Friday, July 4, 2008


People’s behavior in public situations really cracks me up. Consider the following scenario – you are riding your bicycle on a bike path or lane; another bike rider is coming toward you. Wouldn’t you think that each of you would move to pass each other on the right, you know, like cars on a highway? Nope, about half the time, the oncoming rider moves left, directly into your path!?!?

Or coming up behind a pedestrian; so as not to frighten them, you shout out “passing [you] on your left”, at which point, they step to the left… right into your path!? Perhaps having the words “left” and “right” tattooed onto the backs of their hands may be helpful.

People continue to be oblivious to the traffic patterns of others around them. For example, meeting a familiar friend coming in a doorway or an aisle, people will stop at that spot and converse, blocking the path of others. Move to the side and chat… idiots! The same goes for you dolts who park your shopping carts in the middle of the aisle. I’m going to ram it or move it.

Teller lines [queues for you Brits] are also a source of aggravation for me. I never go into a bank with a transaction that takes more than 22 seconds. Yet time after time, people are standing at the teller windows for an eternity. What the hell are they doing… trying to cash a Bolivian travelers check with only their unique tattoo as ID? And using the ATM is no help – I am amazed at the complex transactions people attempt to perform at the ATM. It dispenses cash… what the hell else to you need an ATM for?

And the Post Office… I won’t even go there unless I absolutely have to. It is a lost cause. In fact, I usually avoid doing anything that requires standing in line. With few exceptions, if it requires standing in line, I will avoid it altogether… whatever it is, it probably isn’t worth doing if I have to wait in line to do it.

I sound like a Grumpy Old Guy. Well I am, so move over and get out of my way! Oh... and “have a nice day!”

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Adios George Carlin

George Carlin died this week. He was to be the recipient of the Mark Twain award for comedy, it's sad that he will not be here to enjoy the recognition of his comedy peers.

The news media showed clips of some of his comedy sketches. Of course, they alluded to his most famous sketch, the seven words you cannot say on television - not surprisingly, they didn't actually play THAT sketch. But what was ignored by ALL the media stories about Carlin was that he was an avowed atheist.

The subject of atheism is completely taboo in our culture; the news media will always play it safe and never mention the issue of non-religion ever. You see, in this country, although it is never OK to discriminate against others because of their race, gender or sexual orientation, it is perfectly fine to discriminate against Godless Heathens (aka: Atheists). After all, regardless of race, color or creed, everyone believe in God... don't they!?!

Actually, No -- A whole lot of us don't. And even though we may admire the man for his fame, we will overlook his shortcoming of being a non-believer. We will just pretend that we didn't know.

But I knew; and I admired him for it. Below is Carlin's "Religion is Bullshit" routine. There is nothing I can say here that isn't said more adroitly by Carlin himself. I'll shut up for now and let the man himself tell it like it is.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Let's play Pick-a-Terrorist

Look at these two photographs. One of these individuals is a wanted terror suspect; the other, a character from a children’s television show. Concentrate – think carefully before making your decision. A year ago, the Boston Police department was faced with this terrible choice - they got it wrong. And now an innocent cartoon character’s career is ruined.

This is just how stupid our country has become. It really isn’t that funny; thousands of man-hours and law enforcement resources were diverted to run down this alleged terrorist threat. If our law enforcement apparatus is this stupid, how difficult would it be for a REAL terrorist threat to be executed on this country?

But I believe there is something much more sinister at play here. It is my belief that our military and security forces know where Osama bin Laden is located. In fact, I believe that they are intentionally allowing him to remain at large.

This is an outlandish accusation, I know. Why! Because, were bin Laden to be captured, American public opinion would conclude that the “War on Terror” is over. Bin Laden is the poster child for our nation’s continued drive for economic (petroleum) and military presence throughout the globe. This singular focus funnels billions of our taxpayer dollars into private and military contractor’s pockets. And it diverts the public attention from focusing their support away from this foolish cause. Osama bin Laden’s capture would bring this all to a halt.

Municipalities are receiving funding from the Federal Government under the guise of Homeland Security. Why would they want that to end? Halliburton, Boeing, and hundreds of other corporations are receiving lucrative, often no-bid, contracts. Why would they want that to end? Politicians are planking their platforms and staking their public image on their stands on national defense. Why would they want that to end?

Worst of all, bin Laden’s war against the US has essentially won. His action has plunged this country into an expensive war, caused thousands MORE of our citizens lives to be lost or ruined, further limited our civil liberties and diverted our national assets away from those who need them most. At it’s worst, they have us chasing our tails - running down threats posed by a cartoon character advertising campaign.

One of the terrorist suspects in the picture above was eventually brought down. Can you guess which one?

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The "forgotten" war

I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks now. Not for lack of topics… no, they keep me awake at night, in fact. No, it’s laziness; or perhaps that my computer is loaned out. Excuses; merely excuses.

I find a frightening reality in the nightly news. Not in what is reported, but what is not reported. The war in Iraq is still raging. Men and women are being killed and even more being maimed. What is sad, frightening, to me is that it is no longer news. It has dropped off the radar of the public consciousness. It is no longer interesting to the viewing public. The “sheep” of this great nation now regard the war in Iraq with a resounding “whaaaa”?

Polls show that “the economy” is most on the minds of American voters. The Economy…as if it was something divorced from the war. It costs $390,000 to deploy one soldier for one year in Iraq. The war is sopping up billions of dollars from the US treasury. That’s an expense you and I pay for. That is money that doesn’t go to improving medical care or job training or any other useful function that ordinary Americans need daily.

And now the war in Afghanistan is ramping up. Donald Rumsfeld stopped bombing there years ago after we had bombed their “rubble into rubble”. Currently 91% of the world opium (Heroin) traffic comes from Afghanistan, which feeds the Taliban and keeps them supplied with arms. A nation that is on the brink of lapsing into the dark ages… with horrible horrible weapons.

Meanwhile the American consciousness is focused on gas prices. We don’t want to trade in our SUV’s, we want to obtain more oil and cheaper, no less. Which is what got us into this mess to begin with… our lust for oil, intoxicating us into making bad decisions about the Middle East.

During the Viet Nam war, American households felt the pain. Kids were pulled out of there homes; drafted into the Army and were being killed in Viet Nam. It hit Americans where they lived… and it was an outrage. But now, there is no draft. If your kid or husband or loved-one doesn’t die in Iraq, and now Afghanistan, it is like it isn’t happening.

And thanks to the news media… it truly isn’t happening. These wars - these drains on the national wealth, on the humanity of American citizens, is now “old news”… it’s boring, it kills viewer ratings.
The most important thing on the minds of most American citizens today is who will be the next winner on “American Idol”.

It is a disgrace that the news media doesn't show, every night, in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen, the human and financial cost of these two wars. It should remain there during the entire broadcast, every night. A jog to the national mindlessness that is serving to suck the strength from this once great nation.

I fear our nation is lost.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

What goes around, keeps going around.

Several years back, my in-laws were driving their 1975 Pontiac Astre through the Southwest visiting relatives in the area. That is was how people vacationed back in those days. And the tradition of traveling long distances by car remained for that generation even when air travel became affordable to most American families.

In any event, they were driving through Arizona when somewhere just a few miles outside of Flagstaff on Interstate 40, they lost a hub cap off the old Astre. By the time the loss was discovered they were already settled into their motel for the evening; the patriarch, Melvin, would have to deal with it when they returned back home to Oregon.

Once back home, Melvin found that the local Pontiac dealer no longer stocked parts for such an old vehicle and so suggested he try the local wrecking yard. The auto wrecking staff, made up mostly of teen-agers, was more than eager to help. The one young kid explained to Melvin that, although they didn’t have a used 1975 Pontiac Astre hub cap right there in stock, they were connected to a “computer network” linking auto wrecking yards all across the country. Somebody somewhere would likely have the hub cap and it would show up on the network.

A few days went by and Melvin received a call that his Astre hub cap was in and he could come down to the yard and pick it up. As he paid for his used hubcap, Melvin expressed surprise that the wreckers were able to find a replacement hub cap so quickly. As he paid for the replacement hub cap he thanked the young clerk. “It wasn’t a problem, sir”, the young man responded. “It was shipped to us from a wrecking yard down in Arizona… Someone picked it up off Interstate 40 just a few miles outside of Flagstaff”.

Friday, May 30, 2008

The health of journalism.

I picked up a “Time” magazine in the doctor’s office waiting room today. Remarkably it was a current issue; most waiting room magazines are, well… old. Anyway, the big story in “Time” was about John McCain’s health. More specifically, the story was an analysis of how John McCain’s health could affect his run for office. Several polls were cited in the article in order to assess public confidence in whether McCain was healthy enough to be president.

And what exactly was McCain’s serious health issue? Eight years ago he had a melanoma removed from his skin. It’s usually a five-minute procedure which is then treated with a band aid! Why his took five-hours is anybody’s guess – open heart surgery takes five hours. I’ll wager the reported got minutes and hours mixed up. Journalists often have trouble keeping their facts straight.

Yes I know… melanoma can be a deadly cancer if it is not treated. My wife had such an incident. In fact, her primary care physician misdiagnosed the spot on her arm as a harmless mole. As is becoming all too unsettlingly common, I again found my medial knowledge superior to that of many physicians, so we had a dermatologist remove the mole. The pathology report came back: malignant melanoma! (My wife doesn’t see that physician any more, by the way).

It really pains me when journalists are so bent on doing journalism that they create a story where there is none. And John McCain’s fitness to be commander-in-chief is in no way threatened or impaired by virtue of The Media crafting of a Health issue”. Now I can list a number of other reasons which, in my opinion, cause me to believe John McCain is a less than desirable choice to be president. But his having the foresight to have a “potentially” dangerous mole scratched off his skin is not one of them.

I understand that "Time" has magazines to sell. I also know that journalists need to write just as fish need to fly and birds need to swim. [Yes, I know what I said] But often there is no story there – and there is no issue with McCain’s fitness for the presidency here, at least, where his health is concerned.

Here is a story suggestion for
“Time”, (or any other journalist out there, for that matter) - Do an article on how many Americans die each year of melanoma because they don’t have health coverage or the money to visit a dermatologist. Or would that require too much writing?

Sunday, May 25, 2008

A man called Wand-a

From reading one of my previous posts, you would know that I have a difficult time going through airport security. So I make a game out of trying not to “beep” the metal detector. I usually win; but not last time on our recent return from Hawaii.

As we went through security at Kailua-Kona airport, I did my usual emptying of my pockets into my upturned fedora. However, I left two film cans in my pocket this time – it is high speed film taken with our under-water camera while we snorkeled on the Big Island. I didn’t want the powerful X-ray to cloud my tropical fish pictures.

BEEP! “Would you step back through the metal detector, please, sir” the TSA agent says. Realizing it had to be the film cans setting off the detector, I removed them from my pocket and attempted to hand them to the TSA agent. Nope - I had to walk through the metal detector again, film cans in hand. BEEP!

Step over here, sir” the TSA agent monotones. “The reason why we have to check you is because you set off the detector twice”. (Duh! I set if off twice because the film cans are still in my hand.) They have me gather all my things together from the X-ray belt and move to a section behind a glass partition. All the while I’m still holding the two film cans in my hand.

We can take you someplace more private to do this if you would like, sir”. TSA agent now says. Like why!?! Are they going to strip search me? The TSA agent puts on a pair of purple latex gloves. I swallow hard.

They have me put the film cans on the table and I sit in a chair and kick off my low-security Crocks. He picks up a metal detector wand and begins wanding my feet – nothing! He then he has me stand on a mat, my legs apart and arms outstretched. I look like the drawing Leonardo da Vinci made of the guy in the circle. The TSA agent begins wanding the outline of my body – nothing. He seems disappointed. He wands his wrist watch to verify the detector is still working – Beep! Yup, it works.

He then begins wanding up between my legs. I stare at the horizon – silence. The wand lingers a little bit longer in the vicinity of my groin than I am comfortable with. I'm wondering now just how badly this guy wants to find metal in my pants? Again, he tests the wand on his wrist watch. Beep! Yes, it's still apparently working.

I’m going to pat you down, now, sir.” TSA agent now says. I now become curious just how much “patting” I am going to get? I’m just wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I stare again at the horizon… but this is getting creepy.

As I am standing there with my arms outstretched being patted down, I turn to the other assisting TSA agent and suggest: “Just out of curiosity, can you wand the film cans there?” He waves the wand over a film can – Beep! They now decide to turn their attention to the film, testing it for traces of explosives residue. Nada! The disappointment is palpable.

Unless they want me to strip naked, they are out of options at this point. My wife hands me my jacket and we head to our gate.

It must be an incredibly boring job being a TSA agent. Like being a fireman where there’s never a fire; like being the sheriff of Mayberry. He probably went home all excited and told his wife about me today: “Honey, guess what happened at work today!!”

The TSA has made me hate flying.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

I dreamt I died and went to Heaven

Ted Kennedy has just been diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. He now has a much clearer idea of just when his life on this planet will be coming to a close. A few months ago, one of my friends was diagnosed with the same type of deadly tumor. He had gone to a fair, had a massive seizure and woke up in the hospital. Now his life completely revolves around fighting a tumor that inevitably will end his life.

Today I’m sitting here in Hawaii, perhaps with a greater appreciation of this warm beautiful place than on my previous visits. When I return to Oregon, I begin interviewing physicians, one of whom I will select to open my chest and replace my aortic valve. I can’t help but look around at the bright tropical fish as I snorkel and wonder if this will be the last time I see these colorful critters again. There will ultimately be that day, but we are never truly ready for it to be now.

I might be lucky, if I don’t survive the surgery I will never know it. I will be under sedation; my consciousness will fade and never come back. The mortality rate for this type of surgery is 2%; the mortality rate for not having the surgery is 100%.

Michael Shermer
is often asked what his opinion is of life after death. “I’m all for it!” he says. But he is under no illusions that his consciousness will survive forever in a Biblical Heaven. Those are stories made up for us to believe so we will not worry about death. They are for children.

My documentary about Jerry Andrus is extremely close to being ready for release. In it I recorded one of my favorite poems of Jerry's. He reads in the film; part of it goes like this:
“I dreamt I died and went to Heaven; everything was perfect.
I could stand it for just one day.

You could not help anyone because no one needed help.
You could not improve anything because everything was perfect.
What a joy to worship the lord for a billion billion years."

You can hear the entire poem in the memorial excerpt clip from the documentary I played at Jerry’s memorial celebration here.

I find comfort in something my wife believes; that the quality of one’s life is related to the quality of one’s relationships. If it is my time to die, I won’t take my comfort in the illusion that I will see my mom and dad and grandparents in Heaven. Rather, I find solace in the thought that my memory will live on in the minds and hearts of my wife, children, grand children and friends. And when they die, it will no longer really matter.

For now I look at my toes against the salt-and-pepper sand on the warm Hawaiian beach and realize that I am made of the same stuff; cooked in the furnaces of stars of a billion galaxies. I was created from the stuff of the universe and it is there I will ultimately return someday. I find my peace in that. - Aloha

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hawaii - It's not just another state.

I actually believed I would not be blogging from Hawaii, however with the advent of wireless networking everywhere, (even in Paradise) well, why not. Even Kara was able to blog from places like Romania – Hell, I was surprised they even had electricity there.

So here we are on the beautiful Big Island, USA. We Americans take it for granted that Hawaii is just another one of our states, you know, like Iowa or Wisconsin. After all, it is so conveniently located to our borders, a mere 5-hour flight. I am sure the rest of the civilized world must lift a skeptical eyebrow when they acknowledge that we conveniently acquired this place as just another “state”. Yeah… right! Well, what the hell, we are big and powerful and what the hell are they going to do about it anyway? Hawaii is a state. Funny how we aren't that interested in wanting Porto Rico to be a state… but that’s another subject entirely.

The “natives” (meaning people born here) speak Hawaiian, a distinct language. However, it sounds a lot like pigeon-english which leaves me a bit suspicious. None the less, they have a lot of places here with names we mainlanders can’t pronounce. I don’t worry much about that; I couldn’t pronounce the names of the native American names in Washington State either. They have a lot of lava here, as we do in Oregon, so I’m not feeling like I have to adopt some type of foreign awareness pretentiousness either. They take VISA card here just like they do at home. No big deal.

Still there are differences here that make it worth the trip. Papaya for one… tastes like tepid ice cream here, back home Papaya tastes like crap. Mangos here are wonderful also; a little better than crap back home, but not by much. We make “POG-Tais” here – Rum and POG (Papaya-Orange-Guava) juice. They go down so nice! Of all the staple foods we picked up here, the rum is being depleted the most quickly.

Gasoline is something else, it is $4.35 a gallon or more depending on where you get it. So we try to limit our driving as much as possible. Worst of all, with the grand-baby and all the equipment, we had to rent an SUV. I can imagine a fleet of tanker ships laden with gasoline coming to the Big Island, my only consolation is that these tankers are returning to the mainland laden with holds full of pineapple juice. If I think along those lines, I don’t feel so badly.

Some friends of ours who travel a lot said, after their last trip here, that they thought they were through coming to Hawaii. I can’t ever think I would ever be “through” coming to a place like this. It is warm and wonderful and I can pretty much understand the language. I hope I will be back again someday.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

The Unifying Theory

People who know me know I am a Skeptic - I believe we all live in a natural universe and that science is a tool to help us understand how that universe works. My friends and family all know that nothing yanks my chain more quickly than claims of the paranormal. I don’t suffer the fools very well who believe in ghosts, lake monsters or telekinesis.

So recently when a friend told me that she believed “something” (or someone) was going into her closet and moving her things when she wasn't there, I challenged her to come up with some type of explanation. Not included among her various hypotheses, however, was the distinct possibility that she herself had moved those items and had simply forgotten.

I was feeling rather smug about my Rational World View until I recently, as has happened to me all too many times before, again had the unsettling experience of having my own small possessions disappear... apparently, completely off the face of the Earth.

Now, surely, I might have concluded that I too had simply misplaced these items. My dark glasses, for example; I wore them just yesterday. I have a strong recollection of having rinsed the dusty glasses off in the bathroom. Yet, they can not be located on the usual surfaces on which they are ordinarily placed. I searched the EVERYWHERE. Nothing! They cease to exist.

Having studied this odd phenomenon for a number of years, I have come to the rational hypothesis there has to exist an Alternate Parallel Universe (APU). Clearly, after using an object, and upon placing it down and diverting one’s attention from it… Poof, it is transported by yet undetermined means to the APU. There can be no other reasonable explanation.

My dark glasses are there now (actually, several pairs) as are a number of screwdrivers and the chuck key to my power drill. Grocery lists are also, I suspect; although some physicists postulate that the wad of dried pulp often found pants pockets removed from the laundry may have been the grocery list at some previous time. Data regarding this is still being gathered. Science has long confirmed that an even number of socks placed into the laundry will result in an odd number of socks coming out. PhDs have written papers on this.

No, the APU seems to be the strongest theory of where my things seem to go when I put them down. And conducting thorough searches of the proximity for these objects invariably turns out to be fruitless.

I don’t believe that man can travel to the APU and recover the lost tools, objects and eyewear. I just believe that at the moment of my final breath, I will have a flash of incredible brain power and suddenly remember exactly where I put my dark glasses, and all the other junk I've misplaced in my life! Although, at that precise moment, it won’t really matter much anymore.

The pharmaceutical ads on television generally crack me up, but the funniest has to be the ads for menopause drug, Boniva. “There”, former Flying Nun actress, Sally Field smiles, “I just took my osteoporosis medicine for the month”. Wow, now she has freed up valuable time to do whatever it is she does with the rest of her month. Like, my God - taking a pill EVERY DAY! Who’s got that kind-a time?!?!

Oh, I donno… maybe dialysis patients who are hooked up to kidney machines for five hours at a stretch three days a week! But what’s a little time out of your life if it keeps you alive!

The ads for cholesterol lowering drugs Zetia and Vytorin were still airing even after research was publicized showing that neither of these drugs had any effect on reducing cardiovascular disease.

It frightens me to think that there might be some very clueless women out there taking Boniva every day with along with their multi-vitamins. My God… none, I hope!

We depend on our physicians to tell us what is good for us and what we need. Unfortunately that target keeps moving as we find that our trusted medications we may have been taking for years are actually ineffective, or worse, bad for us. Oh well, there was once a time when doctors told patients that smoking actually aided digestion.

So who are we to believe? Our doctors? The FDA? Chinese herbal medicine? I guess there’s always the Internet.

[Right: Back cover advertisement from Sept. 1936 Science and Mechanics Monthly magazine.]

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

An ounce of prevention...

I see that many are hailing the President’s recent “tax rebate” as a brilliant stroke of financial daring-do. Those people, of course, are morons.

The US economy started to go south in February. Since then gasoline prices have gone up over 20% and inflation has already eroded much of the potential gain of such a “stimulus”. By summer, nobody will remember the money they got or what the hell they spent it on. The stimulus will be as effective as spitting in the ocean.

The idea behind this bold economic action is that people will essentially go out and “blow” the money on crap at Wal-Mart. This is truly an amazing concept to me; that the core economy of the largest economic power in the world is based on people mindlessly buying consumer crap. With dwindling world natural resources and stagnating wage growth, just exactly how sustainable is that?

Independent analysts believe that roughly the same percentage of people who DIDN’T vote for George Bush will put their tax rebate into reducing their personal debt. Of course, it is then assumed that shoppers, with now lower credit card balances, will run back out the following months and rack up more debt. They are probably right. I have low expectations of most of Moron America, and seldom do they fail to meet them.

Of course people can create their own personal economic stimulus package simply by grabbing their credit card and spending more money they don’t have anyway. That is exactly what the Bush administration is proposing anyway; except he’s using the US Treasury’s Master Card to help us all relieve a little pent-up consumer demand.

Hey, our national budget deficit is now already the largest ever in our history; so what’s the harm in racking up a little more national debt? Either way, whether you pull the money from the US Treasury or your credit card, it’s all eventually going to have to be paid back. Take your pick, monthly installment payments or higher taxes.

So whether you receive $300, $600 or ever $1,200 in economic aid, just remember, $165,000,000,000 has just been added to our tax bill. Oh well, you could always just make the minimum payment.

Try to smile: Dave Barry’s FAQ on the Economic Stimulus Payment

Friday, April 25, 2008

Suck on this!

In yet another excellent example of soulless corporate profit-seeking, the blood thinning drug, Heparin, had to be recalled off the market by the FDA - The drug, manufactured in China, is alleged to have been intentionally contaminated to increase profits.

Let me try to wrap my brain around this concept: Contaminating a drug to increase profits, hmmm. I wonder, have the morons at Baxter International done any market research on the potential of marketing rat poison to babies? Maybe they could market Heparin to states that still impose death by lethal injection. Last I heard, people flock to buy products that KILL THEM, right?

This story has been running in the national news for several days now. Even NPR has had several articles on this story. But everyone, including NPR, I think has missed the bigger story here: WHY in god’s name are we importing drugs of ANY kind from China??!!??

Isn’t China the country that sends us lead-tainted children’s toys, computer batteries that explode, faulty appliances that catch fire… and the list goes on?

I don’t mind it too much that China exports cheaper microwave ovens, plastic salad-tossers or AK-47 knock-offs. But I have one BIG God dam concern about importing stuff from them that we put in our bodies! China has shown in the past that they will do anything and say anything to join the world market. They don’t care how they get there. Remember, China is still a communist controlled dictatorship… and Americans hate dictatorships (unless, of course, there are profits to be made by partnering with them).

Besides the big pharmaceuticals already don’t want us importing drugs, you know, like from Canada… because imported drugs are CHEAPER than buying them here! Busloads of senior citizens book charters up to Canada for drug store runs, coming back with needed medications at a fraction of the cost they would pay here. The big drug companies have successfully lobbied congress to keep citizens from obtaining cheaper drugs abroad. We agree - our pharmaceuticals need to be made here in the good ol’ USofA.

Yes, it’s cheaper to manufacture drugs in China, we understand. But aren’t huge profit enough; does your greed really compel you to need them to be “astronomical”?

I think there is a simple cure for this problem; a law that says every CEO, board member and senior executive must take a regular dose of the drugs they import! It all seems pretty simple... And if they are good little boys and take their medicine, we will give each of their grandchildren a cute little lead-painted Thomas the Tank engine to suck on.

Monday, April 21, 2008

And now... a word from our sponsors.

I recently heard Hollywood director/writer Alex Cox (Repo Man, Sid and Nancy) speak at a local film festival about the struggle independent filmmakers have of getting their films to the public. Mostly due to the big media conglomerates, Sony, Viacom, Time Warner and the like who pretty much control what we see on TV, in theaters and on DVD. And greasing the skids of these oligarchies are the astronomical profits these companies net from advertising.

I grew up with commercials on broadcast TV. They weren’t that bad. OK, well maybe having doctors cooing about how “smooth” Lucky Strike cigarettes were was a bit much; but the commercials usually were over in a couple of minutes. Besides, we all knew that commercials were the price we paid for "free" television. It certainly seemed like a bargain at the time.

But Cox pointed out how the television “hour” has been steadily eroding, almost a minute per year. Today an hour of TV programming runs 42 minutes. That means almost a third of an hour long TV show consists of commercials. Most boob-tube Americans haven’t noticed – but I have. And it’s causing me to abandon television.

In the mean time the network executives are wondering why viewership is falling. Of course they are,
these companies are paying millions to white-haired bone-heads who can barely figure out how to attach to their e-mail. Revenues are falling. The fix? We need more advertising revenue. Dumb asses.

Even Katie Couric is likely soon to get her pink slip. Seems that elusive “younger audience” the stodgy execs were trying to attract don’t watch network TV news, preferring instead to get their news from the Internet or Comedy Channel’s Jon Stewart.

In actuality, advertising volume has made TV become unwatchable. We now tape the shows we want to watch, playing them back when we do our morning exercises. I can watch two half-hour shows now while jogging with one thumb on the “Fast Forward” button.

I’ve stopped going to movie theaters now also. Why do I want to pay $8.00 to see Coke and Toyota commercials before the feature? If the theaters are getting all this advertising revenue, why don’t they pay ME to sit and watch this crap?

Even DVD’s have commercials now… with the “Menu” option conveniently suppressed so you can’t skip ‘em. The only thing that doesn’t have advertising on it today is toilet paper… and I have heard that it was seriously considered.

The joke ultimately will be on the media moguls and advertising wonks – Americans are losing ground, the middle class is shrinking. The people staring at TV’s are spending more of their hard-earned cash on housing, utilities, gasoline… corporate America is leeching the living blood out of their own consumers, if not outright just laying them off. People are increasingly unable to pony up the "disposable" income to afford the crap being pushed... provided they can even find the product within the deluge of advertising that assails our brains from all directions.

I’ll have more to say about this important issue… but first, a word from our sponsors.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Death awaits you all with nasty big pointy teeth.

The quotation, spoken by the wizard, Tim, from Monty Python’s “Search for the Holy Grail” reminds us that death for American prisoners awaits them at the pointy end of a hypodermic needle. Tim is not one of the US Supreme court justices, thankfully.

Our wise and just Supreme Court recently ruled 7 to 9 that death by lethal injection is legal according to our US Constitution. Justice Stevens agreed with the majority that the procedure itself, which was the basis of the court’s ruling, was not unconstitutional. However, the 88 year old justice added to his opinion: "the risk of executing innocent defendants can be entirely eliminated by treating any penalty more severe than life imprisonment without the possibility of parole as constitutionally excessive."

To my mind, I a nation that is apparently so strongly turning evangelical Christian, I find it the height of hypocrisy that these same people support the death penalty. But they do in droves. No cute little baby fetuses should die, but those nasty ugly criminals, well, nasty big pointy teeth await you all. Aren’t these the same religious zealots who want the Ten Commandments nailed to the walls of courtrooms? Right, I mentioned hypocrisy already in this paragraph. What would Jesus do? Have them drop their pants and turn the other
“cheek”, I guess. Ok Ok, I’ve made my hypocrisy point.

For the rest of us who are not mindless religious drones, our standing in free world as a bastion of justice and liberty should be an embarrassment. The countries with the highest executions for capital crimes in 2007 were (in order) China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, USA and Iraq. And the US numbers were actually down in 2007 as executions were placed “on hold” waiting for the Supreme Court decision. How proud we must be to stand shoulder-to-shoulder on this issue with other freedom-loving countries such as China, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. When I was a kid, my Mom wouldn’t allow me play with kids like that.

The truth is that the American justice system has had some rather remarkable and increasingly frequent “oops” moments. DNA or other exculpatory evidence is increasingly coming to light forcing the release of incorrectly convicted criminals. It seems like every month or so is yet another story about some guy who served 23 years in prison based on the testimony of a single hop-head spurred on by an overly-zealous prosecutor. It stands to reason that it is highly likely that this country has executed innocent people. Yes, I grant you that some of these innocents are pretty nasty guys; mean, tough, lying SOBs. I won’t any lose sleep over these guys spending the rest of their lives in prison.

Oh, but you say, the death penalty acts as a deterrent. This is the argument of a moron. Criminals in general either have lost, or never have developed, the capacity to project the consequences of their actions. Most are acts of impulse while others either believe, or don’t bother to put in the thought process, that they will ever get caught. Nobody stands there and ponders, “Hey, I better not stab this guy or I could get the death penalty”.

I would rather have the US join the ranks of the “civilized” countries - all of Europe, (including Turkey), Canada, Mexico, parts of South America, Australia; you know, the countries where Democracy rules!!

The fact is that anything we as a Nation say in any world forum is tainted by how we treat our own criminals at home. How can this country be the world spokesman for freedom, justice and equality when we kill our prisoners like totalitarian countries the likes Libya, Qatar, Cuba and Somalia?

The Statue of Liberty should be hanging her head in shame.


Monday, April 7, 2008

The perils of being an Infrequent Flyer.

I am not a frequent flier by any stretch of the imagination; a couple of times a year we maybe get to Hawaii, Mexico, or Southern California, sometimes East coast. So we know the drill; we get to the airport in sufficient time to have our baggage x-rayed and snake through security.

I used to be a horrible traveler (as my poor wife can attest); fully annoyed with all the “inefficiencies” of airline travel. I would gripe and groan. Then 9/11 happened and they torqued the process down so bad! Well, I gave up. Now I’m a sheep. I stand in line, take off my shoes, and go with the proverbial flow. I even play a game with the metal detector; I try to go through without “beeping”, tossing my keys, change, watch into my coat pocket and rolling my belt into my shoe. I even wear Dockers instead my 501 Levi’s (button fly) when I travel. Just to play the metal detector game. I usually win.

But the one thing I can’t seem to avoid is the “Profilers”. These are the guys who used to be $10.00/hr Managers at Taco Bell but now have graduated to $10.75/hr security screeners with the TSA. After attending the half-day seminar and receiving a crisp diploma from the laser printer, these highly trained experts are placed strategically in airport concourses to divine terrorists out of the passengers before they get on the plane.

I would really like to get my hands on a copy of the secret Homeland Security “profile” documents - I have little doubt that somewhere in there is a composite picture of me under which it reads: “Watch for a guy who looks like THIS!” I swear to God, it seems like I get pulled out of line EVERY GODDAM TIME for the “extra” screening. I end up being the last guy on the plane, walking down the aisle with my shoes in my hands, passengers looking at me like I am some kind of, what… terrorist.

You see, I have a beard. Well that alone is going to set off alarms in any security arena! Not since Abe Lincoln has any self-respecting government law-and-order type EVER sported a beard. A beard screams sedition, radical, non-conformist… potential “trouble-maker”. The jeans and a t-shirt just make it worse.

A decade before 9/11, when US airport security was more of a joke than it is today, I was the subject of a serious security check at London’s Stanstead airport. Changing planes on our way to Paris, our stay in England wasn’t expected to be more than 45 minutes. But, before boarding the plane for Paris, I was pulled out of line.

Two big Brit security guys had me lean against the wall by my hands, spread-eagle; one watched as the other patted me down… thoroughly. I was aghast; I had never experienced such strict security measures before, certainly never in an American airport. When I got on the plane I realized why this happened. This part of the Stanstead terminal was the Ryan Air concourse; flights between England and Ireland. I guessed that my Irish surname likely profiled me as a wealthy Irish-American funneling support to the IRA… who knows?

I have kind of gotten used to it now. It is all part of the incredible price we pay to get someplace in hours that used to take our parents days. But every time they (supposedly) “randomly” pull me out of line to empty my pockets it makes me a bit sad; and disappointed in our country - because the security people who are supposed to protect us are dumber than the people who would really do us harm. They won’t look twice at the clean-shaven business man type in the suit and tie - they'll let Mr. clean-cut stroll onto that plane and we will have another sad, sad day in history.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Big Oil and Slick Politicians

American oil companies made no effort to hide the fact that they made over $123 Billion in net (1) profit this last year. What a surprise.

These obscenely high profits, though, pale in the light that congress has bestowed on these robber-barons close to $18 Billion in tax breaks. You see, as the oil companies will explain it, if they don’t have the tax “incentives” how can they afford to reinvest in developing more sources of energy, or alternative energies for that matter?

Uh... well how about using SOME of the Goddam $123 Billion profit!?! Hey, Mr. CEO, remember from your freshman year Business 101 class; “profit” is the money you made AFTER your expenses... you know, the cash you get to take home to your wife.

Oh wait… using “profit” to pay for your private helicopter, the vacation house in Bimini and the diamond broach for your mistress doesn’t leave you much discretionary income left over to, say, lower your prices a bit or reinvest in your company. For that, you need ME, and the rest of working-schmuck America, to chip in and help you out. You need ME to pay more taxes so YOU don't have to. Right!

To its credit, Congress hauled the oil executives in front of hearings to have them explain this orgy of profit obscenity. Or was this action perhaps more of a dog-and-pony show for public consumption than any truly substantive effort to curb yet another display of corporate excess at consumer expense.

These congressional hearings brought to mind a memory from my childhood. My father was a Public Utility Commission staffer for the State of California. One time he took me to work with him on a day when they were having a trial. In this case, the State was trying to get the Southern Pacific railroad to install safety gates at a dangerous railroad crossing. I watched as the attorneys for Southern Pacific grilled my dad on the witness stand. The attorneys were very aggressive, forcing my dad to defend his position and attacking every iota of his testimony. I
worried, “These guys must really hate my dad!”

The judge interrupted the proceedings - the trial would continue after lunch break. As everyone packed their briefcases getting ready to head out, the same attorney who had been grilling my dad walked over, put his hand on my dad’s shoulder and amicably asked, “Well, Clyde, where do we want to go for lunch today?” I sat speechless as I watched my father and his adversaries laugh and talk like weekend buddies over lunch.

So I can picture, at the end of the congressional hearings about oil company profits, when the cameras ware switched off and the reporters leave, the oil company CEOs walking over to their supposed public inquisitors and asking, “Well, Senator, where would you like to go for lunch?”

So why are oil companies completely and totally unconcerned about disclosing their unrestrained bleeding of the American public? Because there is nothing anyone can, or will, do about it... and they know it!


Sunday, March 30, 2008

Do you have your form 27B-6?

If you haven’t seen the Terry Gilliam film, Brazil, you should. If you have, you need to see it again. Even though it was made in 1985, it comes frighteningly close to the terrorism-fearing run amuck bureaucracy neo-dictatorship that this country is quietly slipping into. In the Brazilian-future world, everyone is a terrorist, Christmas is celebrated four months of the year and nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can be done without the proper paperwork being completed, approved and stamped.

But I am going to take government off the hook for a moment and relate how even private business is not immune from bureaucratic paralysis. Case in point, my recent brief interaction with the shipping company, FedEx (Federal Express).

Our tenants moved out from one of our rental house recently. Arriving at the empty house to ready it for a new tenant one day, we noticed a package from the Dish Network “hidden” on the front porch. The FedEx delivery people do this often, leave a package on the front porch placing door mat over it, which I guess, they figure will camouflage it from any passer-by who might steal it. Now hiding a key or an envelope under the door mat might be a successful strategy… but a large cardboard package? Ok, whatever; we put the box in the garage and continued working on our rental house.

A few days later, FedEx delivered another identical package and, again, hid this one under the door mat also. We put that one in the garage too. Both boxes were labeled for delivery to our now moved former tenant.

Well, assuming that FedEx or Dish Network would want to know that their customer’s package did not reach the recipient, and being the nice guy that I am, I thought FedEx would appreciate my returning the packages to the local FedEx shipping facility just a short drive from our house.

I arrived at the FedEx building and carried the two boxes up to the small shipping counter. The woman clerk was helping another customer but turned and asked if she could help me. “No”, I said, “but I can probably help you”. I then explained that these boxes had been delivered to a property I own but where the intended recipient no longer lives. I fully expected a smile and a gracious “Thank you” from the customer service clerk for returning the packages to their care. Good deed done, I would be on my way.

But this is how it actually went down:
Woman FedEx clerk: Pointing at the label, “These are Home Delivery, we don’t handle these here.”

Me: “Well, I don’t really know how they are delivered but they were delivered to an empty house.”

Woman FedEx clerk: Using an unpleasant tone, “You are going to have to call Home Delivery”, we don’t handle these here, we handle air shipments only.”

By now, my mind is picturing the classic scene from Brazil: “This is Information Retrieval, we don’t give out information. You need to contact Information Disbursal”.

Me: thinking I don’t need to call anyone I’m neither the shipper nor the recipient! “Uh, this IS FedEx, right?”

Woman FedEx drone: “You have to call Home Delivery; we don’t handle Home Delivery here.”

Me: thinking now I should have just tossed these packages into a dumpster! “Look, lady, these aren’t from me, for me, I don’t have anything to do with these. They say FedEx... this is a FedEx office... do whatever you want with them.”

Leaving the packages on the counter, as I walk out the door, she yells at me: “YOU’RE LEAVING THEM IN THE WRONG PLACE”.

Driving away I wonder if I should have completed a form 27B/6! FedEx - Central Services: No difference!

There is clearly is no place for a Good Samaritan in a bureaucracy.
-- Just for laughs, The
Fedex Mission Statement. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Why Plead Ignorance?

Over a decade ago, 1992 to be exact, Donald Bartlett and James Steele published the book, “America, What Went Wrong”. The book is a treatise on the virtual gutting of our democracy by unrestrained corporate greed exercised through the exploitation of our political system.

The book catalogs how, over the previous decade, the salaries of those earning $200,000 to $1 million increased 697%, those earning over $1 million increased 2,184%, while the salaries of the working schmucks increased only 44%. That was in 1992 – what are that chances that things have improved, as we stare into the gaping maw of the 2008 recession?

This book, and others like it, hardly made a ripple in the public consciousness. They try to document, for an increasingly illiterate and disinterested population, the dismantling of our pension system, the skyrocketing increase in the medically uninsured and the systematic deconstruction of the American Middle Class.

We now live in an America where (1) over 41% of our population believes (still) that Saddam Hussein is responsible for the 9/11 attack on New York and Washington and almost half believe that (2) Biological Evolution is false because it contradicts the literal interpretation of the Bible.

This America, this great experiment in democracy as it was considered by our founding fathers, is poised on the brink of eminent failure. A do-nothing citizenry has opted out of participating in its destiny, instead blithely handing over our future to anyone who will do our thinking for us. To politicians and businessmen (frequently the same thing) who we will blindly follow as long as they continue to tell us what we want to hear: That everything’s alright and will be better tomorrow. We, the People, so desperately want to believe the lie.

I am a Baby Boomer, a child of the 1950’s. I grew up in a time of hope and progress. It was a time when we matured into an America that we thought could do better. We ended a war that our fathers started, sending their children to death in Viet Nam, based on a lie. We put a stop to the degradation of a part of our population denied full privilege of the American Dream because of the color of their skin. We freed sexuality from the darkness of myth and false morality and found a new way to love.

But the powers that spin this globe have become out of our control. Some of us lost our way and are part of the forces that now threaten to end our Great Experiment. Most of us are simply too busy trying to survive to see the bigger picture; we hang on, white-knuckled least we lose our grip and swept by the current into bankruptcy and poverty.

I believe that our generation, the Baby Boomers, will have been witness to the best time America has ever had, or ever will again, during its short history on this planet. But we Boomers are the lucky ones, we will be “checking out” about the time things get really bad. We are sad, for our kids and our grandkids. We don’t know if they will have the strength to pick up the pieces of America when it finally breaks.