Thursday, November 03, 2005

What's With Advertisers in the "Comments?"

I've been on a six-month break from blogging until recently and I notice a change in the culture. Comments to my blogs tend to come from advertisers! If this trend is as it seems and continues, it signals decay. I enjoyed the back-and-forth with those who agreed and disagreed much more than getting notes from people trying to sell me shit.

I've also dropped comments just to take a poke at others with whom I've disagreed. Some responded irately. I'll bet those now receiving ads pine for the days of dissenters.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

My Top Ten Movies of All Time

This is a pretty good exercise: choose your top ten movies of all time. Not eleven or fifteen, but ten. If you've really enjoyed movies in your life, this will be difficult. The movies you choose will also reveal something about you ("You haven't mentioned your mother"). Good luck. Here's mine.

My top 10 Movies (alphabetical order)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
Apocalypse Now (1979)
Dead Man Walking (1995)
Forrest Gump (1994)
On The Waterfront (1954)
The Last Picture Show (1971)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988)
The Wizard Of Oz (1939)
To Kill A Mockingbird (1962)
Vertigo (1958)

Monday, October 24, 2005

They Like Me; They Really, Really Like Me (at least a little bit)

I've been away from blogging for six months- I'm an athletic coach and Spring, Summer and Fall make for a pretty continuous grind. I just checked my blog and found I had a lot of mail and some have been reading my page. Thanks to those who have. I intend to start up again within the week.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Pope Benedict XVI, "The Grand Inquisitor"

I'm strictly on the sidelines with this issue. I was once an altar boy and the priests I knew were honorable, nice people. Others I knew at my Catholic church were generally good and decent, too. I've got no personal axe to grind. I guess, like many, I came to doubt Christian myths in the comical, adolescent perspective of George Carlin's question: "Hey faddah– if God is all powerful, can He make a rock so big that He Himself can’t lift it?” Today, as a scientifically oriented adult, I am content as a skeptic, but I do follow the goings-on in World religion and subscribe to the little prayer: "God, protect me from your followers." Throughout the World, followers of fundamentalist religion are a threat to freedom and life itself. In the face of radical Islam, American evangelism and other oppressive movements, it appears as though the Vatican has decided to go medieval, too, with the elevation of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to Pope.

Much has been made of Ratzinger's membership in the Hitler Youth and his service with a German anti-aircraft unit. I do not think criticism of his youthful desire to survive is fair. By all accounts, he was an unenthusiastic member and he did reportedly risk his life deserting towards the end of the war. It is Ratzinger's explanation that he could not have avoided participation that falls short. A more honorable, candid response might might credit those who did resist, like the brave members of the "White Rose" (http://www.jlrweb.com/whiterose/articles_inspires.html .

The real problem with Pope Benedict is that he represents the core inflexibility, arrogance and unresponsiveness or the Roman Catholic hierarchy. This is the system that recently allowed Cardinal Law, the disgraced protector and enabler of pedophile priests, vaunted status in the days following John Paul II's death. Not coincidentally, Ratzinger, too, has been accused of shielding a pedophile priest.

Ratzinger ruled the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith (the Vatican office once known as the Holy Inquisition). From The Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/pope/story/0,12272,1463902,00.html), the following represent some of his judgements:

1. "In Latin America, he disciplined the advocates of 'liberation theology' and cracked down on Asian priests who saw non-Christian religions as part of God's plan for humanity"
2. In the document "Dominus Jesus issued by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith..." Ratzinger's office "...described other Christian faiths and world religions as 'deficient or not quite real churches'. When the Lutherans complained, the future Benedict XVI dismissed their objections as 'absurd'. "
3. "...under his guidance, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has issued a stream of hardline instructions and rebukes..." including "...denouncing homosexuality as intrinsically evil, to suggesting that parishes should limit the use of female altar servers and choristers. "

The Catholic Church actively battles against birth control, even in Africa, where AIDs is rampant and until recently, literally enslaved Irish women in Magdalene Laundries(http://www.netreach.net/~steed/magdalen.html).

What governments or religions do not have sordid aspects to their pasts? In Catholic terms, what puts blacker moments behind is redemption. The election of Pope Benedict XVI reminds one that in the Catholic Church, ugly vestiges of the past remain.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Goodbye GEICO

I love the commercials- the guy dancing "the robot" is funny and my favorite is the one with the death row inmate hoping for a stay of execution and watching his attorney get a phone call and celebrate, only to discover that the good news concerns a savings with GEICO insurance.

My actual experience with the company, unfortunately, is a little darker. After 20 years with the GEICO, a switchboard operator figured a way to "rate-jack" me (like "carjack," only from someone you thought you knew). It's only a few hundred dollars a year, but what I experienced was pure manipulation of the facts and disrespect. In the abstraction of GEICO WORLD, I'll bet the operator even earned some kind of commision for losing a good, long-term customer. I argued my case by email with the customer relations people and in a four-letter back-and-forth, I think each response I received was from a different person. They were all polite and professional...and unyielding. I know that actuaries determine the rates and rules and other bean-counters determine policies, but it's hard to believe that losing a 20-year customer and his two kids forever for a small rip-off is in GEICO's best interest. I have paid and paid and paid, while GEICO has only had to give back a small amount to me. I have three cars and a motorcycle that I'm taking elsewhere.

GEICO claims that they have something like a 96% customer retention rate. I'm thinking that some of that is just inertia. It's a hassle finding a new company and getting your insurance changed over, but Auto Insurance In Depth ( http://www.autoinsuranceindepth.com/getting-a-quote.html ) will give you quotes from up to five different companies from a short, quick online application. I'm negotiating with an agent who will be the one person I deal with. I'm tired of the GEICO pass-around. I once even inquired about getting GEICO homeowner's insurance, but talked with an operator who could not let go of the fact that I do not have a fire hydrant in front of my house- even though the fire house and it's hydrant and trucks are directly across the street-less than 50 yards away! He never even called me back with a quote.

I realize that my business doesn't even pay for airing 10 seconds of one of GEICO's commercials and GEICO won't suffer any loss. That's fine- I don't care about that. My thinking is that I don't even care if I pay more somewhere else, although I think I'm actually going to save a few dollars by changing. I'm just tired of the officiousness and disrespect. I've been GEICO'd for the last time!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

I Got A Car

First of all, thanks to Chris at http://www.chrisdoelle.com/ , Sixlegged at http://culturezap.blogspot.com/ and Dee at http://tidalripper.blogspot.com/ for their comments and advice about buying a decent car, cheap car. Let me digress and say that this is what I love about blogging- these guys are really unique and have cool pages. In my daily life, I'm not exposed to the variety of people I encounter in blogworld.

I searched used cars through http://www.carsdirect.com/home and http://used-cars.autos.yahoo.com/usedcars/find.html . I decided upon searching for a 2002 Chevy Prizm, which is a Toyota Corolla, but sells for less money under that name. Chevy cancelled Prizms after 2002, so that's the newest Prizm you can buy. My teenage son still drives a 1993 Prizm with 150,000 miles and it rides really well. I searched a 300 mile radius and found one that was a really good deal.

I drove 3 1/2 hours to but it, but saved a few thousand dollars over typical prices. I paid $7900 for a mint Prizm with 22,000 miles. Also, the previous owner put in an Alpine stereo with cd player, power sunroof and custom leather seats. I'm not happy about the seats, as I don't even wear leather (and I certainly don't need anything dying for my ass to sit), but I'm going to figure out what to do with them. According to the literature, I'm suposed to get 30 mpg city and 40 mpg highway. So the final deal? I threw a thousand down and will pay less than $200 per month and when it's paid for, I should get some years without car payments while sending my kids through college. That's the plan, anyway.

If you have a little more cash on hand than I, there are some great deals on new cars, too. I was struck with Hyundai's great prices and dramatically improved cars. Recent customer satisfaction surveys put some Hyundais at the top of their classes and they have great warranties and, again, unbelievable prices.

My next post will have to do with saying goodbye to my auto insurance company, which after more than 20 years of my business, thousands in premiums and very little in payouts, is trying to gouge me. I won't stand for it and I'm changing companies.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Reefer Madness

Full Disclosure: I don't use marijuana, alcohol or any other recreational drug.

I was driving through Massachusetts recently and saw a roadside billboard that pictured a prison wall, barbed wire fence and guard tower. The sign read: "5.2 million marijuana arrests cost you 5.4 billion. Is it really worth it? www.changetheclimate.org " I checked the site and found that the person who runs it isn't a doper, either. He's just a guy who sees indefensible expense, irrationality and unfairness in laws surrounding marijuana use.

I just read that high schools in my area are using drug-sniffing dogs to find illegal drugs in school. Police and high school administrators were surveyed and the only thing dogs had found were a few pills prescribed for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in a girl's locker. The same kind that dozens of other kids report to the nurse to take. No self-respecting school administrators would want to appear "soft on drugs," so they tolerate cultivation of a police state climate of fear and intimidation in their schools, even though there seems to be little justification for this degree of heavy-handedness.

So I don't work knee-jerk Bushies into a defensive lather on this issue, keep in mind that Bill Clinton has an administrative record at least equally shameful to Bush's on this issue. In 1997, the Libertarian Party wrote: " 641,642 people were arrested on marijuana charges in 1996 -- of which 85.2% were for mere possession." This more than doubled the number of arrests per year under Bush I. Additionally, over 50,000 people go to jail each year over marijuana offenses. Here's the link: http://www.lp.org/press/archive.php?function=view&record=308

Partisan experts can forever debate pharmacological dangers or lack thereof in marijuana. And for my two cents, I'll add that I don't think adolescence, a time when young people begin learning to cope with the vicissitudes of life, is a good time for using any substance that short-circuits this process. Adult use may continue to pose problems for many. Having said this, I am certain of one thing: whatever deleterious effects marijuana use may pose, the response by the criminal justice system to users is far more harmful, dangerous and expensive than the drug itself. Arresting, jailing, fining, proclaiming users in the news media (the modern stocks) to be criminals has not reduced marijuana use and is certainly not therapeutic.

Americans tend to look upon Saudi Arabia's prohibition of alcohol with dread and incredulity. We would be better served by soul searching and facing our own draconian treatment of marijuana users.