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.


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.


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.


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!


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?


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.


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.


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?


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?


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.


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.


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...


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.


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.


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!


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!


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.