Archive for December, 2009

“Such is life.”

December 30, 2009

Australian law enforcement officers, when they apprehended the outlaw Ned Kelly, shot him 28 times in the process.  They nursed him back to health and then put him on trial for his life.  They found him guilty and his last words, before they hanged him, were:  “Such is life.”

For a columnist desperate for a metaphor, it seems like the doomed man could be a symbol for the Democratic Party in the USA.  After eight years of being pummeled by the Bush Administration, the Democratic Party got a slim majority in the House and Senate.  (Nursed him back to health.)  Then the new Democratic President faced the task of running the gauntlet of conservative talk show hosts.  (Put him on trial.)  Are Australians familiar with the concept of a “kangaroo court”?

Optimistic Democrats see the coming midterm elections as a chance to continue the repeal of the Bush-Republican debacle.  Curmudgeonly columnists see the stories about the electronic voting machines and the impending quagmire that will be caused by Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) as something that can be portrayed as another version of:  “Dead man walking.” 

The analogy can be extended.  When Democratic candidates talk about listening to their constituents during 2010, the pessimists imagine they are hearing the song about “The green, green grass of home.”  The sad old padre would be played by radio host Mike Malloy who has resigned from the Democratic Party and renounced them as not being his kindred spirits.

Meanwhile, the Republicans are very vocal in their assertions of being the true living patriots, while voting against every motion in sight.  Do you suppose that they know something about the unverifiable results that the electronic voting machines will produce next fall, that he Democrats don’t see coming?  Maybe they should emphasis the point by making Merle Haggard’s “Sing Me Back Home” their official song for next year’s elections and each time they play it, dedicate it to the Democratic candidates?

For an ambush to be successful the victims have to be blissfully unaware of what’s just about to happen and it helps if they enthusiastically rush into the trap.  “Heck, those electronic voting machines were what were used when President Obama got hizself elected, so they must be reliable.”  Will who ever is using the radio playing “Please, Mr. Custer, I don’t wanna go” turn down the volume?  Thank you.

The role of the forth estate has traditionally been to challenge and question society’s leaders.  How much of an effort does it take to imagine that if the Republicans score a disproportionate number of upset victories in 2010, the media will meekly respond with a chorus of “once again the voters have confounded the pollsters” stories that are Xerox copies of each other? 

In the news business, prewritten stories are usually called Hand Out’s (H.O.’s [you figure out how to pronounce the acronym]) because it not extremely unusual for the overworked and under paid newspaper reporters to use prepackaged material that requires no effort or thinking.  Another good reason is that management knows that using such items will please the capitalist corporations who run big ads.  Please Note:  Uncle Rushbo has asserted very strongly that no political organization provides him with talking points or monologues. 

At this stage of the game, any attempt to raise concerns about such a looming catastrophe will be treated by the Republican Noise Machine as the hysterical nonsense of an alarmist and will be drowned out by the tumult caused by Uncle Rushbo’s sing-along efforts to wave the flag and disarm any lingering concerns about the computer machines that produce unverifiable results.

Wouldn’t any such alarmist efforts be just as rude as Johnny Cash’s comments about the glass of water he was given while recording a live concert at Folsom Prison?

Did you know that the guy who wrote “A Boy Named Sue,” also produced a bawdy vulgar ditty titled “the Father of a Boy Named Sue”?  Check on Youtube if you challenge that fact.  If the original song was so very popular, why don’t folks know about the companion item?  Do you think that the news in America’s “free press” really is managed?

Speaking of Australia and things you might not know; did you know that the Australian entertainer “Little Patti” received a military (Vietnam Logistic and Support) medal for putting on the show that coincided with the battle of Long Tan, in Vietnam?

In the movie, “Ned Kelly,” Mick Jagger sings a song that is one of the very few (only one?) that was also, in a different movie, sung by John Wayne.  Can you name it?  In “The Quiet Man,” Wayne sang “Wild Colonial Boy.”  (Wouldn’t ya love to hear an electronically mixed version of those two guys singing the same song?)

Yeah, the Democratic Party, just like Ned Kelly, has been nursed back to health.  Now, they have to face the Sisyphus task of winning a majority of contests on those electronic voting machines.  When the final votes have been tallied, we fully expect some media tool to make the glib jibe:  “Such is life” and shrug off any “unforeseen” rash of upsets.

Don’t say we didn’t warn ya.

BTW, how is the effort to replace Bush’s Republican Attorneys General going?  Wouldn’t it come in handy, if a Republican wins in 2012, to still have them in place?

Oscar Wilde wrote:

It is sweet to dance to violins
….When Love and Life are fair:
To dance to flutes, to dance to lutes
….Is delicate and rare:
But it is not sweet with nimble feet
….To dance upon the air!

Uh-oh!  The disk jockey has gone nuts and wants to play the top 10 prison songs of all time.  This is his call:

Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash)

The Cool Hand Luke soundtrack album

Tom Dooley (Kingston Trio)

Long Black Veil (Johnny Cash)

Mama Tried (Merle Haggard)

I’m the Only Hell (My Mama Ever Raised) (Merle again)

For They’re hanging Danny Deever in the morning. (traditional)

Midnight Special (Leadbelly)

Your in the Jailhouse Now (Clint Eastwood)

The Green Green Grass of Home (Tom Jones)

Well, we gotta slip out of here.  Maybe go over to the Purple Porpoise and have a glass of sarsaparilla.  Have a “Far, far better thing I do” type week.

Go Fremantle **ckers!

December 29, 2009

The name of he Fremantle football club isn’t a four letter word vulgarity, but you still can’t use the word because an American garment company owns the word and they won’t let fans (mostly in Western Australia) use that word when rooting and cheering for the Aussie team.

Perhaps a bit of explanation is needed.

When baseball season plays the season opener game, this columnist usually likes to make some snide remarks about the likelihood that an American team will, most likely, win the World Series later in the year.

To make the point in a really sarcastic manner, we decided to root for a foreign team that didn’t even play baseball.  In an Australian guidebook, we found some information about professional sports in the Fremantle area and would note that they didn’t have a snowball’s chance in the Sahara Desert of getting into the playoffs. 

For this columnist the annual shtick became a part of our repertoire and so when we finally indulged in our life long desire to go to Australian and explore it all (which is impossible on a three month visa because it’s so darn big and there’s so very much to see), we soon found ourselves staying at a hostel in Fremantle.  As long as it was only a short stroll, we decided to go visit the stadium (they take their summer vacation in December) and maybe get a souvenir T-shirt or some other tourist type tchotchke. 

When we ambled into the parking area, we talked to some of the team employees and were informed that the name we used was no longer a word that could be said.  Ever on the alert for a story, we asked how that could be.

We were told that an American company (they were too polite to add any negative editorializing comments lest the delicate ears of an American tourist should be offended) owned the word and would only let folks use it when they were referring to the permanent press pants that the company makes and sells.

It seemed odd that this story hadn’t been carried in the blogisphere where hysterical writers were constantly lamenting the disappearances of the citizens’ rights and freedoms.

Wouldn’t that make a good feature story for the Business sections of America’s biggest daily newspapers?  On second thought, maybe the advertising department would discourage any such negativity. 

Wouldn’t the absence of the name of the Fremantle Football Club’s pet name be something that would exasperate Democrats and amuse conservative talk show host? 

Could bloggers use the fact that that word is being held hostage, as positive proof that 1984 has arrived in American society?  Uncle Rushbo would probably goad the liberals in his audience into adding that it was all George W. Bush’s fault that the use of that word is so highly regulated by its owner.  Is that company’s headquarters in Texas?

In Australia, football clubs play soccer.  No wonder the apparel company fears that those guys might misuse and abuse use their word.  You won’t find the forbidden word on the team’s official web page

(In Australia, they call auto body repairmen panel beaters.)

In the final analysis, the worst that can happen is that some Australian sportscaster will blurt out the word **ckers.  No worries mate, just a slip of the tongue.  How much would the fine be? 

Many Australians are comfortable with the contention that America practices cultural imperialism.  Most Americans are ignorant of the concept.

[If only Americans can win it, then why is it called “The World Series”?  We’ve been told that when the annual baseball competition first started it was sponsored by the World Tobacco Company and hence it was referred to as “The World Series.”  Who knew naming rights were a money maker that long ago?  We tried to fact check this urban legend on line but the effort was inconclusive.  Readers are encouraged to do their own fact checking on this and many other items offered in contemporary American culture.]

Harry Bridges has been quoted as saying:  “There will always be a place for us somewhere, somehow, as long as we see to it that working people fight for everything they have, everything they hope to get, for dignity, equality, democracy, to oppose war and to bring to the world a better life.”  Does the blosphere need an official motto?

Now, the disk jockey will play Harry Belefonte’s “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” “A Pub with no Beer,” and Otis Redding’s s song “Sitting on the **ck of the Bay” and we’ll slide on out of here and go buy a pair of permanent press trousers.  Have a “watchin’ the tide roll away” type week.

If Joe Namath could . . .

December 28, 2009

Back in the (Rolling) Stone Age (AKA the Sixties), the late lamented publication Editor & Publisher reported that a study had produced the fact that reporters, who are “on deadline” every day, had a more stress producing job than a jet test pilot and that may explain why newsies have the reputation for having some very enlightening conversation at a nearby gin mill, after they clock out from work.

In those days, when there was such a concept called journalistic ethics, some of the participants may have prefaced their information with the admonition:  “this is off the record but . . .,” which explains why there are some things from the Sixties which this columnist still feels honor bound to disregard when it comes time to pound out a new effort. 

For instance, when Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey was running for President, he complained to his staff that folks perceived him as being short.  After hemming and hawing, his staff found the courage to explain why that was.  He was told that it was so because he had a big head.  The staffer explained that if you park the Goodyear blimp on top of the Washington Monument, that would make it look short.

Sometimes journalists, after several hearty libations, may kid around and test their coworkers’ limits of credibility.  When a fellow who would later become Time magazine’s White House correspondent told this columnist about the strange fans that are part of the Hollywood scene, he believed it when he was told that there was one person who had a collection of genuine authentic stars’ fescues.  When we got the chance to try and validate that story with a contact at Playboy magazine who knew the fellow in question, the reaction was:  “that sounds like something Doug would say.”  He had never heard our mutual acquaintance utter that outrageous bit of (supposed) Hollywood lore.  He added that Doug always did love putting people’s credulity to the test.

One sports writer, in the waning days of the Sixties, told a story, in a Carson City Nevada watering hole, about an argument he and another writer had, in his cub reporter days, about the legendary horse “Man of War.”  The disagreement was deadlocked.  The bar tender turned around and settle the dispute by giving them the answer in a very definitive and authoritative voice.  Since the barkeep had actually been that famous horse’s trainer, he not only ended the bickering, he became a source for some freelance work that earned handsome monetary remunerations. 

One sports editor in Pennsylvania, solemnly admonished a rookie reporter that if he were ever to work on the sports desk (sometimes sarcastically referred to as “the Toy Department”) as a reporter, he must never (as in NEVER) say that something can’t happen. 

Common sense would dictate that the writer must say “very unlikely” or “a long shot possibility” but that infallible predictions were an invitation to a humiliating journalistic lesson.

After having that journalistic commandment engraved into his memory by rote, this columnist, while working at a truck company headquartered in New York City, noticed that many, many sports reporters and commentators were assuring their audiences that Joe Namath and his team could no way, no how, ever even hope to defeat the future Hall of Famer, Johnny Unitas and his (almost) invincible Baltimore Colts team. 

With the “never say never” dictum in mind, an attempt to make an illegal off track wager backing the much maligned quarterback was unsuccessful.  Bookies didn’t have Yellow Pages ads, so we watched the chance to cash in on the old sports editor’s advice go by without any bet being placed.

The day after Superbowl III was broadcast; the guy at the next desk over called in sick.  Rumor had it that he had been a bookie who didn’t lay off bets since the outcome was a sure thing.  He never came back to the office.  We can never think of that curious bit of office lore without thinking of the line in a Jerry Reed song that wondered about a guy who went into the swamp and never came out.

Dang!  A modest $10 wager would have produced a lucrative January bonus, but alas it was not meant to be.

A recent column by Carl Hiaasen brought these memories alive again because it seconded the assertion made in Foreign Policy magazine that Obama’s surge was futile effort.

It seems that all the commentary and stories about the fact that no one has ever successfully conducted and invasion of Afghanistan make us wonder do the casinos in Vegas let folks bet on wars?  If so, perhaps, just for old times’ sake, it’s time to see if the sports editor’s wisdom also applies to politics.  Who knows?  Maybe Obama can make the surge seem more like the Jets’ victory moment than a bit of Vietnam déjà vu?

Since everyone seems to be discouraging any opinions in President Obama’s favor, how can folks object if a columnist just wants to make a wager backing the President of the United States?

It could be that all the pundits who are strenuously insisting that it’s never been done before, just haven’t had contact with a sports editor who would have advised them to never say:  “never, can’t, won’t, or impossible” in a column that is speculating about a future turn of events.

At two a.m., the bartender at Hurley’s bar in Rockefeller Center, used to say:  “It’s closing time!  You don’t necessarily have to go home, but you do have to get out!”

Now, the disk jockey will play Frank Sinatra’s “Quarter to Three” and we will get out of here.  Have the kind of week that sounds like it came straight out of a Bukowski novel.

Wanna play the shell game with your votes?

December 19, 2009

Now that American voters have become anesthetized to the dangers of the electronic voting machines which do not leave a paper trail, it wasn’t very surprising to read Riya Bhattacharjee’s page one story in the December 10 – 16 issue of the weekly newspaper, The Berkeley Daily Planet, informing readers that Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) Machines had been <a href = http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2009-12-10/article/34242?headline=Instant-Runoff-Voting-Machines-Approved-for-Alameda-County>OK’d for use in Alameda County</a> because for a cynical, alarmist, conspiracy theory columnist this new topic set off internal sirens and alarm bells in a major way.   Not only was Instant Runoffs (also known as ranked voting) a new concept, there were stealth indications about the possibility that “they” had found a new way to deprive Americans of their voting rights in a sneaky, underhanded, and obscure way.  Instant runoffs seemed like a major candidate for becoming “the next big thing” in the blogisphere. 

The Daily Planet story explained how the new system would give voters the chance to list candidates in a prioritized way so that the machines could anticipate any potential runoff elections and provide enough data for that expensive election result to be avoided.

With IRV people rank their selection and the machine uses the results to compute the various mathematical permutations and potential match ups of candidates in case the voting doesn’t provide a clear statistical majority winner. 

Is it possible that the machines could skew the results in favor of some predetermined winner?  Surely, advocates of the cost cutting innovation will stoutly maintain that only conspiracy nuts will worry about that and that they have engineered the system to avoid such a (theoretical) dastardly manipulation of the sacred American ritual of casting votes and expecting honest election results.

The “they” turned out to be Sequoia Voting Systems.  Aren’t they the same ones who were instrumental in producing the machinery and technology that delivered, as promised, the Ohio electoral votes to George W. Bush in 2004? 

If folks are going to be concerned about such a remote possibility is it any wonder that patriotic Republicans see Democrats as worrywart obstructionists who are only delaying the implementation of a quick easy way to cut the costs of runoff elections?

This new voting innovation can be ready for use in next year’s midterm elections but local voting officials must act quickly to implement this cost cutting new technology.  (Gee, didn’t the “act quickly” philosophy work so well with the invasion of Iraq?)

Expediency is often an integral part of a sales pitch.  You must act now!  Sale ends Sunday.  Fear, such as the possibility that during the current economic slump (Great Depression 2.0?) precious city, county, and state funds could be spent on a runoff which could have been avoided if this magical new voting machine had been approved quickly, can also be used to motivate a fast approval.

Here’s the deal:  sometime when there are a great many candidates for a particular  office, the results will not produce a clear-cut winner and the expenses of a separate subsequent runoff election must be incurred.  With ranked voting, (advocates maintain) that expense can be eliminated and save cities, counties, and or states all the money that would have been spent for a runoff election. 

As advocates of IRV see it, the Great Depression 2.0 is going on now and the nitwits who would want to delay implementing such a cost cutting innovation must be obstructionists who would accede to their greed for power and use obfuscation to hinder and delay this remarkably efficient way to speed up the process and (did I say this before?) cut costs>

(Gee, did the possible expenses involved in a recount prevent Norm Coleman from demanding one?)

Is it possible that the IRV machines could award a win, when one Republican gets all his party votes and the Democratic vote is divided up among several candidates, to someone who didn’t get a majority of all the votes?  At this point Republican advocates of this remarkable innovation might resort to muttering the old W. C. Field’s line:  “Go away, boy, ya bother me!” 

If the IRV system is implemented quickly, could it then be used to cut down on the exorbitant costs to both parties (and campaign donors) for holding long primary campaigns to earn their parties Presidential candidacy?  Once IRV is implemented on a large national level; would it be too much to then sell the suckers (whoops, that word should be voters) to use the cost saving method for a National election? 

People have already become complacent about election results that contradict extensive and well done polls that predicted different results.  What’s not to like about the possibility that such technology could be in place by 2012?  Just imagine an upset victory by Jeb and the restoration of the Bush dynasty.  Wouldn’t the Democrats feel more comfortable bitching about a Bush in the White House than they would if they had four more years of complaining about disappointments delivered a fellow Democrat?

This columnist sent a news tip about this heretofore unheard of topic to some online sites.  Neither the one devoted to the downside of electronic voting nor another one detailing  the misdeeds by liars and crooks used the tip, as far as we could ascertain.  They didn’t even send back a suggestion that a chill pill might be advisable.  

Some groups are challenging this cost cutting way of speeding up the voting process. 

Does this new method of eliminating the costly runoffs produce a paper trail?  Who knows; who cares?

“How many votes did you get?  Was it five or six?  You know in all the excitement, I kinda lost track.  Now, you have to ask yourself another question:  ‘Do I feel lucky?’  . . . Well, do ya, Democrats?”

Could the IRV machines produce inaccurate results?  The various vague answers bring to mind the old H. G. Robinson line:  “You’ll take it and like it.  See?”  Just think of all the great columns that could be written if IRV helps put Jeb in the White House.  So if you don’t like IRV; shut up, sit down, or go read a news update about Tiger Woods. 

Philadelphia native W. C. Fields has said:  “Start every day off with a smile and get it over with.”

Now, the disk jockey will play the Stones’ Street Fightin’ Man.  It’s time for us to go do some <a href = http://fgaq.blogspot.com/2009/12/omg-its-zappadan-already.html>Zappadan</a> gift shopping.  Have a “Don’t Eat Yellow Snow” type week.

T-bird Spotting

December 16, 2009

This T-bird was spotted in Berkeley on Dec. 16, 2009

Car-spotting in Berkeley

December 11, 2009

The first car-spotting excursion, as a resident, in Berkeley on Friday December 11, 2009, provided the photographer with a chance to get some shots of this electric car.

So Many Causes, So Little Time

December 9, 2009

(Berkeley CA) While visiting San Francisco, it became necessary to go to a bank branch that wasn’t the one this columnist usually uses and in the course of a conversation with the manager, he mentioned that if this customer intended to give the teller a tip, it would be better to donate to one of the charities that they suggested and then he dealt out a list of about a dozen good causes.  He caught us a bit unaware since we have never tipped a bank clerk.  Maybe the rich folks tip them like they tip the croupier when they win a big pot at Monte Carlo? 

The sheet of paper he provided was carefully tucked away so that the list could be accurately transcribed at this point in this column.  One of the disadvantages of a rolling stone existence is that things get lost and so, despite a sincere effort, no list.  The only one that comes to mind is the fog city SPCA.

A clothing store in San Franciso directed their customers to St. Jude’s Hospital (www.stjude.org) which assures donors that the organization in Memphis will never stop looking for cures for the diseases which severely affect children.

Activists on Venice Beach. Recently, were asserting that folks shouldn’t shoot sea lions (www.oceananimals.net)

While staying at the hostel in the Fort Mason National Park (spectacular scenery with a supermarket a just across Laguna St.) we encountered Padma Dorje who was collecting signatures as part of her effort to eliminate torture in the world.

Across the bay from San Francisco, the Asian Community Mental Health Services is conducting the Tiny Tickets effort.  Travelers are asked to send in their Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) tickets to help support that good cause.  (http://www.acmhs.org/bart.htm)

Fellow columnist (and occasional war correspondent) Jane Stillwater is conducting an online petition urging the reform of campaign financing.  For more about that click this link(http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/constitutional-amendment-to-stop-lobbyists)

While traveling in Australia (looks like the folks on Cottesloe beach will have to celibate Christmas without this columnist this year) activists for Greenpeace and Amnesty International seemed to be ubiquitous, but, upon reflection, they may not have been encountered in Kalgoorlie.  We assured those eager young workers that since we couldn’t afford to give money to their causes, we would urge the people who read our columns to support the altruistic efforts of both groups.   

Now that President Obama is in office and is directing his best efforts towards ending the war in Afghanistan, it will no longer be necessary for this columnist to constantly harangue his faithful readers with diatribes about the absurdity of the continued slaughter and carnage involved in the commendable American efforts to convert that county’s citizens over to advocates of democracy and free elections.  Also, this year as Christians celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, it will not be appropriate to suggest that former President Bush, who ignored the precepts of war established at the Nurmberg Trials or the rules of the Geneva Conventions, deserves a severe reprimand in the form of another War Crime Trial for himself and some of the members of his administration.  He didn’t know that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq (what better reason could there have been for invading Afghanistan?). 

Americans have given 43 a “Get out of Jail” card and so it will be necessary for columnists of both the conservative and progressive persuasion to find new and more compelling causes to espouse. 

We were pondering the monumental problem of deciding what crap to buy for friends for Christmas so that they could cram their closets with irrefutable evidence that they support capitalistic democracy via their effort to spend the country out of Great Depression 2.0 and not just by mouthing meaningless platitudes such as “Peace on Earth good will to men (who should be tortured to prevent new terrorist attacks),” when we realized that the Christmas scenes that depict polar bears (<I>Ursus martimus</I>) lurking in the background of the images of Santa may become anachronisms when the last polar bear drowns in an ice free Artic Ocean.

Bill O’Reilly made a pledge to America that he would protect them from pinheads in the media who disseminated faulty information.  O’Reilly is as much history as is “the Lone Ranger” program which must logically mean that the cry for Climate Justice is a legitimate concern.  He’s gone from radio and we’re still here writing columns.  Nice try, Bill!  Guess the people just didn’t buy your BS, eh?  Hence, if we write about global warning, it will now be up to Uncle Rushbo to protect the hillbillies from pro science points of view. 

Speciescide happens.  Folks who live in Berkeley know that UCB’s mascot is the California Golden Bear (<I>Ursus arctos callifornicu</I>) and many of them also know that the last one of that species was shot in Tulare county in 1922.  Therefore we will compose a column which will have the headline:  “Dead polar bear walking!” and fictionalize an interview with the plight of a unfairly convicted (that never happens in the USA, but movie fans know that some unjustified executions do occur in places such as Saddam’s Iraq) prisoner on death row.

What will happen in the future when there are summer heat waves and there are no polar bears in the local zoo to photograph?  How will the wirephoto division of AP cope with that challenge?

There are good causes and there are bad causes, but are there any uncaused causes?

Hmmm.  As an ordained minister this columnist has to wonder:  Does the Berkeley cheerleading squad need the services of a volunteer chaplain?

George Carlin has said:  “The main reason Santa is so jolly is because he knows where all the bad girls live.”  How many little boys and girls in Iraq would like to ask Santa to bring back their arms or legs?

Now, the disk jockey, who heard this song on Revolution Radio (KREV 92.7 FM in the San Francisco area), will play the new curmudgeon anthem:  “I’m beginning to drink a lot at Christmas” (will that become this year’s viral Internet fad?) and this columnist will go Christmas shopping.  Have a “ho, ho, ho in Freo” type week.