Monday, March 31, 2008

Boo... So?

So the blogosphere is all excited about President Bush being loudly booed by the 41,000-person crowd as he threw out the ceremonial first pitch last night at the Washington Nationals season opener at Washington's National Ballpark.

Seems I boo this guy every day... though it is from the privacy of my own home. And if the polls are correct, then millions of people are also booing him privately or not so privately. So why all the attention to this event? Is this the first time in years that he has made a public appearance in front of real people -- not a select group of Republican supporters? Sports fans are typically not a mannerly bunch, so the honest greeting should have been anticipated.

Of course, Bush responded to the crowd with his usual smirk. I'd like to imagine that his feelings were hurt a bit, considering he is a baseball fan and the former owner of the Texas Rangers.

There was once another fake cowboy who owned a baseball team. His name was Gene Autry. Autry, however, believed in The Cowboy Code:

1. The Cowboy must never shoot first, hit a smaller man, or take unfair advantage.

2. He must never go back on his word, or a trust confided in him.

3. He must always tell the truth.

4. He must be gentle with children, the elderly, and animals.

5. He must not advocate or possess racially or religiously intolerant ideas.

6. He must help people in distress.

7. He must be a good worker.

8. He must keep himself clean in thought, speech, action, and personal habits.

9. He must respect women, parents, and his nation's laws.

10. The Cowboy is a patriot.

I think Bush has violated all 10 rules. Can we run him out of town yet?

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Yesterday I wrote about that 80's coke thing, and today the topic is that 70's cult thing. Except the Moonies didn't go out with the 70's. Their influence today is more frightening than ever. The Daily Kos has an Interview with John Gorenfeld, author of Bad Moon Rising: How Reverend Moon Created the Washington Times, Seduced the Religious Right, and Built an American Kingdom. You can watch the author's video report online: part 1, part 2.

If you didn't know Sun Myung Moon was still around, and if you didn't know he founded The Washington Times, don't feel bad. Apparently the media thinks it's a stale story. But I think America should know about Moon's influence on George W. Bush, and Moon's crusade for abstinence only education,

Maybe we can spend a little less time worrying about Rev. Jeremiah Wright and start looking at some of the many creeps Bush is shaking hands with.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Coke Classic

Here is a fascinating Flickr photo album: The Cocaine Photos. It really captures a certain 80's vibe. Though the 80's were my high school and college years, I didn't participate in the drugs, but I do remember those jackets, those hairstyles, that Duran Duran poster, and the furniture. Huh? What happened to their furniture? They must have sold it all to buy the drugs.

I had another random thought while staring at these pictures. They didn't have digital cameras back then, so they had to actually get their film developed at a convenience store or photo booth, but I bet nobody turned these guys in to the police. Maybe the guy at the Fotomat was a stoner too, or maybe people simply understood the concept of privacy back then.

Of course, by "back then" I mean before 9/11 when we suddenly became very comfortable with the government invading our privacy. There are two interesting federal laws most of us (including me) don't fully understand: the Bank Secrecy Act, and the USA Patriot Act. By these two laws, banks are required to report any transaction that they suspect is intended to violate or evade any federal law or any federal regulation. Americans took solace that these laws would certainly only be used to fight terrorists, drug traffickers, and money launderers. But no, of course not. This is how Elliot Spitzer was caught. He withdrew a few thousand dollars which required the bank to file a “Suspicious Activity Report" (SAR). The Feds followed the money, and discovered the prostitution ring.

So, this is great, right? We are catching all kinds of criminals now! But I, for one, am not enthusiastic about this. From, "In total, 919,230 SARs were filed in 2005. You cannot find out if one has been filed on you; anyone revealing that information is breaking the law." Many of these reports are triggered by legitimate financial transactions, and the transactions can be blocked or frozen while being investigated. I wish we valued bank secrecy as much as the Swiss.

Now I am stumped by the irony of my own blog post. That first link above goes to a photo album which somebody found at a swap meet. They scanned the pictures and posted them on Flickr without the permission of the people captured in the photos. I'm on a soap box about the government invading our privacy, and yet, by circulating that link, am I doing it too? I guess because I did not create that Flickr album, I don't feel guilty... I feel a bit voyeuristic though.

Update April 5, 2008: The owner of the Flickr photo album has now marked the photos "private" probably because there was some talk of a lawsuit over on Boing Boing. However, some creative types have been kind enough to recreate the original photos. They're just not the same without the Duran Duran poster.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Things to Play With

Adobe launched Photoshop Express this week. This free photo-editing web site simplifies many of the features available in the industry-standard Photoshop: crop & rotate, remove red-eye, touch up, sharpen, soften, tint and other color effects. Express works in any web browser with Flash 9 software installed. After signing up, you get 2 gigs of storage which allows you to e-mail, link, and embed your images. Here is my first test:

Digital Camera Exif JPEG

Another cool site to play with today is This site is the "YouTube Killer" that the major networks promised us. Well, I'm sure it's NOT going to kill YouTube -- YouTube has done quite well even after the major networks pulled all their programming from the site. But Hulu puts a lot of professional programming in one place with high quality, full screen, no sign-up, no special player required. It's as easy as watching TV.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

True Story

In the summer of 2006, my brother decided to leave his wife of 11 years for a girl he met in the Philippines. I'm not sure exactly how he met the girl. He either met her online or through another friend in the Philippines.

Anyway, my brother was "in love" with the girl. I will call her Liz. There was a bit of a problem getting Liz into the US though. The family said that the father made a little mistake on her birth certificate. Instead of listing her birth year as 1982, he put it down as 1987. That would have made her 19 at the time, which I guess would have been legal but she was suppose to be 24.

My brother is in his mid 50's, by the way, and has been married four times.

The birth certificate problem delayed getting Liz into the country. Meanwhile, my brother made several trips to visit her, bringing her family all kinds of gifts -- clothes, dishes, toys. He bought Liz a motor bike so she could get to and from work safely. He also bought her family some property.

Meanwhile, Liz is promising that she will take care of him. She will cook, clean, go to nursing school, and have children with him. She also planned to bring her 11 year old sister to the US.

Eventually the birth certificate problem was fixed. They bribed a priest to provide a baptism record which can be used in place of a birth certificate in their country. So in the summer of 2007, it seemed that she would finally be coming to the US. She went to the hospital to get some vaccinations she needed. Well, the family says she had an allergic reaction to something. She ended up in critical condition in the hospital, and she needed a blood transfusion. I have no doubt that my brother sent the money for the blood transfusion.

Then, we were told that she recovered and was fine.

At the end of September 2007, my brother flew to the Philippines to pick up Liz, get some final paperwork taken care of, and then bring her back to the US. The trip was suppose to take about two weeks.

He came back after one week without Liz. He said that when he arrived in the Philippines, he was met at the airport by Liz's older sister. The sister, who I will call "Jane Fonda" because (no joke) that is her real fucking name, said that Liz was not the same person any more. She said that after the illness, Liz had sustained brain damage, and that it would not be possible for my brother to marry her now. So he went to see her. He saw that she was not the same person, so he said his final good-byes and came home.

He called our mother to tell her what had happened. Our whole family felt bad. Even though we felt it was a scam all along, we knew (or thought we knew) that he was in love with her. We were worried that he might even be suicidal.

But a few days later, his daughter (who is an adult) emailed me to say "don't worry about my dad, he has already moved on to somebody else. It does not matter if it is one girl or another. He just wants somebody to be with."

Here is the kicker: The girl that he has moved on to is Liz's older sister (aka Jane Fonda). I feel like the story is starting all over from the beginning. He is now concentrating on getting Jane over to the US. He will visit her this Christmas and no doubt bring gifts for the entire family.

My family is in disbelief. Nobody wants to tell him he's a fool. He's an adult. He can make his own mistakes. He doesn't ask our family for money, so it's his own business. But we realize that this Philippine family is juicing him for all he's worth.

The above story is basically what I posted to the Craig's List rants section last November. A couple of people replied sharing similar stories. I'm not even sure what I'm asking for by posting this. I'm trying to make sense out of a situation that concerns me. I can't honestly say that I'm upset -- I'm just uneasy over this.

The latest development came last week. My brother flew to Bahrain to spend time with Jane. Why meet in Bahrain? All I've been told is that Jane has a friend there. But still, Bahrain? Bahrain might be one of the more liberal countries in the middle east, but does an American really want to be there right now? Unless you work for an oil company, why would you want to be there? It was definitely unwise to travel there during the 5th anniversary of the start of the Iraq war. Unwise. Every move seems unwise.

Is there a cure for his obsession? I guess he does not want to be cured.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Surge

Can we say it's not working? In the past few days intense fighting has erupted again in Iraq. The biggest clashes are between Iraqi security forces and Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army in Basra.

The drop in Iraqi violence over the past few months was generally attributed to four things: "1) More American forces and the change in tactics to counterinsurgency; 2) The Awakening movement; 3) The Sadr ceasefire; and 4) The ethnic cleansing and physical separation of the various sides." Possibly the Sadr ceasefire was the key.

The recent battles erupted after followers of Sadr called for a nationwide civil disobedience campaign to protest raids and detentions by U.S. and Iraqi forces. But this is more than civil disobedience. From Newsweek, the attacks "could be Sadr’s way of announcing that his militias will revert to the mayhem they’ve caused in the past if they don’t get their share of local power."

So the evidence is that this war is a civil war -- a war where different groups within a country or culture fight each other for political power. It is a political problem and not a military problem. So is there really any benefit to the U.S. military staying in the middle of this for another year or 100 years?

Can we benefit from cost-benefit analysis? Is there really any Responsible Plan? Will we ever meet all of Bush's 18 benchmarks?

Oh, don't look at me for those answers. I just know that the surge is not working.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Parable

I am too often reminded of The Lightning-Rod Man by Herman Melville.

In the 19th century, peddlers traveled from town to town and door to door making fraudulent claims to sell their questionable wares like snake oils and lightning rods. Melville's tale starts on a thunderous night with a doleful knock on the door from such a huckster.

The hard-sell begins. The storm is not "fine," it is "awful." The hearth is not warm, it is the most dangerous place. Do not pull the bell wire, it conducts electricity. Be scared. Buy this rod. It will save you.

But the host is smarter than his visitor. He asks questions. He knows that the rod can rust or break. He knows the peddler is not divine. He throws him out of his home.

Door-to-door salesman are not part of our modern world, but we can still recognize the lightning-rod man today. He comes during a storm, strikes fear with his stories, has something to sell, and has something to gain. The Lightning-Rod Man is an enduring parable about consumerism, religion, and politics. Buy me, pray to me, vote for me or you'll end up dead.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Confessions of a Sims Addict

A few posts down I said I had never been sucked into an MMORPG, and that is the truth. However, I said nothing about non-connected or "offline" games -- like The Sims 2. Yes, my friends, I'm telling you what most of you already know about me. I have been hooked on The Sims 2 for a couple of years now.

I often ask myself what I find so fascinating about the game. Maybe I simply have an obsessive compulsive disorder? However, I'm not convinced that game playing fits the definition of OCD despite some claims otherwise.

Maybe I like to play God? I love to control the lives of my little animated characters -- making them fall in love, out of love, fight, kiss, and "woohoo." They woohoo with their spouses, they woohoo with their neighbors, their maids, their mailmen, their college professors... anybody. Ok, maybe I play because I'm a pervert?

But without certain hacks, sim sex is comical not erotic, so you can hardly call me a pervert. Maybe I'm a closet sociologist? I like to watch sim interactions and their consequences. For example, one act of infidelity can tear apart many sim families in the neighborhood. Just like the real world, right?

Or I'm a closet geneticist? How many generations of sims do I need to breed to get rid of that ugly gene? I'm talking about those genes that often give sims the mandibles of a fruit fly and the nose of a Proboscis Monkey.

Or I'm a closet architect? Architecture is a field I was somehow discouraged from by my high school counselor. I don't regret going into Computer Science, but I think I would have done just as well building houses instead of software. I have uploaded more than 70 of my sim homes to The Sims Resource. Even if you don't play TS2, you can still check out the pictures.

Anyway, enough soul-searching for today. Here comes the new crack cocaine: The Sims 3. Some lucky game sites were able to sneak a peek. EuroGamer is one site that has already posted their Sims 3 Preview.

It's like EA has probed my mind. This game has something for the sociologist, the geneticist, the architect, and (no doubt) the pervert in me. They have enhanced the game aspects I love and eliminated the ones I hate. Sim personalities and goals will be more complex, but their basic needs (like eating and peeing) won't be a major part of game play. Also, the game will not be an online multiplayer game. From the EuroGamer article:
But while Sims players are a connected bunch, EA's research reveals that they're not too keen on playing together, so there's no online multiplayer - not even an Animal Crossing style "visit my town" mode. Humble, Bell and the rest of the team feel that this isn't what The Sims is about. Trading items, and even trading Sim characters or entire town layouts, is one thing, but the actual running Sim itself tends to be a very private experience, something that users by and large don't want to share.

That's right -- I don't share my crack cocaine.

There is no word on a minimum system requirements to run TS3. I have a feeling I will need a new computer though. So, how do I say "now accepting donations" in Simlish?

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Tulsa Accidentally Bombed

I'm surprised I missed this story, but last week an F-16 accidentally dropped a dummy training bomb on a Tulsa apartment complex.

Apparently, the pilot never knew the bomb had been released. When scorers on the ground reported a "no spot," they knew there was a problem. Luckily, nobody was hurt.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Peep Show

Peeps are those delicious sugar-coated marshmallow candies, and although they are now advertised as "always in season," they will forever represent Easter to me. This year, the Washington Post held its second annual Peeps Diorama Contest which drew more than 800 entries from readers. You can vote for your favorite in their online photo gallery.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Turning Urine into Drinking Water

Water is necessary for life. Are you following me so far? Good. Dean Kamen is an inventor and the founder of Deka Research. I admire him because he makes stuff that actually helps people -- sick people, poor people, all people. Ok, so whole cities did not evolve around the Segway, but whole villages might prosper with his latest offering:

Although I don't understand how this amazing invention works, you can check out the patent application yourself. Equally impressive is the economic model Kamen hopes to use to get this invention to the people who need it most.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

WoW Window into Real World Plots

I have yet to be sucked into any massively multiplayer online games... except for a brief 6 weeks last year when I was a pole dancer in Second Life, but that's a blog post for another day. This article from The Onion sums up my reservations about these games:
Why do we need to go out to have fun? Everything we could possibly want is right in WoW. Fine dining, theater, romantic sunsets—they're all there. The outside world just costs money, and I don't have a magic breastplate to protect me from people's stares. Come with me so I can treat you like the princess you are.
Yeah, I laugh at MMORPG romance, but I understand a desire for a more powerful place in the world and even, more so, the desire for a Second Skin, which happens to be the title of a new documentary about the gaming subculture. I haven't seen this film yet, but it's been reviewed as a balanced look at the benefits and addictions of online games.

Even for those on the outside of the gaming subculture there is some real-world value in studying these online worlds. In late January, economists were discussing the collapse of banks in Second Life, and today, Wired has an article about terrorist activity in WoW. Scientists are using the game to study how diseases spread, and terrorism experts are studying terrorists' tactical decision-making. Anyhoo, any serious article that contains an expert quote from "a level-60 mage" is worth reading.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

No End in Sight

One year, two years, three years, four years, five years. Lie by lie, here is the Iraq War Timeline. Everybody needs to understand the history and consequences of this war. The DVD No End in Sight provides a chronological look at the decisions and events that got us where we are today. (If you subscribe to Netflix, you can view the entire movie online.)

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Still Trying to Understand the Economy

"If the U.S. economy were a car, all of its warning lights would be flashing red." That's the start of an excellent question and answer article in USA Today. Economics has never been my favorite subject. I admit at times it seems like smoke and mirrors to me, but the USAT article answered a lot of questions including the always important "how is this going to affect me?" And just in case you've been totally out of touch over the weekend, the panic is over the demise of Bear Stearns, a global investment bank and securities trading and brokerage firm.

I expect a few thousand editorials about this current turn of events, but let's start with the funniest. Stephen Colbert says "Don't lose confidence because of Bear Stearns -- lose confidence because it's the right thing to do."

From the Washington Post, E. J. Dionne Jr. writes, "Never do I want to hear again from my conservative friends about how brilliant capitalists are, how much they deserve their seven-figure salaries and how government should keep its hands off the private economy."

From Newsweek, Robert J. Samuelson asks, "In rushing to fix one problem, has the Fed created others?" Quite possibly yes.

From the Detroit Free Press, "the inflation unleashed now by financial policy is the tax all Americans will pay..."

Monday, March 17, 2008

I Seek Toothpaste

ICQ was the first internet wide instant messaging program. It was released in 1996, and the name ICQ was suppose to sound like "I seek you." The program interface was as cute as its name with little flowery graphics and funny sound affects. I still remember hearing "uh-oh" a thousand times a night as I was messaged by my friends... and also... lonely middle eastern men who never could explain why they wanted to talk to me.

Ok, now that I think about it, I really do not miss those days. The software interface became loaded down with too many so-called features and advertisements which cluttered the menus and ultimately made the program awkward to use. But now here comes a bit of news courtesy of Gizmodo. I never would have imagined this, but "The Israeli software company that developed the suite before it was purchased by AOL has just partnered with a big Israeli pharmacy company called CTS to release this ICQ toothpaste." So now at least my mysterious stalkers will have fresh breathe? Yay?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

I am not the Gnome

It seems a creepy side-stepping gnome is terrorizing a village in Argentina. This video can be explained two ways. It's either a person with dwarfism who unfortunately lives in a village full of superstitious uneducated idiots, and the only way he can get through life is by only going out at night. Another possible explanation is that this is a viral advertisement -- some have speculated it's the Travelocity gnome. Whether it's an ad for an internet site or a new horror movie, I'm betting it is a viral marketing scheme, because nothing can explain a real person going around in that pointy hat. (Note to self: change blogger profile picture.)

Friday, March 14, 2008

You Encounter McCain!

Today I only feel like making a one link post: Political Pokemon. If you've never played Pokemon before then you haven't really lived won't understand the humor.

Thursday, March 13, 2008


I'm already tired of the Spitzer Sex Scandal. I'm not shocked that a man looked for sex outside of his marriage, and I'm not shocked that a politician prosecuted prostitution rings while being caught up in one. Hypocrisy and sex scandals -- nihil novi sub sole.

I think the media coverage of Spitzer is distracting us from much more disturbing news about our president. While Bush was attending the annual Gridiron Club, an invitation-only institution of Washington reporters, he broke into a song and dance number:

He got a standing ovation, but I do not see humor in his performance. The best I can say is that his performance was in poor taste. The worst I can say is "what a bunch of elitist fuckheads!" I'm talking about the president and the media that has enabled him for the last seven years. This little song wasn't a simple example self-deprecating humor. It showed a total lack of remorse for the mishandling of hurricane Katrina, obstruction of justice, and a war fought because of bad intelligence.

Exclusive dinner events with politicians and journalists are lame, but cell phone cameras are pretty cool.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


Tonight I went to a Wii games event where they only had one Wii. This is my friend Diane.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


The New Yorker has an in-depth article about the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a privately run prison where half the detainees are children. This prison is located in Taylor Texas, USA.

Hutto was a medium-security adult prison until it was converted to house families of illegal immigrants. This video provides a glimpse into the lives of the people who were detained there:

The prison population does not include Mexican immigrants because when undocumented Mexican immigrants are caught, they are automatically sent home. Instead, many of these families are asylum seekers escaping persecution in their home countries of Iraq, Somalia, Iran, or Romania. Many of them had passed the "well-founded fear" interview which is the first step in seeking asylum in the United States.

After the ACLU sued the Department of Homeland Security, many improvements have been made including providing an on-site pediatrician, eliminating the count system which forced families to stay in their cells 12 hours a day, and installing privacy curtains around toilets.

However, the New Yorker article is not just about the conditions at Hutto -- it also takes a hard look at C.C.A. (Corrections Corporation of America) which runs Hutto. Incarcerating an immigrant at Hutto costs about $61 a day, but releasing an immigrant with close supervision and electronic monitoring only costs about $12 a day. So why did the government cut this deal with C.C.A.?

C.C.A. has strong political ties. The New Yorker article states that "The company’s PAC gave more than three hundred thousand dollars during the 2006 election cycle, overwhelmingly to Republican congressional candidates, and has given more than a hundred thousand so far for the 2008 elections," and also "According to the Center for Responsive Politics, in 2005, the year that Homeland Security awarded C.C.A. the Hutto contract, the company paid close to $3.4 million dollars to five different firms to lobby the federal government." Also, Philip Perry, who is the son-in-law of Dick Cheney, lobbied for C.C.A. That might have something to do with it.

Monday, March 10, 2008

A Sentence or Two

A New York Times book reviewer wonders if readers have "signature passages in books they love — a sentence or two that seem to convey the essence of a complex, beautiful work?" Web site visitors respond with hundreds of wonderful quotes. I actually keep my own list of eloquent quotes from books. Here is one quote from one of my favorite authors:
Each one of us is alone in the world. He is shut in a tower of brass, and can communicate with his fellows only by signs, and the signs have no common value, so that their sense is vague and uncertain.
The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

The Mirror

I loved last week's digital short on SNL. The best part of any scary movie is that moment of surprise that makes you first gasp and then let out a giddy laugh. The Mirror has at least 15 of those moments packed into 2 minutes and 40 seconds:

Saturday, March 08, 2008

National Nightmare

"Our long national nightmare of peace and prosperity is finally over." This article from The Onion would be funny enough if it was written today, but look at the date: January 17, 2001. I knew The Onion was funny, but I didn't know they were skilled at prophecy.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Leave Time Alone

Spring forward! This is my gentle reminder that daylight savings time starts the second Sunday of March. It's hard to believe that this whole thing was a bit of a joke started by Benjamin Franklin out of his love of economy. However, the U.S. Department of Transportation takes it seriously. Their studies show that DST is economical. In fact, it trims the United State's power usage by about 1 percent per day. However, after DST was extended in 2007, gasoline use increased as Americans went out to enjoy their extra hours of sun.

Of course we don't want to waste those extra hours of sun! We take the whole "time is money" metaphor very seriously. In Time Out of Mind, Stefan Klein discusses the misguided notion that time is money:
But the quest to spend time the way we do money is doomed to failure, because the time we experience bears little relation to time as read on a clock. The brain creates its own time, and it is this inner time, not clock time, that guides our actions. In the space of an hour, we can accomplish a great deal — or very little.
I think we should leave time alone. The architects of Stonehenge understood time, and they didn't mess with shifting all those big stones twice a year!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

At 3am I'm Tired

There are a few cool "It's 3am" Clinton ad parodies floating around the net. Here is one and here is another and here is another. I wish Clinton's PR people had read my blog post from a few days ago about how these type of scare-tactics will only benefit the conservatives.