Monday, November 27, 2006

The Downside of Avoiding the Entertainment Headlines...

They say timing is everything. I'm not exactly sure who "they" are, but I can tell you they're not idiots.

I, however, am an idiot. More appropriately, I'm a "pop-culture illiterate" idiot.

Not only am I an idiot, but I must also have the worst timing of anybody on Earth. See, my last post was completely devoted to the virtues of Kramer from TV's Seinfeld.

But the dumbass I am...

Look, I had no idea that this story broke during the past week:
Michael Richards in hot water over racial rant

Comedian Michael Richards, known to millions as Seinfeld's Cosmo Kramer, is about to become known for another point in his career. In a story emerging from the overnight hours, reports find Richards shouting racial slurs at comedy club hecklers.
Boy, I couldn't have picked a better time to talk about how great Kramer is, right? Maybe I should at least read the entertainment news headlines if I'm not going to read the articles. Apparently everyone knew all about what he said except me.


So let me set the record straight.

Cosmo Kramer: Very funny.

Stanley Spadowski: Hilarious.

Michael Richards: Assclown.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Tribute to Kramer (in pictures!)

Hello. Today's blog is a tribute to my friend, Cosmo Kramer...

He's the tall guy in the middle.

Kramer is a man of many talents. He's acted in several full-length motion pictures...

He owns and operates a successful raincoat business...

He's an expert pizza chef...

And a surgeon...

He dresses up like Santa Claus and gives presents to needy children on Christmas...

And he also runs a very lucrative escort service...

Kramer knows how to impress people at a party. He can smoke a cigarette and drink beer simultaneously...

But he still likes to kick back and relax...

He's also a natural born leader. He'll carry the air conditioner and lead the way to the car...

Kramer is a good friend. He'll drive halfway across the country with you if you need him...

And he has no problem telling you if your shirt looks ridiculous...

He always manages to look suave and debonair...

Even when his pants are too tight...

There's nobody else quite like Kramer.

Yes, Kramer is a true friend and a hell of an American. So Cosmo Kramer, I salute you!

Next time, we'll take a look at my other friend, El Diablo...


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Worst. Morning. Ever. Also: Killing Two Corporations with One Stone

Today started like any other day:

My alarm went off. It was all downhill from there.

Hola amigos. I know it's been a long time since I rapped at ya, but I've been busy. I've also realized that my blog postings have been starting out like one of Jim Anchower's postings, so I plan on rectifying that.

I spent last weekend in Portland for a leadership conference. We went out to a bunch of fun bars (and a crappy one or two). I got to see a band that featured Bob Newhart on the bass guitar (I'll include pictures once I figure out how to send them from my phone to my computer). Oh yeah, there was also a conference. It was... hmm... (okay Rob, if you don't have anything nice to say...) um... it was... it was in Portland.

Actually, I went to a few presentations that weren't too bad. And the conference was free. But I left it with a few things I didn't expect to take home with me. The most obvious is this cold.

Now, this isn't some nasty cold that's kicking my ass. I don't have a stuffy nose, my throat isn't sore, and I'm hardly coughing. But the thing is, my voice has dropped in pitch an octave or two. I sound like I should be working for a phone sex hotline or something.

But today was a tough one. I planned on getting up early, but was tired as hell. I finally got up and had to hurry out the door to get to my Spanish class on time. As soon as I started to pull out of the driveway, I got a phone call from my bank.

Now, I've never known a bank to call and say, "Hey, we just wanted to thank you for leaving your money with us so we can collect all the interest and keep it for ourselves," or "Congratulations, we've all gone insane and decided to give you all our money!" In my experience, when they call, it's not good news.

However, the lady on the other line started by asking me if this was a bad time. That was a first. Still, I was in my "bend over and take it" mode, so I said, "Let's just handle this now." She then proceeded to tell me that a hacker had broken into the bank's database, and my debit card number was one of the ones compromised. But hey, it didn't look like any money from my bank account was missing... yet.

The long and the short of it was that they were going to cancel my debit card and I'll have to wait 10 business days to get a new one. Perfect. It's just before Thanksgiving. I'm not going to need to use my debit card around Thanksgiving, because who uses a debit card around Thanksgiving, right? I mean, it's not like people do a lot of shopping for some upcoming major holiday on Thanksgiving weekend or anything, right? But hey, if I wanted to, I could go down to the corporate headquarters (I do use a local bank) and have them make me a new card. And it will only cost me $5. What a bargain, right?

I guess I should also mention that I've had the same debit card for six years. I know the number by heart- all 16 digits plus the expiration date. All of my online shopping accounts are set up to that debit card. It's not like there are a lot of them, but I can't remember all of them off the top of my head.

Even worse, while she was telling me this, it was raining and the car's wipers were too loud at full blast to hear the bank lady but I couldn't see much at the intermittent setting. Also, my stereo has a short and it kept cutting in and out (for the first time in over a year) while we were talking (it hasn't given me trouble since this morning, so this adds to my theory about the driver and the stereo being emotionally linked). And if that weren't enough, weasels ripped my flesh.

Don't believe the purple...

We're coming up on Thanksgiving, followed by "dead" week, followed by finals week. So I probably won't have many postings between then and now. But to keep things going, to give you, the viewer, your money's worth, and to kill two birds with one stone, I present to you my Political Science paper in its entirety. The assignment was to pick one thing about our political system that I would like to change, how it would improve things, who would benefit and who would lose, who would be for and against it, the likelihood it would be adopted, etc. So here ya go:

Most people would likely agree that the current political system of the United States has no shortage of problems. Corruption, scandals, increasing polarization, “dirty” campaigns, and much more all contribute to the problems, and the problems in turn contribute to apathy and/or outrage among us voters. But one of the largest problems our country faces is the ever-increasing influence of the wealthy over our political system in the form of campaign contributions, lobbying, propaganda, manipulation of public opinion, and outright bribery. This increasing influence translates into a decreasing direct influence by the voters. Congress tried to change this with the Federal Election Campaign Acts of 1971 and 1974, which limited how much an individual could contribute to a campaign and provided some public financing for candidates. According to Mary Kate Hiatt, “Unfortunately, by the 1990s, these laws had become riddled with loopholes” (207), and they often caused more harm than they intended because the public financing is optional. A candidate could refuse public financing and no be subjected to the regulations that his or her opponent must follow. Also, in 1976 the US Supreme Court ruled that there can’t be any limits to how much could be spent on a campaign if a candidate uses his or her own money (Buckley v. Valeo). The Court also determined that a candidate is not responsible if another person or group independently campaigns on his or her behalf. The reasoning behind this ruling was that putting limits on spending essentially limits free speech. So while there are currently a few limits on how much can be contributed, there are effectively no limits to how much a campaign can spend. Therefore, it’s critical that we dramatically reform our entire campaigning and election process so we can elect the people most qualified for the positions instead of the people who can raise the most money.

Since a spending limit provision must be a fundamental component for any sort of meaningful campaign finance reform, it would need to become a constitutional amendment to keep the Supreme Court from overturning it. Of course, this amendment would have to be proposed by either two-thirds of both branches of Congress or two-thirds of each of the states’ legislatures, and then ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures or by specially elected conventions from each state.

The first part of this amendment would provide public financing for elections of candidates seeking office (i.e. not for ballot initiatives). It would create a National Elections Department to direct financing for federal elections and to oversee the state and local ones. Each state would be required to finance their own state and local elections, and each could form an agency similar to the federal one at their discretion. If necessary, states could apply for federal funding to facilitate this. The financing would call for a budgeted amount equal to one dollar per registered voter in a candidate’s precinct, with a provision to allow for adjustments for inflation. A candidate is free to raise and spend money from other sources and is not required to opt out of the public financing. However, for every extra dollar spent, he or she must also donate one dollar to the budget of (each of) the other candidate(s), plus one dollar must be returned to the Election Department. Thus, we have a truly fair election because each candidate ends up with an equal budget.

For example, if a candidate was to run for Governor of a particular state, and that state had 500,000 eligible voters, his or her budget would be $500,000. If that candidate were to raise, say, $160,000 in addition to the initial $500,000, and were running against two other candidates, he or she could only actually spend $540,000 because $80,000 would have to go to the two other candidates ($40,000 each), and $40,000 would be returned to the Elections Department (assuming, of course, that neither of the other candidates raise any additional money). This way, although the option to raise more money is still available, but there’s really no incentive to do so. Consequently, the candidates can focus on campaigning and interacting with the voters. Of course, a candidate must return any unspent money after the elections.

The public funding is only available to candidates on the ballot. In order to get on the ballot, each candidate must collect signatures from at least five percent of the eligible voters for his or her constituency. The candidate may raise money to pay canvassers to collect said signatures before receiving the public funds, but the amount raised would count towards the public-financed budget. Another bonus is that since the number of registered voters determines the funding, candidates would likely want to help get people registered to vote.

In addition to the financing, the FCC would require all media outlets to donate a certain amount of airtime to each candidate, with the amount of time being determined by the size of the constituency of the position. This airtime would be within one month of the election, would air simultaneously on all stations within a state or district, or nationwide in the case of a presidential election, would be commercial-free, would initially air during the 8:00 primetime hour, and would be repeated every six hours during a 24 hour period, so people who work evenings, for example, wouldn’t have to miss it.

Other groups are still free to spend money on advertising for a candidate but in doing so, they must clearly state the name of the person or group doing the funding.

Another provision would change the initial election to early September. If no 50% majority is achieved for each race, the top two have a run-off in November and each get another batch of funds at the same rate as the initial funding (one dollar per registered voter). Also, political parties could continue to select their candidates as they do currently with the primaries and caucuses, but the party itself must finance the candidates, and any private funds raised must go through the party. Other provisions include a nationwide mail-in ballot system modeled after Oregon’s, and a complete elimination of the Electoral College.

Corporations and wealthy individuals would likely be very opposed to this proposal because it would eliminate most of their influence over the government. Media outlets would likely lose money, or rather, make less money from political advertising, so they would likely be against it. Many of the general voting public would also probably be against it thinking their tax dollars would be “wasted” on the elections, unless they somehow realized that it would probably save tax money because our leaders would likely do away with all the favors they had been giving their corporate sponsors. If that were to happen, the public would most likely strongly support it. Politicians, however, would probably be split. On one hand, it would probably be very liberating to many to not have to worry about fundraising and to concentrate on campaigning and governing. On the other hand, keeping the funding equal would eliminate a potential advantage for candidates who have big money connections. For these reasons, this plan realistically has a snowball’s chance of actually getting implemented.

Works Cited
Hiatt, Mary Kate. People & Politics: An Introduction to American Government. Wheaton, IL: Gregory Publishing Company, 2005.

Well, I hope y'all enjoyed this as much as I did. Don't eat too much this Thursday.


Thursday, November 09, 2006

K-Fed, Japanese Pronunciations, Ethel Merman, and "Evil Corporations"

¡Hola! ¿Cómo están, amigos? I'm super, thanks for asking!

Actually, for some reason I've had a bit of a spring in my step lately. Maybe it's this lovely Oregon November weather or something, I don't know.

Wait, I know why I've been so jovial lately. Britney and K-Fed are getting a divorce!

Seriously, can someone explain why so many Americans get hung up on idolizing these "marginally talented celebrities"? Okay, maybe "marginally talented" is too generous, especially in the case of Kevin Federline. I guess Britney Spears is incredibly talented when it comes to choosing a publicist. And K-Fed is pretty talented at convincing a wealthy celebrity to marry someone who otherwise has no talent whatsoever. He also reminds me of some of the men boys I used to work with when I did inventory service, but that's another story.

So the announcement of their divorce was, in many cases, front page news. In fact, it almost overshadowed the election.

Oh yeah, the election.

Q: What does a Japanese man do when he has an erection?

A: He votes.

You might have to say that one out loud. See, they pronounce their 'l's like 'r's and...


I have to admit, I was pretty excited when the results started coming in and they were overwhelmingly blue. I was also glad that some of the bad, bad, horrible local measures failed. A couple of them would've probably put me and many others out of a job had they passed. But they didn't and the "good guys" won, and there was much rejoicing, and now everything's coming up roses, right?


Here's the thing: I hated the direction this country was heading. The government had been exerting more and more influence over our personal lives and less and less influence over corporations for a while now. The influence over our personal lives is especially ironic since it mainly comes from so-called "conservatives" who champion "personal responsibility", but I'll leave that for another blog posting. Right now, I want to talk about corporations.

Now, I'm not a part of the "all corporations are evil" camp, mainly because I think absolutist statements like these are intellectually dishonest. I don't buy it primarily for two reasons: 1) because there is a huge variety of the types of corporations and the people who control them, and 2) because a corporation, by its very nature, cannot be evil. In fact, I don't even think the people who run them are necessarily evil, or even greedy. They may be that way in their personal lives, but that doesn't change the fact that concepts like "good" and "evil" have no meaning in the corporate world. It's not like the CEOs wake up and say, "Gee, I think I'll destroy someone's life today, even though I won't make any money off it."

Corporations exist solely to earn as much profit as possible, period. And that's what the people running the corporations are concerned about, period. Morality doesn't enter into the equation. You could call them amoral. This is true from the CEOs all the way down to the people in the entry-level positions. Sure, they'll say things like "the most important thing to us is customer satisfaction", but they do so because it just sounds more palatable than "the most important thing is making money". If they were completely honest, it would burst the customer's "this company gives a rat's ass about me" bubble.

There have been, however, plenty of instances of corporations being unethical, and that's not the same as being evil. Being unethical is the result of heavy, heavy competition in a darwinistic free-market-based system in which the only thing that matters is the bottom line.

Basically, if the guy in charge of a corporation (lets be honest, there ain't too many women- maybe there should be) doesn't turn a profit, he gets replaced or the company goes out of business. That's how our system is set up. It's called capitalism.

You're probably asking: "What the hell does this have to do with the elections?" In due time, I promise.

Anyhoo, one of the main problems is that the influence of the corporations extend way beyond the people who work for or patronize them. And no, when I say "patronize", I don't mean people who say things like "you're a really good corporation, really you are", but don't mean it. I'm talking about customers.

Ask anyone whose business had to close because Wal-Mart came to town, the grocery store cashier with a union job that paid $12 per hour plus benefits until the big chain supermarket moved into town, or even the waitress at the local diner downtown whose tips have been cut in half because now everybody eats and shops at the new strip mall near the interstate. And don't forget the computer programmer who was making six figures until they decided to ship his job to India where people will do it for one tenth of the salary. But hey, at least they let the guy train his Indian replacement. "What's that, you want a job here at Circuit City? And you have a GED and an Associate's degree in Computer technology? Well, this other guy here was a computer programmer for twelve years and has a Master's degree in Computer and Information Science, so he gets the job. Maybe you should try Radio Shack."

The point is that corporations do what's best for them- and that's often at odds with what's best for us. And it doesn't look like it's going to change anytime soon.

The only way We the People get any sort of say in how corporations are run is through the government. The problem is that the politicians are listening to the corporations. Why? Because it takes tons of money to get elected. And who has tons of money? I don't, do you? Corporations sure do. And why would they donate to a candidate? To get favors in return. They consider it an investment. And what do they get for their investment? Tax cuts, easing of restrictions, hell some even get subsidies. Think of subsidies as a way for you and me to partially pay for a product before we actually buy it- even if we never buy it (I'm looking at you, beef industry).

I wish the government would subsidize my rent, although I did get a Pell Grant this year, so there's some indirect subsidizing going on. Still, I'd gladly settle for somebody directly subsidizing my beer, provided it doesn't have to be Budweiser, Coors, Miller or any similar crappy domestic non-micro brand.

But I digress. What I'm saying is money talks. The more money you have, the more you get to talk. I have no money so I only get to talk on one Tuesday every other November. Do you think the powers that be can hear each of our individual voices when millions of us are all talking at once, each saying something different?

Last March, I got another chance to talk. I participated in a war protest downtown. I guess you could say I was talking out of turn. It felt great.

These people who won last Tuesday had to raise a hell of lot of money. The next two years are going to be payback time- they're going to pay back the people and corporations that got them elected. Many of the decisions they'll make are likely to be at odds with what's good for us. We need to make sure they stay on the right track, and if they screw up, we can't make excuses for them like the other side has been doing.

The only thing we won on Tuesday is a chance to join in on the fight. Now the real work begins.

Let's take back control of our leaders and constantly remind them that they're supposed to work for us.

Let's make an effort to educate ourselves, pay attention to what our leaders are doing, and hold them accountable, because if we don't, nobody else will.

Let's try to have honest, open debates about the issues that really matter, and try to avoid knee-jerk reactions to dissenting views.

Let's fight for "Fair Trade" instead of "Free Trade" because free trade can never be free without democracy.

Let's realize that corporations don't "provide jobs", but workers earn them, and that corporations wouldn't exist without workers (and customers for that matter).

Let's agree that running a corporation is a privilege, not a right, and that corporations have obligations to the communities they do business in.

Let's not be afraid to support our local businesses.

Let's not be afraid of our neighbors.

Hell, let's stop being afraid, period.


Well, this posting took a turn that I wasn't expecting. I better add some silliness to get things back to normal:

Ahh, that's better.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Post Number Two (Heh-heh)

And we're back!

Okay, first thing's first. I appreciate all of you who took the time to comment on my last post. However, why did so many of you post as "anonymous"? You don't have to create an account to use your name. All you have to do is click on "other" under where it says "Choose an identity" and then simply type in your name. That would make it much easier for me as well as everyone else to figure out who you are.

Listen, I know some of you are worried that Dick Cheney and the Department of Homeland Security are going to come after you and take you away on a "nice Cuban vacation" if you post something using your real name. Others might be afraid some meth addict might steal your identity like those people with the funny voices on the TV commercial. No, not the commercial with the guy who yells at the top of his lungs about Oxi-Clean. I hate that guy!

But here's the deal: you don't have to put your real name if you don't want! You can call yourself clever names such as "bettiepagesbrassiere", "dances_with_elves_69", "Jimdude420fatee", "I_am_the_eggplant", "lush_rimball_4_u", "scatdaddyclevelandsteamer", "elemenopee", or whatever. And nobody has to know who you are.

The important thing is that you provide comments. I guess what I'm trying to say is that I don't want to have to do all the writing. It's just not fair: I do all the writing and you do all the reading. It's sort of like a marriage in which I bring home all the money and you spend it. A relationship like that can never last.

I know I talked about putting up some pictures of the new place, but then I realized I'd have to clean it first. So that might take a while. But I will, however, try to put up at least one picture of our house each time I post. You can see today's house pic by clicking here. Isn't it beautiful?

And now it's time for another episode of Rob's Bitch of the Day!

You know, writing can be really difficult. I mean, the human body wasn't meant to sit in a chair (no matter how padded), type on a keyboard (no matter how ergonomically designed), and stare at a monitor (no matter how state-of-the-art it is) for hours at a stretch. My back and neck sure are sore.

Thank you for tuning in to another episode of Rob's Bitch of the Day! Tonight's episode was sponsored by the "Buy Rob and Cathy a Hot Tub for Christmas Alliance", better known as BRACHTFCA. Let's take a preview of next week's episode, shall we?

Man, I'm cold. Too bad we don't have a large container with jets of hot, bubbly water to relax in.

Mark your calendars because you surely don't want to miss that one! See you next time, folks!

So anyway, I tried writing a book this summer. I should say I'm still trying to write a book, but it's sorta stalled right now. The big problem was that I spent most of this summer doing mindless work. This meant that I did a lot more thinking about the story than I did actually writing it. Now, that sounds great in principle because by the time I was ready to write, I should've known exactly what I was going to write because everything was already planned out. The problem was that every time I'd think about the story, I'd end up changing something, so that the stuff I'd already written didn't really work anymore without making lots of changes to it. So I ended up with a bunch of written pages, but none of it really worked together. Now I'm back in school, so the whole project is on hold for a while, and I'm doing this blog instead.

When I get a chance to go back and work on it some more, I'll just have to avoid thinking at all. This is where you, the viewer, choose the joke to follow "avoid thinking at all". I'll give you a few examples:

#1 ...I'll just have to avoid thinking at all. Hey, it works for the President! (buh-dump-siss!)

#2 ...I'll just have to avoid thinking at all. That's why they promoted me at my last job! (buh-dump-siss!)

#3 ...I'll just have to avoid thinking at all. Hey, it works for Congress! (buh-dump-siss!)

Maybe you can think of some of your own. That's what the comment section is for!

I think I'll end this post here. I'm not really good at wrapping things up, so I guess I'll just stop typing. After I sign my name. And type that last sentence. And that one too. These are actually sentence fragments. Except that last one. Ok, I'll stop.