Monday, June 28, 2010

Roll Over Oprah

When I heard that some chick-magnet in a wheelchair was in the lead to win his own show on Oprah's new network, and that much of this guy's support could be traced to 4chan, I was skeptical and a bit worried. Aren't 4chan people notorious for their mean-spirited mockery and ironic "support" for asshats who are unwittingly embarrassing themselves on the internet? I mean these are the people who brought us Rickrolling!

But then I saw the audition video:

Zach's oprah deal from Zach Anner on Vimeo.

I'd totally watch his show! I love the concept. I never watch travel shows. On the rare occasion that I do travel, I can't afford any of that ritzy shit. Show me how to have a good time when things go wrong. That's the story of my life.

Zach's idea might just be the only thing I'd watch on Oprah's network. I'm completely turned off by her endorsement of celebrity pseudo-science and bizarre woman-pandering extravagance.

I'm not quite saying that Oprah is evil, but there are rumors that she and her network are trying to fix the votes against Zach because they don't want to give a show to a person with a disability. But I know Oprah wouldn't rig the voting. She'd arrange for Zach to mysteriously disappear quietly in the night. That's the power of O.

Thursday, June 24, 2010


Get a free BP sticker from Sticker Robot, put it on your car, and try to ignore the cognitive dissonance this may cause.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Getting My Life Back

You have no idea how a broken computer can rattle my life. I was so dismayed when, on Wednesday, the power supply crapped out on my desktop system that I actually took up a new hobby:

Yea, I transformed my computer desk into an origami station. As you can tell by the paper plumbobs, I was missing The Sims 3 more than I was missing blogging or Facebook or any of those other computer things. Also, notice the pink origami crane. I heard that if you fold 1000 of those wicked little birds you'll get a wish granted or something.

But that's not going to happen because I got my life back. Or I mean I got a shiny new quad-core gaming machine. I mean productivity machine.

So after five long, arduous days of near Ludditism, I feel alive again.

Just like BP CEO Tony Hayward who I hear is enjoying the yacht races. For some strange reason I thought the guy wouldn't want to be anywhere that reminded him of oceans, but I guess I overestimated his conscience.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Fictional Heroes

To Kill a Mockingbird turns 50 this summer. I did not read the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel until I was an adult, but I saw the film adaptation at around age seven or eight. Of course, it was probably the likable characters of Scout and Jem, close to my own age so I could imagine them as my own cohorts, which drew me into the television presentation. But I also look back and realize that Atticus taught me a lot about justice, respect, and human dignity.

Or at least that movie was an early inspiration to even thinking about those concepts. Sometimes I find it really hard to trace where my ideas and values come from, but I know where they stand now.

And that brings me to another subject. I feel, like many people including, I thought, the president, that our country has lost some of its moral high-standing during this ill-conceived "war on terror." But apparently President Obama has changed his opinions while mine have stayed the same.

I know I'm outsourcing to Jon Stewart twice in one week, but who can resist the comparison of Obama to Frodo?

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Hunting Trip

There are probably more relaxing ways to spend your vacation.

A 52-year-old Californian construction worker named Gary Brooks Faulkner packed a gun, a 40-inch sword, night goggles, and Christian literature on his solo mission to Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden.

These kind of news stories (which we don't hear often enough considering there is a still a $25 million reward for OBL's capture) hold a special place in my heart. Some of my first blog posts in 2001 were about bin Laden...

It still baffles me that our CIA and special forces with all their high-tech equipment haven't found the 9/11 mastermind in the nine years since the terrorist attacks.

And yet this lone construction worker with a criminal record was probably on the right track:
Faulkner might not have been that far from his prey. He was trying to enter Nuristan, a region the U.S. military decided to abandon last year as being too remote and indefensible, and widely considered a Taliban stronghold. Rumors of bin Laden’s presence in this area abound: As recently as last year, U.S. officials were speculating Osama might be hiding in the mountains of Chitral or just across the border in Nuristan.
So I have this feeling that, despite not succeeding on this terrorist assassin mission, Faulkner will still enjoy a bit of hero status at home. And maybe more crazies with 40-inch swords will give the OBL hunt a try.

For nine years I've had this strange feeling that our government isn't even trying.

Monday, June 14, 2010

What Not To Say

"It's a beautiful day, the beaches are open and people are having a wonderful time." — Mayor Larry Vaughn in Jaws.

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Politicians along with BP CEO Tony Hayward seem to be having a difficult time with words lately. They want to spin this environmental calamity into some kind of delicious milkshake, or on the other hand, make the world feel sorry for them. "What the hell did we do to deserve this?" whinged Hayward. Well, let me remind you Tony about the 760 "egregious, willful" safety violations, and oh yeah, don't forget your company is destroying the Gulf of Mexico!

Oh, and while I'm on the subject of unhelpful cretins, let's not forget the religious nuts. They, of course, also have something predictably irrelevant to say. I don't have a specific quote, but I'll sum it up for you: "See, this is what happens when you sinners don't listen to us!" They say it gleefully because they secretly look forward to the apocalypse. And yes, the oil does kind of look like blood, and I'm sure you can find many references to the sea in Revelation, but no, this is not the end of the world.

But let's for a moment assume it was Judgment Day. Wouldn't you prefer that your God found you trying to make the world a better place rather than piously sneering at others?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Going Greene

Last night I was only following the California election results, but apparently there was some election weirdness going on in South Carolina.

A mystery man won the Democratic Senate nomination. His name is Alvin Greene, and he's unemployed, 32 years old, and a military veteran. He won nearly 60% of the vote in SC's open primary. Greene had no campaign funds, no web site, no bumper stickers and he tried to pay his $10,400 filing fee with a personal check. Oh, and he's also facing a felony charge for allegedly showing obscene photos to a university student.

Some people suspect a Republican plant. These kind of shenanigans have happened before:
In the early ‘90s, a Republican strategist was prosecuted and forced to pay a fine when he was found to have coaxed an unemployed black fisherman into running in a primary race to increase white turnout at the polls in a Lowcountry congressional race. The political operative paid the man’s filing fee.
But it seems a little odd to plant a guy like Greene and then leave it up to chance for him to get the nomination.

But what I find really odd is that Greene doesn't seem to have the wild-eyed political views or the attention-whore tendencies of people like Orly Taitz. In fact, he doesn't even seem capable of those kind of theatrics:

But you know, US Senators earn an annual salary of $174,000. So why wouldn't Greene run? It might have been a bit of blue sky dreaming, but a $10,400 investment for a chance at a $174k job isn't bad! Believe me, I've considered this scheme myself!

But come November, Greene (if he doesn't step aside) will be facing Republican incumbent Jim DeMint, and we'll see if this anti-incumbent fever is really contagious.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Send Out The Clowns

We may be a little bit crazy in California -- we once had an entire ballot full of crackpots -- but tonight we proved we're saner than Kentucky. California Republicans did not choose Orly Taitz as their nominee for Secretary of State. And I'm thankful.

You may remember dentist/lawyer/real-estate agent Orly for her crazy legal filings to repeal Obama's birth certificate or something like that. U.S. District Judge Clay D. Land dutifully slapped her with a $20,000 fine, and I hoped that was the last we'd ever hear from the "birther queen."

Now, if Orly had won the Republican nomination, I could have written a long blog post about teabaggers, and California becoming a circus, and the irony of conservatives electing a former Soviet to overthrow our democratically elected government...

Seems some people wanted her to win for the sheer joy and hilarity of seeing this conspiracy theorist campaign with other notable California Republicans. No doubt there will be some memorable races in November when teabagger favorites run against Democrats who do not believe in bartering chickens for checkups, or repealing the Civil Rights Act, or drill baby drill.

But Orly won't be in those races. I really believe democracy is better when all candidates are serious, rational, and educated. I don't want California to become a circus.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Clicking Aimlessly

The Internet is supposed to make us smarter. Where have I heard that before? Oh, it's the tagline of this blog which, by the way, is a quip I borrowed from comedian Lewis Black.

The truthiness of that supposition, though, seems to be a hot topic this week.

Clay Shirky, who teaches New Media as an associate professor at NYU, talks about the media revolution in his article Does the Internet Make You Smarter:
Every increase in freedom to create or consume media, from paperback books to YouTube, alarms people accustomed to the restrictions of the old system, convincing them that the new media will make young people stupid. This fear dates back to at least the invention of movable type.
He makes a good case that increased freedom to create gives us all kinds of silly, time-wasting distractions. For example cute cat videos, Farmville and the House Republicans' web site. But we also get revolutionary tools like Wikipedia which, according to Shirky, is becoming the most important English reference work since its creation in 2001.

But even the "good stuff" can distract me as I demonstrated in my Six Degrees of Wikipedia post last year.

Obviously there's a massive amount of informative, interesting stuff out there. I load a program called Trillian, which manages all my chat accounts, plus my Facebook and Twitter streams, and I'm instantly inundated with all kinds of witty comments and links to interesting news articles. I want to click each and every one because now I'm aware that there is something I don't know! Now I'm aware that there's new information I'm not aware of!

And knowing that there's something I don't know doesn't make me feel smart. It gives me an urgent feeling that I'm falling behind all those other smart people out there. So I read as much as I can, yet I can't commit it all to my long-term memory. Damn it.

I know I'm a total multitasker because the New York Times told me so. I scored 100% on both their Test How Fast You Juggle Tasks quiz and their Test Your Focus quiz.

But I'm not sure what those results really mean. In fact, asking whether the Internet makes us smart or dumb might be the wrong question. A better question is "What kind of brain is the web giving us?"

I think the most alarming part of this NYT story about a guy hooked on gadgets was the theory that heavy technology use diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another.

There's further evidence that the web is turning us into shallower thinkers with weak reading comprehension:
Navigating linked documents, it turned out, entails a lot of mental calisthenics—evaluating hyperlinks, deciding whether to click, adjusting to different formats—that are extraneous to the process of reading. Because it disrupts concentration, such activity weakens comprehension. A 1989 study showed that readers tended just to click around aimlessly when reading something that included hypertext links to other selected pieces of information. A 1990 experiment revealed that some “could not remember what they had and had not read.”

Even though the World Wide Web has made hypertext ubiquitous and presumably less startling and unfamiliar, the cognitive problems remain. Research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links.
Well, that's discouraging. Here I am trying to inform and entertain, and yet, hyperlink by hyperlink, I'm slowly turning my audience into uncaring, scatter-brained introverts. That should be my new tagline.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

You Can't Have Your Life Back

I've been reading this odd little detective novel from 1908 -- The Man Who Was Thursday. I came across this passage, and well, the more things change, the more they stay screwed up:
"Mere mobs!" repeated his new friend with a snort of scorn. "So you talk about mobs and the working classes as if they were the question. You've got that eternal idiotic idea that if anarchy came it would come from the poor. Why should it? The poor have been rebels, but they have never been anarchists; they have more interest than anyone else in there being some decent government. The poor man really has a stake in the country. The rich man hasn't; he can go away to New Guinea in a yacht. The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all. Aristocrats were always anarchists, as you can see from the barons' wars."

Now I think of the whiny-ass rant from BP CEO Tony Hayward and I imagine that he's planning an escape to New Guinea or wherever, but probably not in a yacht -- he wouldn't want anything to remind him of oceans:
"There’s no one who wants this over more than I do. I would like my life back."
Hayward wants his life back? How much does he make? Five million a year or something? Wow, he certainly benefited from anarchy in the form of chummy EPA officials letting BP get away with crimes.

And as always, it's the working class who will suffer the most. Louisiana fishermen are feeling desperate as they see their livelihoods destroyed. They're the ones who can't have their lives back.