August 30, 2008

What do John McCain, Sarah Palin, and Karaoke Have in Common?

Last night, I went to a karaoke bar in west Los Angeles. It was a blast. Rank amateurs, clearly not ready for prime time, got up and sang before, after, and sometimes along with, professional quality singers. Old men, way past their prime but still talented, sang standards that dated back to not only before the audience was born, but before most of the audience members' parents were born. When the truly tuneless amateurs sang, many in the audience laughed, rolled their eyes, and groaned a bit, but in the end, they gave the singers a hearty round of applause for trying.

Afterward, it occurred to me that the goings-on in the karaoke bar were a good analogy to what had just happened in the Presidential election with John McCain's pick of Sarah Palin to be his Vice Presidential running mate. McCain, the old man who can still trot out the old standards, picked Palin, the unprepared amateur, to sing a duet with him, and to take over the lead vocals if he could not continue. I guess McCain thought that the women in the audience would appreciate a female face on stage.

The problem is that the Presidency isn't karaoke. The female audience members can't stand the kind of tunes that the amateur female singer chooses to sing, and many are quite insulted that the old singer would assume otherwise. More importantly, we wouldn't have the luxury of rolling our eyes, groaning and then politely applauding when this amateur stumbles. In this case, the amateur would be a 72 year-old heartbeat away from the Presidency. And that's no laughing matter.

Labels: , ,

Read more!

August 23, 2008

Clinton Supporters Take Heart -- Joe Biden is Hillary Clinton With a Penis

Barack Obama's running mate, Joe Biden, has everything that Hillary Clinton has, except a uterus and breasts. So, will Clinton's supporters finally step up and support their party and its nominees?

Hillary Clinton hit her stride late in the primary campaign, by appealing to blue-collar Americans, who she unfortunately termed "hard working Americans, white Americans," with a heartfelt economic message that let voters know she understood their plight. This was on top of Clinton's truly impressive 35-year record of standing up for women's rights, civil rights, affordable health care coverage, and other issues that are paramount to Democratic voters.

Well, guess what? Joe Biden's record is stunningly similar to Hillary Clinton's. He comes from a working class, Irish Catholic background in gritty Scranton, PA, in the very heart of Clinton country. Biden also has a 35-year record of standing up for Hillary Clinton's supporters on the exact same issues, including civil rights, women's rights, health care, economic issues, America's foreign policy, and Supreme Court judges. Biden even voted, as did Clinton, to authorize George Bush to use force against Saddam Hussein (the so-called "vote for the Iraq War") in 2002. It's possible that Biden's voting record is as close to Clinton's as any other two members of Congress.

In addition to having both a Presidential and now a Vice Presidential nominee who closely share the views of Hillary Clinton and her supporters, the Democratic party has rewarded Hillary and Bill Clinton in an unprecedented way: by giving them the spotlight on two of the four nights of the upcoming Democratic Convention, and in placing Hillary Clinton's name in nomination at the convention. And, apparently, there will be plenty of opportunity for Clinton's supporters to loudly voice their support for Clinton, in what Clinton has described as a "catharsis."

So the question I have for Hillary Clinton supporters is, what more do you want? The last I checked, our electoral system consists of party primaries, each with multiple candidates. By definition, a huge chunk, often the majority, of voters in each party do not get their first pick as the ultimate nominee of the party. 2008 was no different. Will you now fail to support the Obama-Biden ticket because Clinton lost to Obama fair and square? Because that's what I call being a sore loser. Will you fail to support the Obama-Biden ticket because a woman isn't on it? Because when Republicans favor one gender over another, we correctly call that sexism. Will you fail to support the Obama-Biden ticket because Obama has dark skin? Because when Republicans do that, we correctly call that racism.

Or is this a case where, even though Hillary Clinton's positions on issues of importance to you are closely matched by Barack Obama and Joe Biden, even though Obama beat Clinton fair and square in a well-fought contest, you still won't support anyone whose name isn't Hillary Clinton? Because when people in other countries do that, we call it a Cult of Personality and "Drinking the Kool-Aid."

Come on in, the water's nice. I promise.

Labels: , ,

Read more!

August 21, 2008

My Shouting Match With Paul Newman

Apparently, Paul Newman is in pretty bad shape. According to some reports, he has cancer and may not have long to live. Hopefully, that is not the case, and Newman will be with us for years to come. Whenever he does go, though, undoubtedly there will be an outpouring of praise for Newman's acting, his devotion to his wife and family, and his extremely generous contributions to numerous charitable causes. So instead, I would like to describe the shouting match I had with Paul Newman.

It all started with me being drunk. If I recall correctly, it was a Friday night. I was a college student. My internship at CNN's Atlanta headquarters did not include Saturdays. So it was okay for me to be drunk.

I got to sleep at 4 a.m. Four hours later, the phone rang. I reached down and somehow located the receiver.


Matt? It's 'Sally' from CNN. We need you to come in right away. Paul Newman is here. 'Sharon' [CNN evening talk show host] has flown in from New York. We're taping a show with Paul, and we need your help.


Eventually, I made my way in to CNN's studios. For a Saturday morning, CNN was buzzing with activity. I met with Sally, Sharon, and Paul Newman. Paul was in his late fifties, slight of stature, and very casually dressed, with big sunglasses. I asked him what he was doing in town, and he said that he was competing in an auto race at Road Atlanta. But he had come to CNN to speak specifically about nuclear disarmament. This was the Reagan Era, and the fear of a nuclear conflict between the U.S. and the Soviet Union was still quite palpable. Newman wanted to urge the U.S. to engage in nuclear disarmament talks with the Soviets.

My task was to be Paul Newman's bodyguard. It turned out that the people from whom I had to keep Paul safe were CNN's female employees. Attached to Paul's side, walking through CNN's hallways, I could see what it was like for a heartthrob like Paul Newman, even in his late fifties, to walk the earth. It was pretty damn good.

Every woman at CNN, whether old, young, married, or single, made sure to get in Newman's field of vision and to walk by him. Most of them said "hey Paul, how are you doing today?" in a mildly suggestive way. When we walked by the ladies' room, a line had formed into the hallway, and the door was open, revealing a gaggle of CNN women furiously primping for Paul in front of the vanity mirror. I asked Paul, "is it always like this?" "Yeah, pretty much," he replied, "but I'm used to it by now."

Then I deposited Paul Newman at his makeshifit makeup and wardrobe room, which, as I recall, had an open door or no door at all. I stood a few feet away with my hands folded in front of me, like a good Secret Service agent or Russian bodyguard. Paul was wearing white socks with loafers. He said he had no dark socks, and asked if the camera shot would be wide enough to include his feet. I said "no, don't worry."

Then, while Newman was grooming himself for the show taping, I asked him how we could trust the Soviets to negotiate nukes with them. I mentioned recent news reports that the Soviets had used chemical weapons in Afghanistan. The term "yellow rain" was being used to describe the atmospheric effects of these weapons. Granted, many such reports were being pushed by right wing, anti-Soviet interests, but I had been flirting with Republicanism at the time (I know, I know, but it was the Reagan Era, after all), and had gobbled up such reports as gospel.

Not so for Paul Newman. He aimed the most intense pair of blue eyes that I had ever seen right at me.

Don't try to impress me with that! All they found was some fungus on a tree branch!

His booming, gravelly voice could easily be heard down the hallways of the CNN newsroom.

Surprised, I shot back as best as I could:

But they invaded Afghanistan! How can you trust them?

Just then, Sharon walked in, to tell Paul that it was time to tape the program. She had obviously heard us down the hallway. She shot me a look that said, "I can't believe you just pissed off Paul Newman moments before I'm about to interview him on television!"

But the interview went fine. Paul Newman was reasonable and measured in tone as he urged the United States and the Soviet Union not to go down the path of nuclear confrontation. I got Paul a nice cup of coffee. The camera pulled back, and showed Paul Newman's white socks to the world.

Good luck, Paul, I hope you remain with us for a good long time.


Read more!

August 15, 2008

Is Netflix Going the Way of AOL?

Netflix is posting notices on its website that it is experiencing a major shipping delay. Does this remind anyone else of AOL's fiasco during the mid-nineties?

The similarities between the current Netflix problem and the AOL debacle are striking. In particular, Netflix, for at least the second time, has been unable to fulfill its basic duty, as advertised, of sending customers dvds from their "queue" within one to two days of receiving a viewed dvd back from the customer. At the same time, Netflix floods the Internet with annoying pop-up advertisements seeking new customers. I know several popular websites, including The Huffington Post, where Netflix's ads pop up every time I enter the site.

Sound familiar?

In AOL's case, AOL subscribers sued AOL, alleging that AOL falsely offered "unlimited" service for a flat rate, but did not have the capability to provide such service on a steady basis. AOL's customers -- and I was one of them -- constantly received busy signals when trying to connect to the Internet via AOL through their telephone modems. It was clear that AOL's liability was in large part due to the fact that it was sending millions of free disks in the mail (remember those?) soliciting new subscribers, while at the same time AOL knew that it did not have the capacity to handle the resulting influx of new customers. AOL eventually paid a huge sum to settle the class action lawsuit.

Along the way, AOL racked up gigantic losses and became a huge drag for parent company Time Warner, a drag that has long been reflected in Time Warner's depressed stock price. Time Warner has tried several times in vain to sell AOL. The name "AOL" has become a punchline ("America on Hold").

The lesson for Netflix, and other businesses, seems clear: if you want to avoid losing massive market share and goodwill that you will never get back, if you want to avoid becoming a worldwide joke, then do not paper the world with advertisements seeking new subscribers when you cannot meet the basic service demands contained in your contracts with your current subscribers.

Now pardon me while I go check out Blockbuster's website.

Labels: ,

Read more!

August 11, 2008

Who Thinks About Men's Make-up During the Olympics?

I do. Or at least I did yesterday. That's because, on Friday, I saw a guy I know, who had just returned from China. He was there with his wife, who is a movie make-up artist. He told me that his wife stayed on in China to do Bob Costas' make-up during the Olympics. Then he told me that President Bush's people asked her to do Bush's make-up during the Olympics too.

Yesterday evening, I turned on the tv to try to locate some Olympic events. There on NBC was Bob Costas interviewing George Bush. I could have focused on a lot of things: the backdrop of the stunning Bird's Nest stadium, the serious subjects that Costas was questioning Bush about, including North Korea and Iran. But no. All I could think about was Bob Costas' and George Bush's make-up.

I don't know anything about make-up, except that when I see a woman wearing too much make-up, and it calls attention to itself, that's bad. I even had to research how to spell "make-up" to write this. I didn't know if "make-up" had a hyphen or not (apparently, there is a split of opinion on this issue, but Make-Up Artist magazine spells "make-up" with the hyphen).

Now I know that Bob Costas and George Bush had nice make-up jobs while they were conducting their interview from the Olympics in Beijing. Bush's complexion was ruddy and healthy looking, Costas' was more yellow or olive. I assume that reflects their natural skin tones.

I was probably one of maybe six people on the planet thinking about this at the time.

(photo from

Labels: , , , ,

Read more!

August 08, 2008

Is Silk Soy Milk's "Green Cap" an Oxymoron?

Instead of missing children, Silk brand soy milk containers feature their own "green caps." These plastic caps, including the one pictured here, are used to pour the soy milk from the side. Silk's caps are green colored. The graphic next to the cap contains two windmills, and the message "Green Caps for Green Energy." The side of the container reads, "for years we've offset the electricity used to make Silk with clean wind energy."

Is this all bullshit?


1. Why do Silk's containers need plastic caps? Aren't such containers designed to fold out and pour from the ends at the top, with no extra parts? Plastic caps take energy to produce. And they're made from oil. How could it be considered "green" to produce these extra parts?

2. What does Silk do to "support" "green energy?" It's all pretty sketchy on Silk's website. The most specific information I could find are two boxes on Silk's website. One box is entitled "What Are Green Tags?" It states, "green tags are renewable energy certificates that offset polluting energy sources." However, there is no explanation of Silk's connection, if any, with such "green tags." The second box is entitled "Wind Farms We Support," and contains a map of the United States with five windmills pictured. When you scroll over each windmill, its name and location is listed. But again, Silk offers no explanation of how it "supports" such wind farms.

3. Even if Silk "offsets" the production of its "green caps" or other materials by "supporting" wind farms financially or otherwise, isn't Silk using excess energy and creating unneeded pollution by producing its caps in the first place?

Perhaps Silk can offer a better explanation about its "green caps." Until then, Silk's caps, and its accompanying "green energy" messages, remind me of the photo I saw recently of a huge Humvee with a "Coexist" bumper sticker on the back. And it reminds us that we need to scrutinize closely any company's claim to be "green."

Labels: , ,

Read more!

August 06, 2008

How My Obama Bumper Sticker Caused Another Republican to Demonstrate His Ignorance

Yesterday, a guy in a convertible version of my car pulled up to my right at a red light, and hollered:

Hey, did you hear that Obama told Kucinich that he'll take the [our brand of German car]s off the road?

Me: No, I haven't heard that.

Him: Yup, he said it.

Then the guy sped off.

I guess I should be happy that someone noticed the Obama bumper sticker (pictured above) on the back of my car. That's what the sticker is for. But I have to assume that the driver next to me is a Republican who was merely spreading another false meme regarding Barack Obama.

These phony Obama memes are really laughable in their lack of logic. My favorite one is the "Obama's a Muslim" meme, which was portrayed on The New Yorker magazine's recent satirical yet wildly unfunny cover. The people who spread that meme also spread guilt-by-association criticism of Obama regarding Reb'n Wright, Obama's former pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ. Hmm, Muslim? Church of Christ? These Republicans never pause to examine the inherent contradiction, indeed, the impossibility, of believing these two memes at the same time.

Ditto for the European car meme told to me at the traffic light yesterday. For years, Republicans have characterized Democrats as "Volvo-driving liberals."
If there is any truth to that characterization, then no Democratic presidential candidate in his right mind would ever say that he would take drivers of cars made in a nearby Western European country off the road. Not to mention that there was no common sense reason given to do so.

Pollsters and pundits are constantly trying to determine demographic categories -- age, race, education, religion, etc. -- that predict whether people will vote Democratic or Republican. I think I just figured out the most accurate predictor of a Republican voter: the absence of logic in the voter's mind.

Labels: , ,

Read more!