Never pass up a chance to sit down or relieve yourself. -old Apache saying

Monday, December 31, 2007

Apple Network Fixed

Kudos to Apple and their Tech Support people. Today they helped me fix my wireless network, from first call to total fix, in only about 15 minutes. That is awesome.

The initial problem was mine. When I first took the plunge into the world of Apple
with a new MacBook this past summer, even though I already had a wireless network in the house, I set up a new wireless network with the Apple hardware. The problem was not with Apple's hardware. It was my doing.

During setup, I took a wrong turn somewhere, and it wasn't long before I realized that something was amiss. Almost everything worked fine. I could use the MacBook on the internet anywhere in the house on the wireless network, which was, of course, a primary goal.

Secondly, I could pump music via iTunes from the MacBook into my stereo in the living room, which was cool. Sounded great. The only problem was that I could not do BOTH things at the same time: I could not surf the net while simultaneously sending music to the stereo.

I knew that it should be possible to do both things, at the same time, but it was an either/or situation. I had set up a second Apple network when I should have just "added" the iTunes onto the first (new) Apple network.

I tried to fix it myself a couple of times by re-tracing my steps in the software to no avail. Since I could do either of the two tasks (surf the net and play music) ok, it was
n't really a pressing problem. It wasn't perfect, but I could make do. Which is why it took me about three months to get around to calling Apple. I ASSUMED that it would be one of those marathon Tech Support phone calls. That's what I was used to when I had Windows issues.

Finally, I had that happy convergence of extra free time and that brain chemical reaction otherwise know
n as "memory" and so today I called up AppleCare.

A woman answered my phone call on the second ring. I was shocked. It wasn't an automated voice with a zillion voice responses needed before talking to a person. No, a real, live, human, immediately. She took the computer serial number from me, a brief description of the problem, and connected me to the right person for my issue. Within 15 seconds, I was talking with another female, this time a Tech Support person. No waiting time on the phone? WTF? In no time she diagnosed my problem (which,
granted, for them, should be easy), we ran through a little software, I powered down and powered up various devices, and everything worked beautifully.

Contrast this with another phone call I made today to Chase (financial). I've got a billing snafu on my Visa credit card. So I call the toll-free number and get an automated voice-response system, and after several "yes" and "no" answers from me, some of which the computer could not hear, and inputting several numbers and "stars" and "pound signs," I FINALLY get a voice telling me that "all operators are busy....your estimated wait time is more than 10 minutes." Soooo.....35 minutes later, a guy FINALLY comes on the phone to tell me he ha
s to switch me to another department!!!

It's a longer story than that, but let's just say that we are going to cancel our Chase credit cards and give another bank a chance.

And three cheers for Apple.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Las Vegas postcript

This is mostly a bitch session...

Our short "Christmas in Vegas" stay in the MGM Grand turned out to be a bad one. On the bright side, there were no knock-down drag-out fights among the family members and no one lost their shirts at gambling. Also, no one got arrested or caught a sexually-transmitted disease. We did all come away poorer, however. And slightly under the weather.

What the hell happened to Vegas? I remember when you could catch a cheap hotel room and save some money on the buffets in the casinos, but now, woah. You might be able to still find a relatively inexpensive hotel room, if you look long enough, but catching a cheap meal? Forget it.

There must be about 30 restaurants inside the MGM Grand. At the most expensive, the estimate was $325/person. Just to eat? Jay-sus. Stepping down from there, in price, were several restaurants in the $100/person range. Then a few from $70-$100. A few more from $40-$70. Their buffet was marketed at $20/person for dinner, but when we got there, it was $28/person. And the food was pretty lousy. This buffet was just cheesy. All these people appear rather desperate in search of food. It's a teeming mass of people all vying for the same tasteless food. Strange. And no one had a "good" meal.

The MGM Grand is at the intersection of The Strip and Tropicana. The hotel complex is vast. It's a veritable city in a city in there. We stayed in their "Signature Suites" which are three tall towers behind the main MGM building. Behind, as in wayyyyy behind. It was a major hike just to get to the casino from our suite. At least they had the good sense to put in people-movers to help you get back and forth faster. The first time we walked to the casino from the suite, I thought, how stupid to install people-movers here. But after the second or third trip, I was glad they were there. Someone was, at least, thinking.

These suites are available for
sale, from $300,000 up to $1.5 million. We were in a Penthouse Suite which would probably go for close to a million. Nice view from up there, but not worth it. One thing I have to give them credit for - there was lots of instant, very hot water for showers. They advertised a charge of $13.99/per for Internet access, but fortunately they also offer a $15/day "Resort Fee" which includes unlimited wireless access.

Room service, however, was a jok
e. Horribly overpriced, and then they tack on $10 extra in delivery fees and charges just for the helluvit.

Even the breakfast items! $7 for a bagel? $7 for a muffin top (just the TOP of a muffin, not the actual muffin, mind you). Is it really necessary to charge $7 for one of those little boxes of cereal that you can get for .50 in the grocery store? $3.50 for a cup of coffee? Well, at least they filled it a couple of times without charging another $3.50. Who pays these prices? I guess that if everyone does, just once, they'll make money at it.

Our last night there we tried one of the mid-range restaurants for about $150 for four of us. And every one of us complained of indigestion after the meal. Good service but lousy food. I don't understand why you should have to pay upwards of $100/person just to have a decent meal. I guess I'm just old and out of touch. Of course, I am just guessing that it would be decent. Every meal we had there was unsatisfying or caused someone to feel rather ill.

The best meals we had were lunches, where my wife made a few ham-and-cheese sandwiches with food that we had purchased at a CVS and Walgreens drug store on the Strip.


Oh, and walking on the Strip. No thanks. One, it takes forever just to get OUT of the casino to get to the Strip. They do it that way intentionally, so you have to go through the casino to get out of the hotel. And then, the sidewalk on Tropicana is closed, yadda yadda, you have to go all the way back around and exit way over there.

Two, when you are finally on the Strip you get accosted by hucksters every 10 feet or so. "Free dinner and a show!" "Trip to Grand Canyon!" "The hottest girls on the Strip!" Yeah, right. While my wife was inside Walgreens and I waited outside with some food already purchased from CVS, one scruffy-looking bastard approaches me, sticks a flyer in my hand, leans in and whispers, "Got the tightest pussy on the Strip." Yeah, well, no thanks. How in the hell can you prove that, anyway? Do you have regimented Keigel exercises or something?

Most of the hawkers on the Strip look like they're ex-crack addicts or otherwise down on their luck. What a job, accosting strangers all day long, trying to sell them something. It reminded me of walking in Montego Bay in Jamaica. Non-stop aggressive hawkers. At least here in Vegas, they didn't follow you down the street. Thank
the Lord for small favors.

The Monorail is pretty cool, and could be accessed right from inside the MGM, but it doesn't go very far. Houston could have done something like this instead of that tinker-toy train that passenger cars keep slamming into, but, nooooo.

And the shows! Why must every show be $80/person or more? Am I just cheap? The best tickets for $150 or $200? For a two-hour show? WTF?! Both of the Cirque shows we wanted to see were sold out, which is for the best I guess.
There was an amazing number of Asians in Vegas this trip. I guess they have to spend all those dollars they're getting from us somehow. Makes me wonder about Macao. Why come to Vegas when they have a lot of options over there?

Perhaps my distaste is colored somewhat by the fact that I ended up losing money at the tables this trip. Winning would have probably put a nicer light on things. This is the first time
I've left Vegas with less money than I arrived. I went against my better instincts a couple of times when the family asked me to play craps with my nephew. The table didn't feel right, and sure enough, we lost a lot on that evening. Blackjack was also not good for me this trip. Everything was just lose lose lose.

The food was overpriced and lousy. Couldn't get into the shows we wanted to see. And all that family around to complicate things. All in all, this was not a good trip.


The Asians can have Vegas. They may be the only ones that can afford it. Next time we want to go gambling, it will be just the quick jaunt into Louisiana. Or Mississippi.

Greenway Theater closing 12/31/07

Geez...they're already trying to close down and demolish River Oaks Theater, the oldest movie house in Houston, and now I learn that Monday, 12/31, is the last day for the Greenway Theater. When they were arguing over what to do with River Oaks, we thought, well, if they demolish River Oaks, at least we'll still have the Greenway. Not so after all. It seems like there is an all-out assault on indie movie houses. This is not good. This would leave but one - Angelika in downtown Houston. Surely, the void would be filled, somehow...

Houston & Texas News
Movie patrons buy snacks at the concession stand at the Greenway Theatre on Monday in Houston. The theater will close on New Year's Eve after more than 30 years of operation.
James Nielsen: Chronicle

photos
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Dec. 25, 2007, 12:47AM
Houston's landmark Greenway Theatre to close

The Greenway Theatre, which has screened films in the basement of Greenway Plaza for 35 years, will close at the end of this year.

Employees say Landmark Theatres lost its lease at 5 East Greenway Plaza. Landmark, a chain that specializes in independent and foreign films, has operated the Greenway since 1994.

A board designated for patrons' reviews of offered films has turned into a makeshift memorial as people protested the closing.

Written lamentations of "We will miss you" and "NO" in bold, penciled script were posted, along with a message from a self-described 30-year patron who simply offered: "We are sorry."

Less than a dozen patrons were found in the green-walled establishment Monday evening.

Ron Shefman said he started coming to the theater when it first opened. He expressed sadness at the news of the closing, recalling past visits.

"We're crushed. We come here all of the time — it doesn't have the craziness that other theaters have," Jill Gentsch said.

Just a few blocks away, a large national chain of theaters drew far more Monday evening moviegoers, causing traffic to stall on nearby streets.

But Gentsch and Shefman said they both prefer the subterranean cinema.

"The Greenway attracts a 'more mature' audience," Gentsch said.

Landmark informed theater employees Saturday, two days before Christmas, that they'd be laid off. A sign taped to the ticket booth announces the closing and refers all questions to Landmark's corporate office.

It also reads: "Hope you remember us fondly."

On Christmas Eve, representatives for both Landmark and its landlord, Crescent Real Estate Equities, were unavailable.

The three-screen Greenway is Houston's second-oldest movie theater, behind River Oaks Theatre.

When the Greenway opened in 1972, it was hailed as an important part of developer Kenneth Schnitzer's Greenway Plaza. The development's mix of uses —office space and retail with entertainment such as the theater and a basketball arena — was considered visionary.

The Greenway's last screening will begin at 7:30 p.m. on New Year's Eve.

Chronicle photographer James Nielsen contributed to this report.

jennifer.leahy@chron.com
lisa.gray@chron.com

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/metropolitan/5402926.html

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Asylum Street Spankers at The Mucky Duck


Caught the Asylum Street Spankers at The Mucky Duck tonight. Always a super show.

Much better than just about anything that we could have seen (but didn't) in Las Vegas. And a helluva lot cheaper too. $20/head got us front-row at the Mucky Duck. The Duck is not exactly the snazziest venue on the Strip, but it's much preferable.

We're eternally grateful that the Duck schedules early shows for us old folks. In this case, 7:30pm.


Unfortunately, Wammo was "sick" tonight and wasn't on stage. A big disappointment, but they still put on a wonderful mix of sultry ballads, ragtime, blues, satire, drug anthems and the obligatory spanking. I

f you EVER get a chance to see them in your town, go. Do not hesitate. No telling who will in the band, but the musicianship will still be top-notch. Check out the NYC revue noted below.


I put up some extra Asylum Street Spankers videos at the top of the blog, and some by Wammo. Enjoy.
And here's a review on Amazon that says it pretty well.

The Asylum Street Spankers defy easy categorization. Sticking resolutely to acoustic instruments including clarinet, harmonica, banjo and at times even musical saw, the Spankers perform a bewildering array of songs in just about every popular style extant in America since the end of World War I.

Though the band's lineup changes with each recording, the two leaders have remained constant: Christina Marrs, whose vocal tone and range remind me of Barbara Cook with touches of Aretha Franklin and Betty Boop, and Wammo, who is truly one of a kind. The Spankers' MO is to take absolutely nothing seriously except their musicianship (which is polished to the point of glowing) and to celebrate all forms of pleasure, not excluding those that are generally considered to be either immoral, illegal or fattening. (For their sake, I hope John Ashcroft never gets hold of a copy of "Spanker Madness.")


Their new album, "Mercurial"--so named for Mercury Hall in their home town of Austin, where this CD was recorded--basically is a sampler of everything that makes the Spankers great. They perform everything from true old-time numbers such as "Shine On Harvest Moon" and "Digga Digga Doo" to a hilarious cover of the B-52's "Dance This Mess Around." Christina Marrs lights up the torches in such down-and-dirty blues numbers as "Got My Mojo Workin'" and "Sugar in My Bowl," but it's Wammo who is the album's standout in his wonderful original, "Hick Hop," best described as a rumble between the posses of Toby Keith and Snoop Dogg...



Asylum Street Spankers in ‘What? And Give Up Show Biz?’

First Ever Musical Revue Confirmed For Exclusive Two Week NYC Run Starting January 9th

“My word, how can you put up with such demeaning conditions?” To which the carnival worker replied, “What—and give up show biz?”

The Asylum Street Spankers -- Austin favorites who have gained a massive and diverse fan base for their incomparable blend of old time string band virtuosity, vaudeville panache, and razor sharp wit -- juice their acclaimed live show with a double shot of theatricality in their first ever stage production, “What? And Give Up Show Biz?” in New York at the Barrow Street Theater in an exclusive two week run this January.

The show will draw on the acclaimed band’s fourteen year history, both on-stage and off, with a one-of-a-kind and supremely entertaining take on what it’s like to be a Spanker. ‘What? And Give Up Show Biz?’ seamlessly interweaves the Asylum Street Spankers’ signature four part harmonies and consistently inventive arrangements -- not to mention their penchant for adult humor, frank discussions of sexuality, drug use and/or rock and roll -- into a sit down, laugh-out-loud and sing-a-long theater experience.

‘What? And Give Up Show Biz?’ includes Spanker favorites such as “Winning the War on Drugs,” “Blue Prelude (from Hot Lunch)”, “Why Do it Right?,” and touches on classic quandaries such as what happens when the tour bus’ brakes fail when barreling down a mountainside, how a stuffed monkey can almost end a band, what really happens before the show, what sadly happens after the show and why the corporate party from hell always pays so well.

The title, ‘What? And Give Up Show Biz?,’ is a reference to a classic vaudeville punch line about a man who has the dirtiest, most undesirable job at the circus cleaning up after animals. A friend, observing the menial nature of the work, offer to help the man find another job. The man replies, "what, and give up show biz?"

The Asylum Street Spankers began their musical journey 1994 when Christina Marrs and Guy Forsyth met Wammo at an impromptu all-night-sing-along at the Dabbs Hotel in Llano, TX. Upon returning to Austin, the trio called upon their musically like-minded friends to get together for club dates and in the trenches busking on the Guadalupe Street drag. Following success on the road and in the studio, the band founded their own Spanks-A-Lot Records in 1999 and continues to tour extensively throughout the world. ‘What? And Give Up Show Biz?’ is their Off-Broadway debut. The Washington Post cheers about a recent live show: “Plugged or unplugged, there was power aplenty onstage.”

‘What? And Give Up Show Biz?’ performances:

Wednesday, January 9 (preview)
Thursday, January 10 (preview)
Saturday, January 12 (two shows)
Sunday, January 13
Monday, January 14
Wednesday, January 16
Thursday, January 17
Friday, January 18
Saturday, January 19
Sunday, January 20

For a updates on dates and showtimes visit: http://asylumstreetspankers.com

The Barrow Street Theatre, located in the heart of New York's west village, is a leading Off Broadway producer and presenter of new works for the stage. Recent productions include Gone Missing by the Civilians, No Child... by Nilaja Sun, TJ & Dave (late nights first weekend of every month), an oak tree by Tim Crouch and Red Light Winter by Adam Rapp.
For more information on the Asylum Street Spankers, please contact Nick
Baily (nbaily@shorefire.com) or Maggie Poulos (mpoulos@shorefire.com) at Shore Fire Media - 718.522.7171

Iraq War=Higher Oil Prices


Video Description

There's been a 271% increase in the cost of oil since the war in Iraq began.

Iraq War = Wrong Way

www.iraqcampaign.org



Thursday, December 27, 2007

Live From Las Vegas

Here are a couple of pics from my digital camera from the Vegas trip.

This city is still booming like mad. I can see more cranes from our 32nd floor Suite than I've ever seen anywhere, even during the boomtime '90's.

Got a little snow up in the mountains yesterday, not enough for skiing, I think. Not that I'd go skiing anyway. Skiing is really hard work.

Both of the Cirque shows we wanted to see are totally sold out: Love and Ka. Have been for weeks.

Recession? What recession? There is a dramatic number of Asians around here these days. I guess they have to spend all that money they're getting from us somewhere. They seem to walk like they drive: looking all over the place, but not looking at where they are going. We've been bumped around by quite a few of them, and then they look at you like it's your fault that they ran into you!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Strange Fruit









Strange Fruit

Southern trees bear strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.


I have to confess that I never realized that "Strange Fruit" was about lynchings. I consider myself to be fairly well-educated, but I continually seem to run across things that surprise me. There is so much to know, and so much to still learn.

Recently, on Bill Moyers Journal, Bill's guest was James Cone. The transcript and a video of the interview are here. The subject was the spate of nooses found across the country, no doubt prompted by the Jena 6 episode. It is rather odd to assume that this country might be over its racism so quickly after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. Anything but, really. 200+ years of slavery. 100+ years of segregation. And it's all fine now? Don't think so. Some have called slavery "America's original sin." And we are still a long way off from living together in peace.

Cone was saying that we cannot overcome this history by not talking about it or avoiding it. We have to confront it and discuss it until we come to grips with it. He also made a few references to Reinhold Niebuhr. I think some of Niebuhr's works will be next up on my reading list, specifically, "The Irony of American History." I'm not really into theologians, but sometimes you just have to stretch, you know?


Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chris Dodd filibusters telecom immunity

Against the wishes of the Democratic "leadership."
And Chris pledges to filibuster the FISA bill AGAIN in January IF it contains telecom immunity. There is simply no good reason to allow warrantless wiretapping of American citizens when the FISA regs have done very well in the past. At least, no good reason that they have told us, and I'm sure they CAN'T tell us, because that might reveal National Security issues. Uh huh. Do we have terrorists living among us, George? Haven't we always? George probably calls them terrorists, while we might call them Democrats or citizens who think George is a corporate wet dream of a wrecking ball.

At least SOMEONE is standing up and fighting!

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Weekly Radio Address


Fellow Feasters,

In these holiday times, the good people of our nation naturally turn to holiday eating. Treats such as plum cakes, candy canes and Christmas hams dance in our shared heads. Unless you are a Jew.

And what better than enjoying these holiday favorites while listening to a cherished holiday story? It so happens that just such a tale is being provided for you as a public service as part of my Weekly Radio Address:


You may get choked up while listening. But please do not choke on your ham, because my office will not be held liable for any deaths of that kind.

God bless you,

George W. Bush

Friday, December 14, 2007

Christmas In Las Vegas

Indeed, the wife and I are flying to Lost Wages, Nevada with her mother, my wife's sister, her husband and two sons. Party, huh? With all that family around, I guess hookers are out of the question for this trip. Kinda strange place to be over Christmas, but you gotta be somewhere, right? We're going to try and get to the Cirque du Soleil Beatles program "Love" and maybe catch Penn and Teller.

Craps and blackjack are my favorite ways to gamble, and I have yet to actually lose any money at those games. Net loss, that is. One of the last times we went, my wife was really hot at the tables and everyone was winning a ton of money. One guy tossed us two $100 chips just for making him so much money. Nice guy. That's the way to do it. Somebody makes you a lot of money, you compensate them. Remember that.

Mark Morford - 47 Gifts...

47 gifts for savvy perverts
Need something a bit more, you know, sexy and subversive this holiday? Here you go
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, December 14, 2007

No fruit baskets. No swell digital cameras and no "Sopranos" DVD sets and no noxious copies of "High School Musical 2" and no "Eat, Pray, Love" and nothing at all approved or endorsed by Oprah. No golfing figurines. No sports paraphernalia. No candleholders. No pink fleece hoodies with little glittery skulls. Not on this, my annual list, anyway.

Just random delicious deeply cool things I've come across that make a statement or warm your blood or taste unreal or that serve some sort of sexy subversive purpose, all to thwart the Bush and the bleak and the dour. Because the world already has enough swell plastic bird-feeders and cheap-ass iPod cases and lavender hand-milled soap. Right? Right.

Start with a teddy bear named Muhammad. Yes, even right-wing dittoheads probably think this rather obvious gimmick is funny, in a let's-hate-the-icky-Muslims, Christianity-rules sort of way. But there's actually some subversive poetry to this cuddly hunk of fluffy blasphemy, a decent enough slap at organized religion as a whole, especially if you combine it with, say, the God's Immaculate Rod dildo from divine-interventions.com and a copy of "God is Not Great" while mixing your next cocktail with Christian bottled water (yes, it's real) and/or Kabbalah bottled water, using whatever's left to rinse off your Baby Jesus Butt Plug. Hey, blasphemy is the new black.

Of course, you could merely skip the gimmick and buy everyone you know a "Every time you see a rainbow, God is having gay sex" T-shirt from tshirthell.com, but that might be a bit excessive. Besides, everyone knows God is omnisexual.

The Backwards Bush countdown clock. Again, obviously. Single biggest drawback of this must-have item: It doesn't count down nearly fast enough.

There you are, soaking in a hot bath and sipping your newly legal absinthe and letting the toxins and anxiety and the Bush ooze and sigh out of your pores. Don't you wish you had some better background music, maybe some mellow sexy throbbing trance ambient stuff that massaged your id and licked your bones and sounded like a squad of drunken wood nymphs masturbating with a cloud? I know how it is.

I've got you covered. Try these: "Dusker," by Kiln. "Love or Die," by Susumu Yokota. Gorgeous ambient washes via "Plume," by Loscil, "Nautica," by Krill.Minima or "Dropsonde," by Biosphere. Also: "Driftwood," by Rena Jones, "From Here We Go Sublime" by The Field, "Pop Ambient 2008" (compilation) from Kompakt, or anything at all from Ultimae or Interchill Records (check Beatport.com for all listings). And oh my God yes, this: "Untrue," by Burial, a wicked dark hybrid of dubstep and minimal and trip-hop, like nothing else on the planet. What, never heard of any of them? That's the point. Now go and sip and ooze.

You say your giftee's not quite ready for absinthe in the tub? Then grab her (and yourself) a bottle of insanely delicious Zaya dark rum (sip straight up; it's that good). Or a fifth of Hendrick's gin. Or Grey Goose pear vodka. Or nearly anything at all from my beloved True Sake in Hayes Valley but especially the Chikurrin junmai, which comes in a giant 1.8ml bottle — enough to last you, oh, an entire afternoon.

Bonus: Get on Beau's mailing list and learn more about the fine art and history and deep deliciousness of quality sake (not that warm swill you get at mall sushi joints) than you ever dreamed. Thank me by sending me a bottle of Onigoshori ("Demon Slayer") daiginjo. I won't tell.
This is the look: Subtle ultra-sexy neo-pagan metal fiery tribal with a dash of S&M and a wink and a smile. It's like Burning Man, but with better leather. And actual design. And you can wear it every day and you don't even necessarily need a bunch of weird neck tattoos and some quarter-sized
glass plugs in your earlobes. (Though those can certainly help.)

Start with an amazing handmade leather jacket and some jewelry from Five and Diamond in the Mission, or a dark wearable art piece from Derrick Cruz of Los Angeles' wicked Black Sheep and Prodigal Sons. Also, I imagine some of the incredible piercing jewelry from Braindrops in the Haight would go wonderfully well with, say, a raccoon penis bone necklace and coyote skull from the oddball landscapers/naturalists over at Paxton Gate in the Mission, which in turn would mix beautifully with some lovely python ribs and maybe a couple of kudu horns from the Bone Room in Berkeley. Best accessory: A tiny silver hummingbird skull necklace from Erica Weiner Jewelry. What, you want the world to be full of that cubic zirconia crap from Wal-Mart and Zales? Please.

For far too many years, nothing but stiff smooth boring plastic and giant plug-in back massagers with tennis-ball heads and maybe the weird nearly useless multi-function pink rabbit pearl thingy with silly plastic beads and pulsing action and a cheapie made-in-China motor that burned out in a week.

No more. You need a sign of the divine feminine's true reemergence in modern culture? Another indicator that the religious right is doomed and the Grand Shift is nigh? Behold, the flourishing world of high-end vibrators. From Sweden's Lelo to beautifully overpriced JimmyJane, these are vibrators as sculpture, as art pieces, as mandatory accessory. Yes, the Hitachi Magic Wand rules, now and forever, but if you need something more elegant and portable, head over to babeland.com, goodvibes.com or blowfish.com and look up these names: Womolia, Jasmine, Tuyo (it's a ball!), Form 6, Gigi, Leopard, the Cone (big pink mountable vibrating cone yes yes yes), the Je Joue programmable, Laya Spot. Boyfriends and husbands, take notes now. (Oh yes. For men, one word: Aneros). E-mail me with photos of your successes. Truly, there is no better time to be a clitoris.

I do not buy mainstream DVDs. I do not care much for mediocre Hollywood chyme. I truly don't understand why anyone would want to own a copy of, say, "National Treasure" or "Pirates of the Caribbean" or "Superbad" when, if you must, you can rent 'em a coupla times and zombify your brain and get your fill and save some plastic.

But I make a serious exception for anime. (Well OK, and porn. But that's a different list.) That is to say, for art. Mostly Miyazaki, like the stunning "Howl's Moving Castle," "Spirited Away" and "Princess Mononoke," but also a handful of others, like maybe "Ghost in the Shell" and "Cowboy Bepop" and that's about it because I'm American and therefore have little clue about the rest of the deeper world of quality anime.

But now, a new one, from Satoshi Kon: "Paprika." Weird surreal violent strange gorgeous and oh my God so much better than, say, "Ratatouille" or "Happy Feet," which were cute and charming and also obnoxious and trying and exhausting. Yes, Pixar may offer up clever storytelling, but they have zero innovation in anything except excellent graphics. Whereas anime is otherworldly and dangerous and creative beyond comprehension. Or so they tell me. Get "Paprika" for someone who knows.

The Prius is so played. The Mini Cooper is so very 2004. The time is nigh for smaller weirder cuter. Time now to pre-order your very own Smart car, about 2 feet long and 8 pounds light and more adorable than a whippet puppy in a pleather jacket, and you can pretty much park it in a mailbox and it only costs about nine dollars and if the current swarm of 30,000 pre-orders is any indication, Daimler should sell a zillion in San Francisco and New York alone, all of which might go a tiny bit toward offsetting all the obnoxious soccer moms who still insist on buying a massive 20-ton Suburban XLT to haul their kids the mall, where they fail to park their land tanks without killing a few pedestrians and blocking out the sun.

Of course, the Smart is but a stopgap until Audi releases its Mini-killer, the A1, in the States in 2009 or 2010. Or, screw all that and just get yourself a badass Can-Am Spyder trike, and blast everyone's sense of normalcy all to hell. Yes indeed.

Quick mentions, because I am so totally out of room:

"His Dark Materials" trilogy. Bad news: "The Golden Compass" movie is less than mediocre. Good news: The books are astonishing, dense and mystical and creative beyond imagination. Bonus: They completely confound the religious right. Perfect.

Tank U porcelain tank vase, via charlesandmarie.com. Death and flowers, together forever.

Ritual "Nature Calls" instant toilet deodorizer. I have no idea if it works, but it seems lovely.
Mimobots designer flash drives. Funky enough.

Urban Gnomes. When you can't find a real one.

Dwell magazine subscription: To thwart the never-ending and totally evil dominion of Good Housekeeping, et al. Runners-up: Good, N+1.

Momspit no-rinse cleanser. Not like that skanky alcohol-based stuff. Also: Best product name of the year.

"Heavyweight" tape dispenser. Three pounds of solid zinc. Designed in London. And I don't even use much tape.

Honey incense from L'Occitane. My all-time favorite. Sue me.

Did I miss anything? Of course I did. Let me know, for next year.

Religious Nuts

There were four country churches in a small Texas town: The Presbyterian Church, the Baptist Church, the Methodist Church and the Catholic Church. Each church was overrun with pesky squirrels.

One day, the Presbyterian Church called a meeting to decide what to do about the squirrels. After much prayer and consideration they determined that the squirrels were predestined to be there and they shouldn't interfere with God's divine will.

In the Baptist Church the squirrels had taken up habitation in the baptistery. The deacons met and decided to put a cover on the baptistery and drown the squirrels in it. The squirrels escaped somehow and there were twice as many there the next week.

The Methodist Church got together and decided that they were not in a position to harm any of God's creation. So, they humanely trapped the Squirrels and set them free a few miles outside of town. Three days later, the squirrels were back.

But -- The Catholic Church came up with the best and most effective solution. They baptized the squirrels and registered them as members of the church. Now they only see them on Christmas and Easter.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Day In Infamy - 12/12/00

Mary MacElveen expresses what I feel about December 12, 2000 very well in a guest post at OpEdNews.com. If I were an unbalanced individual, I might have tried to take matters in my own hands. Then again, perhaps I am unbalanced since I have NOT. Life is funny that way. But life ain't too funny these days, as long as that prick is still in the White House.

Word of the Day - Harry

The Word of the Day for December 12 is:

harry \HAIR-ee\ verb

1 : to make a pillaging or destructive raid on : assault
2 : to force to move along by harassing
3 : to torment by or as if by constant attack

Example sentence:
Beginning with the Bush v Gore Supreme Court decision on December 12, 2000, George W. Bush began to systematically harry the United States Treasury, government, and people.

Did you know?
Was there once a warlike man named Harry who is the source for today’s word? One particularly belligerent Harry does come to mind: Shakespeare once described how “famine, sword, and fire” accompanied “the warlike Harry,” England’s King Henry the Fifth. But neither this king nor any of his namesakes are the source for the verb “harry.” Rather, "harry" (or a word resembling it) has been a part of English for as long as there has been anything that could be called English. It took the form "hergian" in Old English and "harien" in Middle English, passing through numerous variations before finally settling into its modern spelling. The word's Old English ancestors are related to Old High German words "heriōn" ("to lay waste") and "heri" ("army").

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Seven years ago, today

It was seven years ago today that the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) took up Bush v Gore. Little did we know, but we feared, that the justice system was about to be turned on its head. My wife and I were on vacation in Sint Maarten in the Caribbean at the time, and we were following the developments with interest, in between all the drunken debauchery, that is. Indeed, it was all over the newspapers on that tiny little island. The election, not the drunken debauchery. I came to learn later that there were stories in that paper about fraud going on in Florida that were suppressed in the U.S.

We watched in horror as the SCOTUS took up the suit, and then stopped the recount in Florida, essentially giving the Presidency to the wrong guy. And what a wrong guy it was. Just look at the mayhem that has commenced since that time: rate gouging in California, terrorism, illegal war, murder, rape, all manner of atrocities, illegal wiretapping, The Patriot Act, the looting of billions from the US Treasury....I could go on and on, but it's just pissing me off.

It's going to take a long time to recover from the Bush years. I hope someday we can have a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, like they did in South Africa after they abandoned apartheid. We sure need it here. And there are some people in this country who are in sore need of having some justice dispensed upon their ass. But I doubt that it will ever happen. I would not advocate taking justice into your own hands, but, uh, someone needs to.

(from 12/11/00) The nine Supreme Court justices were to hear oral arguments on Bush's suit to stop the hand recounts of presidential ballots in Florida.

Gore contested the state's election after Bush was certified the winner by a few hundred votes. The Florida Supreme Court had ordered the recount.

more here

Also, a friend located this "Scandal List" from the Bush-Cheney misadministration. They're up to 250 so far, and counting. Check it out.

Everyone keep watching your back.

what the...

Monday, December 10, 2007

Mark Morford - God Commands You To Read This

God commands you to read this
Honestly, I won't mind if you don't. But the Lord visited me personally. Do it!
By Mark Morford, SF Gate Columnist
Friday, December 7, 2007

Richard Roberts told students at Oral Roberts University that he did not want to resign as president of the scandal-plagued evangelical school, but he did so because God insisted. —Associated Press

There I was, calmly enjoying some Thanksgiving leftovers and offering some divine gratitude for this truly fine '04 Pinot when suddenly boom, there was God, right across the table, helping Himself to some stuffing and the choicest hunks of dark meat, which He totally knows is my favorite. Clearly, He wanted my attention.

"Oh hey, it's you," I said, feigning nonchalance, as if this sort of thing happens to me every day (I always like to throw God off a bit, given how He's so accustomed to those melodramatic, fall-to-your-knees-in-terror reactions He always gets from the nutball evangelicals whenever He swings through their nightmares in his classic fire/brimstone persona. That always cracks Him up). "What's up?"

"Oh, you know, same ol' same ol'," God muttered, His voice sounding like an ocean playing a cello concerto in a black hole. He grabbed my pricey Pinot and chugged nearly the entire thing like it was Trader Joe's house brand, His long, well-manicured, beautifully feminine fingers shiny with meat grease. "Just sorta bored, hanging around the universe, putting out little fires. How you doing? You get those sexy new floor cushions yet? How's the car running?"

Something was wrong. This wasn't like God at all. "Wait, what? You came all the way here from the belly of the cosmos, ignoring the unimaginable dance of astral forces and the infinite conundrums of colliding galaxies, not to mention the constant pitter-patter of little questions about the meaning of war and death and suffering and life itself, and you want to talk about home decor? What's going on?"

"Oh, you know Me, just trying to keep it real, visit My peeps personally now and then, offer advice like some sort of sniveling lawyer, like some sort of stupid little shrink who's speaking only to you, at the expense of everyone else."

Now I knew he was being sarcastic. At least, I think He was. You can never really tell with God. I mean, just look at Pluto. Or New Jersey. Or Tom Cruise.

Then it hit me. "Wait, is this about that obnoxious preacher's kid? That Roberts guy?" I'd just read about how Oral Roberts' wildly spoiled son Richard, the odious televangelist who headed Oral Roberts University and who's right now being sued for allegedly swiping mountains of cash from the financially strapped school to pay for lavish personal crap like shopping sprees and a private stable of horses and the repeated remodel of his home (11 times in 14 years!), and for flying his kid to the Bahamas on the school's private jet as his wife spends tens of thousands of dollars in university funds on clothes and sends furtive text messages to underage boys. You know, the usual.

And oh yes: I also recall that Roberts has officially claimed that God spoke to him in person, and instructed him to resign from the corrupt, horribly managed, deeply creepy university, over Roberts' own protests. Ah ha.

God sighed grumpily, sounding like two dump trucks mating in a hailstorm. "Look, you claim to be some sort of journalist, right? This little worm actually invoked My name as an excuse, dared to say that he talked to Me and that I insisted he resign. Insisted! Me! The f-ing nerve. I don't insist on anything, except maybe a little backrub from the cherubim at the M51 whirlpool galaxy now and then. That little scab is getting a first class ticket to Impotenceland, you can trust Me on that."

"Well, good. But I don't see how I ..."

"But that's not the worst part. The worst part is the lemmings, the crowd of wide-eyed students, they were eating it up! Actually weeping and cheering him on, fully believing every word, even as he wiped away his crocodile tears with a goddamn handkerchief he bought from a gay bathhouse in Vegas using their tuition money."

Then God shot me that sweet, imploring look that always makes me melt. "So here's the plan: I want you to write up something scathing and funny and pointed about how God visited you, in person, and you broke bread and shared a nice bottle of host's blood or whatnot, and I told you in no uncertain terms that Richard Roberts is a world-class charlatan with a rabid case of elephantiasis of the false spirit.

"I want you to ring the alarm, raise the roof, send out an S.O.S., put a message in a bottle, whatever the hell it is you writer people do. I'm getting tired of this."

I was, I have to say, a little taken aback. This wasn't like God, so spiteful, so easily annoyed by such petty, meaningless human shrapnel as Roberts. We usually laugh and shrug off stories like this, then move on to talk about, say, Buddhism, or the deeper meanings of tantric philosophy, the best meditation techniques to help you get past a nasty port wine headache. That sort of thing.

I had to ask. "OK, I give. What's this really all about? Because hell, they've been invoking Your name as an excuse for a couple thousand years, stamping it like a bad logo across everything from slaughtering pagans to detesting gays to screaming in fear of the human vagina to launching all manner of brutal war and torture and righteous moral crusade."

God just looked at me sidelong, and polished off the rest of the wine in a single sip.

I went on. "Look, You know better than anyone that Roberts is nothing more than a flea on the great sheepskin rug of human belief. But You know I'll try. As for the gaggle of students in his cultish thrall, well, I'll absolutely keep doing everything I can to inspire them to wake up one day with a Burning Man ticket in one hand and a well-licked copy of Rumi's collected poems in the other, shuddering with mad desire to drop some ecstasy and join in a dawn fire ritual and see, well, the real You."
God smiled. In a flash, the room went dark, and suddenly I felt a rush of warm air flow over me like molten honey, soothing my bones and penetrating my very blood and forcing me to close my eyes in what I can only describe as ecstatic cellular orgasm. It was, you might say, pretty nice.

When I opened my eyes again, God had morphed into Her other form, the divine female, the true ruling principle of the universe, skin like moonlight and eyes like diamonds and a massive mane of fiery red hair and a figure that could melt the ice planets of the Hyperion cluster in the Artemis nebulae. I mean, wow.

Her voice made the ground tremble beneath my feet. "You know what? You're absolutely right," She said, as the cellos changed into violins. "Guess I just needed that hot kick of divine reconnection. Or you know, maybe you did." Then She winked at me, and 10 million birds fainted with delight. "I mean, we are co-creators of each other, after all."

And just like that, She was gone. When I regained my senses, I saw that my wine bottle was full again, and there was a full plate of dark meat, awaiting my divine gratitude. Damn, She's good.

Cop-Out

I hope I will be forgiven.

I just cannot maintain focus on politics anymore. The news is all so bad: the erased CIA interrogation tapes; evidence that the White House has been aiding al-Queda; the right-wing hate machine going after any and all dissenters; more and more lies, and confusion, about Iran's intentions; the economic collapse of the United States; the housing bust; billions and billions being wasted, stolen, and lost, in Iraq and Afghanistan; illegal wiretapping of US citizens; Bush appointees destroying the agencies they have been appointed to; the theft of the elections; the inability, or unwillingness, to fix the voting machines; the ascendance of very religious candidates in the United States; the US torturing people around the world; and the ineptitude and/or complicity of the Democrats to do much of anything about all the bullshit that Bush has wrought.

They say that the continued existence of these United States and our "democracy" depends upon the involvement of its citizens, but I just can't. I'm sorry. It's just too much. I'm apparently not strong enough to handle it all. I begin to despair and get depressed, so I fall into irrelevance and humor, like this...

Three old ladies are sitting in a diner, chatting about various things. One lady says, "You know, I'm getting really forgetful. This morning, I was standing at the top of the stairs, and I couldn't remember whether I had just come up or was about to go down."

The second lady says, "You think that's bad? The other day, I was sitting on the edge of my bed and I couldn't remember whether I was going to sleep or had just woken up!

The third lady smiles smugly, "Well, my memory is just as good as it's always been, knock on wood," she says as she raps on the table. Then with a startled look on her face, she asks, "Who's there?"

Hopefully there will be a decent part of the United States remaining when I finally wake up.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Paul Krugman - Innovating Our Way

---my comments at the end of this article

Innovating Our Way to Financial Crisis

By Paul Krugman

The New York Times
Monday 03 December 2007

The financial crisis that began late last summer, then took a brief vacation in September and October, is back with a vengeance.

How bad is it? Well, I've never seen financial insiders this spooked - not even during the Asian crisis of 1997-98, when economic dominoes seemed to be falling all around the world.

This time, market players seem truly h
orrified - because they've suddenly realized that they don't understand the complex financial system they created.

Before I get to that, however, let's talk about what's happening right now.


Credit - lending between market players - is to the financial markets what motor oil is to car engines. The ability to raise cash on short notice, which is what people mean when they talk about "liquidity," is an essential lubricant for the markets, and for the economy as a whole.


But liquidity has been drying up. Some credit markets have effectively closed up shop. Interest rates in other markets - like the London market, in which banks lend to each other - have risen even as interest rates on U.S. government debt, which is still considered safe, have plunged.


"What we are witnessing," says Bill Gross of the bond manager Pimco, "is essentially the breakdown of our modern-day banking system, a complex of leveraged lending so hard to understand that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke required a face-to-face refresher course from hedge fund managers in mid-August."


The freezing up of the financial markets will, if it goes on much longer, lead to a severe reduction in overall lending, causing business investment to go the way of home construction - and that will mean a recession, possibly a nasty one.


Behind the disappearance of liquidity lies a collapse of trust: market players don't want to lend to each other, because they're not sure they'll be repaid.

In a direct sense, this collapse of trust has been caused by the bursting of the housing bubble. The run-up of home prices made even less sense than the dot-com bubble - I mean, there wasn't even a glamorous new technology to justify claims that old rules no longer applied - but somehow financial markets accepted crazy home prices as the new normal. And when the bubble burst, a lot of investments that were labeled AAA turned out to be junk.

Thus, "super-senior" claims against subprime mortgages - that is, investments that have first dibs on whatever mortgage payments borrowers make, and were therefore supposed to pay off in full even if a sizable fraction of these borrowers defaulted on their debts - have lost a third of their market value since July.


But what has really undermined trust is the fact that nobody knows where the financial toxic waste is buried. Citigroup wasn't supposed to have tens of billions of dollars in subprime exposure; it did. Florida's Local Government Investment Pool, which acts as a bank for the state's school districts, was supposed to be risk-free; it wasn't (and now schools don't have the money to pay teachers).


How did things get so opaque? The answer is "financial innovation" - two words that should, from now on, strike fear into investors' hearts.


O.K., to be fair, some kinds of financial innovation are good. I don't want to go back to the days when checking accounts didn't pay interest and you couldn't withdraw cash on weekends.


But the innovations of recent years - the alphabet soup of C.D.O.'s and S.I.V.'s, R.M.B.S. and A.B.C.P. - were sold on false pretenses. They were promoted as ways to spread risk, making investment safer. What they did instead - aside from making their creators a lot of money, which they didn't have to repay when it all went bust - was to spread confusion, luring investors into taking on more risk than they realized.

Why was this allowed to happen? At a deep level, I believe that the problem was ideological: policy makers, committed to the view that the market is always right, simply ignored the warning signs. We know, in particular, that Alan Greenspan brushed aside warnings from Edward Gramlich, who was a member of the Federal Reserve Board, about a potential subprime crisis.


And free-market orthodoxy dies hard. Just a few weeks ago Henry Paulson, the Treasury secretary, admitted to Fortune magazine that financial innovation got ahead of regulation - but added, "I don't think we'd want it the other way around." Is that your final answer, Mr. Secretary?


Now, Mr. Paulson's new proposal to help borrowers renegotiate their mortgage payments and avoid foreclosure sounds in principle like a good idea (although we have yet to hear any details). Realistically, however, it won't make more than a small dent in the subprime problem.


The bottom line is that policy makers left the financial industry free to innovate - and what it did was to innovate itself, and the rest of us, into a big, nasty mess.

http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/120407H.shtml

---and what about those borrowers who now might have a five-year reprieve on their ballooning notes? Will they be able to make the huge payments five years from now? If they are not able to pay them now, will they be able to in five years? It's unlikely.

---and what about all those investors who bought paper (CMO's, etc) thinking that they were going to be getting a lot more money (when the ARM's adjusted), but now, learn that the rates are frozen? Lawsuits out the wazoo, and rightfully so.

---seems to me this "plan" is just another way for Bush to push the problem(s) onto the next President, just like the defecit, the Iraq war and so many other things. They don't know what the hell to do about it, so they push the problem onto the next President, so that they can then turn around and blame the next President (likely a Democrat) for the problems.


---Republicans truly should not be trusted with governmental positions. Why should we trust the reins of government to a group of people who consistently have stated that they think that government is the problem? They want to dismantle government. Remember the "shrink government so small you can drown it in the bathtub" comment? That's what they're doing. And causing all sorts of distress and danger in the process. Not that the Democrats are all that much better. They are deep in the pocket of big business too and are not going to do too much to anger their corporate masters. We need a real change in this country, but I don't see it on the horizon. The American Dream is becoming the American Nightmare.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

FOX buys Beliefnet

Great, FOX has perverted everything else it has touched, maybe FOX will be able to pervert religion enough by association that people will wake up and reject the whole ball of wax. Heh! Not likely! I can now add Beliefnet to the list of "not gonna go there" sites. Can't you just see the swooshing graphics for Jesus and all those wet-lipped blondes batting their eyes and purring about Buddha and Krishna?

News Corp. Buys Beliefnet
Steven Schwankert, IDG News Service Wed Dec 5


News Corp.'s Fox Entertainment Group Tuesday acquired online religion and spirituality site Beliefnet, in a deal one report said is worth millions.

Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed, but The Wall Street Journal reported News Corp. paid "tens of millions of dollars," for Beliefnet.

Beliefnet offers non-denominational information about religious beliefs and practices from the world's major religious and spiritual groups, without endorsement or criticism. The company was co-founded at the end of 1999 by Steven Waldman, a former editor with U.S. News and World Report, and Robert Nylen.

In a letter to Beliefnet users, Waldman wrote that the company had received acquisition offers before, but none provided a good fit. "We created Beliefnet primarily to make a difference, not a killing. As I explored the possibilities with News Corp., it became clear that, with their help, Beliefnet would be able to take a quantum leap in what we can do. The best spiritual and religious teachers-- from Rick Warren to the Dalai Lama-- pass through News Corp doors (through Harper Collins, Zondervan, Harper One and others). News Corp's reach is enormous. Its proficiency in the areas of video, social networking and media in general is unsurpassed."

Beliefnet could provide News Corp. with a more direct sales channel for religion-focused products. That channel would give News Corp. a further opportunity to push books such as Christian writer Rick Warren's "The Purpose Driven Life," a New York Times bestseller, from Zondervan, a News Corp.-owned Christian-oriented imprint, among others.

Waldman said he would remain with Beliefnet but did not stipulate for how long.

In September, Beliefnet was the most popular religion Web site in the U.S., according to a survey by comScore, with 2.9 million unique visitors, up 13 percent over August.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/pcworld/20071205/tc_pcworld/140306

Word of the Day - Locofoco

The Word of the Day for December 6 is:

Locofoco \loh-kuh-FOH-koh\ noun

1 : a member of a radical group of New York Democrats organized in 1835 in opposition to the regular party organization
*2 : a member of the Democratic party of the United States

Example sentence:
It might be said that Roosevelt was the greatest locofoco since Andrew Jackson.” (Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins)

Did you know?
“Locofoco” burned brightest in 19th-cenutry America, where it designated a new type of self-igniting match or cigar capable of being lit by friction on a hard surface. The word is believed to combine the adjective “locomotive” (which was commonly taken to mean “self-propelled,” though “loco” actually means “place,” not “self,” in Latin) and the Italian word for “fire,” “fuoco.” The political meaning of “Locofoco” is a story in itself. In 1835, a group of radical Democrats brought locofoco matches to one of their meetings after hearing that their adversaries were plotting to disrupt the meeting by putting out the gas lights. The room did indeed go black but was soon relit, thus earning the group its name.

*Indicates the sense illustrated in the example sentence.

http://www.merriam-webster.com/

Sometimes I feel like a loco for supporting the Democratic Party.

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