Will I go to bed without dinner?

There are two points of interest in yesterday’s White House press briefing. First, while there may be a liberal bias in the media, the reporter repeatedly referred to “Stern’s obscenities”, as if everyone should find Howard Stern obscene.

Second, we’re moving to a paternal state with the emphasis on a lone father figure as the standard, both moral and practical. This is bad.


QUESTION: Thank you. Andrew Card impressively addressed this weekend’s annual gathering in New York of 250 talk radio hosts, where there was considerable debate over the possibility that if Howard Stern is driven off the air for his many obscenities by the FCC fines, all of us could be driven off the air by the government for our political opinions. And my question: Can the White House give us assurance that our expressed political opinions, liberal or conservative, will never be treated like Stern’s obscenities by any organization in the Bush administration?

MR. McCLELLAN: Les, I’m not going to try to speculate on something that’s so — so broad as what you’re bringing up. Obviously, the President believes that there are certain standards of decency that should be adhered to.


MR. McCLELLAN: And we all have a responsibility to adhere to those standards.

QUESTION: But he would never let the FCC —

MR. McCLELLAN: And that if people violate those standards, they should be held accountable. And there are measures in place to hold people accountable.

QUESTION: Of course. But he would never allow the FCC to take action against any of us in talk radio for our political opinions, would he?

MR. McCLELLAN: In a general sense, no. But, again, you phrase that in a context of some standards that apparently violated some of the — our standards of decency.

I don’t have the warm fuzzies from this.

Two miles of fun

My morning commute to the Metro is short. Out of the sub-division, turn right, turn right, turn right, turn left, turn left and I’m there. It takes approximately 7 minutes. 420 seconds. I thought that not much could happen in such a short time, but I learn something new every day.

To the driver of the SUV… I know your SUV proves that you don’t care about the price of a gallon of gasoline, but you don’t have to prove that you don’t care about time. Green lights mean “Go”. When I’m waiting behind your SUV in the future, please don’t sit at the light until it turns yellow and then decide to drive off. I don’t have your carefree attitude.

To the driver of the sports car… I know the light was only a green circle and not a green arrow, but “Yield” means to give way when there are cars zooming by in the other direction. No cars whizzing by is an indication that you can turn. Since I’m behind you in the same lane, I’m trying to turn as well. Please don’t impede my way because you’re afraid of cicadas buzzing by your window.

To the driver of the minivan… There is a speed limit in the parking garage and you’re nowhere near it. Please consider pushing harder on the gas pedal, it’ll help us all. As for your turn signal, have you ever seen a NASCAR driver use a turn signal during a race? I didn’t think so. Do you know why? Because they’re driving in a circle, just like we were this morning. The line of cars and the wall blocking left turns are solid indications that you’ll be turning right. I don’t need extra hints, but since you have a New York Mets license plate frame, I understand that you might.

Thank you.

Clarity isn’t a maker of hair dye

Devin Balkcom taught a robot to fold paper. Better than just folding paper, the robot can do origami. This amazing feat will carry Devin Balkcom from Mister to Doctor upon his graduation from Carnegie Mellon University in August. It’s a great accomplishment for him. Blah, blah, blah.

I’d like to focus on the brilliant writing in the news story. Apparently, the robot is smarter than anyone could’ve hoped. Read and comprehend:

Matthew Mason, a professor of computer science and robotics, thought building such a robot would be so daunting that he didn’t encourage Devin Balkcom’s plans to do so in January 2003. But today, Balkcom has a robot that can make paper airplanes and hats and is scheduled to earn his doctorate with the project in August.

Perhaps it’s not a good idea to explain the achievements of a Really Smart Guy&#153 with an unclear sentence. Without deciphering to derive the intended meaning, the structure of the second sentence implies that the robot can do origami and, as a side note, will be earning a doctorate because of it. Pretty language and complex sentences are ideal for a novelist, but an Associated Press writer should not try to be a novelist before clarifying the facts. I would never discourage interesting writing, but it’s journalism, so closer to Ernest Hemingway than Stephen King should be the goal. I’m just saying…

Moving forward to refocus

Explaining why the American judicial system is forcing renegade agendas upon America, Cal Thomas states his theory:

Cultural tsunamis, like those that begin under oceans, are caused by something deep within. When high water hits the shore, it is the result of a subterranean earthquake. When the state of Massachusetts last Monday (May 17) began offering marriage to people of the same sex, this “wave” was preceded by a seismic shift in the moral tectonic plates.

I doubt there’s anyone who will disagree with that. A “seismic shift in the moral tectonic plates” is a straight-forward observation free of any judgment as to what those moral tectonic plates should be. His explanation is more interesting.

The shift from personal responsibility, accountability, putting the greater good before personal pleasure, affluence and “feelings,” and what once was known as “the fear of God” began following World War II. Consumption and pleasure replaced self-control and acting on behalf of the general welfare.

How is denying same-sex marriage an issue of “putting the greater good before personal pleasure”? That statement from Mr. Thomas sounds like socialist propaganda. Because my neighbor doesn’t like it, I shouldn’t do something that will make me happy, something that does no harm? I know he’s not making such a broad argument, but that’s the way he’s framed it. That’s not democratic.

Equating Americans putting the greater good before personal pleasure is the same as “the fear of God”? America may be a “God-fearing” nation, but it can’t be governed by “the fear of God”. Civil law and religious law may cross paths, but it can’t be by design. Some religious principles are stricter than any democratic society can demand.

America must adopt civil equality where necessary, but that doesn’t mean everyone must partake of the new, renegade rights. As Mr. Thomas concludes, sometimes self-reflection is more appropriate than enforcing personal limitations on others.

“Pro family” groups have given it their best shot, but this debate is over. They would do better to spend their energy and resources building up their side of the cultural divide and demonstrating how their own precepts are supposed to work. Divorce remains a great threat to family stability, and there are far more heterosexuals divorcing and cohabiting than homosexuals wishing to “marry.” If conservative religious people wish to exert maximum influence on culture, they will redirect their attention to repairing their own cracked foundation. An improved heterosexual family structure will do more for those families and the greater good than attempts to halt the inevitable. A topical solution does not cure a skin disease whose source is far deeper.

While I don’t understand Mr. Thomas’s use of quotations for the word “marry”, since the same-sex marriages occurring in Massachusetts are as legal as heterosexual marriages, his desire for focusing on family stability rather than stopping what is going to continue happening is correct.

The beauty of America is that we can experiment with new public policy ideas. Some will fail, some will succeed, but the imperative and ability to improve is what makes our nation unique. Self-examination never hurt that endeavor.

Spinning a globe the obvious way

This just in from the presidential campaign:

John Kerry is considering delaying his acceptance of the Democratic presidential nomination at the party’s July convention so that he can keep spending the millions of dollars that he raised during the primaries…

When I read the headline, I figured that Kerry’s campaign is setting itself up to be hammered by the media. After reading the facts, I still think his campaign will get hammered, but the facts reflect an election situation much different.

The Democratic Convention to nominate Kerry is scheduled for late July, with the Republican Convention occurring five weeks later. The implication is simple. President Bush can spend private funds for an extra five weeks. His $75 million in matching funds would only have to last for slightly more than two months. Kerry would need to make his $75 million last for three-and-a-half months. Delaying his official acceptance is reasonable. Consider:

“We are looking at this and many other options very seriously because we won’t fight with one hand behind our back,” Kerry spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said Friday.

Cutter said other options being considered include having the Democratic National Committee or local and state Democratic parties raise money to support Kerry’s candidacy. However, Kerry would not have control of much of the money raised by the party. By law, the DNC cannot coordinate more than roughly $16 million of spending with Kerry’s campaign in the general election.

Time can change the money factor in this election, but less money could also lead to creative thinking for the Kerry campaign. Either way, it’s an interesting development in this election.

I like the idea of being obvious in this decision. Play it correctly and it can lead the national debate into the influence of money in elections. Trying to hide the fact will lead to mistakes and negative public perceptions. Make the right decision, then explain it. That should make it into a non-issue.

Given what we expect from Senator Kerry, he’ll make no decision until the end, then try to pretend like he didn’t make a decision. This is going to be fucked up in some way. Thus, I link you to this: johnkerryisadouchebagbutimvotingforhimanyway.com.

The facts, although interesting, are irrelevant.

Verizon is a dinosaur in need of extinction.

Back in February, I was peeved at Sprint PCS for a bad policy that cost me money, so I switched. Figuring the service would be good, I decided on Verizon. After three days, realizing that it wasn’t, I canceled my service and returned to Sprint. I had no idea what a challenge this would cause.

Shortly after I returned to Sprint, I received a “final” bill from Verizon. Besides the extra time I’d used beyond the rationed minutes I received, the bill included a $175 termination fee. I called Verizon to inform them that they needed to remove this because I’d had their service for three days, well under the 15 day limit to cancel. The representatives I spoke with agreed and said it would be removed. I agreed to pay the legitimate balance once I received a revised bill, adding a caveat that I wouldn’t pay late fees because this was their mistake. They agreed.

Thirty days later, I received my revised bill. Amusingly, the amount due was the exact same value from the first bill. Another call was necessary, so I wasted time to correct their mistake. Again. The supervisor informed me that the representative noted the incorrect termination fee but failed to initiate the request to remove it from my account. No big deal. The supervisor and I agreed that the deal from thirty days earlier would carry forward for another month.

In April, guess what happened. Another bill arrived, with the same mistake repeated. Again I called Verizon. The representative I spoke with, Angela, acknowledged that the previous request had gone through, but that it would take 1 or 2 billing cycles.

I told her I understood, but only after I confirmed that my previous agreement was noted in my account. She said yes, that I didn’t have to pay until I received my revised bill. Once again, I confirmed that no late fees would apply to my account. She said yes.

Sooooooooooo… This month, I didn’t receive a bill. I received a letter that Verizon disconnected my cellular service for nonpayment. I laughed and set the letter aside for a few days. Last night, I called to clear up the matter. Forty-five minutes later, I knew the truth about Verizon. Verizon hates its customers.

The $175 termination fee was gone, but two $5 late fees were added. The financial account representative explained that the late fees were added because Verizon hasn’t received payment from me. Duh. This started a vicious cycle, from which we never escaped.

I explained the last three months, which was useless because I gave the facts and spoke them intelligently. After much verbal sparring, the representative asked if he’d resolved my issue.


We repeated this cycle several more times. In the course of this waste of time, he informed me that the representatives I’d spoken with over the previous two months indicated in the notes to my account that I was told that my bill would include late fees. This is a lie.

Allow me to repeat that: two representatives of Verizon blatantly lied on my account. I made the obvious argument that I couldn’t prove they were lying, until I came upon the wonderful strategy of tangling them in their inaccuracies. I commented that I had a piece of paper indicating that my account was terminated for nonpayment. That is an obvious fabrication, since I have Sprint bills confirming that I’ve had Sprint service with my number since February 11th. Verizon’s response: I should “disregard that notice”.

How convenient. When the data represents their position, ignoring the difference between data and facts, it counts. When it contradicts their position, I should disregard the information. Somehow I missed the lesson in business school that instructed me to abuse customers by patronizing them, lying on their accounts, and stealing their money whenever possible.

That explains why a customer is charged a $175 termination fee, regardless of how long they had service before canceling. Being a computer programmer, I know how simple it is to code software to prevent incorrect termination fees. The pseudo code would look something like this:

If (Termination Date – Activation Date) <= 15 Then
Termination Fee = 0
Termination Fee = 175

That code would take approximately 4 nanoseconds to process each time an account is closed. But that didn’t happen. There are inevitably customers who don’t understand how the termination fee works and will pay it. They may mutter and curse the outrageous cost, but they’ll pay it. Verizon earns an easy $175. That’s the only explanation I can believe, given everything else I’ve learned about them from our conversations.

I now understand this to be Verizon’s reality. Searching the Verizon website, I was amused when I found this speech. From Bob Stott, New England Region President for Verizon had a few interesting customer service ideas:

For example, a customer service representative might find that by entering customer information into the company’s billing system in a certain way allows for a quicker transaction and more accurate information on the customer’s bill.

“A certain way”, indeed, Mr. Stott. But I don’t want that to overshadow this nugget:

We are dedicated to first call resolution. That means when one of our customers calls with an issue it becomes our issue and we aim to satisfy the customer in that same call.

Forty-five minutes into my 4th call to Verizon, I knew I wouldn’t get fair treatment, so I decided that I was done. Based on the termination for nonpayment letter and the honesty angle, I knew I’d won. The representative knew I’d won. That was enough for the call. Besides, I was hungry.

I’m going to pay the bill when it arrives, including the late fees. Even though I’m right, I’m not stupid enough to wreck my credit rating for this. However, Verizon will never receive another penny from me. I hope that’s worth $10.

Retching is always a winner

I’ve written about the joy of the cuddlefeast. Whenever there is brief span of time without a cuddlefeast, my roommates take appropriate measures to compensate for the lack of entertaining. I appreciate this because it offers me minutes upon minutes of endless joy.

Seeing that my house had been without a cuddlefeast for many weeks, and seeing the joy that is this rare spring time on the East Coast, a cuddlefeast captured my imagination on Saturday night. I returned home around 9pm, after a sojourn to the movies to enjoy Super Size Me, Morgan Spurlock’s magnificent documentary about the atrocious food lifestyle Americans have embraced. As a vegan, I don’t eat a McDiet. Yet, I don’t believe McDonald’s is solely responsible for fattening up Americans. They’re definitely complicit in the task, but they’re a business offering consumers a food choice. Many Americans are actively pursuing that choice. I didn’t need a documentary to present the incredibly interesting foods that people will eat.

Cuddlefeasts almost always confirm this for me, since they’re generally a five hour director’s cut of Iron Chef. Saturday night elevated the art form to a new height. The highlight of the menu: cicadas.

Upon revealing this, one attendee asked if I’d care to join them. I declined. I’ve never participated in a cuddlefeast as anything other than an observer from the fringes since they’re crowded and filled with meat. I should be more social, yet, even when I ate meat, I would never have joined in this one. That’s foul.

Upon reaching my bedroom, I called Danielle. She has a rational hatred of all things cicada, so I knew she’d need to know. (As luck would have it, I had not yet been introduced to the nasty little fuckers, so my distaste for the idea of eating cicadas was merely intellectual. Sunday’s gardening foray would unfortunately remedy that beyond repair.) She wanted me to ask many questions, but I knew that I didn’t want to know the answers. I’m inquisitive, yet sometimes happily ignorant.

Ignorance is bliss. Sunday morning, I noticed something interesting in our refrigerator. I dared not ask what it might be, but I was compelled to take a picture. Just in case. Last night, I gathered my courage, against my better instinct, and asked. Sure enough, three layers of chocolate-cocooned cicadas.

These atrocities defiled my refrigerator.

What is wrong with these people? Don’t they know that cicadas kill?!?

Mother Nature’s mischief

Saturday, I decided it was finally time to hack up the overgrowth of plant life in my back yard. With this in mind, I went to Smith & Hawken and bought a very cool Folding Saw to make my job easier. This morning, when I attacked my back yard, the Folding Saw worked beautifully.

What I’d forgotten, since I haven’t “gardened” in a long time, is the emotional benefit of industrious work’s solitude. I was able to relax and forget the world for a few hours, which was tremendous. Communing with nature made me feel almost as if I went to church today.

Looking for information for this post, I cam across the concept of Pantheism, which is defined as:

Any doctrine, philosophy, or religious practice that holds universe [cosmos], taken or conceived of as the totality of forces and/or matter, is synonymous with the theological principle of God.

I’m not prescribing this as a concept, nor am I going to adopt this and and become weird. Veganism is all the weirdness the world needs from me. But I think it’s fascinating that there are people compelled to slap a label on communing with nature. As a concept, it’s great, but a label? Fascinating.

Assuming a predisposition to wrap myself in this label, this would be my altar.

After my experience, I do believe there is validity to the concept. Throughout my life, I’ve always thought the idea of Satan to be utterly ridiculous. I could be wrong, but I base my beliefs on what makes sense to me and that concept does violence to my intellect.

Yet, two hours of yardwork convinced me that I’m wrong. Why, you may ask? It’s simple. I saw my first cicadas today and only Satan could create something as vile and evil.