Friday, January 25, 2008

Once again, George W. Bush will pay you to be his friend

Tax rebate checks may soon be winging their way to Americans, as the President tries to pay us to like him. Many of you may recall the same act early in his first term. Most of us chuckled grimly and put that drop in the bucket to be quickly wicked away by the thirsty realities of our existence.

The media are reporting this economic nudge as a "stimulus package" or, more briefly, "a package." Even more provocatively, some have called it "Bush's package" and reported with a straight face that some economists say his package is too small to stimulate anything.

The president that preceded him apparently did not suffer from that problem. But it's okay, George. A lot of men do.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Improving Commuter Efficiency

With more and more people spending at least an hour in the car at either end of the workday, we need to find ways to make best use of that time.

I'm always running a few minutes late. If you don't mind driving like a sociopath, you can make up some deficits en route, but an earlier start would be better. So how can the harried commuter get into the car sooner?

Step one: replace the driver's seat with a toilet. It will have to be a high-tech toilet, converting methane to fuel and flash-drying the waste using heat from the car's exhaust system or something. You science people figure it out. I'm just a visionary.

Step two: set up an in-car shower system, perhaps a sequence of jets to wash areas of the body separately, rather than steaming up the whole interior with a complete drenching. It could even be mostly waterless, using mechanized swabs of some sort. Again, I'm only the futurist here.

With the bulky in-dash sound system replaced by something that can download digital media directly from the Great Wireless Internet in the Sky, the slot in the dash that used to receive primitive offerings like CDs and even cassette tapes can now house a toaster. The microwave oven is already in the glove compartment. The cappuccino machine might go in the center console between the front seats.

Advances in computerized car control can take care of navigational chores while your hands and attention are temporarily occupied by getting dressed.

All this makes much more sense than teleconferencing and catching up on emails while you drive. Do all that crap at the office, where you're really paid to do it. Spend the time formerly wasted in traffic on the mundane tasks you used to try to cram into the minutes between crawling out of bed and leaping into the car. Knowing you have ample time to eat breakfast and take care of other morning needs, you won't feel as rushed and angry in the crush of other commuters. Have another bagel!

For those concerned with fitness, various exercise equipment could be adapted to the car as well. Multiple control systems would allow you to pilot the vehicle with any appendage, freeing up others for other uses. You are limited only by your imagination.

As far as I'm concerned, most of this only applies to the morning commute. In the evening, all I need is a robotic hand to come out of the dashboard and slap me across the face to wake me up if I start to doze off. Robotic attachments could perform a number of tasks. Feel free to visualize. You don't have to share it with me. In fact, I'd prefer if you didn't. But let your mind roam.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Why we talk about the weather

Everyone talks about the weather because they secretly believe they will eventually meet someone who can do something about it.

It's worst in the ski business. The tone gets downright accusatory at times, as if we had failed to disclose a medical condition to them or something. Or they come in search of comfort for their meteorological woes.

They don't usually talk to me about it more than once.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

NH Primary Results

Of course Barak didn't win in a landslide. This is New Hampshire, not All Obama.

Sorry. Couldn't resist. (Note: In case anyone is concerned, the joke has absolutely nothing to do with perceived demographics and everything to do with coincidental pronunciation.)

As the voters choose the change they want to see in the world, the complex pattern emerges which will make the election that says goodbye to George W. Bush as weird and contentious as every one since 1996. We all know we want him gone. We just can't agree what we want in there next. From the crowd baying for impeachment to the few who want to pat him on the back and say, "Good job, Bushie," we can't even agree on what to do with him after he's evicted from the White House.

Politicians like to say, "This election is about the future." Elections shape the future, but votes are usually based on the past. Look at 2000, a referendum on Bill Clinton's penis and double talk. Even 2004 hinged on perceptions of the past, as the Vietnam-era records of George W. Bush and John Kerry were dragged into the crowd and dismembered. That election also hinged on fear, an emotion of anticipation, but past performance was supposed to predict future competence.

It's going to be a turbulent year, culminating in everyone's best guess in November.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

OK, that was weird, but were they really Iranian?

As warlike provocations go, it was more like something stoned teenagers would come up with. Not that I think the speed boats circling around US warships off Iran really were piloted by stoners. It was just a really stoned thing to say: "In a few minutes you will explode."

No one exploded. So the provocateurs just look kind of stupid. Scary, but stupid. Then again, violent, stupid, deranged people are the scariest.

That does not make another war a good idea. There's no quick and simple answer to this. In fact, it could have been ill-advised ball-busting.

What's the diplomatic version of, "What the fuck was that?"

PS: What a GREAT time to get Caller ID!

We finally decided to join the Surveillance Generation and get Caller ID, just in time for the barrage of calls from political campaigns. What a time saver! As far as I'm concerned, it has already paid for itself.

More of a Letdown than Christmas

Well, that's it. The New Hampshire Primary is over for me. After all the buildup it comes down to a fraction of a second in a voting booth with a pencil. I had to go through more of a process to get this year's dump sticker than I did to cast my ballot for someone who could end up leading the nation.

As an undeclared (excuse me -- Undeclared) voter, I get to choose which party's ballot I take for the primary. The selection registers me for the moment in that party. Afterwards I have to go to another station to undeclare myself again. But by preserving my unaffiliated status, I make both parties kiss my keister. That seems fair and balanced.

Someone on the radio mentioned that it's getting harder to distinguish between the parties by their positions on the issues or even the issues they choose to address. This is not a sign of decay in the moral fiber of each faction. It is a sign that even politicians have to acknowledge that human problems are human problems that affect all people regardless of party loyalty. In natural evolution, large groups will break down into smaller and smaller groups until we reach the true foundation, which is all individual humans in no group. Putting it that way sounds more reassuring to the paranoids who fear all humans being forced into one group. But a population of cooperative, not coerced, individuals, making decisions in the best interests of their mutual survival, is functioning as one tribe, at last.

Monday, January 07, 2008

One More Day

At the end of tomorrow, New Hampshire will no longer matter to anyone except the people who live here.

Four years from now there will be a little circus. In eight years there will be a big one. Other than that we can be our weird, cantankerous selves without cameras or microphones in front of us or endless phone calls from friendly strangers.

National attention brings interesting discussions conveniently to us. As media evolve, elections change to exploit them. Much is being made of the blogosphere and cyberspace as the new frontier in information distribution. But where did I hear this? On the radio, which was on in the next room.

On "The Simpsons" last night, Nelson the taunting bully told a character representing the Washington Post "Ha ha! Your medium is dying!" The school principal chided him for telling the truth at the expense of being nice. Cute. Glib. But am I going to take my expensive laptop on a subway, boot it up and browse electronic media, even with a strong wireless signal everywhere I go? I think not. I've read newspapers I bought and newspapers I found. I've read pieces of newspaper left on bus seats or park benches.

Supporting any medium with ad revenues is one of the greatest long-running con games ever devised. Raise your hand if you regularly buy anything based on an advertisement you saw in any medium. Ha ha! I can't see you. I'm sitting in my living room and I won't tell you what I'm wearing. But I bet many people do exactly as I do: look past the ads to see what really interests you. In fact, I'm automatically suspicious of anything I see or hear in an ad. Once I know more about a product category, I usually discover that the heavily advertised product is never the best one. Either that or the quality is so uniform that it doesn't really matter.

Political ads are no exception. That makes things harder. We have to judge candidates on their actual merits, by whatever means we manage to discern them. I work very hard to make sure that I don't reject a candidate based on something petty, like Obama's too-polished oratory and the swooning belief of his followers, or Hillary's excessive professionalism. On the Republican side, what I saw in their debate a couple of nights ago did not change my overall opinion that their party needs to take a break from trying to run the country for a while. But within that overall distaste I heard things I could agree with from McCain, Ron Paul and even a word or two from Giuliani. Unfortunately for their whole slate, what I liked were mostly the good zingers aimed at Mitt Romney.

As the campaigns whip themselves to a final frenzy, how many of us make our final selection in spite of the candidate's presentation, not because of it? I know I try to look behind the signs and balloons and cheering chanters to select someone who can analyze and adapt to our changing world while keeping the constants of the human condition in mind. Technology changes. Intellectual concepts evolve. People are still people.

I haven't quite gotten out the dart board yet.

I told a persistent Obama staffer on the phone, "I'll probably vote the way I Christmas shop." She knew exactly what I meant. See you tomorrow.

Friday, January 04, 2008

From the News...

Republican presidential candidate Duncan Hunter told an interviewer on New Hampshire's WMUR that one of his priorities was to "bring back high-paying manufacturing jobs" to this country from overseas.

Silly candidate. Corporate management sent those jobs out of the country so they wouldn't be high-paying. Anyone stupid enough to believe you would be too stupid to qualify for a high-paying job anyway. Okay, that's harsh. Gullibility isn't stupidity. And gullibility is a politician's best friend.

In other news, some areas hard hit by winter precipitation have been using beet juice as an ice melter on their highways. It seems to work well. Further research may disclose that combining it with other vegetable extracts will work even better. If this proves to be the case, eventually in winter every car will have a V8.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Teh Internets is boring

There's nothing on TV, so you get cable and you get dozens more channels with nothing on them. Maybe you try satellite with even more nothing. So you get a high-speed internet connection, because THAT'S where all the real news and fantastically creative user-generated content is.

There's also a billion channels of nothing. The Internet is a giant sea creature. You can only see a tiny bit of it at a time. It never fully breaks the surface of the real world, so you can't even take it all in from a distance. And an awful lot of it is just square feet of boring, slimy hide.

Even the stuff that's charming or fascinating gets old after a while. Unless you like to sit for hours in front of the computer, or you know exactly where you want to go, you can burn most of a day or night sifting for nuggets among the slag and sand. Then you can link to them so other searchers have an easier time finding them, but it's still all inside the mysterious box, glowing on the magic screen.

Time spent on the Internet is time not spent reading a book, drawing, painting or playing a musical instrument. It's fun to blather in a blog, but is it really going out to the world? No one is going to find a copy of it lying around somewhere and just happen to pick it up and skim a few pages.

I've read books I found in a roadside ditch. I've read printed matter found in just about any place you can imagine. So that, to me, is the real deal. The Internet is great, but sometimes you're just in the mood for reality.