Thursday, December 28, 2006

President Ford and Iraq

It's all starting to come out. The late President Ford disagreed with the Bush policy on Iraq. I'm not surprised. Unfortunately, the current administration has typically been hostile to the ideas of other people. "BB's off a rhino," as we used to say.

Now that Rumsfeld is gone and Cheney has dropped out of sight, we might see a change in Bush. It'll be interesting to see what his new plan is going to be for Iraq. Based on past policy, it will probably lack a clear goal and call for more violence.

It's clear already to most Americans...we should not have entered Iraq. It's going to fuel violence and terrorism for at least another generation of Arabs.

There were multiple other options, as Ford suggests in the AP article, but I think Cheney is the biggest creep in this story. I think he saw the whole Iraq endeavor as a lucrative power play, and this is the proper role of a CEO, right?

Even hanging Hussein seems hollow at this point, when compared to the devastation that this war has caused to Iraq. I mean, he was convicted of killing 150 people (although it's clear that he killed many more). With all respect to the dead, 150 seems like a small number when compared tot he ~100,000 (or more?) Iraqis that have been killed as a result of the current war.

Plus, 2,900 American troops have been killed (so we've doubled the number killed in the World Trade Center that what we wanted?). What a mess.

In conclusion, President Ford, rest in peace and please stand by the United States as we go through these dangerous and difficult times.


Monday, December 25, 2006

Christmas = Family

During this holiday weekend, I have heard a lot of people talking about the meaning of Christmas. Some say it was originally a Pagan holiday that celebrates light at the darkest time of year. Others say that it originated as a Norse practice involving St. Nicholas and gift giving. Others focus on the birth of Jesus Christ as central to the holiday.

From my perspective, Christmas is all of these things. But how can this be? Here's why: No matter what your particular tradition, Christmas always equals family. Each year, people all over the world gather with family and loved ones at this time of year.

And it goes beyond that: We actually enter into a realm of spiritual selflessness at this time of year. We think about the needs of others and we open our wallets to charitable causes.

I think Joe Campbell would say that we become selfless at this time of year (in the northern hemisphere, anyway) because we have reached the nadir of our annual journey. It is at this time, a time where the sun has all but dropped below the horizon, we realize our precarious place int he universe. That's when we realize that We Are One and we turn to each other and simply say, "I love you."

Christmas is, indeed, a celebration of human love, particularly for family. Pagans understand this, the Norse peoples understand this, and Christians understand this. Everyone who celebrates Christmas or Yule or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa understands that this is the time of year for family.

In fact, my personal holy trinity is father+mother+child.

So, before we get carried away with Jesus's death and resurection (which inevitably enters into the Christmas rhetoric), let's appreciate Mary's triumph. She gave birth to a son, and that, in itself, is enough for rejoicing because it represents all "Mary's" and all "babies."

Second, let's give a shout out to Joseph, who stood by his family to complete the trinity.

My coffee is getting cold and my family is in the other room, so I need to end this entry. But the next time someone asks you about the real meaning of Christmas, you can tell them FAMILY.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Yule, Happy Kwanzaa


Friday, December 22, 2006

Beat The Drum

I had the opportunity recently to see this wonderful movie - Beat The Drum. It's about a little boy in South Africa, whose whole family is wiped out by AIDS, and how he was to deal with it, and ultimately, how the whole African continent, I guess, is going to, or is dealing with, AIDS. The movie was made in 2003, so maybe a few things have changed, but this was one of the most tragic stories I've ever seen. Both his parents are dead - his father, on his deathbed gives this 11-year-old a drum, which is symbolic as the instrument used to let people know about AIDS. The theme of the movie is that Africans deny the existence of AIDS, considering it a curse, and as a result shut any preventative measures and spread the disease. Practices such as a brother marrying his deceased sibling's wife, even if he died of AIDS, and grown men suffering from AIDS raping pre-pubescent girls because they think sex with a virgin will cure them, are touched upon. The whole thing is tragic and focuses a lot on the plight of the orphans this epidemic is creating. This poor kid in the movie has to hitchike to Johannesburg and work cleaning windows of stopped cars to support himself. And he's doing better than a lot of his compatriots...

I broke down crying like six times. I think the guy sitting next to me on the plane must have thought I flipped. This was a heckuva film on many levels - although a bit preachy, but still I felt it was a noble attempt (on a low-budget) at conveying a valuable message - something rarely done in Hollywood (this, of course, was an Inde flick). Anyway, I wanted to share this art with some friends and relatives but have been unable to find anyplace locally or on-line to rent or buy this movie. According to its Web site, the movie won like 30 awards. So, why can't I find it? But, I can find 30 copies of the Legend of Bobby Whatever (a pretty funny movie actually) at my local video store. That's fucked up.

Cheers. Merry XMas


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

W Cheering on the Troops

In the blog comments from Tuesday December 5, Ralph asked whether GW Bush was a cheerleader. The answer is YES. In fact, he was a letter winner in cheerleading at Andover and Yale.

According to the Information Clearinghouse: "[as a former cheerleader] the president knows how tough it is to keep spirits up when it becomes clear that his team is not winning, but the bedlam in Iraq has become the supreme test. Some of his fellow cheerleaders have quit cheering, and even the Fox News Channel is having trouble putting on a brave front. "

I'd laugh at this commentary if it all weren't so tragic.

And from USA Today: "The mistaken war and botched aftermath have created such a mess that the only credible course change must be predicated on this painful question: Is there an achievable goal that makes the further sacrifice of American lives worthwhile? With each passing day, that is looking less and less likely. ... What, exactly, is the goal that U.S. forces are fighting and dying for?"

Can anybody answer this question? Other than to reply with the tired and vague canard, "The War on Terror."

What's the cheerleader-in-chief's solution in December 2006 (3.5 years into a war that was supposed to take six months)? He's talking about sending more troops.

Can cheerleader's read? Do they have to take history classes in college? Somewhere along the line, this guy must have missed a lot of history and political science classes, because he clearly doesn't understand that Arabs will always drive the white man from Arab soil (just as Americans would drive Arabs from the North American continent, no matter how benevolent their stated goal).

He'll be calling up the National Guard soon to continue this escapade.

When is W's term in office over? That's when the war, the maiming, the deaths--and the money hemorraging from our wallets--will finally stop.

Al Shugart and the Superparamagnetic Limit

In 1956, at IBM Corporation, Al Shugart, along with Reynold Johnson and a team of engineers, invented the first computer hard drive. The first drives were large and cumbersome, but, as with all technology, the footprint was reduced and the capacity was increased.

Fifty years later, Al's legacy lives on, simultaneously enslaving and liberating millions of people around the world each day.

Alas, Al Shugart is dead at age 76 from complications following heart surgery.

During my days as a tech journalist, I had many conversations with Al. He was always willing to offer his perspective on the world of technology. One of the most interesting conversations I had with him involved the "superparamagnetic limit." In layman's terms, the "superparamagnetic limit" involves the amount of data that can be written to the surface of a magnetic hard drive.

Logic dictates that you can only write so much onto a magnetic surface of limited size, right? But what is that limit? 1GB? 10GB? 100GB? 1TB? Today, most PCs come with an 80GB HDD and the upper limit is somewhere around 320 GB. Now, I know they stack platters and use other trick, but still, the amount of data that can be written to a HDD continues to increase dramatically with no end in sight. Amazing.

So, when I think of Al, I think about infinite possibilities. He was an expansive guy and his legacy has left us with a universe of options, from word processing to podcasting to blogging.

Thanks Al, and may you rest in peace.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006


So, I'm reading a biography on Alexander the Great, the Macedonian king who conquered most of Asia by the time he was like 30 or something. So-so book, but a fascinating story. Alexander seems to be regarded as a military and political genius. He was also a ruthless megalomaniac, who believed himself to be descended from gods... and maybe he was... but this posturing made me recall a wonderful story by Rudyard Kipling, entitld, "The Man Who Would Be King." You may be familiar with the movie version, a '70s flick that stars an in-his-prime Sean Connery in the title role. In the story, Connery uses his assocation with the FreeMasons to ligitimitize a link between himself and "Sandra" (as the natives call him) or Alexander, who had once conquered the land Connery is now marauding in. It's a great movie, and the story by Kipling is also great. You can find it here for free download from the Guttenberg Book Project.

Kipling is a great storyteller, and being able to write like him is one of the reasons I wanted to be a writer. Here's a line from the story discussing fake foreign correspondents making threats of blackmail on local politicos in India:

“They do not understand that nobody cares a straw for the internal administration of Native States so long as oppression and crime are kept within decent limits, and the ruler is not drugged, drunk, or diseased from one end of the year to the other.”

That gives you some idea of the style and gist of the story. It's kind of like a Heart of Darkness (by Conrad) type piece, which of course is the story that Apocolyspe Now is based on. Anyway, it's a great tale of adventure told in a humorous fashion, but also a bit of a morality tale. Yes, DoktorDee, I think it's got a lot of the elements of great mythology embedded within. There's also a couple great paragraphs discussing the lives of both loafers and journalists-two of my favorite classes of people.

Carry on,


Wednesday, December 13, 2006


As you may or may not know, I recently returned from a weeklong conference in Berlin. I was pretty busy with work most of the time, but did get a couple nights and one day to see some of the city. Some observrations:
1. Beer was good - well, you probably knew that
2. City was expensive - kind of reminded me of New York City. The area I was staying in, around the Unter Den Linden - means something like "street of lime trees" - was all lit up and had a lot of upscale stores. Plus, the dollar is at an all-time low vs. the Euro. I gave the exchange guy $200 at the airport and got back 130 Euro or something. That sucked.
3. Berliners are not afraid of the cold - It was in the '40s in the evenings (sun went down around 4:30 p.m.), but there were still a ton of people in these outdoor markets they had set up all over town. Many of these were speciality XMas gift setups, but one of them, called the Gendermenmarkt, is apparently a year 'round thing. On Friday evening, I stopped in there, drank a couple Gluweins - this hot sweet wine - and watched some dancers perform on an outdoor stage. You could see their breath, but they were still wearing tights and dancing dresses, and it was quite entertaining. Earlier that evening, at another outdoor market, I wolfed down a big plate of steaming pork and sauerkraut. Good stuff. I also saw a rock band performing outdoors in front of one of the big department stores - reminded me of like a Boston Store-type place, and it was packed. Did I mention that people in Berlin seem to like to shop.
4. Rembrandt and Boticelli are awesome artists - On Saturday I had some time to hit the Gemaldegalerie, this wonderful gallery with something like 900 paintings in 70 rooms. These paintings are from European artists from the 1200s through the 1700s. The Rembrandt works struck me first. I found myself fascinated by one of them, the facial expression really drawing me in, and then I looked down to see who it was by - and I realized why he has such a great reputation. Quickly, it seems to me Rebrandt best captures the ambiguity of human life in his facial expressions. His people seem very complex - they are not one dimensional happy or sad, but have very complex expressions, which draws you in, makes them seem real. The version of the Joseph and the Wife of Potiphar that hangs there (there's also one in Washington, DC, apparently) particularly drew me in and held my interest for a long time. Boticelli's facial expressions had an equal complexity about them, but they were all these sleepy eyed Italians, which really captivated me, based on the make-up of my own face. I really wanted to know what his portaits were thinking and felt very comfortable staring at them and trying to figure this out.
5. Prostitution is legal - Didn't know this. For some reason my tour book didn't seem to mention it. But once I got out of the posh neighborhood I was staying in and spent a bit of time on the Oranienburger Strasse, man, were they ever open for busienss. As a single guy walking down the street, I must have looked like any easy mark - and was approached by someone every half block it seemed. It was starting to wig me out, as I kept picturing myself getting robbed, my wallet and passport stolen - of course, I was kind of hung over and pretty far from home, so I was being paranoid. Now that I also know these women were just trying to make an honest buck, I feel bad that I may have been rude to them.

Hope you find this info useful if someday you travel to Berlin, or just interesting if not. By the way, a round trip airfare, because I returned to Erie on Sunday, was like $530 dollars, including tax.



Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Should Colleges and the NFL Develop a Semi-Pro League?

According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, "More than a third of the 64 college football teams headed to bowl games this season have failed to meet academic standards set by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, according to an annual report released on Monday by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida."

My question: Should the charade continue or should US colleges team up with the NFL and invest in a semi-pro league that would feed players to the NFL but would not pretend to grant degrees to athletes who have no inclination or ability in the area of academics?