Monday, July 28, 2008

You think this is fun? Let's go stick a fork in the wall socket next!

An alternative title was something like "Teenage girls have unexpected reaction while stroking the giant chrome phallus", or something like that.

I'm on vacation, check back next week some time. Although, according to the Site Meter, most people end up here by doing searches on something specific. I think I have very few readers who actually look here on a regular basis for anything new. But, just in case anyone was expecting anything, this is why.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Ah, so Barack Obama has been secretly killing people for at least 10 years.

This story has hit many places in the liberal blogsphere. This link is for Sadly, No! But, of course, no one in the mainstream media mentions what out and out insane people do with some extra time on their hands to feed their insanity.

Someone started an e-mail that lists all the people that Obama has had bumped off. And, of course, it is extremely relevant that Obama’s middle name is HUSSEIN.

The Obama Death List

The following is a partial list of deaths of persons connected to Barack HUSSEIN Obama during his time inside the United States. Read the list and judge for yourself…

SARAH BERKLEY - Author of “The Jihad at the Ballot Box” - a book examining Obama’s relationship with radical Islam. Died in a mysterious car crash in 2003.

RUSSELL MCDOUGAL - Former FBI operative, January 23rd, 2007. McDougal was known to hold sensitive information about meetings Barack Obama had with arms smugglers. His wife was murdered March 2006 after he went public with his initial reports. His father died July 8, 2006 four hours after McDougal presented his findings on the Savage Nation. Suffered administrative retaliation after reporting discussions by jihadist groups concerning Obama to his superiors.

RODRIGO VILLALOPEZ, a television news camera man who shot the footage of Obama describing small town voters as “bitter” and “clinging to their guns during the primary season.

BRIAN GORING - A defense attorney for Obama patron Antoin Rezko during his trial for extortion and bribery. Died of apparent “natural causes.”

The list goes on and on, of course. A list where the candidate for one of the major political parties for the presidency isn’t really compelling enough with only 7 or 8 names of people that Obama has had killed. No. There are probably the names of 20 people on this list. That's MUCH more believable than just seven people.

The commenters at Sadly, No! do a pretty good number on each of the entries. Of course, when you try to search on these names go get more background, they fail to come up on any searches. That first person? You would think that if someone were to write a book called “The Jihad at the Ballot Box”, there might be a record of such book somewhere. Right? I mean, even someone at Amazon should be selling a used copy somewhere.

It is extremely telling that Obama would off one of his opponents of apparent “natural causes”. Damn that Barack Hussein, he’s good. James Bond just shot everyone he didn’t like. This puts that story about Obama having a fake birth certificate to shame, I must say.

I can’t figure this out. Do these people actually believe this crap they read? Or are they truly psychotic, such that a large number of people in this country should really be institutionalized?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Professor Harold Hill, prototypical Republican?

I was having an e-mail conversation with my occasional posting partner, Philm Phan, the other day regarding the classic musical, “The Music Man”. Or, “Meredith Wilson’s, The Music Man”, as listed in the Internet Movie Database. It’s a fun movie, a slice of “Americana” in several different ways. It reflects not only some of the aspects of life in Middle America at the turn of the century (the last turn, not this latest one), but also some of the aspects of America as captured by the movies in the 1960’s.

The conversation turned to one of the main characters of the film, Professor Harold Hill. It occurred to me that this guy is about as prototypical a Twenty First Century Republican as you can get. First, he’s a fast talker, a con artist, willing to sell you anything at all in order to make a fast buck. That’s his entire concept of his life. His modus operandii, as he goes into the small towns and cities around America, is to cause confusion and panic about an issue that had never been an issue before and then, magically, present the locals with a solution to this new problem. In the case of the film, a pool table. Dire things are predicted to happen if this is allowed to occur (e.g., jockeys riding directly on race horses instead of on trotting carriages, boys buckling their knickerbockers below the knees) unimpeded. The day previous to Hill’s arrival, people had not considered a pool table much of a concern. After his arrival, it had taken on all aspects of a catastrophe that’s just seconds away from occurring. He is willing to say anything, including falsifying his credentials (Gary Conservatory of Music, Ought Five), to back up his outlandish claims. And, of course, he has the perfect plan to make all their concerns and worries about this thing that had never been a concern or worry to them prior to his arrival go away. He has “the answers”. He’s willing to “sweet talk” anyone he needs to that holds a position of influence (e.g., the librarian, the librarian’s mother, the city council, the mayor’s wife) to “grease the skids” of his plan.

Do you see where I am going with this?

To continue, his solution consists of a lot of promises yet to be fulfilled, full of nice, bright, shiny things that enthrall anyone and everyone (except the extremely skeptical). And, the final touch is that his promise of this new, shiny thing that will take away everyone’s worries about all those terrible things that were going to happen as a result of a terrible issue that had never been an issue before, is based on something he refers to as the “Think System”. You see, it isn’t necessary to actually do the planning and work required to set up and produce something as intricate as a boy’s marching band. No one actually has to take music lessons to play their brand new instruments that Professor Hill has sold them. No, all you have to do is “think” that you can play them, and magically, you can! All you have to do is believe! That is all that is required! Ask no further questions, because all you will get is the runaround. Obfuscation is the order of the day for Prof. Hill.

There is also that issue of Professor Hill looking really, really gay, prancing around in a pretty gaudy drum major outfit. That doesn’t quite fit in with my premise about Repub… Wait a second. Actually, it does. Never mind.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have all been sold a bill of goods. We have bought those nice, bright shiny things, like overt patriotism as a litmus test, the war in Iraq, the shredding of the Constitution in order to provide “security”, the overt politicization of the Justice Department, and on and on, by someone who inflated his credentials (the “War President” because he may or may not have served in the National Guard in Alabama during the Vietnam War, i.e., the Gary Conservatory of Music, Ought Five) based on nothing more than… the Think System! All we need to do is to Think that all this stuff is true, and viola! It is!

The biggest difference is that real life isn’t a musical and there won’t be a huge marching band coming down the street at the end when the credits start rolling.

UPDATE: You know, I am not saying that Keith Olbermann or his staff at Countdown on MSNBC read this or any other blogs. I do find it interesting that, after this particular post of mine, Keith started referring to Glenn Beck as "Harold Hill" quite often on his show. Of course, this idea was just sitting out there for anyone to pick up. I'm not saying I was the first and won't be the last. I just found it interesting. That happened with one other of my posts as well. If they are using ideas from people's blogs, it would be nice to give them some credit...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Greed is good? Not when you would like to have a working economy.

I was amazed to see Phil Gramm’s statement of a week ago about the U.S. being “a nation of whiners” about the economy. He was rightfully smacked down by a lot of people. That story was even sort of mentioned in passing by the MSM! That’s pretty amazing, considering the love affair the media has with John McCain. Gramm has now resigned from the McCain campaign, except he will probably remain hanging around “to advise” McCain. And, of course, the whole thing was blamed on Democrats, because, as we all know, Democrats would rather make personal attacks than concentrate on real issues. That’s extreme sarcasm, if you couldn’t tell.

I use that whole incident as the preface to my real subject of today, which is the fact that huge amounts of people are losing their homes and other possessions bought with credit they couldn’t really afford. There were three separate stories today in the Seattle Times about this. The first one, which I want to quote from here in a second, has to do with the predatory lending practices by practically the entire U.S. lending industry. The second has to do with the problems that people who wish to sell their homes at less than they owe on the house. The third is about how people are just walking away from “luxury” assets, such as boats, RV’s, snowmobiles, etc., which required large loans to finance.

Here are some passages from the first story that really struck me hard.

The lucrative lending practices of America's merchants of debt have helped lead millions of Americans — young and old, native and immigrant, affluent and poor — to the brink. More and more, Americans can identify with late 19th- and early 20th-century miners in debt to the company store, with little chance of paying up.

It is not just individuals but the entire economy that is now suffering. Practices that produced record profits for many banks have shaken the nation's financial system to its foundation. As a growing number of Americans default, some banks are recording hundreds of billions of dollars in losses, devastating their shareholders.


But behind the big increase in consumer debt is a major shift in the way lenders approach their business. In earlier years, actually being repaid by borrowers was crucial to lenders. Now, because so much consumer debt is packaged into securities and sold to investors, repayment of the loans takes on less importance to those lenders than the fees and charges generated when loans are made.

Lenders have found new ways to squeeze more profit from borrowers. Though prevailing interest rates have fallen to the low single digits in recent years, for example, the rates that credit-card issuers routinely charge even borrowers with good credit records have risen, to 19.1 percent last year from 17.7 percent in 2005 — a difference that adds billions of dollars in interest charges annually to credit-card bills.

Average late fees rose to $35 in 2007 from less than $13 in 1994, and fees charged when customers exceed their credit limits more than doubled to $26 a month from $11, according to CardWeb, an online publisher of information on payment and credit cards.

Mortgage lenders similarly added or raised fees associated with borrowing to buy a home — like $75 e-mail charges, $100 document-preparation costs and $70 courier fees — bringing the average to $700 a mortgage, according to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. These "junk fees" have risen 50 percent in recent years, said Michael Kratzer, president of, a Web site intended to help consumers reduce fees on mortgages.

"Today the focus for lenders is not so much on consumer loans being repaid, but on the loan as a perpetual earning asset," said Julie Williams, chief counsel of the Comptroller of the Currency, in a 2005 speech that received little notice at the time.

So, just to recap. Lending institutions now regard their principle method of making money from loans NOT from the interest they charge. No, they view their main method of making money is jacked up interest rates on adjustable rate loans, late payment fees and the accompanying exorbitant interest rates that the loan bumps up to when even a single payment is late. They do not consider having loans paid off on time as important as collecting penalty payments. In fact, they would rather you not pay them off on time.

The entire industry is based on having consumers of their credit products being in some sort of financial difficulty that ranges from just being late on their payments once or twice to being in dire straits, not being able to pay off at all and losing their homes or other things they purchased with credit.

I do not see how any industry can be so shortsighted. This entire house of cards, and that is what this is, is built on the unstated premise that consumers in this country will remain in a state of perpetual indebtedness but will still continue to pay their financial “obligations” and not default on their loans altogether. And no one apparently ever considered the possibility that this would happen on a huge scale, such that the entire underpinnings of the lending industry would be affected in such as way as to result in huge corporations having to be bailed out by the federal government. The full effects are still yet to be shaken out.

This is the same thought processes behind the insurance industry, where one of the first priorities of insurers is to find some way to get out of paying their policyholders when legal claims are made against those policies. They will play games with semantics, they will use every single method they can conceive of to get out of paying off their customers, because that would affect what they see as their earned profits. There is very little time spent, at the high levels of these companies, about the pain, anguish and human suffering is caused by their single-minded pursuit of keeping every single dollar that comes within their grasp.

I have news for those Republicans, like Gramm, who believe that an unfettered, unregulated business environment is somehow, for business, on par with the Ten Commandments, handed down to Moses by God, chiseled in stone. Not only are you showing that you have very little humanity and compassion within you, your entire basis for raking in huge piles of dough when you already have huge piles of dough only works for the short term. You have absolutely no idea about how to assess future impacts of your single-minded pursuit of as much money as absolutely possible. You don’t even consider that you may be undermining your entire cause by your current actions.

I find that incomprehensible as well as bloodless and shows just an astonishing amount of greed that drives their entire thought process. Anyone who doesn’t take possible consequences of their actions into account before you set off on some task deserves what they get. Please note that this same thinking, or lack thereof, is evident in Bush’s war planning in Iraq, or lack thereof. The Iraqis will welcome us as liberators; the oil revenues will pay for the war… Everything will be ponies and ice cream.

The huge problem in this, of course, is that all these ramifications that they didn’t consider do not just hit them. They are hitting the entire country. The rich and powerful will usually survive any bad times. It’s the rest of us that have to pay for their lack of thought and imagination in their quest for more money, more power, etc., etc.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A nation ruled by laws does not torture people, even guilty ones.

Thers at Whiskey Fire has a good post up which starts out talking about his recent stint at jury duty. He starts out by talking about just his experience in general but goes on to make some conclusions about our nation right now. I wholeheartedly agree.

Nations like ours that are supposed to be ruled by laws do not grab people off of foreign streets and toss them in hellhole prisons without ever accusing them of anything. They especially should not be offering bounty to someone like Pakistani warlords who have every motivation to grab some of their enemies or even innocent people off the street and turn them over to us to get some handing spending cash. They do not hold people who have not been accused of any crime, much less convicted, nor do they refuse them access to legal redress. Nations run by laws do not waterboard people, they do not confine people in tiny little cells where they cannot stand up or sit down, they do not sexually humiliate them, they do not deprive them of sleep, and they do not make them retrieve their food from toilets. I do not have the link right now, I may try to find it later, but I read that over 80 people have died while in captivity at Guantanamo Bay or in U.S. run prisons overseas. That may or may not include the numbers from prisons that we have subcontracted to other nations, who want in on this action.

Nations run by laws do not resort to weasel words in order to justify their position on “advanced interrogation techniques”. They do not find compliant lawyers to write up secret “legal” justifications to support all this activity and then do not show those justifications to anyone else. And especially, they do not have a President, when asked about this, that resorts to parroting the phrase, “We do not torture”, when by every indication that we know about, that is accepted in our legal system, that we used to condemn Japanese war criminals after World War II, and that is very clearly torture according to the Geneva Conventions, that all countries in this world that aspire to the label, “civilized”, have adopted and agreed to follow.

Whenever I think about this, I get extremely angry. We have people in the White House who plan these torture techniques and got tips by watching a television show.

A big deal was made last week of the fact that John McCain changed the name of the NFL team he told his Vietnamese captors about when being tortured. In his book and his earlier statements on the episode, in order to tell his Vietnamese captors subjecting him to torture to stop, he told them the names of the players on the Green Bay Packers instead of the real names of the other soldiers in his unit, including his commander. Much was made about the fact that McCain used that story to pander to the people of Pittsburgh when he was campaigning there by changing the team from the Green Bay Packers to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yeah, that’s noteworthy; it says something about McCain's willingness to pander about what should be a very sensitive subject to him. But the press seemed to miss a very important aspect of this whole incident. McCain lied to his captors while being tortured!! Torture didn’t work for the Vietnamese!! We have, in about as obvious an example as you can find in a candidate running for President of the United States, proof that torture does not work. And that seems to be the only justification that anyone can offer these days about why our Constitution and core set of beliefs is being shredded these days. “What if a bomb was about to go off in 10 minutes and you have a person in front of you that knows where it is?” Jesus H. Christ. I don’t need to tell you how unlikely that scenario is, plus the fact that 10 minutes, even if you have the information, does not give you enough time to do much of anything other than kiss your ass goodbye. But what this implausible scenario does do is allow people who support torture to say, “what if this is that case?” Of course, it never will be, but “what it?” That is their only justification.

What if? Well, I have a bunch of other “what if’s”. What if the person is lying? What if he was innocent in the first place and doesn’t know anything?

One of the right’s rationalizations here is that the people who oppose torturing people, “are more worried about the rights of terrorists than they are the safety of the U.S.” There are so many things wrong with that assertion; we shouldn’t even have to explain. I will say this, however. However horribly we are treating other human beings that may or may not have anything to do with the actual reason they are being held in the first place, what concerns us more is what this whole issue is doing to us. Us! This isn't about "the terrorists". It's about us!! Our government tortures people, lies about it, and calls anyone who disagrees with these actions “traitors”. These are the actions that could be expected of the worst rogue nations, such as East Germany and the Soviet Union. These are the standards to which we hold ourselves? How about the Spanish Inquisition? We have sunk this low.

I am truly, truly ashamed of the actions of this country, all in the name of “keeping us secure”. Delusional bullsh*t. That’s what that is.

Drawing from here.

A tribute to the website, Mr. Cranky Rates the Movies.

Mr. Cranky announces he is shutting down the site. Man, what a shame. Mr. Cranky was the site where my on-line persona, zeppo, was born. All the other contributors to Barking Rabbits are alumni of Mr. Cranky's. What a fun and amazing place that was for a while. The only thing on the web that I find comparable are the posting forums at Sadly, No! (link at the right). There were flame wars of epic proportions, limerick battles, pun wars, oddball games and diversions that would break out at the drop of a hat. I remember running out of a boring meeting at work, just to go see what had transpired in the latest pun war. I will admit, although I don’t think the quality of my work at my former company suffered because of Mr. Cranky, I think the quantity probably did. One of these games I participated in, along with Philm Phan (who sometimes posts here if I bug her enough about it). We wrote a running story based on Tom Stoppard’s play, “Travesties”. This game ran for probably three years, and it fills up about three loose-leaf notebooks in my bookshelf. Here is one of the remaining threads on that story (but only until the end of August), but this is when we were both losing steam. For a while, we really had it going. Although it probably wasn't apparent to readers of those threads, we had some pretty strict rules we imposed on ourselves, such as the time sequence and events fitting in with real history. That was quite a challenge and I had to do some extensive study at times just to know the context of our latest chapter in the continuing saga.

It was a great time, and met a lot of very interesting people, both in person and on the web. There were apparently many gatherings of Cranky posters throughout the years. I personally arranged three of them, in Boston (I think the year was 1998), Toronto the next year, and here in Seattle in 2000. I also visited some posters at or near their homes in Oklahoma and Savannah, Georgia. I still have lots of pictures and several videos from those times. I also just remembered my soon-to-be collector's item, my Mr. Cranky T-shirt!

I try to post things that the casual reader of this blog might be interested in if they happen to stumble across it. I try not to get into much personal detail, mostly because no one would really find my personal crap all that interesting. I am making an exception here, just to pay a bit of tribute to my first real experience with the rough-and-tumble world of the interactive internet. What a wild time it was. Thanks, Jason.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Tweaking the Tiger

Tuesday July 8 2008, Tweaking the Tiger.
CX405 (Cathay Pacific) to Hong Kong, and KA (Dragon Air) to Shanghai

If the Chinese (the PRC that is, not the ROC) weren’t so paranoid, then it wouldn’t be half as much fun to mess with their minds. I was on a business trip that for once was not dealing with some sort of crisis or emergency. The trip was scheduled far in advance, everything was pre-planned, my meeting rooms were reserved, and I had a nice tight and dry agenda for my time in Hsinchu Taiwan (that’s in the ROC if you don’t know). In fact, I even had Wednesday (July 9) scheduled as on off day, and I planned to rent a car and go touring on the East side of Taiwan, viewing the cliffs and the ocean shore roads in Hailein that I have not yet seen.

But as the poet John Dunn said, “the best laid plans of mice and men, oft gang awry” and I should have known from my past history in Asia that something, or somebody, would throw a monkey wrench onto my plans.

It started Monday afternoon, and by Tuesday AM the situation at the Shanghai office required a personal visit, and that visit would involve about 6’ 4”of bad attitude. Some butts needed kicking, and some minds needed to be reset onto the right path. Since I was nearby, and I have a multiple entry visa for the PRC, I either got volunteered or drafted for the trip. Maybe I was Shanghai’ed. Really irritating, but I can still get to London on Thursday. Only now it will be from Shanghai (via Zurich) instead of direct from Taipei. It’s a detour, a change of scenery, a stop for a good old fashioned lambasting, but I’m still in London in time for Friday’s meetings.

Of course I was now leaving Taiwan with a bit of an attitude problem, and since I was feeling pretty pissed, I decided to take out some revenge on everyone Chinese (PRC of course, not my ROC friends). I packed all my business clothes, ties, boots, my briefcase, and my suit jacket into my suitcase. What I wore was some dungarees, grungy sneakers, and a bright green tee-shirt from the Shooters bar in Ft. Lauderdale. It’s a tee shirt with a BIG yellow logo right over my heart that says “Shooters”. I bought two dozen laser pointers in small boxes from an electronics store, noticing that they were made by the Bullet Line Mfg company, and the grey silver boxes all say “BULLET” on them in big black letters in English (and the same in Chinese on the other side), and I put all 24 in my carry-on bag.

Starting to get the picture yet ?

Topping it off, I wore my Gloomis baseball/fishing cap, the one with the 4 inch long skeleton of a fish above the visor. Yeah, I was setting the stage to have some fun with the officials in the PRC.

Right now the entire PRC is freaking out about the Olympics, and they are approaching a state of total paranoia about any visitors who might create a problem, or do something really insane (in their eyes) like holding up a picture of the Dalai Lama in front of the Olympic TV cameras in Beijing. Just think about it: The Dalai Lama has not set foot inside the PRC in over 50 years, ever since the goose-stepping PRC army invaded his country and started shooting unarmed monks. But after 50 years, just his photograph is enough to send sharp spikes of fear deep into the hearts of the rulers of the most populated country on Earth. Am I the only one who thinks that is funny? (And I mean odd funny, not laughing funny)

In the land I come from, we call it freedom of speech. Although it may be uncomfortable for some, I have full freedom to walk down Pennsylvania avenue carrying a burning effigy of George (W that is, not King George the 3’rd), although it could just as easily be one of Hillary or of Barack. That’s what freedom of speech is all about. Freedom. But in the PRC they question you, they arrest and jail you, sometimes they beat you up, then they throw your family out of their apartment and fire your brother from his job. This is because you are a subversive element, a radical, a counter-revolutionary, and generally not a nice person. All of this is going to happen because you believe that it is wrong that the government of the most populous country on this planet can run rough shod over the human rights of every minority in their country, just because they know that they can get away with it.

OK rant over, back to this story.

Since the PRC does not recognize the ROC as a real country, I can’t fly directly from ROC to PRC. (Well, actually I can, but those flights only started this month on very select routes, and they don’t include Taipei to Shanghai). Instead I have to take a routing that puts me thru Beijing, Seoul, Macao or Hong Kong. I chose HK, since that is the hub for Cathay Pacific, which is my second most favorite airline in the world. In HK I’ll get off CX 405 and transit to KA, an airline known as Dragon Air (I’m not making this up, that is their name) to get to Shanghai. Anyways, I’m getting wound pretty tight. I have to leave a nice quiet interlude in Taiwan, fly to Shanghai to yell at a couple of recalcitrant assholes, and in order to do so I have to go 3 hours out of my way because the clique of geriatric octogenarian inbred chimpanzees that run Beijing can’t accept that CKS (Chiang Kai Shek) outwitted them in 1949. Yeah, I’m ripped. And 3 or 4 rum and cokes in the Cathay lounge in Taipei plus the two glasses of champagne and a cognac on CX 405 really have me rolling.

And now I can get to when the fun starts. After landing in HK I had a quick layover (one beer, one cigarette) and jumped on the flight to Shanghai. But as the last step of your arrival in Shanghai, after passing through all of the immigration controls and customs, the f---ing paranoid mainland PRC now make you go through an additional X-ray screening. This is one more security check, one final time, before you leave the arrival terminal, even though you have already been through this at least once, and maybe twice, before you got to Shanghai. I know this, and that is how I shaped my strategy to freak them out. With so many planes always landing in Shanghai the queue at the final exit security checkpoint is legendary. The PRC goons try to move things along quickly, but there are usually only 2 lines, and sometimes just one. And I got “lucky” today. There must have been a half dozen flights arriving at the same time, and everyone was walking as quickly as possible (without running) to get to the final X-ray screening, knowing that the line was going to get very long. What the poor bastards behind me in my line did not know was the stunt I was about to pull on the PRC guards.

Looking back at it, it was the most fun I ever had a security screening. (Excluding the time in San Francisco when I saw a carry-on bag full of dildos get dumped out, and one of the vibrating ones came alive, and it started dancing on the metal inspection table). Well, except for that, this was the most fun. The PRC guards had themselves a freak show when a carry-on bag containing what looked like two dozen armor piercing 50-caliber rounds of ammunition went through X-ray inspection.

Yeah, it was a pain in the ass if you were behind me in line on Tuesday July 8’th at about 10 PM in Shanghai. And for that I do apologize in absentia.

But it took every bit of control that I had not to burst out laughing at their antics. I had nothing with me, or on me, or in my bag, that was in any way illegal, or banned from being carrying on an aircraft But they reacted like I was an international subversive counter-revolutionary super agent, sent to the PRC with the intention of toppling their inept and corrupt government.

I’m going to bring down the communist government of the PRC, with two dozen laser pointers, a baseball cap, and a tee-shirt from Florida ? Hell, I didn’t even have a Dalai Lama poster with me. What are they afraid of ?

Sorry, but in cases like this you pretty much have to laugh at them, because I doubt that there is anybody on this planet who will laugh with them.

But of course, just like in the USA, freedom of speech (or the freedom to carry 2 dozen 50-caliber sized bullet shaped laser pointers) does not mean freedom of consequences. I anticipated I might have some “issues” leaving China, so in order to make my 9:30 AM flight to Zurich on Thursday, I got to the airport by 7 AM. Sure enough, when I finished checking in at Swiss Air (LX 0189) for the flight to Zurich, the very polite lady kept my boarding pass and passport, and asked me to step aside.

In a Shanghai minute I had 2 representatives of the PRC escorting me and my luggage to a special screening room. They took everything out of everything. They unpacked every item from my luggage, my carry-on bag, and my briefcase. Every item was held up, inspected, patted or shaken, and placed aside. They checked the lining of my luggage, opened every zipper and flap, went through my shaving kit, my toothpaste, my Right-Guard, and every bag of tea and the small rations I carry of granola bars, coffee, sugar and creamer in my luggage. Their English was exceptionally good. These guys were not your average drones. This was their “A” team, the pros. Many years ago in Hong Kong I had an incident with some of their brethren, and I knew enough from that encounter to zip my lip, to be polite, and to just answer their questions. Don’t try any small talk, don’t try to ease the tension, just deal with it. Stand up straight, never let them see you sweat, and keep yourself on an even keel. After about an hour of this attention, and routine questioning about my trip, the hot water (now at my knees and rising fast) got considerably warmer when goon #1 left the room with my passport and immigration paperwork in his hand. I heard the “click” of the lock after he left, just as the other one asked me for a business card.

I don’t know. Maybe it was the Olympic spirit, maybe it was the phase of the moon, or maybe it was just good planning. I had left all the laser pointers in the office in Shanghai, and there was absolutely nothing in my luggage that would have aroused the suspicion or interest of anyone. I was as clean as a whistle. After being left alone in the screening room with goon #2 for about 15 minutes, goon #1 came back, handed me my passport, said “Thank You”, and handed me a form to fill out.

The form ? It was a comment card on how I felt the security screen had been handled. Did I feel it was “too long” or “about right”, all the usual stupid questions. I filled out the form (the screening was “too long”) with them in the room, repacked my bags, and then I was escorted directly to my gate, bypassing all of the airport security screens and immigration check points. They put me at the head of the line to board the flight, and waited with me the last 2 minutes until boarding started. At the end, each one shook my hand, wished me a pleasant journey, and they stood there to watch me walk onto the airplane to Zurich.

You know, life is full of surprises if you want to take a few adventures.


Thursday, July 17, 2008

So. um, what altitude did Air Traffic want us to level off at again?

Photo copyrighted, as you can see, at Go visit. Lots of cool aviation pictures there.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Give me a flippin' break. Hysterical, much?

This is an actual billboard in Florida. Not a photoshop job.

Well, I guess it's too much to hope that the idiot who paid money to put this up, and all the people who agree with the idea behind it, would remember WHICH party was in power when 9/11 happened? And who, after being briefed by an aide about Al Quaida wanting to strike the U.S. said, "O.K., you've covered your ass"? And who sat paralyzed among a bunch of schoolchildren for seven minutes after being told the U.S. was under attack? And who said that "I don't know where bin Laden is. I have no idea and really don't care. It's not that important. It's not our priority"?

JESUS!! These people are insane.

Photo and story from Pandagon.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

McCain really doesn’t understand economics, does he? He also doesn’t seem to understand the internet, the concept of time, or telling the truth.

This is a bit of an old story now, but I think it is a very revealing one. John McCain once admitted that he was an economic novice and doesn’t really understand economics. You know, I don’t find that a crime. No single person, even those who chose to run for president, can be an expert on every single subject. I actually think it is a strength for people to know their shortcomings. That’s why you hire good advisors. But, there are a couple of things about this issue that really bug me, and hopefully, should bug the rest of the country, including the media people who still like to give McCain a pass because he is that “straight shooter” and “maverick” we keep hearing about.

The first thing is that McCain now asserts, on a regular basis, that he never said that. In this day and age of the “Macaca” internet, he should know that you cannot just rewrite your personal history just because you once said something that you now wish you hadn’t. Again, a Republican seems to think he can change reality just by repeating his desires often. And this is after Tim Russert showed McCain the video clip of him saying this very thing! He still goes around and denies that he ever said that. It’s George Bush and Company all over again. Tell people what you want them to believe, not the truth.

Another problem is that, as his economic advisor, he has Phil Gramm. Gramm is vice-chairman of UBS Investment Bank, a big player in the mortgage meltdown in the U.S. He was also one of five co-sponsors of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which critics blame for permitting the Enron scandal to occur. Gramm just recently said that America was a “bunch of whiners” and all this economic bad news is just a “mental recession”.

The choice of Phil Gramm, longstanding friendship or not, does not indicate to me that John McCain is able to make intelligent choices about his advisors. This looks, to me, all the world like George Bush and his tendency to surround himself with either strong-armed ideologues or sycophantic yes-men. Again, it’s George Bush all over again.

Finally, in more proof that he doesn’t understand even the fundamentals behind the economy, John McCain stated that he would balance the budget with all the savings he was going to achieve from “winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan”, and he said that he would do this in the first year of his administration.

This isn’t “lack of information” speaking. This is out and out delusional. He fails to acknowledge how huge a deficient hole that this country is in, and the fact that China and Japan are holding huge amounts of U.S. debt at this time. To pay off this amount in a year might be achievable only if these countries decided to forgive our debt to them. Otherwise, we are in a massive hole that is going to take a long time to climb out of, even with a robust economy (which it isn’t, Phil Gramm’s comments notwithstanding). And one year? That seems akin to saying that some hugely obese person, maybe weighing 500 pounds, is going to get down to a svelte 127 pounds in six months. The final goal may be achievable, but only with a large amount of effort over a significant amount of time. Six months isn’t realistic, is fantasy. But yet, that is what McCain is trying to sell the American voter.

Finally, here is the thing that bugs me the most. John McCain has no clue about what he even wants in Iraq, other than “victory”. He has said before that he would be fine for the U.S. to be in Iraq for 100 years. Out of context or not, there is video of him saying that. In his victory speech in the primaries, he made some “visionary” declaration about what the country would look like in 2013, when the wars had been won. I do not ever remember anyone ever saying that we could win the wars in a year. But yet, that is what McCain said about how he plans to balance the budget. I would like to see some reporter ask John exactly how this is going to come about, considering the U.S. has been involved in these two wars now longer than we were in WWII and that we haven't done such a great job of ending the wars up to now. As far as I can see, McCain just wants to "stay the course" set by George Bush and his band of outlaw cronies, and there is still no end in sight. So, by what miracle is McCain proposing to end these wars in the first year of his adminstration? He doesn't seem to be talking about that aspect much.

So, what is it, John? 2010, after your first year in office is up? 2013? 2113?

Yet another example of IOKIYAR (It’s O.K. If You Are A Republican). This guy can spew out a mish-mash of nonsense and outright fabrications, while running for the presidency, and the press gives him a pass. If Barack Obama or any other Democrat would have said any one of these things, the press would have been all over them. But McCain? Hey, he’s a “straight shooter”, a “maverick”. Obama? Well, he’s not worthy, apparently, because he’s an elitist, he orders orange juice instead of coffee, he can’t bowl, and he has worshipped at a church that has a really loud-mouthed pastor who doesn’t know when to shut up.

God, this country really is insane.

Friday, July 11, 2008

I’ll take “70’s progressive rock bands” for $200, please.

I go through this sort of phase about once every year or two. I go pull out a bunch of music that I listened to back when I was really formulating and experimenting with my own musical tastes. Some of what I listened to back then was, admittedly, pretty bad. Captain Beyond, anyone?

But the 70’s saw some really inventive music that pushed the boundaries, in all genres. One of my favorite genres is that of progressive rock. Several of my favorite bands are Yes, Renaissance and Gentle Giant. These groups, along with many others (e.g., Jethro Tull, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, etc.) really took music in some really interesting directions.

Renaissance remains one of my favorite musical groups. Anne Haslam’s vocals are just amazing, and the blend of traditional rock instruments with elements of classical music is done in such a way that the music really doesn’t sound all that dated even today. Renaissance remains a favorite musical trivia question as well, as they are the only band that I am aware of that released two albums with one line up, and then changed their entire roster for the next seven albums. The only continuity between the two manifestation of the group was Michael Dunford, who wrote some of the music and, although was not on the “official” list of members in the band, did play some acoustic guitar on the albums. The band retained the same name and quite a lot of the same sound, while changing out every single member. I find that fascinating.

I have been listening to the Gentle Giant albums that I currently have in my collection; Free Hand, Three Friends and Octopus. This is some very unusual stuff that definitely is not what one might call “toe-tapping” music. Continuity is not something that really asserts itself in the music of Gentle Giant. I really enjoy the Wiki intro paragraph about the group.

Gentle Giant were a British progressive rock band, one of the most experimental of the 1970s. Textually inspired by philosophy, personal events and the works of Fran├žois Rabelais, the group's compositional purpose was to "expand the frontiers of contemporary popular music at the risk of becoming very unpopular.”

I don’t know about you, but that sounds like it falls under the definition of “progressive”.

I don’t know why I felt compelled to post about the music I am currently listening to. Mostly, I am burned out by complaining about the current political situation and the fact that about 1 in 3 people in this country seem to have completely lost their desire and/or ability for rational thought processes. It’s a lot easier to transport myself back to a time which seems, in retrospect, much more understandable.

I’ve seen several stories about how the MSM is not covering the Iraq war anymore.

I’ve been paying attention, and I think that is true. After I watch Keith Olbermann on Countdown, I usually switch over to the local NBC affiliate and see what stories they are going to be talking about. Usually, Iraq is never mentioned. The times I look in on ABC, it’s the same way. The local television newscasts, when they aren’t talking about the latest local sex scandal (usually involving teachers, students, or elected officials) or a house burning down, probably mention the Iraq war more often than do the national news programs.

Gee, it’s almost like NBC has determined that we, the general public, do not want to be informed about the war! How about that? And right during the campaign season for the upcoming presidential and congressional elections! Whaddayaknow?

Out of sight, out of mind, as the old saying goes. Except, in this case, I am not sure that old saw really holds water. I don’t think that the American public has really forgotten the Iraq war. Sure, the economy has rather supplanted the war as the number one item, but it is still there. It’s more like the national press has decided that they aren’t going to talk about it. After all, we already have several insiders saying just that. There have been, and continue to be, decisions made in the boardrooms of the media giants that relegate news, at least the bad news part, about Iraq to the “not newsworthy” scrap heap.

I can’t really imagine this sort of thing going on during the Vietnam war. That war went pretty badly toward the end, and it was still reported on by the MSM. What is driving the lack of discourse in the national media now? What has changed? Is it media conglomerates now control pretty much 100% of the press, and those conglomerates have a vested stake in having the Republican party in power? That’s no doubt part of it. I also think that our society has changed in some fundamental fashion. We, as a whole, do not really want to be told what the facts are. We are much more happy with our own certitude, our absolute assurance that our worldview is correct and is in no need of any adjustment. Facts are now inconvenient things to be dismissed if they don’t fit in with our version of reality. I think much of our mainstream reporting on the war, and all sorts of other aspects of life in this country, reflect that. For someone like myself who has training in engineering and science, I find that about the most insane way of looking at the universe possible.

Photo from

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Newsflash! The inevitable happens! Oklahoma City successfully absconds with the Seattle NBA team!

Not that this came as any great shock to me. It was going to happen sooner or later. It just so happened to be “sooner”.

There are many stories in Seattle papers about this. Any kind of search will find you a lot of stuff to read on this sordid affair. But, here is Art Thiel’s take:

Now we know the price of possession.

Now we learn the cost of neglect.

The "man possessed," Clay Bennett, showed that he will do just about anything to gratify himself and his fellow Oklahomans by offering another silly payment for NBA ball, yet one the Seattle political leadership lacked the guts to refuse.

Obliterated for cash is 41 years of sports and civic history. So much for the city's passionate courtroom argument that the pro basketball team was of irreplaceable value.

New York, if you fancy the Space Needle, bring your checkbook and a really big hacksaw. We'll deal. As with the Sonics, it's privately owned and not used by a majority of voters, and its structure is a World Fair relic that maybe could use an upgrade.

To paraphrase a famous punch line by Winston Churchill, we know what we are. We're just quibbling over price.

Like I said before, I doubt I will miss the Sonics that much. I never watched them on television, and I can’t remember the last time I went to a game. About the closest I got to them over the last 10 years was when I officiated a high school basketball game at Key Arena. We weren’t allowed on the floor until the Boston Celtics finished their warm-ups for that evening’s game. I must admit, that was kind of cool. And I may, sometimes, even be glad when their games don’t contribute to horrible autumn and winter commutes through the city.

But I am really burned over the fact that, once again, rich white guys are willing to do whatever they feel is necessary, however unscrupulous (including Clay Bennett perjuring himself while under oath in a Seattle courtroom, but no one can really ever definitely “prove” it and won’t bother anyway) to achieve their goals, and they get away with it. And politicians put on this happy face, like this is the best possible outcome. Mayor Nichols really should be ashamed of his performance on television yesterday. When I first heard him talking, it sounded like this was actually a great deal for the city of Seattle. I was pretty disgusted when I found out that the NBA promised nothing and the only thing that Seattle got out of the deal was money to pay off unfinished loans that the city occurred the LAST time Key Arena was refurbished.

I try not to be a vindictive person, but I acknowledge that this tendency in me does exist. Personally, I hope NBA basketball fails miserably in Oklahoma City, now the NBA’s smallest market. But, it probably won’t. Every single person who acted in their own selfish interest will come out ahead in this deal. Left out in the cold are the Seattle fans, the vendors, the local restaurants, all the people who, in one way or another, really had a tangible stake in the Seattle Supersonics.

I must admit that was a nice gesture on everyone’s part to leave us the Sonics name and records. I suppose that is some condolence, albeit very small. I won’t have to see the score of the OKC Sonics crawling across the bottom of my television screen.

Atheists who believe in God? Uh, hold on a second....

I found this at the Washington Post “On Faith” website.

According to a new Pew survey, 21% of American atheists believe in God or a universal spirit, 12% believe in heaven and 10% pray at least once a week. What do you make of this?

What do I make of it? I have not one flippin’ clue.

This is from Wiki:

Atheism, as an explicit position, can be either the affirmation of the nonexistence of gods,[1] or the rejection of theism.[2] It is also[3] defined more broadly as synonymous with any form of nontheism, including the simple absence of belief in deities.[4][5][6][7] Although atheism is often equated with irreligion, some religions, such as Jainism and Theravada Buddhism, do not require belief in a personal god.

Many self-described atheists are skeptical of all supernatural beings and cite a lack of empirical evidence for the existence of deities. Others argue for atheism on philosophical, social or historical grounds. Although many self-described atheists tend toward secular philosophies such as humanism[8] and naturalism,[9] there is no one ideology or set of behaviors to which all atheists adhere.[10]

The term atheism originated as a pejorative epithet applied to any person or belief in conflict with established religion.[11] With the spread of freethought, scientific skepticism, and criticism of religion, the term began to gather a more specific meaning and has been increasingly used as a self-description by atheists.

Yes… I suppose I agree with most of that. So, when you tell me that “21% of American atheists believe in God or a universal spirit”, my first question is this. What the heck definition are you using for atheism? Your labels seem to be, pardon the expression, rather whacked out. This is doublespeak, an oxymoron to the first degree. The definition of atheism, by my way of understanding (which is not diminished by the Wiki definition above), is someone who doesn’t believe in the existence of God. So, to then turn that around and assert, “21% of the people that don’t believe in God really believe in God”, that makes no sense to me.

I, personally, do not believe in God. But this particular argument does not seem to have much to do with religion or spiritual matters. It seems to me to be screwing around with the English language in order to convince someone of something, I don’t know exactly who or what. This kind of argument seems to me to have as much credibility as if someone were to advance this something like this. If a bunch of automotive parts have been assembled in a way to make that assemblage into something that can be identified as “a Honda Civic”, then calling it “a Ford” is more than just a little nonsensical. “21% of all Honda Civics are really Fords”. It makes no logical sense.

Look at the question this way. Turn it around. If you saw a headline that said “21% of devout Catholics do not believe in God”, and you saw that headline on a website that was dedicated to skeptical opinions regarding organized religion, what reaction would you have?

On the same web page (for July 3, 2008, I don’t know if these are archived), there was also a post from someone asserting the he had “never met an atheist”. Well, again, my first thought is, you may not have been trying very hard. How many people have you actually talked to about this? Did you go out of your way to find any, and not just ask your religious friends? What criteria are you using to define “atheist”? Another blog post title is “Atheists have the will to believe.” To me, that is just a very bizarre thing to say. Sure, I suppose that’s true. And fundamentalist Christians have the will to become disbelievers. I guess we can now argue about what the word “will” means. “Free will”, as in, someone has the ability to actually make a decision for himself or herself? That’s what I would say. So, yes, each person has the mental capacity to make a decision about this for himself or herself. We are not programmed robots who have no say in what we think or say. We do have the conscious ability to make decisions for ourselves. If that was the point of this, then it seems to be a rather trivial point. I am thinking, however, that was not the purpose of this post.

There seems to be quite an inordinate amount of effort expended here on this WaPo website about “what atheists believe”. Why is that so important to believers? Why does what we think matter to them at all? They believe what they believe; they know they are Right, with a capital “R”. So, why does it concern them at all what non-believers think?

Personally, I can’t help believe this is some sort of internal pep talk meant to reassure themselves. “Oh, even atheists REALLY believe in God when you push them. We are right, they are wrong, and even they admit it.” It’s more of the “there are no atheists in foxholes” kind of pap. Who is it that you are really trying to convince with this argument? What really is the point being made here?

(As an aside, I wonder if 21% of NON-American atheists believe in God, or is that just us here in the U.S. of A.)

Tuesday, July 01, 2008