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Archive for the ‘Pet Peeves’ Category

Today is the first day of another year in our system of calculating the passage of time from the death of Jesus Christ until, well, now. By that reckoning, humans have been actively engaged in counting days, weeks, months, and years for 2008 years. And at the stroke of midnight last night, they began counting again. Humans are, if nothing else, prone to redundancies.

When I say “from the death of Jesus Christ,” I guess that’s what A.D. signifies. I don’t really know for sure since I wasn’t born then and, like all humans, I rely on the selective memories of those who preceded me. I often wonder if the memories of the ancients were as sharp as ours today.

One thing we have today that they lacked in the Stone Age is statistics. Modern humans like to count and index everything under the sun. But more, modern humans like to manipulate their statistics from here to breakfast and back, they like to interpret statistics, they like to explain statistics to other people just in case someone is too dumb to figure things out for themselves.

To what end? Hasn’t mankind progressed through the manipulation of statistics to a higher stage? Apparently not. Statistics paint rosy pictures at the expense of reality. And modern humans love to avoid, ignore, or deny reality. Stats make it possible for leaders, elected officials, apparatchiks, and academics to ramble on forever, making seven hour MySpace presentations and figuring out ways to squeeze another Missouri Mill out of the sale of a tomato.

Sure, some statistics can unearth the other side of life. But you have to dig for them. You have to really dig to find out the number of humans killed in wars in the “modern” era (over a billion at last count since the year of our Lord 1700), or for the number of murders per year in America (20,000 give or take a few), or the extent of suicides (another 29 to 30,000), the ungodly numbers of child abuse cases annually in America (3,000,000 plus and growing), and God know how many deaths in alcohol related driving accidents.

We might surmise that the collection of information such as this is a positive thing leading to solutions. But, no, these data are merely used to justify additional manpower and budget monies. The numbers never recede because our attention is focused on numbers rather than on solutions.

I am not saying that everyone on Earth is determined to ignore reality. Many care about the lives of children, about lives wasted in a state of inebriation, about the survivors of murder and suicide, about many things. But the number of these people is few compared to many among us who simply do not care, who blame misery on the victims and hail the rich and powerful for “making it” in our hardball world, which roughly translates into “screw those suckers.”

Of course, many care but are helpless to effect real change. Only the movers and shakers have the power to change attitudes. Sadly, for 2008 years, they have spent their time collecting and using statistics to justify the “every human for him/herself” approach to the process of governing, which we have raised to its highest art form in America.

Will things change with the flip of a calendar page? Maybe. Who knows? Maybe not. Who knows? Every year, I begin the New Year with a strong belief that we can change attitudes. We can save the world one attitude at a time.

Our first step ought to be the abolition of our slavery to numbers. Let’s see people as people instead of as case numbers, as social security digits, and as an increasingly long series of telephone numbers in various combinations.

People are, after all, people, real people. People are not a number in an obscure collection of data maintained by the Census Bureau or the Bureau of Commerce and filed in a National Archive and Records Service repository in San Bruno or in one of several other repositories nationwide.

Let’s call Joe Joe instead of Joe4769.

“Hello, my name is Robert.”

“Enter your number now, please.”

Happy New Year!!!!!

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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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…all systems go…mostly…

This morning I began looking for information about the Santa Rita Jail in Dublin when I ran across a photo of a young woman under the heading “She’s an inmate in Santa Rita.”

Thinking perhaps this was a story about a poor unfortunate female trapped in the American web of justice, I clicked the link and suddenly found myself trapped in an endless web of warnings about malware in my machine and how the only way to protect myself was to click Next.

I’m kind of dumb but not that dumb. Still, the more I attempted to escape from the Santa Rita Jail, the more I became convinced that I had been transferred to The Black Hole of Inner Space.

I still don’t know how I managed to extricate my poor machine from this hell.

After gulping several cups of coffee to steady my nerves, I thought, “What the heck? It’s time for a system scan anyway.”

I am tighter than I am dumb, so I use free versions of Spybot and Ad-Aware SE. I booted up Spybot first.

This is my unlucky day. Another maze. Spybot, instead of running normally as usual, defaulted to some remote location on the web and wouldn’t let me go until I had upgraded my version to the latest one. For some reason, I now have two versions.

Okay, I started the newer one and it ran though a full systems scan and gave me an all clear sign. What a relief.

Then I clicked on Ad Aware. Again, I was prompted to update the program, which I did fairly easily, noting that I wanted a full system scan again.

This time, when the Ad Aware scan was completed, I saw a bunch of flashing red lights and a little icon which looked suspiciously like a tiny crab opposite a message “19 Critical Objects,” emphasized with the obligatory red font just in case my bowels weren’t loose enough.

With a shaking hand, I checked all 19 and discovered some interesting things. None was actually critical. The risk factor of each was low.

And all were tracking cookies, the purpose of which is to keep track of the sites I’ve visited for the purpose of inserting ads in the proper spot. That may well explain an ad for a porno site one day when I was reviewing an analysis of The Ten Commandments by Eliot Spitzer.

The third thing I noticed was that all of the tracking cookies had been planted courtesy of Internet Explorer. I thought that odd since I rarely ever use IE. I’m a Mozilla Man. Has IE managed to co-opt my browser?

Not really. Microsoft wouldn’t stoop that low. Would they?

No, certainly not. I recalled using IE one time a couple of weeks ago. Apparently during that one-time use, someone managed to slip 19 tracking cookies into my cache.

Lesson learned. Clear the cache every time you use any browser. You may find your machine trapped in porno hell.

Either that or restrain your prurient desires.

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  1. A 3 a.m. wake-up call from Hillary
  2. Tepid coffee
  3. Brains and scrambled eggs for breakfast
  4. More tepid coffee
  5. Weed Whackers at 7 a.m.
  6. Hyperactive TV Talking Heads with their Poll of Polls
  7. Singing e-mails from cousins who love Mike Huckabee
  8. A recorded phone message asking me to support a restriction on crank phone calls
  9. The image of Gavin riding a horse in Texas
  10. The thought of Gavin as a member of Hillary’s Cabinet if she wins

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Now that Christmas day is behind us and all that remains is to return those gifts we hate, I think it’s safe to reveal the things that really bug me in the run-up to Christmas.

  1. Drop Bys. Too many people dropping by to leave a thoughtful gift, an act that mobilizes the old “in-kind” response, thus taking time away from the latest Diane Lane rerun. This may surprise many people, but I prefer a one-dimensional freeze-frame of her legs to a tiny lapel pin that says “Support Doggie Bags.” You know I don’t own a dog, Clarence.
  2. Gifts by Mail. I am sick and tired of pecan pies, especially the ones that say something like “Mom’s Authentic Good Ole Made-in-the-USA Texas Pecan Pies.” A little research reveals that Mom cranks out 900,000 homemade pecan pies every holiday season in Mexico and delivers them on an underground assembly line between Juarez and El Paso, Texas. Please, Mom, make it a fruitcake next year, or a can of salted Virginia peanuts.
  3. Gift Certificates. Most of them are for redemption in stores offering 19th Century goodies like Karo Syrup and hog jowls. Not only that, you must redeem the full value of the cert or lose any remaining balance. It’s mathematically impossible to locate a combination of goods that add up to the exact amount of your gift cert. Send a check next year, Auntie.
  4. Books. Let’s face it. There isn’t a human on the face of the earth who wants to read The Top Selling Political Science Textbooks of All Time. You can’t even find one in a Borders trash bin. That’s why the title is sold only in Murphy’s Bar, Exotic Grill, and Used Books. Who but a faithful bar habitué would lay out a dime for one? Try Superman comics next year, Uncle Harold.
  5. Office Parties. You have to fake the Christmas spirit with people you despise. Well, this is one of those grin-and-bear it situations, good training if you aspire to become a politician.

Okay, family members, try to do a little better next year. And in return I promise never to recycle any more flashing neckties.

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Today’s Honolulu Advertiser carried a column by Peter Boylan headed “Fame $$$, good looks—so what?” The title alone caught my eye so I read the whole thing to find out what this guy was talking about.

Imagine my pleasant surprise to discover that he wrote about things I’ve puzzled over for years.

He opened by describing the hullabaloo over David Beckham, who just signed a contract to play soccer with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Beckham has appeared on the cover of several magazines and is widely touted as soccer’s answer to Barry Bonds.

Boylan’s response to the public’s adoration of Beckham–Who gives a Spice!

Spice is a reference to a vocal group that has pretty well passed from the cool scene. Beckham is married to a former Spice girl.

Here is Boylan’s money quote:

“Beckham is another one of those guys whom women fawn over because they are rich, famous and supposedly, good-looking.

“My gripe: Those three attributes also apparently absolve all transgressions and behavioral flaws.”

Holy Schiese, Bratman! Is he talking about Gavie Nusie? Does this columnist from Honolulu have a direct line to SF politics?

Here’s Nudie, a guy whose deceit and betrayal have been a matter of public record since February 1, 2007, and rumored for months if not years before then.

Now, the guy enjoys a 70%-plus approval rating and is certain to be reelected in November. Still, residents of SF absolve him of all sins. What gives? Is their forgiveness because, in Boylan’s words, he is “rich, famous, and supposedly good-looking.”

Sure, SF’ers rationalize their approval. Yes, he made a mistake. We all make mistakes.

True. We all make mistakes. But not many make THAT mistake. Newsie is in a rather small group when it comes to THAT.

So, he’s an exception. So what? Don’t confuse my pre-conceived emotions with facts. He may be a Vanity Fair centerfold, but he’s our really, really, really good looking Vanity Fair centerfold. Even Kimberley admires his equipment. You can’t argue with a babe that good looking, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. Thus, we hereby, in full possession of our hedonistic faculties, vote to absolve him of any and all past, present, and future transgressions. We said it. We’re right. That’s it.

Ah, cynicism

Anyway, Boylan’s article has a heck of a lot more interesting observations on the human condition. Check it out. You’ll like it. If you’re a woman, you’ll find some insights into the male brain. If you’re a man, you’ll identify with his viewpoints.

Unless you’re rich, famous, and good looking.

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We need a rehab program with strenuous interventions for talking heads addicted to asking stupid questions and politicians addicted to solemnly answering them.

In case you haven’t noticed, some of the questions are so dumb even a caveman could come up with them. Others are dumber still, requiring the skills of a squid, And at the bottom of the dumb barrel, we have the dumbest questions in the universe of dumb questions coming from the fertile gristle of the fabled “American people” politicians are so fond of evoking.

Here’s the latest of the dumbest of the dumb questions from the recent Democratic presidential candidates’ debate. “How would you, Senator Obama, respond to the criticism that you aren’t black enough, and you, Senator Clinton, to the criticism you aren’t feminine enough?”

My, Gawd!!!! This is breathtaking!!! But it isn’t the most breathtaking part of the debate. Both Senators Obama and Clinton actually responded in their most senatorial manner. I mean, they were so serious my heart almost bled for them until sanity swept over me and I started laughing so hard my skintight Hanes briefs fell off.

Just once, I’d like to hear a politician respond honestly, like this: “That question is so dumb it doesn’t deserve a reply. I refuse to lend my good name to its idiocy. If anyone believes I ought to answer the question, please vote for my opponent. On Election Day, I want only intelligent people voting for me. And if you, Mr. Moderator, ask another stupid question, I’ll walk out of this idiotic sham.”

I’ve observed something like this only once. In a debate between Bill Clinton and George Bush the Elder, Clinton responded to a statement (don’t remember the subject of it) from an audience member with this observation: “If you believe that, vote for George Bush.”

At those words, Bush’s head snapped around like a fish hooked by a snagger and looked at Clinton who ignored him. I’m probably the only one besides Bush who caught Clinton’s message.

Political debate in this country has become nothing more than a showcase for stupidity. Maybe that’s natural. Voters claim to vote the issues, but in truth, they are more likely to mark a ballot for many other reasons, not the least of which is high emotion and a candidate’s appearance.

I’m reminded of an idea for a cartoon I once dreamed up. A middle-aged couple sits in their living room discussing politics. For want of more descriptive names, I called them Mr. and Mrs. Balloonhead. Their conversation goes something like this.

  • Mrs. B: Who are you voting for this year, Dear?
  • Mr. B: I’m undecided, Dear.
  • Mrs. B: Who are you undecided in favor of, Dear?

In my mind, that’s a pretty apt summarization of American voting patterns. The seriously undecided voter is a rapidly disappearing figure.

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