May 28, 2008

Naked Crotch, Meet Naked Intellect

Sharon Stone now suggests that the devastating earthquake in China may have been caused by bad "karma" based on "the way the Chinese are treating the Tibetans ...." Stone joins a celebrated list of wackos who blame horrible natural and man-made disasters on various scapegoat groups of people.

In September 2001, we had, on Pat Robertson's "700 Club" Television program, Reverend Jerry Falwell blaming the 9/11 attacks on "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," and Robertson saying "I totally concur."

More recently, John McCain's "spiritual guide," pastor John Hagee, enlightened us that Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans because the city was holding a Gay Pride parade.

I guess Sharon Stone and these religious nutjobs have honed their blame game by doing what they all do for a living -- playing pretend.

(photo from

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May 23, 2008

Is Gasoline as Important as Cable TV?

In 1992, the U.S. Congress overrode President George H.W. Bush's veto and passed the Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act. This law, among other things, regulated the price for basic cable television service. The arguments made in favor of cable regulation apply even more clearly today to gasoline. So, is it now time to regulate the price of gasoline?

Basically, the 1992 Cable Act treated cable television as a utility, something everyone needs and which is prohibitively expensive for smaller competitors to produce and distribute, like water or electricity. Congress noted that a relatively small group of cable operators controlled the market for cable tv such they were able consistently to raise prices faster than the rate of inflation. According to Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), "Before the 1992 Cable Act was passed, cable rates were rising three times faster than inflation rates. I do not think you can name a consumer in this country who did not feel that he or she was being gouged."

Hmm, sound familiar?

There are two big difference between cable tv and gasoline which makes price regulation even more applicable to gasoline. First, cable tv has lots of substitutes. Even if the market is defined narrowly as multichannel non-broadcast television programming, cable competes with satellite dish tv service, which has been gaining more subscribers than cable for some time. Plus, a more realistic view of the market in which cable competes would include broadcast television, which still gets the most viewers ("American Idol," the Super Bowl, etc.), as well as DVDs (on which one can rent movies, cable and broadcast television programs), and possibly even other forms of entertainment, like live sports events and, hopefully, blog reading on the Internet.

Second, it's not easy to argue that cable tv is a necessity (I can hear "Flavor of Love 3" fans going "what are you talking about?"), and it's even harder to argue that cable tv is more necessary than gasoline.

Gasoline has few or no competitors to power motor vehicles at this point. Hybrid cars still require gasoline. If drivers ditch their cars to take the bus, most buses run on gasoline. Electric commuter trains are not available to many people, especially those who do not live on the coasts or in large cities. Plus, how would you get to the train station? Bicycles? Horses? I don't think so.

So what we have with gasoline is a product that (a) nearly everyone needs; (b) has no current substitute to power motor vehicles; (c) is controlled by a small number of companies; and (d) has skyrocketed in price, way beyond the rate of inflation.

Maybe we should skip the price regulation and regulate gasoline as a drug.

(photo from

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May 19, 2008

No Mas!

Recently, I received a Motorola Bluetooth headset, complete with a separate instruction booklet printed in Spanish. Now, it's common for electronic products to come with a cheap paper instruction booklet in several languages, including English, Spanish, French, and German. But this is the first time I have seen one with a separate, glossy, expensive-looking Spanish language instruction booklet.

This means that I paid more for this headset because of the cost of that booklet. On a broader scale, we all pay more for every street sign, government booklet, Department of Motor Vehicles instruction, and corporate voice mail instruction in Spanish that is directed at U.S. residents. Plus, each of these bilingual messages takes away one more incentive for non-English speaking immigrants to the United States to learn English.

I'm not some anti-immigration nativist. I recognize that almost all of us are ancestors of immigrants, voluntary or not, and that's what makes the U.S. so special. But I'm convinced that it's important for non-English speaking U.S. immigrants and their children to learn English toute de suite if they want to make it economically in this country, and that learning our common language is the one cultural tie that has bound us together as Americans for over two hundred years. Plus, doing so might save you and me some money on Bluetooth headsets.

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May 16, 2008

A Lesson for Bloggers Everywhere

You will rarely see me angrier than when my integrity is wrongly impugned. That's what happened two days ago, at the hands of another blogger, no less. Here is what transpired:

I am an anonymous contributing blogger at a particular blogging site. Recently, I wrote a rather lighthearted post about a particular item, that began with some background and then segued into my own comparison test and review. The background portion, though brief, contained numerous links. Yesterday, I received an email from someone who runs a blog with which I am only vaguely familiar:

Subject: WOW
Did you not link to any of the [her blog] stories about [broad topic of my post] for a reason? We broke half of those [broad topic of my post] stories, all copied (and naturally unattributed) by the newspapers, etc. Seriously. Wow.

I puzzled over this email for a bit. It wasn't clear to me whether she was accusing me of (a) not using her source material on a subject which she thinks she "owns;" or (b) using her source material and not crediting her with a link. At first, I thought it was (a). Although I wasn't happy to have my methods questioned, I decided to send her a diplomatic email explaining that I did not use her material:

Hi [name], thanks for your interest. The short answer to your question is "no." I read numerous stories, blog posts, press releases, etc. about the local [subject in question] shops and chains, and I cited what I thought were the most relevant ones for the specific points I was making at each link location. As I'm sure you recognize, what a blogger feels is the most relevant citation for a particular link in a blog post is not necessarily the first or even the most comprehensive story on a particular topic. Furthermore, the point of my post was a subjective [ ] test, as evidenced by the "read about the [ ] test" teaser after the first paragraph. The brief background I provided was really just to set up my visit and [ ] test. If you have been on the forefront in writing detailed stories about [broad topic of my post], good job! Since this seems to be a rich topic, I'll look forward to future stories from you.
Best regards, [my name]

After sending this email, and giving my chief editor a heads up, I started to think that the blogger was accusing me not of ignoring her source material in favor of other sources that I cited, but of the much more egregious offense of using her source material and not citing it. That's when I started to get really angry. My conclusion seemed to have been confirmed after my editor sent the woman an explanatory email, and she responded thusly to both of us:

Thanks [editor name], and to [my name] for also emailing. You know, it was a momentary lapse. I tend to just bite the bullet with bad non-linking etiquette. It bothers, but it really is fleeting. As you said, it’s so rampant, it happens all the time; it really gets me with big media. Anyway, I know it wasn’t intentional and appreciate the emails. [Then she thanks my editor for his offer to give her a future shout out]. Thanks again. Best, [her name]

So now a third possible accusation had apparently been leveled against me: that I did use her source material, but unintentionally neglected to link to her. At this point, I'm steaming mad. I send her another email and do my best to be diplomatic once again, while clarifying that I did nothing wrong:

[Her name], I'm glad we were able to clear this up. Just to close the loop, please be assured that, unlike those big media newspapers you mentioned, I always link to source material that I use for my posts, and I have no doubt that the other contributing authors at [my blog site] do the same. [My name]

She wrote back to me and my editor yesterday, thanking him for mentioning her blog in the day's post. I told my editor that she should not be rewarded for making false accusations, but that was his call.

This episode is apparently over, but it contains a few lessons for all bloggers:

1. It's crucial to link to source material that you use in your posts. Not to do so is plagiarism. Other bloggers and writers spend many hours researching and writing about their topics, and are justified in getting extremely upset when boggers steal their material without a link (preferable), citation, or hat tip. For established "big media" newspapers to steal a blogger's work product is doubly inexcusable. Such plagiarism, if significant enough, could also be a copyright violation.

2. That said, if you are going to accuse someone of stealing your source material and either intentionally or unintentionally failing to link to you, you damn well better have the evidence to back it up. A false accusation made in writing, especially on the Internet where it lasts forever, is not only extreme douchebaggery, it could be considered libel and can subject the accuser to legal action.

3. Such false accusations should not go unanswered. I try to make a friend out of a potential enemy if it's not too late. If you do not respond, the accuser will be left with the impression that she was right, and then she might take her accusations public and falsely smear your reputation. Bloggers have little else more important to protect in the blogosphere than their reputations.

4. I cannot think of a case where a blogger "owns" a topic and must be considered a source for any other story written on that topic, unless the blogger and her post are the topic of your blog post. With well over a hundred million blogs in the world, plus millions of other sources such as newspapers, magazines, books, websites, journal articles, television and radio networks and stations, corporate press releases, etc., it is delusional to think that one's blog post, no matter how brilliant, is somehow entitled to be a source for all other blog posts that might relate to the same topic.

Now please excuse me while I go calm down.

(bumper sticker image from

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May 15, 2008

West Palm Beach's Living Landmark

If you are ever in West Palm Beach, Florida, make sure to take a historic walking tour of Worth Avenue with West Palm's only certified living landmark, James Ponce. Claiming a Florida ancestry dating back to Ponce de Leon, the 90 year-old Ponce arrives at Via Gucci (in West Palm Beach, luxury stores get streets named after them) resplendent in a blue blazer, straw Panama, waistcoat, and pearl tie pin.

Under a pencil-thin mustache, Ponce has a sweetly rolling Southern accent that one does not hear in the movies. His "war" is pronounced "whoa-uh." Taking us back more than a century, Ponce's tales quickly become spellbinding.

According to Ponce, oil and railroad baron Henry Flagler built a rail line down the East coast of Florida to West Palm Beach and, ultimately, Miami and the Keys, thus opening up this tropical land for sun-seeking vacationers. Flagler's Palm Beach Inn, built in 1896 and later renamed The Breakers, remains West Palm's landmark hotel. James Ponce is The Breakers' official historian.

Ponce then explains that, while Henry Flagler brought vacationers and residents to West Palm Beach, Addison Mizner created the city's Mediterranean Revival architectural style that has become emblematic of South Florida. Mizner was the son of a diplomat, and as a child traveled with his family to numerous countries. He was especially taken with the buildings in Spain and Central America, and developed a lifelong passion for architecture. In 1918, suffering some health problems, he arrived at Palm Beach for some r and r. His buddy, sewing machine company heir Paris Singer, encouraged Mizner to turn his architecture passion into a local profession.

Mizner embarked on a development binge that included West Palm Beach and Boca Raton to the South. Mizner meticulously stamped his Mediterranean influences on the buildings and homes in these areas, including Spanish tile roofs, towers, spiral staircases, and imported inlaid tile. In West Palm Beach, along Worth Avenue, Mizner created a miniature Venice. Instead of canals, Mizner set winding paved "vias." The most famous of these are Via Mizner and Via Parigi. These pedestrian vias were lined with homes above shops, carefully placed palm trees, archways, towers, gates, coats of arms, and open vistas above.

Millions of tourists walk through these vias each year, on the way to lunch or the next glitzy jewelry store along Worth Avenue. But taken at a relaxed pace, accompanied by James Ponce and the ghost of Addison Mizner, an important and influential piece of Florida history comes thrillingly alive.

photo by Florida Sun-Sentinel

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May 07, 2008

Television of the Idiots, By the Idiots, For the Idiots

This isn't a rant as much as a eulogy. My television is off. And I don't know when it's going back on. No, it's not broken. And I did not make a decision to turn it off. I just feel no desire to turn my television back on.

I think it was all the tv news channel banshees and hyenas braying and yelling at each other for months over the Democratic primary race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, especially their focus on pseudo-"issues." The last straw may have been the recent Democratic debate held on ABC and moderated by Charles Gibson and George Stephanopoulos. That dismal, embarrassing performance by the ABC moderators, focusing on lapel pins and whether someone's pastor "loves America" in the midst of two wars, a mortgage crisis, and an economic meltdown, may well become The Day Television Died. It certainly felt that way for me.

The rest of the tv networks' schedule seems equally embarrassing. Here was the bulk of the networks' lineup during prime time (8 p.m. to 10 p.m.) this past Monday:

"How I Met Your Mother"
"Deal or No Deal"
"Gossip Girl"
"Dancing With the Stars"
"Celebrity Expose"
"TV Watercooler"
"Dirty Jobs"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"Flavor of Love 3"
"Die Hard" (which airs at least once every two weeks)

After seeing this schedule, I think a lot switch went off for me. So I turned on another light switch -- the one on the reading lamp next to my sofa. Then I opened a book. And I think I have closed another chapter.

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May 05, 2008

The Most Bizarre Yet True Separated at Birth Involving a Pink Floyd Member to Date

One of these is a trend-setting icon who has been in the public spotlight for several decades. Actually, both of them fit that bill. One of them made his mark with a Fender Stratocaster and a voice. The other, with her looks and, uh, acting. On the left, it's Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. On the right, Ukraine's hottest export, Milla Jovovich.

Separated at birth? You decide.

(photo of David Gilmour from Mike Markley/The Pink Floyd Fandom. photo of Milla Jovovich by Steve Granitz/

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May 02, 2008

Trying to Remain a Four Dollar Per Gallon Virgin

It has not been easy to be a four dollar virgin. Today I paid $ 3.92 (don't try to fool me with $ 3.91.9) at the gasoline pump for medium grade 89 octane. Premium was four dollars (duh, $ 3.99.9, same thing) at this gas station, the cheapest one around. My car is supposed to use premium but I gave that up a long time ago. Other area gas stations are charging well over four bucks, even for regular.

Most trucks, which move so many of our goods, use diesel fuel, the price for which is approaching five dollars per gallon. Does anyone want to guess what effect five dollar per gallon diesel fuel might have on commerce and prices in the United States? Does anyone think that skyrocketing energy prices in the U.S. do not represent a crisis?

Gasoline has been this expensive here for weeks. As a result, I am driving less, and planning my automobile trips more. I'm looking at the car not as some default or automatic necessity, but as a choice among other choices, including walking, bike riding, and public transportation. In other words, I'm doing what most other people in the world have been doing for many years.

What, if anything, are you doing differently?

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May 01, 2008

Joke of the Day, Courtesy of the U.S. Congress

This email I received today from the ACLU perfectly illustrates the absence of cojones among Congressional Democrats. The ACLU email message contains photos of former Bush Administration officials John Yoo, John Ashcroft, Douglas Feith, and George Tenet (who first served as CIA Director under President Bill Clinton), and calls them "Bush's Torture Team."

The email from ACLU goes on to state that House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) has invited the Torture Team "to appear at a crucial hearing on May 6th. As of yet, not a single one of them has agreed to show up. In fact, John Yoo and John Ashcroft -- central figures in the Bush strategy for defending torture -- have already refused."

The ACLU email then states that "We’re flooding Chairman Conyers and the whole House Judiciary Committee with 'Citizens’ Subpoenas.' Let Chairman Conyers and the Judiciary Committee know you want them to go all the way by issuing real subpoenas, legally compelling Bush’s torture team to show up."

So I'm supposed to be shocked that the Bush Torture Team has refused to accept invitations to voluntarily appear before the Judiciary Committee and expose themselves to perjury and war crimes prosecution? And I'm supposed to issue a "citizens subpoena" telling Conyers and his majority of Democrats on the Committee to do their job by issuing subpoenas to these criminals?

I don't like to swear on this blog, but WHAT A FUCKING JOKE!! This is the difference between Democrats and Republicans. Democrats ask law-breaking Republicans to please come to a hearing and admit their law-breaking. Then Democrats do zero when the Republicans logically refuse to comply. If the tables were turned, the Republican Congress would be issuing subpoenas, impeaching the President, and sending jack-booted thugs to go medieval on these crooks' asses.

(photo from the Washington Post)

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