Friday, January 29, 2010

FU, e-bay.

No, really. Just Fuck You. Several times.

I used to be somewhat active as both a buyer and seller a few years ago, but haven't really done anything lately. I had been wondering why pretty much all sellers only advertised Paypal as their only accepted means of receiving payment. When I was looking at bidding on something this week, I had noticed one of them had a statement, "We only accept Paypal per e-bay payment policy." My reaction was, "What?!" I went and looked, and sure enough, their payment policy page has a list of what is acceptable now and what is prohibited. And asking for payment via check or money order, except on a very small list of categories, is prohibited.

There apparently is a raging discussion on a number of e-bay posting boards which I skimmed through yesterday. A lot of people are upset about this. I refuse to have a Paypal account, as I have heard some people have had bad experiences with it. My wife used to have an account which was hacked and some crook ran up hundreds of dollars on it charging tickets to concerts. We didn't have to cover any of those, as our CREDIT CARD company (not Paypal) called us up and asked if these were valid charges. So, no. I don't trust Paypal or any electronic payment method at all.

e-bay's rationale for going this way is pure BS. "It protects both the buyers and sellers!" Oh, bull hockey. Money orders, if you don't trust personal checks because people can and do bounce checks, are perfectly safe. There is no reason to require this, other than perhaps the fact (and I didn't know this until yesterday) e-bay just HAPPENS to own Paypal. Gosh, what a coincidence! And Paypal charges $45 a year to have an account! How about that?

They are doing this just because they can, and it opens up all new "sources of revenue" (i.e., screwing your customers) to them. This is the same rationale as airlines charging $$ for people to pay for checking bags when flying. For a family going on vacation, this can add up to hundreds of dollars, if they check them both ways (which is pretty much a given, I would say).

I absolutely detest Corporate America these days. They are all about screwing their customers and grabbing as much cash in as little a time as possible. This thinking is now so pervasive, we hardly even notice it anymore.

I have pretty much decided to avoid flying whenever I can. Sometimes I can't, but sometimes I can. I am either asking to attend business meetings via a web conference (which has been remarkably successful) or taking the train. Yeah, taking Amtrak for long distance travel takes a while, but it sure is a more sane and civilized way to travel than the zoo that is commercial air travel. And I guess I am now going to boycott e-bay. Screw them.

Poster from Very Demotivational.

"Courtney Cox Not Pregnant"

That's one of the headline stories that greeted me this morning on the Seattle PI web site.

Famous people don't even have to actually DO anything now to get a story written about them. They just have to NOT do something....

Tethys Behind Titan

What's that behind Titan? It's another of Saturn's moons: Tethys. The robotic Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn captured the heavily cratered Tethys slipping behind Saturn's atmosphere-shrouded Titan late last year. The largest crater on Tethys, Odysseus, is easily visible on the distant moon. Titan shows not only its thick and opaque orange lower atmosphere, but also an unusual upper layer of blue-tinted haze. Tethys, at about 2 million kilometers distant, was twice as far from Cassini as was Titan when the above image was taken. In 2004, Cassini released the Hyugens probe which landed on Titan and provided humanity's first views of the surface of the Solar System's only known lake-bearing moon.

Photo and text from NASA's Astronomical Photo of the Day. See list at the right for a link. Credit: Cassini Imaging Team, ISS, JPL, ESA, NASA.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

You know what I can't figure out?

I can't figure out how the Democrats now holding a 59-41 majority in the Senate "imperils" pretty much everything that the Democrats are trying to do. How did this happen? Whatever happened to majority rules? I haven't researched this or seen anyone else with the numbers, but I would imagine that the times in the history of this country where one party held 60 or more seats in the Senate are very, very few and far between. So, are we saying that 95% of the time, nothing can get done in this country because one party or the other doesn't hold a super-majority in the Senate?

What kind of a stupid system is this? And why does it only seem to apply to the Democrats? Is this what Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and John Adams really wanted to implement?

The Dems should have taken the Republicans up on their "offer" during the Bush administration of the so-called "nuclear option" which would have done away with the filibuster. Would have served the Rethugs right. However, the Dems will eventually be back in the minority (probably sooner than later, the way things are looking) and they wouldn't want to take away that tool from their future toolbox. No, couldn't do that. Besides, that would upset all these Republicans who are going to keep on calling them mean names regardless of what they do.

I always used to hear the phrase that democracy is messy, but it works. Well, I rather doubt that little platitude is true any more. Democracy seems to have come to a screeching halt, with the transmission laying in the middle of the road. This system is no longer working as it was intended, but no one is going to have the balls to actually try to fix it.

Why are Democrats worried about NOT pressing ahead with healthcare reform before the new senator from Mass. is seated?

I cannot believe how accommodating the Dems are on this. Does no one remember just a few months ago how Republicans threw everything they could, including the kitchen sink, in order to NOT seat Al Franken as a senator from Minnesota, after it was very clear that Franken had won the election? And Republicans were very clear on their motivation. They were doing everything they could so the Dems would NOT have that mythical 60 vote super-majority that could pass healthcare reform. But now, we are all worried about subverting "the will of the people of Massachusetts" if the Dems try to push something through at the last minute?

Man, the Democrats are pissing me off. Yes, there are fighters within the party, such as Alan Greyson from Florida. But, taken as a whole, the Democratic Party comes off as scared of its own shadow.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Massachusetts elects a tea-party Republican who once posed nude as a replacement for Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat.

Oh, boy. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any weirder, this happens. Everyone and their brother already had their spin on this one mapped out long ago. Republicans, of course, are claiming that this represents a total repudiation of everything that the Obama administration was trying to accomplish, especially healthcare reform. Many progressives are claiming that Obama deserted his progressive base, the one that really turned out to elect him in 2008, so they stayed home and all the true independent voters decided that the Republican in the race was the true anti-establishment candidate.

Truthfully, I have no idea what it all means. Since I always go for “the answer is likely to be more complex than it is to be very simple” approach, I would guess that, whatever rationale a person might come up with for what occurred in Massachusetts, it is probably true for at least some section of the electorate. Me, I am just dumbfounded that the state that I considered to be the most liberal in the country just elected a tea-party Republican who brings along lots and lots of baggage to replace Ted Kennedy, of all people. Kennedy’s passion was healthcare reform, and the results of this special election are likely to kill any chance of that happening. But what it means for the future and for the country as a whole, I have absolutely no idea, other than the Democrats better watch out.

I really doubt that even this severe of a wake-up call that pulls the rug out from any notion that the ever did have that mythical “60 vote super-majority” in the Senate will motivate the Democrats to use reconciliation (which means they can pass legislation with just a regular old run-of-the-mill 51-49 majority) to pass healthcare reform. The Democrats are just that gutless, afraid of offending someone (who, I don’t really know). I do know that Republicans never had and never will have any such self-imposed limitation, as they used reconciliation on numerous occasions to pass their legislation such as Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthy without bringing in other sources of revenue. That alone is one big reason why the deficit that President Obama is currently wrestling with is so huge. Yet one more example of IOKIYAAR (It’s O.K. If You Are A Republican). I have no idea where the healthcare package that is currently in negotiation between the two Houses of Congress might end up now, but I would bet even money it won’t be improved through the use of reconciliation. I think the absolute best-case scenario right now is that the Democrats in the House swallow whatever bitterness they already feel about the process and just vote Yes on the version passed by the Senate. That, at least, is a doable scenario and it doesn’t require getting people like Joe Lieberman, Ben Nelson and Susan Collins to vote for something that you know they absolutely will not support.

Why is it that the world always presents so much turmoil and the chance to totally screw things up for the Democrats, even when the last two national elections pretty much gave them a mandate to finally accomplish many items on their agenda? It’s the Republican Party that is currently resembles a zoo whose attendants left all the doors to the cages open and all the animals, who haven’t been fed in weeks, are roaming free. The Tea-Party brigade is attempting to take over the actual machinery of the Republican Party, while the Republican Party itself is trying to co-opt the outrage and energy provided by their Tea-Party promoting base. The Republican Party looks to be imploding, and this special election in Massachusetts once again shows the Democratic Party to be run by a bunch of incompetent boobs.

Will Sarah Palin be the Republican Party’s candidate in the 2012 presidential election? Could she win? It beats the hell out of me. In a sane world, the answers to both of these questions would be an unqualified “Hell, no!” But this is not a sane world. Who knows what the electorate of this country is actually thinking or might do in the future? It’s a total mystery. It would be downright amusing to watch all of this play out, if this were some farcical comedic film. But as it appears the direction of that this country could go is currently resting on a knife’s edge. One little nudge could cause it to go hard-over, one way or the other. I was really hoping that the nudge might have been the 2008 presidential election. However, it now appears that is not the case. Let’s hope that nudge was also not the 2010 special election in Massachusetts.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Movie Review: Avatar

Sort of a combination of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Aliens, Dances with Wolves, Disney's Ferngully and maybe one or two episodes of Star Trek TOS thrown in for good measure. The special effects and computer animation was absolutely outstanding and this is the first movie in 3D that I have seen. (My eyes don't work really well together, so I have never been able to watch those 3D movies with the red and blue glasses.) It was pretty dang neat. The imaginative scenery and plant and animal life on the planet were captivating. The storyline itself was a little silly, overly simplistic and more than a little predictable. However, I found it very interesting that by the end of the film, you were rooting for the blue people from an alien world and against the villainous sky people, who just happen to be from Earth. This made for an interesting "teachable moment" while driving home with my 14 year old daughter, to whom I have been introducing the idea of movies as metaphors. I explained the whole "Godzilla as a metaphor for the atomic bomb" one to her a while ago. Actually, I just asked leading questions and let her provide her own answers. "Who did the blue people remind you of? That's right, the Indians!" I didn't even have to point out the horses and bows and arrows. So, it was nice to be able to do that. She was actually the one who brought up the issue of predictability. I was rather proud of her to recognize that.

I won't bother with any sort of substantive review here, as it has been done already in numerous places. It was certainly worth the time and money, which is certainly more than can be said of many recent films. It better have been, considering how much James Cameron spent to make this thing.

Image from Official Avatar The Movies Wallpapers By NOSHOMAX

Friday, January 15, 2010

Thoughts regarding Pat Robertson.

According to Pat Robertson, God in all His Glory just killed around 50,000 Haitians because their ancestors of several generations ago made a pact with Satan (“and he said, “Okey Dokey”), so they could gain their freedom and not live as slaves anymore.

Do I have that right, Pat? God waited several hundred years to obliterate an entire city because of something their ancestors did? This is the Just and Merciful God I keep hearing you and others like you talk about? You know, based on what the Bible says about the Jews, Moses and the Pharaoh, I would have thought God would have been on the side of the slaves. You remember that, don’t you, Pat? God conjured up a number of plagues to help convince the Pharaoh to let the Jews go. Parted the Red Sea. That's really impressive and dramatic stuff. You would think that God must like helping slaves. But in the case of the Haitians, it was Satan that came to their rescue. And your God was pretty peeved about that, apparently.

I am sorry, but your God sort of sounds like a malicious Motherfucker to me. Your God apparently likes to hold grudges and punish the innocent. He will kill tens of thousands of people at the drop of a hat who probably have no idea what He might be upset about? This is your God, Pat, you sordid piece of shit? This wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Haiti is populated with black people who don’t share your extreme view of Christianity, would it? If I remember correctly, you weren’t very sympathetic after Hurricane Katrina destroyed New Orleans and it left thousands and thousands of people, who also happened to be black, homeless if they were weren’t floating face down in filthy water. Is there any connection there at all, Pat? I think at that time, you blamed Katrina on a gay pride parade held in New Orleans. Yes, that certainly makes sense. God should then wipe out the poor, mostly black section of the city because, you know, God hates fags.

Is this what you and George Bush talked about when you used to be able to just call up the sitting President of the United States of America whenever you felt like it? Did you tell George that it was O.K. to invade Iraq where thousands and thousands of non-white, non-Christian innocent civilians would die because of this invasion and the lousy job that Bush and his minions did? Is God fine with that, Pat, you sanctimonious prick?

If that is your God, Pat, then I think you should just go to Hell. You and He will get along nicely.

UPDATE: According to KO on MSNBC, the estimated death toll in Haiti is now up to 140,000. That's two football stadiums full of people, as a way of comparison.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Wingtip vortices.

Actually, these vortices are coming off the outboard corner of the trailing edge flaps on the wings, not the wingtips themselves. But you get the idea.

See, honey, when two airplanes really, really love each other....

So, it comes to this.

Our national discourse is now about whether or not President Obama uses the word “terrorism”, regardless of whether or not there is video evidence of him doing exactly that on numerous occasions.

What a screwed up country.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

You know what's really weird? The Lingerie Football League. That's what's really weird.

Check out this story and video at the Seattle PI. Extremely bizarre.

Maybe they can work NASCAR in there as well. And country music....

Update: I added pictures, just because the weirdness doesn't get translated properly just with a couple of lines of text. Maybe I will get a few more hits from these pictures. And no, I don't find these photos especially tittilating. Just weird.

The Republican Party let the Crazy Genii out of the bottle, and there is no putting it back in again.

Many books and blog posts have been devoted to the idea that, in order to chase the votes of the Religious Right, they continued to pander to them and promise them the moon. I still remember the acceptance speech of Dan Quayle at the Republican convention where he spoke of “family values” and introduced the demonization of a television character (Murphy Brown) for being an unwed mother. This was my first introduction to the “family values” crowd, as I was an extreme political novice at the time. But I do remember being dumbfounded that an entire nomination acceptance speech would be dedicated to something that government had absolutely no control over.

Of course, the Republican Party of Nixon, Ford, Reagan and Bush I had no intention of actually delivering on those promises. They were just using those “wedge issues” to get the extreme conservative right all riled up in order to guarentee they would vote and get all their friends and family to vote as well. But did the Republican Party ever really decide they were going to push something like a revoking Roe v. Wade? No, they did not. For one reason, not everyone on their side supported that position. Another reason is that their real intention was to put that issue safely away in a box, only to be brought out next election where they could bash the Democrats and rile up their value voters again.

It really didn’t take a genius to figure out that the religious right wasn’t going to take this for decades and decades, where they were only important during the campaign season. No, those people wanted results, especially since they had been promised to have their every wish granted by the Republican Party for the last 35 years. The quickest way for them to achieve their goals was to actually take over the Republican Party. Which is what we have now, and why the “stars” of the Republican Party are people like Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachmann, Jim DeMint, etc., who I doubt that the mainstream conservatives of 35 years ago would have given the time of day.

But that is the situation we now find ourselves in today. The lunatics are in charge of the asylum, and no one really knows what to do about it. In fact, it is considered “bad form” for the mainstream media in this country to point out that this has occurred. There are two reasons behind this. One is that many in the media are terrified of getting accused of being a “liberal press.” The other is that many in the media, especially in the “Beltway” of Washington D.C., have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, which says that Republicans are serious people and should be in charge and that Democrats are strictly unserious who want huge government and are weak on national security. Plus, there are many who have made their way into the mainstream press who actually believe the right wing ravings, such as Charles Krauthammer. I won’t even get into the fact that there is a new even-righter wing press in this country now, centered around Fox News and supported by Rush Limbaugh, Michelle Maulkin, Ann Coulter, etc., whose entire Raison d'ĂȘtre is to blame Democrats for every real and imagined problem that this country has ever experienced. It is now common practice for this right wing media to blame Democrats for the Great Depression and claim that they are the real fascists.

There is no going back. There is no putting the geneii back in the bottle. The only possibility seems to be if the rational grownups in the Republican Party would be to retake the party and put in place real leaders and try to minimize their crazy fringe. However, I see no prospect of this actually happening. Any tiny attempt at criticisms along this line have been met with immediate and harsh condemnation where the person who spoke up either ended up apologizing (usually to Rush Limbaugh) or pretended that isn’t what they meant and they were really criticizing Democrats, because everyone knows that Democrats can’t be trusted, ever. Democrats love terrorists, want to destroy this country and are in league with governments all over the world to set up a Single World Government. The other option is that, instead of criticizing the current Republican Party and trying to change it, the rational adults, such as Chuck Hagel and Lincoln Chafee, retire and fade away into the night.

I do not know where this society is going to end up. I cannot see the current situation as being stable, where the status quo can be maintained for years. This looks decidedly like a very dynamic situation, where the current status is just a transformational one ready to morph into something else. It could go toward the recovery mode, or it might get decidedly nastier. I am thinking that I should really make some plans (hopefully just contingency plans and nothing that I really expect to put into action) to move to another country when I retire. I feel I have too much invested in my current job, house and financial situation to pick up and leave now, less than 10 years away from retirement. But afterwards, who knows? If things do start really getting out of control, such as having the Tea Party crowd in charge of the country, then there will still be enough time to actually pick up stakes and get the hell out of Dodge.

Hopefully, it won’t come to that. One friend of mine says that my fears are overblown, that things are never as dark as can be imagined. Another friend says, in so many words, that things are much worse than we are admitting and views the current United States as an out of control monster. And I see his points, why he is saying what he is saying. What the real state of affairs is, I am not sure we are actually going to be able to gage until 30 years from now, where historians can look back and this fork in the road and see which way our country and our society went.