May 31, 2007

You Know You Had a Great Memorial Day Barbeque When ...

... your next door neighbor, whose balcony connects with yours and who has lived in the building for years, runs out the next day and purchases her own barbeque grill.

It must have been the prime New York strip steak.

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May 30, 2007

For Three Strange Days I Had Obligations

During a recent three-day period, I "fired" three women in my life. One was an ex from last year and the year before. The second was an ex from this year. The third was my housekeeper. Playing the heavy for once felt very refreshing.

In the first case, I had to tell my ex that, even though we are still close and I care about her, I am not interested in getting back together with her at this time. It was the most Shermanesque statement ("If drafted, I will not run; if nominated, I will not accept; if elected, I will not serve") that I have made to her, and, as expected, it did not go over very well.

In the second case, I told my (more recent) ex more about why I had decided to end the relationship. In contrast to the George Costanza easy let-down method ("it's not you, it's me"), this time it really was her from my perspective, and I let her know exactly what it was that caused me such a problem. This did not go over well either.

In the third case, I had to call my housekeeper to let her know that, as a result of her attendance record of only 50%, without due notice before canceled visits, our professional relationship had come to an end. Due to her lack of English language skills, the conversation took place almost entirely in Spanish, and I speak almost no Spanish. Somehow I rose to the occasion. I felt like one of those people who suffers a serious head injury and wakes up speaking fluent Japanese. Once again, my decision did not go over well on the receiving end.

Usually I am not such a direct bearer of bad news. I tend to sugarcoat problems I have with people, probably for the purpose of having them still like me. But having everyone like you is most likely a sign of weakness, and probably results in a lack of respect from many people. It also can lead to misunderstandings, and could do a disservice to the very people whose feelings you are trying not to hurt. In contrast, my new experiment in blunt honesty worked pretty well, at least as a matter of clear communication and giving people information that may be helpful to them. I have said that I would rather have someone upset with me for telling them the truth than for keeping quiet and not telling them something that was on my mind. For three days at least, I put that motto into practice.

During this three-day period, I felt a bit like George during another "Seinfeld" episode, "The Opposite." In that episode, George decides to change his unsuccessful life by taking the opposite course whenever his instincts tell him to do something. As a result, George turns his life around by finding a great job and a new girlfriend, and moving out of his parents house.

Not that I would use a short, fat, bald, unemployed, unattached, emotionally retarded fictitious television character as my role model.

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May 29, 2007

Hollywoodland is Affleck-ted

Most movies about Old Los Angeles are either sublime ("Sunset Blvd.", "Chinatown," "L.A. Confidential") or sorry ("The Black Dahlia"). One of the latest entries, 2006's "Hollywoodland," falls somewhere in between, and is now available on dvd.

"Hollywoodland" begins with the gunshot death of George Reeves, the actor who played Superman in the 1950s television series "The Adventures of Superman." When the police quickly rule Reeves' death a suicide, his disbelieving mother hires private eye Louis Simo, played by Adrien Brody, to find out what really happened. Brody's performance as the scruffy, slouching bigshot wannabe Simo is reason enough to watch "Hollywoodland."

The story is told in a series of flashbacks, Citizen Kane-style, as Simo tries to unravel the mystery of Reeves' death. Many scenes involve Diane Lane as Toni Mannix, the aging wife of fearsome studio enforcer Edgar "Eddie" Mannix (Bob Hoskins). Toni openly takes up with Reeves in a house that she has Eddie buy for them. The open marriage between Toni and Eddie is complicated, and apparently true to life, as is Toni's relationship with Reeves. When Reeves dumps Toni for young floozy Leonore Lemmon (played by Robin Tunney), Toni goes ballistic as the woman scorned. By the end of the film, Simo's professional and personal journey takes him full circle. If you want to know whether he solves the case and reunites with his estranged family, or whether he ends up like the cold and pathetic characters he has encountered, I won't spoil it for you.

The one weak link in "Hollywoodland" is Ben Affleck, whose acting is Holly-wooden. This is ironic, considering that Affleck was the most talked about element of "Hollywoodland," and he even garnered a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. However, neither Affleck's acting talents, nor a fake nose, a paunch or a Clark Gable devil-may-care speech style, are sufficient to bury Affleck's own personality. He tries to play Reeves as both smarmy and charming (smarming?), but the problem is that Affleck himself is smarmy and charming, so his Reeves ends up being twice as smarmy and charming as Reeves could possibly have been in real life.

Despite Ben Affleck's presence, "Hollywoodland" faithfully recreates a time when the Hollywood studios ran Los Angeles and its police force, and carefully controlled both the careers and the private lives of the actors it held under contract. The film, and its dvd special features about the real Hollywood, are well worth a viewing.

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May 24, 2007

Bumper Sticker Spotted Today

"I Miss Bill!"

So do I.

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May 23, 2007

An Ox to Gore

Say what you want about Al Gore. Agree or disagree with him about global warming. Say that Gore is boring, slow-talking and now portly. But Al Gore sure has it right when it comes to the news media's focus on superficial and tawdry stories.
Gore has been making the rounds on the television talk shows to promote his latest book, "The Assault on Reason." One of the themes of Gore's book is that the news media are partly to blame for the lack of citizen input into major decisions made by the U.S. government, such as on global warming and the invasion of Iraq, because the media, especially the television news networks, are covering entertainment news and celebrity gossip at the expense of the most important stories facing Americans. This is something I have been blogging about for over a year.

A couple of days ago, Diane Sawyer of ABC News proved Al Gore's point, right in front of Gore. Here, thanks to Crooks and Liars, is Gore's interview with Sawyer, where he tries to talk about his book and Sawyer keeps trying to steer the conversation to the presidential horse race and even to Gore's weight and whether it reflects his Presidential intentions. Behind them is a giant graphic that reads "The Race For '08," which is neither the topic of Gore's book or the purpose of his appearance. It's quite embarrassing. Gore, politely but firmly, finally says to Diane:

"But listen to your questions. It's, you know, the horse race, the cosmetic parts of this ... but while we're focused on, you know, Britney and K-Fed and Anna Nicole Smith and all this stuff, meanwhile, very quietly, our's country's been making some very serious mistakes that could be avoided if we the people, including the news media, are involved in a full and vigorous discussion of what our choices are."

That night, Gore appeared on CNN's Larry King Live. Larry King has made an industry out of focusing on Britney, K-Fed, Anna Nicole Smith and all this stuff (Lacy Peterson, Chandra Levy, the Runaway Bride, etc.). Here is what Gore said:

GORE: But in a lot of the news media, the line between entertainment and news is now very blurred, and a lot of news organizations feel the need to run polls and conduct focus groups the same as politicians now. And so we get a lot more of Anna Nicole Smith's funeral arrangements and Paris Hilton's legal battles on her jail term than we get about how we can solve the climate crisis and how we can get our troops out of this civil war they are trapped in, in Iraq. And we have this huge onslaught of trivialities and four-and-a- half hours a day is the average amount of time Americans watch television. And so much of it is just sort of mind-deadening. And you know what I'm talking about. And that line between entertainment and news is really gone now in many cases.

KING: What is the danger of the Paris Hilton/Anna Nicole Smith coverage kind of thing?

GORE: Well, the danger is that the volume of it excludes serious discussion of the choice that we have to make as a free people. Now a second aspect of this, though, is that television has mainly been in one direction. And so where the people used to have a greater opportunity to take part in the conversation and talk back in ways where what they said would be heard and listened to, now the act of just sitting motionless in front of the TV set and absorbing all of this stuff, particularly when the majority of it is the Britney and the K-Fed and whether or not Russell Crowe threw a telephone at the hotel concierge, that the ability and the opportunity to participate actively in the processes of self-government are disappearing.

No matter what side you may take as to Al Gore's policies or the many issues facing Americans, shouldn't we all be concerned about Gore's point that our ability to hear a full airing of different views on the issues, especially on the dominant television medium, is being crowded out by coverage of Britney, K-Fed, Paris Hilton, Anna Nicole Smith and Russell Crowe's flying telephone?

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May 20, 2007

What if they Held an Internet Crash and Nobody Came?

Late last Friday night, there was a nationwide Internet crash. The entire Internet. Or so the folks at Time Warner Cable technical support would have us believe. I was up late that night, and had the computer on. Sometime between midnight and 12:30 am Pacific time, my Internet connection went down. After having no luck resetting the modem and the wireless router, I called my Internet Service Provider, Time Warner Cable. After waiting on hold for nearly thirty minutes, the tech support person got on the line. I told her the problem, and she said that there had been a nationwide Internet outage a few minutes earlier. She said that the outage "affects all companies" providing Internet service, and that her office was being barraged by phone calls. I hung up the phone, in mild shock.

My first thought was, terrorist cyber attack. So I immediately switched on the tv news networks. Nothing. Then I took a deep breath and started to think about this critically: (1) If the Internet had gone down nationwide, this would be all over the news networks within a few minutes. (2) How on Earth would the Time Warner tech support person know whether other ISPs were affected? (3) Why would other ISPs be affected? Each ISP has its own set of wires and servers. (4) If there was indeed a nationwide Internet outage, why would it stop at the border? It is, after all, the World Wide Web. I started to become suspicious, and decided to call again.

On the next call, I received the same message from a different Time Warner rep. This time, she added that, apparently, there was "a satellite problem." Ok, that makes suspicious item number (5): What on Earth do satellites have to do with the Internet, which is a set of wires, servers, and other terrestrial physical elements connecting a bunch of computers?

I never did see a thing about this on the news. Due to the hour, most people have no idea it even happened. So, was there really a nationwide Internet crash last Friday night? Is it being covered up as part of a grand conspiracy? Or is this the single most creative excuse in the history of corporate ass-covering?

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May 17, 2007

Best Dirty Car Window "Wash Me" Message Ever

Finger-written message spotted on the dirty back window of an SUV:"Wish My Wife Was this Dirty."

I wonder how long the driver has been driving around like this.

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May 15, 2007

Falwell that Ends Well

I thought it would be appropriate to honor Jerry Falwell with his own words:

"I really believe that the Pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians, ... the ACLU, People For the American Way - all of them who have tried to secularize America - I point the finger in their face and say 'you helped this [9/11 terrorist attack] happen.'" (700 Club, 9/13/01).

“The whole [global warming] thing is created to destroy America's free enterprise system and our economic stability."

"AIDS is not just God's punishment for homosexuals; it is God's punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

"I certainly hope Hillary is the candidate...I hope she's the candidate, because nothing will energize my constituency like Hillary Clinton. If Lucifer ran, he wouldn't."

"Since Jesus came to the earth the first time 2,000 years ago as a Jewish male, many evangelicals believe the Antichrist will, by necessity, be a Jewish male."

"He [Tinky Winky the Teletubbie] is purple — the gay-pride color; and his antenna is shaped like a triangle — the gay-pride symbol."

"Labor unions should study and read the Bible instead of asking for more money. When people get right with God, they are better workers."

"You've got to kill the terrorists before the killing stops and I am for the President—chase them all over the world, if it takes ten years, blow them all away in the name of the Lord." (CNN debate with Jesse Jackson, 10/24/04)

"The idea that religion and politics don't mix was invented by the Devil to keep Christians from running their own country." (Sermon, 7/4/76)

"I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won't have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!" (America Can Be Saved!, 1979, pp. 52-53.)

Rest in peace, Jerry.

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May 14, 2007

Latest Celebrity Sighting in Southern California

Last night I attended another barbeque by the beach in Southern California. The conversation took the following turn:
Diner #1: You will never guess who I saw yesterday in the Pain Quotient (Le Pain Quotidien). Chong!
(stunned silence)
Diner #2: You mean Tommy Chong from Cheech and Chong?
Diner #1: Yeah. The thing about celebrities is that they always sit the same way in restaurants -- back to the door, head down, not making eye contact with anyone.
Diner #3: Um, Tommy Chong isn't much of a celebrity anymore.
Diner #1: Does Chong have grey hair? The guy I saw had really great hair.
Diner #4: Could be. It used to be salt and pepper.
Diner #2: He went to jail for selling bongs online. But he's probably out by now.
Diner #5: Chong's Bongs?
Diner #2: I think that was the name of it.
Diner #4: Is it illegal to sell bongs?
Diner #2: The Government went after him because of who he is.
Diner #5: I feel sorry for Britney.
Diner #6: Don't make me puke!
Diner #5: She's surrounded by the press 24/7.
Diner #2: If you had that much press following you around for just one month, I'm sure you would do something embarrassing too.
Diner #5: Paris Hilton, same thing.
Diner #2: I hear that if it were any one of us, we would have gotten less jail time than Paris Hilton. The Government ...
Diner #7 (who works for the Government): Actually, if it were any one of us, we would have gotten more jail time than Paris Hilton.
Diner #2: ...the Government singled Paris out.

At about that time, I had to excuse myself to go find some Pepto Bismol.

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May 11, 2007

Tony Blair is Gonzo but Gonzo is No Tony Blair

Two prominent men garnered attention on the world stage yesterday. One of them is a big man rendered small, and one is a small man rendered liliputian.Tony Blair gave an impassioned farewell speech yesterday after recently announcing his resignation as Britain's Prime Minister, a post he has held for nearly ten years, effective next month. Blair's speech was eloquent and heartfelt. Blair recognized that, after a stunning run at home featuring economic prosperity and improvements in education and health care, his decision to back George W. Bush's Iraq War caused bitter criticism by his countrymen and sank his popularity, probably forever. Blair had the good sense to recognize the divisions that his actions have caused, and to bow out gracefully in order to help heal his country.

In sharp contrast to Tony Blair, U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales appeared again before Congress yesterday. The best that can be said of Gonzales as a result of his testimony is that he is the Sergeant Schultz of the U.S. Government -- "I know nothing, I see nothing." However, many people believe that Gonzales knows and sees much more than he has let on, and that he has fallen on his sword and allowed himself to be portrayed as a pinhead in order to hide the role of Karl Rove and other Bush White House officials in the U.S. Attorney purge scandal. Unlike Tony Blair, Gonzales apparently does not have the good sense to recognize that his actions have resulted in massive criticism and a great divide among his countrymen, and to resign in order to help heal the country. Or perhaps Gonzales would like to resign, but Bush and Rove want to keep Gonzales in office as a firewall to stop Congress from pursuing the attorney firing scandal right into the heart of the White House.

The one thing that Tony Blair and Alberto Gonzales have in common is that their downfalls occurred after they both lashed their chariots to George W. Bush. It is amazing to think of all the people who have lost their lives, their limbs, their jobs and their reputatations after following to Bush.
Tony, we will miss you.

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May 04, 2007

And the Next Presidential Election Loser Is ...

Last night, the Republican Presidential candidates for 2008 held their first televised debate. This contest will determine who gets to lose to the Democratic candidate. The ho-hum debate was held at the tomb of Ronald Reagan, and Reagan's cult of personality permeated the event. The candidates invoked Reagan's name some 19 times in 90 minutes, while they uttered the name of President George W. Bush a mere three times. There was also ample criticism of Bush's handling of the Iraq War. This debate thus marks the official beginning of the Republican Effort to Erase George W. Bush from the History Books and from Everyone's Memory.

Here are some impressions of each of the ten (!) candidates:

Rudolph "I refuse to call him Rudy" Giuliani -- He's supposed to be Mr. Charisma? Rudolph wanted to play up his supposed strength as Mr. 9/11, but, this being a Republican debate, many of the questions centered around abortion, and Giuliani was knocked back on his heels. He actually said that it "would be ok" if the Supreme Court repealed Roe v. Wade, and that it "would be ok also" if the Court upheld it. Can you hear that sound? It is the footsteps of thousands of Republican voters stampeding away from Rudolph. Plus, despite the current trend of Brazilian waxes for women and chest and eyebrow waxing for men, since the Presidential debates have been televised, Americans have not elected any man with a tan, shiny chrome dome.

John McCain -- a hesitant start, but ultimately the winner of the evening. He made no gaffes, sang no crazy "bomb Iran" songs, and appeared forceful, passionate, energetic, and presidential.

Mitt Romney -- Quick! Call FAO Schwarz! Their life-size Ken doll has escaped from its box! Mitt is the slickest, fakest politician I have ever seen. Even for haters of Bill Clinton, Romney makes Clinton look like Garrison Keillor. Plus, Romney has flip-flopped on the essential Republican issues (abortion, stem cell research) so many times, he makes John Kerry look like, uh, Ronald Reagan.

Ron Paul -- This congressman from Texas is a pure Conservative. His attacks on the candidates and his own party, especially regarding Bush's invasion of Iraq and wild deficit spending, provided the evening's best entertainment. Paul's baggy-eyed resemblance to Alberto the Shadow, the hitman from "Scarface," added to his theatrical presence.

James Gilmore -- the former Governor of Virginia, Gilmore appeared confident and competent. He demonstrated why people prefer the executive experience of Governors when voting for President. Gilmore has raised his profile for sure. He will now receive four votes instead of two.

Duncan Hunter -- with the repetition of the "un" sound in his name, "Duncan Hunter" pleasantly rolls off the tongue. Maybe this is how Led Zeppelin and Def Leppard got their names. But "un"like John McCain, who jokes about bombing Iran, Duncan Hunter wants to bomb everyone. Right now. He's a scary guy.

Sam Brownback and Mike Huckabee -- when asked who does not believe in evolution, these guys raised their hands! At least Huckabee, former Governor of Arkansas, sounded genial, thoughtful and reasonable as he spoke about turning America into a theocracy. Brownback, on the other hand, looks and acts like the Devil, which matches his theocratic aspirations for America.

Tom Tancredo -- what a creepy-looking and sounding guy. He's supposedly from Colorado, but has this weird foreign accent, like Christopher Walken as The Continental. He also raised his hand when asked who does not believe in evolution. That makes perfect sense, since Dracula still looks and feels great after 500 years.

I can't even think of the tenth candidate. Oh yeah. It's former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. In an answer to a question about the number of U.S. casualties in the Iraq War , Thompson said "several thousand" troops have been wounded. Hey Tommy? The number is over 24,000. Thompson looked like he was sleepwalking through the debate. Perhaps he was bitten on the neck by Tom Tancredo just before the start.

Unannounced would-be GOP candidates Fred Thompson and Newt Gingrinch must be feeling very good about their chances after watching last night's debate. So are the Democrats.

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May 02, 2007

The Time I Invented a New Language

Or, more accurately, the time I named a new language that my friend Gabriel invented. In his honor, I named the language Gabrish.
But don't tell Gabriel -- he doesn't know that he invented a new language. I am reminded of Gabrish by a headline in today's news: "Man Dies of Thirst During Survial Test."

You see, Gabrish is a form of malapropism. Gabriel is Romanian by way of Israel. He has an interesting accent, and an even more interesting choice of English words. Often, he uses the wrong word, sometimes a word that does not even exist, to describe something. Oddly enough, however, his word choice is, in a Freudian sense, often more apt than the intended word.

For example, I once emailed Gabriel a WordPerfect attachment from a PC to his Mac. This was in the old days when the two computer platforms weren't so compatible. Gabe emailed back, writing that my attachment came out as "gabrish." Obviously, he meant "gibberish," but Freud was in control of the moment. It was then that I realized that Gabe's language was special, and, in its own way, ingenious.

Today's headline leads a story about a man who died of thirst while taking a survival course. His guides had ample water to keep him alive, but refused to let him know about this, because they wanted him to pass the grueling course (over 100 hours in the desert with no water). It seems to me that the ghost of Freud entered the writer's hand, causing him to write "Survial" instead of "Survival."

Either that, or Gabrish has really caught on.

Note: By the time you read this post, the headline in question may well have been corrected. But trust me, it contained the word "Survial."

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May 01, 2007

Tenet's Tenets are Still Sound

Former CIA Director George Tenet has released a book, and now Tenet is getting whacked around pretty good. Tenet's book, "At the Center of the Storm," alleges that there was no debate inside the White House before invading Iraq, and that Tenet's pre-9/11 warnings of a pending terrorist attack in the U.S. were ignored.

Critics of George Tenet have appeared on all sides of the political spectrum. Some even say that Tenet has blood on his hands for helping to allow the U.S. to go to war in Iraq. Six former CIA officers have written to Tenet, asking him to give back his Medal of Freedom awarded by George W. Bush, and to donate proceeds of his book to the families of U.S. soldiers who have been killed and wounded in Iraq.

Many of the criticisms of Tenet are fair, especially that he was an enabler of George Bush, Dick Cheney and the other Bush Administration officials who neoconned us into the Iraq War. Despite Tenet's comments now that he never told the Bush Administration of a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq, he sat behind Secretary of State Colin Powell in February 2003 when Powell made his presentation to the U.N. Security Council alleging that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda. Tenet also admits using the phrase "slam dunk" regarding Iraq, although Tenet says he was referring to the selling of the Iraq invasion to the American people rather than the ease of invading and occupying Iraq, which is the meaning Dick Cheney and others have attributed to Tenet's phrase. Even if Tenet is right, the CIA Director has no business helping a President sell a war.

However, the valid criticisms against Tenet do not dilute the importance of his comments about White House scheming before 9/11 and the Iraq War. Tenet says that he warned National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice in July 2001 that Al Qaeda was planning imminent, multiple, spectacular terrorist attacks in the United States. Former White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke also testified before the 9/11 Commission that he warned Rice about Al Qaeda throughout 2001. Several days after Tenet's warning to Rice, the CIA prepared the famous August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing for George Bush, entitled "Bin Laden Determined to Strike In U.S." Rice buried these warnings, and then lied about it to the 9/11 Committee, saying that the August 6 PDB was merely a "historical document." That to me is the biggest sin anyone committed regarding either 9/11 or the Iraq War, since paying proper attention to Tenet's and Clarke's warnings could possibly have prevented the 9/11 attacks.

The second biggest sin was the pack of lies told by Bush, Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush Administration officials and advisors to sell the Iraq War to the American people. While they spoke about WMDs, mushroom clouds, and phony links between Al Quaeda and Iraq in the wake of 9/11, in truth they planned to invade Iraq for strategic reasons well before 9/11. Tenet corroborates this, and so do others, including Clarke and former Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neil.
The biggest criticism I can direct against George Tenet is that he did not resign and tell his story sooner. Even if Tenet was trying to effect change from the inside, as he claims, it was apparent years ago that his arguments were not carrying the day. Nevertheless, George Tenet's complicity in the Iraq War pales in comparison to the sins of the people at the top of the Bush Administration, who took their power to keep us safe and twisted it for their own ideological and political purposes. On that note, Tenet's story is important to tell.

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