Wednesday, April 23, 2008

More better ways to spend money

Well, for some reason the Federal government declined to pay me $20 million to notify everyone that their rebate checks are coming in May, even though my bid was for half the actual cost.

It was a long shot, anyway. But my latest idea is one that personally I think deserves a long look from the Department of Homeland Security: pay me that same $20 million to build a virtual border security system that doesn't work.

I have a fair amount of programming experience, so I'm guessing I could probably design and implement an inoperable system for closer to $10 million. But you know what they say, you have to pay if you want quality non-functional work. And I guarantee I'll put in the extra time to make sure the thing fails to meet the customer's needs. You can count on that.

So when do I start?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My rebate is coming, my rebate is coming!

And I can't wait. But it doesn't look like too many people are following my suggestions as to what to do with the money.

According to USA Today, almost half the people who expect to get a rebate are planning to do something unpatriotic, like pay bills with it, while another 30+ percent are thinking about saving the money or buying completely unhelpful items such as groceries.

But it's not too late to change your mind, so I have a new idea that will certainly stimulate the economy -- buy an island! Sure, the cost is a tad more than your rebate will be, but wouldn't it be worth it?

But when you go shopping, please remember to buy an island inside the borders of the old U.S. of A. The President's plan will go all to hell if you go off and purchase some archipelago in Fiji, so keep your eye on the ball when you're hitting the shops.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Dial it up

The President is dialing up the rhetoric on the terrorist surveillance bill, which gives me a wonderful opportunity to quote myself.

OK, I wasn't going to but I have to ask

People are still talking about Eliot Spitzer, and the question I hear most is what could the call girl possibly do that's worth $4,500 an hour? Granted, the top tier athletes and actors get paid that kind of money. Clearly we're dealing with the A-Rod of hookers. (Insert your own A-Rod joke here.) Except the employers of top tier athletes and actors get to sell tickets to people who want to see them perform. For the moment, at least, let's assume that option wasn't open to Governor Spitzer. So what does this woman provide that's that much better than what you get from a $100 an hour prostitute? After great sex will she replace the roof tiles on the Governor's mansion? Simonize the family car?

But I say the people who wonder why she's worth $4,500 an hour are asking the wrong question. What they ought to ask is: if you weren't going to miss the money, wouldn't you want -- no, wouldn't you need to find out?

Monday, March 10, 2008

Economically stimulating

The President addressed the nation on Friday and again emphasized how important it is that we all spend those tax rebates we won't get for another two months. And as you probably know, I'm right there with him. But just in case there's somebody out there who hasn't been listening to me and the President, the IRS is planning to send out letters announcing the economic stimulus plan and alerting us taxpayers to expect that rebate check in May. The mailing will cost a cool $42 million.

Now, I'll be first in line to agree how critical it is for them to make this announcement. I mean, I'm constantly mistaking those fancy envelopes with a return address of "U.S. Treasury Department" and the words "Check Enclosed" in big red letters for junk mail. Then I throw them out. But this time if that happens, I won't be able to keep the nation out of recession by spending my $300. Disaster, right? Actually, thinking about it, they'll probably have to spend another $42 million in May, in case I forget. You can't be too careful with things like this.

Except don't you think the Government could do something a little more productive with that $42 million? Like give it to me? In fact, just to show I'm a good guy, I'll give the Feds a 50% discount -- I'll spread the word for the bargain basement price of $21 million. Seriously, I won't charge a dime more. In fact, I'll start right now: you'll all be getting a check in two months. See that, I even used italics. Did everyone get the message? Raise your hand if you didn't and I'll figure out another way to give you the news.

Mr. Treasury Secretary, you can wire the funds directly into my checking account. And don't worry, Mr. President, I promise I'll spend the money.

The time has come

My fellow Americans, the time has come to stand up for what is right and remove from power a man who has controlled his country with an iron fist for nearly a decade. This man controls a vast cache of weapons of mass destruction, and has misused his power to invade foreign, sovereign nations with no legitimate justification other than his extreme religious beliefs. This man has, once again, affirmed his support of torture, in defiance of international condemnation. Fellow citizens, it is time for regime change.

Actually, now that I think about it, the official time for regime change is November 4, 2008, when the President will finally be replaced. Have a great day.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Recession? What recession?

I don't know about you, but I'm really excited. The President says we're not in a recession and we're not going into one, so long as I spend the $300 he's sending me as part of his new economic stimulus package. Granted, he wants me to spend it now even though it won't hit my mailbox until mid-May. But I say what the heck? I'm taking those three bills and buying myself a new flat-screen TV and a second home. And if you all do it, too, we can stop the housing crisis right here and now.

You know what else? I'm writing my Congressman and telling him in no uncertain terms to get off the cone and make the President's tax cuts permanent. Because I say to hell with the deficit and the national debt. If we have the certainty of knowing that mondo corporations and the richest of the rich can keep their deductions after January 1, 2011, I'm sure the bank will voluntarily dismiss those foreclosure proceedings they filed against me last week. As the President says, it's a no-brainer...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

More gun stuff

The Supreme Court has finally decided to address what the 2nd Amendment means, for the first time since 1939. I hope the Justices read my recent thoughts on the subject.

Dick Cheney is apparently taking an even harder line position than the rest of the Bush Administration, and with his, ahem, quail hunting history, who can blame him. But what's really nice is to see Hillary and Obama both flip-flop on this issue, proving they can read poll data (73% of Americans think the 2nd Amendment gives them an individual right to own guns) better than they can read the Constitution.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Historical reference

Hey, guess how many times since the Civil War we've had a Presidential election where neither of the major party candidates had a previous job title of "President," "Vice President," or "Governor"? That would be one. Yes, one. And I'm sure you all remember the classic campaign of 1880, when Congressman James Garfield beat out General William Hancock.

As far as who's actually won, in the 37 elections since 1860 we've elected 17 guys whose last job was President; 10 governors, two Vice Presidents (the first Bush and Nixon), two generals (Eisenhower and Grant), and one Secretary of Commerce (Hoover) who promptly led the country into the Great Depression. Good thing he wasn't Secretary of Agriculture.

There were also three Senators and two Congressmen elected President in the past 150 years. That's it, just five guys. And four of these guys died in office. Yep, let's please have a moment of silence for Presidents Kennedy, Harding, Garfield, and Lincoln. The fifth one, Benjamin Harrison (who was a grandson of a President who died in office), served just one term and was trounced when he ran for re-election.

So when you decide who you're voting for this year, make sure you research those Vice Presidential candidates. That's all I'm saying.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Ralph Nader, GOP

Word on the street is Ralph Nader is really a Republican. Seriously, what other possible explanation is there? Yeah, I know Ralphie and his cronies contend it was not his intent to giftwrap the Presidency for W, but if you believe that I'd like you to help me transfer my inheritance from a Nigerian bank. When a conservative is running against a liberal, and an ultra-liberal joins the race, from whom do you think the ultra-liberal will siphon off votes? This is not rocket science. And if you know something's going to happen and you do it anyway, isn't that a textbook definition of intent?

But putting aside intent for the moment, is there any doubt Nader's presence in the 2000 race actually swung the results? Without getting into the seven or eight states that would have been toss ups without Nader, take a gander at these numbers:

New Hampshire: Nader got 22,198; Bush won by 7,211.
Florida: Nader got 97,488 votes; Bush won by 537.

If Gore wins either of those states he wins the election. You do the math.

I've seen Nader speak, in person, and he seemed to be an intelligent guy. If he's not a closet Republican, the only thing I can come up with is he's got a crystal ball and he knew that by running he'd free up Al Gore to become the planet's biggest advocate against global warming. After all, Ralphie was the Green Party candidate. Since so many more people watch movies than listen to what the President is saying, Mr. Gore's doing more now for the environment than he ever could have done in the Oval Office, right?

If either Hillary or Obama win the Presidency, the nation will have its most liberal Commander-in-Chief since Kennedy. And right now the Democrats are the favorites to win in November. So, of course, Mr. Nader has chosen this moment to announce his candidacy for 2008. Which means I'm junking the crystal ball theory. Ralph Nader has a life-sized poster of Dick Cheney on the ceiling above his bed.

You heard it here first.

Novel Soundtracks

It doesn't always happen for me as a reader, but as a writer I always have a "soundtrack" for my novels. Occasionally the songs are related to the subject matter, sometimes they evoke a feeling I want to put into words, other times they connect me with a character's voice. Often, if I feel disconnected from the writing and it's meandering off in an unproductive direction, or if a scene doesn't have the power or zing it should, I fix the problem by finding the song that will put me in the proper frame of mind and playing that song over and over until I get the scene right.

In his witty and entertaining introduction for his novel, Bombardiers, Po Bronson describes writing the novel while sitting in a closet and listening to R.E.M.'s It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) for four straight months. I didn't get the idea from Mr. Bronson, but at least I know I'm not the only one. Although I can't honestly say I wrote any of WRONG NUMBER while sitting in a closet (I did, however, for one brief, unfettered moment consider a phone booth). And, for me, it's usually more than one song. Indeed, as I've said, I generally have an entire soundtrack per novel.

So, just in case you think this is an interesting phenomenon, or if you want to get a feel for what inspired WRONG NUMBER, here's the soundtrack. One of the threads in the book is people who only listen to music that was popular while they were growing up, and several of the people in the book grew up in the Eighties, so most of the soundtrack comes from that era. I also tried in the novel to include references to the songs that most inspired me at particular points in the story (which I have denoted here with asterisks).

  • Every Breath You Take* -- The Police

  • The Breakup Song-- The Greg Kihn Band

  • One Thing Leads to Another -- The Fixx

  • Nothing -- David Kedson/Mike Levinson (yeah, it's kind of cool when you can slide a song of your own composition into a discussion like this)

  • Let's Go to Bed -- The Cure

  • Rock the Casbah -- The Clash

  • Jerkin' Back 'n' Forth -- Devo

  • The Itsy Bitsy Spider* -- Little Richard

  • Another Nail in My Heart -- Squeeze

  • Sedated* -- The Ramones

  • Shake it Up -- The Cars

  • Turning Japanese* -- The Vapors

  • Suzi Found a Weapon -- Randy Vanwarmer

  • Lies -- Thompson Twins

  • Walk Like an Egyptian* -- The Bangles

  • Der Kommissar -- After The Fire

  • White Wedding* -- Billy Idol

  • Blinded Me with Science -- Thomas Dolby

  • Super Freak** -- Rick James (I didn't actually include a reference to it in the book, but this song totally and unexpectedly transformed an important scene and I'm very grateful to Mr. James)

  • It’s the End of the World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) -- R.E.M. (Hey, it worked for Po Bronson, why not me?)

  • Ashes to Ashes -- David Bowie

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Guns and margarine

Hey, get this. With everyone talking about the various senseless shooting tragedies around the nation, several States have either recently enacted or are contemplating legislation to EXPAND gun rights. And let me say this is NOT legislation I would consider naming "Olivia." Although several pithier monikers spring to mind. But it does make some sense because there must be something in the 2nd Amendment about the right to keep assault weapons in your car while it's parked in somebody else's private lot. I've heard James Madison specifically wanted to protect that particular freedom.

Actually, have you ever read the 2nd Amendment? It's very short and it's a really bad sentence:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

No way that could get published today. But putting that aside, while it's hard to understand exactly what this sentence is trying to say, clearly it says something about Militias, right? Frankly, I don't see how this Amendment gives an individual unaffiliated with a State-sponsored militia a right to bear Arms any more than it gives him or her a right to bare arms. Although after a cursory review of the Constitution, I'm afraid we may not have a right to bare arms, either. (Seriously, the closest you could come would be the 1st Amendment, and that's a stretch.) So I propose a law requiring everyone to wear cardigans! But not in that awful Burnt Orange color that seems so popular these days...

Of course, you don't have to take my word for it. If you're interested in an insightful legal discussion on the history behind the 2nd Amendment (and I know someone must be -- you there, in the back, is your hand up?), check out this link.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

You can't make this stuff up

I realize the majority of normal human beings probably just tune this stuff out, so the odds are you've been ignoring the incessant rhetoric over the extension of the Protect America Act.

But may I interrupt myself before I even start? Don't you love it when they give names to legislation? They even take the time to write provisions in the law that say you're not allowed to interpret the law any differently because of its title. Which I understand because what if they decided to use this act to protect Uzbekistan? Not that they ever would, of course, but I really like saying Uzbekistan. It just rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? And, in all seriousness, it'd clearly be a lot easier to sell legislation named the "Protect America Act" than, say, the "Smash your Civil Rights into Tiny Little Pieces Act." No question. But for my money, if you're going to name legislation like this, why not use something simple and popular. Like Olivia. Did you know that was the eighth most popular baby name in 2007?

Anyway, here's the deal on the Protect America Act. Since 1978, we've had something called the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (not nearly as catchy as Olivia, if you ask me), which authorized a secret court to approve or reject proposed wiretaps set up by the Federal Government. Well, actually FISA allows the Government to set up the wiretap without approval, but then they have to get approval by the secret court within 72 hours. But why dwell on minutiae when it comes to tapping citizens' phones, right? The point was to protect our Constitutional freedoms while also recognizing that if the CIA had to go to a public courtroom and ask in front of an audience if it could eavesdrop on an international terrorist, the terrorist might change his phone number.

According to the Washington Post, between 1979 and 2004, the secret court approved 18,748 warrants and rejected five. And after 9/11 it became apparent to the Administration that those five who slipped through the cracks posed a major threat to our National Security. Or at least a threat to the Administration getting everything it wants. So, the President signed a secret order allowing secret eavesdropping without bothering the poor, overworked secret court judges to ask if it's OK.

Unfortunately, it's really hard to keep a secret these days, so when the public inevitably found about the President's secret order, the Administration dealt with the predictable uproar by pressuring Congress to pass the Protect America Act, which they did last August. However, because most members of Congress currently claim to be Democrats, and I suppose because they felt a little rushed back in August when the law was pushed through in five days, they made the Act good for only six months. Well, not really. Existing surveillance can continue without approval until this coming August; it's just new surveillance that has to go back to that pesky secret court. Anyway, the six months expired on February 1, but Congress passed a 15 day extension so they could work out partisan differences. That extension ran out three days ago.

Congress tried to pass another extension, but the President said flat out he wouldn't sign it. They'd had plenty of time to write the bill -- heck, he'd given them the exact wording six months ago! And with today's technology, the President's pretty darned sure it doesn't take six months to do the typesetting. So what's the delay?

Well, it turns out the delay hinges on whether the telecommunication companies who cooperated with the President's secret wiretapping plan can be sued for violating the rights of their customers (whose data they shared without an authorizing warrant). The Administration asserts that unless we give these huge corporations retroactive immunity from valid lawsuits, the Government won't be able to coerce the telecom giants to cooperate in the future without a court order. Not that they need the telecommunication companies right now, mind you, but you never know what might happen. The Senate granted the immunity in their version of the bill, but the House couldn't agree on it, so they let the Protect America Act expire and went on vacation.

The President was outraged by Congress's irresponsible behavior. "By blocking this piece of legislation, our country is more in danger of an attack," he said. And it's hard not to see his point. Just think, if Congress doesn't come to its senses soon and give that retroactive immunity to a handful of megacorporations who the Government doesn't need help from right now anyway, in six months the CIA might have to go back to asking after-the-fact permission for their wiretaps. And with only a 99.97% chance of getting that permission!

You can't make this stuff up.

Monday, February 18, 2008

What I'm Reading

What I'm reading (or re-reading) right now:

  • Super Mom Saves the World by Melanie Lynne Hauser -- The latest in a funny yet poignant series by a wonderful author. Every mom should read this, and most of the dads, too.

  • The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie -- A cross between political satire and action/adventure, by the guy from House. Very funny.

  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving -- A classic, for when I'm in the mood for "lichrachure." I never thought I'd see a character speak in all caps, and like it.

  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling -- As far as I'm concerned, J.K. has more than earned every accolade, and every penny.

  • Big Trouble by Dave Barry -- Hilarious, but what else would you expect from the Master.

  • The Book of Job -- I've never read it before and it's fascinating. I will definitely be using this in GOD'S LAWYER, my in-process satire.