Friday, May 28, 2010

What Might Be Right For You May Not Be Right For Some

Gary Coleman died today at age 42.

As everybody knows, he was the child superstar of Diff'rent Strokes, a TV sitcom that ran from 1978 to 1986.

Yeah, the show was saccharine and contrived, but it entertained us. All the while, Gary suffered from a congenital kidney disease that stunted his growth. All the while, his parents misappropriated the millions of dollars he earned on the show. In the end, he was famous but not wealthy. That's a nasty combination. The public never forgot about the cute child star, so he got all the press any time something in his life went wrong, and yet he had few of the resources to shelter himself from the mockery.

Looking back at the history of Gary and his child co-stars, it seems they gave up a lot in order to entertain us.

Everybody's got a special kind of story, but Gary's real story never seemed funny. Rest in peace.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Taking Their Government Back

America is speaking out on the House Republicans' new taxpayer-funded web site. And boy, we sure are funny, but I doubt that's what the Republicans were looking for.

"This site was developed as part of an official effort to increase the dialogue between Americans and their Congress. Here, Americans are provided a new platform to share their priorities and ideas for a national policy agenda."

I'm sure the GOP thought they were being cool and innovative, but somebody should have seriously Googled "flaming," "trolling" and "rick rolling" before jumping into this new-fangled Internet thing. If you think I'm making fun of Republicans for being out-of-touch, then you're absolutely right.

A forum? To express our ideas? On this computer thing? Well gollly!

And wouldn't you know it? Give them an open mic, and people start yapping. Here is what the true Americans are saying on their new so-ugly-it-must-be-hip-with-those-myspace-kids platform:
We should make English the official language of the US and stop spending tax dollars on translations for Mexicans! if English is good enough for baby Jesus, it's good enough for Americans.

The United States needs to quit beating around the bush and declare war on the Devil. He has clearly shown to be a great threat to our national security by creating brown people, gays, and Jews. I know he would be no match for our fine service men.

ONLY gays in the military. Think about it.

We should invade China and take our money back.

The USA don't need socialist measures such as 8-hour work days, weekends off, paid vacations, banning child labor, or the minimum wage if we want to stay competitive against giants like India and China.

Look for more of the un-American places to spread our freedom.

No one should be allowed to criticize corporations, period. It's disrespectful and unAmerican.

Over time I have found that American sour cream just isn't sour enough. This is a national disgrace and is holding us back as a country. Soon we'll be nothing but whipped cream liberal candyasses.

We need to eliminate 62 days out of the US Calendar every year. That way we will move through time faster than other countries and we will be able to find out about new technologies first. Plus we can see the future. Don't tell the French.

Why hasn't anyone followed up on Sarah Palin's idea that we should have Death Panels to decide who gets medical care? I read about her Death Panels suggestion and thought it was very constructive and would make most of the recent very expensive health care plan unnecessary. The congress ignoring Sarah Palin's Death Panel idea shows that they were not serious about listening to the American People and their Constructive Ideas.

The government should never give you up, Never let you down, Never run around and desert you. Never make you cry, Never say goodbye, Never tell a lie and hurt you.
Mother Jones has collected a few more stunning examples of this crowd-sourced policy making.

Now, who wants to bet some Republican candidates will actually campaign on a few of the "constructive" ideas listed above? Who wants to bet that the GOP will completely ignore any good suggestions that don't already fit their established agenda?

And who wants to bet that if the Founding Fathers could see us now, they'd pat themselves on the back for shunning direct democracy?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Simon Says

I allow myself one American Idol post per season. This is it.

Yes, it was the season finale tonight. Spoiler alert! As if you care -- Lee DeWyze won... a very talented and nice guy, but when you make it into the top two, you might want to rehearse a victory speech or something so you don't stand there gasping "oh my god, oh my god, oh my god." But that's okay. Does anybody really watch to find out the winner?

I watch for the entertainment, and there were a few... umm... let's say WTF moments tonight. The best was Bret Michaels performing a duet with Casey James. Hey Bret, glad you didn't die with that recent stroke and all. Take it easy.

Another unlikely guest appearance was Alice Cooper doing a number with Idol contestants dressed like school girls. It was mildly creepy.

Then there was the Pants on the Ground guy joined by everybody's favorite Idol reject, William Hung. Saggy pants and William Hung: two things that should go away! Seriously, not to sound like a cranky old person, but when is this whole saggy pants fad going to end?

Then there was the lollapalooza of all performances when all the previous Idol winners and runners-up sang together. There was Kelly Clarkson, and that other dude from season one with the wild curly hair (still), and then there was that guy with the pre-mature gray hair who shilled for Ford, and then there was... wait... who's missing? No Clay Aiken? No Adam Lambert?

This not-quite reunion was part of the farewell roasting of Idol judge Simon Cowell who is leaving the show. It won't be the same without his brutally honest assessments. I don't know if any future judge can use the word "ghastly" quite as effectively without the snooty British accent. It just won't be the same.

But I've saved the biggest most surprising WTF moment for last. At the end of a song mocking Simon and all his rudeness and arrogance, it appeared that contestants who had been ridiculed in past seasons were finally going to get one moment of retribution to sing off-key and tell Simon to kiss their tone-deaf asses -- and then a total Kanye West moment. Some guy named Ian Benardo stormed the stage, snatched the mic... and well, just watch:

Cut! Cut to a commercial! Well, at least it wasn't boring.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Goldmine for Goldline

A while back I wrote about The Lightning-Rod Man by Herman Melville:
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.
Or poor. Glenn Beck is the modern lightning-rod man, or snake-oil salesman if you prefer. The Fox commentator spins wild, paranoid tales of the the coming economic apocalypse and then tells his gullible audience that buying gold is the answer. See, first he scares you, but then he saves you!

Of course, Beck wants his viewers to buy gold from Goldline which is one of his few remaining sponsors. Now, whether you believe gold is the answer or not, one thing is looking clearer and clearer: Goldline is screwing consumers. Their average markup is 90% above melt value. Their highest markup is 208% above melt value:

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And Glenn Beck's audience must be a goldmine for Goldline. Beck's true believers faithfully follow the fallacies of his hallucinations:
One customer, whose name was redacted by the FTC, filed a complaint in February, writing, "Not knowing anything about buying gold, I called Goldline International, Inc. because of their advertisement on Fox News and the fact that Glenn Beck endorses them." Like Richardson, this customer originally wanted bullion, but the sales rep "absolutely insisted" on 20-franc coins, and the customer relented. Unable to get a refund, the customer reported paying $369 apiece for coins that could be bought elsewhere for as low as $208.
But now that Rep. Anthony Weiner is onto Goldline’s sleazy sales tactics and ties to right-wing pundits, what can Beck do? (Do I even need to ask?) He will weave an intricate web of conspiracies involving Van Jones, Jim Wallis, evil government agencies, and Media Matters -- all determined to take down Fox News!

And his fans will believe every deluded word even as he swindles them.

Monday, May 24, 2010

And You Know What? Chicken Butt!

Voters dressed in chicken costumes are banned from Nevada polling sites this year. Were poultry costumes at the polls ever really a problem?

Well, apparently chicken suits have been the favorite form of ridicule directed at Republican Senate candidate Sue Lowden, a millionaire casino executive famous for suggesting that poor people barter chickens for checkups.

Of course, Lowden claims she never said it, but she said it and the videos show it. Which reminds me of a comment Bill Maher made on his show on Friday: lying is obsolete. Yep, Lowden should learn that she can't deny her own words when they've already been set to a disco beat on YouTube.

Speaking of wacky election candidates -- Orly Taitz. Did you know the birther queen is on the California Republican primary ballot for California's Secretary of State? And so far her best attack against her African American opponent, Damon Dunn, is that she says he's ineligible...

And you know why? Chicken thigh.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meet Rand

I know my blog posts have been a little sparse this month. I'm not sure what my problem is. Maybe I've caught that infectious anti-incumbent fever that's been going around. Achoo!

Actually, I've hardly paid attention to the elections this week, but people are making a fuss about them, so I guess I will too.

So there's this guy Rand Paul, political neophyte son of Republican Congressman Ron Paul -- no relation to RuPaul, who won a Republican Senatorial primary race. Calm down Kentucky teabaggers. It's a primary race. He's not a Senator yet!

But, no doubt, Rand is the man of the teabaggers: "I have a message. A message from the Tea Party. A message that is loud and clear and does not mince words: We have come to take our government back."

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After watching that Rachel Maddow interview, does anybody have any doubt that there is a strong racist vibe with the teabaggers and their candidates? If the creepy "take our government back" line is a racist dog whistle, then the rest of that interview was a racist bullhorn. Rand couldn't even give a straight answer to the Woolworth's lunch counter conundrum.

Hey Rand, it's really not a brain teaser. Most of this country agrees that it should be illegal for a business to discriminate based on race, gender, religion, or disability. Rand tried to compare it to a business owner discriminating against those who openly carry a gun. Well, I think the man doesn't know real discrimination. You can choose whether to carry a gun or not. You can choose what day you want to carry a gun. You don't get to choose your race, color or disability, and though you can change your gender and religion, it's certainly not something you do flippantly.

Rand tried to say that the civil rights issues that Rachel Maddow brought up were "red herrings." Well if Rand ever makes it to the Senate floor, then his positions on the Civil Rights Act and the 20-year-old American's with Disabilities Act are not inconsequential footnotes. As a Senator, his beliefs get translated into laws! That's the way it works!

Nobody wants to re-fight the civil rights battles of the last century... except apparently Rand Paul and the teabaggers. As a person with a disability, I do feel threatened every time some politician feels more empathetic toward the "free speech" of a business owner versus the basic rights of the disabled. I know it's hard for libertarians to understand, but in 1990, a federal law increased my rights.

The small government types don't comprehend this. Government had to write the rules to protect my rights. Free markets can't, won't, and aren't designed to do such things. Bob Cesca explained the flaws of libertarianism better than I can:
Libertarianism, which both Ron and Rand Paul famously embrace, suggests the free market is a significant and vital component of liberty. Private businesses are capable of accomplishing everything, and government can't interfere or regulate those businesses in any way. The free market will police itself. Just leave it be.

Private industry can pave roads, educate children, put out fires and protect our streets from drunk drivers. It can shuttle our kids to corporate schools and back, it can provide clean water to our homes and they can guarantee our meat and vegetables aren't contaminated with diseases. And by the way, in a nation that's 70 percent white, private businesses can choose to do all of these things for white people only. Private businesses can provide everything we need, but only offer those services to white people.

And these businesses, according to libertarian ideology, can form monopolies if they want to. As we're all painfully aware from the health care debate, monopolies occur even in our current government-regulated system. Imagine what would happen in a totally unregulated free market.
And really, after witnessing what has happened with the banks in the last year, and the BP blowout last month, we should all realize that businesses need to be regulated diligently. Leaving them to run amok is dangerous!

Ezra Klein has a few more questions for Rand Paul:
Can the federal government set the private sector's minimum wage? Can it tell private businesses not to hire illegal immigrants? Can it tell oil companies what safety systems to build into an offshore drilling platform? Can it tell toy companies to test for lead? Can it tell liquor stores not to sell to minors?
Hmm... wouldn't want the nasty government telling businesses not to hire illegal immigrants, would we teabaggers? Now there's a conundrum for Rand.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lee Harvey Oswald's Fave Teacher

An Alabama geometry teacher decided to teach a lesson about straight lines and angles using a real world example: assassinating the president.

"He was talking about angles and said, 'If you're in this building, you would need to take this angle to shoot the president,' " said one student in the class.

Birmingham's Secret Service didn't find the high school math teacher to be a credible threat, but the school has placed him on leave anyway.

Good move by the school. I'm all for inspirational teachers, but not like that! I'm really hoping the teacher is simply a hapless buffoon trying to spice up a boring lesson. But then, it is Alabama.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Save us Aquaman!

SNL missed the obvious solution -- tampons:

Okay, so now that we've all had a good laugh, I have to say that this entire oil spill disaster has been, to me, one of the most soul crushing man-made disasters ever. Millions of gallons of oil have gushed into the Gulf of Mexico since the Deepwater Horizon blowout. The amount of oil could be "the equivalent of one Exxon Valdez tanker every four days."

And it threatens the entire ocean food chain. We've all seen the illustrations where the little fish is eaten by the big fish, which is eaten by an even bigger fish, etc? Well...
Scientists say bacteria, plankton and other tiny, bottom-feeding creatures will consume oil and will then be eaten by small fish, crabs and shrimp. They, in turn, will be eaten by bigger fish, such as red snapper, and marine mammals such as dolphins.

The petroleum substances that concentrate in the sea creatures could kill them or render them unsafe for eating, scientists say.

"If the oil settles on the bottom, it will kill the smaller organisms like the copepods and small worms," Montagna said. "When we lose the forage, then you have an impact on the larger fish."

Making matters worse for the deep sea is the leaking well's location: It is near the continental shelf of the Gulf where a string of coral reefs flourishes. Coral is a living creature that excretes a hard calcium carbonate exoskeleton, and oil globs can kill it.

The reefs are colorful underwater metropolises of biodiversity, attracting sea sponges, crabs, fish, algae and octopus.
And that's just the effect of the oil. The 400,000 gallons of dispersants (chemical mixtures designed to bond to the oil molecules and separate them from water molecules) are also toxic and do not actually reduce the total amount of oil entering the gulf, but they do make the oil less visible. If that sounds to you more like a political "solution" than a scientific one, you're probably right. But some people are more gullible...

Brit Hume at Fox News recently asked, "where is the oil?" The guy has the critical thinking skills of a toddler. Put a little toy out of sight and it's "all gone!" Except it's not a toy, it's oil. And it's not all gone, it's deep in the ocean.

But it's going to take more than dispersants to clean up BP's political mess. Eight US senators are calling for criminal and civil charges against the multinational oil company. I'm not sure how we can even put a price on a disaster we'll be feeling for years, but I'm certain that $75 million won't be enough.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Nazi Tourette's

It's like the game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," except there's just one degree and Kevin Bacon is Hitler.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Back in Black - Glenn Beck's Nazi Tourette's
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Remember, "empathy leads you to very bad decisions many times," according to Glenn Beck. Well, that's one more twisted belief of the wingnuts.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


Ranked as one of the 50 most extraordinary churches by Bored Panda, this little California church is either unabashedly honest about who they really worship, or forgot to take the sign down from the previous owners.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Environmental Studies 101

I took one environmental studies class in college. It was to fulfill a general education requirement, and the year was... somewhere post Exxon Valdez oil spill and pre Gulf War I.

They say education is what remains after you've forgotten what you've learned. Well, these are the major lessons, predictions, and dire warnings my professor left me with:

  • We would enter a major war in the Middle East over oil.
  • Our future energy needs would have to be met with a diversity of renewable sources -- nuclear power not being one of them because it's dangerous and not renewable.
  • And because we need energy to get energy, we need to develop these diverse technologies and infrastructure before we run out of oil, coal, and natural gas.
  • Earth day is about more than cleaning junk off of beaches.
  • Accidents always happen. If a group of scientists say that drilling for oil here or there will cause an ecological disaster, they're probably right.
  • Global warming will result in increased droughts, flooding, soil erosion, and landslides.
  • Something about the unsustainability of exponential growth.

At times the lessons seemed apocalyptic, but the apocalypse, at least, seemed far off.

But here we are in 2010. Endless war in the Middle East? We've got it. Twenty straight days of oil spewing into the Gulf of Mexico? Yep, and they don't know how to stop it. Devastating floods in a major U.S. city? It hardly even makes the news.

Okay, I honestly don't want to compare these events to signs of the apocalypse, but they are signs of something.

They are signs that as a nation we are confused and we don't know who to listen to. Hyperventilating know-nothings like Rush Limbaugh get way too much press. (Hey Rush, environmentalists did not blow up that oil rig, because that would be bad for the environment!) And actual climate scientists get way too little press, and when they do, it's because some oily politician is making a McCarthy-like political assault on their research.

These politicians think that if they create distractions, they won't have to actually do anything. But those who think we should wait until all scientists are in absolute agreement over global warming are willing to risk the entire planet.

I'm reminded of the French water lily story: "French children are told a story in which they imagine having a pond with water lily leaves floating on the surface. The lily population doubles in size every day and if left unchecked will smother the pond in 30 days, killing all the other living things in the water. Day after day the plant seems small and so it is decided to leave it to grow until it half-covers the pond, before cutting it back. They are then asked, on what day that will occur. This is revealed to be the 29th day, and then there will be just one day to save the pond."

Are we going to wait until that one last day?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

He Will Survive

Conan O'Brien is legally prohibited from being funny on television, but I'll be seeing him tonight live (and hopefully funny) in San Jose. Of course, I used to see him five nights a week for free, now I have to pay.

But he came across as such a genuinely nice guy in his recent 60 Minutes interview that going to see him now seems somehow like a vote of support -- though millionaire celebrities generally don't need my support. Maybe attending his show is more like giving the finger to NBC? After all, they screwed him, and as Conan's wife said, "it felt like they never really gave him the job."

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Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Bye Bye Birdie

Whenever the topic of renewable energy is brought up -- and it will be brought up a lot in the coming years -- the anti-environmentalist types will eagerly chime in that wind power is dangerous too! Wind turbines kill birds! Yes, that's a disturbing fact, but why is it always shouted by the same people who wouldn't give a damn about polar bears, owls, or wolves? And why do they think this negates the dangers of oil spills or other environmental disasters?

Tonight Keith Olbermann debunked the bird death arguments. Apparently cats are the biggest danger to birds! Who would have guessed?

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It's also important to note that wind farms, when done properly, are sited to avoid "migration corridors."