Sunday, April 30, 2006

No SPAM From Me!

Over the last week or so it has become clear that somebody has hijacked one of my domain names ( to send out a ton of SPAM. I've only become aware of it because some of the emails sent have bounced back to me.

The addresses are not from "me" (ie: "ken@..."), they are from random names and the email addresses are gibberish (ie: "aqrmt@..."). I have notified my domain name registrar ( to see what can be done about this spoofing of my domain name.

In the meantime, I apologize to anybody who has received these SPAM messages. I hate SPAM. I hate getting it, and I certainly didn't send it. And I especially hate somebody giving the impression that I would have anything to do with this.

Thank you for your patience while I get this straightened out. As my old friend and co-worker, Fernando B., used to say, "I was framed!"

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Saturday, April 29, 2006

What Have You Done Today to Save the Internet?

Seriously, what have you done? That's okay, I haven't done much either. Except that, once again, we can't assume that this little free speech thing we've got going here is going to go on forever.

Check out for more information, but there's some pending legislation in Congress that would give the large media companies the ability to censor what you get to see online.

This is not a party-line vote, either. Groups on the left and the right are joined together in fighting this attack on the first amendment. From the site:
Gun Owners of America's Craig Fields puts it best, "In a very, very strange situation, what we have is the necessity of government intervention to ensure a free marketplace of ideas. Whenever you see people from the far left and the far right joining together about something that Congress is getting ready to do, it's been my experience that what Congress is getting ready to do is basically un-American."
Okay, not a source I normally go to for my political opinions, but the man is right on this one.

Check the link, read up on the issue, and do what you can to preserve "Network Neutrality." Or would you rather be reading only what AT&T wants you to read?

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Social Security Where Art Thou?

A couple of days ago I posted about loophole in the Social Security rules that screws people who also have a pension from a public sector job (teacher, fire fighter, police officer). Some of you probably yawned and thought, "What's he worried about? Social Security will be bankrupt for all of us by 2041."

We've been hearing that magic number - 2041 - for a few years now, but how accurate is it? As of right now, the Social Security Trust Fund continues to grow, both from payroll contributions and from the interest earned. Current retirees are paid from our current payroll taxes before the rest of your deduction goes into the trust. The "crisis" begins in 2018 (estimate) when the number of retirees reaches the point that we have to start withdrawing from the Trust. By various estimates, if there are no changes in either payroll taxes or Social Security benefits, the Trust will be emptied out sometime between 2041 and 2052.

If we do nothing to prevent this "crisis" we will still be able to pay at least 70% of Social Security benefits after the Trust is gone. We can easily avert the crisis if sometime between now and 2041 we do some combination of a) raising Social Security payroll taxes, b) lowering benefit levels for future retirees, and/or c) using other sources to pay out Social Security benefits (different tax, borrowing).

Oh, and if we accept privitization as the solution, the "crisis" begins on day one because there will be less money going into the fund than there will be coming out, and the "bankrupt" moment will come as soon as 2025, not 2041.

Those who want to privitize Social Security do not want to save it. These are the same groups who have been trying to eliminate Social Security since it began. They have taken advantage of a real need for minor reform to paint a picture of a crisis that simply isn't there in order to achieve their goals.

Read up on the facts at

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Thursday, April 27, 2006

Voices from the Past

At the top right of this page you'll see a link in the Blogger tool bar that says "Next Blog." occasionally, when I have a little time to kill and it's late enough in the day that I can no longer use my brain for any thing constructive, I start clicking there and play Blogger roulette.

I was doing that Sunday evening when I saw a reference to "Shelly at Zebra Entertainment" on somebody's page. It stopped me a moment as back in high school, 27+ years ago, I knew a Shelly who, along with another friend, started a company called Zebra Entertainment. A quick Google search and a couple of clicks later I was sending a short email to say hello and see if was really her.

We've had a couple of phone calls this week to catch up and it's been fairly interesting and just a little bit weird. We probably last saw each other around 1982 or 1983, just about the time that she got married. That's got to be the longest I've lost touch with somebody and then accidentally crossed paths with them again.

She's now called a couple of our other friends who I've been in touch with to continue the reunion. With as much as all of us have changed, moved, grown, and adapted over the years, she's remarkably the same. Only the addition of a few kids sets her apart from the Shelly I last saw 23 years ago.

I'm not sure what to think of that. Has she stagnated all this time? Or was she just that much more put together and ready for life than us guys she hung out with? She seems to be mostly happy with her life, and that's the important part.

NOTE (added 4/28): I need to clarify a point in that last paragraph about "stagnation." I wrote that thinking of the outward trappings of a fictional character who we don't see from age 22 to 44, but still lives in the same place, with the same mate, and doing the same thing for a living. Our friend has certainly grown in many ways that are less immediately apparent, but in a story we'd say "something's got to be different besides the age."

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Government Pension Offsets and Windfall Elimination

Although my wife has been in teaching for many years now, we only learned of the "Windfall Elimination Provision" a couple of weeks ago. It is essentially a ridiculous law that unfairly penalizes teachers, firefighters, and other public employees by not allowing them the same Social Security survivor's rights as any other American.

This law is close to being repealed with bi-partisan support, but Congress needs a little push to get them to finish the job. The following is the text of a letter that I have sent to each of my representatives in Washington, DC:
I have worked hard all my life, and have tried to be responsible about planning for retirement. Part of that planning for myself and my wife included the Social Security benefits that I have earned.

Had my wife spent her career in the private sector, she would be entitled to my Social Security Survivor's Benefit upon my death along with her own retirement savings. But, my wife is a teacher, and her retirement is in the form of PERS, a public pension. Or, rather, a publicly managed pension, but one into which she has paid through payroll deductions from her earnings. PERS is not an "entitlement", it is a part of her wages.

Current law considers that the Social Security that I have earned would be an unfair "windfall" to her. In the event of my death, she would have only her PERS - not enough to live on.

Public employees like educators, police officers, and firefighters should not suffer a penalty for dedicating their lives to public services. They have earned their pension, and should not be denied the same survivor rights and benefits as any other American.

The Social Security Government Pension Offset and Windfall Elimination Provision take away some retired public employees' benefits that they - or their spouses - have earned, often forcing them into poverty.

At a time of national teacher shortage, the GPO and WEP discourage talented people from entering the teaching profession.

Please support legislation (H.R. 147/S. 619) to repeal the Social Security Government Pension Offset/Windfall Elimination Provision.
For more information, and to take action yourself, see the NEA web site. Thanks for your help.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2006

California 2006 or Alabama 1956?

"Prominent Latino leaders in California on Tuesday played down death threats apparently sparked by the divisive debate over illegal immigration."

Los Angeles Mayor (and former Assembly Leader) Antonio Villaraigosa and Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante have each been receiving "hateful" and "disturbing" threats, though each have refused to give in to terror by stepping up their security or cutting down on their public appearances.

What could have been a calm discussion about immigration policy has lost any hope of being other than the primary wedge issue of the mid-term election season. One side of me is always looking for conspiracies, and wondering if this is all just political slight-of-hand to keep our thoughts away from Iraq and out-of-control gas prices. I want to believe the conspiracy theories only because I don't want to believe that my fellow Californians are really that ignorant and dangerous.

Do they really think that threatening (local) elected officials will have some effect on national policy? Or are they simply the racist slime that's always been there, hiding in their hovels, waiting for a moment when they think the public is ready to accept their filth?

Anybody who thinks that all the fighting, debating, and protesting going on is really about immigration, and isn't about racism is just as ignorant as those making the threats. Look, neither Villaraigosa nor Bustamante are immigrants. Governor Schwarzenegger - who has not been threatened - is.

Americans aren't afraid of immigrants; we have them in all our families. But, a very vocal percentage of Americans are afraid of brown people. Resist their arguments for deportation in the name of "national security:" it's nothing but racism, pure and simple. These threats - horrible as they are - have exposed that truth.

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Monday, April 24, 2006

Bush Says Something Semi-Intelligent!

I am always quick to point out when our President is an idiot - which is just about every day - so it's only fair that I should also take a moment now and again to point out those rare occasions when I might actually agree with him.

Speaking in Irvine, California, this afternoon about the current immigration debate, Bush said, "Massive deportation of the people here is not going to work... It's just not going to work." You know times are really scary when Gee Dubya is actually the one voice of reason coming from Washington.

Of course, this wouldn't be my blog if I didn't still find a way to criticize Bush, even when praising his rare display of common sense.

While I'm pleased that the President is against massive deportation as a practical matter, I'd really like somebody to speak out against such tactics on a more principled basis.

I'm against massive deportations because it's simply immoral and un-American to turn away those who come here for the better life that we advertise to the world, as we have for the past couple of centuries.

For me, the words that guide my thinking on the issue were written by Martin Niemoller over half a century ago:
First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a communist;

Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me-
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
This is way I was taught to be a citizen, a human being, a member of a community, and a Jew.

It's nice to oppose bad ideas because they are impracticle. It's better to oppose bad ideas because they are evil.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Blog Syndication Stuff

There are a couple of new additions to "Random Thoughts, Notes, & Incidents" that I would like to point out this morning.

The first is a blogroll, courtesy of that you will find in the right-hand column of this page (below the Google ads). These are some of the blogs that I look at regularly, and have saved into a reading list at bloglines. As I update the list there, the links here should update as well.

The other is the FeedBurner syndication link. With that one link you can add this blog to whatever newsreader or blog-compiler you may use (including MyYahoo!, Google, Bloglines, NewsWire, etc.).

All this , , and stuff is new to me. I used to bookmark the blogs I like, then have to click to each one each day to see if there was anything new. Now, I go to the one bloglines bookmark and see the latest entries from each site. Through the magic of RSS, you can now read my blog that way as well.

You may have also noticed that I've been playing a little with Technorati tags too. I'm not quite sure yet what benefit, if any, I'm getting from using the tags, but I'm learning some new things and having fun.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Slabtown Chronicle

One of my very good old friends, JD Chandler, started his new web site yesterday. The Slabtown Chronicle is a true crime blog, but also more that. I'll let Mr. Chandler explain:
"what i want this blog to be, though is a specific blog about crime in the Pacific Northwest, especially in the Portland Metro Area, where i live. but i also want it to reflect my interest in the history of murder in this area as well. so i intend to write mostly about historical crimes. i will keep up with current things that catch my attention as well. who knows what might develop here. i intend for it to be interesting reading if nothing else."
Yes, "interesting reading." I've admired his writing since we were in High School together thirty years ago. Of the first two postings, one is a case from a few years back and the other comes from this week's headlines and is still developing. I'm anxious to see what comes next.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Denim Day Against Rape, April 26

If you happen to be in Arizona next Wednesday (April 26), be sure to wear jeans or any other denim clothing to protest sexual violence. Why denim? To fight the "she asked for it" myths that still dominate a lot of thinking about rape worldwide.

In 1999, the Italian Supreme Court overturned a rape conviction because the victim was wearing jeans. The charges against a 45-year-old rape suspect were dismissed because the 18-year-old victim was wearing jeans at the time of the assault.

The Court stated in its decision that, "It is common knowledge... that jeans cannot even be partly removed without the effective help of the person wearing them... and it is impossible if the victim is struggling with all her might."

* Denim Day Arizona
* Denim Day in L.A. and Denim Day in California April 19, missed it!

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Microsoft is L4m3

Having trouble figuring out what the kids mean when they write that somebody is a "k3wl d00d?" Well, cool dude, Bill Gates (III), has come to the rescue with Leetspeak: A parent's primer to computer slang.

In this fascinating primer, we learn how to replace letters with numbers, use phonetic replacements, and such troubling information as the "rules of standard English style are rarely obeyed" and "mistakes are often left uncorrected"... sometimes deliberately! I'm quite certain that spelling words wrong leads directly to heroin use.

Reading through this, I'm reminded of Barbara Billingsley in Airplane!: "I speak jive." Only the MS Leet page isn't as funny.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Universal Health Care - Or Market Mayhem?

I've been curious about the new Massachusetts plan for "universal health coverage." The state is not going to a single-payer plan, but rather requiring all citizens to purchase a plan in the private market from existing providers. There will be a new state plan for the lowest income citizens who cannot afford to purchase health insurance any other way. has a good analysis of why this model won't work nationally. This market-based "solution" fails, according to PERRspectives, mainly on the assumption that there actually is a working market. While there may be some regions where there is competition - an in theory a price benefit as a result of that competition - in most areas health care is dominated by one or two large players. "In North Dakota, for example, Blue Shield owns 90% of the market."

The Massachusetts plan does cover everybody, sort of. But it does nothing to address the spiraling costs of health care, which is at the heart of our health care crisis, and why tens of millions of Americans are without insurance in the first place.

The Massachusetts plan is this: Business refuses to cover the cost of health care, Government is afraid to cover the cost, so individuals are forced to shoulder it all. No wonder it has bi-partisan support.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Passover Thoughts on Immigration

We are now a couple of days into the Jewish holiday of Passover. This is not a holiday for going to temple, rather it is celebrated in the home, where we conduct our own ceremony over dinner (it wouldn't be a Jewish holiday unless food played a role, somehow). Central to that is the retelling of the story of the Exodus, when Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt.

As part of that, we are instructed that each generation is to tell the story as if they were the ones being led out of slavery and into freedom. I've been thinking about what that means, and how that attitude of connection with the oppressed has always informed my politics.

Eric Schneiderman, a State Senator from New York, has obviously been thinking about that as well. He's written an op-ed entitled Passover Informs Immigration Debate in which he recalls the commandment that "You shall not oppress the stranger; you know the heart of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

Relating that to the current debate on immigration policy, Senator Schneiderman asks:
Can we honestly say to ourselves that we don't "wrong" the immigrants who are strangers in our land when we allow them to be paid less than minimum wage, or look the other way when contractors fail to provide safety equipment to workers doing dangerous jobs? Do we not "oppress" when we tear apart families? When we detain or deport people without the due process that our own citizens would expect if they were faced with losing their homes or their liberty? The Jews are commanded over and over to welcome the stranger, but the House of Representatives has passed a bill, HR 4437, which would make it a crime to observe this commandment by making it a felony to provide assistance of any kind to an undocumented immigrant.
As Senator Schneiderman points out, between fear of terrorism and our own economic woes, these are tough times to be welcoming. But, easy or not, welcoming the oppressed stranger is what it means to be a Jew, and to be an American.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Why I Hate Call Waiting

Pet peeve day, here at the old blog... Okay, call me a , but I can't stand . I think it's one of the worst inventions of the past decade. I refuse to add it to my home phone, and I refuse to use it on my cell phone (it's part of the basic service, so I'm stuck with it, but I ignore it).

My main argument with call waiting is that it's based on the premise that whoever you are talking to, anybody else must be more important. It's part of this whole hyped-up attitude we have in this country that wherever we are, whatever we're doing, there must be something better.

Then there are the people who are angry that I don't have call waiting. Again, they assume that their call must have been a higher priority than whoever I was talking to.

What about that person I'm already in a conversation with? Don't they count for anything? I don't like being put on hold, and I'm sure most people feel the same. I think it's disrespectful to say to somebody, "Look, I have no idea who is trying to call me right now, but they've got to have something more interesting to say than you do, so I'm going to put you on hold while I start another conversation."

I'm not saying anything crazy, like I want to kill the person who invented it - I'm a non-violent person - unless maybe I pick up some paintball guns and plan a more symbolic attack - no, not even that. I'm just saying that if I call you, and your call waiting rings, and you answer it, don't expect me to still be on the line when you get back.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fun With Colon Cancer

No need to get into the gory details here, but my has not always been the healthiest. So, when I saw the headline You too can prevent colon cancer in the Willow Glen Times, next to a picture of a doctor crawling through a giant colon, it attracted my interest.

In reading the article I learned that it wasn't just any giant colon, it was the Colossal Colon TM, and it's coming to town! Coco, as it is affectionately known, is a 40-foot long, 4-foot tall model of a human colon.

It will be on display for the whole family to crawl through and examine the various ailments that afflict it. Imagine the fun conversations you'll have: "Hey! That polyp looks just like the one they scraped out of me! I get sentimental over my first biopsy." "Look, there's Nana's Crohn's disease." "I don't even want to say who that hemorrhoid reminds me of!" "Ulcerative colitis anybody?"

The Colossal Colon TM has a web site called The Colon Club. Be sure to check out the pictures page and take a look at Polyp Man & Eneman.

I used to think that dressing up as a giant hot dog and passing out coupons in front of Der Wienerschnitzel was the worst job in America. It's now been topped by the guy who gets to dress up as a giant Fleet enema and pass out healthy colon literature.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Giving Your Creative Work Away

In any ' group I've been a part of, and on any online postings for gigs, there's always regular discussions of whether or not a writer should ever give it away. Is it immoral to ask a person to work "for exposure?" Lots of people think it is, and always post strongly worded replies on those boards, telling the requester exactly what they think about it.

It's not just writers who deal with this, but all creative people. My friend, Bill, in L.A. goes through the same thing with people looking for free graphics work. He's one of those who gets quite upset about people asking him to work for nothing. And who can blame him? That's how he makes his living.

My feelings on the subject aren't quite so clear cut. When it comes to writing for a business or nonprofit organization, I'm just as adamant as Bill that this is how I make my living, and I don't do it for free. On the other hand, I have given up purely creative works just for the sake of sharing, and I have given away more professional works as a means of promoting my other services.

Anyway, I've written a new article, Giving It Away: Free Articles for Fun and Profit, which goes deeper into this subject and have posted it on The 13th Story web site. I've also posted several other new articles on The 13th Story as well.

Meanwhile, I'm finding that keeping up two blogs has not been a problem. In fact, having a second blog to put items related to my consulting practice has helped inspire more postings in both places.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Saving the World Through Child Labor

It's fun! Make the kids pump the water for the whole village and tell them it's a game. Really, this is serious.

Play Pump diagram"Play Pumps" are playground merry-go-rounds that pump underground water into large tanks, bringing clean water and a better life to African villages, and laughter to the children. Really, this is serious.

If you don't believe me, visit Play Pumps (dot org), learn how they work, and donate the money to build one. They've built nearly 700 of the things so far, and they won't stop until every African kid has the chance to save his village through playground antics. Really, this is serious.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

How Real Can Planned Opposition Be?

By now you've certainly heard about the guy in North Carolina who told the President off during a public meeting. The reason it made the news is not necessarily because of what he said (I agree with nearly every word, as do more an more Americans), or how he said it (quietly and respectfully, not a shouted protest), but that he got away with saying it all.

For the five (+) years that Bush has been President, all his public meetings have been so carefully staged, and the audiences so carefully chosen, that we've never heard anything like this - to the President's face - ever before.

Which makes me wonder...

Now, I'm not suggesting that this guy was a fake. I believe he was sincere and real, and I applaud what he said and how he said it.

What I am suggesting is that somebody on the President's staff was finally smart enough to realize that he needs to publicly accept a little criticism, and show that he is "able to take it like a man."

What I believe is that the usual screening process for audience members was eased a bit, and that the President was warned of this, and coached in how to respond ("I'm not your favorite person," etc.).

Now that he's accepted his public criticism, I'm sure they'll go back to pre-screening every question. And when somebody on the left accuses them of ducking criticism, they'll point to this guy to show we're wrong.

Just a theory from an old cranky cynic. But I've been right before.

Friday, April 07, 2006

What's the Point of Commenting?

In 1973, when the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Henry Kissinger, humorist Tom Lehrer remarked that the awarding of the prize to Kissinger made political satire obsolete. The legend has it that this was when Lehrer stopped writing his topical songs, but in reality he'd gotten bored of it and stopped a few years earlier.

Looking back over recent entries here, I see I haven't been as politically current as this blog once was. It's not that I don't care anymore, or that there isn't a LOT going on. It's just that I've reached the point where all I can do is scratch my head and wonder how we can allow this to continue to happen.

The latest being that "Scooter" Libby, who the administration insisted was innocent and did nothing wrong - and that they were not responsible for outing a CIA agent - apparently got his orders to leak Valerie Plame's identity from none other than George W. Bush.

As John Prados writes in, "The irony is so thick you can cut it with a knife."

So what's a blogger to do? Point out that we've been lied to? That's getting a little redundant, don't you think?

Should I point out that this lie is just the tip of the iceberg about the fraudulent ways we were tricked into starting a war? You know that already. Everybody knows that already. And nothing is going to be done about it.

The Republicans certainly aren't going to do anything about it. The Democrats are hoping that they can just look upon it disapprovingly and encourage us to do something about it next November.

Should the Democrats regain Congress this fall, don't expect them to begin any impeachment proceedings in 2007. Too close to the 2008 Presidential election, and they wouldn't want to appear as "dividers" not "uniters."

So, we'll just sit here quietly and wonder what the next big lie will out. And we won't say a damn thing.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Reviewing the Reviewing Site

Here's another interesting new site that builds on the "trusted friend" model. It's called ReviewParty, and - as the name implies - users get to write and post their reviews of current media.

While Epinions tried to be a do-it-yourself Consumer Reports with reviews of everything under the sun (and fails, partly because of that), ReviewParty is more tightly focused on books and music (at least for now). Each review is, of course, linked in to that item at Amazon.

There is a revenue incentive for reviewers. Half the time your reviews will show your Amazon associate and Google AdSense codes and half the time it will show their codes. My guess is that after the beta period the percentage of ads that are "mine" will go down. That guess is based on my experience with sites that launch promising an incredible income for the users, then realize that they can't support themselves with that level of generosity.

Still, it looks interesting. I've signed up and posted a review of the new Ray Davies CD, Other People's Lives. The site is brand new - I think my review was only the second one posted. We'll see where and how it develops.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Squidoo Part Two

Last month I posted about a new site called "Squidoo." The basic idea of it is that users build mini-sites, called "lenses," on any topic that they are a specialist in or care about. This places the lenses mid-way between a free site-building community and a blogging community.

The design for each lens is pre-set with the Squidoo colors and branding. But the content layout is up to you, and includes easy to use modules for adding RSS feeds, links to favorite sites, and Amazon book recommendations.

When I first posted about the site, I just launched right into building a lens. Now, I've read "Everyone is an Expert" (pdf file) - an ebook by one of the Squidoo founders - and understand it a bit more. The ebook has a lot to say about how people use the web to search for things, or more accurately, according to the book, to discover meaning.

When you go to Google to look for "espresso machine," Google doesn't know if you're just curious about how they work or if you're ready to invest in a $1,400 professional coffee maker. So you click around, click back, link after link, ad after ad, as you build your knowledge of espresso machines - and, maybe, eventually buy one.

Further, the web works just like good old-fashioned word-of-mouth. You probably won't buy the first espresso machine you see in the first link you click because you haven't heard it from somebody you trust yet. But, as you click to the blogs of people who share your interests and they recommend machines, you get closer to deciding on a machine for yourself.

But blogs feature different content constantly, that's the point of updating daily. Somedays I'm here ranting about politics, other days I comment on the weather. What you think of me depends on what day you first come here.

So, a "lens." It's more static than a blog, but more flexible than set web page. It's a place to start, not to finish. Go to Squidoo and search for a topic. You see what other people have put down as the resources, links, and vital information you need to discover the meaning of your search.

As the book says, "Everyone is an Expert." What are you an expert on? Go and build a lens about your topic. I'm an expert on me.

Meanwhile, Passover/Easter are rapidly approaching. Go to your local, online Flower Shop and get something nice to bring your mother.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Missing Potty For the Dead

This one is just too weird. Considering that yesterday was April Fool's Day, I've tried to verify this with several sources, and it appears to be real. Or a really, really good hoax.

Jerry Garcia's toilet has been stolen. Of course, Jerry's long gone, and will not miss it, but it's missing never-the-less. "It's unclear if the toilet was swiped by a wayward Deadhead or a thief remodeling a bathroom," but police are looking into it.

Thanks to Steve for the email alert.

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