Sunday, December 31, 2006

Out with the old and in with the new...

I've been away from the computer and TV for a couple of days, so haven't been following the news too closely, but did I hear that former president Gerald Ford had been hung for crimes against humanity? Come on, inflation was out of control during his term, and he did pardon that crook, Nixon, but why hang him now? Oh, well.

Sorry, that's the last bad joke of the year. Now, I've got to brush up on my New Year's Superstitions over at the Urban Legends page (

For instance, did you know that "The new year must not be seen in with empty cupboards, lest that be the way of things for the year. Larders must be topped up..." I guess that means I've got to go to the market today, as our fridge is quite empty following a 30 hour (+) power outage from Wednesday evening to Friday morning. And, while we were inspired by cleaning out the rotted food from the fridge, we went ahead and cleaned out the cabinets too.

More New Year's Superstitions:
  • Pay off your bills before the New Year.
  • "The first person to enter your home after the stroke of midnight will influence the year you're about to have."
  • Nothing leaves the house on the first day of the year, not even garbage!
  • Do something work related to guarantee success, but don't do too big a project because serious work is unlucky.
  • Wear new clothes on January 1.
  • Make a lot of noise at midnight, New Year's Eve, to scare the evil spirits away.
Learn more about the "rationale" for these, and other, superstitions at

Monday, December 25, 2006

Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Christmas Eve, holiday lights in Los Gatos, CA

New Year's resolutions are for sissies!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

"I will return!"

Sorry for the silence here on the blog, but I've been busy with family issues. Leslie had a bit of minor surgery on Monday, and my main priority now is to take care of her.

I'll be back with regular postings after the holidays, and hopefully get in a short post or two before then.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Is Global Warming Real? -- Who Cares?

This may come as a shock, but I've decided that I really don't care anymore whether or not the Theory of Global Warming turns out to be a fact or a mistake. Oh, I still care deeply about protecting the environment. I just don't care about global warming. Let me explain what led me to this realization.

Over the past few months a couple of my friends have pointed that while there is consensus in the scientific world around global warming, consensus is not the same thing as proof, and that the proof will only really come over a period of a century or so. Of course, other friends have found this heresy shocking. Shocking, I tell you!

Fact: The average annual temperature of the planet is on the rise.
Fact: Species are going extinct at an increasing pace.
Theory: Human actions have hastened these two events through the burning of fossil fuels and other practices, and we can make certain course corrections to slow down the pace of climate change.

Note, global warming is a theory. The planet's temperature naturally goes up and down over the eons. It has been much warmer than it is now, and it has been much cooler. Any visit to the natural history museum dinosaur exhibit will tell you that mass extinctions have also happened periodically during the planet's long life.

What is unknown, but is presented as fact by well-meaning individuals and groups, is the exact extent to which human actions cause or contribute to these otherwise natural cycles. And, again, I don't care. Here's why:

I think that the focus on global warming has done a great disservice to the environmental movement. By putting all our attention on a problem that we may or may not be able to witness, and may or may not be able to effect, and may or may not be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, we have lost focus on things we can see, things we can prove, and things we can effect.

We have the data to show the human health toll of burning certain fuels and dumping certain chemicals. We have shown that it is possible to restore habitats and clean the air and water through localized efforts. And we have the data to show the improvement in human (and animal) health when such environmental efforts are put into place.

These local efforts, where citizens can see and feel the effects of their actions - both positive and negative - are where the environmental movement should re-focus their energies. Because these efforts are real. And they add up.

If the Theory of Global Warming turns out to be a fact, then these small local efforts will combine to have the positive impact we need to slow it down. And, if the Theory turns out to have been an unnecessary scare, so what? We'll still know that we've done right by our communities.

Here's another little fact for you: Homo Sapiens will go extinct. It may be in the next ten years through our efforts at spreading democracy or God or whatever else we're fighting for. It may be in the next century by poisoning our planet. It may be in 100,000 years through the natural cycles of the planet. Whatever. But, sooner or later, we all join the dinosaurs.

Till then, the best we can do is to each take care of the little square of earth that we have dominion over. As a very wise person once told me, "Don't pi** in the water supply." Just remember that and we'll be alright.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Sleep Clinic - Follow-up

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my first visit to the sleep clinic. Following that night in the clinic I was officially diagnosed with Severe Obstructive Sleep Apnea. This last Monday night I made my second visit, this time to test out sleeping with a CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) device.

The CPAP is a machine that basically forces you to keep breathing by putting a continuous flow of air into your nose by way of a small mask (see picture at top right). Fun, huh? Here's the comparison of the data:

Full Stops: This is now many times I completely stop breathing during the night (apnea). Sleeping "normally" I had 228 full stops. With the CPAP only one.

Partial Stops: Sleeping normally, 65. With the CPAP, one.

Oxygen Saturation: The lowest reading on my blood oxygen level during the night. Normal, 74.5%. With CPAP, 94.6%.

"Respiratory Disturbance Index": The average number of apnea and hypopnea incidents per hour. Sleeping normally, 42.4. With the CPAP, 0.3.

So, obviously, a dramatic difference. By wearing the silly mask and air pump I sleep like a normal person and have a chance at actually experiencing a day without walking around like a freaking zombie from exhaustion.

I was given my CPAP machine today and will start sleeping with it at home tonight. (For those who know and care about these things, my setting is 10).

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Somebody Likes Me & The Lord Likes Visa

Well, I may never make WIRED magazine's list of the most influential bloggers, but Pam Ashlund of Boxter Heaven, the Nonprofit Eye, and others has called me her favorite blogger and written a very nice review of my various sites, including an incriminating link to a parody of a Prius jingle I wrote last summer. Thanks Pam! (And, yes, I'm a fan of her blogs too).

Are you tired of having to bring cash with you to church for the collection plate every Sunday? Well, a new company called SecureGive wants to change all that.

The idea started with Pastor Marty Baker of the Stevens Creek Community Church in Martinez, Georgia. A while back he installed A.T.M.s, or "automatic tithe machines," in the lobby of his church. "It's more than an A.T.M. for Jesus," says Baker. "It's about erasing barriers."

Erasing barriers and building funds, that is. Since the machines went in, donations have gone up 18%, with an average credit card gift of $100.

The machines are building funds for Baker and his wife, as well. They've started the SecureGive company to install the machines in churches nationwide - for $2-5,000 a pop, plus the monthly maintenance fees, of course.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Change One Thing

This is a story about about how the Internet brings people closer together. This is an example of why political borders are becoming increasingly insignificant. This is a demonstration of how a web 2.0 community like YouTube can be used to aid an individual or a family without the help of intermediary organizations or governments. Enough of an introduction, let's get on with it.

It begins more than six months ago in Australia, when the daughters of Ben and Amanda (YouTube username "Orbvious") were abducted by their birth father. He has kept them apart from their mother and step-father ever since. They've been running into roadblocks in the Australian legal and family court system, unable to find assistance. Amanda, of course, is wreck over this.

Ben wrote an email to Scottish singer-songwriter (and YouTuber) Peri Urban telling his tale. Peri was inspired to write a song for Ben and Amanda, which he posted on YouTube. This cheered Amanda up considerably.

That's when I stepped in and said, "If one song can cheer her up that much, what would fifty songs do?" And so, with Ben, Amanda, and Peri's permission, I started the "One Tube Group" on YouTube. We got our fifty songs, poems, and well wishers. We also got people from all over the globe to write letters on Ben and Amanda's behalf to the Australian authorities. And, we managed to raise a few dollars for their mounting expenses.

The video below is the latest part of this effort, and represents a great collaboration of the members of the OneTube group. Peri and I co-produced it, I wrote the bit of dialogue at the start, together we solicited clips from about thirty other members, and then Peri did the amazing work of writing and producing a new song and editing the entire thing into a cohesive whole.

Please take a look at the video, and if you are moved to join us, or read more about the situation, please visit us at The OneTube Challenge (on

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Are you a one-percenter?

What's the 1% rule? It's that in a web 2.0 community, 1% of the users will take leadership roles in creating new content, 10% will "interact" with it (comments, ratings, responses), and 89% will just sit back and enjoy the show.

Yahoo's Bradley Horowitz applies the 1% rule to Yahoo Groups:
"1% of the user population might start a group; 10% of the user population might participate actively, and actually author content, whether starting a thread or responding to a thread-in-progress; 100% of the user population benefits from the activities of the above groups."
All 100% benefit, but the work of the community is done by a very few at the top, and a small circle around them to offer encouragement and motivation.

How it works elsewhere:
  • 50% of all Wikipedia article edits are done by 0.7% of users, and more than 70% of all articles have been written by just 1.8% of all users.
  • On YouTube each day there are 100 million downloads and 65,000 uploads - or 1,538 downloads per upload.
I suppose all this makes me a one-percenter. I have created Yahoo Groups (as well as participated in others). I have both edited Wikipedia articles and written new ones. And, I have posted over 50 original videos to YouTube. Oh, yeah, and I'm an active blogger.

The conclusion, and lesson for would-be web-entrepreneurs? "Certainly, to echo Field of Dreams, if you build it, they will come. The trouble, as in real life, is finding the builders."

Friday, December 08, 2006

Are you a terrorist loving scum?

Have you taken the test yet? How much do you hate America and support the terrorists? I apparently, I support the evil-doers 96%...

Your 'Do You Want the Terrorists to Win' Score: 96%

You are a terrorist-loving, Bush-bashing, "blame America first"-crowd traitor. You are in league with evil-doers who hate our freedoms. By all counts you are a liberal, and as such cleary desire the terrorists to succeed and impose their harsh theocratic restrictions on us all. You are fit to be hung for treason! Luckily George Bush is tapping your internet connection and is now aware of your thought-crime. Have a nice day.... in Guantanamo!

Do You Want the Terrorists to Win?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Covering all the bases

I don't know exactly why, but I really found this marquee amusing.

(The Century 24 Theater, Winchester Blvd., San Jose, showing "Borat" and "The Nativity Story")

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Mary's baby and the hypocrisy of the right

To the fundamentalist right wing, Vice President Dick Cheney can do no wrong. He has championed all their causes, and fought all their foes - including those who would grant equal marriage rights to all or allow homosexual couples to adopt children.

Cheney has gladly led the anti-gay parade, despite the fact that his daughter, Mary, is a lesbian in a long-term relationship with another woman. Mary describes her partnership with Heather as "a marriage" despite the fact that they live in Virginia, which has a state law and a constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriage or civil unions.

With today's news that Mary (37) and Heather (45) are expecting a baby, the VP gets to again talk out of each side of his crooked mouth. Yes, Mary is pregnant (no word on who the father is, or how the pregnancy came about - insert your own David Crosby joke here), and the VP Dick and his wife, Lynn, have issued a statement saying that they are looking forward to their 6th grandchild.

Has Dick shown any leadership or daring by making a statement about how it's the fault of the religious right that this baby will be born out-of-wedlock? Any word on the hypocrisy that gives Heather no legal rights regarding her partner's child? Any plea to recognize the legitimacy of this 14-year relationship and their partnership in preparing to raise a child? Of course not.

Dick always has to have it both ways. He openly supports ands loves his daughter - as he should - all while playing political footsie with those who would damn her to Hell.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Cell phones and the end privacy

A couple of weeks ago we saw a great example of how the prevalence of cell phone cameras can be a great equalizer between the people and those in power when a UCLA student caught a video of campus police repeatedly tazing a student.

Of course, this is really nothing new. Think of the video of the Rodney King beating, and other examples going back at least a decade. The number of video capable devices in ordinary people's hands has grown by leaps and bounds since then, making these types of incidents all the more common.

We all now carry electronic devices that we can use to turn on others, and others can use to turn on us - both for good and bad results. That three members of the Kim family were rescued earlier this week (unfortunately, the father, James, was finally found, dead, today) from a frozen Oregon wilderness was in great part due to the ability track in on their cell phone when a friend sent them a text message.

The flip side of the same piece of technology is shown in this article: FBI taps cell phone mic as eavesdropping tool. I bet you didn't even know this was possible - that your cell company could flip a switch that would turn your phone into a bug even when you are not making a call.

The article shows how this technique was used to put surveillance on organized crime figures. I know, you're not a mobster, so you're not worried. But, in this age of national security paranoia, when the president can declare anybody he (dis)likes an "enemy combatant" and have them held indefinitely, it gets a whole lot scarier.

Then, just as I was finishing that article, I received this question by email:
I've been thinking.

It used to be that if you were going to do something wrong, the only people you had to worry about busting you were the police.

Now that every cell phone comes, inexplicably, equipped with a camera, ordinary citizens are doing a lot of the busting and going public with their videos on YouTube.

Is this constant threat of exposure a good thing?
My reply:

Double-edged sword -- It can be a great tool for democracy and people power by keeping the authorities in check -- But it can also be used by less upstanding people to destroy any concept of privacy.

Welcome to our brave new world.

Inequality grows - The middle shrinks

The election season is over, and we're well into the holiday gift buying frenzy. But here's a little food for thought while you're out there going further into debt to purchase landfill fodder for your loved ones.

Courtesy of Mother Jones magazine and the MoJo blog, a few statistics:
  • In 2005, there were 9 million American millionaires, a 62% increase since 2002.

  • Since 2000, the number of Americans living below the poverty line at any one time has steadily risen. Now 13% of all Americans—37 million—are officially poor.

  • Only 3% of students at the top 146 colleges come from families in the bottom income quartile; only 10% come from the bottom half.

  • Since 1983, college tuition has risen 115%. The maximum Pell Grant for low- and moderate-income college students has risen only 19%.

  • Bush's tax cuts give a 2-child family earning $1 million an extra $86,722—or Harvard tuition, room, board, and an iMac G5 for both kids.

  • Bush’s tax cuts (extended until 2010) save those earning between $20,000 and $30,000 an average of $10 a year, while those earning $1 million are saved $42,700.

  • 63% of federal housing subsidies go to households earning more than $77,000. 18% go to households earning less than $16,500.

  • Inner-city grocery stores sell milk for 43% more than suburban supermarkets.

  • If the $5.15 HOURLY minimum wage had risen at the same rate as CEO compensation since 1990, it would now stand at $23.03.

  • 10 former Enron directors agreed to pay shareholders a $13 million settlement—which is 10% of what they made by dumping stock while lying about the company’s health.

  • Poor Americans spend 1/4 of their income on residential energy costs.
Happy Holidays!

Sources: Income Inequality in the U.S.? Nah., Poor Losers, and A Look at the Numbers: How the Rich Get Richer.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Updates... YouTube, Highway 17 Music, & Apnea

Yesterday I had my first "featured" video on YouTube. A feature is when the YouTube staff chooses one of your videos to run on the front page of the site. With the thousands of videos posted every day, it's pretty much of an honor to be chosen, but it's hard to say what their criteria are.

I've done some videos there that I'm kind of proud of, and that I thought had a chance to be featured. No such luck.

The video of mine that they chose, in contrast, was a quickly thrown together joke. A Three Hour Tour - The Professor's Story is a Gilligan's Island parody in response to another 'Tuber's video. The last thing I would have expected them to feature.

And yet, it's not had over 112,000 views in the last 30 hours or so, and has increased my subscriber list from just over 240 to just under 300 (and still rising).


Update two has to do with my Highway 17 Music site. About a month ago I redesigned it as a guitar oriented blog, with lessons, tips, and resources for aspiring guitarists. I'm including a lot of videos and articles from other sources (with permission) for the expertise.


The results from my polysomnogram (overnight sleep study) are in...

The official diagnosis is that I have "severe obstructive sleep apnea." During my night hooked up to all the monitors I stopped breathing completely 228 times, and "nearly stopped" another 65 times, for 42.4 "disturbances" per hour, during which my blood oxygen levels fell as low as 74.5%.

Another problem is that even the sleep I did get, was not "the right kind." I spent 75.1% of my sleep in stages one and two (should be about 55%), 11.4% in stages three and four (should be about 25%), and only 13.5% in REM, or the deepest dream sleep (should be 20%).

I go in again next Monday for another overnight, this time to test the C-PAP - a machine and mask that essentially pumps air, forcing me to keep breathing. It turns out that the apnea may actually be contributing to some of my other complaints, such as reflux and tinnitus.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Round 14

Welcome to Round Fourteen of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Blogging 'till the secret police take us away.

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyFirst of all, I lied. I said I was going to take a break and not post the carnival again till after the new year... but the entries just kept on coming... and they were good... so, here we go again....

Jake Danger of Lunatic Wisdom presents George W. Bush - Forgive Him, For He Knows Not What He Does - Jake's analysis? Dubya does it all to impress Daddy.

Laura Young presents Is There a Buddha in the White House? - A kinder, gentler way to learn from the President.

Michael John Bertrand presents How to be a really terrible leader - "Any resemblances to people living, dead, or currently in power under dubious auspices is intentional."

Charles H. Green, the "Trusted Advisor," presents John McCain, Trust and Politics - "Can you, or can you not, speak truthfully and be elected?"

Madeleine Begun Kane (MadKane) presents Hack This Limerick - A small, but potent, description of the state of electronic voting.

As always, thank you to all who submitted excellent posts, and thank you for joining us on our semi-regular look at the decline of democracy (and occasionally hopeful responses to it).

Now... this time I really am taking a break... The next edition of the Carnival will be posted on Monday, January 8th,, 2007 with entries requested by Saturday, January 6th, at midnight. Submit your blog post for the New Year's edition of the carnival of the decline of democracy using our carnival submission form. More information on future carnivals can be found on our carnival home page.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Too late to learn cockfighting

I know you had your hopes up. I know you had dreams of being an international cockfighting star. I've seen you there, crying in the poultry aisle at the local supermarket, muttering to the packaged birds, "You coulda been some chicken. You coulda been a contender. Instead of a fryer, which is what you are."

It's too because the last remaining cockfight teacher in the U.S. is closing his school. Personally, I was surprised that there even was a cockfighting school. But, alas, I found out too late. 82-year-old cockfighting master Mike Ratliff is retiring. But, he claims that while the school may be going away, the sport is alive and well - despite laws against it in 47 states and complaints from the ASPCA.
"The whole world likes it. All of the South Pacific likes it. It's been a sport since the beginning of time. The Humane Society has pretty much knocked it in the head in the United States but they can't stop it in Mexico, Central America, the South Pacific and Hawaii. It's the national sport in those countries. You aren't going to get rid of it in the United States as long as you have Mexicans and other Latin Americans. They love it.

"The whole world wants me to teach them. I've had the pleasure of teaching every nationality in the world. I'm the only man in the history of competitive cockfighting who's ever taught a class. For 40 years I tried to find someone else to teach classes. It's so competitive that nobody else will share their secrets."
And, yes, he does mean competitive. A good cockfighter (the trainer, not the bird) can earn $10-20,000 in a single night. But, damn, who'll teach me how now?

(NOTE - Before you leave nasty comments, I'm kidding about wanting to be a cockfighter. It's cruel and disgusting. I just found the story interesting.)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

What's your terror risk assessment?

No, I'm not asking for your assessment of the risk of terror, I'm asking what the official assessment of the risk that you are a terrorist.

Don't know your risk assessment, or ATS (Automated Targeting System), score? The government does. Well, at least, they do if you travel into or out of the U.S. Your assessment computed based on such factors as where you are from, how you paid for your tickets, your motor vehicle records, your history of one-way travel, your seating preference, and what kind of meal you ordered.

So, if you paid cash for your one-way ticket, asked for a seat up front and a Kosher meal, you might just find yourself stopped at the gate, pulled out for extra questioning, and possibly barred from traveling completely (the new system covers air, land, and sea transportation).

This is different than the previous lists we've heard of, filled with miss-spelled names of "known" terrorists. These watch lists have kept infants with suspicious names from boarding flights in the past. But to barred from flying now, they don't need to already know your name. You just need to match the correct profile.

And don't bother asking Homeland Security for a copy of your assessment. You're not allowed to see it. It's a state secret and a matter of national security. Your score is available, however, to any government agency or private contractor who's thinking of hiring you needs to persuaded not to. But they don't have to tell you that the ATS assessment is why you lost the job. That would be a breach of national security.

"Never before in American history has our government gotten into the business of creating mass 'risk assessment' ratings of its own citizens," said Barry Steinhardt, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, in the under-statement of the year.

Oh, and we may be just learning about the ATS assessments now, but they're nothing new. The system was developed in the 1990's, and all airlines and cruise companies have been required to "send the government electronic data in advance on all passengers and crew bound into or out of the country" since 2002.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Seinfeld - the lost episode

Sorry I haven't written every day as usual. Been busy on other projects, and the continuing health sagas.

Meanwhile, check out this lost episode of Seinfeld for some insight into Michael Richards' recent outburst...
Turns out, Kramer's always had a racism problem...

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A visit to the sleep clinic...

This lovely picture is how I looked as I got ready to go to bed last night at the sleep disorders clinic for my polysomnogram (an overnight sleep study). There are 28 sensors attached to me, including two on each leg, one on my left index finger, several on my chest and back, and a whole bunch all over my head.

Among the measures they were checking were brain waves, breathing patterns, blood oxygen levels, and leg movement. The reason for the visit is many years of disruptive snoring, lack of "rested feeling" in the morning, and likely Sleep Apnea.

I arrived at the clinic at 8 PM and immediately changed into my sleep clothes. From about 8:30 - 9:30 the technician hooked me up. She was very good and professional, and it's not really as uncomfortable as it looks. A little stifling, but not at all painful. The little control box you see hanging around my neck gets hung by the bed post when I finally get into the bed.

It's a private room, with a TV, so once I was hooked up and plugged into the bed I watched Heroes and Studio 60 till lights out just after 11 PM. Falling asleep was a bit difficult, as that's when I had the only real discomfort with the sensors behind my ears pinching just a bit.

I did not sleep well. Even worse than normal. But, that's really not too surprising. It's also not really a problem, as they wouldn't really get the data they need if I had had a "good" night.

The technician woke me up at 6:30 and it took about 1/2 hour to get everything un-hooked before I could get showered and dressed.

I will go in on Thursday to discuss the detailed results and diagnosis with the Doctor, but the technician's "unofficial" observations were that I did stop breathing several times during the night (Apnea) which caused my blood oxygen to dip. There was also some leg movement that might indicate RLS (Restless Leg Syndrome).

I'll post again when the next course of action is determined. Most likely it will be another sleepover to test out using a C-PAP machine, which is basically a mask and pump that forces air into my lungs and forcing me to breath through the night.

(NOTE: I sometimes question posting these personal, medical issues on the blog. I do it because over time, these are the posts that end up being most popular. While the political stuff looses its relevance very quickly, people are always looking for information on health problems and looking for other people who've been through it. These posts aren't for everybody, but they are important.)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

The veal of the forest?

An acquaintance of mine posted on his blog that Christmas trees are "the veal of forestry." Now, am I missing something, or is this just about the most ridiculous thing you've heard in long while?

First... I love forests. I live in a forest. I support our local anti-logging coalition that is working to protect the hillside and watershed in which I live. I want to maintain the natural environment of the Santa Cruz mountains from over-development. But to come out against Christmas trees? WTF?

Veal, of course, is young beef. The methods of raising veal are often considered cruel and inhumane. Personally, I choose not to eat veal. I'm not a vegetarian, but this is one animal product I opt out of. But that is not the topic of this post.

I assume that the comparison of Christmas trees to veal is to demonstrate how cruel it is cut down baby trees and never give them the opportunity to grow into giant redwoods and firs. In other words; a load of horse shit.

The vast majority of Christmas trees come from Christmas tree farms. These farms are an excellent example of sustainable agriculture. It is no more cruel to cut a five-year-old tree than it is to cut a five-week-old head of lettuce, cut flowers, or cut any other plant product that is cultivated and farmed for human consumption.

In the area where I live, there are many Christmas tree farms. These businesses help to keep this area in open space and out of development. They care for the land, practice good fire and flood prevention, and help prevent the surrounding forest from being clear-cut.

The Christmas tree farms are an important part of the local economy that helps us maintain a sense of "country living" ten minutes outside of Silicon Valley. They are not indiscriminately chopping down old growth trees, or killing the forest in any way, shape, or form.

This is ridiculous that I, a liberal Jew who has never bought a Christmas tree in my life, have to come to the defense of the Christmas tree industry. Seriously, I do not care if you buy a real tree or a plastic one or no tree at all.

But... if you are going to choose a plastic Christmas tree, do it because of the fire danger of keeping a dried-out tree next to your fireplace. Don't choose plastic because you think you're saving the forest. That's just plain silly.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Oops, I've said too much...

Something we've all known forever, but don't usually think enough about, is that the web is a 'global memory bank'. In other words: Watch what you upload. This, according to Gerry McGovern, an "expert on managing web content," and author of the new book "Killer Web Content." (Thanks to Nalts for the link).

I've heard this warning before, that I say too much, that my words will come back to bite me in the ass, that I really shouldn't make an ass out of myself on YouTube quite as often as I do, etc., etc. But, you know, I really don't care.

I've just never been able to get excited or scared of that possibility, real as it may be. The bottom line is that no matter how careful you are in choosing what you put out publicly, somebody is not going to like it, or is going to misunderstand it, or going to deliberately twist into something you didn't mean.

Favorite example: When Upton Sinclair was running for governor of California (1930s), his opponents used quotes from characters in his books to make him look bad. Every book has a villain, and those villainous quotes were rotten. When his opponents got lazy, they also used quotes from books by Sinclair Lewis. Same effect. Doesn't matter that it was fictional quotes from another writer.

So, you can either refrain from ever putting anything in print (or video or audio tape or etc.), or you can just live your life and deal with the fallout. I made my choice long ago and it's too late to stop now.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


"He was very good at letting actors think that they had more control than they actually did." -- Tommy Lee Jones

Film director Robert Altman, dead at 81. Altman was like no other filmmaker. Others can put together great ensemble casts, and allow them the freedom to improvise, but nobody can then put that chaos back into a narrative form quite the way that he did.

From M*A*S*H, to Nashville, to Prairie Home Companion, these titles are well known. I loved each of them, but also The Player, A Wedding, McCabe and Mrs. Miller, The Long Goodbye, and so many more.

There are very few great directors working anymore. People who could put their imprint on a film from behind the camera in such a way that you know directed it without even asking. Hollywood is full of very competent, but interchangeable, professional hacks. Robert Altman was filmmaker of the first class.

Monday, November 20, 2006

The Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Round Thirteen

Welcome to Round Thirteen of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Blogging 'till the secret police take us away.

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyPhil for Humanity presents Lobbyists Rule America - "Wake up America!" says Phil, the lobbyists are in charge and they don't represent you or me.

David, The Good Human, presents After Six Long Years..... Bush no more - I wish I could be as optimistic as David is.

Bill Losapio presents The Hegelian Relief Valve - "The decline of real freedom and liberty is planned." I hate to say it, but I've had similar thoughts.

Gracchi presents The Virtues of Democracy - "Democracy is not a system for providing perfect government but for providing legitimacy." And therein lies the rub.

Abu Sahajj, Wa Salaam, presents American Criticisms of Democracy - The electoral college is the antithesis of democracy.

John, Hell's Handmaiden, presents Bent out of shape over the elections - "... why Third Parties in the United States aren't going to get very far anytime soon. In a word… myopia."

Barry Leiba, Staring at Empty Pages, presents I see no bipartisan Bush here - Don't expect the new, friendly, compromising Bush to last past Thanksgiving.

Satire Department:

Madeleine Begun Kane presents Bush and Cheney's Blunderland - A song parody to the tune of Winter Wonderland.

Jon Swift presents Election Proves Voting Is Irrational - "Can voters really be trusted? There is quite a bit of evidence that they don't really know what they're doing."

Avant News presents Top GOP Losers Reconsider Suicide PAC - DOH! News of the future.

As always, thank you to all who submitted excellent posts. There's simply no way I could include them all and still make this something you'd want to read. Editing is tough, but hopefully what's left here is well worth your reading.

Thank you for joining us on our bi-weekly look at the decline of democracy (and occasionally hopeful responses to it). I'll be taking a break from posting the carnival for a bit (probably through the holidays/end of the year). More information on future carnivals (when they are announced) will be posted here and on the carnival home page.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Here's your Patriot Act!"

Just in case you thought everything was peachy now that the "good guys" won the election last week...

You may have seen clips of this on your local news yesterday, but it doesn't even get at the impact of the full seven minute video:

Briefly: A UCLA student who "just happened to look Middle-Eastern" was asked for his ID while studying in the Powell Library. He did not have it with him, and so was asked to leave. He took his time packing up his stuff, but was on his way out when the campus police returned and grabbed him by the arm. He said he was leaving and asked to be un-handed.

Then they tazed him. Repeatedly. Once he was on the floor, completely incapacitated, the police demanded that he stand up. When he was unable to stand (yes, repeated tazings can make it impossible to stand for about 15 minutes), they tazed him several more times.

Bystanders who asked for the cop's badge numbers were told to shut up or they'd be tazed.

Read about the incident in UCLA's student paper, the Daily Bruin.

Why I love technology: A cellphone camera and a YouTube account brought this abuse of power direct to the public. Without it, the incident would have been a back-page local story about a few college students "claiming" that the police were rude.

As long as we've got our tech-toys, the fascists can't win.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Introducing the Goldstein Gate Bridge!

Yesterday's story about O.J. Simpson publishing a book in which he fictionalizes his murdering Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman was pretty darn offensive. Well, here's something that's offensive in an entirely different way: The district board of directors for San Francisco's famous Golden Gate Bridge are expected to start taking bids from potential corporate sponsors.

I am willing to reluctantly accept the re-naming of privately owned sports and concert venues in honor of their corporate benefactors, but publicly owned landmarks are quite another thing. This is commercialism and corporatism at its worst.

Bridge spokeswoman Mary Currie is very careful to point out that there will be no new name signs attached directly to the bridge (or toll booths) itself:
"This is not a naming rights deal. It's more of a behind-the-scenes, low-key, corporate partnership, much like the Proud Partners Program in the national parks."
If you're not familiar with the "Proud Partners Program", they're the ones responsible for signs saying "This trail brought to you by Ford" in our historic national parks. My personal opinion? Hiking trails with ads for Ford are offensive in nature preserves supposedly paid for by my tax dollars.

Back when the U.S. manned space program was started, it was based in Cape Canaveral, Florida. After the death of President Kennedy, it was re-named Cape Kennedy to honor his support of the space program. Local residents rebelled. They successfully argued that the Cape Canaveral name had historical significance. The areas is now the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral. A reasonable compromise.

This was the precedent I remembered years ago when Candlestick Park was re-named for a corporate sponsor. Candlestick was named because the piece of land it was built on had been referred to as the Candlestick for well over a century. But corporate interests won out over historical memory.

The Golden Gate Bridge is also named after a geographic feature, and not the color of the paint as is usually assumed. Settlers had always referred to that section of land and bay, from the top of the SF Peninsula across to the Marin Headlands, where the Pacific flows into the great inland sea of the SF Bay, as the "Golden Gate."

So, here's my plan to fight back. I want to sponsor the bridge. I figure most people will hardly even notice the change in name from "Golden Gate" to "Goldstein Gate." I'll need to go in with a bid of at least $5 million. Now, obviously, I don't have $5 million available.

If you'd like to help out, you can use PayPal to send me your donations. Just send whatever you can and mark the donation "Buy a Bridge for Freedom!" Thanks for your help.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

OJ Confesses! ... NOT

Did O.J. Simpson kill his ex-wife and her friend? He's denied it for years (cleared in criminal court, but found liable in civil court), but his new book is being considered his thinly veiled confession.

The book, If I Did It, comes out at the end of the month, coinciding with a two-part interview on Fox TV.
Fox, which plans to air an interview with Simpson Nov. 27 and 29, said Simpson describes how he would have committed the 1994 slayings of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman, "if he were the one responsible."
Ever the responsible broadcaster, Fox is.

Simpson's attorney, Yale Galanter, also says it's not a confession, and that there is "only one chapter that deals with their deaths and that chapter, in my understanding, has a disclaimer that it's complete fiction."

The publisher (Judith Regan), however, contradicts Galanter, saying, "This is an historic case, and I consider this his confession."

Actually, it wouldn't really matter at this point if he did confess "for real" - Laws against double jeopardy would prevent him from being prosecuted again for the same crime. Unless, that is, he confessed to killing a third person...

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The expanding definition of disability

Is being morbidly obese a disability?

In some cases, I might agree that it is, but when Stephen Grindle (405 lbs) sued his former employer for unlawful termination, the judge ruled that "morbid obesity ... does not have a physiological cause [and] is not a disability under ADA."

I think what's missing here is testimony from a doctor about what caused Mr. Grindle's obesity. It may have been simple, voluntary over-eating. But, in the case of morbid obesity, I think there may, in fact, be a physiological cause that is beyond the person's control. In such a case, I could see including obesity as a disability.

What about being too short?

Lack of height is certainly not voluntary, and it can certainly be inconvenient, but does it truly limit one's life choices and opportunities in the ways other, recognized disabilities do?

A growing group of advocates think shortness is, in fact, a disability. What do you think? Is this going too far?

Monday, November 13, 2006

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Lawsuit Against Filmmaker

Over the weekend, Leslie and I saw Borat (we were not alone, it was the top grossing picture). We found it incredibly offensive and loved every minute of it.

We first became aware of Sacha Baron Cohen and his characters on a visit to New York a couple of years ago. We went to a taping of Letterman and "Ali G" was one of the guests. We don't have HBO, so have not followed his series closely, but have always enjoyed the clips and guest shots we have been able to see, and so were looking forward to the movie. That the picture was directed by the brilliant Larry Charles, who wrote many great Seinfeld episodes and is one of the main writers/directors behind Curb Your Enthusiasm, was just icing on the cake for us.

Key to Baron Cohen's comedy is that he uses documentary techniques to do improv with people who were expecting a serious interview. In this way, he throws the interviewee off guard and gets at their true, honest opinions on things they wouldn't have otherwise discussed. He is outrageous and shocking in order to peel back the masks that most people wear in public and expose their dark underside.

As I said, it's offensive and disgusting and positively brilliant. ...

... But not everybody agrees with the "brilliant" part of that.

Among those who don't appreciate the humor of Borat are those who agreed to participate in the film, actually believing they were meeting a reporter from Kazakhstan, not a comedian from London. And, now that the picture is making millions of dollars, they're all planning on suing.

The racist frat boys who gave Borat a ride in "their" RV for a drunken discussion about the benefits of slavery and why it sucks to be a white man in America claim they would never have agreed to be filmed if they knew the movie would be shown in America. And, in good Mel Gibson style, say they would never have lamented the passing of slavery if they were sober.

The residents of the Romanian village that stood in for Borat's Kazakh home are upset as well. Their complaint is that the village, which has no indoor plumbing and in which only four people have full-time employment, was made to look backward and poor. They've never been so humiliated, they say. Well, not everyone... Says local vice-mayor Petre Buzea, "They got paid so I am sure they are happy. These gipsies will even kill their own father for money."

(Read more about the pending lawsuits and Borat bashers at Will Video for Food. - Not everybody is suing: Humor and public speaking coach Pat Haggerty enjoyed the movie.)

Now, it's not that I'm completely unsympathetic to the "victims" of Sacha Baron Cohen's comedy. They were not told the truth about who they were meeting, and how the footage would be used. A certain amount of deception was used in getting them to agree to be on film.

But... they signed the releases. And, more significantly, what they said was their own. None of the racist, sexist, or anti-Semitic comments made by the frat boys (or the guy at the rodeo, or the dinner party, etc.) were read from a script. These people all willingly exposed themselves for what they truly are. Once the cameras were rolling, they were pleased to be able to explain to this poor backward foreigner how America had been destroyed by blacks, Jews, and other undesirables.

With regard to the residents of Glod, Romania, (Glod, by the way, literally translates to "mud") a commenter on This is London put it best:
Does anyone find it significant that if it were not for this movie being made, no would have ever given a damn about the poverty and suffering that existed in this town before Sacha Barron Cohen ever knew it existed? Hurt pride? Misrepresented? These people are clearly in great need. What about the conditions that make it possible for such a town to exist in the first place?
Good point, but it's much easier to point the finger at a comedian (and ask for some of his money) than to admit to either the pervasive racism in our society or our indifference to world poverty.

And maybe, just maybe, that's what Sacha Baron Cohen was pointing out in the first place. See the movie, and help a poor Romanian villager.

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Friday, November 10, 2006

Entering the danger zone...

Why the rush to announce Donald Rumsfeld's successor so quickly after the elections? Because the only way to get Robert Gates confirmed as the new Secretary of Defense is to push his through nomination through the lame duck Republican Congress.

They've re-introduced Gates as a warm, cuddly guy who is careful and thoughtful and a buddy to all. But that veneer might not stand up to a confirmation hearing in the new Democratic Congress heading our way in January.

As Mother Jones' MoJoBlog reminds us:
Gates escaped indictment in Iran-Contra amidst indications he was lying to cover up his own role in the affair. The independent counsel who investigated the scandal, Lawrence Walsh, says in his own memoir he did not believe Gates' professed innocence. There is the suggestion of perjury in his testimony, which was replete with numerous lapses of memory and profuse apologies for not having more carefully considered the policy implications of this secret, unconstitutional war.
Beyond Gates, who knows what else the unaccountable, outward bound Congress will try to slip through in the next month or so before they recess for the holidays?

Do not think that just because the election is over we can take a break from the role of Constitutional watchdog. This Congress has shown itself to be a danger to liberty, and now they've got nobody to answer to. The time for vigilance is now.

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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why am I such a killjoy?

Over the last two days many people have called or emailed me about the mid-term election results and then been shocked that I'm not as jubilant as I'm apparently supposed to be. I've been accused of bringing people down with my gosh-darned attachment to reality.

Look. I'm thrilled that Rummy is on the way out. But Bob Gates is no savior. Fresh blood is good, but Gates is cut from the same cloth as everybody else in the Bush camp.

I'm very pleased with the results in the House of Representatives, and am looking forward to the leadership of Nancy Pelosi. Hopefully they will keep the administration in check without over-reaching (more about that in a second) and bringing nothing new but the return of legislative gridlock.

The results in the Senate, however, leave me completely un-impressed. With George Allen's apparent defeat in Virginia (it ain't quite over yet), it gives the Democrats a whopping majority of one. But, considering that "majority" includes such hawks as Joe Lieberman and Hillary Clinton (et. al.), I'm not throwing any parties yet.

Yes, Clinton the hawk. All the right-wing commentators are preparing for the 2008 Presidential race by trying to paint her as being "the far left of the Democratic party." What a joke. If Hillary is the "far left" then you can start calling me Trotsky.

They're doing this for two reasons. First is to scare off any other Democratic contenders from really reaching to the left for ideas or support, thus further marginalizing the already marginalized left. Second is to start painting her as "out of the mainstream" and un-electible because she is the Democratic nominee presumptive (at least to this point).

Okay, let's ago back a point or two, to where I cautioned against "over stepping" by the Democratic House. This is not because I wouldn't be a major cheerleader for some real progressive reform. It is because I don't want them to ask for everything, get nothing, and turn the keys to Congress back over to the far right in just two years. I'd rather that they pace themselves, wait for a President who might sign one or two of their proposals, and then go for the guts.

In other words, I don't think Tuesday's results were a mandate for all things left-of-center. I wish it were, but that ain't the case. It was a mandate to find a way out of Iraq, bring an end to corruption and cronyism, and put some focus back on domestic issues.

A raise of the minimum wage can be done. Insuring more children can be done (an incremental step to universal health). Fixing (but not replacing) No Child Left Behind can be done. Some progress can be made on environmental issues. And that's about it.

Oh, and in case you're wondering, I'm against impeachment. Yeah, you heard me: against impeachment. Not that Bush & Cheney don't deserve it, but that would take up the entire term and leave nothing else accomplished.

Besides, impeachment is too good for them. Their crimes against humanity rise to the level treason. I say, let them finish their term, then try them for trampling on the Constitution and committing war crimes.

Impeachment only leads to disgrace. We can hang people for treason.

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Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Mission Accomplished?

Yesterday, Americans voted for a new House of Representatives, and - possibly (recounts to come) - Senate. The biggest loser, however, wasn't even on the ballot. No, I'm not talking about the President, I'm talking about Defense Secretary Donnie Rumsfeld.

Yes, it's official, Bush has announced that Rummy will soon be replaced by former CIA director Robert Robo-Cop Gates. He claims to have made the decision before the election - even while proclaiming as late as last week that Rummy would be around as long as Bush were around.

Wait... Does that mean Bush is resigning too? No. Too much to wish for.

But, at least the message of yesterday's election was not lost on the White House. For this President to accomplish anything over his final two years in office he's going to have to work with a Democratic House (and an evenly split Senate).

This is a great sign, and a hopeful step toward getting us out of Iraq. Let's hope the cooperation and good choices continue.

Another huge loser yesterday who was on the ballot: Phil Angelides, Democratic candidate for Governor in California.

He must feel like the biggest idiot in America today. Yesterday, while Democrats were replacing Republican Congressmen and Governors across the country, and the word "incumbent" was treated as if it were poison, Phil managed to lose in a landslide to the sitting Republican Governor of California, Ahhnold Schwartzenegger.

What a jerk.

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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Still a lot of work to be done

Today is garbage day. No, that's not a metaphor about the elections, it's just a reminder that I've got to take out the barrels.

Yes, today is also election day, and we progressives, liberals, and other anti-Bushites can cast our ballots and then hope for a needed turnaround in at least the House of Representatives, and possibly the Senate, but no matter how successful we are, it's hardly the end of the current reign of terror.

If the House turns around, it still leaves Republicans in control of 2-1/2 of the 3 branches of government. Even with the Senate also turning, we've still got two more years of Bush/Cheney & Co. and Lord knows now many years till we can effect some changes on the Supreme Court.

Yes, we hope for the best news at the end of the day when all the votes are counted (and that the people's voice is heard, not Diebold's), but even the best possible result is only the beginning of reclaiming our nation.

The Democrats of today are only marginally better than the Republicans, and there's no guarantee that they'll have the leadership ability needed to stand up to W on the full range of issues, from Iraq to gay marriage to health care to global warming to restoring the Bill of Rights.

Many of us are wondering this morning what types of dirty tricks may be played to keep people from voting, or to keep their votes from being counted.

If you encounter any voting irregularities or attempts to prevent voting, call this number immediately to report it: 1-866-OUR-VOTE.

Already (8 AM, PST) there are problems being reported, with voters being turned away in Florida, and machine problems leading to long lines in Pennsylvania. Check for more updates throughout the day.

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Monday, November 06, 2006

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Round 12

Welcome to Round Twelve of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Blogging 'till the secret police take us away.

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyThe Business Travel Hillbilly starts us off with A Prayer for Owen Meany & The Draft, where he uses one of my favorite books to make an excellent point about why Bush/Cheney can't afford a draft.

Bill Losapio presents Will He Appoint His Favorite Cow to Pro Tempore?. The Bush-Caligula comparison is certainly new, and actually makes some sense as Bill presents it.

John Buehler of Rebuilding Eden presents So, You Want a Better Government. "You want a better Government? Build it yourself!" I like that idea.

John of the Largest Minority presents The WASP Nests: How the Biggest Terrorist Caches Ever Found Were Buried. The WMDs we found were not being held by Islamic terrorists. Homegrown terrorism and the great cover-up.

mw of Divided We Stand presents Fifty - Fifty ... as divided as it gets. At least one person is anxiously hoping tomorrow's outcome leads to a draw.

John of Hell's Handmaiden presents Bush Fights to Limits Rights. Remember, "Our rights are not derived from the Constitution but the Constitution from them... That is, whatever is not specifically limited by the Constitution is protected by it."

In the humor department, Avant News presents Prez Pardons - Your one-stop shop for George W. Bush Presidential Pardons. You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll be motivated to get out and vote Tuesday morning.

And, on your way to the polls, you can sing this little song by Madeleine Begun Kane: The "He Misled?" Song Parody (Sing to the Mr. Ed theme song).

As always, thank you to all who submitted excellent posts. There's simply no way I could include them all and still make this something you'd want to read. Editing is tough, but hopefully what's left here is well worth your reading.

Thank you for joining us on our bi-weekly look at the decline of democracy (and occasionally hopeful responses to it). The next edition of the Carnival will be posted on Monday, November 20th, with entries requested by Saturday, November 18th, at midnight. This will be the Post-Election edition, so keep that in mind when submitting!

Submit your blog post for the Post-Election edition of the carnival of the decline of democracy using our carnival submission form. More information on future carnivals can be found on our carnival home page.

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Sunday, November 05, 2006

Saddam sentenced; everybody lives happily ever after

The Iraqi tribunal has now formally sentenced Saddam Hussein to hang for his crimes against humanity, specifically, the massacre 148 Shiites in a single town in 1982.

Now before you start get your cynicism up to speed on this lovely Sunday morning before the mid-term elections - an election widely seen as a referendum on the Bush presidency - the timing of this verdict a total coincidence:
The White House praised the Iraqi judicial system and denied the U.S. had been "scheming" for the verdict.
See? Just a coincidence. Tony Snow said so to the reporters.

But before you get too excited about the prospect of some public hangings being plastered all over your TV screens, consider how the Iraqis are going to handle this news. Because, in much of that country, Saddam's sentencing is only serving to highlight the sectarian differences that are leading Iraq into Civil War. They're unimpressed with a verdict in a 24-year-old massacre when a similar number of Iraqis are being killed there daily. Says one Iraqi:
"So they sentenced him to death for the killings that happened when he was a president. Who is going to sentence the leaders now for the everyday killings that are happening in the country?"

Others questioned whether Saddam's death would bring back vital services like electricity and clean drinking water and, above all, stability and security to Iraq.

"Things were difficult under Saddam, we understand why. But now what is their excuse? Why can't we have electricity? Security? Why can't we have proper schools for our children?"
The White House is going to try to spin this into an excuse for declaring victory repeatedly - at least until the polls close on Tuesday evening - but it could actually be one of the most dangerous moments in Iraq yet.

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Saturday, November 04, 2006

Confession is good for the soul

"Okay, I admit it. I called the gay prostitute, but only to get a massage. I didn't know happy endings were part of the deal. And, sure, I called him back and bought the drugs, but only to be nice (it was a great massage). And anyway, I tossed the drugs in the trash. It was just to prove that I could resist the temptation. I resisted, so get off my ass. Gotta go now..."

Sure, that's not the exact quote, but that's approximately the text of Reverend Ted Haggard's alibi in his little gay sex and drugs scandal. Now, I personally don't give a rat's ass if he did what he's accused of or not. My problem this morning is with Haggard's critics who say he should have "practiced what he preached."

See, I think that's backwards. Telling him to practice what he preaches says that being a homosexual is wrong and that he should have kept those urges buried and prayed for hetero urges.

Here's the thing: I think he should have preached what he practiced. Imagine an evangelical preacher actually reaching out to the gay community and inviting them to worship.

Would a fundamentalist church that was open to all, regardless of "life-style choices" survive? I'm not gay, and I'm not a Christian, but I bet there would be a market for such a church.

"Practice what you preach" is pure hypocrisy. Go ahead and preach what you practice.

And don't forget to click here and tell me what an idiot I am for saying that.

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Friday, November 03, 2006

What's at stake

This weekend a lot of bloggers are going to be coming at you with attempts to convince you to vote one way or another next Tuesday. I'm not going to do that.

By this point you know what's going on, and you know whether you like it or not. I doubt there are many Americans who are paying any attention at all (and if you're reading this, you're paying a certain amount of attention) who are seriously confused as to their feelings on the current administration's policies.

The only question is, do you want a rubber stamp Congress that gives this president free reign to continue as he has been, or do you want to have a Congress that might (and I emphasize might) stand up to him and actually do the job of checking and balancing?

Either way, whichever direction you prefer, this is going to be a close one. If ever there was an election to sit out and not bother voting, this is NOT the one. There's no room for fence-sitting this year.

You know what needs to be done - Now go out there and do it.

I'm still asking for your feedback on this blog - click here for my reader survey - thanks!

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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Online community burnout

According to the SF Chronicle, a lot of people are getting burnt out on social networking sites such as MySpace, YouTube, Friendster, Facebook, etc. The article states that
...even as the phenomenon continues to swell, the effort to maintain an active social life on the Web is taking its toll. Some have grown tired of what once was novel. Some feel bombarded by unsolicited messages, friend requests and advertisements. And some are cutting back.

This suggests that as much as people want to connect through the Internet, the practice also can have the opposite effect: social networking fatigue.
I think there is some validity to that, and a lot of it is caused by mismanagement of those online communities.

I was very interested in MySpace for a short while as a social networking platform, but quickly tired of it. Not because the concept is flawed, or that it doesn't work, but because of the lack of controls. Either the system is over-run with spammers, or there are an awful lot of 18 year old girls who are anxious to be my friend so that they can share their private, naked web-cam photos with me.

Another point of the article is that while we may be interested in trying out each different networking platform that comes along, we basically only have the attention span to really participate in one and still have some sort of off-line life. For me, the one is currently YouTube. First off, every "friend" request and subscription I've received there is genuine: no spam. And mostly, I just love seeing the people I'm communicating with. For me, YouTube works as an online community at least as well, if not better than, any other I've been a part of.

The part of the article I disagree with is a quote from Fred Stutzman, an Internet entrepreneur and graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill:
"Social networking Web sites are relevant to people at different times in their lives," Stutzman said. "The more structure you have in your life, the less you need it as a crutch to understand the world around you. You already know what your friends are like. It's fun to look up their profile once in a while and check up on people, but it's not something you need every day."

Yet even as one group outgrows it, another comes on board. "There's a whole generation, a younger subset, coming in," Stutzman said. "There is an exodus that goes on, but there are a ton of people just a couple of years younger who have those same needs."
There are two bones I'd like to pick with Mr. Stutzman. The first is that social networking sites are some sort of "crutch" for people with unstructured lives (or, implied, no life). The second is the implication that it is something normal people outgrow and that they are really just for younger (unstructured) people.

My situation is that I work at home, alone. I can go many days in a row and the only person I speak with face-to-face is my wife. Having "conversations" with my new YouTube friends is not to make up for a lack of structure in my life. It's a substitute for the office water-cooler or coffee pot. In a "normal" work situation, I'd get my mid-day breaks and interaction with these traditional methods. Using YouTube is not a symptom of my social disorder; it's a symptom of my being human.

Now, I'm a "shut-in by choice." I chose to be a writer/consultant and give up the daily contact and interaction that a regular job brings. There are many people, however, who are shut-ins by no choice of their own. Health or other issues entrap them in their own homes. For them these social networking sites are the greatest technological innovations since home grocery delivery. It has literally saved the lives, or at least the sanity, of people around the world. This is nothing they want to outgrow and leave to a younger generation.

Okay, off my soapbox. I love online communities; it's a bit of an obsession of mine, has been for many years.

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Horror Story - The Voting Dead!

Yes, my children, it's Halloween... when the dead walk the earth, beg for candy, and often try to vote!

Huh? Try to vote? Here's one of my favorite "true" voting dead stories:

Back when Lyndon Johnson was in one of his first Congressional campaigns he and his aids were "registering voters" in the local cemetery. One of the staffers got frustrated with an old tombstone that had eroded past the point of legibility and started to move on to the next grave.

LBJ pointed him right back to the offending marker and told him, "Son, that man has just as much a right to vote as any one else in this cemetery."

Much as I love that story, and often tell it as if it's verifiably true, I know that as legends go it's probably much embellished.

So to are many modern Voting Dead stories. Justin Levitt, an Associate Counsel in the Democracy Program of the Brennan Center for Justice, writes in about Raising the Dead Voter Hoax. While these stories tend to be very popular this time of year, Levitt explains that these accounts are typically without much basis, greatly exaggerated, and used to create a distrust of the democratic process and politics in general:
When the deceased show up in unfounded reports of election fraud, it's not just good holiday entertainment. Indeed, a recent status report on an investigation of voter fraud under the auspices of the bipartisan federal Election Assistance Commission noted the large number of unsupported fraud claims in recent stories, and cited allegations that the unfounded charges were "an effort to scare people away from the voting process."
So, what's wrong with these stories? They're kind of fun, and certainly don't hurt anybody, right? Well, these stories are not so harmless when they're used to justify legislation that could make voting more difficult and possibly disenfranchise legitimate voters. Levitt continues:
For example, consider the recent voter-ID legislation passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and justified in substantial part by dead-voter stories. ... This new bill would instead confront the illusory dead-voter problem by placing a new burden on the electorate: all citizens would be required to show government-issued documentary identification with a photo and proof of citizenship before voting.

It is appropriate that the bill was first sponsored by Representative Hyde - a name with substantial Halloween resonance - because it would have some truly ghoulish effects. At the moment, only a passport or a driver's license from one of three states would satisfy Hyde's standards. Any voter without the magic documents - even those citizens legitimately voting for years or decades - would suddenly find the doors of the polling place mysteriously shut.
Now there's your Halloween horror story. Boo!

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Monday, October 30, 2006

I'll believe it when it happens

There's been much anticipatory celebrating about the seemingly apparent end of the Republican controlled Congress. Personally, I don't care what the polls say; it ain't over till the fat lady sings.

Some pundits have been asking why Rove and company are still talking as if they're going to hold on to both houses of Congress. I'll tell you why, and it has nothing to do with conspiracies or pre-programmed votes hiding in Diebold machines. It's simple, lazy, human nature.

Sure, we all say we want to throw the bums out. We always say that to pollsters, it's nothing new to this year or this election. But once we enter the voting booth, most of us still stick with "our guy." What we meant when we talked to the pollsters was, "throw all the other bums out.

So, next Tuesday, when you go to cast your ballot, I don't care if you vote for a Democrat. Just don't vote for a Republican. Consider really throwing the bums out. Vote Green, vote Libertarian, vote Reform, vote Democrat if you have to, just don't vote for more of the same.

And, yes, it's going to be more of the same with Republicans in control. Just because the administration is backing away from the phrase "stay the course" doesn't mean that their policies or goals have changed any toward the war in Iraq. There's no plan on the table to end our involvement, only more abstract goals without penalties for the Iraqi's to meet. More of the same. Staying the course.

Reminder: Next Monday will be the special pre-election edition of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - You can submit your article by clicking here and filling out the form.

And... If you haven't filled out my reader survey yet, please click here to give me your opinion on this blog. Only nine quick questions... Thanks!

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Friday, October 27, 2006

Random Quotes Friday

"I think I am too sarcastic to believe in myself." - Friedrich Nietzsche

"In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not." - Lawrence Peter "Yogi" Berra

"To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards out of men" - Abraham Lincoln

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier - just so long I'm the dictator." - George W. Bush, December 18, 2000

"You can only be young once. But you can always be immature." - Dave Barry

"Please fill out my reader survey, it's only nine questions, just click here, I beg of you." - Me

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Thursday, October 26, 2006

Fun with Dick and Chains - "A no brainer"

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyIn an interview on Tuesday, vice president Dick Cheney finally admitted that the U.S. does use water-boarding as an interrogation method. The method involves securing a suspect to a table or board that is angled with the head lower than the feet, and then either dunking them into water, or pouring water over their faces, preferably with the face wrapped in cloth or cellophane. This causes the suspect to gag and choke and feel like they're about to drown.

But don't worry about whether or not this is inhumane or dangerous; the VP has assured us that this is not torture.

In the interview on Tuesday with WDAY Radio in Fargo, N.D., host Scott Hennen asked Cheney, "Would you agree that a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?"

The VP then replied, "It's a no-brainer for me, but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president 'for torture.' We don't torture. That's not what we're involved in."

Now, that seems pretty clear that he was asked about water-boarding, and replied in the affirmative, but apparently I may have mis-interpreted the response. Luckily, Lee Ann McBride, a spokesperson for Cheney, was able to clear it up:
"What the vice president was referring to was an interrogation program without torture. The vice president never goes into what may or may not be techniques or methods of questioning."
Thanks for the clarification there, Lee Ann. Being tricked into admitting you use a certain technique by answering a direct question is not the same thing as admitting it. Kind of like when somebody who's being tortured admits to anything just to get the torture to stop.

Meanwhile, Cheney's old buddies at Halliburton are up to their old tricks again. This time they're submitting bills to the government for their contract work in Iraq that included 55% in overhead. But I'm sure it's all legit. They wouldn't be awarded no-bid contracts if they weren't on the level, right?

Think I'm an ass for posting this? Tell me by filling out my reader survey. - Click here to give me the what for.

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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Charity is better than sex!

Well... maybe not better, but at least as good!

Researchers, writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, have scientifically proven that charitable giving activates the brain's reward center. Known as the mesolimbic pathway, the reward center is responsible for the euphoria associated with sex, money, food, and drugs.

So, how will you react this holiday season when you start receiving solicitation letters promising an orgasmic experience in return for your donation? Will you open up and give like you've never given before?

You know what else feels good? Helping a blogger improve his work by answering the nine short questions on his reader survey - Click here to find out how good it feels!

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Introducing Uncle Joe Bile...

Your Uncle Joe Bile shares his views on the upcoming mid-term election, the Mark Foley sex scandal, the Iraq war, and other issues...

I'm still hoping to get more feedback about this blog. Click here to take my reader survey - only 9 quick questions - Thank you!

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Monday, October 23, 2006

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Round 11

Welcome to Round Eleven of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Blogging 'till the secret police take us away.

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyHell's Handmaiden presents Time to Choose Sides - We start off with an examination of how the torture bill clashes with our Jeffersonian view of individual rights.

Phil for Humanity presents Do Not Elect Wealthy Politicians - An innovative approach to rebuilding democracy, but where do we find the non-rich candidates to vote for?

Bill Losapio presents What we can do as individuals to begin regaining our freedom - A libertarian point-of-view that doesn't include voting...

Largest Minority presents Sunnis Establish an Islamic Republic Inside Iraq - Details on our failure to establish democracy, as promised, in Iraq.

We Stand Divided presents Third in line - What says "decline of democracy" better than graft that would make Boss Tweed blush?

Madeleine Begun Kane presents Trade Deficit, Budget Deficit, Truth Deficit - An entertaining poem on the decline of truth concludes this week's carnival.

Thank you for joining us on our bi-weekly look at the decline of democracy (and occasionally hopeful responses to it). The next edition of the Carnival will be posted on Monday, November 6th, with entries requested by Saturday, November 4th, at midnight. This will be the Election Eve edition, so keep that in mind when submitting!

Submit your blog post for the Election Eve edition of the carnival of the decline of democracy using our carnival submission form. More information on future carnivals can be found on our carnival home page.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

Friday Follow-up

In follow up to Wednesday's posting, about the letter warning Southern California Latinos not vote... The letter was sent out by the campaign of Republican candidates Tan Nguyen and arrests will be forthcoming.

Nguyen has fired the staff person responsible, and claims not to have known the content of the letter, despite having called the mailing house to expedite it's delivery. 14,000 of the letters went out, in all.

Also, this week I've been asking readers to respond to a short (9 question) survey. Your answers will help me improve this blog. Click here to submit your input.

Yesterday I mentioned that over 4,000 people had watched my Is the President Always Right? video on YouTube. In the last 24 hours, that number has nearly doubled. This blog, on the other hand, averages about 75 visitors each day, meaning that the 24 hour increase in video views is equal to three-and-a-half months of blog visitors. For those who are keeping score.

Finally, for the truly entertainment starved, order your Burger King Halloween masks today, go trick-or-treating at McDonald's.

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Thursday, October 19, 2006

Response to "The President is Always Right"

The other day, my blog entry here was a video that I made called, "Is the President Always Right?" It has been viewed by over 4,000 people so far on YouTube, and has generated quite a few comments, as I'm sure you can imagine.

Most of the comments have been supportive, and in agreement with the point of the video. Then there are a handful of the predictable haters ... lots of implications about my sexuality, or comparisons to certain parts of the female anatomy, but very little real debate. I appreciate the supporters, and ignore the haters who just like to see their names on the page.

But what really disturbed me, however, was a comment made by a user called goldrushnumber1:
i think bush is a good guy, just not the person i want leading my country, but i think the reason bush got re elected is because kerry wanted gay marrige and bush is aginst it, and i would rather the country get blown up with 1000 nukeular bombs than to have my children raised thinking homosexuality is OK... (my opinion, sorry if this offends anyone)
What gets me is that goldrushnumber1 actually sounds like a reasonable guy. He doesn't curse, or make aspersions about my motivations, sanity, or lifestyle. He recognizes that his opinion is no better or more valid than mine, and apologizes for any offense. Only the spelling gives him away as not being very bright.

The spelling, and that other thing ... He'd prefer Armageddon to civil rights for homosexuals. 1,000 "nukeular" [sic] bombs would pretty much destroy this nation. The bombs we'd release in return (in whatever little time we had to do it in) would destroy a couple more nations. The radioactive clouds all these explosions would send around the globe would take out a few more. Then chaos, starvation, etc., until the end of days. So, yes, Armageddon.

Is goldrushnumber1 such a true believer that he thinks this could be a good thing? Hastening the Rapture by selecting a leader who is likely to bring about Armageddon?

I really don't want to say anything nasty about goldrushnumber1 as a person. As outrageous as I find his views, I appreciate that he was polite in expressing them, and I want to return that courtesy. I'm just trying to understand the thought process.

Select one:
A) Global nuclear war.
B) Respecting other people's private lives.

Which would you choose?

Click here to take my Blog Satisfaction Survey - Only 9 questions!

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