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Archive for March, 2008

Those of you who have been accustomed to a quick weekend trip to Hawaii from the uncluttered Oakland Airport are going to miss one of your favorite get-away airlines.

Aloha Airlines, headquartered in Honolulu, shut down its passenger operations today after 61 years in business.

In addition to its daily flights throughout the islands of Hawaii, the airline also provided regularly scheduled passenger service to Oakland, Sacramento, Santa Ana, Vegas, and Reno.

Consequently, Aloha’s move will have an enormous economic impact not only on Hawaii but also on parts of California and Nevada.

For the moment, however the ultimate outcome of Aloha’s decision is up in the air. Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle has asked a judge to stay Aloha’s decision while a search for financial solutions is underway. We’ll probably know sometime today of the judge’s decision.

Once upon a time in another life, we flew Aloha regularly between Honolulu and the other islands. At that time, as I remember, Aloha had no flights outside of the state. For service beyond Hawaii, travelers relied mainly on United, American, Western, and the ultimate iconic symbol of America, Pan Am.

And one of my friends in those times was a pilot for Aloha. We socialized and I have a picture of him on my Facebook page. Great guy.

We’ll miss Aloha if and when we decide on a golfing vacation. Aloha’s passenger service agents and cabin crew were always friendly and helpful.

Aloha, Aloha.

p.s. Bill Clinton exposed his ancient thinking at the California Democratic Convention this past weekend when he used the term “chill out.” Holy Chill Out, Billy Bob. That’s old, Man. Let Californians be the individualistic souls we are. Chill out, Bud!

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This is the first of a few wasted days and wasted nights.

It’s income tax season and millions of Americans like me are going nuts trying to figure out how to fill out those pesky forms and compute our taxes.

Somehow, the forms and instructions seem to become more complicated as time passes. Now, in addition to the official tax forms, we have to labor over all kinds of preliminary Worksheets, accompanied by instructions printed in 6-point type with lines squeezed together so tightly that one line melds into another. Only a medically qualified Starship captain with 5/5 vision could possibly read this stuff.

If I were as smart as I’d like to be, I’d find a reliable tax preparation company and just hand them a shoe box of supporting documents and then take a vacation.

But I’m your classically trained paranoid American–trust no body no how. I worry in the presence of clerks who deliberately tack on six inches to their chairs and saw off two from the electric chairs reserved for customers. We are always looking up at some impeccably dressed mannequin with the manners of Emily Post.

As soon as I walk in and spot the tax expert who will probably handle my case, I think of a couple of paranoid possibilities. The wickedly-smiling preparer makes more money than I do and is determined to let me know it in so many subtle ways, such as “Can you afford to pay our fees?”

And there is the other side, someone who makes less and suddenly becomes this oily, unctuous toady determined to steal my identity.

He tips his hand by asking innocent questions like, “Can you tell me the exact city, town, borough, village, township, or census district of your birth, plus your full and complete name, age, social security number, height, weight, and eye color beneath those drooping eyelids?”

This is speculation, of course, but classically-trained paranoids learn to spot all sorts of signs and symbols, including how to read the hidden meanings in roadside speed limit signs. Every little road sign has a meaning all its own.

And every little tax form has its pitfalls.

Time for my anti-anxiety pill and some coffee to get me through the weeks remaining until April 15th.

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For the past several weeks, I’ve been using Windows Live Writer to write and publish blog posts.

I switched from Word 2007’s blog feature because it had become unbearably unstable. The program would crash at inappropriate times, requiring in some cases a complete restart. If any of you use Vista, you’ll know that it’s slow on the uptake.

So I started scouting the Internet for an alternative, stand alone tool. Live Writer came highly recommended by a number of sites dedicated to reviewing a variety of software. Based in these recommendations, I downloaded the program for free on my laptop and desktop. I haven’t been disappointed. Here are some of the features I like.

  • The ability to publish a post on on a variety of blog servers such as WordPress and Blogger, two of the most popular.
  • Easy insertion and positioning of photos. The process is painless and virtually automatic.
  • A feature called Live Search Maps powered by Virtual Earth. This tool is simplicity itself and permits the user to insert maps and adjust their size as desired. You can also add a red Push Pin to draw attention to a particular location, but I’ve encountered difficulties labeling the pin. I think it’s actually a hyperlink of sorts.
  • The map below illustrates the map feature.  You can reduce the map’s size and convert it to a Bird’s Eye View if you wish. The Bird’s Eye View is an aerial photo.

  • The ability to view your post as it will appear on your site. This feature gets your post about as close to WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) as I’ve encountered. Still, I’ve had trouble positioning the map above so that it appears properly when viewed in Web Layout mode.
  • A handy side-bar for inserting hyperlinks, pictures, tables, maps, tags (Technocrati), and videos.
  • An exceptionally simple method of setting your categories.
  • A Paste Special feature that includes an HTML code thinning tool that removes extra HTML code such as that found in Word-prepared documents. Word coded documents tend to result in odd layouts when posted to the Internet.
  • When everything is complete to your satisfaction, click the Publish button and viola! your post magically appears on your site.

Have I encountered any disadvantages? Yes, but the ones I’ve noticed are minor. Here are my pet peeves.

  • If you need to squint to read small type, you may be unhappy with Live Writer. I found no means of magnifying fonts for easy reading as you type while retaining your default font size when your post is published. The only workaround I’ve found so far is to format your Font in, say, 16 point type and then return it to 11 or 12 point before publishing your post.
  • I’ve also found that the spacing of bulleted paragraphs is perfect when I prepare my blog but somehow annoyingly inserts an extra line when published. I’m still looking for a workaround because I like my posts to look a little tighter.

Everything considered, the minor annoyances become irrelevant when balanced against the advantages of stability, ease of use, simplicity and speed. As a blogger who prefers a clean program without seldom used bells and whistles, this is the one for me at the moment. On the other hand, if you’re a professional blogger, Live Writer may not meet your needs.

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Do you suffer from a bunch of these symptoms?

  • Neglect of basic drives, Loss of a sense of time, Withdrawal, Anger, Tension, Depression, Desire for more computer equipment, Arguing, Lying, Social Isolation, Fatigue

If so, you may have a psychiatric condition known as compulsive-impulsive spectrum disorder.

So says the American Psychiatric Foundation in a recent article that I fully agree with even though I can hardly spell the condition.

In fact, the symptoms named above fit me to a T. If someone else monopolizes my machine, I can go berserk. Violence is a distinct possibility on an exceptionally emotional day.

I’m probably not alone. Brittney of CBS Eye on Blogs has reported that she has about 700 Bay Area blog feeds pouring into her desk daily, and she expects that number to rise to 1,000 or more shortly.

The Bay Area is widely know for having the largest number of bloggers of any equally populated metropolitan area in the nation, so the figures provided by Brittney are hardly surprising. My guess is that at least 75 percent of the bloggers in her count have C-ISD.

Extrapolating the numbers, I firmly believe  many millions of people nationwide share my pathetic symptoms.

Maybe Dr. Drew will offer us a Bloggers’ Rehab program.

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I’m going to expose my lingering puritan upbringing and ask a stupid question.

Will someone please explain why a 37-year old woman is still wearing nipple rings?

Shouldn’t a person be somewhat grown-up by then? Is there ever a time in America when we accept adulthood and put aside our childish ways?

I am far from being a prude, but for goodness sakes, think about your kids and their kids. Do you want a six-year old hollering, “Grandma, Grandma, you’ve got nipple rings” as you baby sit at a public playground?

This isn’t a topic only about aging women. Men are equally guilty of weighing themselves down with body adornments in private places.

Body mutilation is no longer an uncivilized custom. It has become an accepted part of our civilized culture.

At one time, only salty sailors sported tattoos. And in Japan, a tattoo was a sign of the yakuza, Japan’s underworld.

Nowadays in America, tattoos have spread over every inch of the human body. A visit to any popular beach is sure to demonstrate such.

Imagine America’s next-generation Ambassador to the Court of Saint James introducing himself to the Queen in accordance with American principles of familiarity. “Say, Queen, this here tattoo symbolizes the American spirit of eternal fertility.”

Even little kids run around proudly displaying washable tattoos. And each time I see a small kid flexing a tattooed muscle adult-style, I remember an incident in Japan.

Several of us were sight seeing in Yokosuka, a town south of Tokyo. I noticed a man staggering around and pestering passersby. Obviously, he was very drunk.

As we neared, he noticed us and turned his attention our way. But he didn’t pester us as he had bothered the Japanese pedestrians. Instead, he pulled his sleeves up to display tattooed arms.

He repeated over and over, “Yakuza, yakuza,” in the sloppy-friendly manner of drunks everywhere. He was quite proud of his status as a yakuza and of his tattoos. He wanted to impress gaijin, foreigners.

As soon as one of us smiled and said, “Ah, so,” signifying that we understood, he smiled and  proudly staggered away.

Will we become or are we already a nation of pseudo-yakuza, not gangsters but a multitude of individuals possessed of the same sort of adolescent bravado and defensiveness?

Somehow I have the impression that widespread body mutilation is just another form of conformity masquerading as rebellion.

I sympathize with the 37-year old woman who was required to remove her nipple rings with pliers at great pain to her.

But nipple rings at the age of 37? Come on.

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Mt. Diablo High School in Concord wants to build a fence around its campus to keep hookey players in and outsiders out. The City Council is prepared to spend $43,000 on the project.

The story struck a spark in me because I was once a professional hookey player. My career began in the 10th grade when I attended Richmond Union High School.

In those days, nothing deterred me from leaving the school grounds when the mood struck, which was frequent.

I first fell into my evil habit by simply walking off of the school grounds at lunch. Apparently I was lucky the first three or four times. But one day a monitor stopped me at my favorite exit point and escorted me to a detention room.

The following day, I tried another convenient walk-away spot and figured I’d made it when a completely different monitor stepped from behind some shrubs about a block north of the school on 23rd Street.

After that, I cooled it and spent several days walking around the campus, alert for other potential exits as well as for patterns of behavior by the monitors.

A couple of things caught my attention. The monitors were actually teachers. As such, they were required to be in their classrooms when classes began again at 1 p.m. They’d usually leave their posts 10 to 15 minutes beforehand, providing an ample window of opportunity for me to escape.

However, a smart assed teacher figured it out and nailed me by feigning a return to his class but actually stepping behind a tree on my accustomed route and laying in wait.

Still, my developing brain continued its never ending search for a method of avoiding the monitors.

One day as I wandered along the perimeter of the school grounds, I stumbled across an old path that led behind the industrial arts building and through a wall of thick, overgrown bushes bordering the school’s South boundary.

Once through the hedges, I was completely out of sight of the school, which enabled me to walk a circuitous route to my favorite hookey hangout, a library in San Pablo where I’d disappear in a corner and read mystery novels.

For the balance of my time at RUHS, I escaped whenever I wanted, although the thrill of it soon waned and I looked for other exciting pursuits like working algebra word problems.

The Concord City Council and the Mt. Diablo High School are going to learn some interesting lessons after their fence is constructed.

There never was a monitor or a fence that could contain the restless minds of adolescent.

Off Topic. I used to have hair like Aaron Peskin’s. Everyone accused me of wearing a hairpiece. I also had a salt and pepper beard like his and black, bushy eyebrows. To top it off, I wore the same kind of glasses.

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Is there a line that reporters and media types should not step across when questioning third parties about political candidates?

Absolutely, and that line was crossed Tuesday when Evan Strange, a representative of a college newspaper, asked Chelsea Clinton if the Monica Lewinsky scandal had tarnished Hillary’s ability to function as a strong president.

The incident occurred in Indianapolis near the end of Chelsea’s appearance before a Butler University crowd of a couple of hundred students and faculty. Her answer was short, sweet, and to the point.

“Wow, you’re the first person actually that’s ever asked me that question in the, I don’t know maybe, 70 college campuses I’ve now been to, and I do not think that is any of your business.”

When interviewed later, Strange said his friends “always bring up that scandal. It’s not something I asked to cause trouble but to show those people what makes Hillary so strong.”

Some media experts have already leaped to Strange’s defense. Most of their explanations turn on the same basic premise. Chelsea’s a big girl now. If she can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.

At bottom, however, the media isn’t defending Strange but the hallowed institution of the media’s right to ask stupid questions. Stupid questions stoke controversies, and controversies make fine reading and listening. A little controversial slant here and there brings increased revenues from the sales of ads and air time.

The first slant I noticed about this story was the terminology employed in the headlines and lead-offs. The scandal was referred to over and over as the “Monica Lewinsky Scandal.”

The matter of Bill Clinton and his cigar and other aspects of his aberrational personality in reality constitute the “Bill Clinton Scandal,” and it should be referred to as such.

Moreover, when the Bill Clinton Scandal occurred, Chelsea was only a child. She played no part in his erratic behaviors or in her mother’s decision to remain married to Bill.

In fact, Hillary wasn’t involved in planning Bill’s trysts, either, but based on the student’s question and the furor surrounding it, one could almost believe Bill was nothing more than a gentleman from Arkansas with a wild Chicago wife.

Maybe she should have divorced Bill at the outset, but she didn’t. That’s her business. Regarding the confluence of private and public lives, we continue to hear over and over, “Sure, he’s a rotten, no good (governor) (mayor) but as long as he performs his duties, he’s okay by me.” Is there a double standard for women? Are women’s private lives not private?

Over the past few years, the media has become ever more erratic and strident in demanding highly personal information, not only from political candidates but also from private citizens who find themselves in media cross hairs.

Do we really need to see a callous reporter stick a mic in some poor grieving mother’s face and ask, “What were your emotions when you learned that your son had been blown to bits by a roadside bomb?” That particular question isn’t stretching it too far, believe me.

At heart, this is a story about the lost art of common sense and the discernment to sift the important from the trivial. The media seem unable or unwilling to face the issue of their own culpability in extending the shelf life of salacious stories far beyond reason.

At the very least, the media ought to nail the hides of aberrant politicians to the barn door rather than concentrating on third parties.

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