Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Gasoline Blame Game

Blame China, blame India, blame Iran-fears and summer blends and higher than ever corporate profits, blame whatever comes to mind for the staggering jump in prices at gas pumps and record high prices for crude oil.

Shortages are hitting the east coast, which is blamed on not enough trucks to take new fuel supplies to market. Some call it a near perfect petro-storm.

Congressional leaders say they'll look at the problem, but don't expect much there since Exxon was a major contributor to House Speaker Hasbet's campaign, and the GOP overall had money gushing in their direction. Money flows from Chevron, from the Pilot Corp., and many more.

There has been some talk on capping oil company profits (never happen) or the government mandating price controls (nope, gives a false ceiling which will only increase inflation).

Oil addicts have no room to wiggle away. Pay what the Man charges and move along as best you can. And over the next few weeks, watch other prices start to move up as well. It takes more to move all those goods to the market. If you haven't bought your hybrid vehicle, you're part of the problem right? Not to worry, the President is on the job.

As one blog notes:

It isn't as though people don't recognize the difference between what Bush says, and reality on the other side. We're just resigned to this administration making up its own narrative to keep things bobbling along--at least until the next disaster.

What's odd is the Associated Press's own construction of a narrative that--if not in total agreement with the administration's--makes Washington out as a passive, rather than active, player in the story.

Whose concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions, after all, is driving this "crisis," anyway?

Friday, April 21, 2006

Camera Obscura - "Star Trek' Gets "Lost"

Hopes are high for Paramount that writer/director/producer J.J. Abrams (creator of "Lost" and "Alias") can once again go into the vast inky spaceways and breathe life into one of their most popular franchises, "Star Trek." Though many studio heads have given up on new life for the old space operatics, Abrams, fresh from his version of "Mission:Impossible" is bringing along the same scriptwriters from "M.I.3" for a new adventure. According to reports, the story will focus on the early days of character favorites James T. Kirk and the inscrutable Spock as it details their first meeting and their wild and crazy days in the Starfleet Academy. Both William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy, the one and only Kirk and Spock for legions of fans, are experiencing massive career surges and I'm sure they are both trying to find ways to get themselves inserted into this new movie.

Just ahead of the "DaVinci Code" movie is the movie of the other book of religious mystery that was an international hit, "The Celestine Prophecy." The movie opens today in limited release and stars Annabeth Gish, who admits the way she was drawn into the movie of spiritual hijnks was downright spooky.

The Internet, or at least those who use Craig's List, is the star in the upcoming DVD release "24 Hours On Craig's List." Filmmakers picked a day at random in one city and attempt to track down all the folks who posted requests for help or items or events and filmed the results. My favorite element from the promotional materials from the DVD:

An Ethel Merman drag queen searches for the perfect backup band for her Led Zeppelin covers. Doors for sale, one night stands, compulsive roomates, transsexual erotic services. The mundane and the sublime, the ridiculous and the profound, all come together to paint a portrait of a thriving, humanistic community in the midst of an ever-accelerating culture."

OK then.

The big news in movies this week though (despite the I Hate/Love Tom Cruisers hysteria) is the Tribeca Film Festival in NYC. New Yorkers will take their first tentative steps into movie versions of the events of 9/11 as festival patrons view "United 93." A review of the horrific tale of a doomed airliner is here. Also of note is the large number of fake documentaries unspooling at this year's festival. Moc-docs, as they are known, include "Air Guitar Nation" and there are several films examining the War in Iraq and the Bush presidency. A rundown of the movies can be read here.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

More Use Internet For Decisions

A new study notes the huge increase in people who make "important" life decisions by use of the internet, thanks to the wider availability of broadband internet access. (I just love phrases like "life decisions" and what that may or may not be.)

The study notes:

Specifically, we found that over the three-year period, internet use grew by:

  • 54% in the number of adults who said the internet played a major role as they helped another person cope with a major illness. And the number of those who said the internet played a major role as they coped themselves with a major illness increased 40%.
  • 50% in the number who said the internet played a major role as they pursued more training for their careers.
  • 45% in the number who said the internet played a major role as they made major investment or financial decisions.
  • 43% in the number who said the internet played a major role when they looked for a new place to live.
  • 42% in the number who said the internet played a major role as they decided about a school or a college for themselves or their children.
  • 23% in the number who said the internet played a major role when they bought a car.
  • 14% in the number who said the internet played a major role as they switched jobs.

  • If nothing else, working online sure beats paying nearly 3 bucks a gallon for gas to drive around paying bills, and while years ago I could almost always be found at a library reading and researching, it is much easier to use the Web and have any and all kinds of libraries here on my desktop.

    Also the White House has been using Open Source Web hunts and blogs and finds the intelligence vastly rewarding. So much so that the President now has daily blog and internet briefings. I'm all in favor of adding to the intelligence (pun intended) for government. With so much info and attitudes of national and international minds available on the Web, it makes little sense to start spreading around secret and illegal spying and searches. The new government office on Web research is paying off in spades. (hat-tip to Newscoma for this story.)

    Given this fact, I wonder how long it will be before we have a Presidential Blog Secretary to work with the Press Secretary?

    And in a marginally related story, I didn't really need the results of a sicentific study indicating that most men are so distracted by the sight of a pretty lady that they end up making bad decisions. But a study was made and yep, it's true. Truth be told, I prefer the "distractions" to tasks and decision-making, as most any acquaintance of mine will tell you.

    China's Hu Turns Starbuck's Promotoer

    I was glad to read I'm not the only one who noticed that China's leadership is focusing more on business as China's top man, President Hu Jintao tours the U.S. this week. A stop in Washington is last on his list of objectives. I can almost hear him defending this tour as the "It's the Economy, stupid!" business trip.

    First, Bill Gates and Boeing (siging contracts worth $16 billion and $4 billion respectively), then the White House. With a record $202 trade defict with China, they've got all the cards, the playing table and most of the chairs in the current economic game.

    Hu knows his target demographics well, making jokes about Starbucks, and making Bill Gates happy by putting Windows operating systems on Chinese computers, which also pushes away the Linux-based and cheaper software.

    Tuesday, April 18, 2006

    Meet The Professional Video Game League

    As popular as watching poker or racing on television has become, there is a new entry in the professional sports world coming to your television. The MLG - Major League Gaming - has a deal with the USA networks to air videogame competition from a host of cities in a series of playoffs meant to determine the champion gamers, with some $800,000 plus in winnings possible.

    More here, where observers note:

    The good players and quirky personalities are certainly out there," said gaming expert Michael Goodman, a Yankee Group analyst who noted that video-game competitions already draw big TV audiences in Asia. "It's like the 'World Series of Poker' -- no one would have thought that people want to watch a bunch of people sitting around a table playing cards, but it has become very popular."

    And I'll gladly admit it - I've been a videogamer ever since the ancient times of Atari and Commodore 64s. (Yes, I played Pong, too.) My PS2 has provided not only goofy and entertaining fun, it's also brought some truly intense challenges and experiences mentally and physically via a host of games too numerous to mention. Today's gamers can choose from almost every level of game experience - 3-D realities, racing, historic war games, alien encounters, board games, on-line role-playing and on and on.

    In addition to the rise of degreed study programs available and the high level of computer engineering available for tomorrow's game designers, there are some deep studies on the nature of videogames via such web sites as A study of theory and a clearinghouse for the philosophy of this media are offered, with info from Christian gamers to the current round-up of political games where you run for office, the site is a regular stop for gamemakers, players and designers.

    What would a game be without a corresponding Philosophy? Not a game, certainly.

    A Walled Border Is Ridiculous

    It's just ridiculous to think some kind of giant wall stretching across the border with Mexico would halt illegal immigration. I noticed this post, citing a case proving need for a wall, because ... well, I'm not sure what the logic here is at all. I do know this - if the federal and state government OKs such a plan, corporate contracts will fly, and illegal immigrants will be on this side of the wall earning money to build it.

    Georgia's Governmor just signed into law that state's own new reforms regarding illegal immigrants, phased in over a two-year period. The legislature approved sweeping changees, though no one in the government could give anything close to precise numbers on just how many illegals might be in the state.

    Question: if law enforcement arrests a suspect and finds them to be an illegal immigrant, would they not already report that capture to the Immigration Agencies? Apparently not, as that's part of this new law. Though I can't imagine why officials would not report an illegal in custody to INS.

    Since every legislator and the Gov. is facing re-election this fall, call this a Brochure Campaign - meaning, those seeking re-election can claim they fought for and enacted immigration reform on bulk-mail brochures they'll send to voters.

    Columnist Cynthia Tucker has pegged just why currrent laws aren't enforced and new programs are riddled with failure. Too many folks profit from the current use of illegals:

    So why haven't Congress and the White House fixed a broken immigration system? Because it works for so many — illegal workers, business interests and middle-class Americans alike. Industries such as construction and agriculture get a cheap and docile work force, poorly educated men and women who'll work Sundays and holidays and never report their employees for labor violations. Middle-class Americans get the benefit of cheaper products and services, everything from lawn care and domestic work to homegrown fruits and vegetables. And houses. Since home sales are keeping the economy afloat, politicians don't want to do anything to interfere with the massive housing-construction-and-sales complex."

    UPDATE: A more in-depth look at Georgia's new law is examined by R. Neal over at Facing South, and is very much worth the read. He notes that although a worker may apply for a temporary visa for working in the U.S., provided the proper forms are filled out and submitted, except that such classifications for temp. visas from Mexico are currently "closed" according to State Department info. Just read the post!

    Monday, April 17, 2006

    The Rise of the Howard Beale Party

    Outrage over politics is about as old as humanity itself, the players and outrages change from time to time, though in recent years - really since the mid 1990s - more and more people are looking for something besides the single party systems of Repubs and Dems. Single party because other than an occasional vote, the behavior and tactics are mostly alike for the Right and the Left. Thanks to a stream-lined process of endless fundraising and manufactured hysterics from the "Contract With America" crowd, federal representatives and senators must run high-dollar national campaigns. The concerns of a state or region of a state are by-passed to meet the needs of the national party.

    No, I never liked the proposals of the architect of the new Right Wing, Newt Gingrich - the man who taught Tom DeLay how to grab power. There already exists a "contract" between voter and government, called The Constitution. And if we decide it needs changing, there is a process for doing so. Trouble is - it takes time, years really, to change it. So attempts to by-pass that process via Executive Orders or Patriot Acts race ahead, quicker than a streak of lightning. Few people read the thousand-plus pages of that so-called Patriot Act before it was approved - with enough bluster and bureaucracy, it's easy to overwhelm the senses.

    Shallow tactics aimed at "control" are obvious, however, even celebrated. But the Grand Old Propaganda has truly failed - even exploded over the last few years and there are hopes the Democrats may take the majority in the fall elections

    ... Democrats face a far more forbidding challenge in attempting to nationalize the election. Reapportionment has left fewer contested districts. The political machine built by the right still has no Democratic equivalent. In 1994 the country was at peace. Now the Iraq War--even as Americans turn against it--divides Democratic politicians from their voters. Rebuilding after the Katrina catastrophe blurs partisan differences on the role of government. Yet the potential for a landmark election is clear. The corruption and crony capitalism of the Republican Congress and Administration are sources of unending scandal; it is simply the way they do business. The folks who came to make a revolution stayed to run a racket, and independent voters might well conclude that it's time for them to go. Moreover, Katrina exposed the tragic costs of the conservative scorn for government, and it brought to public attention the spreading poverty that marks Bush's failed economic policies.

    Just as Clinton and the Democratic Congress's failure to deliver on a central promise--affordable healthcare--turned voters off in 1994, heading FEMA with incompetent cronies exposed the fact that Bush and the Republicans punted on the central promise they made after 9/11--that they would keep America safe. And the response to Katrina revealed how out of touch the antigovernment crowd is. To defend the Administration's ineptitude, they sang from the conservative hymnal, charging that the Administration's failures prove big government doesn't work (the Cato Institute even called once more for abolishing FEMA). They blamed the victims, or as Linda Chavez, head of the Civil Rights Commission under Reagan, said of those who were stranded: "You are dealing with the permanently poor--people who don't have jobs, are not used to getting up and organizing themselves...and for whom sitting and waiting is a way of life." Senator Rick Santorum called for "tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out." (He later amended this to exempt the one-fifth of the population in the Katrina disaster area that did not own a car.) But Karl Rove realized this wouldn't sell, so Bush vowed to spend whatever it takes to rebuild the Gulf Coast, while ruling out any rollback of his top-end tax cuts to pay for it. Conservatives then detailed offsetting spending cuts--mostly in Medicaid and Medicare, as well as other poverty programs--that would only add to the misery of the most vulnerable.

    The Outrage, oh the Outrage.

    The wild cards in the upcoming election cycle belong to the "outraged" and the blog-writer activism, noted in the Washington Post recently and extremely evident on the Web. Plainly put - the candidates that can give a voice to the ever-more angry public may have an edge.

    However, I also have a theory that this particular viewpoint, given birth as the GOP's Martyr - Richard Nixon - collapsed in Watergate, and public doubts have grown in all the many many other "gates" that have followed. The Outraged already have a slogan, from a 1976 movie about politics and popularity, the demise of journalism and the rise of the Fed Up American - "Network". Just change the reference from television to the internet "network" and you'll be amazed at what you find, too.

    I vividly recall sitting in a theatre in Atlanta in the fall of 1976 as the brilliantly insightful screenplay by writer Paddy Chayefsky (already schooled in the Fear of Communism craze from the 1950s). He wrote not only to capture the terrorism-filled and fearful American mind of the 1970s, but he expertly captured the ideas that have been dominant in politics ever since.

    In the movie, Howard Beale, a veteran news anchor (one imagined Walter Cronkite at the time, whose daughter played a Patty Hearst-styled character in the movie) decides to announce his despair filled plans for suicide on the evening news. Wild curiosity follows, and the network sees a chance to boost it's ratings by letting the man ramble on and on - which does in fact bring huge ratings. A savvy programmer and the network bosses seize the moment and build on it - a TV landscape of shows structured of gossip, terrorism, fake reality shows and prophetic spin on the news. It's like tuning in to television in the 21st century.

    After prepping his audience with a rant on how bad it all is and how helpless Americans feel, he offers the first step of recovery:

    "Get up out of your chairs and go to your window. Right now. I want you to go to the window and open it and stick your head out and yell, 'I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore!' ... Things have got to change. But you can't change them unless you're mad. Go to the window."

    When Beale does a rant about corruption in the corporate world, noting how "Arabs" own more of corporate America than anyone really understands, and this time he tells viewers get up and send telegrams to the White House, expressing opposition to a proposed merger plan, he gets a whopper of a speech from his own corporate boss, who explains there are no nations, only a system of currency which must be served.

    Howard Beale ultimately falls victim to the corporate world, who arrange for terrorists to kill him on live television. The movie left the entire audience speechless that night back in 1976, a few hundred Americans sitting in utter quiet at the end.

    Now, thirty years later, more and more people are recalling Howard Beale, whether they know it or not. They are mad and if one side or another can channel the anger to power, it will happen. The real fear in the political world is that the Outraged have figured it out - that something new must happen.

    Who will win in the battle for the hearts and minds?

    Sunday, April 16, 2006

    Time Travel Possible via Internets

    Time travel occurs often on this here internets deal. I can sit in relative comfort here at my desk and move backwards and forwards thru time, which is both exhilarating and disturbing, makes a person kind of queasy shifting thru time.

    Medieval texts are available online, or you can join the birthday parties held this week in 33 countries celebrating the 45-year history of human space travel, "90 global space parties", complete with temporary Yuri Gagarin tattoos. See, right there is a name that has a bookmark in my own mind, a name most people under the age of 40 just don't know at all. I still recall the brilliant and jaw-dropping achievements of space travel and exploration and wonder why now the nation yawns or groans with tax-despair if you mention a space program.

    But the Web is grabbing up all manner of information and media and thankfully I can skate over to that moment in the past as easily as I cross the room to get my coffee cup. Names like Yuri G. arre stuck in my past, just like "Hud" and "Midnight Cowboy," and yeah, I can find places where people write about them, too.

    What set my thoughts this direction was the following link to a performance by the Cowsills band doing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison". Two of the four brothers in the band died recently, Barry was killed during Hurricane Katrina and frontman for the Cowsills, Bill, died in Feb. 2006. The band was all wholesome supposedly, and served as the inspiration for the "Partridge Family" TV show - though I never blamed them for that.

    And I was never even sure at the time when they were all over TV how they had this squeaky-clean image, since their biggest hit was a cover of the tune "Hair", from the counter-culture musical (and isn't that a contradiction in terms -?). And yeah, "Folsom Prison": early gangster rap, except most good country and bluegrass tunes are about someone getting killed or dying from heartbreak at least. On the link above, you can also find a performance they did for Playboy After Dark, and if my own weak memory serves, they used to play Vegas all the time - the old, dangerous Las Vegas.

    Why did the Cowsills band get stuck in my brain as I traveled in Time from there to here? Maybe it was that little Susan Cowsill on the bass that captured my attention.