"If we value the pursuit of knowledge, we must be free to follow wherever that search may lead us. The free mind is not a barking dog, to be tethered on a ten-foot chain."

Adlai E. Stevenson Jr.

A Library in Your Pocket

January 22, 2010

Jersey Shore: At Once Repellent and Addictive

Unless you have been in a coma or a convent, chances are you have at least heard of the recent hit show on MTV, Jersey Shore, the latest reality show that manages to straddle the fence between repellent and addictive as it follows a group of eight twentysomething Guidos and Guidettes in their summer adventures shacking up on the Boardwalk at the Jersey Shore, working in a novelty tee shirt store by day and cruising for sex, love and good times every night. Like any reality show, what ultimately hooks you is the cast.

First, a brief and sincere disclaimer. I well appreciate that some Italians consider the terms Guidos and Guidettes as ethnic insults. I intend no insult. I am half-Sicilian myself. More importantly, I am only using the designations because that is how the Jersey Shore cast repeatedly and proudly characterizes themselves.

The Guidos: Ronnie, Vinnie, DJ Paulie D and Mike "The Situation"

Ronnie is the brooder, the romantic,  an unstable keg of dynamite with a short fuse who actually looks like a muscled keg of dynamite. In virtually every episode Ronnie is fuming at some point and before the summer is over --  to no one's surprise --  Ronnie is arrested for aggravated assault after he cold cocks a guy who was verbally harassing the Jersey Shore group at a bar.

At the start of the summer, Ronnie announced his two firm rules:  don't fall in love at the Jersey Shore and don't date women in the house. His dual convictions evaporated like the morning dew the second  Sammi "Sweetheart" (see Guidettes below) whispered sweet nothings in his ear while doing a full body press on the dance floor.  Sure to be voted most likely to serve hard time for involuntary manslaughter, Ronnie still exudes a little brother sweetness that makes it easy to excuse his predisposition to violent outbursts.

Vinnie is the only Guido in the house who does not go to the gym daily and he has the body to prove it. Having just turned 21, Vinnie is the baby of the house, unabashedly excited to christen his passage into adulthood at every bar at the Jersey Shore.  All charm and no drama, Vinnie goes through the summer with a constant and genuine smile on his face, never forgetting for one second what a lucky Guido he is to have scored this gig for his 21st birthday.  Vinnie easily wins best roommate award, but plans to live with him mama until he's married and seems in no hurry whatsoever to make any changes with what is so obviously working well for him.

DJ Pauli D is the oldest and most driven of the Guidos. Whether its blowing out and lacquering  his trademark hairdo, pumping iron at the gym, selling Tee shirts on the Boardwalk or spinning vinyl, Pauli D aims to make the biggest splash and at least in the relatively small pond that is the Jersey Shore, he generally succeeds.  As wing man to Mike 'The Situation' horndog's constant quest to score some midnight booty, Pauli D is probably at his lamest, frequently walking off mid-flight, leaving Mike holding only one more dashed dream of scoring.  DJ Pauli D wins the vote for most likely not to go quietly into the anonymous  oblivion of night when the lights of Jersey Shore are finally turned off.

Mike 'The Situation', the self proclaimed man of the house, has three main passions: staying ripped, staying tanned and getting laid.  While Mike scores less than a priest at Bingo, he is pretty handy around the kitchen.  At 27,  Mike is the second oldest housemate, but he generally behaves like a 12 year old, masterminding late night pickle pranks, and objectifying women as notches in a belt he doesn't even own. Mike's best hope for getting laid: turn gay.

The Guidettes: Angelina, Jenni 'J-WOWW', Sammi 'Sweetheart' and Nicole 'Snooki'

Angelina is a sad story that was never told and can only be imagined. She arrived at the Jersey Shore house with her clothes in a green plastic trash bag. Maybe that said it all. The Guidos immediately reacted with disdain. "Look," they whispered, "doesn't anyone in her family have any luggage she could borrow." I suspect if Angelina had access to luggage she would have used it.  She wasn't making a political statement by using a trash bag to carry her clothes; it was the sad necessity of her circumstance.  From that outset, Angelina was alienated from the rest of the Jersey Shore cast and things went downhill fast.

Angelina's married boyfriend showed up at the Jersey Shore where Angelina and the rest of the cast were partying.  The summer was just starting for Angelina. Who knows where it might have gone, whom she might have met, what modest amount of fame and possible fortune she might have earned as a result. The threat of Angelina finding a life of her own was obviously too much of a risk for her married boyfriend so he forced the situation, presssed the right buttons and within 24 hours, Angelina self destructed and left show to return to the non-life she has with her married boyfriend. Angelina's imagined story is probably no sadder than the truth and should be a lesson to women everywhere. If he is married: move on. If he is cheating on her, he will cheat on you if he isn't already.

Jenni 'J-WOWW' came to Jersey Shore to work, not play. This is her 15 minutes of fame and she is not about to waste a second. If anyone can parlay this opportunity into a career in adult entertainment, J-WOWW can.  But even as determined and single minded as she is, J-WOWW still manages to show more genuine caring and sweetness than Sammi 'Sweetheart'.  When Nicole 'Snooki' is intent on leaving the Jersey Shore house the morning after her first day debacle, J-WOWW convinces her to stay, promising she has her back. J-WOWW also tried to talk some sense into Ronnie's head, albeit unsucessfully, when Sammi 'Sweetheart' was playing her mind games on him. Word is J-WOWW will be doing a Playboy spread. I can only hope that with her heart and class and body to boot, she ultimately knocks Tila Tequila to the gutter where she belongs, but that's a blog for another day.

Sammi 'Sweetheart' is anything but and I have no doubt the name was self proclaimed, not bestowed upon her. While Sammi may have once upon a time been a sweet girl, that girl grew up and changed along the way. By the time Sammi arrived at the Jersey Shore, she was the biggest player of all.

Sammi teased Mike 'The Situation' into a full blown heat, then cold heartedly turned her back on him without so much as one word of warning or explanation.  She then seduced Ronnie with a whisper and a grind. When Sammi left Mike hanging, I am sure painfully, she acted as if his reaction was completely unexpected and unjustified. To his credit, Mike was a gentleman and didn't call Sammi out for the manipulative **** she is. Throughout the summer,  Sammi pitted Ronnie and Mike one against the other and when she bored with that, she egged on Ronnie's always simmering temper, goading strangers to lash out so that Ronnie would explode. Sammi 'Sweetheart' has some serious pathology going on that would take a lifetime of therapy to understand.  She is without question the cast member most likely to have her husband murdered by her boyfriend for the life insurance.  Ronnie and Mike: be thankful you escaped with your lives.

Nicole 'Snooki' is hands down my favorite of the Jersey Shore cast. Snooki is the only one of the group who can carry a spin-off all on her own and the only one who should have her own spin-off for this very reason.  Snooki epitomizes a guidette, as she calls herself, at the Jersey Shore, yet at the same she is so much more.  Snooki is vulnerable and insecure. She obsesses needlessly about her weight and is driven to tears when an equally insecure Mike 'The Situation' lashes out at her at dinner in Atlantic City, telling her she doesn't need a dinner roll, she already has rolls.

Snooki tries to overcome her nerves and insecurities the first day at the house by loosening up with alcohol. At 5' nothing (if even that), Snooki quickly becomes  snookered and ends stripping down to her bra and panties and splashing in the hot tub, trying but miserably failing to pull off vixen.  

To their collective credit and probably in not small part due to the scowling ever watchful eyes of Angelina, Jenni and Sammi, the Guidos do not take advantage of Snooki as she splashes from one to the next, trying to get a rise. The morning after, a mortified Snooki wants to go home and presumably crawl under a rock. Jenni 'J-WOWW' talks her into staying and the rest, as they say, is herstory.

Night after night, Snooki searches for Mr. Right or at least Mr. Right Now, but time and again, she fails  and goes home alone. Even when she succeeds in bringing home a potential Mr. Right Now, fate intervenes and before Snooki can make a move,  Mr. Not Right Now begins puking and keeps puking. Snooki, ever a trooper, grabs a trash bag and escorts Mr. Never Again home, politely declining his goodnight kiss.

At once and seamlessly, Snooki is a character and she is genuine. She is brash and she is sweet. She strikes out repeatedly at finding love, but her conviction that Mr. Right is out there never waivers. While she strives to exude the sex appeal that comes naturally to J-WOWW, Snooki should realize that her appeal is not based on sex. Its based on her heart.

When I first tuned in to Jersey Shore I had no expectation of becoming a fan.  Mike 'The Situation' was so over the top he seemed like The Fonz of Happy Days reincarnated and I honestly did not think I could watch even the entire first episode. But the show is hard to turn off and next thing I knew the credits were running and I wanted to see how Snooki recovered from her disastrous first day. All in all, MTV put on a great show and I hope next summer we get another slice of life at the Jersey Shore.

January 16, 2010

The Tonight Show Starring Paula Poundstone: An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Someone needs to call it once and for all.  The Tonight Show franchise: time of death - May 22, 1992. That was the night 67 year old Johnny Carson gave his final monologue. Let me be clear at the outset. I grew up watching Dino crash Johnny's couch.  I knew every one of Johnny's twitches and tics, wives and exes. Hell, Johnny is probably as much responsible for me taking up smoking at 15 as was Julie Rich, the girl who taught me how to french inhale and blow smoke rings.

As loyal a fan as I was of Johnny Carson in my youth, by the time of his retirement, I had long ago wandered away from the Tonight Show. On the Letterman versus Leno debate, I was in the Letterman camp if any, but mostly I didn't care.

What NBC has obviously concluded by its actions in the past year is that it does not have faith that either Jay Leno or Conan O'Brien can be the franchise player to carry the Tonight Show banner. I agree. What makes no sense is to give the franchise back to Leno whom NBC already determined and publicly admitted was the wrong man for this job.

Here is my advice: Stop giving the franchise to the wrong man and give it to the right woman.


The right woman to take over the Tonight Show is Paula Poundstone. 

Joan Rivers was the right woman 18 years ago, but her ship has sailed, circled the globe a couple dozen times, and dropped anchor too often to count. I love the raunch of Chelsea Handler, but her mouth demands cable and even there, more than an occasional bleep and bar of soap. Ellen is great, but already has her own successful talk show and the new commitment to Fox for American Idol eliminates her from contention. Alexa Chung has perfected awkward charm for the MTV audience, but she needs to finish puberty before taking on any new assignments.

Paula Poundstone embodies everything that made Johnny Carson special as the Tonight Show host.  She is quick witted, but never mean spirited. She has the ability to interact with the audience in a hilarious way that allows everyone to laugh without anyone feeling they are being laughed at.  As a seasoned stand up comedian, she can handle the monologue out of the gate.  She appeals to a broad demographic and a young demographic. Also like Johnny, she can do skits, something no one has been able to pull off since Johnny.

And as if all these weren't reasons enough, by all accounts Paula Poundstone is well liked and respected in the show biz community and can probably be had for a relatively modest starting paycheck, especially compared to what NBC will reportedly have to pay Conan just to settle his contract.

I for one would return to the Tonight Show fold with Paula Poundstone at the helm and I can't believe I am the only one.  Make a bold decision NBC.  Go in a truly new direction with a proven talent. Make it the Tonight Show starring Paula Poundstone.

January 15, 2010

What A Surprise: Pat Roberston Exploits Haitian Tragedy To Make Money

On a recent episode of his 700 Club TV program,  as a preface to asking for donations, Pat Robertson  claimed  that God was punishing Haiti by sending it a 7.0 earthquake on Tuesday,  January 12th. Robertson then went on to explain why God did this.  Here is verbatim transcript of what Robertson said:
"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti and people may not want to talk about it.  They were under the heel of the French, you know, Napolean the third or whatever.  And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said we will serve you if you'll get us free from the French. True story. And so the devil said ok its a deal and they kicked the French out, you know, the Haitians revolted and got themselves free,  but ever since they have been cursed by one thing after the other, desperately poor.  That island of Hispainola is one island.  Its cut down the middle, on one side is Haiti the other side is the Dominican Republic. The Dominican Republic is prosperous, healthy, full of resorts, etc.  Haiti is in desperate poverty. Same island. They need to have and we need to pray for them a great turning to God and out of this tragedy I'm optimistic something good may come."
What Pat Robertson knows about Haitian history could fit easily in the eye of a needle if 1000 angels were not already camped out there laughing their celestial butts off at the crap that comes out of his mouth.  Here are true facts about Haiti.

Christopher Columbus discovered the island of Hispaniola on behalf of Spain in 1492, the same trip on which he bumped into America and also claimed it for Spain. The native population of the island -- which was then called Kiskeya -- were Taino Indians.

In his Captain's Log, Columbus described his initial encounter with the Taino populations: "They brought us barrels of cotton thread and parrots and other little things... I kept my eyes open and tried to find out if there was any gold, and I saw that some of them had a little piece hanging from a hole in their nose. I gathered from their signs that if one goes south, or around the south side of the island, there is a king with great jars full of it, enormous amounts. I tried to persuade them to go there, but I saw that the idea was not to their liking... They would make fine servants... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."   (Seems to me, this was the beginning of cursed bad luck for the island of Hispaniola and it had nothing to do with the devil, except perhaps, the one whose descendants would one day wear Prada.)

The Spanish settlers proceeded to enslave the native population, force their labor in gold mines, claim their women and their gold and spread diseases including small pox. As the Taino were driven to the brink of extinction, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, grandson of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand, the sponsors of Columbus' 1492 voyage, authorized importing slaves from Africa to fill the labor needs of Hispaniola. 

Not surprisingly, the Haitians do not celebrate Columbus Day.
By the Treaty of Ryswick in 1697, Spain and France ended their Nine Years War and one the terms of their peace divided Hispaniola between them, with France taking a western third of the island and Spain the rest.

Thereafter, tens of thousands of French colonists settled in western Hispaniola (Not entirely unlike, one might argue if so inclined,  modern day China's movement of Han people into the Tibetan province of the People's Republic of China or the colonization of what was to become the United States beginning with the Britain's original thirteen colonies.)

In Hispaniola, the French established highly profitable sugar cane and cotton plantations based on what has been described as the world's most brutally efficient slave colony.

During that period  life span of one-third of the adult African slave population in Hispaniola was only  three years. This necessitated constantly importing more and more slaves. It is estimated that by the late 1700's, France, which had taken control of all the island, enslaved more than three quarters of a million Africans on Hispaniola and imported more than 40,000 slaves a year, mostly from Africa, just to keep up with the numbers of slaves being tortured to death year in, year out.

The French slave owners frequently mated with African slaves and under the French system,  their mixed race offspring were free people who could inherit property. This class of "mulattoes" became a middle class between the French colonists and the African slaves.  Through inheritance and property rights, by the close of the 1700's, this mixed race class owned a substantial number of African slaves themselves.

The catalyst for the slave uprising which became the Haitian revolution is said by at least one scholar to  have been a religious ceremony conducted by slave and voo dou priest Dutty Boukman.  This ceremony incorporated both Catholic and voo dou prayer and included the sacrifice of a pig.  In the course of the ceremony, Boukman prophesized that the slaves would succeed in their uprising and achieve freedom.

Within days of this religious  ceremony. the French captured Boukman, beheaded him and put his head on parade in hopes of quashing the rebellious spirit of the slaves. Instead, the barbaric acts of the French further motivated the slaves to  continue to fight for freedom.

Pat Robertson's denigration of this religious ceremony as making a deal with the devil reflects Pat Robertson's ignorance, his racism and his bigotry. Voo dou or voo doo, from the West African vodon,  simply means spirits. In the voo dou belief system. there is one supreme God and there are lesser or intermediate spirits. These aspects of the religion are similar in many ways to Catholicism's trinity, saints and angels.

Catholics pray to saints for them to intercede on their behalf and depending on what they need, direct their prayers to particular saints. For instance,  St. Anthony is the patron saint of lost things so if you have lost your wallet, he is the saint to ask for help. St. George and St. Joan of Arc are patron saints of soldiers so going into battle, they would be likely saints to direct prayers for victory.  Similarly in the voo dou religion,  prayers and sacrifices are directed to different spirits depending on the subject of the prayer.

Devil worship is not part of the voo dou religion and there is not a single scholarly source to support even feebly Pat Robertson's claim that Haiti  ever made a pact with the devil.

Haiti was struck by a 7.0 earthquake because of shifting plate tectonics and its location relative to the shifting plates beneath it.

If you want to help the survivors, you can make a secure online donation by visiting www.redcross.org.

January 14, 2010


While  Peter Jackson's movie The Lovely Bones deserves an A for cinematography as well as at least an Oscar nod for the superbly creepy performance of Stanley Tucci as Mr. Harvey, the mild mannered next door neighbor who periodically rapes and kills young girls, what is importantly absent from the movie are the lovely bones themselves.

In Alice Sebold's novel, she deftly weaves important plot lines to examine both the immediate and long term impact of violence.  Mr. Harvey's  murder victims exist in an in-between place. What becomes clear as the novel progresses is that these young victims are waiting, not for justice or for revenge, but to embrace and support the new victims of Mr. Harvey's violence.

When Susie Salmon, the book's narrator and Mr. Harvey's latest victim, joins their rank, what restrains her from moving on toward presumably heaven is likewise not a thirst for justice or revenge, but an overwhelming desire to experience love. When her life was taken, Susie was on the cusp of first love. While Mr. Harvey was able to rob her of that experience in life, he failed to destroy her capacity to love even in death.

In the novel, the impact of Susie's murder on her family is also examined in depth and we see very different reactions and evolutions of emotions. Susie's father becomes so obsessed with the need for revenge he loses all reason and resorts to what he most despises: irrational violence. Susie's mother loses the capacity to care for others.  She abandons her family and because of Mr. Harvey, becomes the second most reviled character in the book. Susie's sister is best equipped to move on with her life -- the resiliency of youth --  but her family's disintegration forces her to support her father's obsession and risk her life to save his sanity. And Susie's younger brother, while too young to appreciate what happened to Susie, becomes a victim instead of his mother's abandonment and his father's obsession.

While everyone in Susie's immediate family is directly or indirectly damaged by Mr. Harvey's violence, Susie's maternal grandmother, previously a self absorbed, unreliable alcoholic, finds redemption in the opportunity to step in for her absent daughter and care for the family.  In the end,  Susie's family, once broken by Mr. Harvey's violence, mends and resurrects itself through the redeeming power of love. To its detriment, none of these important interwoven plot lines are substantively addressed in Jackson's movie. 

Equally neglected in the movie is the brief though important revelation Susie provides about Mr. Harvey's childhood in the novel. From her perch in the in-between world, Susie observes in the novel Mr. Harvey's abuse and neglect as a child.  While Susie does not recount these observations as excuses for  Mr. Harvey's violence, she absorbs and shares this information to appreciate how a monster like Mr. Harvey is created.

Having first read The Lovely Bones, I cannot imagine how I might have viewed the movie with no point of comparison. But having experienced both, there is only one version I can recommend: buy the book.

January 10, 2010

Michael Vick: Convicted Felon, Dog Killer and Ed Block Courage Award Winner

Michael Vick has been awarded the 2009 Ed Block Courage Award by the Philadelphia Eagle players. Vick was signed by the Eagles less than a month after his release from prison.

According to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation website, the award "honors those National Football League players who exemplify commitments to the principles of sportsmanship and courage. Recipients are selected by their teammates for team effort, as well as individual performance. The Ed Block Courage Award recipient symbolizes professionalism, great strength and dedication.  He is also a community role model.  With this honor, he enters into an association which contrasts his fierce profession by becoming a major component of the Courage House National Support Network for Kids. He becomes an Ambassador of Courage for victims of abuse, violence and neglect."
On the individual performance side of the equation, in the 2009 season, Michael Vick  played in just 12 games, completed only 6 of 13 passes for 86 yards and rushed only 24 times for 95 yards. He threw one touchdown pass and rushed for two touchdowns.  This is not a record of individual accomplishment that warrants applause, let alone award.

Michael Vick is a convicted felon. He is not courageous. He does not exemplify sportsmanship and he certainly is not a community role model or anyone who should be allowed anywhere near victims of abuse, violence and neglect. My God. What message are you sending to the victims of violence when you honor a man convicted of violence to helpless animals and make him your ambassador? Michael Vick body slammed a dog in his care to death. He should be shunned, not honored.

While Vick was awaiting sentencing on his federal conviction, he failed a drug test for marijuana. That was not Vick's first involvement with marijuana. In 2004, a vehicle registered to Vick was used by two men busted for distributing marijuana.

Before Vick's "Bad Newz Kennels" dog fighting operation was busted,  any dog that flunked out of his training camp was executed. Some were killed by electrocution, others were drowned, some were hung and still others were killed by other violent means.  Vick actively participated in killing dogs and was, in fact, witnessed "shooting dogs and killing them with a shovel," and "breaking a dog's back and neck by slamming the dog to the ground until it was dead." On yet another occasion, Vick ordered his co-defendant Purnell Peace to shoot and kill a dog that had jumped out of the ring during a fight and then lost the fight when it was forced back in to the ring.

Vick's own father reported that Michael staged dog fights as early as 2001 in the family's backyard and that Michael would keep fighting dogs even after they were injured.  Vick was 21 years old at that time. When he was arrested in 2007, Vick had been involved in illegal dog fighting for at least 6 years.

When Vick was first arrested, he lied. He denied any knowledge of any illegal dog fighting operation on his property. Vick subsequently failed a polygraph exam regarding his participation in killing dogs, but eventually Vick admitted that he did participate in killing dogs. As the evidence mounted and facing 5 years in prison, Vick finally brokered a guilty plea deal for a shorter sentence.

While he was facing the criminal charges, Vick filed for bankruptcy to avoid responsibility for his debts even though the Atlanta Falcons had  paid Vick more than $66 million in bonuses alone from 2004 through 2006. In fact, Vick was one of the highest paid athletes in any professional sport.

Woody Allen used to make what seemed a funny, self deprecating joke to the effect he didn't want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. In retrospect, Allen was demonstrating excellent judgment not false modesty given the subsequently disclosed evidence that he is a pedophile who began having a sexual affair with his step daughter Soon Yi when she was still a child.

To all the past and future recipients of the Ed Block Courage Award: do you really want to be a member of a club that would allow Michael Vick to join its ranks?  And to all the people and companies that have donated monies to the Ed Block Courage Award Foundation: is this truly how you want to honor the memory of Ed Block, by funding an award to a man who didn't simply engage in illegal betting on dog fights. Michael Vick financed and operated an illegal dog fighting enterprise for years and personally participated in the torture and brutal killing of dogs.

The word courage is probably one of the most overused and misused words in sports. I did a search for the word courage on the ESPN website and there came back 2930 hits. Here's a tiny sampling:
  • "my players gave all they had, they showed courage and maturity as they fought until the end"
  • " Vaughn mustered up the courage to throw three consecutive fastballs"
  • " UConn's season was a profile in courage"
  • "Milan are always a dangerous team. We'll try to attack them with courage. "
  • "LSU needed to find a way to win this game and it showed a lot of courage in several different situations." 
  • "Del Rio told Jacksonville reporters. The one thing there's no mistaking David has a lot of courage, a lot of toughness to be able to stand in there."
  • "We have to play as a team. Above all, we have to take courage and the capacity to suffer onto the pitch, without any sort of fear."     
Maybe its no wonder that the Philadelphia Eagle players have such a gross misconception of what the word courage means since it is so misused day in day out by the journalists who cover them.

Will someone in the NFL please show some real courage and take a public stand against Michael Vick being given the Ed Block Courage Award.

January 9, 2010

I'd Like A Large Diet Cola With Those Fries, Extra Ice, Hold The Poop

Have you seen the latest scare reports on the Google News front page?

CBS Study: 48 Percent Of Fountain Sodas Contaminated

ABC Soda Fountains Squirt Fecal Bacteria, Study Finds

Food Consumer Soda fountains dispersing gastric distress

Clearly, the latest scoop on poop is fast approaching viral status. If you bother to click on the actual study  you will discover quite a lot of useful information that will help put this all in perspective. And, a little further digging indicates the results of the study have been blown totally out of proportion in the media's never ending quest to scare the bejeezus out of all of us.

The study consisted of sampling and testing 90 cups of soda and water from 30 soda fountain dispensers in fast food restaurants in the Roanoke Valley area. The study authors are three biology teachers and two undergraduate students also from the Roanoke Valley area. Notably there is no epidemiologist or biostatistician listed among the authors. I know this is notable because my brother happens to be an epidemiologist and biostatistician and when statistical significance is important to researchers, you get someone like my brother on board ASAP to make sure, among other things, that you have defined a sample large enough to yield at least potentially statistically significant results.

There are 107 fast food restaurants listed in the Roanoke Yellow Pages at USACityLink.com including 8 McDonalds and 5 Burger Kings.  In the United States, there are presently 12804 McDonalds and over 7900 Burger Kings.  Even if all 13 McDonalds and Burger Kings in Roanoke Valley were included among the 30 fountains tested and even if every one them tested positive, it is ridiculous, reckless and irresponsible to publish scare headlines claiming 48% of the soda fountains in the U.S. are contaminated. Its not even 48% of the soda fountains in Roanoke.

The Roanoke teachers and students who tested less than 3 dozen soda fountains are probably a nice group of women with the best of intentions. My beef is with the mass media that misrepresented their little study to generate and fuel fear all to make more advertising dollars.

January 8, 2010

Humanity: The Fly in the Ointment of Avatar

The basic themes of James Cameron's Avatar are that the industrial military complex is alive and well and intent on exploiting and destroying nature in the name of profit.  Sigourney Weaver is recast as a Dian Fossey clone, this go round protecting the blue tailed Na'vi and the woods as opposed to the gorillas in the mist. The heroes: a disabled vet, a Latina lesbian, and a geek.

While I won't deny that the movie is fun to watch,  it pushes left wing buttons so shamelessly I felt compelled to go on ebay and bid on an autographed copy of Sarah Palin's Going Rogue just to help balance things out. Thankfully, I was outbid.

January 7, 2010

There's a Whole Lot of Shaking Going On

About a month ago I started following QuakeInfo on Twitter and now I am basically obsessed with how many earthquakes there are every single day.  Macquarie Island region was hit by a 5.0 earthquake 11 minutes ago.

I never heard of the Macquarie Island region until I read the tweet so first thing I had to do was locate it on google maps to see if I needed to be worried.  Turns out its southeast of New Zealand and part of a volcanic ridge that appears to extend north of New Zealand to the Solomon Islands, which were also hit 42 minutes ago. The Solomon Islands have in fact been hammered this week with earthquakes including two on Monday that registered 6.6 and 7.2.  Since I am in California,  I am pretty sure these quakes don't pose any immediate threat to me. Of course, now that I am moderately acquainted with the relation of earthquakes to tsunamis, I still need to investigate how far a tsunami can travel.

Also this week the South Sandwich Island region was hammered by a major quake registering 6.7. I had to google map that as well. Its southeast of South America and by my amateur assessment seems to be a relatively equal distance from Antartica as are the Solomon Islands.  Both seem situated along the demarcation where the Antartica plate rubs up against other adjoining plates.

Closer to home, California has been daily belching modest sized quakes in the 2 to 3.0 range for as long as I have been following the QuakeInfo tweets. On the one hand, a 2-3 level earthquake hardly seems worth mentioning, but then I googled how much energy is released by quakes this size and was shocked to discover that the energy released from a 2.0 quake is equivalent to 1 ton of TNT and a 3.0 quake yields the bang of 29 tons of TNT.  The power of a 3.0 earthquake is perhaps best appreciated by the fact that the blast set by terrorist Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma on April 19, 1995  measured approximately 3.0 on the Richter scale and destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killed 168 victims,  injured more than 680 people, and destroyed or damaged hundreds and hundreds of buildings as far away as sixteen blocks.

I should unfollow QuakeInfo and go back to my prior state of ignorant bliss, but knowledge is addictive. The more you have, the more you crave.

January 6, 2010

My Survival Plan: Catch an Apocalypse Man

I watched my first ever episode of Apocalypse Man tonight. If you haven't seen it yet the premise of this non-reality, reality show is that in the undefined future (possibly as soon as 2012 according to the intervening commercial) there may be some apocalyptic event that will completely unravel the forces of civilization to such an extent that you will need to scurry around, avoiding contact with other folks who will be intent on stealing whatever you have.

Rudy Reyes, the Apocalypse man,  sets as one of his first objectives, setting up a short wave radio station to communicate with the very folks he seeks to avoid in his daily excursions.  He also goes to the library and gives a refresher course in the dewey decimal system to locate sewer maps. Along the way, he uses a home made grappling hook to scale a draw bridge that was left in an up position,  shimmies down an elevator shaft cable, shows how to hot wire a car, dines on pilfered vienna sausages and gives the recipe for making field expedient fuel out of french fry grease. His advice on most of the herculean feats boils down to, 'you need to commit.'

Two things occurred to me mid way through the program. First, just because its a post apocalyptic world is no reason for Rudy to run around with a dirty face.  Please, Rudy, score some handi wipes on your next scavenger hunt. Second, while I am confident I can fashion a serviceable grappling hook and might even succeed in swinging it out and actually catching an anchor, no way am I shimming up or down anything. To that reality,  I fully commit.

Consequently, in the event I survive an apocalyptic event,  I intend to immediately corner the vienna sausage market, move into the public library and wait for a hungry marine. That is my survival plan.

The Difference between Tiger Woods and Chris Brown

Seems like everyone has an opinion on the Tiger Woods scandal and I am no exception. I first saw Tiger Woods when he was about three years old on The Price is Right. He was on with his father Earl and he out putted Bob Barker. Next time I saw Tiger was when he was featured in a Sports Illustrated article as one of the young athletes to keep an eye on in the years to come. He was a young teenager and had already won a couple of national junior championships at the time.  I immediately remembered him from The Price is Right. Then Tiger turned Pro,  surpassed  all the hype,  made golfing cool and became a living legend.

Tiger Woods doesn't owe me an apology.  He cheated on his wife, not me, not you, not AT&T or Accenture or any other sponsor or fan.  All indications are that the women with whom he consorted were either paid professionals or certainly went into the situation with full disclosure.  While I don't blame them for Tiger's fall from grace neither do I feel an iota of sympathy for their public shaming.

I feel bad for Tiger's wife Elin having this mess explode all over the media, but the way I see it, she also owes Tiger a huge, huge thank you.  Do we need to see the proverbial 'film at 11' to understand that she chased after Tiger with a golf club when he tried to leave their home that fateful night and it was her violent conduct that caused him to lose control of his car and crash.

Rather than truthfully tell the police what Elin had done -- which would have resulted in her arrest, her prosecution and most certainly her conviction -- Tiger kept silent. He wasn't protecting himself. He knew that his reputation was about to be trampled. Tiger was protecting his wife. He was keeping her out of jail.

Compare how Tiger handled the situation with how Chris Brown responded. Both men allegedly had their infidelities revealed when their women get a hold of their cell phones. Chris responded by beating the crap out of Rhianna. She called the police. He was arrested and ultimately plead guilty to assaulting her.

In contrast, Tiger did not attack Elin. Rather all indications suggest that she went after Tiger with a golf club. And even though she most certainly is responsible for his crash which caused him to suffer injuries and even though the police repeatedly pressured Tiger to tell them what happened, Tiger protected Elin by remaining silent.  Elin was able to spend the Holidays skiing in the Alps because Tiger refused to implicate her.

For most of his life Tiger has seemed superhuman. Now we discover he is just a man with superhuman golfing skills. For the first time in his life Tiger faces the prospect of being booed.  As far as this fan is concerned, Tiger manned up by protecting Elin from arrest and prosecution for domestic violence. Whether Tiger's marriage can survive his infidelities is none of my business. I hope that he and Elin can move past this mess into a better relationship, however it may be defined. In the meantime,  I just want Tiger back on the golf course where he truly is superhuman.