Wednesday, July 30, 2003

As you know, I just returned from Las Vegas, so I'm not a person who is normally against a little innocent gambling fun, and as you also know, I'm not a big fan of the BushCo administration, but even I'm a little shocked and dismayed by stupidity of their latest scheme.

The Mid-East Terror Market Future Betting Plan would have set up an online gambling site where "players" could wager on the likelihood of assassinations, bombings, and other fun activities. The idiots behind the site? None other than your government; specifically DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Pentagon).

The Big Idea was that our "intelligence" community could interpret the likelihood of such events by seeing how the odds on them would change. They wouldn't worry about long-shots, but when something got close to even odds, they'd get into defensive mode. After all, markets are perfect, aren't they? Buyers and traders wouldn't invest their money where they have a low expectation of getting it back, right?

Let's just leave aside for a moment the absolute vileness of your government encouraging people to bet on other's misery. Let's instead think about the very real possibility of encouraging assassinations to collect on a bet. Or, how about the fact that terrorists would have inside information and be able to game the system? Example: public enemy number one, Osama bin Laden, sees that certain a certain action is a long-shot. He places the bet, has the means to get the job done, then collects his winnings money (from your government) and uses that to finance more actions against us!

Congress, in a rare act bi-partisan intelligence (which is rarer? Bi-partisanship or intelligence?) has wisely put a stop to this $8 million mistake. But, now that the idea is out there, you know some enterprising young dot-com genious is going to make a reality.

DARPA press release cancelling FutureMAP (pdf)
Yahoo! news story about Congress' reaction

Sunday, July 27, 2003

We just returned from three + days in Las Vegas. Great trip, once we got there, very tired now. A few highlights, to possibly be expanded upon later:

BB King & Jeff Beck co-headlining a great concert. Two legends, each performing brilliantly. BB King, especially, was brilliant. That 77-year-old diabetic with the bad knees can Rock circles around any punk 1/3 his age. This was one of the best shows I've seen in years. The warm-up acts were a mixed bag, however. Mofro was great, and I wanted to hear more. Galactic were pretentious pretenders who just wasted my time.

Beyond the "real concert" we went for, there were countless free lounge acts wherever we went, most not worth discussing. The one that was actually seriously entertaining (in a good way) was Soul Desire at NYNY. The one that was most entertaining (in a Vegas-y campy way) was Big Elvis at the Barbary Coast. Now weighing in at 550 pounds (no exageration; that number is from his press materials), he is the world's large Elvis impersonator, and claims that he just may be Elvis' love child (but his mother isn't talking). The worst was the sorry, no-talent musical "comedian" at the Tropicana (didn't even bother to catch his name) who sang joke lyrics to a Karaoke machine. Example of his best: to the tune of Eric Clapton's version of Cocaine, he sang "Rogaine" while trying to do a comb-over.

Of the dinners (and we did a lot of eating - it seemed this trip was not so much about gambling, but about eating and drinking), the best by far was at the Voodoo Lounge at the Rio. If fine dining and Vegas seems like it should be and oxymoron, check out Voodoo and change your mind.

Only bad time was the flight there. The flight from San Jose to Las Vegas is scheduled for about an hour and a quarter. It took us a little over four hours on Thursday. We had a bumpy approach, but that sometimes happens over the dessert due to high winds. This was a little different and got very rough. From the left side of the plane we had a clear blue summer's day. On the right, however, a solid wall of brown dust was moving closer and closer, with thick dark coulds obscuring any sight of daylight (it was about 11 AM).

When we were probably within a quarter mile of the runway, we felt the engines kick in, and we were heading back up. We tried the second approach from another angle, this time getting with a hundred feet or so of touching ground, when again we aborted and took off for re-evaluation. Circling the town, we could see that the Strip was now totally covered by the storm, which now included clouds looking ready to burst with lightning. Looking to my left, I saw that the woman across the isle from me had used her little white toss-up bag. I don't believe she was the only one.

We circled, started a couple of approaches, and circled some more. Finally, we returned to California and landed at Ontario (near Palm Springs) to re-fuel and wait out the weather. For nearly an hour we sat in Ontario, not being allowed to de-plane. At least they let have more soda and peanuts. The return flight to Las Vegas was less eventful, except for that moment when we crossed the wake of another plane a little too close and were thrown violently off course for a moment.

The worst flight of my memory, followed by a wonderful few days (we met up with some old friends there, and had lots of pool-side and bar-side recreation) that was way too short.

Anyway, home now, tired, and with 185 emails to review and delete (and that's before looking at my work email). Perhaps I'll post more details about the trip later.

Big Elvis at the Barbary Coast

Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Forbes Magazine reports that Cisco Systems has suspended its matching gifts program due to new anti-terrorism guidelines. Matching gifts programs typically work like this: an employee (usually of a large company) writes a check to their favorite charity and the company makes a donation of the same amount. It allows the company to get a tax deduction based on the staff's priorities, and the employees get to increase the power of their charitable donations.

Cisco's move was in reaction to new guidelines from the U.S. Treasury Department making companies responsible if their matching gifts end up going to support an organization that may be funneling money to terrorists in other countries. "The [Cisco] Foundation doesn't want to have to be a watchdog," says a spokeswoman. Last year Cisco's matching program was responsible for adding nearly $3 million to nonprofit funding. If other corporations follow suit, this could mean a major funding hit for nonprofits that was quietly ushered through under the name of fighting terrorism.

(International donations, by the way, are less than 2% of total giving. Even that number is over-stated, based on the large donations of a few large donors, such as George Soros, Ted Turner, and Bill Gates. Cisco could have fixed any potential problem by modifying their program to exclude foreign organizations.)

The Forbes article can be accessed at Cisco's (short) notice is available on their web site.

Monday, July 21, 2003

"GameToFame is an Internet photo game that people are playing using pictures of themselves. The goal of the game is to try and use the Internet to make people famous." Sound stupid enough? Stupid, yes, but, of course, also tempting.

Click on my profile and help make me famous (you'll love the picture I chose to post). "Think YOU could be famous, too? Why not signup and play the GameToFame yourself?"

Friday, July 18, 2003

San Jose Uber Alles?

According to William Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, "...times change and we're talking about a new century and a new economy, and I think San Jose is on the forefront of that." What's it all about? The Census Bureau has officialy (and quietly) changed the way they refer to the Bay Area to the "San Jose-San Francisco-Oakland metropolitan area." Finally, 13 years after San Jose passed San Francisco in population, the South Bay has made it to top billing.
Is the end in sight? Is it possible we might get rid of Bush Jr. even before next year's elections? Will he go down in defeat in 2004 because of his lies? If he's re-elected, will the whole thing blow wide open and lead to his impeachment in 2005?

Mark Morford's column (SF Chronicle) takes a wonderfully sarcastic look at the situation in Nothing Left To Lie About: With BushCo reaming the nation on just about every possible front, is implosion imminent?. Morford includes an excellent list of the lies that may prove to be impeachable offenses.

And, just in case you think it's only us Bay Area leftist wackos who are thinking impeachment, here's a more mainstream (and less sarcastic) source: Democratic presidential candidate Bob Graham says that leading the nation to war under false pretenses is an impeachable offence.

Ready to get in on the act yourself? Vote to impeach online.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

I think I've mentioned before that one of my online writing groups is organizing Authors for Charity book signing events for this coming October. The idea is that we will hold book signings nationwide, and all dedicate our royalties from the day to local nonprofit organizations. Hopefully, we raise a little money for good causes, promote the organizations, and sell a few of our books.

Anyway, I'm the "Silicon Valley coordinator" for Authors for Charity, and I've just secured our date and site. Write this down: It will be at the Learning Game store, at Stevens Creek & De Anza, in Cupertino. The date will be Saturday, October 11, 2003, from 2 to 4 PM.

The charity I've designated to receive funds from the Cupertino event is Future Families. They do adoption and foster home services in the Bay Area, and, as I've mentioned before, I'm on their board of directors. Their services specialize in the hard-to-place abused kids, and go beyond simple placements to including therapeutic services (see this article from a couple of months back for more information).

The book I'll be signing, of course, is Aaron's Intifada and Other Short Stories. For those of you who can't get to Cupertino in October, check the Authors for Charity site for other locations nationwide. Meanwhile, if you buy my book online between now and October 31, I'll donate $1.50 to Future Families.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

You don't have to be a moron to visit, you just have to enjoy reading about morons. Like Pat Robertson's asking for divine intervention to get the Supreme Court for striking down Texas' sodomy laws.

Also on is a little quiz on "Who Said It? McCarthy or Ashcroft?" Test your historical memory as you compare quotes and try to figure out which are about communists and which are about terrorists. I got 12 out of 14 correct (85%), but really, I was just guessing on a lot of them.

Friday, July 11, 2003

Having troubles finding weapons of mass destruction? Well, you're not the only one. Click here for the funniest link on the web. Or, if you like, go to google, type in "weapons of mass destruction" (with the quotes), and click the "I feel lucky" button.

Monday, July 07, 2003

What's wrong with you? A few weeks ago I commented on the survey showing that 40 million Americans are hopelesly depressed and refuse to do admit it, much less do anything about it. Now, in case you didn't fit the warning signs of depression (I did), we have a new "disease" to worry about, and keep us drugged: Adult ADD & ADHD.

Yes, in case you missed out on all that Ritalin action as a kid, it's now never too late to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). Could this be you? Take the test now and find out! (I failed the test: no ADD for me, darn it).

Don't let the fact that the test is sponsored by a pharmaceutical company bother you. After all, we didn't let that get in the way of our enjoyment of the depression survey. No, just keep taking these online tests and sooner or later we'll find a mental ailment that requires your being drugged.

"Our goal: Everybody on mind meds by 2004! It's the only way to re-elect Bush!"

Friday, July 04, 2003

"Is it the Fourth?" (Thomas Jefferson's last words, July 4, 1826).

Really. Is it? I love this holiday, but it gets harder and harder each year to admit it, or to celebrate it publicly. We have no idea yet what our plans for the day are. There's a community pot-luck b-b-q, but we haven't decided yet whether or not we're going.

How about something to make us proud to be Americans again? How about a New Declaration of Independence? I hereby declare myself independent of the propoganda and nationalistic jingoism that permeats our nation today. I hereby declare my brain a spin-free zone of independent thinking. I hereby declare myself independent of the mass media and pollsters. I hereby declare myself an adult, and able to make own decisions and still respect other independent adults with whom I disagree. I hereby declare myself independent of your opinion of me, whether positive or negative, particularly if you choose to question my love of this country just because I acknowledge that the president is a moron.

Of course, we'll also need a New Declaration of Dependence to go along with that. We hereby declare that we are a community of individuals who are dependent upon one another for security, comfort, entertainment, commerce, and a healthy debate on the future of our country. We depend on each other to help raise our families, and take care of us when we're no longer able to do so ourselves. We depend on each other to respect our diverse opinions and realize that vigorous, open, public debate is the base upon which our democracy was built.

To give you some time to think about the above, I've added a new page on my site for your quiet contemplation.

Thursday, July 03, 2003

Bush "concerned" about jobless rate rise, according to While House apologist Ari Fleischer (didn't he quit? When is he leaving?).

In case you didn't realize it, the 30,000 jobs lost in June were a good thing. Apparantly, they're part of the recovery! Says Fleischer, "We are also an economy that is having a slow recovery from that short and shallow recession and that's further evidenced in today's unemployment report." Yes, 30,000 jobs lost, but we're in a "slow recovery" - the recession is over.

Meanwhile, the real good news is that, as Abe Lincoln said (sort of), you can fool most of the people during the time they're watching corporate TV news, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. Yes, the latest poll shows that the majority in US believes Bush 'stretched truth' about Iraq. Okay, I would have said outright lied, but I'll take "stretched truth" as an improvement over blind acceptance.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003

Jazz flutist Herbie Mann dies at 73

If "Memphis Underground" is not in your music collection, go out right now and get it, put it on, close your eyes, and find out where fusion began. This most incredible disc melded jazz with R&B and was just the beginning of the explorations and experiments that characterized the career of Herbie Mann.

Tuesday, July 01, 2003

Is religious discrimination in hiring now okay? What about other kinds of discrimination? Under what conditions can an organization say, "We don't like to hire Jews or queers?" According to the C-Student-in-Charge, it's when the organization is taking your tax dollars to deliver a federally sponsored social program.

Since the whole "Faith-Based Initiatives" began (started with the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, but accellerated under Bush), this has been a serious question. Religious organizations have always been exempt from fair-hiring laws when it came to their private actions. But, as contractors to the federal government when taking tax dollars for social programs, they're obligated to follow the law. Because of that, many church groups have been reluctant to take part in this particular give away.

Shrub to the rescue: Bush Says Religious Charities Should Be Allowed to Discriminate. "The Washington Post reported June 25 that President Bush is urging Congress to pass legislation ensuring 'religious hiring rights.'"

I have no problem with the exemption when it comes to basic church functions. A baptist church shouldn't be obligated to consider hiring a Jewish minister. I think we all agree with that. But, when a church (or temple or mosque or ...) goes outside its congregation to offer social services to the general community (food, shelter, clothes, job coaching, health care, etc.) they have two choices:
1) They can do it privately with their own money, donated by the congregation, and keep their employment law exemptions, or,
2) They can accept public money (federal or state), and follow the same rules as any other government contractor. Once they sign the contract they become the representative of the government, and any discrimination is reflected upon all of us.

Don't like the red tape? Don't want to deal with the bureaucracy? Don't want to have to hire employees based on their qualifications only? Then don't take my money. Nobody's forcing these groups to apply for these funds. Being a government contractor is optional. Just don't discriminate in my name.

Twitter Feed