January 09, 2006

I Used to Like George Takei

I mean, how can you not like Mr. Sulu, or the actor who portrays him.

But them I read this:

Howard Stern began his new satellite radio show on Monday by putting to rest rumors that he got married to his longtime girlfriend, model Beth Ostrosky… …Stern also introduced George Takei as his new on-air personality. Takei, who played Captain Sulu on the popular television show “Star Trek” and who last year publicly said he is gay, will serve as announcer. After the first week, he will record segments for the show but will not be in the studio.

I guess the man’s got bills to pay, but going on Howard Stern’s disgusting, hateful show seems a lot like selling one’s soul.

For my part, I simply don’t understand how otherwise intelligent and decent people can enjoy the filth that Stern spews out on a daily basis. And now I can’t ever look at Mr. Sulu the same way again. That’s very sad.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2005

A Great Man Has Passed

Wellington Mara, owner of the New York Giants, passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

He was a great man, but, much more importantly - and more rarely, I think - he was a good man.

You can read tributes to him from people who knew him here, and a loving article about him from sportswriter Mike Lupica here.

Mr. Mara will be sorely missed. There are few enough people in this world who are great, and far fewer who are both great and good.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 07:51 AM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2005

Are They Actively Trying to Wreck the Economy?

It’s hard to explain this any other way:

Owning a home may become less tax-friendly than it has been, if suggestions from the president’s tax-reform panel are considered seriously by Congress in the next year or so.

What do they want to do?

The panel hasn’t made any firm decisions about what it will propose in its final report, due Nov. 1. But it is considering a number of options. Among them: Reducing from $1 million the size of a mortgage on which interest may be deducted. If such a proposal were made, it’s possible that the mortgage size would vary by region depending on local home prices. Replacing the mortgage-interest deduction with a tax credit, allowing all homeowners with a mortgage to get a tax break — not just those who itemize. Reducing the tax rate at which mortgage interest may be deducted. Likely a proposed rate would be a middle-income tax rate, such as 15 percent or 25 percent. That would preserve the benefits of homeownership for middle-income taxpayers, Poterba said.

Screwing with the mortgate-interest deduction seems like a really good way to damage, if not outright ruin, the housing marke, especially in combination with rising interest rates and the growing popularity of interest-only mortgages (which, according to statistics I’ve read, about 1/3 of all new mortgages are).

Why is this troubling?

Since you’ll be qualified based on the interest-only payment and will likely refinance before the interest-only term expires anyway, it could be a way to effectively lease your dream home now and invest the principal portion of your payment elsewhere while realizing the tax advantages and appreciation that accompany homeownership. The concept is not a new one; back in the Roaring Twenties, interest-only mortgages were commonplace. At the end of the term, homeowners typically refinanced. The system worked great unless your home lost value or you lost your job. Which is exactly what happened when the Great Depression hit. Foreclosures skyrocketed and lenders abruptly stopped writing interest-only loans. (The practice has continued elsewhere, however, notably in Great Britain.)

(emphasis mine)

Hmm…homes losing value. I wonder if rising interest rates, potentially major and costly-to-homeowner tax changes, gasoline prices double (or more) what they were a year ago, home heating prices that are likely to skyrocket this winter, a series of unprecedentedly-costly natural disasters, consumer uneasiness, and the possible disappearance of employee pensions throughout entire industries (like, say, the airlines, or auto manufacturers)…might lead to some reluctance on the part of consumers to purchase new homes, leading to the end of seemingly-ever-increasing home values?

So what will happen to all the people who bought homes using mortgages that can only be maintained if the value of their home keeps rising indefinitely?

What will happen to the banks that loaned them the money?

I believe the answer was mentioned above, in bold type. It’s not like it hasn’t happened in this country before, after all. It would just be nice if our leaders weren’t making policies that seem designed to encourage a new Great Depression.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 02:46 PM | Comments (1)

October 06, 2005

Wisdom for the Day

So while talking with a co-worker, I thought of an old saying I remembered, which illustrated the point I was trying to make. As I sometimes do, I mangled the original saying a bit, but, honestly, I think my version works better:

“Don’t try to teach a pig to dance. You’ll only get dirty, and you’ll annoy the pig.”

Which leads, of course, to the shorthand phrase, which I think is probably applicable in many, if not most, areas of life:

“Pigs don’t dance.”

For purposes of historical accuracy, the actual saying is:

“You can’t teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of time and it annoys the pig.”

As I said, I like my version better. Whenever you’re thinking of doing something that’s pointless and impossible to succeed at, just remember, pigs don’t dance…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:19 AM | Comments (1)

September 08, 2005

The Lowest of the Low

I’m not sure there are words in the English language to describe people as scummy as this:

Even as millions of Americans rally to make donations to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, the Internet is brimming with swindles, come-ons and opportunistic pandering related to the relief effort in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. And the frauds are more varied and more numerous than in past disasters, according to law enforcement officials and online watchdog groups. Florida’s attorney general has already filed a fraud lawsuit against a man who started one of the earliest networks of Web sites - katrinahelp.com, katrinadonations.com and others - that stated they were collecting donations for storm victims. In Missouri, a much wider constellation of Internet sites - with names like parishdonations.com and katrinafamilies.com - displayed pictures of the flood-ravaged South and drove traffic to a single site, InternetDonations.org, a nonprofit entity with apparent links to white separatist groups. The registrant of those Web sites was sued by the state of Missouri yesterday for violating state fund-raising law and for “omitting the material fact that the ultimate company behind the defendants’ Web sites supports white supremacy.” Late yesterday afternoon, the Federal Bureau of Investigation put the number of Web sites claiming to deal in Katrina information and relief - some legitimate, others not - at “2,300 and rising.” Dozens of suspicious sites claiming links to legitimate charities are being investigated by state and federal authorities. Also under investigation are e-mail spam campaigns using the hurricane as a hook to lure victims to reveal credit card numbers to thieves, as well as fake hurricane news sites and e-mail “updates” that carry malicious code aimed at hijacking a victim’s computer.

Forget lawsuits, and forget fraud charges; these scammers ought to be shot. And, frankly, that’s far, far too good for them.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

September 01, 2005

Another Perspective

I came across the following while looking at news about the horrific situation in New Orleans. I was all ready to write about how poor the planning for this disaster was; to ask why city buses and school buses and Amtrak trains etc. weren’t being packed with evacuees all day Saturday and Sunday; to ask why relief sites weren’t already pre-planned to accept and house evacuees; to ask, “how, knowing that their city was below sea level and in the very midst of hurricane territory, could the leaders of New Orleans not be more ready for this?”

Then I came across the article below:

To those who would blame the mayor of New Orleans, I would ask you to prepare, in the course of three days, to completely evacuate and rebuild a city of approximately one million people. I would further constrain you by telling you to expect that the energy to be released on your city in the coming days will be equal to the detonation of one United States W81 0.5 megaton thermonuclear warhead on your city and the surrounding areas, each and every single minute that the storm is overhead. Not only do you have to plan and build a new city in three days, that will house one million people, you must also facilitate the traffic flow of 800,000 of those people to an area that will not be affected by the rain of 450 kiloton nuclear weapons the storm will drop after it leaves your city. You have to find, and physically force some portion of the 100,000 remaining persons to leave, and you have to find and transport the remainder of that 100,000 people who cannot do so on their own. Whatever routes you choose to get to your brand new one million person city will be shared with mandatory evacuees from the entire two or three state region. Beginning on the second day of your one million person new city construction project, every asset you and your staff possesses, cars, houses, offices, telephones, computers, and basic necessities, will be unavailable, under water. At this point you will have to make some very hard decisions. No city government is capable of building a one million person city, not in three years and certainly not in three days, but this is only the beginning. When the levees begin to fail, you will have to start choosing who gets to live and who gets to die. Not one at a time, you will be forced to decide whether large groups of human beings, your constituents, 20,000 in the Dome, 60,000 in each of three flooded parishes, another 50,000 in the downtown area, get to live or are abandoned. Will you save the people trapped on flooded roofs, or fix the levee and let them die? How many will die if you do not fix the levee? When your best engineers tell you that they cannot close the breach before it floods the city, will you even try? When they tell you that even if by a miracle they succeed and seal the breach, that 50 others are ready to pop at any time, what then? If you seal that breach, or even try, the people on the roofs will die. If you do not seal the breach, who knows how many in the city’s center will die. But your task is not yet complete, far from it. The largest seaport in the US has been destroyed. How will ships get in to help you? The largest river in the US is now blocked to ocean going ships, and river going ships. Will you just let it sit there, blocked, while the rest of the country starves for gasoline, not to mention hundreds of other necessities? All but one of the bridges into and out of your city are destroyed, but you don’t even know this, not at first. You can’t get even one block from your office without a chainsaw and a crane. Your helicopters are either 200 miles away or destroyed. Your phones don’t work and your power is out. Will you divert resources from saving people in attics to look over the highways to see which are open and which are closed? Will you choose to check the roads, and begin cleaning the roads, if the price of doing so is to let a thousand people in local hospitals who require electricity to live, and who therefore must be evacuated, die in their hospital beds? Perhaps instead, you will choose to place a priority on looters, who are shooting at hospitals and policemen. Who will you allow to die, while you divert assets to maintaining security? This is just the beginning. You still have 30,000 people in the Super Dome, the water is rising, they are getting sick and they are near rioting. What are you going to do with them? By now, you are hopefully beginning to understand the error in trying to fix blame, at least this early. You do not, a city does not, even the United States does not build a brand new one million person city in one day. If you try, you seal the deaths of thousands and thousands of people. What you do first is call in the Feds. This is so far beyond the capacity of any city, even New York, that the Feds have the only chance at success. But you are the mayor, you have known for years how many cops you have, how many National Guards you have, and that the numbers available to you are less than a tenth of what you need. The Federal Government is the ONLY answer. But even the Feds do not rush into a disaster of this magnitude. If you want to know exactly how long it takes a trained crew to set up a one million person city, I cannot give you the answer. But I can tell you how long it takes to set up the headquarters that will run a one million person city. It takes three days. We just saw it done. We just saw how professionals work. They do not run into a disaster area with two other guys and immediately bog down, buried under a task far too large to comprehend. No, they assess the situation first. That takes 24 hours. I have never seen any kind of a hurricane damage overview in less than 24 hours after the eyewall passed the area. They assess and then they move an advance team in to build the headquarters and support facilities necessary to command the entire relief effort. While that is being built, the lower echelon units ar packing and getting into trucks and flying their helicopters closer to the area. Closer, but not in, because they, and you, do not know exactly where it is safe for them to set up, or even where they will be needed. But once you have the headquarters up, and the troops nearby, things begin to happen quickly. Now, instead of having to choose whether this 10,000 person group dies, or that 30,000 person group stays on the roofs, you have entire battalions to throw at the problem. Battalions to throw at each problem and more in reserve. Battalions that are fed and watered and equipped and supported and have a place to sleep. Battalions that you can sustain and keep working, not for a few days, but for the months that they will be needed. Now, you have a plan. Now, you have the tools you need, the roads, the choppers, the aircraft, the rifles, and the boats. Now you can do the job right. But you don’t have any of that as the Mayor. I don’t care if you are Boss Tweed or the least corrupt politician in hostory, you do not have the resources you need, not by a factor of ten and maybe not by a factor of one hundred. There is only one option open to the mayor. Finger in the proverbial dike, and yell for the Feds. When you understand the real scope of this storm, then you understand that the Mayor’s job was to hold the fort and yell for help. Only then can you make an accurate assessment of how well the mayor performed his or her task. But it still isn’t time for that. Not yet. Not for a long time. America faces the worst disaster in its history. More dead than Pearl Harbor. More than 9/11. Maybe only ten times as many dead. Maybe 100 times as many. A bigger fuel crisis than the 1973 Oil Embargo. Nine American cities mostly or totally destroyed. America’s largest port, closed until further notice. America’s largest river, closed until further notice. A 500 year, worst case doomsday scenario hurricane. Now take a good hard look in the mirror. Yes, you. If we are going to lose 40 thousand dead, and at least half of those are alive right now, what is your priority? If we are going to lose four hundred thousand dead, half a million people, and half of them are still alive right now, what is your priority? It isn’t time to point fingers of blame, even at the looters. 100 looters don’t hold a candle to the 20,000 people that will die if they aren’t rescued. Ten thousand looters don’t hold a candle to two hundred thousand people at risk. This is a huge disaster, and it is important for America to learn how to think big. If you aren’t capable of walking past ten dying people to save 100 dying people, then at the very least, stay out of the way of those who can. You know what the price is, if you don’t. When you start thinking big, you start understanding that one person doesn’t count anymore. Not the mayor, not the governor, not even President Bush. Bush will not fix this, the New Orleans police will not fix this, and the National Guard will not fix this. They aren’t big enough. Three hundred million American people are going to fix this, or else it isn’t going to get fixed.

That’s pretty humbling.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:31 AM | Comments (1)

August 26, 2005

Klingon Fairy Tales

Well, I’d like to read them

“Goldilocks Dies With Honor at the Hands of the Three Bears” “Snow White and the Six Dwarves She Killed With Her Bare Hands and the Seventh Dwarf She Let Get Away as a Warning to Others” “There Was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe With a Big Spike on It” “The Three Little Pigs Build an Improvised Explosive Device and Deal With That Damned Wolf Once and for All”

Go check out the rest of them…

(found via James Bow)

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:36 AM | Comments (0)

August 22, 2005

Scam Alert

I figure that the folks who are regular readers here probably don’t need this warning, but more information is always good. So check this out; it’s the latest credit card scam:

The scam works like this: Person calling says, “This is (name), and I’m calling from the Security and Fraud Department at VISA. My Badge number is 12460 Your card has been flagged for an unusual purchase pattern, and I’m calling to verify. This would be on your VISA card which was issued by (name of bank). Did you purchase an Anti-Telemarketing Device for $497.99 from a Marketing company based in Arizona?” When you say “No”, the caller continues with, “Then we will be issuing a credit to your account. This is a company we have been watching and the charges range from $297 to $497, just under the $500 purchase pattern that flags most cards. Before your next statement, the credit will be sent to (gives you your address), is that correct?” You say “yes”. The caller continues - “I will be starting a Fraud investigation. If you have any questions, you should call the 1-800 number listed on the back of your card (1-800-VISA) and ask for Security. You will need to refer to this Control Number. The caller then gives you a 6 digit number. “Do you need me to read it again?” Here’s the IMPORTANT part on how the scam works. The caller then says, “I need to verify you are in possession of your card”. He’ll ask you to “turn your card over and look for some numbers”. There are 7 numbers; the first 4 are part of your card number, the next 3 are the security Numbers’ that verify you are the possessor of the card. These are the numbers you sometimes use to make Internet purchases to Prove you have the card. The caller will ask you to read the 3 numbers to him. After you tell the caller the 3 numbers, he’ll say, “That is correct, I just needed to verify that the card has not been lost or stolen, and that you still have your card. Do you have any other questions?” After you say No, the caller then thanks you and states, “Don’t hesitate to call back if you do”, and hangs up. You actually say very little, and they never ask for or tell you the Card number. But after we were called on Wednesday, we called back within 20 minutes to ask a question. Are we glad we did! The REAL VISA Security Department told us it was a scam and in the last 15 minutes a new purchase of $497.99 was charged to our card. Long story made short—we made a real fraud report and closed the VISA account. VISA is reissuing us a new number. What the scammers want is the 3-digit PIN number on the back of the card. Don’t give it to them. Instead, tell them you’ll call VISA or Master card directly for verification of their conversation. The real VISA told us that they will never ask for anything on the card as they already know the information since they issued the card! If you give the scammers your 3 Digit PIN Number, you think you’re receiving a credit. However, by the time you get your statement you’ll see charges for purchases you didn’t make, and by then it’s almost too late and/or more difficult to actually file a fraud report.

The point here, as always, is: don’t give personal or financial information to people who call (or email) you and ask for it.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

"Burn City Hall"

Remember the case of Kelo vs. New London? The supreme Court decision that, essentially, said that private property rights are subject to the whim of real estate developers and their cronies in local governments?

Well, check this out:

In the adding insult to injury category, the city officials that triumphed over a group of Connecticut homeowners in a landmark Supreme Court property-rights case are expecting those residents to pay the local government rent dating back to the year 2000. The June 23 Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London gave the town the approval to seize the residents’ homes and transfer them to a private party for development of an office complex. In the highly controversial decision, the justices ruled 5-4 that the economic development resulting from the eminent domain action qualified as “public use” under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. The city now says that since it won the case, the homeowners actually have been living on city property since 2000 when it first began condemnation procedures against them, so they must pay back rent – to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Nice, huh?

The New London Development Corporation, the semi-public organization hired by the city to facilitate the deal, first addressed the rent issue in a June 2004 letter to residents, calling the alleged debt retroactive “use and occupancy” payments. “We know your clients did not expect to live in city-owned property for free, or rent out that property and pocket the profits, if they ultimately lost the case,” the agency said. It warned that “this problem will only get worse with the passage of time,” and that the city was prepared to sue for the money if need be.

I don’t think I have the words for how vile this is, and for how loathsome the “leaders” of New London are.

One commentor on this article elsewhere on the ‘Net suggested “burn city hall” as a course of action for the folks whose homes have been stolen by their government; another noted that “these people have been left no recourse but violence.”

I think that’s about right. When the law is turned into a tool to steal the very homes from citizens in order to hand it over, for free, to other, wealther and better-connected citizens, and when the highest court in the land gives its approval to such a travesty, well, what else are citizens to do?

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

August 15, 2005

Our Glorious Leaders

Dear God in Heaven, are the folks who we elect to Congress truly this clueless?

Once, in the spring of 2001, I was invited by then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle to address the Senate Democratic caucus. I outlined the three digital divides facing the Democrats… …Here are two responses I got. First Senator Dianne Feinstein raised her hand and said, “Senator Daschle, the Internet is full of pornography and pedophilia, and until that’s cleand up, I don’t think the Senate should be on the Internet.” (And she represents Silicon Valley!) Afterwards, another senator came up to me and said, “Andrew, I get 10,000 emails a day into my office. How do I make it stop?”

I’m absolutely certain that one could find comments eqully brainless from Republican legislators. I’m also absolutely certain that people that clueless have no business writing the laws of this country…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 02:58 PM | Comments (1)

August 12, 2005

Good Hearted and Quick Thinking

This is a sad little report, but less sad than it would have been, thanks to the actions of a pair of Canadian teenagers:

Two teenagers performed a caesarean section on a dead cat they found along a New Brunswick road, saving two of four kittens. Monica Castonguay, 15, and Kim Quimpère, 13, said they found the animal on July 31 while they were on their way for a walk in the woods near St. Quentin, a town in northwestern New Brunswick. They told a French-language newspaper, the Acadie Nouvelle, that they recognized the cat and knew it was pregnant. After discovering that the cat’s body was still warm, they decided to try to save its kittens – even though neither of them knew how to do a caesarean section or had studied biology. Kim borrowed a sweater, knife and some cotton swabs from a nearby house. They decided Monica would do the surgery. She told the newspaper she wasn’t sure where to cut, but made an incision into the mother cat’s belly and could see the kittens. She pulled them out and found that two of four kittens were still alive, so she cut their umbilical cords and wiped the mucus from their noses.

I only post this because there’s so much bad news, and so many daily demonstrtions of the wretched aspects of human nature, that it’s important to note when people do the right thing, and manage to make some good out of a rotten situation. Thanks to those two girls, two kittens who would have absolutely died got a chance at life (one of them subsequently died, but the other made it, and has been adopted by one of its rescuers), and a little bit more love was brought into the world.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 11:26 AM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2005

Wasn't This in a James Bond Movie?

I’m not joking. Check this out:

Osama bin Laden tried to buy a massive amount of cocaine, spike it with poison and sell it in the United States, hoping to kill thousands of Americans one year after the 9/11 attacks, the NEW YORK POST reported on Tuesday. The evil plot failed when the Colombian drug lords bin Laden approached decided it would be bad for their business - and, possibly, for their own health, according to law-enforcement sources familiar with the Drug Enforcement Administration’s probe of the aborted transaction.

Wasn’t that what the villain in, I believe, “License to Kill” trying to do (the second Timothy Dalton film, which I didn’t really like very much)?

I know that terrorism is a serious matter, and that Osama is not a joke, but you almost have to laugh at this…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 02:42 PM | Comments (1)

July 22, 2005

Goodbye, Scotty

As you all know, James Doohan passed away this week. His death is a loss to all of us; he was a great man, and he will be missed.

James Lileks has a very good tribute to the man who was - and will forever be - Scotty:

It’s impossible to understate Doohan’s appeal - if you sneak into a NASA control room during a mission and ask the controllers how many chose their profession because of Scotty, half the hands in the room would go up. No one wanted to go into space because of that whiny little red-head kid on Lost in Space. It takes something indefinable to be a Kirk, it takes med school to be a McCoy, it takes green blood to be Spock, but Scotty – aye. Any man could be Scotty, if he applied himself. And he’d be among manly things, too. In a hundred years from now, no one will remember Brad Pitt. But they’ll have a picture of Scotty taped up in the break room off the moon shuttle.

That’s true, and it’s as it should be.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 07:54 AM | Comments (0)

July 19, 2005

Unclear on the Concept

It’s not exactly earthshaking or important, but:

Actor Colin Farrell is suing a woman for allegedly trying to distribute and profit from a sex tape he says the two recorded with the agreement they would never make it public. The lawsuit filed Monday in Superior Court seeks general and compensatory damages as well as a temporary restraining order and injunction prohibiting the sale and exploitation of the videotape.

Well, OK. This is the part I don’t quite get:

The lawsuit also said the release of the videotape would irreparably harm Farrell’s reputation and career.

How could the release of suc a tape harm Colin Farrell’s reputation?

I mean, isn’t his reputation already pretty much that he’ll have sex with anyone who’s got the right sort private parts and a pulse?

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 02:45 PM | Comments (0)

July 15, 2005

Noise Pollution

Maybe I’m just getting old and crochety, or maybe it’s just because I’ve been in kind of a crummy mood the last few days, but I’m beconing more and more intolerant of the horrendous amount of noise that’s going on right outside the building where I work.

I work in Washington, not far from Dupont circle. The street my building is on is extremely busy, pretty much all the time. and recently they (whomever “they” are) have begun putting traffic guards, in uniforms, on the streetcorners immediately adjacent to the street on which I work. and these traffic guards have whistles. Which they blow ALL THE DAMN TIME.

That’s in addition to the incessant blowing of car horns, and screeching of brakes.

It’s too much. It’s maddening.

I’m ready to see all cars banned from downtown, on pain of death, just to make the noise stop. And I don’t think I’m overreacting, not one tiny bit.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:49 AM | Comments (0)

July 13, 2005

There Still Isn't a Dog

In the comments to Monday’s post, regular reader Steve writes:

There are over 6.4 billion people on this planet. Most of them live in the Third World, where millions work at a bare subsistence level to provide food, shelter, and clothing for their family. Here in the United States we have 296 million people living at a high standard of living. Everyone reading this should be grateful that they have the time to ponder these questions. I understand where you are coming from. We live in a post-industrial society which derives an increasing amount of its GDP from services rather than manufacturing or agriculture. And technology is intruding more and more into our lives thanks to the internet, cell phones, digital music players, and the like. That is why people go off and join a commune, or decide to live off the grid, or engage in assorted New Age activities to rediscovery their spirituality. As for giving something back, we all can to do our part, by recycling at home and at work, using mass transit, and helping to preserve and maintain parks and wetlands.

Taking things one at a time: “Everyone reading this should be grateful that they have the time to ponder these questions.”

No. Pondering these questions (regarding the value of what we do, what kind of society we live in, whether it’s the kind of society we actually want, or, to quote Douglas Adams, “what’s it all about, really, when you get down to it?”) is, on a pretty basic level, one of the very things that defines our humanity in the first place. If we don’t ask, we’re really no better than automatons.

And the very fact that so much of the world’s population lives on a subsistence level comes back to the question of what kind of society they live in, how it’s organized, and for whose benefit.

As for “We live in a post-industrial society which derives an increasing amount of its GDP from services rather than manufacturing or agriculture. And technology is intruding more and more into our lives thanks to the internet, cell phones, digital music players, and the like.”

That’s true. But it’s not inevitable. And it’s not automatically a good thing. Again, this is exactly the point I’m making; that it’s useful to at least look critically at what our society is, what our place in it is, and question the assumption that it all makes sense, and that the way things currently are is quite as Panglossian as we’re encouraged to believe it is.

Certainly the impact of technology that increasingly can be (and often is) used to on the one hand isolate us from one another (Walkmans, IPods, etc) and on the other hand remove any sense of privacy or free time (cell phones, Blackberries, etc) ought to at least be wondered about.

And as to “As for giving something back, we all can to do our part, by recycling at home and at work, using mass transit, and helping to preserve and maintain parks and wetlands.”

This is all good, but it’s just rearranging deck chairs if the job we take mass transit to is socially, economically or environmentall unsustainable; and if the things we recycle aren’t worth producing or consuming in the first place.

Or maybe I’ve just lived in a city that’s a moral and ethical (as well as a literal) swamp for too long…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)

July 12, 2005

Appropriate Punishments

John Tierney has an interesting column in the NYTimes today, concerning computer hackers and the appropriate punishment for them:

Professor Landsburg, an economist at the University of Rochester, has calculated the relative value to society of executing murderers and hackers. By using studies estimating the deterrent value of capital punishment, he figures that executing one murderer yields at most $100 million in social benefits. The benefits of executing a hacker would be greater, he argues, because the social costs of hacking are estimated to be so much higher: $50 billion per year. Deterring a mere one-fifth of 1 percent of those crimes - one in 500 hackers - would save society $100 million. And Professor Landsburg believes that a lot more than one in 500 hackers would be deterred by the sight of a colleague on death row.

I agree. However, that’s unlikely to happen, but Tierney has another thought on the matter:

So that leaves us with E: something worse than death. Something that would approximate the millions of hours of tedium that hackers have inflicted on society.

Like?

The experts weren’t sure that any punishment could fit the crime, but they had several suggestions: Make the hacker spend 16 hours a day fielding help-desk inquiries in an AOL chat room for computer novices. Force him to do this with a user name at least as uncool as KoolDude and to work on a vintage IBM PC with a 2400-baud dial-up connection. Most painful of all for any geek, make him use Windows 95 for the rest of his life.

Hah. I could actually support this. After just one day of being forced to respond - politely and patiently - to the most clueless newbie questions imaginable, most of these hackers and spammers and virus-creators would probably be begging for death…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

July 11, 2005

There Is No Dog

Is there any real point to the work that most of us do every day?

Do most people actually do anything that is truly meaningful or worthwhile in the Grand Scheme of Things? Do we do anything that will be remembered, by anyone, a hundred hears from now, or even ten years from now?

Do we do anything that we can truly take pride in, not because we did our particular job well, but because the job was, in itself, worth doing, because it contributed in some way to the betterment of the human race?

No, not really.

I like the company I work for, and I like my coworkers, and it’s run pretty well, and it doesn’t produce or sell anything particularly objectionable (say, weapons to be sold for use in third-world civil wars, or unstorable toxic waste, etc). What it does is produce books, newsletters, CD-ROMs and web-hosted publications which explain complex and ever-changing governmental rules and regulations in a variety of fields, and which provide guidance and tools to help businesses comply with said rules and regulations.

Put another way: my employer only exists as a company because the government has rules and regulations that are immensely complex, are written such that they are subject to multiple (and often contradictory) interpertations, and which are modified frequently. If the government did not have such rules and regulations, my employer would have to be in another line of business entirely.

Taken to its logical conclusion, that makes me a parasite, feeding on the bureaucracies (and the individuals which comprise those bureaucracies) of government, and also on the folks in our target markets whose sole function is to ensure that their employers comply with the abovementioned bureaucratic rules.

I, in other words, am a flea. As are my co-workers, just as are all the employees of my employer’s competitors. But we are not feeding on a dog; we are feeding off of other fleas - the bureaucrats - who are themselves feeding off of other fleas - the taxpayers.

Who, of course, are folks just like me.

Fleas. Fleas who, for the most part, don’t even realize that we’re all feeding on other fleas rather than a dog; and even if we do realize it, we imagine that there’s a dog somewhere, and that at the bottom of the bloodsucking chain there’s actual nutritious, clean dog blood, so even if we’re not getting the real thing, something of the original product, however filtered and diluted it might be, gets to us.

But it doesn’t. Because, and this is the depressing truth, there is no dog. It’s fleas all the way down.

This is true of pretty much any profession, any industry, any country you can name. A constant cycle of parasitical feeding off of one another, passing along more and more pollution and poisons in the blood as the cycle goes on, and less and less life-giving goodness.

Fleas all the way down.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 11:16 AM | Comments (12)

June 29, 2005

Good Question

Peggy Noonan has a fantastic column today. She asks a simple question:

What’s wrong with them? That’s what I’m thinking more and more as I watch the news from Washington.

More specifically:

A few weeks ago it was the senators who announced the judicial compromise. There is nothing wrong with compromise and nothing wrong with announcements, but the senators who spoke referred to themselves with such flights of vanity and conceit—we’re so brave, so farsighted, so high-minded—that it was embarrassing. They patted themselves on the back so hard they looked like a bevy of big breasted pigeons in a mass wing-flap.

and

This week comes the previously careful Sen. Barack Obama, flapping his wings in Time magazine and explaining that he’s a lot like Abraham Lincoln, only sort of better. “In Lincoln’s rise from poverty, his ultimate mastery of language and law, his capacity to overcome personal loss and remain determined in the face of repeated defeat—in all this he reminded me not just of my own struggles.”

and

The Supreme Court this week and last issued many rulings, and though they were on different issues the decisions themselves had at least one thing in common: They seemed to reflect a lack of basic human modesty on the part of many of the justices. Many are famously very old, and they have been together as a court for a very long time. One wonders if they have lost all understanding of how privileged they are to have lifetime sinecures of power and authority. Do they have any sense anymore of common human wisdom, of the normal human arrangements by which Americans live?

No, they don’t have any sense of common human wisdom. That’s very clear.

I’d add CEO’s to the list; folks like Dick Grasso, and Bernie Ebbers, and the whole gang at Enron.

What is in the air there in Washington, what is in the water? What is wrong with them? This is not a rhetorical question. I think it is unspoken question No. 1 as Americans look at so many of the individuals in our government. What is wrong with them?

I don’t know, but if we don’t figure it out pretty soon, and correct it, we won’t have much of a country left…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2005

I Guess The Definition of "Temporary" is Relative

I know, I know, consider the source…

Still, check this out:

A hundred and seven years ago, in 1898, the federal government began levying a temporary 3 percent excise tax on telephones, ostensibly to fund the Spanish-American War. Flash forward to 2005 — and every American with a telephone is still paying this “temporary” tax. The war was over after just a few months, but the tax has been in effect for over a century. On top of that, the tax does not go for any specific purpose. Rather, the funds are simply added to the general fund. Congress attempted to repeal the tax in 2000. Both the House and the Senate passed legislation to eliminate the tax — it was a 420-2 vote in the House — but then-President Bill Clinton vetoed the bill when it reached his desk. Once again, the House has been presented with a bill — H.R. 1898 — that would repeal the tax on telephone and other communications services. The bill was introduced in late April by Rep. Gary G. Miller of California, and has been cosponsored by 39 other congressmen. It currently sits in the House Committee on Ways and Means. The outrage? This tax should have been repealed more than a century ago, but some members of Congress still support the tax — and some even want to expand it. Congress’ Joint Committee on Taxation issued an opinion in January, saying that the tax could be expanded to apply to wireless Internet and data connections.

I suppose that 107 years is “temporary” compared to, say, the reign of the dinosaurs (150 million or so years).

Just as the Pentagon was, originally, just a “temporary” building.

The big problem with government (with any bureaucracy, really) is that things that are temporary tend to become permanant fairly quickly.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:18 AM | Comments (0)

June 25, 2005

Zero Tolerance Madness

Our school systems are going to hell, part the Nth:

Thirteen Kutztown Area High School students are facing felony charges for tampering with district-issued laptop computers. According to parent testimony and confirmed by an otherwise vaguely-worded letter from the Kutztown Police Department, students got hold of the system’s secret administrative password and reconfigured their computers to achieve greater Internet and network access. Some students used the newfound freedom to download music and inappropriate images from the Internet.

Felony charges? For downloading songs and (presumably) naked pictures on school computers?

Shrawder (a parent of one of the accused) acknowledged that the students broke school rules, but he and the other parents protested what they believe is the heavy-handed approach to the problem. Most of the students accused were freshmen, but a few were sophomores and juniors. None of the accused were seniors.

Felony charges? For freshmen and sophmores? For downloading music?

For the moment, parents were uncertain how to react to the threat of charges against their children. Paperwork is hung up in county juvenile court system and the only indication of the charges is the letter sent to parents and signed by Officer Walter J. Skavinsky of the Kutztown Police Department. The Skavinsky letter, dated May 31, says the police were contacted on May 2 by members of the high school staff. An investigation found that 13 students had violated the school’s permitted use policy and gained greater access to the school’s Internet and intranet resources. Skavinsky consulted with the Berks County District Attorney’s office and recommended charges of “Computer Trespass,” in violation of PA criminal code section 7615, which carries a third degree felony charge.

This is insane. Absolutely insane.

I’m really glad I don’t live in Kutztown, and that any children I might have will never be subject to the mad whims of its school system.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:00 AM | Comments (2)

Update Your Anti-Spyware Protection!

It’s a good idea to make sure your Ad-Aware or Spybot is up to date, because it seems that more and more companies are resorting to the use of spyware:

Pop-up ads carried by spyware and adware aren’t just employed by fringe companies hawking dubious wares — such as those tricky messages that tell you your computer has been corrupted. You can count some big tech companies among its users, including broadband phone provider Vonage Holdings Corp., online employment agency Monster Worldwide Inc. and online travel agencies Expedia Inc., Priceline.com Inc. and Orbitz LLC. These companies acknowledge they’ve used adware to reach potential customers, though they say they shun any programs that monitor online surfing or extract personal information. Even Fortune 500 companies have turned to adware: Sprint Corp. for its PCS mobile phones, major banks peddling Visa credit cards, Sony Corp (NYSE:SNE - news). and retailers including Circuit City Stores Inc. And Mercedes-Benz USA had its cars flashing on consumer’s computer screens before the company, fielding complaints, put on the brakes.

If they want to piss off customers, I can’t think of a better way…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:54 AM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2005

A Jerk to the Very End

You’d think Michael Schiavo would be satisfied. He won. He got to kill his wife. NOw he gets to write a book and make lots of money off the death of his wife and the ordeal he put her family through.

But no, he’s not satisfied. He had to take one last parting shot at Terri Schiavo’s parents:

On the grave marker, Michael Schiavo also listed Feb. 25, 1990, as the date his wife “Departed this Earth.” On that date, Terri Schiavo collapsed and fell into what most doctors said was an irreversible vegetative state. Schiavo actually died March 31, nearly two weeks after her feeding tube was removed by court order. The grave marker lists that date as when Schiavo was “at peace.” Schiavo’s parents, Bob and Mary Schindler, had opposed her cremation. Services for Schiavo already had been conducted in nearby Gulfport, where her parents live, and in Pennsylvania, where she grew up. David Gibbs, the Schindlers’ attorney, said the family was notified by fax only after Monday’s service, when the family had already started getting calls from reporters. Gibbs on Monday decried the inscriptions on the marker. “Obviously, that’s a real shot and another unkind act toward a grieving mom and dad,” he said.

Michael Schiavo is a disgusting human being. He deserves to rot in hell, and if there’s any justice, he surely will.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:29 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2005

Only 30 Years?

That’s the sentence that corporate looter Dennis Kozlowski faces, after his conviction on Friday for stealing $600 million dollars from his company, which he used to finance a lifestyle whose opulence would have embarrassed Caligula.

Kozlowski, and his fellow criminals (like the folks at Enron, and Bernie Ebbers, et al) ought to get the maximum sentence, and they ought to be sent to one of those new “supermax” prisons.

Kozlowski ought to get a cell right down the hall from where John Gotti was kept, where he can spend 23 hours a day confined to a 4x6 foot room, so he can reflect on what he did. Oh, and ALL his assets, and those of his immediate family, should be seized by the government. Every penny, every possession, everything. They should be left without a cent in the world.

These corporate criminals who steal millions of dollars and wreck thousands of lives need to be severely punished, not only as retribution for their crimes, but as an example and a deterrent to others in their position.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 01:51 PM | Comments (2)

June 17, 2005

I'm Not Apologizing

E.J. Dionne asks in today’s WashPost, with the release of records from Terri Schiavo’s autopsy, “where’s the apology?”:

The autopsy in the Terri Schiavo case provides a rare moment of political accountability. We should not “move on,” as Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist suggested. No, we cannot move on until those politicians who felt entitled to make up facts and toss around unwarranted conclusions about Schiavo’s condition take responsibility for what they said — and apologize.

Sorry, but no.

What was done to Terri Schiavo was wrong, and it set a precedent that is absolutely horrifying, and one which supporters of the decision to kill Terri Schiavo will one day rue.

But those who supported an extraordinary use of federal power to force their own conclusion against the judgment of state courts knew that philosophical arguments would not be enough. Most Americans were uneasy about compelling Schiavo’s husband, Michael, to keep his wife alive if — as the state courts had concluded and as the autopsy confirmed on Wednesday — she had suffered irreversible brain damage and was incapable of recovering.

This is backwards. Michael Schiavo actively sought the permission of the law to kill his wife, despite the availability of other family members who did not want her killed and who would have gladly accepted responsibility for her care.

So the big-government conservatives had to invent a story. They had to insist that they knew, just knew , more about Terri Schiavo’s condition than the doctors on the scene. They had to question Michael Schiavo’s motives and imply that he wanted to, well, get rid of her. “As I understand it,” Frist said on the Senate floor, “Terri’s husband will not divorce Terri and will not allow her parents to take care of her. Terri’s husband, who I have not met, does have a girlfriend he lives with and they have children of their own.” No accusation here, just a brisk walk through innuendo city.

Um, that’s not innuendo. That’s fact. Michael Schiavo did have a girlfriend - not merely a girlfriend, but a fiancee - and children with her. He did have Terri’s pets killed because they were inconvenient, and he did have her wedding rings melted down in order to make some jewelry for himself, and he did use funds expressly earmarked for his wife’s treatment to pay attorneys whom he hired in order to gain permission from a court to kill his wife.

Those are all facts, not opinions, or innuendo.

And it’s also a fact that the precedent set by this case, the precedent that E.J. Dionne apaprently is happy with, is this: in the absence of clear instructions, it’s now the law of the land that anyone whose “quality of life” has declined and who is not capable of clearly articulating their own wishes, may be killed by a relative who has a financial and emotional motive for seeing them dead and gone.

That’s what the Schiavo case is, at bottom, all about. And as the Baby Boomers slide into retirement and their faculties begin to deteriorate, one wonders how many of their children will start to mull about whether their aging parents would really want to continue to live on, and whether it might not be better for all concerned if Mom and Pop just met their end peacefully and serenely. Oh, and that way, their assets, instead of being squandered on futile care for aged parents, might better be utilized by younger, healthy children.

That’s the central fact of the Schiavo case: continuing Terri Schiavo’s life was inconvenient to her husband, and so she was killed by him, with the approval of the law. That’s wrong, and more, it’s evil, and what E.J. Dionne ought to be wondering is: should he ever become very ill, whether his closest relatives will ever decide that continuing his life is inconvenient, and ought they petition to have him killed, for his own good?

That’s where we’re headed.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:16 AM | Comments (3)

June 13, 2005

Is There No Shame?

Apparently not, at least among the upper management of United Airlines, as this quote from a WashPost story about the default of United’s pension program demonstrates:

Last week, United Chief Executive Officer Glenn Tilton testified to the Senate Finance Committee about $4.5 million he is receiving from United to replace benefits he had accrued over a 32-year career at Texaco, his previous employer. Tilton said that the default will not affect the payment, and that he has $1.5 million left to collect. He said this does not represent a double standard because United promised him the money in his contract.

Let me just say this about Mr. Glenn Tilton, about whom I know absolutely nothing except for the above quote and of whome I’ve never heard until reading this article: Glenn Tilton is a scumbag, and I hope he dies, soon, and painfully, and rots in hell for all eternity. That said, I’ll let one of his employees whose pension has evaporated say a bit more:

“He is saying, ‘United guaranteed that to me,’ ” said retired pilot John D. Clark of Charlottesville, who flew United planes for 36 years out of Dulles and whose $125,000 annual pension is to be reduced by more than 70 percent. “Why is the promise made to him understandable, and the one made to me can go by the wayside?”

Precisely. United had a contract with its employees, just as it did with its CEO.

I’ve got a suggestion. Maybe all the assets and property of Mr. Glenn Tilton, and all the members of United’s Board of Directors, and all its corporate executives at or above the level of Vice President, and all the former executives and board members going back, say, 10 years, ought to be seized by the government, and those assets maybe ought to be liquidated and the proceeds put into the federal Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation fund that is now responsible for the pensions of United employees and retirees.

Obviously doing that wouldn’t completely solve the problem here, but there’s probably 4 or 5 billion dollars in assets among all those current and former executives, which would make a nice dent in the shortfall of funding.

And it would sure as hell send a serious, unmistakable, and painful message to both the United execs who let this criminal debacle happen, and to executives of other companies who are considering stiffing their employees of pensions that they are legally entitled to.

Just a thought…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

June 09, 2005

Assault and Battery Is Not Protected By the First Amendment

This just in: you’re not allowed to deliberately ram other people with your car.

Not even if you’re a “photojournalist” and the person you’re ramming is a Hollywood starlet whose photo (ideally in a state of distress) you want to take.

Actress Lindsay Lohan was the latest victim of “hyper-aggressive” (their word) - or “criminal” (my word) behavior by paparazzi, and it seems that the victims of these stalkers (and that’s being kind) and the law may finally be fighting back:

The new effort also has a new angle. Civil lawsuits and legislative curbs on photojournalists face very strict standards, particularly in light of First Amendment protections. But criminal acts by journalists, like false imprisonment or assault with a deadly weapon - the charge filed against Galo Cesar Ramirez, 24, who drove his minivan into Ms. Lohan’s coupe - are not protected. And while many of the crimes the stars accuse photographers of committing may by themselves be only misdemeanors, the investigators said they were studying whether the teams of paparazzi could be prosecuted on felony conspiracy charges.

What I want to know is, how can deliberately hitting someone with your car only be a misdemeanor? If it were up to me, I’d charge the photographer in this case with attempted murder, and try to lock him up for life, or longer.

The paparazzi seem to be getting worse and worsE:

The actress Reese Witherspoon said in an interview that her car was sideswiped a few weeks ago when she tried to leave her gym and was hemmed in by photographers. “After last month, I feel the boundaries are slipping,” she said. “One tried to ram the back left of my car. That had never happened before.” She added that paparazzi had been aggressive for some time: about two years ago one photographer followed her into an elevator as she took her toddler daughter to the pediatrician, screaming profanities at her while his shutter clicked rapid-fire.

Sooner or later, one of these jaclaks is going to harass the wrong person, someone who, say, carries a gun on their person, and a paparazzi is going to get his worthless brains blown out. And nobody will shed a tear, and the world will not have lost anything of value when that happens…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 10:08 AM | Comments (1)

June 06, 2005

Stop Whining and Do Your Job!

That’s what I’d like to say to the Chief Executive of Washington’s Metro system, Richard White. He’s quoted in today’s WashPost:

Metro Chief Executive Richard A. White defended what he said was a “damn good workforce.” The job is made more complicated by the culture of the region, he said, calling Washington area residents demanding and a “tough community to provide service to.”

That quote is in the context of a four part series the Post is running on Metro’s recent troubles (Part One is here and Part Two is here).

Now, there are some difficult issues that Metro has no control over, like the funding it receives (or lack thereof) from the state and loca governments in the DC/Virginia/Maryland area it serves.

That said, Metro’s problems are pretty clearly compounded by very poor (and that’s being generous) executive management. Recall that several million dollars were stolen from Metro-operated parking lots by the very employees Metro contracted to run the lots. Recall that nobody knows the exact amount of money stolen because Metro had no way to track revenues from the parking lots. Recall that fares have been increased twice in two years. Recall that riders of Metro pay a higher portion of system operqating costs than do riders of any other mass transit system in the country.

Some of the problems of Metro, like overall funding, or increasing population resulting in ever-higher ridership, are not really solvable by Metro. But inept management, epitomized in a chief Executive who refuses to take responsibility for anything, and who blames his customers for being difficult, is solvable by Metro. I can think of at least one immediate action to begin solving the problem…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

June 03, 2005

People Say Stupid Things...

Emperor Misha notes one of possibly the dumbest things ever said:

“He was really an OK guy to me, besides holding a gun to my head,”

The words in question were spoken by one Tammy Smith, who had been held hostage for 20 hours at gunpoint by the aforementioned “OK guy,” as this story reports:

Police on Thursday stormed a convenience store and killed a gunman who had tied a vacuum cleaner cord around his hostage’s waist to prevent her from escaping, authorities said. Negotiators had arranged for 29-year-old hostage Tammi L. Smith to come to the door to get a new telephone, with officers hoping to pull her out after a 20-hour standoff, state police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten said. Officers tugged on Smith, but the gunman yanked back on the cord and began shooting from inside the store. “He pulled that cord back on me and they started firing shots into the store,” Smith said afterward. “I knew he wasn’t going to make it.” Police pulled Smith free, and Dennis McAninch, 34, of Cincinnati, was fatally shot during the exchange of gunfire, state police 1st Sgt. Dave Bursten said. It was not immediately clear if he died from police or self-inflicted gunshots. Smith said the gunman apologized as he tied the cord around her waist and gave her a necklace for his 13-year-old daughter. “He was really an OK guy to me, besides holding a gun to my head,” she said. McAninch was released from an Ohio prison in January after serving about six years for escape and burglary convictions, authorities said. He was facing charges including burglary and receiving stolen property related to a February arrest in Cincinnati.

Note also this quote from McAninch’s ex-wife:

“He’s a thief, not a killer,” she said. “He might have did a lot of dirt and he made bad choices, but he had a good heart.”

Maybe it’s just me, but I kind of think that people with “good hearts” don’t shoot at police officers and take innocent people hostage while fleeing court hearings related to their previous criminal convictions.

And he’s only not a killer because, apparently, he doesn’t have good aim, not for lack of trying.

Ugh.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 01:12 PM | Comments (0)

May 31, 2005

Follow Up

There’s a great discussion over at Rebecca Hartong’s site about the Neal Pollack Salon piece I talked about in the previous post.

It’s very interesting; go over there and check it out. She notes a response by Pollack himself at his own site, and Pollack’s wife has some comments in the discussion at Rebecca’s site. She says, in part:

Obviously, Neal’s piece in Salon was badly mis-interpretted and taken out-of-context of our supportive and loving family life. Elijah is TWO! Toddlers are a challenge. It should be okay for us to express frustration and dismay over this. Perhaps Neal expressed this in a way many of you did not appreciate. BUT, that does not negate the fact that we are good parents who make our child the first priority, always…. …Let me repeat, WE LOVE OUR SON AND HE’S THE CENTER OF OUR WORLD. I’m sorry if many of you found our expressivness offensive.

I’d just note a couple of things. First, the original article is the ONLY context readers have for understanding the Pollack’s situation (save for any readers who happen to know them personally). If it’s out-of-context, well, that’s Neal Pollack’s fault for not giving more context, or for writing the piece in the first place.

Second, if it was misinterperted (according to some comments, the piece was meant as satire), again, that’s Neal Pollack’s fault. As another commentator noted, if 99% of the audience doesn’t get the joke, maybe it’s not their fault.

Third, as regard to finding the Pollacks’ expressiveness offensive, they’re the ones who chose to write about their personal lives, and about the difficulties their child experienced (and subjected others to). More importantly, they’re the ones who chose to write about it in a national publication, and one which encourages feedback from its readers, and provides links for its articles to be shared across the Internet. What, exactly, did Neal Pollack or his wife expect?

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 03:16 PM | Comments (0)

If You Don't Want Kids, Don't Have Them!

Too bad nobody told author Neal Pollack that, because if someone had, maybe he wouldn’t be writing self-pitying screeds like the one he has today in Salon:

The real problem here, one that the study barely addresses, is that parents, because they have to work, have no choice but to send kids to expensive, overcrowded preschools, for far more hours a week than kids are emotionally and mentally ready to handle. The waiting lists for the “best” schools are as long as those for some private high schools. Even getting accepted at second- and third-tier schools takes months. Many preschools have no reputation to protect, few standards to follow, and a long line of desperate parents at the gates, so they don’t have to deal with your kid if he or she is hard work. There’s always someone behind you waiting to pony up the $200 to $500 a month.

Pollack’s child, is a “biter,” often to the point of drawing blood (among other troubling behaviors). And he’s eventually expelled from the expensive preschool:

On the drive home, Regina and I could barely keep from weeping. Our respective families were 1,000 miles away in either direction. We were terrified at the prospect of a summer without help. The irony was that we don’t have the $1,500 it would have cost to warehouse Elijah through September, so we might have had to pull him out anyway. But now we’ve been forced into the challenge of caring for a smart, stubborn, high-strung 2-year-old. We love him very much, but that’s not the kind of work either of us wants, at least not full time.

And the tale ends thusly:

One day last week, Regina dropped Elijah off at school. Teacher was standing there with a little girl. They looked very serious. “This is Sophie,” teacher said. She lifted the girl’s shirt. There was an enormous bite mark on Sophie’s back that was just beginning to scab over. Sophie’s dad had started calling the school. From here on, Elijah wouldn’t be allowed anywhere near any of the other kids. That would be his last day. At home, Regina had this to say, through tears. “I feel like a bad mother!” she said. “I don’t want to spend all summer with him! He’s difficult! He’s a difficult child! He wants too much from me. And you’re going to go crazy if he’s around all the time. Our marriage always suffers when he’s home!” “So our marriage has to suffer,” I said. “This is a fiasco,” she said. Later that afternoon, a few of Regina’s paintings were going on display at a local gallery. My job was to keep Elijah from tearing the room apart. I was reasonably successful. When we got home, I had some things to empty out of the car. Regina took Elijah inside. He was begging her to let him open the refrigerator. I came inside to hear this: “AHHHHH! He bit me!” I threw down the sippy cups, shouted something like “I’ve had it with your goddamn biting!” scooped Elijah up by the armpits, and plopped him down into the “penalty chair,” our version of Supernanny’s “naughty mat.” I held him there until he stopped shrieking, and then he gave me a kiss and apologized to his mommy. All was peaceful again in the house, temporarily. But Elijah still had the same problems and we were still broke. In our minds and in our hearts, Regina and I silently wished the summer away.

Maybe I’m heartless and horrible, but it seems to me that the problem here is one of Pollack and his wife’s own making. First of all, Pollack absolutely refuses to recognize that there might be something, you know, wrong, with his son:

“What the data tells us, as does the show ‘Supernanny,’ is that there are a lot of out-of-control kids out there.” Yes, some of the kids are immature or even borderline violent, but there’s a reason for that: They’re kids. The real problem here, one that the study barely addresses, is that parents, because they have to work, have no choice but to send kids to expensive, overcrowded preschools, for far more hours a week than kids are emotionally and mentally ready to handle.

Most kids don’t regularly bite other people to the point of drawing blood, or regularly stick rocks up their nose (as Pollack describes elsewhere in the article). Pollack clearly refuses to accept that his son might be more than “borderline violent” or immature; that there might be a much more serious problem here. This is especially disturbing because Pollack comments on his own emotional problems, and how they were only eased with drugs, elsewhere in the piece. Maybe it’s a genetic, and a chemical problem, and not the fault of the overcrowded preschool, or society, or whomever else Pollack wants to blame?

I’d also note that Pollack and his wife are both able to work at home, in a home that they own, which puts them ahead of the vast, vast majority of Americans, so for him to whine about his domestic situation or lack of financial options is unseemly at best and disgusting at worst.

And anyone who writes about “warehousing” their own child, well, it’s really hard to have any respect, or empathy at all, for them.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:28 AM | Comments (4)

Dumb Things in the Washington Post

First, from Richard Cohen, who’s writing about Paris Hilton:

You could say that there is nothing new about Paris Hilton — she’s just the latest person who’s famous for being famous. Not so. She is really the first crossover porn star. The late Linda Lovelace thought she would be the first, but it was not to be. Paris Hilton, though, has pulled it off. It helps that she’s rich. It helps that she’s well dressed. It helps that her great-grandfather owned the Waldorf-Astoria, among other hotels. It helps that she is sort of classy.

I think that kind of by definition, “porn star” and “classy” are mutually exclusive. And to refer to Paris Hilton as “kind of classy” involves some new definition of classy with which I’m unfamiliar.

Next, Eugene Robinson, writing about Laura Bush’s trip to the Middle East:

As an extended photo op to show America as liberator rather than oppressor, the trip didn’t deliver. In Jerusalem the photos were of tense scuffles as the first lady was heckled by angry Israelis, followed by angry Palestinians. She remained poised throughout, understandably slipping back into Stepford mode — a pleasant smile, a few anodyne words. In Egypt she gave unqualified endorsement to President (or is it Pharaoh?) Hosni Mubarak’s blueprint for upcoming elections, calling it “very bold and wise.” She was slammed by opposition groups, which charge that Mubarak is just rigging the system so his son can eventually succeed him; one critic sniffed to Reuters that Laura Bush “seems not to know enough about Egypt.”

I actually agree with his point about Egypt…but let’s be honest here. What would have been the reaction if the First Lady, in Egypt, openly attacked President Mubarak? I’m willing to bet cash money that Robinson himself would have written a column denouncing suc comments. I’m just saying…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2005

People Are Scum, Part the Nth

The WashPost runs an “animal watch” page every Thursday, containing stories reported by local animal shelters. In between several other heartening and/or humorous items was this depressing - not to mention disgusting - report:

“FLORIDA AVE. NE , 500 block, May 10. A motorist stopped in an alley and set a cat carrier on the pavement, then drove away. A woman who saw the incident called animal control and reported that the carrier door had come open and that three cats had emerged. By the time an animal control officer arrived, one cat had disappeared and a second had run inside a vacant house, where it could not be caught. The third cat was picked up and taken to the shelter, where it was held pending adoption or contact by the owner.”

What kind of person would take three poor defenseless cats, stick them in a carrier, and just abandon them on the street? They couldn’t be bothered to pick up a phone book, find the address of the nearest shelter, and drive five minutes out of their way to leave the cats somewhere safe? Now two of the cats are loose on the streets and more than likely dead, because the asshole who had them didn’t deem their lives worth the time or effort to take them to a shelter?

That is truly disgusting, and I hope that the “person” who abandoned the cats receives exactly as much consideration from his or her fellow humans when he or she is in an hour of need.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 01:53 PM | Comments (1)

May 24, 2005

A Rant, Continued

This shouldn’t even have to be said, really. It’s not a difficult or complex concept. It just isn’t.

I’m talking about traffic lights. The principle is simple: when the light is green, drivers should drive at their regular rate of speed through the intersection. When, however, the light is red, drivers should apply their foot to their brake pedal, thus stopping their car, before the intersection. Green - go; red - stop. It’s not hard.

And, yet, plenty of drivers in downtown Washington, DC don’t seem to get it. Are they that stupid? Or are they colorblind? Or, and I think this is the most likely, are they assholes?

And, yes, Mr. Asshole driver of a crappy piece of shit old white, rusting car that probably gets three miles to the gallon who nearly ran me and a gaggle of other pedestrians over at the intersection of 17th and K Street at 12:30 this afternoon while running a red light, I’m talking to you.

Not that you’re reading this, because you’re probably a subliterate moron who doesn’t feel the need to read or learn, just as you don’t feel the need to obey traffic laws or common sense.

In a just and sane world, I, or one of the other pedestrians, would have had on our person a grenade launcher, with which we could have blown your crappy car into tiny little chunks of rust, and sent you straight to Hell, where you so clearly belong.

Sadly, this world is neither sane nor just, and you continued on your thoughtless, ignorant, harmful way. I can only console myself with the hope that one day, in your thoughless, ignorant and harmful manner, you will either drive yourself into a tree or telephone pole or other obstruction and kill yourself, or you’ll cut off or collide with or otherwise piss off one of the many residents of this area who owns and carries on their person a firearm, and they’ll do it for you. I just hope that day comes sooner rather than later…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 12:50 PM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2005

Some Things I Hate

I hate the stupid, crappy, wet rain.

I hate the weather in Washington in general. The winder isn’t winter-y enough, and in the summer it’s 95 degrees and 5,000% humidity every day, and you can see the filthy, unbreathable air in front of you.

I hate the jerks who drive too fast in the rain and splash dirty, filthy water on to pedestrians on the sidewalk. I wish someone would stop these jerks, drag them out of their cars, and chop their feet off.

I hate the morons who just have to honk their horns over and over because traffic isn’t moving quite as rapldiy as they’d like and they might be 20 seconds late into work. Someone should drag them out of their cars, and chop their hands off, and then we’ll see if they can still honk their stupid horns with their bleeding arm stumps.

I hate the thoughtless asses in the Metro who feel it necessary to shove past me to get into the faregate a millisecond faster; and the asses who have to shove their way into a train before people are finished exiting. They ought to just be executed on the spot. Someone should chop their heads off, and their ugly, miserable rotting corpses should be left there in the Metro station as an example and a warning to all the other asses out there.

That’s what I think, anyway.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 08:19 AM | Comments (3)

May 19, 2005

Responsible Parenting

(and, no, this isn’t one of my sarcastic topic names; I’m totally serious here)

Check out this great article from today’s WashPost:

Michelle Turner, mother of four public school students in Montgomery County, said it is her job, her responsibility, her life’s purpose to shield her sons and daughters from corrupting influences. And the world, in her view, is teeming with them. Which was why she decided long ago to be a stay-at-home mom; preserving “strong, traditional family values” and raising her children “to be good people” is a full-time undertaking, she said. It demands tireless vigilance. There are lots of rules for the Turner siblings living in Wheaton, ages 10 to 17 — rules about TV, movies, books, magazines, music, language, clothing, friends, religion. “This is how my husband and I have chosen to do it,” she said, sitting in her kitchen one recent afternoon.

She’s exactly right. We need more parents like her.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 01:55 PM | Comments (2)

May 13, 2005

Missing the Point

Greg Hlatky notes the outporing of concern over convicted serial killer Michael Ross (who was executed this morning at 2:25 AM).

Greg reports the twisted and harmful focus of most stories about this case:

A typical line in stories about Michael Ross’s pending execution: “[Michael] Ross was put on death row for killing four young women and girls in eastern Connecticut in the 1980s. He has admitted killing four other women in Connecticut and New York and raping most of his victims.” No. This isn’t the way it should be. This journalistic convention places the emphasis where it shouldn’t be, on Ross. His victims - who have never received the same coverage - are just anonymous… things. He should be anonymous and his victims remembered. Better that the passage should read like this: “The convicted murderer was put on death row for killing Tammy Williams, 17, Debra Taylor, 26, Robin Stavinsky, 19, Leslie Shelley and April Brunais, both 14 and Wendy Barbeault, 17.”

Greg is absolutely right. He also points out this article bemoaning the sad life that Mr. Ross has had to endure while on Death Row:

Like inmates on death row across America, Ross is locked up most of the day in a small cell with no access to prison sports or education programs, and no interaction with other inmates. In an essay posted on the Internet by the Canadian Coalition Against the Death Penalty, Ross describes his sliver of a window as offering “a wonderful view of the razor-wire fencing and outdoor recreation yard of the prison next door.” Ross, who admitted killing eight women and raping most of them, was sentenced to death in 1987. He first asked to waive his appeals over a decade ago. “There is so little to focus on. There is so little over which individuals have control. There’s so little to distract them from the negative thoughts,” said (psychiatrist Stuart) Grassian.

Well, if Mr. Ross didn’t want to live in a small cell with a view of razor-wire fences, and if he didn’t want to be overcome by negative thoughts, maybe he shouldn’t have raped and murdered eight women. What an idea, right?

By his actions, Michael Ross demonstrated that he was a monster, and the world is a better place without him in it.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2005

Do the Amish Take Converts?

After reading this article, the Amish lifestyle sounds better and better:

Just the day before, my daughter and I had talked about a Ludacris song she liked, about thuggin’ and clubbin’ and ho’s (street slang for “whores”), and I didn’t want to come off as constantly preaching. In present-day America, we learn to swallow many of our responses to modern culture, so as not to appear prudish, vanilla, or outré. A commercial interrupted the seven-year-old lap dancers. A trailer for The Girl Next Door, the latest theatrical movie from Fox about to open. “I want to see that,” my daughter said. I let that pass, too. The movie is rated R, and my daughter is not allowed to see R-rated movies. The plot involves a porn star moving in next door to a teenage boy. Why are they advertising an R-rated movie on a program aimed at twelve-year-olds? That was my thought, but again I said nothing out loud. We got into the car for a drive, my wife up front next to me, my daughter in back with her beloved iBook laptop. She had just received the computer as a present for her birthday and had already downloaded seventy-five songs into her iTunes jukebox. She sang along as the iBook trolled automatically through her playlist. My wife and I were talking, not really paying much attention to what was going on in the backseat, when I heard my daughter mouthing the words to D12’s hit “My Band,” featuring Eminem (who was born Marshall Mathers) as lead rapper. “I swear to f****n’God,” my twelve-year-old sang, “Dude, you f****n’rock! Please, Marshall, please, let me s**k your c**k.”

The real irony of the article is that the author, according to his bio, has written for magazines including Penthouse and Maxim. It’s not clear from this article (excerpted from a new book by the author) whether he still writes for such publications or whether he’s had a conversion of sorts.

Regardless, he does a good job of describing how our culture assaults us with crude and ugly and harmful messages about sexuality in just about every sphere of life, all the time. It’s not enough to simply “change the channel” when you also have to cover your ears walking down the street and turn away from billboards and…

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2005

A Rant

As a tiny bit of background, I don’t own a car, which makes me a user of public transportetion, and a pedestrian. That said…

Do drivers in the Washington, DC area not understand the function and purpose of traffic lights, and specifically, red lights?

Are there legions of colorblind drivers in the nation’s capital?

In case the asshole who almost ran over a bunch of pedestrians on 19th and L street at about a quarter to 1 in the afternoon today is reading this, a red traffic light at an intersection is a signal that you must stop your car. You are supposed to press down on the brake, which is the left-hand pedal, in case you weren’t sure.

You are NOT supposed to continue straight through the intersection at a constant speed, while pedestrians are exercising their right-of-way and crossing the street.

It’s really not that complicated. Seriously.

Posted by James DiBenedetto at 03:17 PM | Comments (4)