Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Best headline of the day

Hell, it may rank up with the best of the year.

From The Allentown Morning Call today:

No More Sex Parties in Coopersburg

Frankly, I don't even care what the story is about. There is no way it could possibility it could live up to its promise.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Jails Would be Full

From this morning's Atlantic City Press:

Impersonating a Band could become a Crime in New Jersey

I read this headline and had a brief surge of horror and hope - if this were true, there would be lots and lots of so-called musicians in jail.

I guess it is best that this bill refers only to groups of musicians who get together and claim to be classic oldies acts like The Drifters. The Polyphonic Spree and The Black Eye Peas are safe from prosecution - for the moment...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

"Why I hate General Electric" and other fun with appliances

General Manager
Customer Relations
GE Appliances
Appliance Park
Louisville, KY 40225

Nov. 15, 2006

Dear Sirs,

Today I had my two year old GE washing machine hauled away as scrap. In its place is a brand new Kenmore, which I have every confidence will last me far longer than your machine. In fact, it is hard to see how it could possibly fail to be a better machine than yours.

Let me start from the very beginning. There was a time when I considered GE a good name. In fact, when I renovated my kitchen in California some years ago, I bought a GE front-loading washer and dryer set and installed them under the counter in my laundry room. I was entirely pleased with the units, so it was with no fear at all when I moved into my new house in Philadelphia in late 2004 and found it completely outfitted with gleaming new GE appliances.

But that's when the trouble started.

Within the first month or so, the GE dishwasher blew out and was out of service for a month while your techs ordered a new electronic control unit. They were unable to explain why a brand new control unit would have blown out in the first place, but they did eventually replace it, although I spent the first months in my house hand washing my dishes.

Within a year, the washing machine began bucking and heaving and making an awful noise. The tub leaned over in an alarming manner, hitting the metal frame with such force that chunks of plastic broke off the top of the tub. The tech who responded said that some sort of plastic collar under the agitator had cracked. He assured me he had never before seen such a problem.

A few months after that, after the warrantee expired, the same thing happened – the machine began bucking and heaving in a dangerous manner while on the spin cycle. The tech responded and found that one of the shock absorbers that hold the tub steady in the spin cycle has mysteriously popped out of its slot. Again, he assured me he had never seen such a thing. That little adventure in engineering excellence cost me $100.

In July, however, the problem reoccurred. I called customer service and was told that I would have to pay for the visit. After a long and tense conversation, the customer service rep grudgingly agreed to waive the cost of the service call. She said she would have someone from customer service contact me about the problem, which never happened. The same tech came back out, found exactly the same problem, slipped the shock absorber back into place and again assured me that he had never experienced anything like this.

At this point, I emailed a long a testy letter to your customer service email, listed on your website. I received an automated response saying I would hear from someone within two days. I have received no response thus far. I will attach a copy of my previous letter and the email response for your consideration.

In August, a very nice young lady called to survey my satisfaction with the service visit. I gave GE the lowest possible marks, told her of my growing frustration. She said she would "red flag" this for customer service right away and have someone call me within two days. To date, nobody has called.

Earlier this month, the washer began exhibiting the same symptoms. I called customer service on Nov. 6 and the rep waived my service fee and scheduled a tech for Nov. 13. After I demanded a new machine and told her you had sold me a lemon, she said she would refer my case to a board that reviews replacement requests. Today, almost two weeks later, I have heard nothing from them or anyone at customer service.

The final straw, however, came on Friday of last week, when I found a message on my answering machine saying that GE has "a number of techs out sick" and would be unable to honor the Monday service appointment. They had taken the liberty of rescheduling my appointment for the following Friday. When I attempted to call the customer service line (800-386-1215) to explain that this was neither acceptable, nor even convenient given my schedule, a recording came on telling me that operators were unable to take my call due to technical problems. Laundry was piling up in my house, which is home to two small children, and I was unable to find a live human being to discuss my problem. I find it utterly mind-boggling that GE was able to predict with such accuracy on Friday that its technicians would be ill three days hence, and would therefore be unable to fix the problem GE itself had created, but that GE was unable to put a live person on the line, or at least make a voicemail line available for frustrated customers.

The next day, I drove to Sears and bought a Kenmore. I paid an extra $10 to have Sears haul away your washing machine. It left through my front door about 12:30 p.m. today and I say good riddance. I will include a copy of my Sears receipt to show you how much I was willing to spend to be done with General Electric and to show you money flowing to one of your competitors thanks entirely to your complete incompetence in design and customer service.

The worst part of this experience was not the machine itself. Everyone makes mistakes and I was willing to forgive you for a machine that was defective. The real problem was the appalling customer service. At every step, I have found it difficult and inconvenient to schedule service through the automated service. It required considerable resourcefulness for me to find a number where I could talk to a live human being, and once I did find that number, there were occasions when I could not actually access an operator. When I did access an operator, I found them dismissive, rude and even bullying – several explicitly threatened to charge me the full price of a service visit if the problem I reported turned out to be my fault. This occurred even while my appliances were under warranty. And at no point did anyone ever follow up on any promise made to me by any employee of GE.

Frankly, I don't care anymore if you ever contact me or take any action on this letter. I don't care if your replacement board eventually decides to bestow upon me a new washer – I don't want it. You can keep it. I will never again buy a GE appliance. I might very well not even buy a GE light bulb just to make a point. I will continue to tell my friends and relatives, and even casual acquaintances, what junk GE appliances are and how bad your customer service really is. I will do everything in my power to steer them to other brands.

I am tired of being ignored. I am tired of being bullied. I am tired of living with badly designed and defective appliances. I am tired of GE. Good riddance to you all.

CC: Jeffrey R. Immelt, CEO
James P. Campbell, CEO GE Consumer

My earlier letter to GE customer service:

Dear Sirs - I have nearly had it with your appliances. I moved into my home less than two years ago. It was thoroughly renovated and smartly outfitted entirely with new GE appliances.

Since then, I have had nothing but problems.

My dishwasher died within two months and was out of service for several weeks while the repairmen waited for parts. Both my dryer and washer failed within the first year. The stove malfunctioned within 14 months, though fortunately I was able to fix the problem - I discovered that the frames that hold the over racks had become misaligned, setting off some sort of switch that prevented the oven from heating up correctly. The refrigerator is so poorly designed as to border on useless - among many serious defects, the pull-out drawers in the freezer chronically stick and hang-up, preventing the door from closing fully, allowing cold air to escape and the internal temperature to rise dramatically.

But what brings me finally to express this howl of outrage is your notable turkey of a washing machine.

As I mentioned, it needed service in the first year, because the tub was not turning properly on the spin cycles. The service tech explained that there was some sort of collar on the spindle that held the tub in place. This, he said, was cracked and needed to be replaced. The machine worked adequately after that.

But just a few months later, after the one-year warrantee expired, the tub began making an ungodly noise and leaning to one side. The machine hopped around dangerously, making me fear that it would damage the floor or wall or gas connection for the dryer.

The repairman came out and discovered that, as he explained it, the shock absorbers had jumped out of their normal tracks, upending the tub. He replaced the shock absorbers in the groove, but not before charging me something like $99.

Now, only about four months later, the tub has again skewed to one side and began making the same loud noise and again the machine began jumping around alarmingly. The symptoms are exactly the same, leading me to suspect that the same problem the repairman fixed last time has reoccurred.

This happened on the same day that you had the gall to send me a solicitation giving me the opportunity to spend $73.15 per year on an extended service contract.

Let me blunt about this. There is no reason that a machine that is less than two years old should have malfunctioned catastrophically three times. There is no reason that a machine that is less than two years old should NEED a service contract unless you know perfectly well that you are manufacturing cheap merchandise.

I am now in the awkward position of trying to decide whether to throw more money down the sewer by repairing this chronic turkey, or simply replacing it with a washing machine from a more reliable brand, perhaps say Kenmore (my mother has a 25 year old Kenmore that has never so much as coughed, let alone become non-functional for even a brief time).

There was a time when I thought highly of GE products. Now I will certainly think twice, perhaps three times, before ever purchasing another GE appliance. I have, for the last year, taken the liberty of telling all my guests, who admire how nicely my house has been renovated, that my only regret is that it was outfitted with GE appliances - and I often take the time to show them precisely why the GE products are unsuitable. I certainly plan to share my story with the Better Business Bureau and anyone else who will listen.

It would take quite a bit to regain even a fraction of my loyalty. You could start by repairing, or better yet replacing, my washing machine. Oh, I know it is out of warranty now, but it is perfectly clear to me that you sold me a lemon. To add insult to injury, I find it impossible to get a live human being on the telephone line to pass along my tale of woe. At very one of the numbers posted helpfully on your website, including the numbers labeled "Live attendant," I get nothing by a circular voicemail that passes me off to yet another voicemail, and so on.

I look forward to hearing from you, hopefully in human form and hopefully before I am compelled to buy a more reliable model from another company.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Fun with the Law

In the course of a small assignment for the Philadelphia Business Journal today, I had occasion to interview a lawyer named Tobey Oxholm, the creator of the new Drexel University law school (how cool is that - there are only a handful of people ever in human history who can say "I created a law school." That is a really excellent career aspiration). He turned out to be an interesting guy - almost had me thinking about law school again for the first time in more than a decade (I wanted to be a Supreme Court Justice, another really excellent career aspiration. Fortunately I realized that is a slightly specialized ambition and backed out before I wound up writing briefs on tax law for the rest of my miserable life).

In any event, I asked him for a headshot - one of those canned mug shots that newspapers run with profiles and so forth. So moments ago in my email, I received this:

I think I like this guy.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

How does he do it? Volume.

I see this morning in Variety that George Lucas has decided to quit making films. What's really interesting, though, is that he admits what we were all beginning to suspect about his philosophy of filmmaking.

"We don't want to make movies. We're about to get into television. As far as Lucasfilm is concerned, we've moved away from the feature film thing because it's too expensive and it's too risky ... I think the secret to the future is quantity," Lucas said.

Ah, that would explain why he spent the last four Star Wars movies pumping out crud - it doesn't matter if they aren't remotely as good as Star Wars and Empire Strikes Back so long as there are more and more of them.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The real author is...

Love this story:

LATEST: Songwriter PAUL VANCE has blasted reports he's dead, insisting it was an imposter who passed away earlier this month (06SEP06). Vance, best known for co-writing the 1960 novelty song ITSY BITSY TEENIE WEENIE YELLOW POLKA DOT BIKINI, has been inundated with concerned calls after news broke yesterday (27SEP06) that he'd died of lung cancer. However, the irate musician insists the victim, 68-year-old PAUL VAN VALKENBURGH of Ormond Beach, Florida, was an imposter who claimed to have written the hit himself under the name of Paul Vance. The real Vance admits he was astonished to read his obituary in newspapers, and see two of his horses dropped from races yesterday (27SEP06) because people believed he had died. He says, "Do you know what it's like to have grandchildren calling you and say, 'Grandpa, you're still alive?' "This is not a game. I am who I am and I'm proud of who I am. But these phones don't stop with people calling thinking I'm dead." Van Valkenburgh's widow ROSE LEROUX, who claims never to have known her late husband was lying about the song, says, "To have it come out now, I'm kind of devastated. "If this other man says he did it then my husband's a liar, or he's a liar."

This opens a whole world of possibility:

Sean Scully, 78, famous author

Sean Scully died this morning at age 78 at his home. He was most famous for having written the novel "4th of July" under the name "James Patterson."
He was born in 1967. His writing career began than same year when he wrote the novel "The Chosen" under the name "Chaim Potok."
In 1974, using the name "Ed King," he collaborated with Gary Rossington and Ronnie Van Zandt to compose the country-rock hit "Sweet Home Alabama."
Although the claim was often dispuited by historians, Mr. Scully was also widely credited with composing the bulk of the Beatles catalog, under the name "Lennon McCartney." His family says he also co-wrote "The Great Gatsby," which was published 42 years before his birth.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Why the UN will fail

This from JournalismJobs.com this morning. What I love about this is that it is a) the director of communication for a worldwide program and b) headquartered in Germany and yet it does not absolutely require any foreign language skill at all and makes no reference to speaking a single syllable of German. Well thought out, guys.

Company: United Nations Development Programme
Position: Communications/Public Affairs
Location: Bonn, Germany, Europe
Job Status: Full-time
Salary: Not Specified
Ad Expires: October 31, 2006
Job ID: 685252
Website: http://jobs.undp.org/cj_view_job.cfm?job_id=532
Post Title: Head, Communications Unit
Post Level: P-4
Post Number: 1284
Duty Station: Bonn, Germany
Bureau/Office: External Relations Group/United Nations Volunteers
Focal Point: Irina Anghelescu at irina.anghelescu@unv.org


The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that supports sustainable human development globally through the promotion of volunteerism, including the mobilisation of volunteers. It serves the causes of peace and development through enhancing opportunities for participation by all peoples. It is universal, inclusive and embraces volunteer action in all its diversity. It values free will, commitment, engagement and solidarity, which are the foundations of volunteerism.

Job Summary: Under the general guidance of the Chief, External Relations Group, the incumbent will develop and recommend communications and marketing strategies for approval by Senior Management to promote and advance understanding of and support for the work of the UNV programme. This will include the forging and strengthening of relations with UN system agencies, governments, non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations, including the global volunteer community. The incumbent will lead the implementation of agreed communication and marketing strategies and programmes accordingly.

Specific duties include:

1. Develop a communications and marketing strategy for UNV through an extensive internal consultative process, a wide-ranging review of external stakeholder information needs and an approval process with senior management. Formulate and continually update policies that provide clear guidelines/parameters for public information activities.

2. Manage the development, production and dissemination of diverse publications and news releases – including: the Annual Report, UNV News (2/year), booklets on current issues on volunteerism and development/the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), regular press releases and news bulletins. Includes translation into relevant UN languages.

3. Oversee the content development, expansion and continual assessment of the quality and relevance of web-based information services - for the UNV corporate website unvolunteers.org and the WorldVolunteerWeb portal.

4. Promote optimum visibility of UNV corporate and programme activities through: innovative outreach initiatives with diverse national, regional and international stakeholders; equipping managers, programme staff and volunteers to advocate/represent UNV effectively; and networking with strategically with private-sector media partners and vis-à-vis public outreach with UNDP/UN system partners.

5. Manage the annual global campaign to promote volunteerism for development on International Volunteer Day (IVD) – engaging UNV programme staff and volunteers globally and managing the public information campaign worldwide.

6. Lead the diverse and dynamic Communications Unit team and facilitate effective collaborative work planning and implementation processes to meet agreed outputs. Provide a positive team environment where staff are able to perform optimally, respond to challenges creatively and collaboratively, and access coaching and mentoring as needed. Team results are achieved within the resources allocated while team morale is high.


• Proven ability to formulate strategic plans in line with corporate objectives.

• Proven ability to effectively lead a diverse team in implementing strategic plans.

• Effective organisational, prioritisation and coordination skills.

• Well-developed interpersonal, oral, presentation and written communications skills including the proven ability to draft and edit.

• Ability to build, maintain and expand relationships and alliances/coalitions with a wide range of organizations.

• Ability to work under pressure.

• Proven analytical and research skills.

Essential knowledge and experience:

• At least eight years of progressively responsible experience in journalism, public and/or private media relations, advertising or related activities, with some international exposure; demonstrated team leadership and management capability; highly effective advocacy, promotional and networking skills; commitment to the values of volunteer action; and knowledge of the UN system an important asset.

• Essential personal qualities. This post requires a dynamic individual with proven excellent interpersonal and management skills in a multicultural setting. Client orientation and the ability to establish positive and productive relationships with colleagues at headquarters and in the field, management, and a very diverse range of external stakeholders, is essential.

• Familiarity with web-based information systems and inter-active electronic tools is an asset.


• Advanced university degree in journalism, social sciences or related fields.

• Excellent written and spoken English is essential – including editing capability; Competence in French and/or Spanish is highly desirable.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Live from the Oval Office

My Fellow Americans,

I am addressing you this evening to discuss reports that my administration threatened to bomb one of our key allies “Back to the Stone Age.” I want to assure you that there is no truth to these reports. Nobody in my administration would ever issue such a blunt and undiplomatic threat to enemy or friend alike.

Oh, I know there was that business with Canada, and offering to “blast them back to France.” That was a slip of the tongue.

And, of course, there was that unfortunate situation where the Secretary of State mentioned that we might bomb the Greeks “back to the Bronze Age,” which turned out not to be very scary for them. Who knew that the Bronze Age was a pretty good time for the Greeks?

But rest assured that we value our allies and intend to treat them with respect. It is not our intention to bomb anyone back to any age whatsoever.

Thank you and have a good evening – or else.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Secret Language indeed

I think my favorite trend in the world of SPAM advertising - and God knows I'm a fan, all right - is the use of random word and phrase generators to create random text that will pass through a SPAM checker. Then you append an innoccuous looking image that contains the SPAM text you want to show to the world (Yes, this adds considerably to your credibility - hiding your message behind nonsense).

Once in a while, however, these seemingly random texts rise to the level of, yes, poety. Or at least really good prose. The lead of this one should be the start of my first novel (and the final line is deliciously cryptic).

the latest research in in between sips of a martini. it struggling with academic In a way that makes you Java's built-in pattern design problems, and better support in your own code.
environment. In other With Design Patterns, between Decorator, Facade reinvent the wheel to know how they

But you don't just You want to learn about want to see how Most importantly, on your team. real OO design principles
to know how they
matter--why to use them, in between sips of a martini. you want to learn the You want to learn about Something more fun.

or on the real relationship at speaking the language else. Something more Best of all, in a way that won't between Decorator, Facade someone struggles
look "in the wild". them to work immediately. else. Something more Something more fun.
and Adapter. With Head First (or worse, a flat tire),
sounds, how the Factory

You'll easily counter with your

Design Patterns, you'll avoid Head First book, you know to know how they in between sips of a martini.
challenging. Something real OO design principles
up a creek without

will load patterns into your

alone. At any given moment, more complex. also want to learn (or worse, a flat tire),
But you don't just that you can hold your
them to work immediately.

You want to learn the

words, in real world to do instead). You want Something more fun. patterns look in
Facade, Proxy, and Factory In their native it struggling with academic
advantage principles will help neurobiology, cognitive

want to see how and Adapter. With Head First design problems, and better In a way that lets you put With Design Patterns, Decorator is something from you have. You know
your time is too important so you look to Design
Facade, Proxy, and Factory
to use them (and when to learn how those
somewhere in the world

(and too short) to spend will load patterns into your and Adapter. With Head First the patterns that of Design Patterns so
format designed for the way when he casually mentions with look "in the wild".
the embarrassment of thinking to know how they (and impress cocktail party guests) Decorator is something from better at solving software
when he casually mentions
look "in the wild".
on your team. the latest research in what to expect--a visually-rich your time on...something Java's built-in pattern

your boss told you Decorator is something from in between sips of a martini.

a design paddle pattern. your boss told you
of patterns with others (and too short) to spend (or worse, a flat tire), the embarrassment of thinking
the embarrassment of thinking Most importantly,
matter--why to use them,

"secret language"

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Things that go BOOM

Scene: an underground utility tunnel in Center City Philadelphia. Two PECO electrical workers are hard at their jobs.

Worker 1: Hey - see these two high-power lines?

Worker 2: Yup.

Worker 1: Remember which one plugs into which socket?

Worker 2: Nope.

Worker 1: Think it matters?

Worker 2: Nope.

Worker 1: Cool. Guess it doesn't.

And for this I pay an average of $188.16 per month?

Life at the Washington Times

I may have something to say about this later today. I'm not sure yet. It's an interesting article and it touches on some truths about the Washington Times. But it also misses some important nuances and details and displays a wide misunderstanding of the actual dymanics in the newsroom, both personally and ideologically. Mostly, I think, it is a case of one faction of right-wing wolves throwing another faction of right-wing wolves to the sheep.

But anyway, if you're curious about life at D.C.'s "moonie paper," where I toiled for five very odd (though not unenjoyable) years, have a look at this:

A nasty succession battle heats up at Washington Times

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The joy of manure

Hard on the heels of news that the head of the CBC had to step down in part because of his on-the-record rhapsodizing about bowel movements, I find this hilarious little post about the coverage of Barbaro. I stumbled across it while working on an update about the horse.

This new development finally motivated me to find out exactly what the CBC guy had said about pooping and here it is, according to The National Post in Canada:

The most extraordinary thing is that, in the end, as you grow older, you continue to go poop once a day if you are in good health, while it is not easy to make love every day. So finally, the pleasure is longer lasting and more frequent than the other.

You just can't make this stuff up.

Sounds like he's fun at parties

Sometimes a story comes along that just speaks for itself. This is one, from Reuters this morning, about the reasons why the director of the CBC is resigning.

In comments made in May, and replayed in a CBC weekend interview, he talked at length about the joys of bowel movements.

And sometimes there are stories where the lead says it all. In fact, sometimes there is simply no point in reading beyind the lead. This from the AP this morning:

BEIJING (AP) - A drunken Chinese migrant worker jumped into a panda enclosure at the Beijing Zoo, was bitten by the bear and retaliated by chomping down on the animal's back, state media said Wednesday.

What else is there to say?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

If it's already broke, break it some more

I love this bit from the President's remarks today while toddling around the U.N. trying to make friends:

"Some have argued that the democratic changes we're seeing in the Middle East are destabilising the region. This argument rests on a false assumption, that the Middle East was stable to begin with. The reality is that the stability we thought we saw in the Middle East was a mirage. For decades, millions of men and women in the region have been trapped in oppression and hopelessness."

In other words, it was alrady a giant flaming mess, so what does it matter if we screw it up some more?

I may try that myself sometime when I'm in trouble: "You can't charge me with vandalism, officer, it was already broken."

I'll let you know if it works.

My net worth

I am somewhat startled to find that there is in fact a stock market trading in the value of Blogs. I don't know how this happened or what it means, but I stumbled on it by accident this evening while Googling "Seanibus." I was curious about the relative diffusion of me-Seanibus versus the other-Seanibus, who as we all recall, happens to live in Philadelphia as well. Six billion people on the planet and the only other person who uses the handle of Seanibus happens to live in the same city. That is so goddamned Philadelphia-like it makes me sick. Turns out that I outnumber the guy maybe two to one in Google hits. That and 50 cents will get me a Philadelphia Inquirer tomorrow, of course, but it's an ego thing, you know.

In any event, it appears that there are people with lots of time on their hands and they decided to set up a trading system, a fantasy trading system, which relies on a complex formula to assign a value to each blog. And you can buy stock in a blog and watch it go up and down. It seems that Fantasy Football, Fantasy Baseball and Fantasy Bass Fishing were too exciting for these guys.

So I am pleased to report that I am worth a whopping $1,783.27, whatever that means. I started around $1,000, broke the $2,000 barrier in the spring and suffered a crash of some sort, plummeting back below $1,500. But since then, it has been a slow, steady climb back up. Many a CEO would be enjoying multi-million annual bonuses for that kind of performance in a real company, believe me.

So, if you are flush with fantasy cash, and aren't we all, I urge you to run right out and invest in my little blog before everyone catches on, we're swept up in a wave of irrational exuberance, and the fantasy bubble bursts. Meanwhile, I will be lounging on the fantasy beach, enjoying my fantasy bonuses in the fantasy South Pacific. Call me when I break $5,000, please.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Words of Wisdom

I really do normally hate anniversaries, even of important events, and I have zealously avoided Sept. 11 commemorations, but all the coverage of it brings back the best thing anyone ever said about this. I missed this at the time, though it brought a rare tear to my eye when I heard a tape the next day. From David letterman's Sept. 17 monologue, his first back on the air:

"The reason we were attacked, the reason these people are dead, these people are missing and dead ... They weren't doing anything wrong, they were living their lives, they were going to work, they were traveling, they were doing what they normally do. Uh, as I understand it -- and my understanding of this is vague, at best -- another smaller group of people stole some airplanes and crashed them into buildings. And we're told that they were zealots fueled by religious fervor, religious fervor. And if you live to be a thousand years old, will that make any sense to you? Will that make any goddamned sense?"

Here's the full thing. It's worth watching.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Lions, Tigers and Bears. Lions are enough.

There are some series of words that one does not expect to see strung together in English. I am not talking about nonsense. Any idiot can string together random words in a grammatical way – “The banana ran down the street shouting psalms” and so on.
I am talking about an altogether different type – sentences that make complete sense, convey real, verifiable information, and yet are so unexpected that the mind rebels, something like “Tom Cruise weds Katie Holmes.” That was a hard one to digest.

But a few weeks ago I heard one that was almost more than I could wrap my head around. I heard it on the BBC, which for some reason seems odd as well. I can’t find the exact wording, but it went something like this:

“Illegal immigrants are being eaten by lions.”

This turns out to be true. It goes like this: the collapse of the economy of Zimbabwe has caused many people to try to sneak across the border into South Africa. Unfortunately, this happens to take them through one of the last great swaths of land where lions roam free. And, although much has changed in the course of the last few millennia of civilization, one thing that has not changed is that lions will eat human beings. And there’s not a hell of a lot a human can do to stop it in toe-to-toe fight.

The BBC quoted a wildlife expert as saying it is possible that lions are eating more humans today than at any point in history. This is another unlikely series of words.

I don’t know why this story has haunted me. I certainly hope that nobody in the House of Representatives heard this story and considers adding it to the border security bill.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

You must read and obey

My online friend Joe, also known in some corners of the Internet as Geode, has finally committed his prose to blog immortality after intense pressure/flattery by several of us. And it was worth the wait. Check him out. Not to, like, put a whole bunch of performance anxiety on him and stuff, but he's got a virtuoso voice that reminds me of Ian Frazier, Steve Martin and Christopher Buckley. The guy should be writing for The New Yorker. You reading, David Remnick? You should be.

Morons unite

By and large, I hate it when people send me links of stuff that is supposed to be funny. I mean, how much time can we devote to watching tiny badly animated politicians dance across the screen, or scrolling through long lists of old jokes (I say, as if I didn't have hours and hours to kill). And yet, sometimes something comes along worth reading. Like this.

Warning - not only does this contain bad language, it will also make you drool with laughter.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Now THIS is customer service

I recently bought the new album by an LA-based singer named Quincy (actually, Quincy Coleman - daughter of Dabney Coleman. I loved the first album. We'll see about #2 - hasn't arrived yet). The disc comes through a service called CD Baby. The email confirming my purchase is the best one I have ever seen. I am still laughing about it:

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure
it was in the best possible condition before mailing.

Our packing specialist from Japan lit a candle and a hush fell over
the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money
can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party
marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of
Portland waved 'Bon Voyage!' to your package, on its way to you, in
our private CD Baby jet on this day, Tuesday, July 11th.

I hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. We sure did. Your picture is on our wall as 'Customer of the Year'. We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you once again,

Derek Sivers, president, CD Baby
the little CD store with the best new independent music

Sunday, June 25, 2006

It's all in the game

I was having a chat with my father about this morning's latest revelation in the Washington Post about the Jack Abramoff business and I got to thinking about the nature of corruption.

I have a theory of political corruption, which is somewhat simplistic but it does work generally. It seems to me that there are four kinds of corruption (Using this in a broad sense, to include anything that is a serious perversion of the political process, whether for explicit personal enrichment or not, although all four do contain elements of self-gratification):

First is the old-fashion "make me rich" stuff - run of the mill money deals like Duke Cunningham.

The second is what I would call "public good" corruption. In this, the miscreant does, at least to some degree, care about public policy and getting something done. He wants to govern effectively, but doesn't see any harm in helping himself a little bit in so doing. He justifies his graft because he's so good at making the trains run on time and getting the streets paved. This is Tammany Hall stuff. This is also, I think, where most of the Congressional fund-raising type scandals fall - the justification is that I am doing good for my constitutents and it's only natural that they should want to reward me.

The third is a "Power at any cost" type, wherein the badguy doesn't much give a damn what gets done, as long as he is the one calling the shots and receiving the rightful perks. This is Tom Delay/Marion Barry stuff.

Then there is this interesting fourth type, represented by Abramoff, Norquist, Karl Rove and some others, who have become fixated on the process and game of politics itself, divorced from any policy consequences. They may or may not have real ideological concerns and goals, in fact every example I can think of, with the arguable exception of Rove, did start with actual political and policy goals. But somewhere along the line, the game of politics has trancended any goals, or even to a large degree the wielding of power, as an end in itself. They are perpetually scheming, campaigning, playing the game. Power is not the end in itself, except to the degree that it is a material measure of winning. Once they have that power, however, they seem to be disinterested in wielding it in any significant way except to the degree that it advances their next political move. In that sense, it is similar to compulsive gambling - money ceases to be the point and instead becomes merely the vehicle to playing the next game. It is the game itself - the cards, the one-armed bandit - that becomes the end to be desired. Someone like Rove or Norquist cares very much whether he wins or loses, obviously, but unlike Delay, who just wants to be in charge no matter what, or Duke Cunningham, who just wants to drive cool cars and park his butt on nice antique chairs, these guys see winning as part of a continuum of strategy, like a football coach gone mad. This is why I quickly become suspicious of anyone whose delight in politics is too pure and childlike - if one is incapable of seeing the dark side, or the pain of the process, or of judging the actual policy consequences of politics, then there is a real problem. In this kind of world-view, everything is a game - even the personal destruction of opponents, the weakening of institutions, or the very fabric of law, custom and society - it's all part of one-upping your opponent, and nothing else matters, or even exists.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Journalism at its finest

The Los Angeles Alternative this week has what must be the best bit of journalism in the nation - they sent a group of bloggers to explore Los Angeles County's worst restaurants. The results are hilarious:

"Our picked-over appetizers are mercifully euthenized by our waitress, and now we’re waiting for main courses. A farfalle with a pornographic sounding “pink meat sauce” shows up. I can only judge its appearance, but it is a fairly dismal looking congealed slop practically brimming over on an undersized salad plate. For some reason I ordered the proscuitto hero, which arrives on the traditional Italian sesame steak roll. This may well be the most unremarkable sandwich ever put on a plate and sold for money. There is a single slip of proscuitto ham in there somewhere. A side salad is a couple of tears of iceberg topped with what is apparently some slimy artichoke heart. Not the kind of textures you want to be dealing with in the dark."

In order for this story to make sense, though, you have to understand LA's health department system for grading restaurants. Like health departments everywhere, LA County gives restaurants a 1-100 point grade. But unlike most other places in the world, LA County requires every restaurant to prominently post its grade in the form of an A, B, or C (anything less than C gets closed). The C sign is printed in bright orange and is a sure sign of a gut-punishing dive. A few other counties in the area have adopted a similar system, but I am told LA county pioneered the idea.

That's what it's all about

From the president's press conference this morning:

Q. Do you have a specific target for how much you want that violence to be reduced?

THE PRESIDENT: Enough for the government to succeed. In other words, the Iraqi people have got to have confidence in this unity government, and reduction in violence will enable the people to have confidence.

And you said something about troop levels. Our policy is stand up/stand down; as the Iraqis stand up, we'll stand down.

You do the Hokey Pokey and you turn yourself around. That's what it's all about.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Bid now while there is time!

Holy Fishpaste! Has there ever been a better EBay auction than this one? It even demolishes the various "Britney's Chewing Gum" auctions, because you get to have lunch with a Real Live Wresting Legend.

Here's the offer:

Win lunch for two at the Hard Rock Cafe in Baltimore with WWE Hall of Famer Nikolai Volkoff! Discuss anything you want with the legend over great food in a fun environment! Get your picture taken and autographs signed by Nikolai as well! All proceeds go to benefit his campaign for House of Delegates in Maryland. The time of this lunch will be arranged and agreed upon by both the winning bidder and Nikolai at auction end.

This auction is for the lunch alone and does not cover transportation to and from the meeting place. All transportation of the winning bidder is to be taken care of by the winning bidder. This auction also does not cover the purchase of alcoholic beverages at the event.

Damn. The only thing better than this would be if Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka would run for Senate. I'd so volunteer.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sign Me Up Pt. II

Just when I thought my day couldn't get better, I get this solicitation for a job, under the heading "Open Vacancy:"

You might have noticed how the recent changes of all kinds influence your life. Constant growth of prices, low wages, employment problems. If you aren't satisfied with your present income or it doesn't comply with your capabilities; If you constantly lack money; If you want to better your financial status or you are just looking for a part-time job, then this job is what you need. Consider the advantages of the work we offer: Extra incomeYou might have noticed how the recent changes of all kinds influence your life. Constant growth of prices, low wages, employment problems. If you aren't satisfied with your present income or it doesn't comply with your capabilities; If you constantly lack money; If you want to better your financial status or you are just looking for a part-time job, then this job is what you need. Consider the advantages of the work we offer: Extra income
Minimal expenses and no expenditures at all (only I-net and e-mail)
The easiness of work. - Possibility to combine this work with your occupations (you just need to check your e-mail several times a day) For this work you don't need a special education possessing some special skills or knowledge possessing storehouse, office, special equipment.
The job we offer is related to mail. It is an easy job which doesn't require leaving your main occupation. You will have to receive to your home address parcels from our clients and ship them out further following our manager's instructions ($30 for each shipped out box). Contact us by e-mail and you will be sent a list of vacancies available at the present time. You work will be paid for without any delays.
You may work with several orders at a time as well as work with each one separately.
Contact: job@westbcompany.net

safety hanger transmitting set heating coil
swan-drawn world-civilizing rod epithelium
shrimp red smut ball Bamberg bible
set temper boiler coverer slow-footed
box green intelligence officer green-boled
round-table Bermuda cress pole pitch
power-operated heaven tree much-worshiped
straight-falling frame gate pike-gray

Perhaps I will offer myself up to work as their editor.

Sign me up

Ever look through the pile of junk mail and see something you just have to open? Today I received a solicitation to "save 50%" on something called JLC - the "Journal of Light Construction." This amused me, seeing as how I am more inclined to read the "Journal of No Construction Whatsoever."

This is so absurdly specific that I was momentarily tempted to subscribe. I mean, God, it's only $1.67 an issue.

I can hardly wait for the piece on Coil Framing Nailers. And who wouldn't want to read about "Profiled stools and aprons with applied moldings."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Gone just like that

An old friend of ours died last night. Until yesterday, he was having a very good year.

Ron married his longtime girlfriend Kylie in her native Australia on March 18. I didn't get to the ceremony, but my wife did (she and Kylie are best friends) and she says it was a story book event, at a winery in a beautiful part of the continent. Kylie and Ron were just goofy in love.

They had just moved to West Palm Beach. Kylie had gotten a great promotion at the Four Seasons there and Ron landed a job as a chef at a private club. They seemed absurdly happy.

Ron and Kylie went to a party last night and had a great time. They came home and went to bed, but just a few hours later, he went into come kind of convuslion and died right there. It's not clear what happened, but it looks like some kind of heart attack. He was only about 45.

Now Kylie is alone in a new city, with her fairytale marriage in ruins. And Ron had a sweet little daughter of about 10, who lives with her mom up North. He was a funny guy - always laughing, always joking, always with a kind word. And he seemed incredibly devoted to his two favorite women - his new wife and his little daughter.

Kylie called this morning, almost speechless. She said just "It's over, just like that." My wife jumped a plane as soon as she could.

How do you understand that? What kind of sense does that make? A car wreck? I can understand that. Disease? I have a mental box for that. But a seemingly healthy man in middle age dying suddenly in his sleep? I don't have a place for that. Who does?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Ah, maybe reason will prevail

If you recall, the Pentagon is planning to detonate a conventional bomb so huge in the deserts of Nevada that it will create an explosion that will appear to be a nuclear blast. This struck me as a little weird.

Now it appears that it has struck some other people, including some filing for a court injunction, as a little weird too. Perhaps the court will agree.

I do love the fact that the agency conducting the test is called the "Defense Threat Reduction Agency." I guess that 700 tons of Ammonium Nitrate and fuel oil would have that effect on just about any threat one might perceive, or imagine. (For comparison's sake, the Oklahoma City bombers used only two and a half tons of the Ammonium Nitrate-fuel oil mix).

Here's what the government says about this little science project.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

But on the bright side

The only good news I can see here is that this poor man only weighs 85.7 - if he were weighed in stone (my new favorite measure of weight - I am down to a svelt 13.9 - or "13 stone 12" - after topping out at around 14.6 - or "14 stone 8").

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Sunday, April 23, 2006

I think you are an....

Sometimes you just need a good laugh. This one just keeps coming back to me, and the more I think about it, the harder I laugh. Not unlike the infamous "Director of Butt-Licking" episode at the Virginia Tech newspaper a few years back.

It just proves that you should never, ever type something in jest that you wouldn't want to see published. Perhaps next post I will tell the story of the day at The Daily Progress when the managing editor threatened to fire all the people he suspected of being responsible for such a joke-gone-haywire, then keep firing people until he ran out of staff to fire.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Decider in Chief

"I'm the decider and I decide what's best." - President Bush on his decision to keep Donald Rumsfeld at the Pentagon.

I am so terribly glad that we have a firm hand on all this deciding business. It takes all the pressure to decide off of our poor, overworked shoulders. Wonder what he will decide next?

Afternoon update: "You're not the boss of me," the president tells the media.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Now that takes nuts

I don't know who this guy is, or how I got on his email list, but this State Senate candidate has my admiration for daring to co-opt one of the best campaign slogans in American history (Doubt it will help, of course, even in this potentially anti-incumbent year in Pennsylvania. His opponent is Bob Jubelirer, president pro-tem of the Senate and an entrenched political player if there ever was one. Still, great slogan). Now if only someone could find a way to resurrect "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too."

Note the slogan at the very bottom of this press release, which wiggled its way into my email box today:

For Immediate Release: Contact: Tim Kelly April 14, 2006 814 317 1753

Jubelirer Extreme Makeover: Failure
Analysts Project 5% Eichelberger Lead

HOLLIDAYSBURG, PA – Yesterday in a new survey conducted by The Polling Company, challenger to the 30th District state senate seat, , is only 1% back from 31 year incumbent Bob Jubelirer in a head to head match up. In a three way race, Eichelberger is still within the margin of error.

“After spending $300,000 - $400,000 in advertising on television, radio, billboards, and direct mail pieces, Bob Jubelirer’s conservative make over is not winning over district voters,” said Eichelberger. “We are dead even at the commencement of our ad campaign, I’m thrilled.”

Polling Points:

• In the two man race Eichelberger and Jubelirer are neck and neck
• One in five voters, more than 20% of those polled, remained undecided in the head to head match up; those undecided voters tend to break for Eichelberger
• Detailed breakdowns of the poll shows that Eichelberger’s base is clearly more solid than Jubelirer’s
• Jubelirer polls below 50% in all potential match ups
• Eichelberger has not run an advertising campaign to date; Jubelirer has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in political advertising
• Jubelirer’s numbers have done little between polling in 10/05 and 3/06
• Eichelberger has overwhelming support in Blair County
• Given the many new voters in this race and comparisons to benchmark data, political analysts give Eichelberger a 5 % edge if the polls were open today and a larger margin after Eichelberger’s message hits the airwaves

-I Like Eich-

PS: I see that "Eich" is having Alan Keyes stump for him. This tells me almost all I need to know. I doubt Sen. Jubelirer would be risking too much to contact a caterer now for his post election victory party. In fact, he might get a nice discount for booking early. Just a thought.

Monday, April 10, 2006

And they say Katie lacks gravitas

During the 2000 campaign, I covered a Bush event at a hall in Pittsburgh, I think it was the Soldiers & Sailors National Military Museum, where Bush appeared along with Colin Powell and Tom Ridge, who was still governor of Pennsylvania (and hadn't yet wrecked his career as director of Homeland Security). Powell and Ridge are both tall, imposing ex-military men, who wear their suits sharp and crisp-pressed. They stand up straight. They are charismatic and forceful when they speak. Almost entirely unlike Bush on all counts. He looks incredibly ill-at-ease in a suit (a problem that was even worse then than now), and when uncomfortable, he tends to chuckle and huff in a most undignified way. After a few minutes of watching this painful contrast on stage, we in the press corps agreed that if you were an alien who had been suddenly thrown into this scene and asked to pick which of these three men was the nominee for president, you would never, ever guess the truth.

Bush has certainly gotten a lot better on stage in a lot of ways. But it doesn't always work.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Just what we need

On the whole, I find the New York gossip column scene exceeding tedious (Though I have a fondness for Gawker, but more for the snarky writing than the actual gossip). But I am greatly concerned about this Jared Stern stuff. This is exactly what journalism doesn't need right now. If the New York Times is correct this morning, then Stern was engaged in exactly the kind of deliberate amoral character destruction that people accuse the media of engaging in (but which usually isn't true - we're not that well organized). But here is this clown putting it on the record. According to the Times, Stern is heard on the recording saying:

"We know how to destroy people," Mr. Stern said, according to a person reading a transcript of the meeting. "It's what we do. We do it without creating liability. That's our specialty."

Lovely. Just lovely.

Friday, April 07, 2006

A great new business model

To hell with struggling along for a salary writing stories, or hustling for freelance gigs.

NYDN: Page Six writer solicited $220K from gossip subject

This guy has come up with an excellent way to finance his journalism habit. All I can say is Why Didn't I Think of This?

Nice career you have here, Congressman. Pity if something were to HAPPEN to it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

There's a crime being committed

For reasons that I am at a loss to explain, the water in the fountain at Philadelphia's famous Love Park (home of the "Love" sculpture on which the stamp and posters are based) has been a particularly bright and unpleasant shade of pink this week. I mean like neon pink. This has happened before, apparently - the picture linked above is from last fall sometime, though I don't remember that particular outbreak of pink.

The other day, my wife and I were walking toward the fountain along the Ben Franklin Parkway and one of Philly's huge army of insane homeless people was standing at the corner of the park, raving about something. As we drew closer, we realized that he was upset by the water.

"There is a crime being committed - this water is Pink," he yelled at us, then stormed off toward the Art Museum.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

I'm just sayin'

There was a time, way back in the Stone Age, when "College Party" meant way too much Milwaukee's Best and a certain amount of coupling that was at least marginally consenting, if appallingly inebriated. I really must say that, as over-the-top, drunken, and scandalously un-PC the University of Virginia may have been in the mid-80s (And there was plenty of alcohol-fueled sexual unpleasantness that we should not make light of), I don't recall a single case where anyone sexually assaulted an exotic dancer then, within minutes, publicly discussed killing, dismembering, and/or devouring other dancers.

Great album

I picked this album up used, sort of on a lark the other day.

And I am damned glad I did.

There was a rather tedious profile of them in Paste magazine this month, but other than that I hadn't heard anything about the Avett Brothers. But the album is just fabulous. How to describe it? Imagine if the Beastie Boys woke up one day and decided that, instead of being a bunch of rappers from New York, they would suddenly become an alt-folk/rock trio from North Carolina. Imagine the Violent Femmes sitting around in a living room late into the night with, say, a banjo and a case of beer.

Their own bio says the band stems from the days when Scott and Seth (the two "Avett Brothers" of the band name. The third member is Bob Crawford) had a rock band, but Scott "began getting together with some friends and other flat-pickers on Tuesday nights in Greenville, NC to drink liquor, play acoustic bluegrass and country music, and occasionally perform on the street." Listen to the album and you'll understand why that sums up the band nicely.

The song-writing is sharp and clever. Sometimes it's raucus and funny, like "Talk on Indolence," which seems to be a recollection of an old relationship that was marked by lots of drunken fun, or "The Fall," a high-spirited song the band itself describes as being about death. Sometimes it's maudlin and reflective, like "Sixteen in July," about being young and free in the summer, or "Pretend Love," a strangely sweet song about a relationship built on a lie.

Through it all, the band throws in snippets of studio chatter, including an extended session at the end of the final track. And it sounds like they're having a hell of a lot of fun (and perhaps a fair bit of alcohol).

They've been getting some nice critical attention lately, as it turns out (I somehow missed all of it until Paste) and they are clearly headed for greater things.

I am dying to see these guys live. I'd love to hear how they sound with the Watson Twins behind them, but I'm not holding my breath.

A perilously fine line, but a line nonetheless

Cassie asks an interesting question about my last post, in which I snottily dismissed Extreme Makeover. And I think it bears an answer:

What is the difference between this kind of thing and tabloid journalism?

Admittedly, the line is perilously fine at times. But here's how I would define it.

In tabloid journalism - any journalism, really - the events described are at least real events (however sensational or trivial) that occurred without the intervention or prompting of the publication, at least when the system is working right. Extreme Makeover, however, crosses a crucial line in terms of creating the events it chronicles. A real journalistic enterprise, say the New York Post or New York Times or People magazine, might certainly profile the very same kind of family in distress that Extreme Makeover is seeking. Obviously, it is doing so to catch the reader's attention and, yes, play on their emotions (all good story telling does so). And usually the story is at least nominally making a bigger point - buried somewhere in most stories like this is some kind of information on how the story relates to a bigger issue, perhaps access to health care, or the dangers of drugs, or the problems of poverty, or whatever.

But the problem with something like Extreme Makeover is that is essentially setting up the event that creates the emotion, both for the people affected and for the audience. It has a vested interest in pumping up the pathos of the families involved, then playing up the heroism of the show and the team involved as a way of pumping up the supposedly redemptive emotion as the family sees the results. Nor would it hesitate to tinker with the sequence of events, pictures, or other elements to hype the drama, a practice that is deeply frowned upon in all but the most disreputable fringes of the press. I find this kind of manipulation of the story unacceptably exploitative and cynical. And on top of it, Extreme Makeover doesn't even pretend to give some broader context. Where a normal news story might try (with varying degrees of believability and success) to make the family some kind of human face of a broader trend or issue, Extreme Makeover simply implicitly says "Here is a really pathetic family and we, the nice guys, are here to make their sad little existence better." Extreme Makeover also tends to fit the events it creates into a neat narrative arc - sad family now made whole in 60 minutes. There is little or no attention paid to whether the family in question benefits from the intervention of the show. A news organization, at least ideally, would raise this question in the story, or at leats be open to it, and perhaps even revisit the story later to see how the family has fared. The messy results of real life are not always pretty, as I have discussed before.

I suppose one could make a case that news organizations are on some level exploiting the people about whom they write, and exploiting the emotions of the readers, but the same could be said of good storytelling of all sorts. I think as long as a news story is done respectfully, accurately and without manipulation of the situation or participants, then it falls on the acceptable side of the line. Sometimes news organizations of all kinds fail in one or all of these categories, but I think Extreme Makeover fails routinely by its very structure. It wouldn't even recognize the distinction I am making.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

And what about dewey-eyed kittens, too?

It is this kind of thing that makes me hate this television show. I think it says it all that the department in charge of finding its hapless victims - uuuuh, I mean "worthy families" - is known as "casting."

Oh, and if you think you are sufficiently benighted and would like to beg to be exploited shamelessly by ABC, or know a family that is, here is the application. Just another service I like to provide.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

This right here

This story is just so deliciously weird on so many sickening levels that words nearly fail me. But what really gets me is this quote, which is truly a once-in-a-lifetime chance for any reporter:

"This right here beats anything I have ever seen," Sheriff Tom Alexander told the Asheville Citizen-Times, which reported that victims may have come from as far away as South America.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

The Big Boom

I am not even sure what to think about this. What the Hell could you possibly need a bomb this big for? It would be 700 times larger than the 2,000 pound bombs used to blast U-Boat pens in WWII. It would be almost 100 times larger than the Daisy Cutter, generally thought to be the largest conventional weapon in the world. It would be 63 times bigger than the Amazon, the superbomb designed to blast through the most heavily reinforced underground facilities built by the Germans in WWII. It would be 33 times bigger than the titanic T-12, which was under development at the end of the war but was eventually replaced by small nuclear weapons.

I mean, jeez, how would you even GET it there? The Daisy Cutter, at a mere 7.5 tons, is already too big to fit in the bomb-bay of any bomber ever built - they have to push the stupid thing out of the back hatch of a C-130, a cargo plane. The C-130 only carries around 23 tons of cargo, so you could get, oh, about 1/30th of this baby into the cargo hold. The fearsome B-52 carries 35 tons of bombs, and itself weighs only about 92 tons, or about 13 percent of the weight of this superbomb.

So what would we do? Drive it to the target in a convoy of trucks? Drop it in pieces and ask the nice folks on the ground to assemble it for us?

I have a better idea: let's just develop a system to attract a meteor to hit enemy installations. That would show 'em good.

Afternoon Update: I guess I am not the only one whose mind boggles.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

What not to wear

Good god, can't someone please give Jack Abramoff some advice on hats?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Best analysis of Ben's downfall

Jach Shafer always has been my favorite media critic, dating from his days at the Washington City Paper, and his commentary today on the collapse of Ben Domenech is insightful as always.

White Trash 2

My letter on Romenesko generated a couple of interesting responses, both well reasoned, though I do object to saying that I am "defending" the use of White Trash, which slightly misses my point. But such is life.

Monday, March 27, 2006

White Trash

Chuck Darrow of the Courier-Post in New Jersey has an interesting commentary on the casual use of the phrase "White Trash." He suggests that if we have the good taste and sensitivity to avoid ethnic slurs - from the N-word on - then we really should avoid using White Trash as well. "I truly cringe every time I hear or see "white trash" tossed around so blithely," he writes.

But I wonder. I think it may have been Cornel West who pointed out that it is essentially impossible to malign those at the top of the social and power structure with the same vicious effect as you can denigrate those at the bottom - "Honky" and "cracker" simply cannot, and never will, carry the same power to shock and horrify as their equivalent slurs on blacks, Asians, Hispanics, the disabled, or anyone else at a significant social and economic disadvantage. In fact, if anything, such a term is almost comical because it is so fundamentally empty in its attempt to undercut the dominant social class.

But I think Darrow misses an even more important semantic distinction between "White Trash" and any even remotely comparable ethnic slur. Here is a letter I dashed off to the Romenesko journalism site, which links Darrow's column today:

While it is true that "White Trash" can be taken as fighting words in my native South, I think Chuck Darrow of the Courier-Post is way off base in equating the term so closely with an ethnic slur of the same caliber as the infamous "N-word." The phrase "White Trash" suggests a class or economic distinction that, however great the implied difficulty, can be corrected by education, hard work, and, ultimately of course, money. As such, it can't possibly deliver the same pain as a word that dismisses someone as irredeemably inferior - that attacks the very humanity of the person described - no matter his economic, social or educational accomplishment. I think Chuck Darrow's outrage at the use of the phrase is both unnecessarily thin-skinned and considerably misplaced as a social and historical matter.

Am I wrong here?

Saturday, March 25, 2006

If the tinfoil hat fits, wear it

From the NY Post by way of the Drudge Report:

Sat Mar 25 2006 10:09:51 ET

A Republican challenger to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is bizarrely claiming that the former first lady has been spying in her bedroom window and flying helicopters over her house in the Hamptons, the NEW YORK POST reported in a frontpage splash on Saturday.

Former Reagan-era Pentagon official Kathleen "KT" McFarland stunned a crowd of Suffolk County Republicans on Thursday by saying:

"Hillary Clinton is really worried about me, and is so worried, in fact, that she had helicopters flying over my house in Southampton today taking pictures," according to a prominent GOP activist who was at the event.

"She wasn't joking, she was very, very serious, and she also claimed that Clinton's people were taking pictures across the street from her house in Manhattan, taking pictures from an apartment across the street from her bedroom," added the eyewitness, who is not involved in the Senate race.

Suffolk County Republican Chairman Harry Withers, who hosted the reception in East Islip, confirmed McFarland's paranoid statements.

"Yes, she said that," Withers told the POST.

McFarland spokesman William O'Reilly responded that the GOP hopeful was just kidding around with her far-fetched claims.

"It was a joke, and people laughed," O'Reilly insisted.

But three witnesses who were present said nobody in the audience cracked a smile.

"The whole room sort of went silent when she said it," one person said.

Clinton campaign spokesman Howard Wolfson denied any spying was going on.

"We at the Hillary campaign wish Ms. McFarland the best and hope she gets the rest she needs," he said.

But Wolfson couldn't resist a sharper gibe at McFarland's remarks.

"Some campaigns hand out campaign buttons; the McFarland campaign hands out tinfoil hats with antennas," he quipped.


Now, my only question for Howard Wolfson would be "What's wrong with tinfoil hats, Howard?"

Friday, March 24, 2006

Say it ain't so, Ben

Oh, jeez, please tell me this isn't true. If it is, I am deeply disappointed by my young friend Ben Domenech - he seemed too smart for this. Plagiarism is the most pernicious, self-destructive thing a journalist can do, and the real pity is that is is relatively easy to avoid. But I guess it would fit something of a pattern - it's often the young, ambitious, smart ones that go down because the pressure is too great, from others and on themselves. I think of Stephen Glass and Jayson Blair and even Janet Cooke. Every journalist in one way or another is aware of the temptation, but the hyper-driven ones sometimes succumb. I just hope this isn't true, but the Daily Kos file looks pretty incriminating, as does a similar one from Salon. And this from Salon is troubling as well.

Afternoon Update: Ben resigns.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

My first big "I Knew Him When"

I was a little taken aback to see this item this morning. It reminded me that age is creeping up on me.

Many years ago, when I covered Capitol Hill for the Washington Times, a young man began hanging around the press gallery. His name was Benjamin Domenech and he worked for a little known conservative magazine called Human Events. He struck me as earnest and ambitious. He carefully introduced himself to everyone he could get within hand-shake range and he seemed genuinely interested in what the older reporters had to say.

At some point, he prevailed on me to have him out for lunch. So naturally I took him to a bar on the Hill. I can't even precisely remember what we talked about, but he struck me as incredibly intelligent, thoughtful and well-educated. I figured he'd make a stir some day. Somehow, toward the end of the conversation, the subject of his age came up and he dropped the bombshell - he was all of 16. I knew he was young, but I had taken him for 20 or 21 - one of the army of earnest young college-age interns or newly minted grads that pack Washington. My complete astonishment (and his smile, which showed he was enjoying my bafflement) ensured that the kid's name was imprinted on my mind.

Somehow I lost track of him, though his name would occasionally drift through my head. So it was with a mix of surprise and, well, un-surprise, that I saw Ben has been tapped by the Washington Post to write a new conservative blog.

I won't pretend to agree with all of what Ben has to say ("Red Dawn" was a silly movie, not a conservative manifesto, Ben), and I am disappointed to see he worked with Michelle Malkin, who gives intellectual lightweights everywhere a bad name, but I can testify that Ben is a very smart, thoughtful young man and his blog may bear watching. At least he will be interesting.

Monday, March 20, 2006

But was he wearing clean underwear?

I think it is clear that the advice our mothers gave us - always wear clean underwear - is, while wise on many levels, simply inadequate to cover the many peculiar situations that we might encounter in life. Some other advice might include "don't wear a dress, makeup and earrings if you are a man who is about to be arrested" and "do not commit an act of self gratification in a crowded public library." It is certain that this man's mother somehow missed giving him this crucial advice.

Later addition: in cruising around the Smoking Gun after posting this, I discovered this mugshot, which really speaks to me. From the "Never, Ever Give Up" file, here is the way I would like to be remembered if my life goes horribly, tragically, completely to Hell.

Now what are the chances?

This evening I discover that there is in fact another Seanibus abroad in the world. And he lives in, of all places, Philadelphia. Maybe we should start a club.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Allow me to introduce myself

I finally have the actual website up and going. It's awfully heavy on resume stuff (anyone have a lucrative job for me?), but it's a website nonetheless. And now that I have all the important stuff up, I find I have only used about a third of my capacity, so I have room to throw up fun stuff, like pictures. I don't know if I ever will, but it's nice to know I can.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Blame Canada.

Once in a while, you run across a really lovely bit of writing in a newspaper. This morning, John Bartlett of The Erie Times-News deserves a small, tasteful award for a great lead on what could have been a deadly dull story. Here's the full text.

By John Bartlett

For the first time since the War of 1812, many United States vessels patrolling the Great Lakes will be armed.

However, no resumption of hostilities is anticipated.

Coast Guard vessels on the Great Lakes are being equipped with machine guns capable of firing up to 600 rounds per minute to defend against drug runners and terrorists, not Canadians.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

How terrifying

From ABC7 in Chicago:

March 16, 2006 - Chicago police are investigating cases of suspicious activity at two Loop buildings. One of them is the Sears Tower.

Since 9-11, the Sears Tower in particular has turned up on several lists of possible targets for terrorists. ABC7 news has reported sightings of suspicious looking individuals photographing the building numerous times in the past several years. Law enforcement officials have always publicly downplayed these incidents and they attempted to do that again Thursday.

I think they call these hideously deformed creatures "tourists." Cops should be allowed to shoot on sight, I say.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Wow, I have finally entered the 90s

This whole blog thing has got me all sweaty with excitement, so I decided to dabble in a website too. I have an actual, honest to God website. A first in my family. Except my brother, of course, who knows what the Hell he is doing with this stuff. Oh, and my mother, who piggybacks on my brother's site. At least I know my wife and kids don't have websites, so I am #1 somewhere at least.

So far, it amounts to less than this blog, which is to say, I have nothing exciting on it at all, 'cept a really nifty picture (taken by my wife) of my youngest son while making cupcakes.

Trust me, it's just a temporary arrangement. But I suppose for a first tentative step into web development, it's not too bad. I mean, it's got words and pictures and hyperlink-thingys and everything, just like the big boys. And they don't have any pictures of Colin.

Oh, I have this grand vision - resume, profile, serious discussion of all the wonderful things I am able to do for money (um, let's see. Write. Edit. Report. Did I mentioned write?). We'll see if I get that far. Maybe I'll just post dorky vacation photos. Or come up with a grand high concept. Did I mention I will write for money?

Friday, March 10, 2006

Twins Are Good Update

Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins had a good set on KCRW. It started a little shaky, but quickly turned around and was pretty solid. Mildly interesting interview with Jenny, but no talk from the Twins. Oh well. Their time will come. And Jenny put them to slightly better use in the live set than on the record.

Sadly, I find out the show in Philly on Monday is solidly sold out. So I will miss it.

From the "painfully obvious" department

Did Alcohol Fuel Church Fire Suspects?

(CBS/AP) A group of three college students charged in connection with a string of Alabama church fires that apparently began as a prank may have been fueled by alcohol, authorities said.

Um, yah think?

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ah, how parochial is our view

Scanning news online today, I was somewhat taken aback by this headline on Google:

Future PA gov't won't include Hamas leaders from abroad

See, I naturally assumed that meant "PA" as in "Pennsylvania." And I knew we had a bunch of clowns running the state, but never had I suspected that included Palestinian militants.

Reminds me of my uncle's hilarious story of a conversation he participated in once where one person was speaking of Eugene Ionesco and the other was speaking of UNESCO. And it took an embarassing number of minutes to realize that they were talking about distinctly different things.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Twins are good

I picked up the new solo album by Jenny Lewis, of Rilo Kiley fame - it's not bad. She's better with Rilo Kiley than on her own, though (if you don't know what I am talking about, I urge you to look into it. Great band).

But that's not the point, really. I was astounded to see two familiar faces behind Jenny Lewis on the cover - the "Watson Twins." Turns out my wife and I have been fans of these girls for years, when we first saw them as backup singers for the unjustly obscure LA band Slydell. The songwriting was a little strained at times, but every element of the band was incredibly tight. It was an astounding collection of talent. And binding it all together were the two best backup singers I have ever heard - doesn't hurt that they are attractive, not-quite-identical twins from Kentucky who appear to tower up in the six-foot-tall range.

We discovered them in maybe 2002 or 2003 when we went out on a rare date-night to the Derby for one of these five-noname-bands-on-a-bill kind of nights. The first four bands were merely OK. We were tired and little drunk - and we were paying a fortune for a babysitter - so we wanted to go home. But we decided to stay for one last song. And on comes this band that was totally hypnotic. We stayed for the whole set, and we were totally haunted by them, even though we didn't even know the name until I looked up the Derby calendar the next day. After that, we caught Slydell as often as we could. For a while, they were the house band at Tangier in Los Feliz around the corner from our house.

Unfortunately, Slydell collapsed all of a sudden for reasons I have never been able to determine, and the parts of the band drifted in different directions and the singer, known only as "B. Roam," seems to have vanished completely.

I've kept an eye on the Watsons, and they popped up once in a while here and there backing up on obscure albums, including Joe Firstman's "The War of Women." And they formed a band of their own named Blackswan, which never seems to have gone anywhere.

But now, finally they are getting some of the attention they deserve thanks to Jenny Lewis. Lewis doesn't use them as much as she should - you can hear them on the first three or four tracks, then they fade for the rest of the album - but you can hear just how tight their harmonies are.

And I'm pleased to discover that they have their own album out, featuring a couple of the old Slydell players, including the incredible guitarist who calls himself just "J. Soda", and keyboardist Aram Arslanian, who will remind you why keyboards well applied can spell the difference between a good and a great production. It's a very good album - I was pleasantly surprised at how well the Watsons handle lead-singer duty, and they still indulge in plenty of their trademark tight harmonies. Great stuff. I am particularly fond of the odd little title song "Southern Manners."

Unfortunately, the only way to get is at a show or on their website. And the shows with Jenny Lewis are selling out fast (though you can hear them on KCRW.org on March 10). So check out the website. You won't be sorry.

Phishing story

I always figured I was just way too cool to be taken in by one of these Phishing scams - you know the "Changes have been detected to your EBay account. Please log in and verify your information. Failure to do so will result in the suspension of your account" stuff. Then the link takes you to a side that looks totally legit and asks for your account number and password and all. I was way too hip for that.

But then yesterday I got the most devilishly clever one. If I weren't so irked, I'd rather admire the skill of it. It was in the form of an email that looked like this:

It really does look exactly like an EBay member message. And the "reply" button sends you to some kind of mirror site that does seem to log you into EBay, but I would presume in the process also helpfully copies your screename and password.

I am ashamed to say I fell for it, though I put 2 and 2 together moments later (equals 4, for the record) and was able to change my password - and passwords anywhere else where I used similar screenames or passwords. So I suppose the damage was limited, at least I hope. We'll see. And I am damned glad it was just Phishing for my EBay password (I wondered why I was suddenly buying hundreds of dollars with of antique woodworking tools and stacks of vintage porn magazines. That will be hard to explain to the wife).

But in any event, just be aware that there are some pretty slick scammers out there. And also, never, ever, assume you are too hip to fall for it.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Back from paradise

We just spent 11 days in Hawaii, in part hanging at the Maui Four Seasons and in part visiting an old friend on the nearby - but still incredibly remote - island of Lanai. It was spectacular. If you ever can go, do. Hawaii is everything it is supposed to be, even with some of the tourist-trap aspect. Of course, it ain't even remotely cheap (even if we did get free rooms at the Four Seasons thanks to my wife's job), but worth it.

But then we had to come back. And we were repaid for our sloth - 11 inches of snow on the ground in Philadelphia. Most discouraging. But at least I have a bitchin' tan.