Friday, December 31, 2004

Quack Quack!

Honour! tut, a breath:
There's no such thing in nature: a mere term
Invented to awe fools.
Ben Jonson (1572 - 1637), playwright and poet

The United States Supreme Court, the highest court in the land, is the final forum for appeal in the American judiciary. The Court has interpreted the Constitution and has decided the country’s preeminent legal disputes for nearly two centuries.
(from The Brethren by Bob Woodward and Scott Armstrong)

Can the American people really feel secure in knowing that their Supreme Court Justices are above reproach? The Los Angeles Times is reporting that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has accepted tens of thousands of dollars worth of gifts since joining the Supreme Court, from $1,200 worth of tires to valuable historical items and a $5,000 personal check to help pay a relative's education expenses.

There is nothing illegal in this, but ethically it is wrong. These nine jurists just shape the future meaning of the U.S. Constitution, should they really be accepting exclusive private trips, country club memberships, and expensive antique gifts? The people providing the gifts may not personally have a case before the court, but may want to influence a future decision.

In a six-year period from 1998 to 2003, Thomas accepted $42,200 in gifts, making him easily the top recipient. This is the justice that President Bush admires and may nominate as Chief Justice. The next highest was Sandra Day O'Connor, who accepted $5,825 in gifts, mostly small crystal figurines and other items. The example in behavior and rulings should be David H. Souter, who turned down all gifts and club memberships.

In the words of the esteemed Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, regarding his duck-hunting trip and a case involving his duck-hunting partner on a recent vacation: Vice President Cheney, “That’s all I’m going to say for now. Quack, quack.”
Addendum: Please see Lowering the Bar for Government Ethics, from the Washington Post. It is very apropos to the above piece reported by the Los Angeles Times.

Big Unit Works in Big Apple

Baseball is the greatest of American games. Some say football, but it is my firm belief, and it shall always be, that baseball has no superior.
Thomas Alva Edison (1847 - 1931), inventor

One of baseball’s best pitchers Randy Johnson is joining the New York Yankees. The Arizona Diamondbacks and the Yankees finalized a deal for the six-foot-10 inch Johnson, also known by the nickname Big Unit, to play in New York. In return, Arizona will receive right-handed pitcher Javier Vazquez, left-handed pitcher Brad Halsey, and catching prospect Dioner Navarro.

This deal is the remnant of the three-way deal the once regal Los Angeles Dodgers backed out of with the Yankees and Diamondbacks.

The interesting game will be between the former teammates, Curt Schilling who pitches for the World Champion Boston Red Sox and Johnson.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Lunch-Related Tumescence

The title means exactly what the words say: NAKED Lunch—a frozen moment when everyone sees what is on the end of every fork.
William S. Burroughs (1914 - 1997), writer

Mustard, relish, exposed breasts and a soda, please. According to an Associated Press report, Two Long Island women who sold hot dogs and sodas from a truck were arrested on charges that their menu also featured sexual acts in exchange for money.

One of the two women vendors offered to expose her breasts to an undercover officer who was buying a hot dog and the other offered him oral sex in exchange for money. Wasn’t there some episode of Donald Trump’s show when one of the apprentices did something that was considered unbecoming while selling hot dogs? The Misanthrope doesn’t know for sure, we believe we heard something about that when walking pass the television.

The two entrepreneurs were charged with prostitution and were released on desk appearance tickets. They are scheduled to return to court on Jan. 10.

Statue-Related Tumescence

Thanks go out to Davenetics for bringing to our attention the FCC's opening of the books on some viewer complaints about the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics on NBC. Yes, it's an old program, but it's the idea that's important. Why? Dave puts it thusly:
The complaints... can best be summed up by one letter-writer who explained: "My children saw an exposed breast during the opening ceremonies," and another who asked, "How could NBC be allowed to show the male genitalia on national television?" By the way, the writer here is referring to a reproduction of a statue. If you can get off to that, my hat is off to you (so are my pants for that matter).

This would all be ridiculously funny if it weren't for the fact that handful of nuts like these can actually move policy in this country. Remember, 99.8% of all complaints to the FCC this year came from a single organization.
If we sit still while some hick with statue-related tumescence turns our broadcast day into a bland, milky pulp, we have no one to blame but ourselves. And that hick.

So what can we do? Write to the FCC and tell them we like what we see on network television? That we want more exposed breasts and naked statues? If you have any suggestions, please comment.

[To read the Washington Post story that Dave cites, click here.]

What is Wrong with President Bush?

One cannot live with sighted eyes and feeling heart and not know and react to the miseries which afflict this world.
Lorraine Hansberry (1930 - 1965), writer

President Bush continues to embarrass our country and antagonize those who do not like the United States or his “leadership.” Bush had a chance to once again show our great and unmatched humane side, but instead chose to poke a stick in the eye of the Muslims and Chinese leaders by delaying or hesitating, as the leader of the free world, to voice our country’s heartfelt sadness and grief.

Bush said that he and Laura, and the American people, are shocked and saddened by the terrible loss of life from the recent earthquake and the tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.

The American people and the world have been saddened for three days prior to today’s announcement!

For a president who prides himself on being prompt – what the happened? Did he decide that being on vacation excused him from being president? Was Carl Rove vacationing, were the speechwriters skiing?

There is no reason not to voice our heartfelt sympathy and pledge support within a couple of hours. Bush did not wait long to send condolences and heartfelt sympathies to Vladimir Putin after the terrorist attack in Chechnya, rightly so.

The Misanthrope would also point out that the loss and grief of this tragedy is not beyond our comprehension as Bush stated. We know Bush does not care much for reading, but he can ask someone on his staff about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and how many died there. In the meantime, if the Iraq quagmire continues at its recent pace for a few more years, we can expect the combined death rate from both sides may also surpass the tsunamis on Dec. 26, 2004, now that is incomprehensible.

Can I see another's woe,
And not be in sorrow too?
Can I see another's grief,
And not seek for kind relief?
William Blake (1757 - 1827), poet

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

ASIMO in Motion

Familiar with Honda's robot, ASIMO?

He runs now, at up to three kilometers per hour; check out the video. Watching it (him?) is mesmerizing; for those of you weaned on Asimov's robot novels and other similar works (as I was), you will recognize what you see in this video: the future. [Link to the press release.]

[Thanks, Matt, courtesy of BoingBoing.]

Amateur Tsunami Video Footage has posted a handful of amateur video recordings of the recent tsunami activity:
In addition to the extensive first-person coverage of the tsunami disaster on blogs, there have been several amateur recordings of the tsunami from camcorders. Unfortunately, the network websites aren't making them easy to find and view. The videos are usually only available as poor-quality, streaming video like RealPlayer, and buried in popup windows and poor navigation.
BoingBoing has a new post about tsunami-related blogging, and its effect on mainstream media coverage -- check it out.

Bush Declared the Winner in Ohio

Divine Providence has granted this gift to man, that those things which are honest are also the most advantageous.
Quintilian (35? - 95?), Roman rhetorician

It’s really official. Ohio finally finished counting the votes from the presidential election. According to the Associated Press, Kerry found 734 more votes in the recount, and President Bush picked up 449, mostly from disqualified ballots that were counted in the second tally because hanging chads had come loose when ballots were handled again or rerun through counting machines. Ultimately, Kerry gained 285 votes on Bush.

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell has estimated that the recount will end up costing taxpayers $1.5 million. The Misanthrope would like to think that it would have been a lot less costly or at a minimum efficient, to have spent the money on a honest system in the first place. Ever since the Republican assault on the election process in Florida, disrupting the voting and vote counting process seems a standard tactic in their arsenal of dirty tricks.

Instead, Blackwell, a Republican, would rather complain about the efforts to ensure the results are fair. Here is a novel idea, just conduct a fair election in the first place. The United States should set the right example for holding fair elections, as we pursue our crusades for democracy around the world.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Sin City on the Silver Screen

Frank Miller's incredible graphic novel series is coming to a theater near you, starring Mickey Rourke and Bruce Willis. It looks fantastic! Miller is known for his amazing penwork -- his sense of positive and negative, dark and light, hidden and revealed -- and the movie appears to do a good job of maintaining that graphic intensity.

I couldn't resist compiling some images from the various graphic novels that make up Sin City; check them out here.

I've also grabbed some images from the movie trailer, which is up at; check them out here.

Salary Watch: Fannie Mae's Convicts-in-Training

US mortgage finance giant Fannie Mae, found guilty of violating accounting rules and accused of paying dizzying bonuses to its bosses, has made public the entitlements and compensation claimed by its departing chief executive and finance director.

In a document delivered to the SEC, Fannie Mae reveals former chief executive Franklin Raines (at left) can claim $600,000 salary for the period from December 22 to June 22, 2005, the date at which his retirement becomes effective. That's right -- $600k for six months work, and he won't actually be working. His monthly pension payments should then amount to $116,300. Yes, monthly. He also has more than 1.6 million stock options and can claim $8.7 million in deferred payments from Fannie Mae.

Former finance director Timothy Howard (at right) could be eligible for $84,000 dollars in salary between December 20 and the end of January 2005, before claiming $36,000 a month once retired.


Reelection Honeymoon With Voters Eludes Bush

There are those who believe this site to be a bastion of liberal, lefty ideology, ever in search of bad news about the current administration. We claim no such bias. Nonetheless, we present the following.

President Bush prepares to start his second term with the lowest approval ratings of any just-elected sitting president in half a century, according to new surveys.

[The notable exception to Bush's unpopularity.]

A Gallup survey conducted for CNN and USA Today puts Bush's approval rating at 49% -- close to his preelection numbers. That's 10 to 20 points lower than every elected sitting president at this stage since just after World War II.

Bush's Gallup rating echoed a survey published last week by ABC News and the Washington Post, which put his approval rating at 48%. That poll also found that 56% of Americans believed the Iraq war was not worth fighting. Time magazine also put Bush's overall approval at 49%.

"The question is, what happened to the honeymoon?" asked Frank Newport, editor of the Gallup survey.


Ex-official Tells of Homeland Security Failures

The government agency responsible for protecting the nation against terrorist attack is a dysfunctional, poorly managed bureaucracy that has failed to plug serious holes in the nation's safety net, the Department of Homeland Security's former internal watchdog warns.

Clark Kent Ervin, who served as the department's inspector general until earlier this month, said in an interview last week that airport security isn't tight enough and that little has been done to safeguard other forms of mass transit. Ervin said ports remain vulnerable to terrorists trying to smuggle weapons into the country. He added that immigration and customs investigators are hampered in their efforts to track down illegal immigrants because they often lack gas money for their cars.


Fox News Type of Propaganda

Every method is used to prove to men that in given political, economic, and social situations they are bound to be happy, and those who are unhappy are mad or criminals or monsters.
Alberto Moravia (1907 - 1990), novelist

The Military Times newspaper surveyed enlisted personnel and found that 60% remain convinced the Iraq war is worth fighting and 63% approve of the way the war is being handled. That is interesting because most the of soldiers are too young to know a better way, and a good majority never completed a college education and most likely know very little history. Guess who was surveyed? The subscribers were randomly surveyed by mail in late November and early December. No doubt the troops in Baghdad sent their replies without haste in between battles and arming their humvees.

According to the publication, the annual poll includes 1,423 active-duty subscribers to Air Force Times, Army Times, Navy Times and Marine Corps Times. The Misanthrope would be interested to know how many troops in Iraq are reading this mouthpiece publication? We bet it’s primarily officers.

This poll appears to be nothing but propaganda for people who think this war is still about (multiple choice):

(a) Weapons of mass destruction
(b) Something to do with 9/11
(c) Chemical and biological weapons, which were a threat to the United States
(d) Iraq pursuing and possibly even possessing the means to build and deliver a nuclear bomb

Unfortunately, if all of the above are wrong, the only motivation for this war was revenge and getting oil into the marketplace. What a tragedy and shame for the United States. No amount of spin will change that.

Monday, December 27, 2004

How can an idiot be a policeman?

I know this is really unimportant, but I have to find out -- does anyone know if Steve Martin's new Pink Panther movie is really as bad as the trailer makes it appear?

I am a huge fan of Monsieur Martin -- I couldn't possibly mention all of his great work, but here are five: The Jerk, Parenthood, L.A. Story, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, and The Spanish Prisoner (not to mention his stand-up and books!) -- but this just looks awful.

How can Martin (with Jean Reno and Kevin Kline, as well) do this? Please tell me there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Please tell me it's not another "Sgt. Bilko." Or "Looney Tunes: Back in Action." Or "Bringing Down the House." Hmmm. His art collection must be huge now.

China Needs to Take the Lead in Relief Efforts

Earth felt the wound, and Nature from her seat
Sighing through all her works gave signs of woe,
That all was lost.
John Milton (1608 - 1674), poet

The 9.0 magnitude quake was the strongest in 40 years and the fourth- most-powerful since 1900, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Relief efforts are critical and needed immediately. In the news articles The Misanthrope perused only MSNBC mentioned China’s aid efforts: China was preparing to dispatch to Indonesia a team of more than 40 experts for relief and rescue work, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

China is now an economic powerhouse creating trade deals throughout Asia and in South America. This is disaster is in China’s virtual backyard. The country needs to be the relief leader; it’s a responsibility that comes with economic power.

Other countries are reacting quickly and generously. According to the various news articles, the world community appears to have responded. The United States immediately offered appropriate assistance to those nations most affected. In Britain, three charities — Save the Children, World Vision and Christian Aid — were flying out teams to help workers already in Sri Lanka and India and sending money to region.

President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan urged a "swift and concerted" response from international donors and said Pakistan would send tents, medicines and water to Sri Lanka, one of the countries hit by the huge waves. Offers of on-the-ground help and financial support came from Ireland, Britain, Kuwait and Turkey.

Additionally, relief agencies in France, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, Italy, Israel, Russia and Greece indicated that the focus of their initial efforts would be in Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital. Australia’s Foreign Minister Alexander Downer pledged $7.7 million to international aid agencies. Japan sent a 21-person disaster relief team, including doctors and nurses, to Sri Lanka with medical supplies, drinking water and tents capable of accommodating up to 1,000 people, the Foreign Ministry said.

China will soon find that being a world leader is huge responsibility and not inexpensive.

16 Year-Old Actress Adds 15 Pounds For Movie

On Sundays, I reach for the Calendar section first. Well, first after the comics. Today I read about Sarah Steele, 16 year-old co-star of the new movie "Spanglish." Apparently she put on 15 pounds to play the part of Bernice, "the sweet, overweight daughter." That and a fat suit, and she had it nailed.

At first, I was taken aback. Should we really be encouraging kids to go the "Raging Bull" route? Recklessly eating at McDonald's (which is how she claims to have done it) and giving up the free weights?

And then I had a second thought (two in one day tends to be my limit): perhaps this is a good lesson for a young girl. She learns, let's suppose, that weight is not something that enslaves you. It's not something to fear -- it's something you change as you see fit; you put on a little one week, you take off a little the next. And for some activites, the extra weight is good. And maybe she learns that a little more weight is not the end of the world, or maybe she feels healthier when eating a little more?

I'm always a little optimistic at the turn of the calendar, but the idea that she could be a new kind of role model -- "Put on a little weight! It's fun! You can always take it off later! Or not! Who cares? I'm happy!" -- has me in a good mood.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

The Misanthrope -- Sunday's Lighter Side

Have no pity.
Eugenio Montale (1896 - 1981), Italian poet

Christmas. Thank goodness the holiday has passed. It is just too much with nearly everyone going to the stores at the same time, the bombardment of crap from Giga Pets to heated sandbags, and that does not include real sorrows and headaches. The Misanthrope was able to resist all the hot advertised items. However, the family’s gifts are more expensive than ever. Every year the prices go up and the requests for more costly gifts grow. One saving grace this year was the coin jar. We pulled out slightly more than $300 in coins. Now, it took some work. While The Misanthrope toiled writing commentary for Toner Mishap, wife counted out coins. You’d think with all the labor and diligence put forth (not to mention most the coins) I would have received some of that, you would have been wrong. Daughter received it all. And now, we have lost one reader, and all of you are important. Since daughter is home, she has no time to read and she is leaving for London next week to study abroad for a semester, so one regular reader gone.

Rip this Joint. The Misanthrope is an unabashed Rolling Stones fan and once again, we received more Stones’ product. This year the double live CD “Live Licks,” and the Stones CD “Singles 1965-1967,” “Alfie” sound track with music by Mick Jagger and Dave Stewart, and non-Stones related “Charles Mingus, The Complete Atlantic Recordings 1956-1961,” which have all been ripped into the computer bringing the total hours of music up to 321 and we still have more to rip. We predict when finished recording all our music we’ll have 623 hours. It is just a guess.

New Year’s Eve. Next week we’ll write something about this mandatory party ritual that we just as mandatorily ignore. We settle in with good books or a movie or both and await the neighborhood bombers to frighten the animals into the New Year.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

On The Mark -- When I Was 25...

Because today is Christmas, and with my dad passing away recently, I'm going to take the liberty to post a personal thought. For all those who have lost a loved one, you know how much you wish you could have more time. We always feel that time is flying by, but it actually moves very slowly. Force yourself to stop, do nothing, and be silent for five minutes, and it's amazing how long it seems. Because of our lifestyles and priorities, WE force time to "move fast" and to seem at a premium. This weekend I had an experience that reinforced to me how slow time really does move. I like to collect wines and store them to enjoy at a later date when they've matured properly. Not expensive, rare wines. Just good red a hobby. This weekend I brought 10 new wines to my wine locker and took away 5 that I had stored about 15-20 years ago. That's when it struck me how slow time really is because I should wait another 15 years to properly enjoy the wines I stored today. Then I realized that I don't have too many "cycles" left because I'll be 62 when these wines are ready.

So all I can recommend when you're feeling squeezed for time is to buy a bottle of wine, put it away and tell yourself "I'm not going to be able to drink it until 2020 at least." Then, the next time you feel there's no time, think about that bottle of wine waiting for you, and you'll realize how much time there really is after all.

History Means Nothing

I can envision a small cottage somewhere, with a lot of writing paper, a dog, and a fireplace and maybe enough money to give myself some Irish coffee now and then and entertain my two friends.
Richard Van de Geer, U.S. soldier, Richard Van de Geer was officially the last American to die in the Vietnam War (1959-1975); Time, Letter to a friend

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told troops stuck in Iraq on Christmas Eve that the U.S. will prevail over insurgents. Still he believes the United States is not stuck in a quagmire.

*At the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, the Allies (the coalition of the victorious nations in World War I, including Britain and France) made Iraq (the territory encompassing the three former Ottoman vilayets of Mosul, Baghdād, and Al Başrah) a Class A mandate entrusted to Britain.

Under the mandate system, a territory that had formerly been held by Germany or the Ottoman Empire was placed nominally under the supervision of the League of Nations, and the administration of the mandate was delegated to one of the victorious nations until the territory could govern itself.

Class A mandates were expected to achieve independence in a few years. In April 1920 the Allied governments confirmed the creation of the British mandate in Iraq at a conference in San Remo, Italy. In July 1920, when the Iraqi Arabs learned of the decision, they began an armed uprising against the British, then still occupying Iraq. The British were forced to spend huge amounts of money to quell the revolt, and the government of Britain concluded that it would be expedient to terminate its mandate in Mesopotamia. *Encarta Reference Library.

Back to the Present
"There's no doubt in my mind this is achievable," Rumsfeld told troops in Mosul, where he visited some wounded in the bombing, according to the New York Times. He criticized those he called "the naysayers and the doubters who say it can't be done, and that we're in a quagmire here," saying there have always been skeptics who have second-guessed military campaigns. He told soldiers that "the task you have is not to create a country, but to create an environment so that they can do it on their own."

The Misanthrope wants to know whose family will have to receive the infamous distinction from the absolutely unnecessary war in Iraq that the Van de Geer’s are burdened with?

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Arts Should Inspire: A Rant

The Los Angeles Times today had a front page story about the new NBA. Writer David Wharton esentially bid farewell to the days of "Magic Johnson's familiar smile" and "Michael Jordan's classic elegance", and pointed to the NBA as changing into a "thug league." The picture accompanying the story was of Allen Iverson sporting a trucker's hat, a bandage, and enough "ink" to bring to mind a horrible case of skin poisoning.

The article claims that "the new wave of players brought a defiant attitude," and cites a Newsday article by Shaun Powell which called the recent Pistons/Pacers fight "an extension of the hip-hop culture they embrace, which promotes and encourages anger, violence, selfishness, bling-bling, excess, the exploitation of women and show-boating." Whew!

Here's my two cents (here are my two cents?): there was a time (says this crotchety old man in training) when the arts -- music, painting, literature, and athletics -- glorified the human spirit. The Olympics were a showcase for the beauty of the human body, and professional sports leagues were looked to as examples of the finest in performance and sportsmanship. Now we have hockey fights, illegal doping, brawls between fans and players... Music was a way to transport ourselves, to glimpse something of a higher nature, to reflect the greatness of humanity and inspire us to more greatness; now we have music that reflects the underbelly of society and encourages emulation of said underbelly, music that demeans women, denigrates minorities, and dispenses hatred.

I'm not suggesting that in the good old days everything was sunshine and roses, and today we are left with naught but evil; but I mourn the arts as an inspriation to do good, to be better, and to rise above everyday life. I look forward to popular acclaim of music and athletes that encourage us to do more for ourselves and those around us, to strive for greatness and never settle, and to refuse to accept that the way things are is the ways things have to be.

The Book of Love

The age of the book is almost gone.
George Steiner (1929 - ), scholar and critic

When looking for a date, apparently the Barnes & Noble has the best singles scene in New York City, according to a Reuters story carried by CNN. The Misanthrope is not sure what to make of the study.

Let’s consider for a moment that New York has clubs, theaters, movies, bars, etc., you name it New York has it in spades. So how is it that a book store is the best place to meet a potential date? Do you find your type by the genre of book they are perusing or is it by section – fiction, non-fiction, psychology, or poetry?

We suspect somewhere in this new dating trend there must be a psychological explanation about why a solitary pastime is the best way to meet someone. This is a short-lived trend because once Google digitizes the libraries it will be back to the online chat rooms.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

On The Mark -- Give an Old Man a Break

From "Newsweek" This is what Rumsfeld had to say to the 2,000 troops in Kuwait when they started complaining about lack of armor, extended tours and late pay.

"Now settle down, settle down. Hell, I'm an old man and it's early in the morning."

I real morale booster, this guy. An old guy who needs to be sent out to pasture.

Firefighters Accidentally Burn Down Their Sauna

A squad of fire-fighters accidentally set their own sauna ablaze but could not extinguish the fire despite their training.

The sauna, at Lappi, 140 miles west of Helsinki, was destroyed despite the volunteer fire-fighters' efforts, Finnish news agency STT said.

The fire Wednesday caused no injuries.

Bathing in a sauna is a national pastime in Finland, especially in winter, and most households have access to one.

[From Yahoo.]

Government Watchdogs Uncover 5,000 Votes

The men with the muckrakes are often indispensable to the well-being of society; but only if they know when to stop raking the muck.
Theodore Roosevelt (1858 - 1919), U.S. president; Referring to the exposing of political scandal. Muckrakes are rakes used to spread manure or compost.

The media has been getting a bad rap the last few years for various reasons from being too liberal to bending over for Republican propaganda. Normally, The Misanthrope would say the pendulum will swing this way and then that way and eventually settle in the middle, but we are no longer so sure. Major corporate conglomerates have gotten used to the tidy profit news organizations bring in without huge production costs. If you will allow, they were the first reality television shows.

But what the media has forgotten and the people may never have known is that the press should ideally be the watchdog of government. News is not reading what each political operative’s press release says and allowing the public to determine which is right. The media is not supposed to report it unless it is news, meaning that something unique has happened (remember Man Bites Dog), otherwise it is simply gossip, analysis, or commentary, but it is not news.

The Misanthrope has been following the mayoral election results in San Diego, and from the start of the vote counting, we have been appalled by the nonsense of disqualifying write-in ballots for mayoral candidate Donna Frye because the oval was not colored in. The intent was clear and the effort very noticeable not the least bit akin to a hanging or pregnant chad.

The San Diego race is so close that the San Diego media (San Diego Union, KPBS-TV, KGTV-TV, KNSD-TV and KPBS-FM) and the Los Angeles Times requested permission to review the ballots, but according to the Los Angeles Times, Deputy County Counsel Dennis I. Floyd the state Elections Code prohibited public scrutiny of the ballots "except under certain narrow circumstances, including a request for a recount.”

That sounds more like a policy instituted in Russia than in the United States. On top of that, the media’s recount requests had to be made in the name of a San Diego voter, who in turn had to ask for the recount in the name of one of the candidates.

The media serving as watchdog has turned up 5,547 ballots that had Frye’s name written in, which would have elected her mayor of San Diego. Now many people are claiming the press is biased. That is rubbish and the media should explain what the role of the press is in society.

We applaud the Los Angeles Times, The San Diego Union, KPBS-TV, KGTV-TV, KNSD-TV and KPBS-FM for going forward despite the asinine rules and restrictions the city has placed on reviewing the ballots.

Close Elections

Five votes! Five votes can do anything around here.
William J. Brennan (1906 - 1997), U.S. Supreme Court justice

The election is still not finalized in Washington state’s governor’s race. Election officials announced Wednesday that the Democratic candidate, Christine O. Gregoire, was leading her Republican opponent by 10 votes.

According to the New York Times, the State Supreme Court agreed with the Democrats' contention that more than 700 newly discovered and erroneously disqualified ballots in heavily Democratic King County should now be considered.

Since those ballots came from a county where Gregoire, 57, already had a solid lead, the ruling could allow her to increase her extraordinarily tiny edge in a race that is the closest in state history and one of the closest in the nation's history.

What exactly do these close elections mean? Is it that we have improved the efficiency of counting votes, despite the disqualification of ballots in Florida, Ohio and San Diego?
The Misanthrope sees all the close elections as a positive development. It means that politicians cannot take any vote for granted. It should also serve as a signal to voters everywhere to pay attention and get involved.

Note: see PoliBlog for more perspective on this close race.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Chewie the Rookie Wookie

OK, I'm cleaning out the garage, and what do I find? My old 45s, including this gem from 1977:

The Rebel Forces Band, performing "Chewie the Rookie Wookie" and "May the Force Be With You." They're so bad they're classic - from the time before Lucas started getting careful about what he licensed Star Wars for.

So I'm selling it on eBay, and I imagine it will be popular with Star Wars fans... it has brought me much joy over the years. Note: the auction is now over.

Here are three mp3s from three grerat alternative bands -- all Star Wars songs, and they all rock! Download them for your pleasure, but please consider buying the albums, because they are three of my favorites.

Blink 182's A New Hope, from "Dude Ranch"

The Presidents of the United States of America's Death Star, from "Freaked Out and Small"

Nerf Herder's Supernova's Chewbacca, from "How to Meet Girls" -- thanks, Russell, for the correction to the band name; please excuse the misnamed file.

Just got told about, and found (for your listening pleasure), DVDA's I Am Chewbacca (thanks, map).

Suicides of U.S. Marines at Highest Level in Five Years

Reuters reports that suicides of U.S. Marines have reached their highest level in five years (there have been 32 confirmed or probable suicides among 178,000 Marines this year).

Defense Department spokesman Bryan Driver said there was no evidence linking the higher suicide rate with the long tours of duty and frontline fighting Marines have engaged in Iraq. But a Marine Corps spokesman said on Tuesday that the Defense Department is encouraging Marines to seek mental health services.

I can add nothing to this report that isn't obvious, but I suppose I must: the war in Iraq is taking its toll. Casualties as a result of fighting are a part of war, though horrible; incidences of "friendly fire" that result in fatalities can seem even worse. This - Marines taking their own lives, [perhaps] because of the war - actually, I don't have the words.


Chaplain Lewis is with the army in Iraq, and his blog has some first-person accounts of what's going on there these days; it's a must-read.

A Fair Wage to Pay for Rent

It is but a truism that labor is most productive where its wages are largest. Poorly paid labor is inefficient labor, the world over.
Henry George (1839 - 1897), economist

The mantra of many Republicans is supply and demand. For those who may not yet be familiar with the theory, or law, of supply and demand, the market prices of commodities and services are determined by the relationship of supply to demand. Theoretically, when supply exceeds demand, sellers must lower prices to stimulate sales; conversely, when demand exceeds supply, buyers bid prices up as they compete to buy goods.

It works well enough except when greedy captains of industry decide to capture a market and create a monopoly and hold the necessary service or product for ransom. Other downsides, and it takes many forms, includes crony capitalists in government granting favors to people who have helped them or can help them in the future. Those exceptions have been the catalyst for myriad laws.

Here is The Misanthrope’s question and maybe some reader can help enlighten us: If supply and demand were allowed to operate honestly wouldn’t the jobs that Americans do not want to apply for begin to pay more in order to attract people to fill the positions? If the positions paid more wouldn’t they then be able to make what a typical California wage earner must make ($44,000 a year), or least $21.24 an hour to afford the rent on a two-bedroom apartment?

But once again, corporations don’t want to pay that much per hour because they would have to raise the prices of goods and services to a level that even more people could not afford. But the Republicans who believe in privatizing and supply and demand, don’t play fair. President George W. Bush wants to permit “good-hearted” people to come here to work and “do the jobs that Americans won’t do…”

We don’t know the answer, but we know something is not right. Isn’t that serving only to keep people in poverty or ensuring that the rich get richer?

On The Mark -- Have a VERY Merwy Chwismas and Shop 'til You Drop

In Las Vegas I always try to avoid the free alcoholic drinks the casinos serve while playing blackjack. I know they're trying to liquor me up so the more cavalier, spontaneous (foolish) person buried deep inside of me will come forth and make me double down when I should be holding, or hit when the dealer is showing a bust card. Impulse gambling. You know, the stupid things that the casinos rely on to build those big, bright hotels.

With Christmas sales down, retailers have caught on to this trick. Two weeks ago Neiman Marcus in Chicago stationed bartenders throughout its four-story store. Banana Republic in San Francisco had a roving bartender offering appertizers and champagne. It was reported on the front page of the Wall Street Journal yesterday that retailers in some communities have created events such as "Champagne Shopping" where shoppers are transported from one retailer to another, enjoying champagne and wine at each stop. By the middle to the end of the trip, the credit cards start flying and the shoppers are burdened with multiple bags of goods they otherwise most likely would not have purchased.

But, alas, unlike casinos where your money is gone for good (and I hope you've seen the famous Albert Brooks movie scene where he laughably tries to present his case to the casino manager on why he should get the money back he lost gambling?), at least shoppers can return their purchases after their hangover subsides, if they're not too embarrassed.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

The Movie Will Star Hayley Mills

Dateline: Stockholm. In a caper straight out of a bad movie, 18 year-old twins swapped clothing and traded places so that one could escape from jail.

"We knew there was a certain risk of a mix up, so we took some measures," said Lars-Aake Pettersson, the warden for the jail. "But this was apparently not enough. They managed to dupe us."

In a bad TV show, one twin always has a goatee or some birthmark; that way the one actor can play both parts easily. In real life, the convicted twin of the pair had a birthmark on his face -- that problem was taken care of with an ink pen.

Eric Idle Song Rants Against the FCC

Eric Idle's "FCC Song" is obscene, and he knows it. Fans of Monty Python (and others) will enjoy this rant that hits the FCC, Clear Channel, President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and even Martha Stewart.

Did I mention it's obscene?

Because it is.

But as a public service, I am offering it for download. If you like it, go buy it. Buy lots of Eric Idle stuff. Piracy is wrong - but borrowing with the intent to buy is good.

On The Mark -- Privacy, Please

You're a grieving family. Your son or daughter has been killed in Iraq. You're aware that he wrote you one last letter on his Yahoo e-mail account, but thought he'd make a few more edits before he hit the send button. In the meantime, though, the letter has to go into the "drafts" box because he has to go out and kill a few evildoers. Unfortunately, the evildoers get him first. Obviously, you want that letter. It's the last thing he thought about as it relates to you and the family. It's something you'll surely cherish for the rest of your life. One more time where he said "I love you" and "I miss you."

But you don't have his password. You call Yahoo. Should be easy, right? Forget it. No password. No letter. Those are the rules.

If reporters can be sent to jail for not giving up their sources, even for stories they didn't work on (i.e., Judith Miller of the New York Times), then Yahoo "should go to jail" for not giving up this letter.

The Pope May, In Fact, Hate You

Electablog says it best, so I'll just quote from his site:
Over the weekend, the Pope announced that the move towards legalizing gay marriage is an attack on society:
Attacks on marriage and the family, from an ideological and legal aspect, are becoming stronger and more radical every day. Who destroys this fundamental fabric causes a profound injury to society and provokes often irreparable damage.
He's right on the message. He's just wrong on the topic. It's actually enabling and allowing a pandemic of child molestation and then looking the other way when victims emerge and then bumping those involved up to new and more powerful positions in the Vatican that causes profound injury. So does pretending that the fabric of families is made up of anything more important than love and acceptance.
Thanks, Electablog.

All Day Strong, All Day Long - Until The Heart Attack

Ready for this? Sit down. Vioxx, Celebrex, and now Aleve... all show double the risk of heart attack. Here's an excerpt from Yahoo!:
An Alzheimer's disease prevention trial was suspended after researchers said there were more heart attacks and strokes among patients taking naproxen, an over-the-counter pain reliever in use for 28 years and commonly known under the brand name Aleve.

The study found that patients taking naproxen had a 50 percent greater incidence of cardiovascular events — heart attack or stroke — than patients taking placebo.
Do not test these things beforehand? Or do they just not test them for long enough? I guess this stuff is hard to figure out, but maybe that means we should wait a little longer before releasing new drugs to the public.

Just another reminder that it may be best to try and have a little nap and see if that helps before you start popping pills. And for those of you still taking Viagra: show a little restraint, would you? You never know...

Presidential X-Ray Vision

Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

The headline in the Washington Post said “Aggressive Congress Eyes’ Bush’s plan. The Misanthrope is hereby warning Congress – do not go eye to eye with President George Bush.

This president has extraordinary vision, Bush has been able to look into Donald Rumsfeld’s heart and know he is a good person. The Commander in Chief peered into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and was able to see the Russian leader’s soul. After receiving briefings about Iraq, Bush can see terror is still in the soul of some of the Iraqi people. Bush looked into the soul of Jiang Zemin, the Chinese president, and apparently, he did not like what he saw, therefore no barbeque at the Texas ranch for Zemin.

Bush has the vision thing. He can see what Congress is up to and as a result has had his way with the legislative body enacting three tax-cut packages, imposing accountability standards on educators, and adding a prescription drug benefit to Medicare. He even did so with smaller Republican congressional majorities than he will enjoy at the start of a second term.

The one area Bush has not seen is Vice President Dick Cheney’s heart, probably because it’s the one place that is much too dark, even for this president’s superpower.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Donald H. Rumsfeld, Will You Please Go Now?

The time has come.
The time is now.
Just go. Go. Go!
I don't care how.

You can go by foot.
You can go by cow.
Donald H. Rumsfeld,
will you please go now!

You can go on skates.
You can go on skis.
But you can't have armor;
Don't bother with "please."

I don't care.
You can go by bike.
You can go on a Zike-Bike
if you like.

If you like
you can go
in an old blue shoe.
That's pretty much what
our soldiers do.

Donald H. Rumsfeld,
I don't care how.
Donald H. Rumsfeld,
Will you please go now!

(With apologies to Dr. Seuss.)

You don't resign from the job you want; you resign from the job you have.

BitTorrent Getting Hit Where It Hurts

From Yahoo:
One of the web's most popular file-sharing sites has shut down less than a week after Hollywood announced a flurry of lawsuits against operators of such internet servers.

A note posted on says the site is closing down for good: "We are very sorry for this, but there was no other way, we have tried everything."

Last week, movie studios sued more than 100 operators of U.S. and European sites that host BitTorrent links but did not name the defendants.
Desperate, isn't it?

Here's how BitTorrent works: instead of users downloading a file from one place, files are split up and hosted all over the web; it speeds up download time, and makes it really hard to track the origins of these files. Which is why "pirates" love it so much.

But trying to keep people from information -- words, music, or movies -- is fruitless. That doesn't make theft permissable, but it does mean that these companies need a new business model. When I have found myself in possession of music acquired without payment, and discovered that I liked it, I have purchased the album. When I don't like it, I dump the file. And I'm not the only one who does that. I remind these media machines of the library argument: people check out books from the library, sometimes even making photocopies and distributing them to friends -- and yet bookstores still sell books, and publishers haven't gone out of business.

Lawsuits will not keep the future from coming, and will not address the real issues facing the music and movie industries: how to provide content with value to consumers, and how to adapt to new buying/acquisition methods.

Schwarzenegger Leans Leftward... to the Center

I'm no Republican.

That being said, I did vote for Arnold Schwarzenegger in the last gubernatorial election here in California, and so far I haven't been disappointed in him. Why not? He helps sick kids, he fights spam, he understands the concerns of small business-owners, he's a menace to criminals, and he supports stem cell research.

And here's more good news, straight from the pages of the German publication (translated by Google and cleaned up by me).

Here's Arnold on the Republican party:
It must move somewhat. The Republican party covers the spectrum from right outside into the center, and the Democratic party covers the spectrum from left to the center. I wish that the Republican party would cross this dividing line, move a little more to the left and put more weight on the center.
For more on Arnold, check out his website.

An Open Letter to President Bush's Neoconservative Puppetmasters

I love McSweeney's. Just found a section of its site which has an open letter to President Bush's Neoconservative Puppetmasters:
To whom it may concern:

Why didn't you tell President Bush to invade Western Australia first?

I've been playing Risk: The Game of Global Domination since I was eight years old and never, never have I seen someone win the game by massing their forces in the Middle East at the beginning of the game. Too many borders! Impossible to reinforce! Enemies from all directions! Australia, on the other hand, is easily conquered. Start in Western Australia, make a straight-line march through eastern Australia, then on into New Zealand and New Guinea, and finally up to Siam, sealing the entire continent and guaranteeing an extra two armies per turn for the duration of game. (Ask Secretary Rumsfeld if those would come in handy.) Once in Siam, you can leave the remainder of your provinces virtually unguarded and mass your armies of the Far East to eventually move north into Siberia, Irkutsk and Kamchatka, ultimately overtaking the entire Asian continent (seven extra armies per turn), including, finally, the Middle East.

To read the rest of it (and you know you want to), go to McSweeney's.

On The Mark -- Happy Holiday Evildoers

President Bush must not have read all the front-page stories and editorials yesterday or read the letters I'm sure he received concerning how the evildoers in America are trying to destroy Christmas by saying "Happy Holidays" instead of "Merry Christmas." Indeed, in some places in this country threats have been made to businesses and individuals if they didn't use Merry Christmas banners and decorations instead of Happy Holidays decorations.

He concluded his end-of-the-year news conference this morning twice saying "Happy Holidays." Not once did he say "Merry Christmas." Those "moral values voters" must be twisting and turning now, throwing what's left of their egg and ham breakfast at the television screen.

But this leads inquiring minds to ask, however: Would he have said "Merry Christmas" if the election were tomorrow? Like the Kennedy assassination, we'll never know...

No Compassion for the Troops

Even if everything I say is wrong, is prejudiced, spiteful, malevolent, even if I am a liar and a poisoner, it is nevertheless the truth and it will have to be swallowed.
Henry Miller (1891 - 1980), novelist

The Pentagon has acknowledged that Donald H. Rumsfeld did not personally sign condolence letters to the families of soldiers killed in Iraq. Instead he had them electronically signed, according to the Washington Post. How many more times does Rumsfeld have to demonstrate his distain for the military and how much longer will it be before President Bush no longer finds it a pleasure to have Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld serve in the administration? What has Rumsfeld done right in the four years with W? The Misanthrope honestly cannot think of anything at this particular moment. We would certainly welcome comments or even a guest commentary on the subject (contact us via e-mail).

This latest act of heartlessness from the defense secretary is the height of arrogance and should be the final straw for Bush to dismiss him. It’s not as if the soldiers are being killed hundreds at a time (thank goodness), so why won’t Rumsfeld take a few minutes to personally sign his name?

The Misanthrope believes Rumsfeld thinks that since the soldiers volunteered, they knew what they were signing-up for and therefore nothing personal is required. This man is a danger to the world.

Side Effects

The big story lately (if you ignore the cops downing twelve year-old and six year-old kids with tasers, or the death that continues to pile up in Iraq, or the woman who stole a baby from another woman's womb)... where was I? Oh yeah - the big story has been the report that Celebrex, a popular anti-arthritis drug, more than doubles your risk of having a heart attack if you take it.

Now, every drug has side effects (hear Steve Martin read his version of a side effects label at NPR); granted, the increased risk of heart attack is worse than the usual dizziness or flatulence, but medicine isn't perfect yet. The problem we are facing is that people remember the Jetsons, and expect that science should be able to provide a pill that provides for all our needs, solves our problems, and gives us the RDA of all vitamins and minerals. One day, perhaps, science will do that - but these things take time, and the public tends toward impatience. The tendency is bolstered by the unsubstantiated claims that some drug manufacturers make, wherein a little pill can help you get that football right through the middle of that tire swing every time, if you know what they mean, heh heh heh ("Dude! I'm feeling tumescent already!").

Let's all calm down a little with the prescription drugs, then. No more wonder cures that cause more problems than they treat. No more letting drugs fall into the hands of the wrong people, so kids are using them to get high instead of get well. Let's have no more "quick fixes" for childhood ailments that used to be solved with a little discipline and a lot of love. Stop treating hyperactivity and attention deficit with pills, and get those kids some exercise. There are cases where these drugs can do a lot of good, but we are overprescribing them, and the side effects to our population are as of yet still unknown.

One day, when we can cure disease without side effects, and when we can know beyond the shadow of a doubt that the medicine we prescribe is necessary and beneficial, then I'll join the party and celebrate Celebrex. Until then, we need to show a little restraint... and there's no drug yet on the market that can help us to do that; we have to to do it ourselves.

[For a well thought-out, well-researched news story on kids and pills, check this out.]

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Digitized to Our Detriment?

Twenty-two acknowledged concubines, and a library of sixty-two thousand volumes attested the variety of his inclinations; and from the productions which he left behind him, it appears that both the one and the other were designed for use rather than for ostentation.
Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794), historian; On Emperor Gordian the Younger; The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

Google’s announcement last week (Dec. 13, 2004) that it will begin converting some of the nation’s leading research libraries and Oxford University into digital files that will be searchable over the Web, leaves the Misanthrope a bit suspicious.

The Misanthrope recalls Nicholson Baker’s 2001 book Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper. The book jacket says, "Since the 1950s, our country’s libraries have followed a policy of destroying to preserve. They have methodically dismantled their collections of original bound newspapers, cut up hundreds of thousands of so-called brittle books, and replaced them with microfilmed copies." The results, as Baker discovered, were that there are no longer any complete editions remaining of most of America’s great newspapers.

Will this eventually happen to the books we have today? More importantly, what will happen to libraries? Will they become a casualty of state and federal budget cuts once everything has been digitized? This most likely will not result in The Misanthrope’s lifetime or two generations hence, but what happens when it does? If everything is technically in one spot, couldn’t some corporation or government leader ultimately control it all?

Thanks to input from colleague B2, we were reminded of Alexandria’s famous ancient library, considered to have the greatest collection of books in the ancient world. Founded by Ptolemy I Soter, king of Egypt, in the city of Alexandria, it was expanded by his son Ptolemy II Philadelphus early in the 3rd century BC. In the time of Ptolemy II, according to historians, the main library in the Alexandrian Museum contained nearly 500,000 volumes, or rolls, and an annex in the Temple of Serapis contained some 43,000 volumes. Most of the writings of antiquity were preserved in these collections from which copies were made and disseminated to libraries throughout the civilized world.

It is largely through such copies that ancient works have survived to modern times, for the Alexandrian library was partially or wholly destroyed on several occasions.

Maybe it does not matter whether we have access to history or not, humanity continues to repeat its mistakes – not just in a march of folly, but in a hyper-speed race of perversity to our own detriment.

The Misanthrope – Sunday’s Lighter Side

Americans would rather live by a Chamber-of-Commerce Creationism...satisfied with a divinely presented Shopping Mall. The integrity and character of our own ancestors is dismissed with "I couldn't live like that" by people who barely know how to live at all.
Gary Snyder (1930 - ), Poet, essayist

Shopping. We made the mistake of thinking it would be possible to quickly run into Best Buy on Friday afternoon to avoid the crowds. The Misanthrope is obviously not much of a shopper. But, we can say for certain that NASCAR has nothing on the figure-eight parking-lot demolition derby that occurs in these shopping mall lots around the holiday season.

The trouble starts by trying to fit all the elephantine vehicles (Humvees and huge SUVs) into a small boa constrictor parking lot. Meanwhile, rather than park another 10 yards away from the store, people stop their car in the middle of a parking aisle backing-up traffic, waiting five minutes or more (they could have jogged around the block and still got into the store quicker) for the finished-shopper to load his/her car with packages, arrange the bundles to ensure they don’t tumble about, then the finished-shopper eventually saunters into the car and with the careful precision of a diamond cutter attempts to back out. In the interim, parking-lot traffic has snaked out to the street inferring with boulevard traffic.

Once this time-efficient shopper moves out of the way, it’s as if the gates of hell have just opened and the starting flag waved as cars race around looking for spaces before the music stops. Tis the season to be jolly?

On The Mark -- License to Strip: G-String Divas Get Branded

It's about this time of the year that I dread the business tax bill for my business that is due in February each year. Of all the taxes I pay -- business and personal -- this one is the most hated because there is absolutely no return on it. At least with other taxes I know streets are getting paved, some social services are being provided and, unfortunately, a war is being fought. But with the business tax all I get is a piece of paper saying I'm allowed to do business in this city. Some people proudly frame this license and put it on their wall (it is supposed to be displayed at all times). I bury it deep in my desk drawer because it just makes me too angry to look at it.

Now business licenses are becoming the (forced) fashion rage for G-String Divas.

In San Antonio on Friday the City Council unanimously (11 members) approved a measure requiring exotic dancers to apply for permits. OK, that's bad enough, but get this. The dancers can't hang this license on the wall above their make-up mirrors or place them on their vanity tables. The permit, about half the size of a credit card, must be worn while the dancers are performing!! "I really don't know where we're supposed to place it," said the performer, Tempest.

I guess they'll just have to find a place to bury it, like I do.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Happie Holidays

"And so during these holiday seasons, we thank our blessings. ... "
President George W. Bush —Fort Belvoir, Va., Dec. 10, 2004

Once again, President Bush continues to embarrass the country. His latest being his faux White House Conference on the Economy, which served as a platform for announcing policies for the financial ruin of the United States. "Financial Challanges for Today and Tomorrow," the message proclaimed in dark blue capital letters against a bright yellow background beneath the president.

Bush does not care if he speaks ungrammatically and now the White House does not care how it spells either. The Misanthrope has complete sympathy for typos as long as one makes the effort to correct them – as the fight for justice is never ending, so too is the fight against typos.

However, there are enough people surrounding the president that typos should not occur. But, this president believes himself to be one of the common folk, which translated means he thinks people are stupid (The Misanthrope is staying silent). The president continues to talk as if he just walked out of the back country of Texas.

You're all invited back again to this locality. Y'all come back, here!

Friday, December 17, 2004

On The Mark -- Double Your Risk

A few years ago my back flared up and I was suffering through some severe pain. I reluctantly took some anti-inflammatories that helped relieve some of the pain, although they made my stomach rumble and my mood gloomy. I asked my mother, "How did people in your generation get through these kinds of ailments." Her response still stays with me, "We just learned to get through it, we had no other choice. But we got through it." Ever since that day, I've taken less medication -- for headaches, backaches, colds, etc. -- and I've been better for it. On a whim during my next back episode, I went through a series of acupuncture treatments. It worked wonders. I didn't take one pill. I've also found various natural and homeopathic remedies that have worked wonders compared to what the multitude of pharmaceuticals, over the counter and prescription, have to offer. We've been brainwashed to take medication for everything. And when the adult market got saturated, then kids were freely and shamelessly targeted. Is this any worse than the tobacco industry, really? When I was a kid, discipline kept me in line, not drugs. With today's news that Celebrex can cause twice the probability of heart attacks, it's another reminder to everyone to explore natural remedies. Certainly, some medications are needed, but it's time to cut through the clutter.

Bush will be paying tribute to the troops, to the tune of $40 million, during his multi-day inauguration. I wonder if even one red-stater at these parties will be thinking about the soldiers who are getting maimed while the partygoers are dancing because we don't have enough money to get the soldiers the right equipment? I mean, this is beyond pathetic. This is (the fall of) Romanesque. I keep waiting to hear someone in the administration (Rumsfeld?) say, "Let them eat cake." Does anyone know where the orgies will be taking place?

AmEx Cutting 2,000 Jobs

American Express Co. announced it will cut 2,000 jobs, or 2.5 percent of its work force, in a restructuring designed to save more than $75 million a year before taxes [Link].

Salary watch: Chief Executive Kenneth Chenault's compensation in 2002 was almost $14.5 million [Link]. Think he's taking a pay cut?

A related site of interest is found here.

Commercializing the War – An Idea that Works

A European war can only end in the ruin of the vanquished and the scarcely less fatal commercial dislocation and exhaustion of the conquerors.
Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)

The Misanthrope has a more genteel idea on Maureen Dowd’s excellent column regarding corporate shilling. Her corporate sponsor idea is too risky for corporate image-makers.

The Misanthrope can visualize the lead-in by broadcasters: “Tonight, the Bank One War on Terror was dealt a serve blow as another car bomb killed several in the American Express Green Zone.” After the headline, the TV cameras zero in on the most sensational images while the newspaper and magazine photographers focus on the geometric framing of bodies strewn around with tattered corporate logos soiled with blood blowing in the wind (just as the government has left the soldiers), it seems a hard sell. Viewing decapitated Geoffrey, the Toys “R” Us giraffe busts, lying broken on the bombed out, crater-filled Baghdad streets, won’t fly for the near bankrupt toy distributor.

Here is a win-win situation for corporate sponsorship for greedy CEOs: recall B2’s commentary on Colgate-Palmolive’s CEO Reuben Mark, who will collect his salary, including stock gains of $148 million? Rather than be compared to Ebenezer Scrooge or Jacob Marley, for announcing layoff notices for 4,400 employees around the holiday season, Mark can donate a mere $48 million toward body or vehicle armor and most likely receive a tax credit for such big-hearted philanthropy. Now this will change the coverage of the story.

The Misanthrope believes the way to finance this war is to have Bush’s donation base – the multimillionaires, who get rich gauging the working poor, donate and underwrite war equipment. Company names and corporate sponsorship will not be allowed, as it appears too crass. Bronze plaques, from the White House, which could be hung in the lobby stating the importance of Acme’s donation will work, but only if there is not a dollar-for-dollar tax deduction for this heartfelt giving.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

On The Mark -- Dowd's Coalition of the Shilling

Maureen Dowd's column today in the New York Times was written as satire, but it could very well make a lot of sense. She proposes that, in order to help the troops get the equipment and protection they need, corporate sponsors should step in as they do with stadiums (Staples Center, Minute Maid Park) and athletes, as well as product placements when soldiers are being interviewed on television (holding a can of Coke or wearing a Nike hat, for example). She called it the Coalition of the Shilling and gave several examples, including a very clever one, the American Express Green Zone. Sponsors would never support a negative image you say? OK, explain to me then the sponsorships of today's athletes who take steroids, or get arrested on charges such as rape, or any number of other thuggish activities. I think the sponsor dollar would be much better spent helping our men and women in uniform stay alive and safe. Maybe the White House shut down the Marketing and Public Relations Division too soon.

Maybe you forgot, and maybe you didn't, that Rudy G. was totally down and out before 9/11. Sure, he walks on water now, but before 9/11 I remember reading article after article about his affair, how the mayor's mansion was split in half with his divorce-in-waiting wife, and that it was reported that he allegedly wasn't bashful about bringing his mistress into the house while the divorce case was raging. Rudy's anger with Kerik really has nothing to do with Kerik's problems. Rudy knows that his shaky past will get kicked up again, just when he was about to start his campaign for the White House. During the presidential campaign Bush and Cheney kept saying that Kerry was still thinking pre-9/11 and that new world had started that day -- basically, forget about everything pre-9/11. Well, they just got some cold water splashed in their faces, because the world that existed before 9/11 hasn't gone away.

I remember while I was in Russia a conversation I had with a Russian about politics. I said to him that Putin had caused quite a stir in the USA with his comment about a secret super nuclear weapon. My Russian friend laughed and said that everyone in Russia knew that comment was good fiction, that Putin was just trying to figure out a way to stay on the world stage. I responded, "Probably as fictional as our so-called missile shield. So we're both safe because your non-existent bomb can't get through our non-existent shield." We both had a good chuckle. With today's news, it turns out the joke wasn't on us, but for us.

I hope Bose is ramping up production of their silencer headphones, because I'm anticipating a rapid uptick in sales if they allow cell phones on airplanes. Flying is already a miserable experience...can you imagine what it will be like listening to people screaming into their phones for hours and hours with no place to escape? They should install "cell-phone zones" where people will have to go to make calls, along the lines of smoking zones in airports.

Good News For The Troops

I'm pleased to report that Pentagon officials, confronting a growing furor that has thrown the military on the defensive, have taken some positive action: an Army general said Wednesday the military will spend more than $4 billion to ensure that all U.S. military vehicles in the war zone carry protective armor by next June. [Link] Thank you for your continued support.

Google v. GEICO

Type "GEICO" into Google, and you get more than just links to that company's web page -- you get ads for rival insurance companies. This happens because those companies pay Google for their ads to come up in such a search. GEICO sued Google on grounds of trademark violation -- they claimed that these other companies were using their name to generate business.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema of the Eastern District of Virginia disagreed -- there is no trademark violation. [Link] However, Brinkema said she would allow the case to proceed on the narrower question of whether Google should be barred from displaying advertisements for other insurers that contain the word "GEICO."

"GEICO will continue to aggressively enforce its trademark rights against purchasers of its trademark on search engines and against search engines that continue to sell its trademarks," GEICO General Counsel Charles Davies said in a statement later in the day. Maryland-based GEICO is a subsidiary of billionaire investor Warren Buffett's holding company Berkshire Hathaway Inc.

So what GEICO basically wants is protection from competition. But should they get special protection? Isn't a free-market economy all about having the market decide which companies succeed and which fail? If GEICO's prices are lower than their competitors, and the services provided are comparable, GEICO will earn more business. If the competitors are better or cheaper or both, they get the business. It should be as simple as that. For GEICO to try and shield potential customers from rival offers is ridiculous and unneccessary; if they want the money, they need to work for it.

‘Twas the Season

There are some people who want to throw their arms round you simply because it is Christmas; there are other people who want to strangle you simply because it is Christmas.
Robert Lynd (1879–1949), essayist

The commercialization of Christmas has nearly reached the natural end many expected -- cannibalizing itself. Merchants’ greed and commercialization of Xmas has placed Santa Claus, the ambassador of gift giving, to remote locations of the department store because the jolly fat man takes up too much real estate that can be used for shelves full of goods. We had to know it would eventually come to this. Fewer and fewer stores are hiring the jolly ol’ man.

In London, shoppers will not find a single Santa Claus house inside any of the hundreds of stores that line Oxford Street, the city's busiest shopping destination. In fact, with few exceptions, it is not easy to have a sit-down with Santa anywhere in the city, according to the New York Times.

Sitting on St. Nicks’ knee is out of the question these days too, because of insurance liability and sexual harassment charges. Kriss Kringle, like the late Rodney Dangerfield, gets no respect. According to the article, gangs or general street thugs even attack the seasonal philanthropist. The Misanthrope is not a fan of the money grubbing holiday (we much prefer Thanksgiving), but some tradition is nice, and respect for this symbol of the season should be allowed to ho, ho, ho without fear.

Our solution would be to regulate Christmas to every other year. People would look forward to it with a real zeal and passion. Today, we simply go through the motions and hope the holiday mood arrives. Unfortunately, the intense sad emotions the holiday season brings undoubtedly would be enhanced. The Misanthrope suspects the only answer is to do away with Christmas and focus on Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

What, exactly, is he looking for? Weapons of mass destruction? More armored Humvees?

Sad to say, but we've found out the pic has been doctored. Here's the original.

Stop The $30 Million Ball

The oath of office is the main focus of the inauguration ceremony, and the only part required by law (link). The Inaugural Ball that accompanies the inauguration is merely a custom, started in 1809 for the Inauguration of James Madison.

The Ball has been cancelled before - in 1853, when a grieving President Franklin Pierce—mourning the recent loss of his son—asked that it be cancelled. In 1913, when President-elect Wilson felt the ball was too expensive, and unnecessary for the solemn occasion of the Inaugural.

In 1921 President-elect Warren G. Harding requested that the Inaugural committee do away with the elaborate ball and accompanying parade, hoping to set an example of thrift and simplicity. Subsequent Inaugurations followed this trend, and charity balls were held for the Inaugurations of Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Franklin D. Roosevelt. FDR eliminated even this charity ball in 1945, saying that the needs of the war superceded the need for an inaugural ball.

So why is the Presidential Inaugural Committee spending $30 million on a second inauguration for President Bush, when the money could be spent on armored Humvees for our troops in Iraq?

I have written to my congressman to make sure he understands that I don't support this. Sure, some private funds are used to pay for the inauguration and its balls, but that money could be used for Humvees instead - and which donors are going to complain about helping soldiers in dire need of such supplies?

What can we do to stop this crazy ball? Write to your congressman here; just type in your zip code and you can send an email from the website. My letter follows, if you want some help getting started.
It has come to my attention that the president's inaugural committee plans to spend in the range of $30 million to $40 million on his second inauguration (Newsweek and The New York Times are both reporting this figure). Although I understand that private donors will be contributing a portion of that, and their intention is to fund said inaugural event, I would think that President Bush would do better in the eyes of the public to use that money to produce more armored vehicles for the soldiers in Iraq.

The preferred vehicle is, according to NPR, the M1114 Humvee, which costs $150,000 to produce. Robert Mcredy, president of the Aerospace and Defense Group of Armor Holdings (they provide these vehicles) says that his company could produce more than they are currently making; all they need is for the government to order more. $30 million could provide 200 more of such vehicles for our troops.

Please make it known to the powers-that-be that I, and others like me, would prefer to send proper armaments to soliders in Iraq, rather than fund another inauguration - and I'm sure that those aforementioned donors would not balk if told that's how their money was being utilized.

Rumsfeld Says We Can't Make Humvees Any Faster; The Manufacturer Says Otherwise

Remember the soldier asking Rumsfeld last week why the men in Iraq have to weld junk metal to their vehicles to serve as armor, since they don't have enough armored Humvees? (And people have been talking about this for a while.)

Here's Rumsfeld's response: "It's essentially a matter of physics; it isn't a matter of money..." He claims that these Humvees just can't be made any faster; he'd love to send some more to Iraq, but it's physically impossible. Really?

According to NPR's Chris Arnold, the defense contractor who produces armored Humvees for the military says it could produce more if asked. Robert Mcredy, president of the Aerospace and Defense Group of Armor Holdings (Jacksonville, Florida) says his company could produce another 50 to 100 more armored Humvees per month. He says he's told his customer, the U.S. military, of his capability, and is just waiting for more orders. [Link]

And for those of you missed my last post, the $30 million being spent on Bush's inauguration could fund the production of 200 of these armored Humvees.

So which is it, Rummy? Still a matter of physics or money? Or is it just a question of priorities?

Corruption is Democracy’s Cancer

Corruption, the most infallible symptom of constitutional liberty.
Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794), British historian

Four years ago it was Florida. Today, Ohio, Washington, New Mexico and San Diego -- it is spreading. The states and the city have all been infected with voting issues or counting challenges this year. The latest sign that this cancer is spreading is that San Diego's write-in candidate, Councilwoman Donna Frye, would have beaten incumbent Mayor Dick Murphy if all votes had been counted.

The Los Angeles Times and four other news organizations and two pro-Frye voter looked at ballots that had not been counted in the official tally because the oval was not filled in. Frye would have won – what a shocker! This has to stop or change because an already lethargic electoral will only fall more anemic. This cancer will manifest itself in the form of leaders (in name only) surrounded by yes-men, involved in deal making with cronies who grease the wheel for each other.

What will happen four years hence? Send for the doctors stat!

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Bush Inauguration Will Cost Same As 200 Armored Vehicles

Newsweek estimates that the second inauguration of President George W. Bush will cost $30 million. The New York Times says Bush's inaugural team is trying to raise $40 million.

Now back up a little... you remember the flak Donald Rumsfeld got when asked why there weren't enough armored vehicles (such as Humvees) in Iraq? Well, they cost a lot, right? (You already see where this is going.)

The most coveted Humvee among troops in Iraq is the M1114, which has protected glass windows and armament on its sides, front, rear, top and bottom. Almost 6,000 of them are in Iraq right now. They cost about $150,000 each. [Link]

Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, says the M1114 is the “best uparmored vehicle in the world.” It can stop AK-47 bullets, anti-personnel RPGs and most roadside bombs and mines.

So here's the math part (thanks to my wife for pointing this out to me): the inauguration costs $30 million... or we could send another 200 armored Humvees to Iraq. The choice should be obvious, and yet plans for the overpriced inauguration go on.

Draft? What draft?

There may be no plans for a national military draft, but that hasn't kept Louisiana from registering teenagers too young to serve in case conditions change.

The Town Talk reports that Larry Chevalier of Glenmora was alarmed when his 16 year-old son Nathan had to register with the Selective Service System in order to get a driver's license.

"I just can't believe it. That amazes me," Chevalier said.

During the recently concluded presidential campaigns, you may recall, the major candidates repeatedly said they had no plans to resume compulsory military service.

Neither Chavalier nor his son knew before going to the Office of Motor Vehicles that Nathan would be required to pre-register for the draft in order to get his first driver's license, he said.

Of course, this would be the first time ever that the government started to get away with something bordering on nefarious behavior without telling the general public.

[Thanks, Smirking Chimp!]

On The Mark -- The Homeless: Birds, Vets and an Eye for an Eye

Honk 4 Hawks. I couldn't help being cynical when, in the same section of a major newspaper, there was an article about homeless vets from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and an article about some red-tailed hawks that were now homeless because they had been evicted from their longtime nest located in an elegant NYC residential neighborhood. The homeless vets were left to stand on corners and beg for food and warmth. Meanwhile, the red-tailed hawks have people like Mary Tyler Moore fighting for the right for these birds to return to their home nests so, as Mary stated, they can be in their natural habitat and peaceful. This isn't an attack against Mary, for all I know she gives millions to homeless vets. Yet, wouldn't it be nice to see some people of celebrity, with influence and money, fighting loud and clear so that our vets, who fought for the right to protest for birds' rights, could also be in their natural habitat and peaceful?

I'm terribly conflicted about the Scott Peterson death verdict. There was a time when I supported the death penalty, but that was before DNA and evidence that a lot of people were put to death simply so that a prosecutor could have a good win-loss ratio and detectives could wrap up a case quickly. Even though it seems obvious that Scott did the murder(s), I would prefer that he stay on death row for the rest of his life with all its restrictions, even with the knowledge of how much it costs this taxpayer to take care of him.

Blockbuster Plans to End Late Fees

In an effort to fight upstart content distributors like Netflix, Blockbuster Inc. is planning to eliminate late fees on games and movies as of January 1.

Blockbuster apparently makes as much as $300 million annually on late fees; they think they'll make up for this lost income with increased volume.

Don't know what this will mean to the future of Blockbuster, but I do know that it's just another sign that we're catching up to the future every day, and the way we think about media, content, and ownership is changing rapidly.

Ten Things You Should Know About Voting in America

I've included sources, in case you want to check the facts.

1. 80% of all votes in America are counted by only two companies: Diebold and ES&S. [Link here and here.]

2. There is no federal agency with regulatory authority or oversight of the U.S. voting machine industry. [Link here and here]

3. The vice-president of Diebold and the president of ES&S are brothers. [Link here and here]

4. The chairman and CEO of Diebold is a major Bush campaign organizer and donor who wrote in 2003 that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year." [Link here and here]

5. ES&S is the largest voting machine manufacturer in the U.S. and counts almost 60% of all U.S. votes. [Link here and here]

6. Diebold's new touch screen voting machines have no paper trail of any votes. In other words, there is no way to verify that the data coming out of the machine is the same as what was legitimately put in by voters. [Link here and here]

7. Diebold also makes ATMs, checkout scanners, and ticket machines, all of which log each transaction and can generate a paper trail. [Link here and here]

8. Jeff Dean, Diebold's Senior Vice-President and senior programmer on Diebold's central compiler code, was convicted of 23 counts of felony theft in the first degree, including planting back doors in his software and using a "high degree of sophistication" to evade detection over a period of two years. [Link here or download this PDF]

9. California banned the use of Diebold machines because the security was so bad. Despite Diebold's claims that the audit logs could not be hacked, a chimpanzee was able to do it! (See the movie here.) [Link here and here]

10. All the voting machine errors detected and reported in Florida went in favor of Bush or Republican candidates.[Link here, here, here, here and here]

Angry Girl has these and more posted on her blog for you to read, if this hasn't been enough to turn your stomach.