Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Sarah's Farewell Poem

Sarah Palin's word salad farewell was ridiculously unbearable. She will go down in comedy history as the only celebrity we could mock by repeating her words verbatim. But maybe she would have been a better poet than politician?

But let's not encourage her.

Monday, July 27, 2009

They Don't Make Them Like They Used To

So Jon Stewart was rated America's Most Trusted Newscaster in a recent unscientific poll. I'm reflecting on this ten days after the death of Walter Cronkite, the man they used to call "the most trusted man in America," the man who narrated the golden age of television.

Of course, Cronkite retired more than 25 years ago, and to tell you the truth, I hardly remember him. I was born just 11 days before the historic moon landing, and I didn't really get into watching the news until my second decade of life.

However, I love Jon Stewart. Just because he's funny doesn't mean he's joking. But what about the other serious newscasters? We sure have a lot of them with all these 24-hour news channels. And all these cable stars share one quality -- they are pretty to look at. Or, make that two qualities -- they are really just commentators reacting to events. Or, make it three things they share -- they all publicly lamented the passing of Walter Cronkite as if he was their personal friend and mentor.

Really though, I'm skeptical. This outpouring of admiration for Cronkite seems insincere. If these guys admire him so much, they should emulate him. Instead they function as talking heads who lazily amplify every talking point from corporations and politicians. The most pompous cable news pundits may speak of Cronkite as legendary yet look back at the era as quaint. News is a big business now. No time for ethics or research.

It's a cliche to say it's all about the money, but I'm a bit worried that the current generation won't have their own moon landing moment to look back on. Instead they'll look back and reminisce about the quality reporting of To Catch a Predator. Yikes.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Running on Empty

"Running on - running on empty
Running on - running blind
Running on - running into the sun
But I'm running behind" — Jackson Browne
What brilliant politician would use this song in his political campaign? Who would remind the country that "hey, I'm losing, don't know where I'm going, and my tank is empty"? I'll give you a hint. He's not president. He's John McCain. But not only was it an unwise song choice, it was used without permission from the artist! Now the Republican National Committee is apologizing to Jackson Browne as part of a legal settlement.

Of course, I can't help but remember way back when Ronald Reagan misappropriated Born in The USA...

Okay, that was just a lame segue into the wingnut "birther" conspiracy. Despite overwhelming evidence that President Obama was born in the USA, these crazies keep prattling on.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
The Born Identity
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJoke of the Day

Barack Obama was born in Hawaii which is a US state. This is his birth certificate. It's authentic. Furthermore, Obama was 47 years old when he was elected, and he has lived more than 14 years in the United States. He meets the qualifications for office laid out in Article Two of the United States Constitution. What the fuck do these idiot birthers want?

If you don't like the president (probably because he's black), then can you at least come up with a better conspiracy theory? Not one that's easily disproved by public records!

If we can't agree on basic facts, I fear we're running towards a new dark ages where ignorance rules.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Insuring Profits

Last Friday Bill Moyers discussed the appointment of Regina Benjamin for Surgeon General and contrasted her rural medical clinic with the nation's biggest and most profitable insurance companies:

(YouTube video)

Moyers' essay is a precise narrative of our country's health-care crisis. While doctors with ethics are paid with oysters and fish, the Chairman and CEO of Cigna announces the layoff of 1,100 employees and takes home $11.4 million for himself.

The insurance industry then takes the money they make from sick people and uses it to influence the desperate health-care debate in Washington D.C.

I think it will be a big victory if the small town doctor earns this influential position as "America's Doctor."

Friday, July 17, 2009


As the clocks were striking thirteen, the Ministry of Truth -- I mean Amazon.com -- was deleting some e-books from their customers' Kindles. Ironically, one of the books was Nineteen-Eighty-Four by George Orwell.

I won't get carried away with hysteria over a repressive, totalitarian regime. This is not the government erasing books from our shelves and our memories. This is about an electronic commerce company remotely deleting unauthorized editions and refunding their customer's money.

However, I've been a big fan of the Kindle e-book reader for about a year now. I've purchased quite a few books and downloaded many free public domain works too. Like all customers, I know I have rights, and I believe I justifiably own whatever I have already purchased. If my books were to vanish over night in a wireless search and seizure, I would be furious. Let's just say my Kindle would become kindling.

Amazon.com is making the same mistake the recording industry made over MP3's: punish and anger your loyal customers. That's a very bad idea. And it's even worse in Amazon.com's case because the whole e-book thing is a rather narrow market still in an awkward early adopter phase. If the current Kindle customer is willing to shell out $300 just to read books, I'll assume they're part of that elitist educated demographic who take any perceived censorship very seriously.

And what about the future customers? Those who were cautiously considering a Kindle? Amazon.com just turned them off for good.

So what would have happened if a book publisher had printed unauthorized editions of a physical book? Certainly the book seller would not be invading homes and confiscating the books! No, the publisher would be responsible for their own mistake and pay whatever fines and penalties the law prescribes. That's the way the e-book situation should have been handled too.

I hope this isn't another case where we need a new law to address an old problem. But with more people purchasing MP3's, e-books, software and the like online, we may one day need a law to protect the digital assets of consumers.

Meanwhile, Amazon.com is at least admitting to their mistake:
Amazon effectively acknowledged that the deletions were a bad idea. “We are changing our systems so that in the future we will not remove books from customers’ devices in these circumstances,” Mr. Herdener said.
I still love my Kindle, but I trust Amazon.com a whole lot less. Glad they don't have the power to strap a cage of rats on my face.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Future Woman

(Image found on Twitpic. Click to enlarge.)

I have a repeating dream -- actually it's a daydream -- where I imagine that somehow I've traveled back in time. Not too far back in time though. Maybe it's around 1947 where my government hosts will at least know what a transistor is. And then, much like the picture above, they want to quiz me about modern technology.

I could probably explain integrated circuits, personal computers, the rise of the Internet, and maybe even Moore's Law. But I'm not really sure I could ever explain what we do with it all and why.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Week in Review

Usually I celebrate my birthday for the entire month of July. I convince every friend and family member to take me out separately. That tactic maximizes my alcohol and cake intake. But this year was different. It was a big one. One of those decade celebrations. My friends call it the "f-word," but in another ten years I'll really know what the f-word is. This year, I only turned forty.

So we had a good party with my family and my best friends. Nobody got me a male stripper, but we did have this confetti zombie:

That's what happens when you get hit by those safe "non-explosive" fireworks. Safety? Who needs it? We like to live on the edge, and despite dire warning labels, we reloaded and shot those things all night long.

And then my favorite 80's band came. Well, okay, they didn't actually come to my party. But they came three days later to the Mountain Winery which is about six miles from my house. Close enough. And they were awesome:

(YouTube video)

That's somebody else's video of the show. Wish we had that view. Our seats were about 50 feet back and way off to the side of the stage. The staff had to squeeze us in after inadvertently "upgrading" our wheelchair accessible seats to non-accessible seats. Long story, but we're getting three free tickets to a show of my choosing this season... which is the nicest possible way that the incompetent GM could say "don't sue us."

The next night was my actual birthday and I went out to dinner with my friends Diane and John. No singing or clapping or horns blaring. But I got a brownie with a candle in it. It was a trick candle of course. I swear it was a trick candle! They say it wasn't. But every candle is a trick candle to me. You think I'm long winded? Well, maybe only in this blog.

It was a good week.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The American Free Market System

I thought the American Free Market System was based on supply and demand. That's what they taught me in school, but in an excellent article for Rolling Stone, Matt Taibbi explains how Goldman Sachs, a bank holding company, has been behind every financial bubble in the last century: The Great Depression, the internet stock bubble, the housing craze, and rigging the bailout. But the one thing I didn't think any financial institution could do was turn the oil market into a betting parlor:
While the global supply of oil will eventually dry up, the short-term flow has actually been increasing. In the six months before prices spiked, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the world oil supply rose from 85.24 million barrels a day to 85.72 million. Over the same period, world oil demand dropped from 86.82 million barrels a day to 86.07 million. Not only was the short-term supply of oil rising, the demand for it was falling - which, in classic economic terms, should have brought prices at the pump down.

So what caused the huge spike in oil prices? Take a wild guess. Obviously Goldman had help - there were other players in the physical-commodities market - but the root cause had almost everything to do with the behavior of a few powerful actors determined to turn the once-solid market into a speculative casino. Goldman did it by persuading pension funds and other large institutional investors to invest in oil futures - agreeing to buy oil at a certain price on a fixed date. The push transformed oil from a physical commodity, rigidly subject to supply and demand, into something to bet on, like a stock. Between 2003 and 2008, the amount of speculative money in commodities grew from $13 billion to $317 billion, an increase of 2,300 percent. By 2008, a barrel of oil was traded 27 times, on average, before it was actually delivered and consumed.
If you've been following the revelations about regulators destroying regulations, then you won't be surprised that there is a government agency, the CFTC, in charge of protecting the market from fraudulent conduct in the trading of futures contracts. But of course, Goldman Sachs convinced the CFTC that regulations were bad, and the agency gave Goldman and other companies exemptions.

So when you read about the recent volatile swings in oil prices, and you start paying $4 a gallon at the pump again, don't believe it when Wall Street insiders say "who knew?" I think they know exactly what they're doing.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Clusterf#@k to the Poor House - Puppy Me!
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

Friday, July 03, 2009

Nevermind. Guess We Can Get Rid of Her.

This was unexpected. Sarah Palin to Resign as Alaska Governor by End of Month. Palin's vague reason was stated as, "We know we can effect positive change outside government at this moment in time on another scale and actually make a difference for our priorities." Sounds like she's getting out of politics completely. But on the other hand, this woman never makes much sense when she talks. What's the real reason this careerist would step down?

Ok, I'd like to believe she's going to concentrate on her family. Maybe she'll finally earn that Mommy Cred that I thought she was lacking from the beginning.

But the cynic in me believes some kind of serious scandal is about to break.

Or, here are two scary possibilities. She's going to concentrate on running for president in 2012? She's going to get her own show on FOX News?

Right now, I'm trying to be optimistic and hoping she just goes away for good.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Can't We Get Rid of this Woman?

You might be wondering if you should read that long Sarah Palin thing in Vanity Fair. Well, don't let me tell you what to do, but if you already know about her vindictiveness and ignorance, then congratulations. You've been paying attention! However, even after writing dozens of posts on the Wasilla Hillbilly last year, I missed something. It was this little gem about the birth of her son with Down syndrome:
More than once in my travels in Alaska, people brought up, without prompting, the question of Palin’s extravagant self-regard. Several told me, independently of one another, that they had consulted the definition of “narcissistic personality disorder” in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders—“a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy”—and thought it fit her perfectly. When Trig was born, Palin wrote an e-mail letter to friends and relatives, describing the belated news of her pregnancy and detailing Trig’s condition; she wrote the e-mail not in her own name but in God’s, and signed it “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.”
Where to begin? Well, you can learn a little more about the "letter from God" in this article. I cannot criticize her for wanting to express that her son will be a joy, and well-meaning friends and family do not need to grieve. In fact, I admire her for that little part.

But there's something weird going on when she writes the words from God. I get annoyed enough at my one strange friend who writes the Christmas brag letter from the point of view of her family's dog. (Everybody has a friend like that... right? Right?) But my concern with Palin is that she's not pretending to write the words from God, but believing she's writing the words from God.

That's grandiosity. Palin recently attacked a blogger who photoshopped a picture of her and Trig with Trig's face replaced with that of Eddie Burke, a conservative talk-show host. It was a lame stunt by a blogger, but Palin's people had to react. They referred to the original photo as an "iconic representation of a mother's love for a special needs child." Iconic? Really? Like Mary and baby Jesus? Come on, Sarah. You can defend your family, but you can't deify yourself!

Where does this end? Hopefully not with a run for president. I don't want any more true believers in the White House. That last one got us into enough messes.