Friday, June 30, 2006

"One Person, with a Sophisticated Technical Knowledge"

New York University's Brennan Center for Justice issued a report the other day that concluded that it would take only one person, with a sophisticated technical knowledge and timely access to the software that runs the voting machines, to change the outcome [of a national election].

Most of the problems and vulnerabilities with eVoting can be overcome with a printed record of votes from each machine, and regular audits of that paper trail. However, "while twenty-six states require paper records of votes, fewer than half of those require regular audits."

So, basically, only 25% of our electronic voting is subject to basic security rules. The other 75% are wide open to tampering. Not surprisingly, the voting machine industry doesn't seem to think this is a problem:
"It just isn't the piece of equipment," said David Bear, a spokesman for Diebold Election Systems, one of the country's largest vendors. "It's all the elements of an election environment that make for a secure election."
While much of the backlash against un-audited eVoting has come from Democrats and the independent left (after losing two closely called and contested elections), Republicans have also begun to wake up to the potential for fraud.

Thomas M. Davis III (R - VA), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, has joined the call for new, stricter regulations on electronic voting machines. Can an election can be stolen by a handful of tech-savvy political hackers? "It's not a question of 'if,'" says Davis, "it's a question of 'when.'"

Tags: , , , , , ,

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Rectum? I Damn Near Killed 'Em!

Then there's the old joke about the man who woke up with a light bulb in his ass... No, wait... that's not an old joke, that's from today's news.

Fateh Mohammad, who is in a Pakistani prison, woke up the other day with abdominal pains that he couldn't understand. He went to the doctor, and wound up having to have a 90-minute operation to have the bulb surgically removed.
"We had to take it out intact," said Dr. Farrukh Aftab at Nishtar Hospital. "Had it been broken inside, it would be a very very complicated situation."
"Thanks Allah, now I feel comfort," said Mr. Mohammad. "I don't know who did this to me. Police or other prisoners."

Mohammad is in prison for illegally making his own booze. Something tells me he's found a way to get loaded in prison too. That, or he's a mighty sound sleeper.

Tags: ,

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

One Vote Away From Banning Freedom

The Senate, yesterday, fell one vote short of the two-thirds needed to pass a constitutional amendment that says, "The Congress shall have power to prohibit the physical desecration of the flag of the United States." The House has passed the amendment several times, but the Senate has - so far - refused to approve it. Once both houses of Congress approve of a Constitutional amendment it moves on to the states for approval by the people.

I will agree that flag burning is offensive. I will agree that it is not the most thoughtful or delicate way to express one's opinion or to protest. There are many types of expression that are offensive, but we accept them as part of the cost of free speech.

When the founders enshrined our right to free expression in the first item of the Bill of Rights, they did not put in a requirement that expression be eloquent. They did not say that only those who are polite and inoffensive may redress the government of their grievances. They gave that right to us all, and asked us all to be tolerant of those whose expression is in opposition to our own.

What big problem are we trying to solve here? I think most Americans, and certainly anybody who considers themselves a true conservative, thinks that we have enough laws and regulations already. I believe we should only enact new laws when they are narrowly tailored to solve a specific problem.

Messing with the Constitution is not something to do "for the sake of symbolism." That is - in my opinion - desecration of the worst order.

Senator Dick Durbin, the Democrats' deputy leader, had submitted an alternative amendment which was voted down overwhelmingly. Durbin's amendment would have made it against the law to damage an American flag on federal property with intent of breaching the peace or intimidating other people.

I can appreciate Durbin's attempt here, but would reject it anyway. We already have laws to prosecute those who damage federal property, commit acts of vandalism, make credible threats to others, or incite a riot. These things are already crimes, why do we need a constitutional amendment to enforce them?

Also disappointing here was the number of "Democrats" who went along with this political charade. And, as a Californian, I will not in November forget that Ms. Feinstein co-sponsored this attack on the Constitution.

Hey, Senators, you want to do something about a real problem? You want to do something symbolic to solve a real national embarrassment? How about doing something to help all the U.S. military veterans returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan into homelessness?

Are you as upset about all this as I am? Do you blog about it? Enter your best post into the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Bush Declares Himself Absolute Dictator

Okay, so maybe that headline is a bit of an extreme exaggeration. I'm sorry. ... But not really.

The way things are supposed to work in these United States of ours is that Congress passes the laws through a process that includes majority votes in each of the two houses. Then the laws get passed on to the President who can either sign it (and with that signature put the law into effect) or veto it (which sends it back to Congress for another try). Then, if anybody feels the new law is in conflict with established law or the Constitution itself, challenges may be heard by the third branch of government, the courts. Simple, right?

Now, occasionally through history, Presidents have signed a law they weren't wild about, and while signing issued a "signing statement." These are usually no more than guidance on how the President thinks the law should be administered, and do not carry the force of law. They are inserted into the Federal Register, but are entirely unofficial.

President Bush has expanded the practice, issuing more signing statements than any previous President. Further, Bush has used signing statements to completely ignore laws that he himself has passed.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Republican Arlen Specter, will today begin a hearing on this practice that specter considers "an example of the administration's abuse of power."

The administration is expected to officially argue back that no laws are binding on the President when he "reserves the right to revise, interpret or disregard it on national security and constitutional grounds."

If the President can pick and choose which laws to enforce and which to ignore and knowingly violate without the consent of the other two branches of government than our system of checks and balances ceases to exist. And that's where my crack about "absolute dictator" comes in.

Citing everything from the illegal wiretapping of U.S. citizens, to the administration's refusal to cooperate with various investigations, to the Patriot Act, Specter calls the President's abuse of signing statements, "a challenge to the plain language of the Constitution."

David Golove, a New York University law professor, says that the practice "means that the administration does not feel bound to enforce many new laws which Congress has passed... This raises profound rule of law concerns. Do we have a functioning code of federal laws?"

No functioning code of law? The President can do whatever he wants, regardless of what Congress, the law, the Constitution, or the American people want or say? The President can collect data and spy on ordinary citizens without warrants or court oversight? Maybe these jokes about Bush wanting to be an absolute dictator aren't so damn funny after all.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Monday, June 26, 2006

Ben Stein: Republican for Higher Taxes

You know Ben Stein. He was the straight-faced, deadpan teacher in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, he was the host of the Comedy Central TV game show, Win Ben Stein's Money, and he's done a million other shows and commercials.

Ben Stein is also a conservative Republican economist and lawyer who teaches at Pepperdine University and is proud of his time working in the Nixon White House. He's a complicated and interesting guy.

Yesterday, the New York Times ran an op-ed by Ben entitled Note to the New Treasury Secretary: It's Time to Raise Taxes (Log in required - check for passwords).

In the piece, Stein tells the new secretary that, "You are facing what is, in many ways, the most dangerous economic future since the Depression. Danger is coming on many fronts, only dimly seen by the powers that be in Washington, and your insights and eloquence will be urgently necessary." He then goes on to explain precisely why we are in such a predicament.

After a brilliant explanation of monetary policy that is easily understood by most any reader, Stein comes to this:
"May I respectfully suggest that in this environment, ending the estate tax is not a major sensible priority? May I suggest that having the lowest taxes in 65 years on high-income taxpayers is not really as prudent as it might be if we were not running stupendous deficits, with far worse in the future?"
In the very same article, Stein praises the Bush-Rove machine, but implies that when it comes to economics, they just don't get it. Stein, a self-described "Eisenhower Republican," does.

Over-spending ourselves into Third World nation status is stupid whether it's led by Democratic "softness" (from welfare to foreign aid) or Republican "strength" (wars and corporate welfare). The deficit is not a conservative or liberal issue; it's an intelligence issue. When you're broke, and you've got large bills coming in, you don't start giving money away.

Okay, so Ben put it a bit more eloquently and nicer than I did. He's a smart guy (and very nice, too). The question here is whether Henry Paulson (the new Treasury Secretary) will be able to listen to Ben (and common sense and economic reality) or will just do what Bush tells him to.

Thanks to the blog for the link.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Don't Say That Nobody Warned You

It was 42 years ago this week that health warnings first appeared on U.S. cigarette packs.

According to Pamela Villars of the American Cancer Society Quitline, "When these warning came out in 1964 there was a dramatic drop in the rate of smoking across the United States." Still, today, about 20% of Americans still smoke, despite many of them having grown up with the labels.

Other countries have done a little better. In recent years others have required larger, graphic warnings across a much larger area of the cigarette pack. Studies have found that "more prominent warnings had a positive impact both on smokers' knowledge of health risks and intent to quit."

I wonder, however, if after 42 years, people will become so accustomed to even those larger, more graphic warnings that they will still be smoking in these countries. It seems to be a human reaction to ignore things that you are too used to.

Meanwhile, citizens in the U.K. have an opportunity to choose the graphic warning on their next pack. Several designs are online and ready for your reaction.

The bottom line is, how stupid are smokers, really? I find it hard to believe that regardless of whether or not there's any warning on the packaging, or how large or colorful it may be, that there are people lighting up today who don't know it will eventually kill them.

Tags: , , , ,

Friday, June 23, 2006

A Personal Thank You to One Special Reader

On a personal note, today is my tenth wedding anniversary. I just want to take this moment to publicly thank my wife, Leslie, for putting up with me these last ten years (and about seven years before that).

I know it hasn't always been easy. (Anybody who reads my stuff here can probably guess that I'm an opinionated oaf who isn't always so easy to get along with).

We've certainly put "in sickness and in health" to the test and passed. We've survived "for poorer" and even if we haven't quite reached it financially, I certainly feel "for richer" for the experience.

Thank you, and Happy Anniversary! With love.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Summer Solstice and Other Excuses for Getting Naked

Yesterday was the summer solstice - the longest day of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere). Other than complaining about it being unbearably hot, I didn't really recognize or participate in any solstice celebrations.

Fremont, CA (East Bay, between Oakland and San Jose), it seems, celebrated the solstice a week early with a parade and bike ride. But not just any old parade and bike ride. According to the photographic evidence (WARNING: R-Rated link!), the folks in Fremont like to get naked and cover themselves in paint before parading around.

I'm not really sure what naked body painting has to do with the summer solstice, but it looks like they all had fun and got to let it all hang out on a very hot day. Can't argue with the logic behind that. Maybe next year I'll even join 'em!

Link from Stryder Looking Glass.

Tags: , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Minimum Attention to the minimum Wage

There are certain seasonal things you can count on happening every year in Washington, DC. The blooming of the cherry trees, the Easter Egg hunt, the lighting of the Christmas Tree, and Senator Kennedy trying to get the minimum wage raised.

Here are just a few facts for you to consider:
  • The minimum wage is now $5.15/hour, which, at full-time, is well under the poverty rate by most standards.
  • The minimum wage was last increased in 1997. Congress has given itself nine raises in that period.
  • Congress' raise this year is worth about $31,000 - nearly three times what a minimum wage earner takes home each year at full-time.
  • Between 1968 and 2004, corporate profits rose by 85% - in the same period, the minimum wage fell 41 percent (adjusted for inflation).
And, before you go claiming that raising the minimum wage will lead to job loss, check the data. Most economic studies show that there is little to no job loss associated with raises in the minimum wage. has been covering this battle with two recent articles: Pay Raise Politics and Minimum Wage, Maximum Payoff.

Tags: , , ,

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Timetables Versus Cutting and Running

To my post last week on Leadership, Wars, & Democracy, Jon said:
President Bush will continue to "dismiss" the call by the liberal left and the Defeatest [sic] Jack Murtha until our mission in Iraq id [sic] finished. So those on the Left can continue to squawk at the wind and we will stay the course in Iraq.
I think I need to post a bit of a clarification to my statement, and ask Jon (or whoever else is listening), "What mission?"

First, I don't want my posting to imply that I think we need to set an absolute date in the near future after which there will be no U.S. soldiers on the ground in Iraq. Wonderful as that would be, even I recognize that that is not realistic. What I would like in a timetable is some sort of exit strategy, with specific goals (what and when) and benchmarks that will indicate when we might "be done."

This will not only help us (U.S. citizens/voters) feel more comfortable with what we're doing there, but will also tell the Iraqis exactly what is expected of them, and the world what our intentions are.

Now, let's get to that bit about staying the course "until our mission is finished." First, our mission was to eliminate Iraq as a regional threat (WMDs and all that). I think we've done that. Next, our mission was to remove Saddam from power. Mission accomplished. Then we wanted to see them form an interim government, write a constitution, hold elections, and form a permanent government. Done, done, done, and done.

Our mission at this point, if we have one at all, seems to be, "Make them stop hating us." I don't believe that this is a mission that can be accomplished through an occupation. A timetable and benchmarks for turning all security over to Iraq does stand a chance on winning us a few friends and defusing some of the argument for hating us.

Now, if I've missed something - if we have some clear, achievable mission - please let me know. And don't say, "ending terrorism." I need something more specific than that. If we're going to "stay the course" I'd kind of like to know what that course is. So would a whole lot of other people.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monday, June 19, 2006

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Round Two

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

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyFirst, a confession by way of an explanation. Sometimes when I surf around I am stunned by some of the right-wing nuts out there spewing hatred. I must have been coming off such a voyage into their dark side when I first read Jon Swift's entry into the last edition of this carnival as I actually thought he was serious.

No such problem this week, as Swift brings us Guantanamo: Kafkaesque, in a Good Way. "By not forcing the detainees to contend with the stress of due process, they are being spared the negative outcome of a trial, since it would almost certainly end in a guilty verdict, although they seem to want to carry out the inevitable sentence prematurely."

Next we have Riverworks - The Housing Sums That Don't Add Up. "In this case an example of problems of British Local Democracy, rather
than US Democracy - though I'll bet the experience is shared." Riversider tells of a development going into an environmentally sensitive area where all local government agrees there is an "over-supply" of housing. "One thing is clear, the [developments] are being driven by the potential profits of developers, rather than by the wishes or needs of residents."

With Is Democracy Feasible? (Reflections on the Gettysburg Address) Ashok gives us a close reading and interpretation of Lincoln's famous address in an attempt at answering the question.

Hell's Handmaiden is back this week with Our Inherent Greatness. Does he believe in the concept? "The idea is a bit silly, like arguing the inborn greatness of some corporation. A corporation is an amalgam of people set to some purpose, and it rises or falls based upon what those people do. There is nothing innate about the matter."

The next edition of the Carnival will be posted on Monday, July 3rd, with entries requested by Thursday, June 29th, at midnight. For your entries, think about the significance of July Fourth and our current declining democracy.

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

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Sunday, June 18, 2006


We just returned from San Jose's Juneteenth Festival downtown. We hadn't actually planned to attend - we didn't even realize it was happening - but just stumbled upon it. Live music, lots of food, and a great time.

Juneteenth, which is traditionally celebrated on the 19th of June (tomorrow), commemorates the end of slavery. You may be thinking, "But Ken, Didn't the Emancipation Proclamation take effect on January 1, 1863, and didn't Jefferson Davis surrender on May 10, 1865? So why June 19th?"

Good question, and here's the answer, courtesy of Wikipedia:
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day Union General Gordon Granger and 2,000 federal troops arrived on Galveston Island to take possession of the state and enforce slaves' new freedoms. Standing on the balcony of Galveston's Ashton Villa, Granger read the contents of "General Order No. 3." ... Slaves in Galveston rejoiced in the streets with jubilant celebrations. Juneteenth celebrations began in Texas the following year.
While celebrated in Texas for over a century, in recent decades the practice has spread throughout the country.

Tags: , , , , ,

What Makes a Popular Blog (and why this one isn't)

In addition to this blog of random personal rambling and complaints I also write a blog associated with my consulting practice. I've been posting here for over five years. The consulting blog is barely three months old. This will be posting #821 over here; the other has only 48.

And yet, in most measures, the other blog is far surpassing this one in terms of popularity. Feedburner and Bloglines each tell me that it has more than twice the number of subscribers. The Technorati ranking is higher, and more other blogs link there than link here.


I believe the main answer is simply this: Specialization.

Both blogs use the same basic template, so layout and color scheme are not the answer. It's not quality of writing; I do them each so they either both suck or are well-written depending on your opinion of my style. The only real difference is content matter.

On this blog I am literally one of millions of people whining about our lousy President and giving reviews of the latest season of American Idol. The writing here is geared towards a mass audience, but the market is full to overflowing with blogs so written.

On my consulting blog I am one of only a few hundred specializing in blogging about nonprofit agency management and fundraising. It is a much smaller, niche market. But it is one in which I can stand out and have been able to make a name for myself in a very short time.

So, my advice to the new blogger just starting out, and trying to decide what to write about? Specialize. What do you know about that not many others do? Where are you an expert? The old adage to "write what you know" is as true in the blogosphere as it is anywhere else.

Oh, I'll continue to ramble here to the detriment of my own popularity ratings. But I don't do this blog to be popular. I'm not sure why I do it, but I'm fairly certain popularity isn't it.

Tags: , , , , ,

Saturday, June 17, 2006

If I Were King of the World...

... In women's clothing stores (or departments of larger stores) there would be a minimum of one comfortable chair for every 250 square feet of rack space. Not only would the husbands and boyfriends of shoppers appreciate this, but they would reward the stores with larger sales.

Call me a big government liberal, but I think this is an idea that's long overdue.

Tags: , , ,

Friday, June 16, 2006

Home Depot Cache

I've bought a lot of crap at Home Depot over the years, but I never got anything like this...

It seems that Massachusetts area Home Depots are giving away pounds of pot and cocaine along with their crappy bathroom cabinets. Now that's what I call a sale.

You can do it. They can help.

Tags: , ,

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Updates: Leadership, Wars, & Democracy

Egyptian explosives expert Abu Ayyub al-Masri has been named the new head of al-Qaida in Iraq, replacing Abu Musab al-Zarqawi who was killed by the U.S. military just about a week ago.

That's awfully quick to replace a top person. Hardly any time to even post the job on craigslist - although, I suppose the sudden vacancy did get a bit of news coverage. Still, you have to collect resumes, interview, check references...

I'm guessing that they must have had a succession plan already in place, just in case of al-Zarqawi's "early retirement." And that, actually, is a sign of a well-run organization. They may be ruthless killers without any regard for human life or ideologies other than their own, but they don't skip a beat when it comes to filling management positions and letting people know that there's continuity of leadership.

Meanwhile, as U.S. military deaths in Iraq pass the 2,500 mark, President Bush still "dismisses calls for a U.S. withdrawal ... and has consistently refused to give a timetable or benchmark for success that would allow troops to come home."

Bush, of course, doesn't want such a timetable or benchmark to play into the hands of the enemy. The enemy in this situation, in case you're wondering, are the Democrats running in Congressional districts where Republicans might be vulnerable this November.

Fed up with it all? Have you been blogging about it? There's still a few hours left to enter your best posts in the second edition of the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy. There's a handy-dandy, easy-to-use submit form on the blogcarnival site.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Bypass the Government: Support Classrooms Directly

DonorsChoose a new web site that connects online donors directly to classroom projects that need private support. Teachers post their projects along with a budget. DonorsChoose vets the projects and posts them to the web site. Individuals can then search by geographic region, subject matter, budget, or a combination of factors to find projects that they want to support.

Web masters and bloggers, such as myself, are encouraged to set up challenges to encourage their readers to donate as well. Always one to test out new web applications, I have set up a challenge that you can reach by clicking the banner below:

Let's see how generous my readers are - Click on the banner, choose a project, and give a couple of dollars.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

The "Automaticity" of Stereotyping

The Washington Post conducted a survey "to investigate how racial cues conveyed in news coverage conditioned Americans' response" to Hurricane Katrina. In their experiment, they showed respondents fake news stories about Katrina, and the survivor's attempts to get their lives back.

When some respondents read the stories, the victim was male, for others, the victim was female. The race/ethnicity of the victim was also rotated, with White, Asian, Black, and Hispanic names and faces all used. Occupations of the victim were also changed along a range of professions from custodian to real estate agent.

After reading the fake news stories, survey participants were then asked to indicate how much assistance they would award the victim. They could choose to give aid for three to eighteen months, with an amount of up to $200 per month. The average award given in the experiment was $125/month for one year.

The 2,300 people surveyed consistently awarded more money to White victims than to minorities in general and Blacks specifically. They were also more generous to the real estate agent than to the custodian.

I have worked in the nonprofit sector since 1989, including working in homeless shelters and with those on public assistance, so I am not at all surprised to see the concept of the "worthy" victim expose itself here.

The survey was meant to test whether or not accusations of racism in Katrina's aftermath were justified. The Post points out that in the real media coverage of the hurricane, Whites were portrayed as "looking for food" while Blacks were portrayed as "looting" for the same activity.

The Post concluded that:
People cannot help stereotyping on the basis of ethnicity despite their best efforts to act unbiased and egalitarian. ... The fact that this group awarded lower levels of hurricane assistance after reading about looting or after encountering an African-American family displaced by the hurricane is testimony to the persistent and primordial power of racial imagery in American life.
The "surprising" aspect of the experiment was that the survey group was overwhelmingly made up of people who describe themselves as "liberal" and who purport to support civil rights. According to the Post, this is proof of what psychologists call the "automaticity" of stereotyping.

And yet, I keep on hearing from conservative bloggers that racism has been eradicated in this country. It's no longer an issue, they tell me. It's time to move on.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Monday, June 12, 2006

God Hates Shrimp - Keeps a Kosher House

It's true; God hates shellfish. I know, because the "proof" is right here:
These ye shall eat of all that are in the waters: all that have fins and scales shall ye eat: And whatsoever hath not fins and scales ye may not eat; it is unclean unto you. (Deuteronomy 14:9-10)
If you read on, you'll find that God hates pork and mixing meat with dairy too. So, if you're a right-winger who likes to use Old Testament quotes to deny basic civil rights to homosexuals, I hope you're also prepared to keep strictly Kosher, stop cutting your hair and trimming your beard, and protest all divorces.

The point of the above is made brilliantly in a satire web site called God Hates Shrimp (dot com). According to the site, "Why stop at protesting gay marriage? Bring all of God's law unto the heathens and the sodomites. We call upon all Christians to join the crusade against Long John Silver's and Red Lobster. Yea, even Popeye's shall be cleansed."

Be sure to check out the press release about SF Mayor Gavin Newsom and his daring attempt to break California's ban on shrimp eating. A brave politician. And a good choice of breaking the ban at Scoma's!

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Civil War News

One hundred and forty-one years after the end of the American Civil War, it's still making the news this weekend.

In Massachusetts, the remains of six Union soldiers who died in an early battle have finally been returned home. They had spent about 130 years in an un-marked grave in Virginia when they were discovered in the early 1990s.

The site where they were buried was slated for the construction of a new McDonald's when relic hunters found them. They turned the remains over to the Smithsonian Institution, where they stayed another decade while their possible identities were researched.

While they have possible names for the men, they don't know which bones go with which identities. Nor have they been able to track down any living family members to do DNA testing. So, they will be buried together again, but this time at least a little closer to home.

Meanwhile, at the Antietam National Battlefield in Sharpsburg, Maryland, the Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazis, and other white supremacist groups staged a rally in honor of the Confederate cause. About 30 of these "ghosts of the Confederacy" gathered for speeches honoring those who "fought for our liberty as white men."

An equal number of counter-protestors showed up to denounce the racist message of the rally. Both groups were vastly out-numbered by approximately 200 police officers who managed to keep the protests apart and prevent any violence.

Old wars never really end once they enter history. They still echo through the culture and society, forming the psyches of the winners and losers. So, how long do you think we'll be feeling the effects of our current escapade in Iraq?

Tags: , , ,

Saturday, June 10, 2006

International Arts & Crafts at the de Young

Looking for something to do in the Bay Area this weekend (or next)? Head over to the new de Young museum in Golden Gate Park for "International Arts and Crafts: William Morris to Frank Lloyd Wright" (closes June 18). We saw it last week, and were greatly impressed.

First, of course, is the new de Young itself. An impressive modernist structure rising out of the park like part of the earth. Many have objected to the imposing new building, but I have to say it's magnificent. The problem is only in trying to compare it to the old de Young. They are such different museums that is unfair to re-use the same name. The work by Andy Goldsworthy in the courtyard is what turns the imposing structure into part of nature for me.

Okay, on to the exhibition...
"Each section of International Arts and Crafts, which is organized geographically, explores the distinctive characteristics of the Arts and Crafts Movement and the different ways in which its ideas were interpreted as it developed in countries or regions from England to Japan. The movement emerged and flourished in Britain in the 1880s. It then spread to continental Europe and Scandinavia from 1880 to 1914, and to America from 1890 to 1916 before its final manifestation in the Mingei (Folk Crafts) movement in Japan between 1926 and 1945."
I found it well organized and learned much about the movement, and its growth as a reaction to the industrial revolution, as we moved from one room (and region/period) to the next. By the time we arrived at the more familiar works of the American period I was practically overcome with emotion at the beauty of the designs - something I would expect to say of an exhibition of "fine art" not "applied art."

Particularly moving to me was a room based on original drawings from Gustav Stickley. All of his furniture arranged in a mock Craftsman living room brought me back to my grandparents house in Cape Cod where I first learned to love these designs and associate them with the warm feeling of home.

Also on display nearby were stained glass doors and other items removed from houses designed by Greene and Greene for the Blacker estate in Pasadena, Tiffany lamps, and other works of the period.

The only part of the exhibition which didn't work for us was the start of the Japanese period room. While the transition between each of the other regions and eras was almost seamless, the jump into the Japanese felt like a move to a different exhibit entirely. Part of this was because rather than simply showing the works, it moved backwards to show some of the other influences on the Japanese designs. While Korean pottery from 1750 is very nice, it feels a bit out of place following the Craftsman architecture.

It did come back together before the end of this section and the exhibit with another mock room, this time showing the blend of the traditional and the modern in a Japanese dining area of the period.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Friday, June 09, 2006

It's A Long Way to November

The primaries here in California were just three days ago, but the gubernatorial race is on, and it's already nasty. I just saw Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger's first TV ad for re-election or, rather, his first ad warning us against electing Democratic challenger Phil Angelides.

The spot shows people walking backwards, cars moving backwards on the freeway, etc. The voice-over points out that it is ridiculous to move backwards, but that if we elect another Democratic Governor that's exactly what we'll be doing: going back to the days of taxes so high that businesses leave the state and we all starve to death. The choice, the commercial tells us, is to "continue moving forward with Governor Schwarzenegger."

As negative ads go, it wasn't the nastiest. But with five months before the election couldn't he have started with a commercial telling us what he's achieved since ousting the last Democratic Governor? Why start negative unless you've got nothing to brag about?

(As I was writing this, the ad played a second time. It's going to be a very long campaign.)

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Setback for Net Freedom

Last night the House of Representatives voted down the Net Neutrality amendment to the Communications Opportunity, Promotion and Enhancement Act of 2006 (COPE). There's still a chance to put Net Neutrality back into the Senate version, but it will take continued pressure from the online community and freedom lovers everywhere.

See the statement from the coalition on last night's vote and check their web site for more information on what you can do.

On a more positive net note, have you noticed the new design for my blog? The basic 3-column template is by Thur Broeders, with some minor modifications of my own. This template is all CSS, whereas my old template was all HTML that I had cobbled together over the years and was beginning to fall apart.

Tags: , , , , ,

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Serial Killer of the Month

Serialphiles - those who follow the lives and exploits of serial killers - can now order the all new, 2007 Serial Killer Calendar featuring full color artwork depicting such favorites as Jeffrey Dahmer, Richard "Nightstalker" Ramirez, John Wayne "Pogo the Clown" Gacy, Ted Bundy, Charles Manson, and others. The artwork is by Nico Claux, himself a convicted serial killer who is known as "the vampire of Paris."

Many people might find the calendar offensive, but - as Reuters reports - many more are fascinated by these men and are willing to spend big bucks for a special piece of "murderabilia."

And who can blame them? As Edward Gein (inspiration for the movie Psycho and the calendar's Mr. August) said when asked why he robbed graves and transformed human remains into household objects, "Every man's got to have a hobby."
"A lot of people are titillated by serial killers," said Lana Wachniak, a sociology professor and associate dean of Kennesaw State University in Georgia. ... "Some people want insight into that kind of depravity. Others get a kind of vicarious thrill. And others see it almost as a kind of talisman, a way to keep violence away."
Many states have laws that prevent a convicted killer from making money off of their own criminal activities. In this case, however, the killer (Claux) is making money off of other serial killers exploits. Gotta admire that bit of legal ingenuity.

The calendar itself is actually very well designed, with the the paintings of the killers mixed in with their quotes (like the one above from Ed Gein). The initial success of the calendar will result in the release of several other products, including posters.

Also on the web site is a personality test to determine which of the featured killers you are most like. I hate to tell you, but I'm a Manson. At first I was insulted by that result, but, you know, he did have leadership abilities...

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Random Quotations

Blogger has been down for most of the afternoon, and I've forgotten what it was I had wanted to post about. Senior moment. So, instead, I'll just post a selection of random quotations.

When I read a quote that hits me in some way I usually try to save it somewhere. Here, in no particular order, is just a random sampling from recent months.

"People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news." - AJ Liebling

"I should never have switched from Scotch to Martinis." final words of Humphrey Bogart

"You measure Democracy by the freedom it gives dissidents, not the freedom it gives its assimilated conformists." - Abbie Hoffman

"You do not lead by hitting people over the head - that's assault, not leadership." - Dwight D. Eisenhower

"You don't need to defend a Lion. You just need to let him out of his cage." - C.S. Lewis

"Of all the enemies of true liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to be dreaded, because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. ... No nation can preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare." - James Madison

"But the land must not be sold beyond reclaim, for the land is Mine; you are but strangers resident with Me. Throughout the land that you hold, you must provide for the redemption of the land." Leviticus 25:23-24

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Nothing from Nothing

It's just about 8 PM and the polls in California are closing. We just returned from voting and I had to wash my hands immediately. I just felt... dirty.

I turned on the computer to check for email and found that keyboardist and songwriter Billy Preston died today. Preston is perhaps known as the last 5th Beatle. While many musicians have been referred to as the 5th Beatle over the years, it was Preston's presence in the Let it Be sessions - including the infamous roof-top concert (their last performance together) - that cemented his right to that title.

He also performed with, or wrote songs for, dozens of other bands and singers, including the Rolling Stones, Aretha Franklin, and Joe Cocker (Preston wrote You Are So Beautiful). He had hits as a solo artist as well, including Outta Space and my favorite, Nothing From Nothing.

Another favorite Billy Preston moment of mine is from George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh. George is introducing the band and finally says, "Have I forgotten anyone? Billy Preston! I've forgotten Billy Preston!"

That minor oversight besides, Billy Preston will not be soon forgotten.

Tags: , , , ,

It Was Forty Years Ago Today

Disneyland 1966Forty years ago today, on 6-6-66, my family first left Boston for Los Angeles. It took us two weeks to drive across country, seeing such sights as Niagara Falls, Yellowstone Park, the Grand Canyon, and Mount Rushmore along the way.

The picture at right would have been taken not long after settling into our new home, sometime in the late summer of 1966, just past my 5th birthday. I'm the little guy in the middle with the big white sunglasses. That's Sleeping Beauty's castle behind us, marking the location as Disneyland; the Happiest Place on Earth. I don't usually think much of that slogan, but on that day it probably was the happiest place for us.

We returned to Massachusetts 13 months later, in 1967, and moved back to California in 1974.

There may be some who are spooked by the numbers in this posting -- 6-6-66, 13 months, today's date of 6-6-06 -- but I don't put any magical importance to random dates on the calendar. However, just to be safe, I do have an important business meeting set up with a nun in a couple of hours.

Tags: , , , ,

Monday, June 05, 2006

Carnival of the Decline of Democracy - Round One

A couple of weeks ago, I came up with the idea for the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy, saying, "From questionable election results to collecting the phone records of every law-abiding citizen, we have recently witnessed a massive erosion of our civil liberties and freedoms. Some would say it's just a matter of time before elections are cancelled for our own protection."

Carnival of the Decline of DemocracyI called for the blog entries that best chronicle the decline of American democracy, and said I'd post the first edition today. Here's what was sent in:

The first entry, from "Hell's Handmaiden," takes the President to task for his various cover-ups and excuses: Bush Reasserts Presidential Prerogatives - "President Bush has spoken out again in defense of his use of Presidential Prerogative. Lets assume for the moment that he is justified in invoking that prerogative in the case of domestic spying. I don't believe that he is, but lets avoid that controversy here and look at two other issues where he is claiming presidential prerogative."

This next entry, from a more conservative point-of-view, makes the valid point that whatever you may think of "activist courts" making laws, they get away with it thanks to a Congress that is afraid of its own responsibilities to lead: Al D'Amato, Leadership and the Courts - "A few years ago Your Business Blogger would occasionally share an elevator with then Senator Al D'Amato (R-NY) where he had a hide-a-way of some sort...."

I wondered if Jon Swift missed the point of my carnival when he put in an entry arguing in favor of the decline of democracy. I think his understanding of history is flawed, his conclusions are wrong, and his ideas are just plain dangerous, but I believe in open debate, so here it is: Too Many Voters - "We don't need more voters, we need more intelligent voters. And the way to accomplish that is to make it as difficult to vote as possible."

Finally, I want to give a special mention to Empires Fall. Nearly every day their posts are quite worthy of the carnival of the decline of democracy.

We'll try this again in two weeks. The next edition will be posted on Monday, June 19th, with entries requested by Thursday, the 15th, at midnight. Submit your blog article to the next edition of the carnival of the decline of democracy using our carnival submission form. More information on future carnivals can be found on our blog carnival index page.

Tags: , , , , ,

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Humans Strike Back

If you happen to be reading this blog while waiting on hold for customer assistance with any major company, here's the resource you've been waiting for: the GetHuman database.

The database has direct numbers to avoid telephone trees of pre-recorded messages, as well as instructions for getting out of the loop and into the ear of an actual human, at many top companies.

Be sure to see the tips section for some general advice when dealing with the companies not already on their cheat sheet database.

Much of the advice boils down to pressing "0" repeatedly, ignoring all the error messages until you get a person. That sound much more effective than my usual habit of screaming "Get me a fucking human!" into the phone at the top of my lungs.

Here's one of the tips that I can't wait to test out: "Selecting the option for Spanish will sometimes get you a bilingual human more quickly than if you just waited for an English-only operator."

Tags: , , , ,

Friday, June 02, 2006

Preschool for All

My post on Wednesday discussed my annoyance with the negative campaigning in the Democratic primary for California governor (recent polls show I'm not alone in that). There is, however, something on next Tuesday's ballot that I do feel positive about, and that is proposition 82, the Preschool for All initiative.

A RAND Corporation study just issued demonstrates that investing public money to make preschool available to every 4-year-old in California would generate an estimated $2 to $4 in benefits for every dollar spent.

These public payback from investing in preschool continues long after the money is spent through a drop in the amount of special education services needed, fewer students repeating grades, less youth crime now and adult crime later, and a more productive workforce for decades to come.

Proposition 82 is not about state-sponsored babysitting. It's about giving California's most vulnerable population a chance at a better future, for themselves and for the entire community.

Tags: , , ,

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Blog Carnivals for Fun and Punditry

If you haven't come across this new trend yet, let me introduce you to the concept of Blog Carnivals. A carnival is new way of linking blogs of a similar topic in a sort of online community. The organizer of the carnival selects a topic and a date. Other bloggers send in their posts on that topic. The organizer then posts all the links with a little commentary and everybody has lots of fun.

For example, this blog was listed on Boston Cocktails' Carnival of Drinking yesterday.

On a more serious side, I am organizing the Carnival of the Decline of Democracy. From questionable election results to collecting the phone records of every law-abiding citizen, we have recently witnessed a massive erosion of our civil liberties and freedoms. Some would say it's just a matter of time before elections are cancelled for our own protection. This "carnival" will link to those blog posts that best chronicle the decline of American democracy.

The deadline for entry into the first edition of this carnival is tonight, midnight, June 1! Click here to use the easy-submit form to enter the carnival!

Learn more about blog carnivals at

Tags: , ,

Twitter Feed