new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter...
That paints the life and fate of Chris McCandless in broad brush strokes, but it's a jumping-off point for the book. Krakauer came into the story when his editor at Outside magazine had him write an article about McCandless, which drew a very strong response from the magazine's readers. Most of it was quite critical of McCandless, saying that his idealistic naivety and his arrogant hubris in not preparing properly for his wilderness adventure cost him his life. There is a certain amount of truth in that characterization, but McCandless was certainly a more complex person than that would have you believe. And as Krakauer explains, his story is unusual but not unique. Other young men have felt the urge to cast off the trappings of bourgeois society, abandon their old lives and head west to seek a new life, to commune more closely with Nature, or to become really, completely free.

Freedom is a complex concept, however, and it is closely linked with security. Indeed, you could draw a continuum between absolute freedom and absolute security, and the lives that most of us live fall somewhere between the two absolutes. Absolute freedom means being beholden to no one, owing nobody anything, being able to get up and leave at any time, to take off and do anything you choose to do. Most of us can't do that: We have mortgages, car payments, apartment leases, utility bills, property tax bills, insurance payments, college loan payments, jobs, families, pets, the mundane web of life that ties us down.

The more security you have, the less freedom you have. The more things you own, the more those things own you. When was the last time that you owed nobody anything and could freely have gone anywhere and done anything you wanted?

McCandless understood this, and wanted to be free rather than secure. He graduated from college at Emory University in Atlanta, with honors, but without owing any money for his education. He felt estranged from his parents, due to certain incidents from his childhood, and wanted nothing more than to be free to seek transcendent experiences in nature. He took on a new name for his travels, Alexander Supertramp, drove west in his old Datsun (whose registration had expired) and sought to live off the land as much as possible. It was a romantic, nomadic existence on the margins of American society. He was not alone there, of course; there were others who had fallen through the cracks and didn't share the bourgeois American dream that most of us have. McCandless was different from most of them in that he had chosen his lifestyle. He was college-educated, after all, and could have gone down the 9-to-5 career path if he had wanted to do so, but he did not.

Absolute freedom, or any close facsimile thereof, is by definition an insecure existence. That kind of freedom means traveling with only what you can carry on your back at a dead run, as McCandless's sister described him. Being a hunter-gatherer is a precarious lifestyle. You don't know where your next meal is coming from, and indeed, you may miss a meal or two, or a whole lot of them. McCandless wasn't the first to starve to death in Alaska. And anyone who has a Disney perception of Nature (capital N) as kind and benevolent is a starry-eyed, naive idealist. Nature is pitiless and cruel, and has no special love for Mankind. That you eat regularly is not due to Nature's kindness, but to the fact that you live in an area where Nature has been tamed, where Mankind has turned the Earth to his own uses. Very few of us have ever set foot in real wilderness, and even fewer of us could survive there for very long.

As Krakauer notes, the fatal mistakes that McCandless made in his final journey into the Alaska wilderness were taking insufficient supplies, not bringing a USGS topographic map (which would have shown him an escape route a few miles away after the raging Teklanika River in summer flood trapped him on the wrong side), and not having sufficient knowledge of the local flora and ending up starving to death from apparent alkaloid poisoning by eating the seeds of the wild potato, which prevented his body from properly digesting food. He had a guidebook which warned against eating wild peas, which looked similar to wild potato seeds, but said nothing specifically about the latter.

There is a little bit of McCandless in most of us, that wants to cast off the fetters of our day-to-day existence, take off running and see what's over the far horizon. Few of us ever do it, of course, just as few people perform highwire acts without a net. If he had lived a little longer, perhaps he would have grown up, matured to the point where he would have returned to become a productive member of society. Then again, a bison running freely across the plain is ill-suited to become an ox in harness. After you've tasted true feedom, can you ever really come back? Most of us will never know.

11.24.2007

As if "Killing the Planet" Wasn't Enough

Wait until Al Gore hears about this! According to some scientists, apparently Mankind is 'shortening the universe's life'. We're not just destroying the Earth through man-made climate change, as the Goracle and his acolytes would have us believe, not even just the solar system or the Milky Way galaxy, but the entire frickin' universe! The whole shebang! Really. Here's their theory, according to the Telegraph:
New Scientist reports a worrying new variant as the cosmologists claim that astronomers may have accidentally nudged the universe closer to its death by observing dark energy, a mysterious anti gravity force which is thought to be speeding up the expansion of the cosmos.

The damaging allegations are made by Profs Lawrence Krauss of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and James Dent of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, who suggest that by making this observation in 1998 we may have caused the cosmos to revert to an earlier state when it was more likely to end. "Incredible as it seems, our detection of the dark energy may have reduced the life-expectancy of the universe," Prof Krauss tells New Scientist.
This really seems to be more a variant on not saying something about how well things are going, because it might jinx things. Sure, we know that's just superstition, but we've all seen it happen: Things are going well, somebody mentions how well things are going and then bad things happen. And it's been going on for a long time. The Norse had their own saying about not jinxing things in the Hávamál:
81. At eve the day is to be praised,
a woman after she is burnt,
a sword after it is proved,
a maid after she is married,
ice after it has passed away,
beer after it is drunk.
A slightly different translation says: "Praise no day until evening, no wife until buried, no sword until tested, no maid until bedded, no ice until crossed, no ale until drunk."

Similarly the scientists are telling us, "Don't look at the dark matter because you might jinx it! Oh, no! Now you've done it! You may have cut the life-span of the universe just by looking at it, you jinx!" Conveniently for the scientists, both the original life expectancy and the unknown shortened life expectancy of the universe are likely in the billions of years. The question is unlikely to be settled until long after the Sun has become a red giant and burned the Earth to a lifeless cinder. They'll never know whether the theory has any validity or not, but it gives them something to feel guilty about.

And although the astronomers seemingly jinxed things for the universe back in 1998 (while Gore was vice president), I have no doubt that the New York Times editorial page and the Democratic National Committee will find some way to blame this on George W. Bush. If they can't, then they just aren't trying hard enough!

Thanksgiving Epilogue

I shared a nice Thanksgiving with my brothers, my niece, my dad and a couple of his friends. We had a nice spread (mostly catered by takeout from Cracker Barrel) of ham, sliced turkey breast with gravy, dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, carrots, green bean casserole with crunchy onions on top, cranberry sauce, green salad, cornbread, biscuits, pumpkin pie and lemon meringue pie. I washed mine down with Coke Zero, although the brothers brought along a 12-pack of some micro-brew beer that turned out to be an 11-pack, since one of the bottles was broken and empty.

Here are a few pictures. First, a postprandial group shot of everyone except for my dad: Kurt, Rachel, Clyde, Jeanette, Richard and Karl.



Next, one of Dad and the boys:



Here's one of Rachel and Kurt:



And, finally, one more of just the guys:



My t-shirt is one from my high school, Shawnee Mission North, which both of my brothers also attended and where Rachel is a senior this year. I got it in 1998 at my 20th high school reunion. Kurt tells me that while SMN is still the Indians (the shirt has a big Indian on the back), they use the more politically correct logo on the front of the shirt as the official logo these days. They don't want to "offend" anyone.

Needless to say, nobody went hungry. I blame the tryptophan for what happened later. I said my goodbyes around 3:30 and headed for home to get some sleep, since I had to get up for work at 8:30. Well, I was supposed to get up at that time. In my groggy state, I thought I was hitting the snooze alarm, but I ended up turning the alarm off. I woke up at 10:25, already 25 minutes late for work. I tried to call the office to tell them I was coming in, but nobody would answer the stupid phone, so I just drove on in and called them from a traffic light about 15 minutes before I got there. Oh, well: Shit happens.

Anyway, now it's the weekend, my brothers and niece have returned home, and I'm finally getting caught up on my sleep. It was great having them down here, though. I wish that I could see them more often, but the distances are great.

11.22.2007

Wednesday Recap

Another day of familial fun. I met up with my brothers, niece and dad yesterday morning, and we went to brunch at my dad's ex-wife's condo on the golf course (they are very cordial with each other, just not married any longer). Shirley's mother, who is 90, was also there. She's a really nice lady as well, and fortunately seems very functional for that age. Shirley was having her kitchen remodeled, so while the workmen were in there, we were out on the lanai. It was a perfect fall day in Florida: Sunny, hardly a cloud in the sky, temperature in the low 80s, light breeze. We had a nice brunch, the occasional chemical tang of adhesives in the air notwithstanding.



We had decided to go to Sanibel so that that Rachel and the brothers could look for seashells. Sanibel Island and adjacent Captiva Island are among the best places for shelling in the world, due to the hook shape of the islands that catches shells washing in from the Gulf of Mexico on the tides. We had to make a couple of stops on the way, getting a book at Barnes & Noble that Rachel needed for school, and then hitting the nearby Target store so that Bro' Karl could get a hat. Karl also stocked up on Willy Wonka Bottle Caps candy, which he told us he couldn't find in New York. I was amazed!

"You can find Chinese takeout at 3 a.m. in New York, but you can't find Bottle Caps? Hell, you could probably find Vietnamese takeout at 3 a.m. ... Or Laotian, or Hmong... But no Bottle Caps?" I asked. But apparently, that's the case.

We had a good time laughing at some of the ugly hats in the men's wear section. There was one hideous hat that looked like it was made from recycled scraps from three or four different plaid suits. I told Karl that we could probably find him a World Champion Boston Red Sox cap, but for some reason, he was cool to the idea. I pointed out a gray porkpie hat that looked pretty cool, but in the end, he settled for a brown pinstriped fedora-looking hat.

Also at Target, I saw some Jones Soda, the brand I wrote about the other day. Among the flavors I saw were Candy Cane, Gingerbread Man and Christmas Soda. I also saw a boxed four-pack of pie flavors, including Lemon Meringue Pie soda. I wasn't curious enough to buy them yesterday; perhaps another time, so I can review them here.

Finally, we headed for Sanibel, and spent about an hour on the beach. The weather was perfect. As we drove across the bridge, Rachel got a call from one of her friends in Kansas City, who told her it was snowing there. "And not that wussy snow that doesn't even stick, REALLY snowing!" Rachel tried not to gloat too loudly as she told her friend that it was 86 degrees and sunny here in Florida. When we got to the beach, I soaked up the sun while the rest of the group went looking for shells. They found a few nice ones.

After our beach excursion, we drove back to the mainland and met my dad for a late lunch at Smoky Bones. The food was excellent, as usual. Bro' Kurt, who is from Kansas City, a barbecue haven, paid them a high compliment by noting the the baby back ribs were the best he'd ever had. I had the combo platter with the St. Louis-style ribs and pulled pork, with cole slaw and fries, washed down with a Samuel Adams Winter Lager. Mmmmmmm!

At that point, I was done for the day. It was almost 5:00 p.m. and I'd been up for 20 hours (I worked Tuesday night), so I headed for home and slept the sleep of the blessed... Or the dead... Or the blessedly dead. Take your pick.

Today, it's turkey dinner at Dad's in the early afternoon, and work tonight, then the weekend begins. I have a lot to be thankful for, including a great family and some great friends. For all of my readers, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving Day.

11.20.2007

Tuesday Stuff

I went to the airport this morning to pick up Bro' Karl. His flight was due to arrive from Newark at 10:07, and I timed it to arrive about 20 minutes early. It's a good thing that I did, because his flight arrived 30 minutes early. That was a Continental flight, by the way. He'd paid a visit to the facilities and was just coming up the ramp from the concourse when I arrived. We went down to the baggage claim area and his bag was already there. I was in and out of the airport parking lot in less than 20 minutes, which meant that I didn't have to pay anything!

We all got together with my dad for lunch at Iguana Mia, a local Mexican restaurant that is very good. Highly recommended if you're ever in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral area, since there is an Iguana Mia in both cities. Then Kurt, Karl, Rachel and I went and played a round of miniature golf. I did okay on the front nine, but had back-to-back disastrous scores on the 10th and 11th holes and the game went downhill from there. I was badly out of practice, and a combination of bad play and bad fortune did me in.

Now it's off to bed so I can get up for work in a few hours. I would say that I'm burning the candle at both ends, but there isn't much candle left; it's more like "burning the thin wax disc at both ends." Tomorrow will be a very long day, with a brunch planned, likely followed by a visit to Sanibel Island and then, who knows? I suspect I will crash hard late tomorrow afternoon or early evening, since I don't have to work Wednesday night...

11.19.2007

In Search of Shark's Teeth

When I got over to the condo, I asked what Kurt and Rachel wanted to do today. Rachel wanted to go to the beach and look for shark's teeth. For any knowledgeable Floridian, there was only one possible destination: Venice, about an hour to the north. Fossilized shark's teeth are more common there than anywhere else in Florida. So we got in my car and headed north on I-75.

We got to Venice around 11:00 a.m. and stopped off at the drug store for some cold medicine for Kurt and some water. While we waited at the checkout line, I noticed that the little old lady behind us was wearing a shirt with a monogram for a local civic organization in Venice, so I asked her where the nearest beach was. It turned out that it was just down the road, a few blocks away. We followed her simple directions and found it with no problems.

At that point, the intrepid shark's teeth hunters went to work:



At first, they didn't have a whole lot of luck, but when Kurt started digging holes in the beach sand and sifting through it, they finally found a total of three shark's teeth.

There were other things to be seen at the beach as well. We saw a couple of pelicans and numerous sea gulls. And we saw this luckless jellyfish which had been washed in by the tide:



Just as it is dangerous for us to go too far out into the water, so it is dangerous for sea life to come too close to the shore.

Finally, we saw some things that were just plain weird: A bunch of little clear jelly-looking things that looked an awful lot like miniature silicone breast implants. Here is Kurt holding one of them:



We spent a little over an hour at the beach, then grabbed a quick bite to eat before heading home again. My goal was to be home by 3:00 p.m., and I arrived at 2:55. So far, so good. And now, it's time for some sleep, since I have to work tonight.

Blogging Will Be Light and Late This Week

With family in town, the demands on my time are somewhat heightened. I'll still probably have something to say, but it may be a mid-afternoon thing rather than in the morning. More later; time to go hang out with Bro' Kurt and Rachel.

11.18.2007

Clouded Out

I got up around 3 a.m and went outside to see whether it was worthwhile to do any Leonid meteor shower watching. Unfortunately, the weather was mostly cloudy, with stars peeking through but most of the sky obscured. I went back inside and tried going back to sleep, but found out pretty quickly that I was up for the day.

My family has started arriving for Thanksgiving week. My brother Kurt and his daughter Rachel got here yesterday afternoon. I picked them up at the airport and drove them to Dad's condo, where they'll be staying. We went out to dinner with Dad, and I was spotted at the restaurant by two different people I know. It's a small world out there. My other brother, Karl, will be coming in from New York on Tuesday.

I picked up my reserved copy of the book Into the Wild at the library yesterday. It has been made into a movie which is currently in theaters. I'll have more to say about the book after I finish reading it.

11.16.2007

Insanity

One definition of insanity is repeatedly performing the same action and expecting a different result. Case in point: When I flipped on the TV last night, I caught a bit of "The O'Reillly Factor," and then it went to a commercial for Redacted, the Brian DePalma anti-war agitprop movie that opens soon. Did the movie distribution company learn nothing from the Lions For Lambs debacle last weekend? Fox News Channel viewers are not the target demographic for a movie that trashes America and our troops. Free advice: Try CNN and MSNBC instead. They're more simpatico with your agenda.

Oh, Barry Me Not, Part 2

The Home Run King, Barry Bonds, has been indicted for perjury (four counts)and obstruction of justice (one count) for allegedly lying under oath about knowingly using steroids. The charges could lead to up to thirty years in prison if Bonds is convicted on all counts.

Now, anyone who follows baseball has known for a long time that it was almost certain that Bonds had been using some kind of illegal substances for quite some time. If you're surprised, you haven't been paying attention. And of course, he's not the only one whose statistics raised suspicions that things were not on the up and up.

The parallels with The Hit King, Pete Rose, are strong, but in the case of Rose, it was something that he did after his playing career ended that has led to him being kept out of the Baseball Hall of Fame. (Correction: That is not strictly true. Rose was a player/manager at the time he bet on baseball, so it happened during his playing career.) What Bonds is alleged to have done actually affected what happened on the field. And just as the Feds got Rose for tax evasion rather than gambling, so they're going after Bonds for lying under oath rather than his actions.

Maybe the Hall of Fame needs to open up a special Wing of Infamy for Rose (and Bonds, if he is convicted). Their accomplishments on the field should not be ignored, even if in the case of Bonds they were somewhat tainted, but they need to be placed in their proper context: Men whose conduct brought shame upon themselves. And anyone else with Hall-worthy stats who is found to have used steroids should go in the same Wing of Infamy.

Update: One further thought: How difficult will it be for the federal government to get a conviction from a San Francisco jury? Sure, the Feds may have a good case, but if he gets a sympathetic jury, they may let him off anyway, as happened with O.J. Simpson in his murder trial, evidence or not.

11.15.2007

More Odd News Stuff

Dong Unhappy About Censored Sex Scenes

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but this story wouldn't be half as funny if the guy's name was different.

Censors sued for cut steamy sex scenes

BEIJING (Reuters) - A Chinese moviegoer is suing China's film watchdog in frustration with the censored version of Ang Lee's steamy World War Two drama "Lust, Caution," Beijing media reported Wednesday.

Dong Yanbin, a Ph.D student at the China University of Political Science and Law in Beijing, had filed a suit against the nation's film censor, the State Administration of Radio Film and Television (SARFT), for infringing upon his "consumer rights," the Beijing Times said.

"I felt greatly disappointed after seeing the movie," the paper quoted Dong as saying.

******************************************
How About 'None of the Above'?
I don't want to see ANY male politician nude, and only two female politicians come quickly to mind, neither of whom I want to see in the raw. While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may have had her face lifted, I suspect that everything under the clothes is saggy and wrinkly. Ugh. And as for Senator Clinton: I don't even want to see her cankles, much less her CENSORED. Now, Dennis Kucinich's wife is another matter entirely.

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - More Australian voters would like to see Labor Opposition leader Kevin Rudd naked than their current prime minister, John Howard, a poll showed on Sunday just two weeks out from a hard-fought general election.

The question was posed in a Galaxy poll of 1,200 voters and published in Zoo magazine, the Australian Associated Press reported.

"No one wants a prime minister who doesn't look good naked," Zoo editor Paul Merrill was quoted as saying.

11.11.2007

Kosher Ham Soda?

Believe it or not, that's one of the flavors that the Jones Soda Co. is putting into their holiday packs. The Christmas pack will contain flavors like Sugar Plum, Christmas Tree, Egg Nog and Christmas Ham, while the Hanukkah pack will have Jelly Doughnut, Applesauce, Christmas Coins and Latkes flavors. Christmas Tree soda? You know, there are some things that smell nice but would taste bad, and I think that Christmas trees are among them. These are definitely novelty products that will only generate niche sales.

In a related news item, Robert Redford's anti-war agitprop movie Lions For Lambs tanked badly at the box office this weekend, bringing in a disappointing estimated $6.7 million and coming in fourth, far behind Bee Movie, American Gangsters and Fred Claus. They probably spent that much just on commercials on Fox News Channel alone, promoting the movie to a mostly-conservative audience that wasn't going to go see it anyway.

So what do weird soda flavors and unsuccessful anti-war propaganda films have in common? They're both the result of people deciding that they are going to make a certain type of product because they think it is the "right thing to do," and they don't seem to care whether anyone wants to buy their product or not. It's an arrogant mindset: "I know what's good for you, so I'm going to sell it to you whether you want it or not."

At least the Jones Soda Co. has root beer and strawberry flavors that the public likes to fall back on. They're a small company and they'll still make a profit. Liberal Hollywood moviemakers, however, have lost a ton of money on movies like In the Valley of Elah, The Kingdom and Rendition, and apparently with Lions For Lambs as well. There is more of the same coming down the pike, and films like Brian DePalma's Redacted are almost certain to do just as poorly. Why? Because, as this post by J.D. Johannes points out, these movies all violate the hero narrative:

Despite spend several million dollars on advertising and marketing, 'Lions for Lambs' will flop--just like 'Rendition' & and 'Valley of Elah.'

They will flop because the human psyche, especially the American variety, prefers real heroes--like the original hero of the Valley of Elah, a young shepherd named David who killed Goliath then cut off the giant's head.

In the latest round of war movies the heroes are not the Soldiers and Marines who every day fight and defeat a vicious and barbaric enemy--the heroes are reporters, lawyers and activists.

And since every story requires a villain, the real enemy--Mohammedan Jihadists--are replaced by neo-cons, politicians, Soldiers and Marines.

Exactly. You can fool some of the people all of the time, but not enough of them to make a box office profit. Ham soda and ham-handed anti-war movies are both examples of what happens when people forget that they are in business to make a profit, and to do that, you have to sell the customers something that they want to buy. Most Americans aren't buying what they're trying to sell us.

11.09.2007

Eighteen Years Ago...

The Berlin Wall came down. I lived in West Berlin from May 1985 to January 1989. The Berlin Wall had existed since I was a toddler, and it seemed as permanent as, well, the Soviet Union. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Here is my piece of the Berlin Wall:



It came from the Lichterfelde district in the American Sector, in the south part of the city. That was the district where I lived, coincidentally enough. I got it from a local radio station in early 1990, when I called in to reminisce about my time in the divided city. It's a little chunk of concrete the size of a small piece of fudge.

11.07.2007

Why Do You Think They Call It 'Dope'?

Okay, boys and girls, what's wrong with this story (via AP)?

Marijuana puffer makes it easy for cops

DANBURY — A Brookfield man faces drug charges after he allegedly walked into the Danbury police station puffing on a marijuana-filled cigar.

Capt. Robert Myles says Scott Snow walked into the station early Saturday and blew smoke from his cigar into a small opening in the bullet-resistant glass separating desk officers from the public.

Myles says the 24-year-old man was told there's no smoking inside the building and he allegedly stubbed out the cigar on the counter.

Officers came out and smelled the distinctive odor of marijuana and arrested Snow.

Police say they found more alleged marijuana in Snow's pants.

He has been released after posting bond.

Say what you will about whether or not marijuana should be legalized, but there's no denying that it certainly didn't help Mr. Snow's judgment in this case. I'm wondering if one of his doper buddies dared him to do it. ("Dude, I totally dare you to go into the police station and blow smoke through their window!" "Dude, you're on!")

As for my question, "What's wrong with this story?" the answer is that it would have been appropriate for Mr. Snow to get busted with marijuana if his last name was Grass or Weed or Stoner. But for a guy named Snow? Coke is it! Wrong drug, Mr. Snow! Back to remedial drug training with you!

11.06.2007

Something Doesn't Add Up

Okay, Blogger was telling me that I'd posted 499 posts prior to the last one. However, when I tallied up the number of posts in the archives, it only added up to 469. Where are the other 31 posts? Are those perhaps posts that Blogger ate before I could get them completed, to the sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth? It has a propensity for doing that, after all. Maybe they're drafts that got saved but never posted. I don't know. All I know is that there is a major discrepancy.

Maybe it's like the shift from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, when they lost a number of days as the calendar skipped ahead. Or maybe it's like the number of licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. The world may never know.

Milestone Post

This is my 500th post on Recycled Sip, going back over the past three years. Rather than just toss out some throwaway oddball news item, I'll take on a more serious subject.

Last night at work, I was thinking about the situation in Pakistan, and why Islamic societies like Pakistan and Iraq may be stony ground on which to sow the seeds of democracy. I'm currently reading David Hackett Fischer's Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, a book about how four different waves of immigration from four different parts of Great Britain have shaped American society, both in the aggregate and in its regional variations. I was thinking about that, and about how some of the most successful democratic societies in the world were all founded by English speakers, largely because they brought with them from the mother country a history of self-government and cultural values that made the government work for the people. From the United States and Canada in North America to Australia and New Zealand in the south Pacific, and even to some extent in India (which was colonized by the British up until Indian independence and partition in 1947), certain ideas are shared about the proper relationship between the government and the people.

The details may vary from country to country, but the common concepts that are enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, such as individual rights and freedoms which are inherent to the people, the rule of law, and limited governmental powers which are granted by the people to the government, are present in all of them. I don't think we realize how unusual, and indeed, how radical such concepts are compared to most of the rest of the world. We have several hundred years of this British heritage as our birthright, and it has shaped us in subtle ways that we often don't even realize.

But why is India a comparative success story, the world's largest democracy, while neighboring Pakistan has frequently lived under military dictatorships? After all, for two centuries, they were one country under the benign dominion of the British Empire. Is it just the fact that India is primarily Hindu, while Pakistan was explicitly founded as an Islamic republic? Is religion more of a central fact of life in Pakistan than it is in India, and does that religion act in ways that are contrary to the development of a democratic civil society? Or are other cultural values, such as tribalism and a greater tolerance (indeed, an expectation) of corruption, the real problem?

Lots of questions, and I have no real answers for them. Just thinking out loud here...

11.05.2007

NBC's Global Warming Silliness

This morning's NBC "Today" show is being broadcast from "the Ends of the Earth," as their graphic puts it. They have reporters in the Arctic Circle, at the Equator and in Antarctica, as well as studio anchor Meredith Viera, who just had a gushing interview with the Goracle, former veep and Nobel Peace Prize winner Al Gore, who was in London. If interviews were fellatio, she would have had a Lewinsky-stain on her blouse. It was that bad.

It's all about the "climate change crisis," as the Goracle has proclaimed it. Last night, they did the NBC Sunday night football pre-game, halftime and post-game shows by candle light, from what I heard (I didn't see the game, but I heard about it). Now they've flown reporters literally to the ends of the Earth, at an unknown and unmentioned cost in added carbon dioxide emissions from the planes flying their crews all of those thousands of miles. I think we can be pretty sure that they've bought some kind of carbon offset credits, the 21st Century equivalent of papal indulgences. And NBC's prime time programming this week will be preaching the environmental gospel according to St. Albert all week long, and so will affiliated cable channels like Bravo and Sundance Channel. Heresy will not be tolerated.

Viera asked Gore about the scientist who wrote an op-ed questioning whether it had been proved that the warming climate has been caused by Man, and Gore's reply: "He's an outlier." Gore went on to say that some people still think that the Earth is flat, but nobody seeks them out for scientific arguments. He said that it's wrong to have a point-counterpoint type argument about global warming when "everyone knows" that it's happening and that Mankind is to blame. I guess "outlier" is better than "out-and-out liar," which is what Gore seemed to be thinking.

11.04.2007

Football Stuff

Two subjects today, including "Super Bowl XLI-I/II."

First, though, another Sign of the Apocalypse: The undefeated 9-0 Kansas Jayhawks football team (I never thought I'd read THAT in my lifetime!) annihilated the Nebraska Cornhuskers yesterday, 76-39. As the story notes, Nebraska had won 37 of the last 38 games between the two teams, and between 1971-2000, the average score was 47-7. When I was growing up, both Kansas and Kansas State perennially sucked at football, while Big Eight (now Big Twelve) conference rivals Nebraska and Oklahoma, which sandwiched the state on either side, would beat the woeful Sunflower State teams like a drum. The Jayhawks usually had a great basketball team, though, so there would often be some payback later in the year.

This year, though, Nebraska has fallen on hard times, and the Jayhawks were 20-point favorites going into the game! It must be rough for the people in Nebraska, because really, what do they have there except for college football? They eat it, breathe it, live it up there. On fall Saturdays, everything is red and white. Without a good football team, they might as well be South Dakota. But remembering all of the beatings they inflicted on us, I have a hard time mustering any sympathy for them. In fact, I'll pile on by telling a Nebraska joke:

Q: What does the N on the Nebraska football helmet stand for?
A: Nowledge.

Yeah, I'm enjoying it!

Next, today's titanic match-up between the New England Patriots (8-0) and the Indianapolis Colts (7-0), the latest in the season that two unbeaten teams have ever met. The Pats are a 6-point favorite, even on the road, because they've been beating teams this year the way that Nebraska used to beat Kansas.

Bill Belichick of the Patriots is the kind of coach that you only like if he's leading your team. He's gotten some criticism for running up the score on opponents in recent weeks. He's the kind of coach who leaves his first-string offense in the game in the fourth quarter despite having a 40-point lead, and while I really don't like seeing players get hurt, in a situation like that, if it were to happen, I'd think that they'd deserve it. With a big lead, you should pull your starters so they don't get injured and let the backups get some playing time. Tony Dungy, by contrast, is a genuinely nice guy. These are clearly the top two teams in the NFL, and the winner of the game will be the clear favorite to nail down home field advantage in the playoffs. I hope the Colts win.

Finally, a bonus non-football topic: What is it with these Peterson people? We had Laci Peterson murdered by her husband Scott a few years back, and now in suburban Chicago a young woman named Stacy Peterson has gone missing and her cop husband Drew is under suspicion, and in Mexico, cops just arrested a 25-year-old female middle school teacher from Nebraska named Kelsey Peterson, who had run off with a 13-year-old male student after people became suspicious of their sexual relationship. On the plus side, she didn't have to watch the Cornhuskers get walloped by the Jayhawks.

See? Everything IS related!

11.01.2007

There Is Nothing New Under the Sun

We've known for a long time that the moguls in Hollywood are mostly risk averse, preferring to green-light projects that are remakes of popular movies and television shows from the past, or sequels to them. After all, if people liked it in the past, they'll probably like it now.

There are a couple of good examples coming down the pike: Fox's television show Terminator: The Sarah Conner Chronicles, which is coming in mid-January, and the soon-to-be-released movie I Am Legend, starring Will Smith as Robert Neville, which is a remake of the cult movie The Omega Man (1971) which starred Charlton Heston, which was a remake of the 1964 horror movie The Last Man On Earth, which starred Vincent Price. All of those were based on Richard Matheson's 1954 novel I Am Legend.

The Sarah Conner Chronicles will at least have the possible virtue of new content, even if none of the actors is the same as the movie trilogy. I Am Legend looks to be strictly a remake, with the location moved from Los Angeles to New York and with the Robert Neville character going from white to black.

I have mixed feelings about the latter, much as I did when The Honeymooners movie did the same thing to Ralph Kramden, et. al., and when the 2003 television remake of Battlestar Galactica did a sex change on the Starbuck role and turned him into a woman. Jackie Gleason was iconic as Kramden, and similarly, Heston's version of Neville is the definitive one. It just didn't seem right to me. Perhaps in cases like that, you have to make the actor as different as possible from the original, in an attempt to stake out another version of the show that will catch the audience's attention and make them forget about the previous version, at least temporarily. It's great that minority actors are cast in lead roles these days without anyone blinking an eye. Still...

Perhaps for the under-30 set who have never seen The Omega Man, this will become the definitive version. Those of us who are old enough to remember 1971, however, will always remember Charlton Heston as well.

10.31.2007

When the Tax Is On the Punkin', In the Corn State It's A Shock

Weird news, weird news. Topical for today, this story from Iowa: Tax Law: Are You Eating Those Pumpkins?

DES MOINES, Iowa - The Iowa Department of Revenue is taxing jack-o'-lanterns this Halloween. The new department policy was implemented after officials decided that pumpkins are used primarily for Halloween decorations, not food, and should be taxed, said Renee Mulvey, the department's spokeswoman.

"We made the change because we wanted the sales tax law to match what we thought the predominant use was," Mulvey said. "We thought the predominant use was for decorations or jack-o'-lanterns."

Previously, pumpkins had been considered an edible squash and exempted from the tax. The department ruled this year that pumpkins are taxable - with some exceptions - if they are advertised for use as jack-'o-lanterns or decorations.

Iowans planning to eat pumpkins can still get a tax exemption if they fill out a form.

Question: Will Iowa tax peppermint candy canes in December? After all, most people will be using them to decorate Christmas trees. (Yes, on this blog, they are still called "Christmas trees," not "holiday trees," political correctness be damned!) Sure, they'll eat them afterwards, but the candy canes are still primarily for decorative purposes.

Filling out a form to get small change back (six cents on the dollar for whatever the pumpkin cost) would undoubtedly be too much effort for the average Iowan, which is probably what the bureaucrats are hoping for. The cost of the postage to send in the form for a tax refund would probably be more than they would get back, so what's the point? But personally, I'd love to see each and every person who is charged that sales tax turn around and fill one of those forms out and send it in, just on general principles. The rules say that you're not supposed to tax food. And folks,

this is food.

10.28.2007

Minorities, Spammers To Be Hardest Hit

At least, that's how I'd read this story in the Daily Mail: Human race will 'split into two different species'
The human race will one day split into two separate species, an attractive, intelligent ruling elite and an underclass of dim-witted, ugly goblin-like creatures, according to a top scientist.

100,000 years into the future, sexual selection could mean that two distinct breeds of human will have developed.

The alarming prediction comes from evolutionary theorist Oliver Curry from the London School of Economics, who says that the human race will have reached its physical peak by the year 3000.

These humans will be between 6ft and 7ft tall and they will live up to 120 years.

"Physical features will be driven by indicators of health, youth and fertility that men and women have evolved to look for in potential mates," says the report, which suggests that advances in cosmetic surgery and other body modifying techniques will effectively homogenise our appearance.

Men will have symmetrical facial features, deeper voices and bigger penises, according to Curry in a report commissioned for men's satellite TV channel Bravo.

Women will all have glossy hair, smooth hairless skin, large eyes and pert breasts, according to Curry.

Racial differences will be a thing of the past as interbreeding produces a single coffee-coloured skin tone.

If the men will all be well-hung and the women will all be stacked, what will the poor spammers do? To whom will they hawk pills to enlarge those body parts?

And if everybody will be "coffee-coloured", then everyone will be a minority and nobody will have grounds for affirmative action preferences. Who will be our future Jesse Jacksons and Al Sharptons?

My problem with the whole theory is that it assumes that beautiful women seek to marry handsome men. However, the evidence outside of Hollywood is that beautiful women often seek to marry wealthy, powerful men, who may or may not be physically attractive. Look at the late Anna Nicole Smith, for instance. Or any of the women hanging around Hugh Hefner, for that matter. Wealth and power are a powerful aphrodisiac.

10.26.2007

Goin' Fishin'

The National Football League is doing its best to undermine our international relations with Great Britain, sending the woeful 0-7 Miami Dolphins to London to play a regular season game on Sunday against the New York Giants. For most Floridians, that's not far enough! Perhaps playing the game in Beijing, 13 time zones ahead and starting at 2 a.m., would be better. Then there would be less chance of turning on the television and accidentally seeing the game.

I don't understand the logic of playing a regular season game that actually counts in a foreign country. Preseason exhibition games? Fine, no problem. But there are only eight regular season home games during an NFL season, and the Dolphins gave up one of them for this game to be played in London. Sure, they suck this year, but there's a principle here: You don't stiff your home fans by taking away a regular season game and traveling a few thousand miles to play it on the road.

Sure, Major League Baseball does it too. They've had some teams open up with a three-game series in Japan in recent years, but still, that's only about 1/27th of a team's home schedule. Each game in the NFL is far more important because they only play 1/10th as many games as MLB does.

You know that the stadium in London will probably be only half-full at best; after all, what they call "football" in England is played with a round, black-and-white ball. A third-tier soccer game would probably draw a larger crowd.

10.25.2007

President Colbert?

What does it say about the mood of the American people when comedian Stephen Colbert's satirical presidential campaign polls in the double digits? According to Rasmussen Reports, in a hypothetical three-way race between Hillary Clinton, Rudy Giuliani and Colbert, the comedian draws 13% of the vote. If the match-up is Clinton, Fred Thompson and Colbert, then Colbert gets 12% He's a distant third in both match-ups, but then, he's only been in the race for one week. Perhaps Colbertmania is just beginning to surge.

And among the 18-29 age group that is more likely to watch Colbert's show on Comedy Central, he gets 28% of the vote in the match-up involving Giuliani, and 31% of the vote in one involving Thompson, more than either Republican candidate does among that age group, according to Rasmussen.

Now maybe the people being polled just decided to pull the pollster's leg. And without a real party apparatus behind him, Colbert has no chance of being elected. Still, it seems to me that this shows that there is a sizable portion of the electorate that would pull the lever for "None of the Above," given the choices that seem to be available.

10.24.2007

Some Days...

It just doesn't pay to put on the Homer Simpson t-shirt.

I had a book that was a couple of days overdue at the library. In a case like that, I normally wait until I have to make a trip into town; the small fine is cheaper than the cost of gasoline to make a special trip. So, today it was time to go grocery shopping, and I grabbed the book on the way out the door. It was only a little farther out of the way to go to the library and then double back to the store.

Well, I had a stack of books by the computer, and I had moved the overdue book to the top of the stack. I got to the library, pulled the printed-out slip out (I use them as bookmarks) and put the book into the night depository, since the library didn't open for another half-hour. It was only as the book left my hand that I realized I had grabbed the wrong book! I had just returned the book I was reading, William Gibson's Spook Country, which I had just gotten on Saturday. Sure enough, when I checked the slip, there it was. I swore and barely resisted the impulse to thwack myself on the forehead. Meanwhile, the book that was overdue was still sitting in my computer chair at home, and if I want to read Spook Country, I'll have to go through the whole rigmarole of putting a hold on it and waiting for several more weeks to get it again.

D'oh!

10.23.2007

The REAL Outrage

Fox News has been showing a clip this morning of some of the Democrat presidential candidates at some sort of outdoor event, with the national anthem being sung in the background. Bill Richardson and Hillary Clinton are standing with their right hands over their hearts, as they should. Barack Obama, however, is standing with his hands folded over his crotch. Combined with his recent "I'm not going to wear a flag pin on my lapel" flap, Fox News wants to know if people think this is outrageous or not.

While it was improper protocol (and anyone who wants to be president had damn well better know protocol), the REAL outrage was the horrific version of the national anthem in the background. It was "sung" by one of those artiste types who screech and warble and couldn't hit a note cleanly to save her life. She actually made Hillary Clinton's singing sound good! Yeah, she was THAT bad!

Gov. Richardson and Sen. Clinton: One thumb up for knowing what they were doing. Sen. Obama: One thumb down for NOT knowing what he was doing. For the "singer": Two thumbs way down and a ball-gag. Go and sin(g) no more, honey.

Yeah, that's one of my pet peeves. It's a tough enough song to sing without intentionally botching it up by thinking it's a scat number. It ain't "The Star-Spangled Bebop." Just sing it like it's written!

World Series

Well, my Phillies vs. Indians pick at the beginning of the month didn't quite pan out. I live in the area where the Red Sox train in the spring, and I've been to both Red Sox spring training games and a few games at Fenway Park a couple of decades ago, but I'm going to have to root for the Rockies, just because it's such a great story.

Tomorrow night we'll find out whether the eight-day layoff will have any effect on the Rockies. They'll certainly be well-rested, and anyone who was banged up will have had plenty of time to heal.

I'm sure that the Fox network is happy that the Red Sox are in the Series rather than the Indians, since Boston is a bigger market and perhaps might draw better ratings.

Girl Power

A couple of stories about empowered women:

First, women protesting against the brutal regime in Myanmar (Burma) are sending their panties to their local Myanmar embassies. Seems that in Burma, it's a "culturally insulting" gesture, because some of the local men, including junta leader General Than Shwe, believe that touching a woman's underwear will sap their power. Protest group Lanna Action for Burma is trying to make them lose their mojo. "Panty-gram for the tyrant!"

Second, when the shuttle Discovery goes up this morning, weather permitting, both the commander of the shuttle and the commander of the International Space Station will be women. This will be the first time that has occurred.

10.22.2007

They Only Come Out At Night

On DirecTV, the really bizarre stuff comes out after midnight. Not just the "adult"-themed programming on the pay movie channels like Skinemax, but even on more mainstream channels like the music video channel Fuse. This morning, I was surfing and found that Fuse had a show on called "Pants-Off Dance-Off." And it's about what you would expect from that title: Five amateurs (of both sexes) stripping down and dancing with a music video in the background, complete with trash-talking both from the "professional" dancer judges and the other competitors. No nudity is shown; after a certain point, the show's logo pops up and blocks strategic areas of the screen. However, the show pimps its web site, where it promises viewers the Full Monty. Some people will do anything for their 15 minutes of fame.

Then there is the Shop Erotic channel, where two attractive women show a variety of sex toys and describe their various features. Interestingly, they have two different phone lines for customers to order their products: One for men and one for women, who no doubt are more comfortable talking with a female customer service representative when ordering that sort of thing. There are a surprising variety of products available, and they range from inexpensive to pricey: Some of them run up around a couple of hundred dollars. This show goes off the air around 4 or 5 a.m.

The most bizarre thing I saw over the weekend was down in the 100s, a channel called IAC which is basically for advertising. Right now, it's running a promo for "The All-New 2008 Dodge Grand Caravan," but earlier it had some kind of an "Ultimate Dirty Movie" film/Axe body gel tie-in involving David Spade, where people uploaded clips of themselves rolling around wrestling in mud, teeter-tottering in green paint, and in one case, having a guy fall over in the kitchen and spill milk all over himself and two women in cat costumes then licked the milk off his shirt. There were perhaps five or six of these uploaded clips. Very, very weird stuff. Probably almost as weird as Dodge thinking anyone is going to watch their infomercial.

10.21.2007

Thoughts on Stuff I Didn't Blog Last Week

I'm on vacation and in slacker mode. Plus Blogger has been uncooperative on the few occasions when I felt like blogging something. Blogging is likely to continue to be light for the rest of the month. Here's the stuff I didn't write about.

The Flaming Pope: Perhaps you saw the news story last week with the picture of a bonfire, with the flames resembling the late John Paul II. Some called it a miracle; I suspected Photoshop.

Chocolate Jesus returns: Fox News was running this story about the return of the life-sized anatomically correct chocolate sculpture of Jesus, which the artist is going to exhibit at an art gallery in New York. My take: It's like when you shop on Amazon.com, and they make a recommendation that says "Better Together," about two related items that can be purchased at the same time. Flaming Pope and Chocolate Jesus: Better Together, with the end result a melted chocolate puddle.

Benazir Bhutto's explosive return to Pakistan: What were they thinking?! She's going to drive in a motorcade for hours through the densely crowded streets of a city of 15 million people, which is chock-full of Muslim extremists. She's gotten death threats from Al-Qaeda and the local Muslim terrorist groups. And she thinks she's going to be able to just ride through the streets and NOT have suicide bombers try to blow her up?! So they ended up with over 130 people dead and hundreds more injured. The only good news is that this is likely to make the Pakistani government become a bit more serious about dealing with the extremists in their midst. Good luck to them; they'll need it.

Joe Torre and the Yankees: The Yankees made their former manager an offer he could refuse, with a lower base salary and up to $3 million in incentives. Torre rightly saw this as an insulting offer, one that showed that the Yankees management brain trust didn't really want him back, despite the fact that the Yankees made the playoffs every year for the past twelve years and won four World Series championships under Torre. Of course, those World Series wins were all back in the 1990s, and the expectation in New York is that the Yankees should have won the World Series twelve times in those twelve years. It's an impossible situation for whoever the Yankees hire to replace Torre: The Yankees will spend a ton of money on the best players that they can get, and the expectation will be that the new manager will win, or else. Contrast that with Trey Hillman, who was just hired by the Kansas City Royals, a team that hasn't been to the playoffs at all since winning the World Series in 1985. No pressure there.

Orionids meteor shower this morning: You can't see meteors when it's raining. Maybe I'll have better luck with the Leonids next month.