April 30, 2007

My Birthday Burglary

My recent birthday celebration was cut short after twelve hours and forty-five minutes. That night, I was taken out to dinner by friends, including Gwen. Early the next morning, she called to tell me that, sometime during our birthday celebration, her house had been burglarized.

Gwen rents a charming old one-story Spanish- style home that is commonly found in her neighborhood. The house has many original windows and French doors that swing inward, and that are fastened by only a simple latch. Ironically, the house was recently put up for sale, and Gwen is set to move out in a little over a week.

I came over the house the next day, just after the police had left. The cops concluded that the burglar or burglars had entered through an unlocked window. Apparently, the burglars had spent a good amount of time in the house, since they went through all of the rooms, the closets, and even the basement. They stole all of the good stuff, including Gwen's flat panel television, stereo, and more. They even stole some of her luggage, which they probably used to carry out the smaller items.

I inspected the window through which the burglars had allegedly entered, and I saw that the sliding lock had not worked for many years. It appeared to be the window's original lock. The wood in the window frame was rotted, and the screws designed to hold the "catch" side of the lock were not holding, and probably had not held for a long time. Also, the two sides of the lock didn't even come close to meeting, which they need to do for the lock to work, due to major warping of the windows and settling of the house over time. I took a more extensive look around the house, and noticed that many of the French doors and windows had bolts on them, but the bolts were heavily painted over and were stuck in the open position.

So I went to work. I picked up at least eight door bolts and several window locks, and installed them around the house. It was literally a case of closing the barn door after the cow had escaped. I felt like the Bush Administration after 9/11, taking security precautions after, instead of before, disaster struck. I'm upset that the homeowner rented a house that didn't even have working locks on all the windows, and the lawyer in me says that he has some legal liability here. The house has a demolition permit, and the homeowner has never showed up to fix up or even look at his house during the sale process. The place is being sold as a teardown because it sits on a large, valuable piece of property, and no one cares what condition the house is in. Except Gwen.

The cops were suspicous about the timing of the burglary. They said that the burglars must have cased the place to know when to strike. Indeed, the "For Sale" sign had been put up just a week or two before, and a bunch of people had just tromped through for an open house a few days earlier. The homeowner had given the keys to the real estate agent, the home appraiser, and others. Furthermore, a bunch of workmen have been fixing up the house across the street, and have had ample chance to spot Gwen's comings and goings. My hunch is that the burglar or burglars wandered in during the open house, where they had plenty of time to check out all of the potential loot, as well as all of the security features on the windows and doors, without raising the least bit of suspicion. It's a scary thought, and a lesson for all of us.

The good news is that the stolen property is only stuff, and it's replaceable. Gwen is safe, and, after I turned the house into a fortress, she feels safer about staying there for the final week. She is going to take a good hard look at her new place, and will require the building owner to take all necessary safety precautions before or immediately after she moves in, so that there is no repeat of my birthday burglary. If only the Bush Administration would do the same with our homeland security.

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April 27, 2007

And the Next President Is ...

Last night, the Democratic Presidential candidates for the 2008 election participated in their first debate, televised on MSNBC. All eight announced candidates, from favorites Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama to Mike Gravel (who?), were there. Most of the pundits are saying that Clinton won the debate and that Obama also did well but slightly flubbed one or two answers. I thought there was another winner, and a surprising one at that.

Senator Joe Biden from Delaware won the debate last night, on both substance and style. Biden spoke the funniest line of the night, maybe the funniest line in years. When asked if he had the discipline to rein in what some see as his tendency toward verbosity, Biden answered with one syllable: "Yes." Moderator Brian Williams of NBC News waited for more of an answer, but it never came. The crowd roared. Substantively, Biden is the only candidate (indeed, the only official of any political stripe) to have a specific plan for Iraq, which is the central issue of the upcoming election. Biden proposes to divide Iraq into a loose federation of three ethnic states (Sunni, Shiite and Kurd), and to guarantee each group autonomy, safety and a portion of Iraq's oil revenues. While people may disagree that Biden's plan would work, at least Biden has laid out a specific plan.

The biggest winners last night were the American people. Those who tuned in saw an impressive crop of Democratic candidates, most of whom have many years of experience in tackling tough issues. While the candidates sometimes had very different points of view, each one was serious and thoughtful, and, with only a couple of exceptions (Gravel and Dennis Kucinich), each candidate appeared to have the gravitas to be President. The evening was short on hysterics, histrionics, fear-mongering, Bible thumping, race baiting, gay bashing, jingoism, phony patriotic slogans and other cynical appeals to our basest instincts. That could be a far cry from the field of Republican Presidential candidates, who have their first debate next Thursday.
Note: I have no association or relationship of any kind with Senator Biden.

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April 26, 2007

Bumper Sticker of the Day

"Last Time We Mixed Politics with Religion ... People Got Burned at the Stake"

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April 25, 2007

Tap Into Global Warming

Spinal Tap is poised to reunite for Al Gore's Live Earth concert in London this July 7. No doubt, the guys from Spinal Tap are stepping up to do the concert because they have a mixed record on global warming. On the one hand, Spinal Tap saved energy and materials when they ordered a Stonehenge set piece that was only 18 inches high instead of 18 feet high, and which, during its debut concert, was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf. On the other hand, Spinal Tap guitarist Nigel Tufnel's amps go to 11 (as does this blog), which undoubtedly uses "one more" unit of electricity than do amplifiers which merely go to 10. This has helped cement Spinal Tap's reputation as "one of England's loudest bands."

Congratulations to Spinal Tap for getting off the fence and taking this strong stand to fight global warming.

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April 23, 2007

I Fixed My New Blogger!

No thanks to Google/Blogger. I have had major problems with New Blogger ever since mistakenly and prematurely migrating to New Blogger more than two months ago. I was not able to log into New Blogger from my Internet Explorer browser on my laptop. I had to sign into a Google account through my email client (which is not a Microsoft product). Further, I was unable to upload photos from the laptop. I had to use another computer to do so. And, New Blogger kept crashing on me.

A flurry of emails back and forth to Google and "the Blogger team" failed to solve the problem. Google and Blogger kept giving me the same three fixes, including making sure my Internet security setttings were at Medium or lower. Since my settings were at medium, Google's tip did not help.

Today, by chance, I had a similar problem trying to make a stock trade online at Fidelity Investments. I called Fidelity, and they asked me whether I had recently upgraded to Internet Explorer 7 and then downgraded back to IE 6. Sure enough, I had. In a move similar to my unwitting early migration to New Blogger, I had recently installed IE 7 as part of an "update" that I thought was merely the usual security upgrade patch. As soon as I saw the new IE, I hated it and was able to downgrade back to IE 6. The Fidelity tech said that the problem is usually cured by going into the Internet security settings, changing the setting from Medium to another level, applying the change, closing the IE program, then going back in and changing the setting back to Medium. The Google/Blogger folks never mentioned this trick.

It works! Or, I should say, I am cautiously optimistic that it works. This post was done on the laptop. I was able to add the photo of the scary yet happy clown. No crashes.

So if any of you bloggers are caught in the same New Blogger hell in which I was suffering, hopefully this fix will work for you too. Kudos to Fidelity for being so helpful. Mac users, please do not gloat that you don't have problems like this.

Google/New Blogger, you still suck.

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April 20, 2007

Bedtime for Gonzo

I cannot improve upon today's New York Times editorial regarding yesterday's testimony by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The only words that I can add are "sad," "pathetic," "liar" and "toady." The cynical view is that Gonzoles should keep his job, so that Democrats can successfully use him as a punching bag for the next two years. But the job of Attorney General is too important for that. Gonzales should do President Bush, the Republicans, and, especially, the country a favor and resign immediately.

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April 15, 2007

Bugs Bunny and the State of Race Relations in America

I attended a barbeque last weekend where the subject of the Johnny Quest cartoon arose. Not having seen Johnny Quest for many years, I jokingly asked whether Johnny Quest has racist or homosexual undertones that we as kids did not identify. This led to a roundtable discussion about examples of racism in cartoons, movies and tv shows over the years. Some of the examples thrown around were:

--The Bugs Bunny episode where a explosion takes place in front of a bunch of white guys. When the smoke clears, their faces are black, whereupon they become minstrels and start playing Negro spiritual songs.

--Mickey Rooney as Japanese landlord Mr. Yunioshi in the 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's." This over-the-top portrayal ("Miss Gorightry!") was typical of the entertainment industry's treament of minorities at the time. Rooney's character also brought up a secondary form of racism, that of casting white people as minorities, instead of employing minority actors to fill the bill. One example that stands out is the casting of Canadian actor Joseph Wiseman as Chinese villain Dr. No. in the 1962 James Bond film "Dr. No." Wiseman's prosthetic Asian eyefolds are pretty embarrassing to see today.

--The portrayal of Native Americans ("Injuns") in just about every western movie and television program before "Dances With Wolves." The Native Americans were largely portrayed as screaming, savage, one-dimensional cutouts. There was little or no attempt to differentiate them by tribe, tribal customs or otherwise. They merely wore feathers and chanted "Hi-how-are-ya Hi how-are-ya." Even worse, as was the case with Mr. Yunioshi, the Native Americans were often played by white actors, sometimes ones with blue eyes.

--Mr. Magoo's Chinese houseboy Charlie, with two buck teeth, Coke bottle glasses, and traditional Chinese clothing. "Cholly" would use his martial arts skills to flip passersby, repeatedly saying "So solly, so solly" as he did so.

These are just a few examples that we came up with. There are countless others. It is useful to think about this in an age where a racist comment by a popular radio personality justifiably causes a massive public outcry and results in his firing. Just a few decades ago or less, the same behavior would have been handsomely rewarded. Although we have a long way to go, that is some progress.

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April 10, 2007

Sneaker Pimps

I recently discovered an underground fetish in a small California beach town. It's a fetish engaged in almost exclusively by men. The fetish exists in many countries. The fetish can be costly to indulge in. Men satisfy this fetish mostly in public. I call these men Sneaker Pimps.

The pertinent facts regarding my sneaker-wearing habits are as follows: As a lawyer in Washington, DC, I rarely wore sneakers, except for cross-training shoes to the gym. However, since moving to Southern California, I have traded my tasseled loafers for sneakers. I own two vintage pairs of sneakers: grey and orange Puma Californias, and marroon, black and khaki suede Vans. I have owned these sneakers for years. After moving to California, however, the shoes have rapidly begun to wear out, especially the Vans. Unfortunately, both models have been discontinued.

In my search for a replacement for the Vans, I have been to numerous stores. The problem I have had is that my feet have grown from size 12 to 12 1/2. I thought only one's ears and nose keep growing as one ages, but apparently the feet grow too, as one's arches fall due to weight and gravity. For some reason, no one stocks size 12 1/2. The half sizes end at 11 1/2, and then the sizes suddenly jump from 12 to 13. This is discrimination. Someone needs to look into this.

Then I wandered into a store in this beach town recently (I won't name the store or the town, because I want to keep it all to myself), and was blown away by the collection of athletic footware inside. There were Nike swooshes. There were black, white and red Adidas Kareem Abdul Jabaars that Kareem wore in "Game of Death." There was velcro all over. I had walked into vintage athletic shoe heaven.

Then a guy about my size came over. He was "Andy," the store's owner. He began to riff on all the shoes he had, and his passion was contagious. He told me that he has the same size feet as me, but that he has managed to amass over 400 pairs of sneakers. He gave me the story on many of the shoes on his shelves. They were very rare models that included Adidas velcro models from Japan, Nike models from the 1980s, and many others. He informed me that Nikes have made a gigantic comeback, and that guys from Japan are buying up the vintage ones by the dozens. Andy also told me that velcro is huge with the guys in Europe. This foot fetish is worldwide!

In the end, I was destined to buy a pair of shoes from this place. I won't say which ones, because I want some exclusivity. Andy put me on the store's email list, and told me that I will get ten percent off all future purchases. That's very dangerous. Under the right circumstances, with enough disposable income and closet space, I could easily become a sneaker pimp.

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April 09, 2007

Mixed Message

This former Nike Missile radar tracking facility located on a mountaintop overlooking Los Angeles is now open to hikers -- or is it? The conflicting "Restricted Entry" and "Welcome" language on the sign at the entrance to this Cold War facility is reminscent of Dr. Strangelove in more ways than one. This sign also brings to mind the parking signs on the streets of Washington, DC, where, on the same signpost, it is not unusual to find one sign listing hours where parking is permitted, and another sign stating "No Parking Anytime."

I guess the question you have to ask yourself is, "Do you feel lucky, punk? Well, do you?"

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April 03, 2007

One Chocolate Jesus, Hold the Nuts

Just in time for Easter, a Manhattan art exhibit featuring a life-size chocolate sculpture of a nude Jesus, with arms outstretched in cruxification position, was canceled after an outcry from Catholic groups, who called it a "sickening display." Too bad -- the chocolate Jesus could have been a great marketing tool for the Catholic Church.

According to the old saying, religion is the opiate of the masses. But everyone knows that chocolate is the true opiate of the masses. Religion is maybe number two. Maybe number three, after American Idol. So why not use chocolate to sell religion? After all, each religion needs to sell itself to a new group of kids every year, in order to sustain itself as older followers die or abandon the faith. Kids are already enticed into Catholicism with bribes of jelly beans and chocolate bunnies at Easter, but what kid could tell you the religious significance of the Easter Bunny? I have no idea myself.

Wouldn't it make more sense to market chocolate Jesuses at Easter, and during the rest of the year too? I think a chocolate Jesus could be the biggest-selling consumer item of all time. Bigger than Pet Rocks. Bigger than iPods. Bigger than Prozac.

And don't tell me it would be tacky to sell chocolate Jesuses. I have been to the Vatican City. Inside and just outside those thick Vatican walls, Jesus and tacky coexist quite famously. There are Jesus ashtrays, Jesus spoons, and Jesus pens for sale. There are even images of Jesus on that reflective material that moves when you hold it at an angle, so that Jesus can wink or wave at you. Chocolate would be downright, er, tasteful alongside some of those trinkets.

All I am saying is, there are two ways of looking at things.

My only advice would be to make the chocolate Jesuses solid. I recall that, at Easter time, the most unpleasant experience I had was biting into a delectable-looking Easter Bunny and finding absolutely nothing on the inside.

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