Thursday, December 31, 2009

Stuff Happened

It's the end of a year and the end of a decade. I don't have the ambition or inclination to synopsize the decade... or the year for that matter. So this will be a stream-of-consciousness kind of exercise.

In 2009, some famous people died: Michael Jackson, Walter Cronkite, Ted Kennedy, Andrew Wyeth. Some people didn't die: Dick Cheney. Rush Limbaugh is in the hospital, by the way. I'm post-dating this blog entry, so if he dies or something between now and the post date, oh well.

Speaking of Limbaugh, some people misinformed us this year. It seemed like a big year for misinformation. Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Michelle Bachmann, Orly Taitz, Dana Perino, and teabaggers in general.

It was an equally big year for anger. Though the teabaggers were 99% incomprehensible, the growing rage towards Wall Street was justified... Remember when the chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs said he was "doing God's work"? "Arrogant" and "offensive" doesn't even begin to describe it.

Oh yeah, and the really big story: we had a regime change. I guess that's what really made those Republicans go apeshit with their teabags. Our new black president doesn't yet have a health-care bill to sign, but he won the Nobel Peace Prize without ending any of our wars. Instead, we'll probably be digging in deeper now in "Againistan." I still like him better than Bush.

In 2009, we still had time for plenty of bogus stories. Death panels, balloon boy, Carrie Prejean defending "opposite marriage," and ACORN destroying the fabric of democracy. These stories were impossible to ignore. Well, at least I found them impossible to ignore. I blogged about all of them.

And yet my blog was 20% lighter than it was in 2008. On the bright side though, I wrote 200 more posts than I did in 2007...

Another interesting statistic: I only dropped the f-bomb twice. No wonder I don't have any street cred.

Anyway, I'd like to think my blog was lighter because it wasn't an election year. But more than likely it's because I joined Facebook. Whose idea was that? Geesh. But I think I made a few new friends, so that's always good. I also learned how to defriend, which apparently a lot of us are learning how to do.

I didn't catch the swine flu, I didn't have sex with Tiger Woods, and I didn't break any bones this year... yet. I have a few hours left though. Maybe I should just sit still?

2009, I tried to make you sound at least a little bit funny. Really I did. 2010, please be good to us!

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Underpants Bomber

I debated whether the Christmas Day Underpants Bomber was worthy of a blog post. I wasn't at all surprised. We're still threatened by terrorists? No shit. I wasn't intrigued. Somebody tried to bring down an airliner? You're kidding me? And I wasn't frightened. Dangers exist in the world? Even on Christmas?

The modus operandi of this near disaster was funny though... like something from every wannabe comedian's act. Will TSA ask us to take off our underpants now? Well, not if airports get these naked scanners:

The real story here is our reaction. That's all we do when it comes to security -- react. It starts with the 24-hour news channel coverage loop which is clearly designed to scare the shit out of us. Then, TSA implements new flight restrictions like asking passengers to stay in their seats for the last hour of the flight. So now any potential terrorist has to launch his plot 65 minutes before landing. Golly, that ought to stop them.

The fact is that every "security hole" we plug has existed since the beginning of commercial flights. That's right. We've always been at the mercy of liquid bombers, shoe-bombers, and underpants-bombers. When somebody actually attempts it, we react. And then somebody will attempt something else, and the fear feeds the endless loop, and maybe one day the airports will give us all paper hospital gowns, anesthetize us, and still.. somebody will find a way to cause harm.

At least one security expert has it right. Bruce Schneier has been saying this for years:
Only two things have made flying safer [since 9/11]: the reinforcement of cockpit doors, and the fact that passengers know now to resist hijackers.
Everything else is a useless, knee-jerk reaction. As a nation, we still act ridiculously naive on these issues.

Anyway, I'm going back to playing with my Christmas toys. Stay safe.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I am bursting with Christmas spirit! No joke. And what makes me feel so jolly? Maybe seeing that attention-seeking whore Richard Heene (balloon boy's dad) being sentenced to 90 days in jail and ordered to repay the $42,000 in rescue costs. That's a steep price for 15 minutes of fame, and the asshole deserved it.

But besides crass vengeance, another source of holiday cheer is more traditional. Here's my nephew at his very first elementary school Christmas performance (short kid, back row center):

They even sang Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer!

Hey, if you want to learn something about how your kids think, ask them if they believe in Santa Claus, and then ask them if they believe in the garbage man. Like most of us, they've probably never even seen the garbage man, so why should they believe?

A trip to San Francisco to see Wicked with a good friend also put me in a festive mood. I highly recommend you see that show if you get a chance. We also took a little trip to Union Square for dinner. I live so close to the city, and yet rarely go. I should have taken more pictures. Here's one of the ceiling at the Orpheum Theater before they yelled at me about no photography allowed. I'm such a rebel.

Baking is also a big part of Christmas.

Ok, I confess. We just put those pre-baked gingerbread men on a cookie sheet for the photo-op. The decorating, though, was truly our own. And have you ever seen such a pathetic bunch of gingerbread men, women, green skeletons, and three-eyed monsters? I didn't think so.

Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Medical Mobster Protection Money

Keith Olbermann said it all last night. This health care bill is a perversion of what government is supposed to be:

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Yesterday I learned my health insurance fees would increase by $95 per month starting in January. The increase is because I turned that magic age of 40. The ridiculous rates I pay are because I'm "major risk" with a pre-existing condition -- "pre-existing conditions; you know, like being alive." I'm on no medications at all, and I haven't been hospitalized in 29 years... but still, the medical mobsters can stick it to me. The government won't, in any meaningful way, step in and protect me.

I think there is now one condition that afflicts us all -- debilitating apathy.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What Not To Get Me

This is a novel gift idea. Give the virus (and not the vaccine). Thanks to my friend Diane for snapping this picture.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Stephen Colbert explains how Prescott Financial and Glenn Beck help you by frightening you:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Prescott Financial Sells Gold, Women & Sheep
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorU.S. Speedskating

I want to tell Beck and his sponsors that I prayed on it before they preyed on me. God said I should avoid those guys and send my gold to Cats For Gold. I'm pretty sure they're legit -- why else would God recommend them? And I've been wanting a few cats anyway.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Budding Cartoonists

When a Massachusetts second grader was asked to sketch something that reminded him of Christmas, he drew this:

The elementary school, in complete bureaucratic overreaction, decided the stick figure image of a crucified Jesus was violent and required the child to undergo a psychological evaluation.

I know more than a few people who wear something similar in gold around their necks. I guess they should all go see the school psychologist too...

I agree with those who say this has nothing to do with a war on Christmas or an attack on Christianity. It's just another dumb safety policy that does nothing to make people safe.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Virtual Bribes

Sweet sweet bribes. If you play any of the cutesy Facebook games, you've inevitably been tempted to take the shortcut to the top: fill out a little survey from sponsors or sign up for an online service and earn some quick virtual cash. These fake bucks buy virtual items in games like Mafia Wars and Farmville.

I know firsthand that these games are ridiculously addictive, and some players (not me though!) agree to exchange a little time and privacy for an in-game bonus.

But beware. Health insurance industry trade groups are gaming the system. Take one of their surveys and, upon completion, they automatically email your Congressional Representative:
"I am concerned a new government plan could cause me to lose the employer coverage I have today. More government bureaucracy will only create more problems, not solve the ones we have."
How many people heedlessly filled out these surveys not understanding the consequences or the issues at stake? We don't know. However, a director for the Blue Cross-Blue Shield group said the coalition of insurers has generated nearly 2 million e-mails and letters to Congress since early summer.

Another factoid I'd like to know is how many Representatives are using these letters as evidence of actual opposition to healthcare reform.

The number of people playing Farmville is phenomenal: over 26 million daily users and in excess of 69 million monthly users. And to the insurance industry, that must look like an endless supply of suckers.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

There Ain't Any Santa Claus

This may be the one time you see Shirley Temple on my blog:

(YouTube video)

Though Shirley Temple was charming, you have to love Jane Withers as the spoiled brat.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Replacing War with Peace

President Obama accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo today. There was no way he could ignore the controversy of accepting a peace prize as he escalated a war, and indeed, that topic and the notion of just war were the center of his speech:
But perhaps the most profound issue surrounding my receipt of this prize is the fact that I am the Commander-in-Chief of a nation in the midst of two wars. One of these wars is winding down. The other is a conflict that America did not seek; one in which we are joined by forty three other countries - including Norway - in an effort to defend ourselves and all nations from further attacks.

Still, we are at war, and I am responsible for the deployment of thousands of young Americans to battle in a distant land. Some will kill. Some will be killed. And so I come here with an acute sense of the cost of armed conflict - filled with difficult questions about the relationship between war and peace, and our effort to replace one with the other.
He had more to say on the moral justification of force:
I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago - "Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones." As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King's life's work, I am living testimony to the moral force of non-violence. I know there is nothing weak -nothing passive - nothing naïve - in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: evil does exist in the world. A non-violent movement could not have halted Hitler's armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda's leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism - it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.
Obama also spoke of the relationship between peace and human rights:
This brings me to a second point - the nature of the peace that we seek. For peace is not merely the absence of visible conflict. Only a just peace based upon the inherent rights and dignity of every individual can truly be lasting.

It was this insight that drove drafters of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights after the Second World War. In the wake of devastation, they recognized that if human rights are not protected, peace is a hollow promise.
He gave some thought on the religious nature of the war we are in:
Most dangerously, we see it in the way that religion is used to justify the murder of innocents by those who have distorted and defiled the great religion of Islam, and who attacked my country from Afghanistan. These extremists are not the first to kill in the name of God; the cruelties of the Crusades are amply recorded. But they remind us that no Holy War can ever be a just war. For if you truly believe that you are carrying out divine will, then there is no need for restraint - no need to spare the pregnant mother, or the medic, or even a person of one's own faith. Such a warped view of religion is not just incompatible with the concept of peace, but the purpose of faith - for the one rule that lies at the heart of every major religion is that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.
You won't find many who disagree with these ideals. I just hope he's right about this whole war thing.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Transparency for All

Of course, the Department of Homeland Security insists this is no big deal, but somehow a private government contractor posted a TSA air passenger screening manual online. And unfortunately, the supersecret parts of the PDF were redacted by drawing black boxes over them. Oh! Nobody will ever figure that out! The MSM will try to tell you that "hackers" used their elite skills to remove the black boxes, but in reality all it took was a copy of Acrobat Professional.

So what was revealed? Well DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano says "the security of the travelling public has never been put at risk," but I don't believe it. I'm sure many terrorists would love to know what size electrical wire can go undetected by airport screening machines or how to sneak in through the exit lane.

However, if you're traveling this holiday season, I suppose this new level of transparency can be very helpful! Gawker has kindly assembled 10 tips to get you past airport security based on the TSA manual. Tip number seven was the most disturbing to me:
7. Be Disabled:
The FSD may authorize the following modifications for the screening of Persons With Disabilities:
1) ETD searches are not required for:
a. Wheelchair and scooter cushions
b. Footwear of disabled individuals that cannot be removed
c. Prosthetic devices, casts, or support braces
d. Orthopedic shoes
Well, thanks Internet! It's not like this wheelchair user does a lot of traveling anyway, but now the TSA will be sure to overcompensate and give me an anal probe.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Damage is Done

Remember the pimp and whore undercover team who caught some ACORN workers giving some really stupid advice? Well an independent report by former Massachusetts Attorney General Scott Harshbarger concludes that neither the amateur sleuths nor ACORN did anything illegal.

However, Harshbarger found that the videos that sparked the scandal appear to have been substantially edited:
The videos that have been released appear to have been edited, in some cases substantially, including the insertion of a substitute voiceover for significant portions of Mr. O'Keefe's and Ms. Giles's comments, which makes it difficult to determine the questions to which ACORN employees are responding. A comparison of the publicly available transcripts to the released videos confirms that large portions of the original video have been omitted from the released versions.
I fully expect the wingnuts to discredit the report and disparage Harshbarger -- and what an easy target he is having been the prosecutor in a notorious satanic child abuse case in the 1980's. But the wingnuts have nothing to complain about. Congress has defunded ACORN. The Republicans got what they wanted. The damage is done.

Maybe it could have been avoided. Why, when Congress and the media were in a frenzy over these tapes, didn't anybody look closely at them? Everybody swallowed the BS about ACORN. Oddly, the lack of reasoning parallels those 80's satanic abuse cases. Nobody asked the obvious questions until after harsh judgments were made.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Ambushing Christmas

A war to "save" Christmas is the biggest load of garbage I've ever heard. Four or five years ago, whenever this thing started, I thought it was a silly fracas created by some idiots who were angry at Macy's and Sears over the audacity of "happy holidays" signs. But I had no idea the war would last so long. None of us did.

The 2009 battle has a new tactic. Now Fox News, led by Bill O'Reilly, is stalking and hounding a Boston area school principal because... something about the banning of Christmas items from the school fundraiser. I really don't even understand the significance or crisis here...

I have a rant building up inside of me about the phony victimhood of Republicans and Christians, but that will have to wait for another night. Right now I'll just say that my best childhood Christmas memories took place at home. Oh sure, I liked the little songs we sang in elementary school and the punch and cookies on the last day before the winter break. I liked them because it meant we weren't doing actual work! I liked these little things because they were a change of pace from workbooks, multiplication tables, and spelling tests.

Skipping these school celebrations does seem a bit dispiriting, but that whole separation of church and state kind of trumps it all. Plus, we're a much more diverse country now with many more races and religions in the classroom.

So my youngest nephew started kindergarten this year. If he never sings Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with his classmates, what difference will it make to him? Not a whole lot I assume. For better or worse, he's surrounded by the trappings of Christmas on television, the internet, the shops and malls... and oh yeah, at home.

This "war" matters more to Bill O'Reilly than anybody else... probably because O'Reilly profits from the hysteria he causes. But in a year where we've seen some horrible violence from the right-wing fringe, for God's sake, don't put our schools in the crosshairs! That's exactly what Fox is doing when they make sure their sheep get a clear view of the Boston school's street address. This could end in tragedy.

If O'Reilly sincerely wants to save Christmas, maybe he should drop the ambush reporting and dedicate his entire show to peace and joy? But no, Brave Bill is on a crusade against a school principal: "I have to tell you, madam, that you'll appear on this program one way or the other... because we're not letting it go." Yeah, that's what Christmas is all about.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009


Today I finished reading How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower by Adrian Goldsworthy, and although the author wisely warns against predicting the death of the United States based on an ancient empire which dominated Europe and the Mediterranean 1700 years ago, one thing I can say is: wars. Lots and lots of wars. Wars from inside and wars from outside. And with the wars came plunder, debt, and political instability.

Last night President Barack Obama spoke at the United States Military Academy in West Point, New York, about the future of the U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan:
Afghanistan is not lost, but for several years it has moved backwards. There is no imminent threat of the government being overthrown, but the Taliban has gained momentum. Al Qaeda has not reemerged in Afghanistan in the same numbers as before 9/11, but they retain their safe havens along the border. And our forces lack the full support they need to effectively train and partner with Afghan security forces and better secure the population. Our new commander in Afghanistan -- Gen. McChrystal -- has reported that the security situation is more serious than he anticipated. In short: the status quo is not sustainable.
And with that he announced that an additional 30,000 U.S. troops would be sent to Afghanistan. I can't feign shock or awe. The political left has always maintained that the war in Iraq was unnecessary and foolish, but the war in Afghanistan was justified. NATO even said so.

But at this point, eight years on, what are we doing there? U.S. and British forces completed major operations in the first few months. We let Osama bin Laden get away, and he probably isn't even in Afghanistan now. In fact, al-Qaida is scarcely there either. According to the president's national security adviser, former Marine Gen. James Jones, "The al-Qaida presence is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country, no bases, no ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."

Terrorism doesn't live in Afghanistan. Terrorists can plot anywhere. An al-Qaida cell that plotted the 9/11 attacks resided in Hamburg, Germany.

What we're doing in Afghanistan is exacerbating problems in a Muslim country, propping up a lousy and corrupt Afghan president (who wants us out anyway), and ultimately looking to build some kind of pipeline. It always comes down to wanting another country's natural resources, doesn't it?

If we're serious about fighting terrorism and making ourselves safer, we could do much more police work right here. In the last five years, suspected terrorists in the U.S., those on our actual watch lists, successfully purchased guns or explosives 865 times! I think the most crucial line of defense needs to be at home.

So I'm not going to predict the end of an empire, but sometimes I look at what we're doing and question whether Rome ever really died.