Wednesday, July 29, 2009

YouTube Gems - Flawless A Cappella

I love me some a cappella music. These guys are Slovenian, but you can hardly tell. Their English is fantastic. So is their Spanish. And their Portuguese. (I can't vouch for the other languages they sing.) It doesn't get any better than this. Speakers to full power, Mr. Sulu.

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Just Looking for a Fight

Tell me you haven't done this before:

You're locked out of YOUR house or car. As you poke around looking for some way to get inside, you thing to yourself, "I sure hope the neighbor doesn't see me and call the cops because they think I'm trying to break in," when in fact that is exactly what you're trying to do despite it being your car or house.

If by some chance the cops were called and wanted to question you, could you blame them? After all, you were engaging in some highly suspicious activity. If you're like me, you'd probably be a little embarrassed and a lot apologetic. What if you became belligerent with the policemen and started screaming at them? How would you expect the situation to unfold?

Now imagine for a moment that you somehow also qualify as a minority. Maybe you're not a white Caucasian male, or you are religious, or you have a speech impediment or something. And just for kicks, let's say that your buddy is the President (of America).

Well, as chance would have it, that is exactly what happened to a Harvard director and friend of President Obama, Mr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Here are the facts:
  • Mr. Gates and another person returned from a trip to find themselves locked out of Gates' home
  • Mr. Gates and friend were wearing backpacks
  • Mr. Gates and friend tried to force their way in through the front door
  • A woman [neighbor?] called 911 to report a suspected break-in
  • Police responded to the call and wanted to see Mr. Gates identification [duh!]
  • Mr. Gates, according to police reports, refused and was outraged that the police would want to verify he was who he claimed to be
  • Mr. Gates accused the police of racism
  • Mr. Gates is black; at least one of the officers is white
  • The arresting officer is an "expert" on, and teaches a class at the police academy about, racial profiling
  • None other than President Obama, in a news conference, says that the police "acted stupidly"
  • Mr. Gates claims that this incident is about "the vulnerability of black men in America" and has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that police officers were simply responding to a reported break-in or that he exacerbated the situation by flying off the handle
  • The article cites another controversial incident at Harvard in which police confronted a black man was trying to remove a bike lock with something other than the key or combination - as though had the man been white, the cops may have allowed him to proceed unmolested
  • The politicians involved - the POTUS, the governor, and the mayor - are embarrassed and critical of the incident
Maybe the cops had been tailing Mr. Gates for months waiting for him to do something that would justify an arrest? Should the police no longer take any action when there is a minority involved for fear of public officials' scorn? Despite the eventual outcome, I'd bet Reggie Lewis' family appreciates the arresting officer's supposed discrimination. Reggie Lewis was the Boston Celtics player that collapsed and died several years ago during a workout. This same 'racist' officer was the person trying to save Reggie Lewis' life by administering CPR.

Would our world be a better place if we all looked the same, were the same age and sex, had the same religion and salary? If we were all stormtroopers? Mr. Gates was arrested NOT for breaking into his own house or for being black, but because of the way he acted towards the police officers. 

Mr. Gates missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate an advanced level of understanding and tolerance and to teach an important life lesson to the students of Harvard. He instead chose to act in defiance of the law and in an immature manner; to attempt to incite anger and retaliation against the Cambridge police department. Is Mr. Gates above the law? He seems to think so. Does his position as a "renowned black scholar" from Harvard mean he is judged by a different set of rules than the rest of us? Does he fancy himself a new public figure of some new movement? The next X? Some kind of martyr? His comments seem to indicate as much - "This is not about me."

Race will continue to be an issue in this country until we stop making it an issue in the press.

And for Heaven's sake, Mr. President - if you want us to let Congress do their job and let you do your job and all of the various spending bills do their jobs - could you also let local law enforcement do its job, too?

Now, like that scene from Popeye, everybody is calling for everyone else to apologize. Personally, I don't think the police were in the wrong in any way. They don't need to apologize or submit themselves to the media barrage. As for Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama, the governor and the mayor - who cares if they apologize or not? They've already embarrassed themselves enough through their unfortunate remarks that no apology would serve to humiliate them further.

Let us not get distracted by this non-story from the real injustices currently being promulgated by our government.


It seems to me that a lot of people are piling on top of law enforcement in recent years. Why? They're just trying to keep the peace and protect the people.

If something is important enough to warrant a call to 911, do we not expect a response? Do we want the firefighters to say, "Oh, that smoke is probably just somebody burning their hamburgers"? Do we want the cops to say, "They're probably filming a movie about a foul-mouthed drunk dude getting all up in people's grills. My shift is almost over anyway"? Do we want the paramedics to say, "That guy will probably start breathing again on his own"? These people are paid to respond, not to rationalize.

If you get pulled over, common sense tells us to just cooperate. Even if you're sure you didn't do anything wrong, remaining calm and polite is always the best way to handle the situation. If you start acting in a threatening manner, the police will respond appropriately, just as they should.

Mr. Gates reaction seems highly suspect given the circumstances, which tells me he is seeking the spotlight, trying to get people riled up, and exploiting his friendship with Obama. This was a routine police call that would have been over in a few minutes with a bit of cooperation. Surely Mr. Gates can appreciate that his suspicious behavior and verbal self-destruct prompted the police's presence and his subsequent arrest, and not his skin color.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

YouTube Gems - John Williams Tribute

My girls love this. Brookie sings, "Someone move this walkie-talkie" all day long. Madison taught herself how to make Chewbacca sounds.


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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Good Enough, (Maybe) Smart Enough

...But doggoneit, I still don't like him.

Will Rogers is credited with saying, "Politicians are the funniest people you'll ever meet. When they make a joke, it becomes a law, and when they pass a law, it's a joke."

Sometimes a joke becomes a Senator. I'm referring, of course, to one Al Franken, the newly (and finally) elected Senator from the great state of Minasoder (you know it as 'Minnesota'). Best known for his "Daily Affirmations with Stuart Smalley" bit on Saturday Night Live, you'll recall that Mr. Franken lost his Senatorial race to Norm Coleman last November. The final tally was close, which prompted several recounts. Mysteriously, each time the votes were recounted, Mr. Franken wound up with more and more votes. 

This, to me, was awfully (and I do mean 'awfully') similar Christine Gregoire's election to the State of Washington's governorship in 2004. Same deal there - sore loser (Gregoire) gets a recount; suspicious votes miraculously appear from undocumentable sources (read: dead people, 'found' ballots from car trunks, etc.); sore loser becomes winner and calls previous winner a sore loser. In this case, Gregoire still lost the election even after the recount, but challenged the results again, garnering a victory margin (129 votes) smaller than the margin previously held by her challenger, Dino Rossi (261 votes). Yet somehow, her 129 vote challenged and recounted victory was more legitimate in her eyes than the two prior victories by Rossi, as she called for Rossi to concede and respect the will of the people.

On to the point...

Senator Franken immediately put his Harvard education and position of power to fruitless use during the hearing for Supreme Court hopeful, Sonia Sotomayor. Finally getting his moment in the spotlight, Mr. Franken held nothing back in his thorough evaluation of Sotomayor's judicial qualifications. Franken wanted to know if Sotomayor knew the name of the one case that fictitious television lawyer Perry Mason lost. Everyone enjoyed a big laugh, of course. Laughter is an appropriate response to comedians and clowns alike.

I'm sure Sotomayor appreciated the softball. I'm sure the citizens of Minnesota are more confident than ever that they are well represented in D.C. 

C'mon - Perry Mason? Lightweight! Here's a question for the distinguished junior Senator from Minnesota. Do you remember the name of that pathetic movie from 1995 starring, you?

Yeah, me neither. I started watching it, really. But truth be told, it was one just two movies I've had to send back to Netflix without finishing during the past five years.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Rebel Ships in My Sector

Our house sits exactly at the point where 747 jets drop out of hyperspace as they prepare to touch down at PDX; the exact point where space, time, sound and light reconverge in a near-overwhelming demonstration of eardrum-rupturing GE jet engine horsepower.

Said one Han Solo, "Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, boy! Without precise calculations we could fly right through a star, or bounce too close to a supernova and that'd end your trip real quick, wouldn't it?"

This little yellow bird evidently didn't get the right coordinates out of his navi-computer. He's been slamming himself over and over again into our living room window for about three weeks during all daylight hours, creating a noise, as it happens, that is much more annoying than the jets overhead.

It's not like our house suddenly sprang up in the middle of this guy's flight path. We've been here for several years without incident. Until now. If he keeps this up, R2D2 says his chances of survival are 725 to 1, but R2 has been known to make mistakes; from time to time.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Who's Driving This Apple Cart?

Associated Press reported today that 'new jobless claims plunged to their lowest level since January'. Naturally, my interest was piqued considering the recent rise in unemployment to 9.5%, so I clicked on the link.

Turns out reality is not nearly as good as the headline led me to believe. New jobless claims were still near 565,000, and were only that low due to the holiday weekend and 'the timing of auto industry layoffs'.

Here's the ridiculous sentence in the article that prompted this particular rant:
"Continuing claims... unexpectedly jumped to a record-high." (emphasis mine)
- Christopher S. Rugaber, AP

Unexpected by who? Certainly not by any person that's taken a moment to consider the situation.

When a person can now draw unemployment for more than a year - up to a year-and-a-half in some states - much of the incentive to not file a 'continuing claim' is removed. I don't think the record high of continuing claims is in the least bit unexpected by anybody. Do you?

I sympathize with those that have lost their jobs and really do want to work. This is a tough job market right now. But the unemployed do not need incentive to remain unemployed - they need a job. Private enterprise creates jobs. That is where the focus must be placed. If all of that extra unemployment financing were redirected to provide incentives for business to set up/stay/grow operations here in the U.S., that would provide a real solution. That would retain jobs, create more jobs, and generate more tax revenue for the government through higher levels of employment.

Instead, it seems like every proposal today is destructive to capitalism (see Cap and Trade, Universal Health Care)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Perfect Timing

Brooklyn was a little off kilter. She was kind of cranky; a little morose; not herself. She just wanted to lay on the couch with her blanket or be held.

Generally, I try to keep the kids out of my office during traditional work hours, but Brookie was so docile that I let her stay in a sitting hug position on my lap while I worked. Then a meeting reminder popped up alerting me to my weekly touch-base meeting with my boss in 15 minutes. Brooklyn didn't want to leave and seemed to be nearly asleep. Since she was being so quiet and well behaved, I decided to let her stay. I explained that she needed to be extra quiet while I was on the phone with my boss, and that if she couldn't do that I would have to lock her out of my office.

She promised to be good.

And she was so good. She was so good I barely remembered she was even there. I had a good meeting. When it was over I thought Brooklyn must have fallen asleep, so I gently rubbed her back and softly asked if she was awake. She was. 

She pulled her head away from my shoulder, "Daddy, my tummy hurts."

"Does it feel like you need to go to the bathroom? Or do you feel like you're going to throw..."

Too late.

She got me. No point in trying to keep it from getting on me now. I was a human shield. I couldn't exactly stand up at this point to take her into the bathroom without dramatically increasing the risk of spilling the spew on the carpet, so I decided to board up and wait it out.

I repositioned Brookie slightly on my lap to form sort of a bowl/cup shape with our bodies to try to contain everything between us and not on my computer or the carpet. The idea worked surprisingly well. She erupted several more times, claiming to feel all better after each.

Finally she was empty. But I was then in an even worse position. I called out to Madison to bring me some towels. She, of course, first wanted to know why I needed them, then set out to locate the towel in the house that was furthest away from her.

I mopped up the mess in our laps and tossed our yucky clothes into the wash, then we both took quick showers to clean up.

I guess I just feel lucky that Brooklyn didn't explode five minutes sooner while I was still in my meeting. That would have been awkward. More so than being barfed on repeatedly.


Saturday, July 4, 2009

True Independence

The New York Times ran an article last week that tried to make a case against the rise in the U.S. savings rate, which has just reached 6.9% after bottoming out at less than zero percent during recent years.

So, if I understand correctly, it was better for "shopping malls, Main Street businesses, large employers and workers" when everybody spent as much or more than they earned. It was better for the nation for its citizens to live paycheck to paycheck rather than guard something in reserve. It was better to constantly bail water out of the sinking boat with a bucket than to patch the hull breach. 

Why is saving more a bad thing? The perspective described by the author of the NYT article (which may not represent his personal opinion) is an extremely short-sighted way to look at the problem.

It is true, the nation is being forced to swallow a bitter pill right now as consumer behavior adjusts to the changing environment. But the fact is, our prior behavior was unsustainable. One cannot survive for any meaningful length of time by spending more than one earns. Plain and simple.

How bad would this recession have been if we all had 6.9% of our personal income stored away in a CD or a savings account somewhere?

There are essentially two ways to improve one's personal finances: earn more or spend less. With 9.6% unemployment, it is fairly evident that we can't always control how much we earn. But we have full control over our personal spending. The American consumer has once again demonstrated rational behavior by trimming some non-essentials from his budget - wearing last year's fashions, driving the car for an extra year or two, and vacationing closer to home.

Once personal savings accounts are replenished, the money will begin to flow into the marketplace once again. The economy is currently like a heavy smoker or druggie that is trying to free himself from addiction. Our economy was addicted to easy credit and cheap, plentiful cash. We're weaning ourselves away from that. Yes, it's tough to endure in the moment, but we'll be much better off in the long run.

The most troubling aspect is that the Federal government does not appear to have grasped this concept yet. It continues to 'fight' the recession through ever-increasing spending packages. If I thought Chase would forgive my credit card debt by virtue of me borrowing still more money from them, I'd have done it already. The government needs to understand, as the American people do, that indebtedness is equivalent to slavery.

Freedom has a definite price. Our ancestors paid that price to win independence from their English overlords. The price of economic independence is responsibility and restraint. 

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

From the Desk of Captain Obvious - Volume Four

  • Despite lying to federal investigators working the Blagovich case about his role in the rampant Chicago political corruption, "Senator" Burris will not face perjury charges. I'm sorry, apparently I do not understand the definition of "perjury".
  • In utter defiance of the lightweight UN Security Council and as the world pulls up a chair along the parade route, North Korea is exporting illegal arms to Myanmar. Way to stand your ground and let the commies know you mean business!
  • Nostraduchezneous, I am! I blogged previously about bonuses being paid at TARP recipients' firms. In short, bonuses reward results. The government has turned 'bonus' into a four-letter word. At least one company, Citibank, has taken the obvious path: cut bonuses but raise salaries. Chalk it up as yet another well-intentioned idea from our government that has exploded on the launch pad due to failure to consider consequences.
  • Speaking of unintended consequences - certain aspects of environmentalism are proving themselves to cause more damage to the environment than they prevent. Remember ethanol? - the corn-based wonderful wonderfuel that drove up global food prices, causes excessive engine wear and poor fuel efficiency?
  • The race war has now gone intergalactic as critics claim two new Transformer robots are making fun of "jive". I'm sure this has everything to do with hurt feelings and is not at all related to the several hundred million dollars in revenue that DreamWorks SKG is expected to earn from the film. And here's a tip: if you don't want to risk being stereotyped for speaking jive, simply don't speak jive. It is not "the way" certain people talk. It is learned and embraced. There are plenty of public figures that buck the trend and prove these particular speech patterns are not a product of genetics. 
  • President Obama wants the rich to carry more of the tax burden. If we scale everything down to 100 people paying $100 in total taxes, 1 person pays $28, 19 people pay another $42, 20 people contribute just $0.80 (total!), and the remaining 60 people pay the balance ($29.20). Aren't the wealthy doing enough already?