January 29, 2008

Latest Sign that the Blogosphere Has Eclipsed the Old Media

This snarky message, found on the oldest of old media -- a license plate frame -- could only have come from the blogosphere:

"I Want To Be Barbie -- That Bitch Has Everything"

As for the message on the license plate -- "2 Gorgs" -- I assume this is a reference to Barbie's or the driver's looks, rather than a giant dam in China.

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January 27, 2008

Two Handmade Car Signs, One Parking Lot

What are the odds? These handmade signs were spotted in the windows of two cars parked only a couple of hundred feet apart:

1. "Don't Bomb Iran."
2. "Bush: Warmonger. He Lies - Soldiers Die. 3500+"
While bumper stickers of every variety are readily available, there is something quaint yet powerful about somebody taking the time and effort to create their own message and posting it in their car window.

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January 26, 2008

Continued Adventures in Going Green: No Paper No Plastic

I have taken one more step to go green: I have ditched paper and plastic supermarket bags in favor of reusable sacks. I was apprehensive at first. I thought that reusable grocery bags were the province of granola heads. However, here in Southern California, one has to go pretty far to be a granola head. I'm talking powering your toaster with your bicycle, growing dreads down to your waist, and rubbing your armpits with pumice stones for deodorant. Reusable grocery bags are very popular among all kinds of people here.

So I took the plunge some months ago and bought two bright green reusable grocery bags at the Ultimate Yuppie Palace, Whole Foods. The bags only cost $1.99 each. I received a third bag, made of canvas, at a green business event.

I'm really happy with the switch to reusable bags. The bags, which don't look that large, easily expand to hold many items, are very strong, and are very easy to carry. One benefit that I hadn't thought of is that every supermarket I take them to gives me a discount of at least five cents for each bag. The bags have already paid for themselves. I know this is important to Republicans, who don't like to do anything to save the planet unless it's pocketbook-neutral. One trick I use is to give all three bags to the cashier no matter how few items I have, so that I get a fifteen cent discount every time.

A second effect of switching to reusable bags is that I have become very aware of all those paper and plastic bags stacked up and being used by others at the checkout counter. I think about all the trees being cut down for the paper bags, and all the oil being used for the plastic bags, as well as thinking about where all those bags eventually end up. I'm glad that I am no longer contributing to the problem, and I'm convinced that the reusable grocery bag trend makes sense for everyone and will continue to become more popular.

As Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes says in the film "The Aviator,"

Wave of the future. Wave of the future.

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January 22, 2008

Separated at Birth? Giuliani Edition

A few days ago, Rudolph Giuliani gave an interview with MSNBC from "Fwowida." Giuliani's heavy stage makeup, including lots of eyeliner, raised a few penciled eyebrows. Here is what Giuliani looked like, courtesy of Crooks and Liars (who added their own view that Giuliani might have been separated at birth with his own drag queen self):

MSNBC's Joe Scarborough noted that Giuliani's makeup job reminded him of David Bowie's glam Ziggy Stardust character from the early 1970s:

I had a couple of other thoughts about who Giuliani looked like with his makeup job. The first thought was Peter Gabriel of prog-rock band Genesis during their artsiest period, circa 1972:

And lastly, Giuliani's makeup job reminded me of a colorized version of silent screen star Fatty Arbuckle:

From a pure entertainment perspective, I hope that Giuliani remains in the Presidential race for a long time.

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January 20, 2008

Jim Gilmore For President!

Oops, I guess I'm too late. Does anybody remember Jim Gilmore? Republican, pasty white guy, Southern accent, dark suit, receding dark hair, ran for President this past year? No? I guess I need to be more specific.

Jim (you can't call a candidate by his full first name anymore) Gilmore served as the Governor of Virginia from 1998 to 2002. He officially announced his candidacy for President in April 2007. Unfortunately, no one was paying attention at the time. A few days later, Gilmore participated in the first Republican Presidential debate for the 2008 election, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. That debate was watched by hundreds of people. Three months later, Gilmore became the first candidate to drop out of the race.

Here in California, no one I know has ever heard of Jim Gilmore. I must have a soft spot for Gilmore, because I lived in neighboring Maryland while Gilmore was the governor of Virginia. Sadly, Gilmore's website, Jim Gilmore for President '08, is still up, as proof that nothing on the Internet ever goes away. Even more sadly, its sister site, gilmoreforpresident.com, "has been temporarily suspended."

In the heat of this crazy primary season, as voters have finally started paying attention to a race that may be over at least in one party a mere two weeks from now, I propose that we drink a toast to Jim Gilmore, a man ahead of his time.

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January 16, 2008

Beverly Hills, That's Where I Want to Be (Gimme Gimme)

Yesterday I traveled to the heart of Beverly Hills for an appointment. I felt a bit like a Beverly Hillbilly.
Mostly, I was underdressed, a feeling I have not once had in the beach community where I live. In that community, dressed-up means a gothic hoodie. But not so in Beverly Hills. The women wore very tight skirts and blouses, and very high-heeled shoes (not a problem, come to think of it). The men wore skinny black suits and slick sunglasses. One such man had a waist-length black ponytail streaked with grey, and was admiring himself in a bank window. Ironically, this attire tends to mark these folks as "worker bees" rather than the chief muckety-mucks.

In just a few block radius, in front of the numerous jewelry shops and fancy delis, I saw top-of- the-line Benzes, Aston Martins and a vintage yellow Rolls Royce being driven at five miles per hour by a charming-looking old mixed race couple.

I finally escaped Beverly Hills in my now pedestrian German vehicle, back to the land of the beach combers.
With only a cleaned set of chompers and a chicken salad on a whole wheat bagel to show for it, I'm told that I got away easy.

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January 13, 2008

Amazing Scientific Discovery Goes Unnoticed

Amid the brouhaha over Britney Spears and the hysteria over Hillary Clinton, a huge scientific breakthrough has been made, almost totally unnoticed.Scientists now think they know what our appendix is for.

For a long time, scientists have told us that the appendix, that dangling dongle in our lower right abdomen that no one thinks about for years until it bursts and almost kills us, had no purpose. How could we have been so gullible? The human body is a triumph of form following function. Everything on our bodies has a purpose (ok, maybe not nipples on a man, but everything else). As Elaine says on one "Seinfeld" episode, "A man's body is utilitarian. It's for gettin' around. It's like a Jeep."

Even our cocyx has a purpose. It's a vestigial tailbone from early in our fetal development, when all mammals, even humans, have tails. Or, for you non-evolution-believing religious nuts out there, the cocyx is known as Adam's Pogo Stick, on which Adam bounced his way out of the Garden of Eden with that serpent hot on his, uh, tail.

So last October, with little or no fanfare, scientists at Duke University Medical School came up with what they think is the answer to the question no one was asking: what the hell is our appendix for, other than to sometimes burst, causing great pain and huge medical bills?

These scientists now say that the appendix is a factory that produces "good" bacteria in our digestive systems.

That's right, along with "good" cholesterol, we need "good" bacteria, and, before the invention of Yoplait yogurt, our bodies produced this "good" bacteria in our appendix.

According to the Duke scientists, the reason why the appendix was thought to be useless is that it is needed primarily to produce good bacteria when diseases such as cholera and dysintery wipe out such bacteria from our bodies, and these diseases are mostly extinct in the developed nations where most scientific research takes place. Or, as Elaine would say, if the Jeep ain't broke, don't fix it.

It seems to me that we owe the appendix a huge apology. We have ignored it for hundreds of years, ranking it at the bottom of the list of Important Organs, well below the heart, lungs, kidneys and naughty bits.

I, for one, am glad that one more mystery of the human body has apparently been solved. Now, will someone please tell me what the hell my spleen and gall bladder are for?

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January 06, 2008

What is the Internet and Can It be Trusted?

Recently, an old friend asked me if I use the Internet for work-related research. "Of course," I answered. "How can you trust what's on there?" she asked. "Isn't a lot of the information wrong, or just made up?

She sounded terribly uninformed and so ten years ago (note: the phrase "so [fill in time frame] ago" is so two years ago, and I promise to phase it out). Each day, millions, maybe billions, of people use and rely on the Internet, often without thinking twice about the medium they are utilizing. We have come a long way in ten or fifteen years.

However, my friend's questions caused me to step back and think, what is the Internet really? Strictly speaking, the Internet is a network of millions of interconnected computers, along with software, common language and protocols that, together, form the most powerful form of mass communication in human history.

But the Internet is several things. First, as my friend was apparently alluding to, the Internet is a forum where bloggers, commenters and others write whatever they want, and state things as facts, with no accountability other than their online reputation. However, the Internet is also the world's largest public library, containing everything from medical papers presented in Switzerland to the instructions you have long lost on how to change the ring tone on your Razr. Additionally, the Internet is the world's largest newsstand, containing scanned and reprinted articles from newspapers, magazines and other publications, as well as original content by well-known journalists at sites such as The Huffington Post. The Internet is the world's most gargantuan information kiosk, where one can easily find local weather forecasts, movie theater and television schedules, and a map showing how to get to a trendy new restaurant. The Internet is also the world's biggest shopping mall, where most retail businesses have a presence allowing us to purchase airline tickets, televisions, cars, movie tickets, and just about everything else.

Today, millions of people do things on the Internet, such as banking, renewing car registrations, and contributing to Ron Paul's campaign, that they used to do by telephone, mail or in person. So what does it mean when someone asks, "how can you rely on what you read on the Internet?" If I check my local weather at The Weather Channel's website, is the result less reliable than tuning in to The Weather Channel on television or checking the weather listings printed the night before in my local newspaper? If I read an online column by Frank Rich at nytimes.com, should I be more skeptical about its authenticity than if I read the same column in the paper version of the New York Times? If I trade stocks online at the Charles Schwab website, should I assume that the amount listed in my account is inaccurate, or that the trade did not go through?

The answer to most of these questions is, of course not. So what of those areas of the Internet, including the blogosphere, where people freely exchange thoughts and ideas, and where, as my friend alluded, lies and misinformation abound? That's the same as if someone had asked me whether I rely on information I hear in the public square or around the office water cooler, or whether I believe tabloid headlines such as "Bigfoot Stole My Wife." On the Internet and elsewhere, fact gatherers must diligently check purported facts, corroborate them with additional sources, and use time-tested methods to weed out untrue statements.

I also tell my friend that it's necessary to rely on one's internal b.s. detector. Long before the Internet became popular, we were warned by the cliche "don't believe everything you read." Every good research professional, including journalists, attorneys and economists, needs to heed that warning no matter where they are gathering their facts.

I call it a b.s. detector. Others call it a gut instinct. As far as I can tell, the Internet has not changed the need to have a good one.

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January 01, 2008

Smile, Your Cover-Up is Showing

A couple of weeks ago, I noted that one casualty of the camera phone is innocence. But it's not just sex that gets caught on tape and broadcast over the Internet nowadays. In the Age of the Video Camera, the Official Cover-Up may also be dead. If you do a bad thing in a public place, count on it being filmed, either on a hand-held video camera, a cell phone camera or a closed-circuit security camera, and then spread around the world in minutes on the Internet. That is going to make it hard to deny what everyone can see with their own eyes.

The latest cover-up to unravel due to video cameras seems to be the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The government of Ex-General and President Pervez Musharraf first tried to claim that Bhutto died when she ducked in reaction to a suicide bomber's blast, and accidentally hit her head on the sunroof lever of the Land Rover in which she was riding. However, video footage subsequently surfaced, showing a gunman jumping on the back of Bhutto's Land Rover and firing shots at Bhutto, and Bhutto's hair and head scarf flying up in reaction to the shots, before a suicide bomber near the gunman detonated himself and his bombs. So now the Pakistan Interior Ministry has had to back off of its earlier claims about the sunroof accident.

Other than to solve Bhutto's murder, why does it matter what caused Bhutto's death -- the assassin's bullets, the suicide bomber's blast, the concussion from the blast, or Bhutto's now-discredited ducking and accidentally hitting her head? After all, any of these causes is a direct result of an undisputed assassination attack of some kind. Well, there is a difference, as is explained via Talking Points Memo:

CNN national security analyst Ken Robinson, who worked in U.S. intelligence in Pakistan during the Clinton administration, said he suspects Bhutto's enemies are attempting to control her legacy by minimizing the attack's role in her demise.
"They're trying to deny her a martyr's death [by claiming that the immediate cause of death was an accident rather than an act of murder], and in Islam, that's pretty important," Robinson said.
Bhutto, he said, threatens to become more influential in death than she was in life. "Her torch burns bright now forever. She's forever young; she's forever brave, challenging against all odds the party in power and challenging the military and Islamic extremism."

Furthermore, the Musharraf government's rushed and retracted official explanation of the cause of Bhutto's death leads even more people to question whether the Musharraf government's other rushed explanation -- that the assassination was the work of Al Qaeda rather than an inside job by Musharraf's own people -- is false as well.

If the Kennedy assassination happened today, there would be a plethora of cell phone camera Zapruder films from every angle, including the Grassy Knoll, and hundreds of speculating conspiracy theorists and authors would have been put out of business.

So where do we go from here? Pretty sooon you can expect the "Assassins Gone Wild" DVD collection and cable channel.

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