August 22, 2007

Addicted to Rock & Roll

What's up with rock stars, actors, and celebrities being addicted to drugs and alcohol? Why does it seems that such a high percentage of 'stars' have chemical addiction problems? Here's a look at a few potential causes and some thoughts on each.

Money - It's well accepted that athletes, movie stars and musicians are all fairly wealthy. Feeding a drug habit takes a substantial amount of cash that most people can't afford- at least not without this spending controlling the rest of our lives. Wealthy stars can afford even the most expensive of drug habits. While less wealthy addicts need to steal, beg or otherwise spend their days feeding their habit. This cause is probably a contributing factor to many celebrities' habits, but taken by itself would imply that anyone with the enough extra cash would have a drug habit.

Opportunity - Being a 'star' provides many new opportunities that ordinary folk never have. Exclusive clubs, exotic vacations, and privledged access to people, places, and services that most people could only dream of. These opportunities give stars the chance to purchase and use drugs in a nearly consequence-free environment. Stars are less likely to be caught and can obtain the finest in court counsel when dealing with the legal ramifications of their actions. They are also in contact with dealers or other users that could provide them with drugs. If I were to decide to start using hard drugs, I wouldn't even know where to start or even who to ask.

The "Creative Mind" - There has long been an association between drug usage and creativity. Whether addictive substances do truly contribute to the creative process is a question for someone more experienced than I, but there has historically been a connection. Stars are frequently artists in one form or another and depend on creativity to do their work. Musicians, actors, writers, and artists may feel the need to dip into some artificial creativity when they need a new idea.

The "Stress of the Spotlight" - PR representatives, agents and other media spinsters suggest this cause frequently in an attempt to lure the public into sympathizing for -not criticizing against- the chemically troubled star. The idea is that the pressure of being in the media spotlight and the high-stress nature of their jobs drives them to turn to drugs to cope. I don't buy this argument. Sure, there can be a lot of pressure from the paparazzi constantly snapping photos of you as you walk the beach or drive your car, but would this not be offset by the benefits of stardom? The tradeoff between being followed by photographers and having and doing everything you've ever dreamed of is surely weighted toward the benefit side. Furthermore, there must be many jobs that are more stressful than acting, singing or sports. How many brain surgeons, air traffic controllers or CEO's are caught up in drug habits?

Lack of Education - One commonality between many drug addicted stars is the lack of a formal education. Schooling provides more than book knowledge. It teaches discipline, self-control, time management, and even drug resistance. Many stars skipped higher education altogether, and others started their celebrity careers much younger, and therefore were not exposed to formal schooling.

Everybody's Doing It - It's worth considering that perhaps the number of chemically troubled stars isn't particularly high. It's just that because they're in the spotlight, their problems are brought to the public conciousness. If one in ten celebrities have drug related problems, maybe one in ten Americans do too. We just focus on the famous cases- not the crack addict down the street. When you consider how many celebrities you can think of that have drug problems, how does that compare relatively to the amount of celebrities that you can think of at all? This comparison could also be done with drug addicts you know compared to everyone you know, but there's other problems with that analogy. (Mostly because drug addicts befriend other drug addicts, and non-users befriend non-users.)

Publicity - This theory is perhaps the most cynical of all. Stars may induce drug problems (or over-hype them) in a concious effort to garner media attention. With the amount of focus paid by tabloid television shows and grocery check-out magazines, a shortcut to the public spotlight might go through the bottle or pipe. I'd like to think that even the dimmest of stars would have enough sense not to sacrifice their health to appear on the cover of National Enquirer, but I don't put it past them.

Personality - This idea is similar to the "Creative Mind" theory. Simply put, same personality features (quirks and all) that drive individuals to be charasmatic, popular, and likeable are the same features that drive them to the downward spiral of drinking and drugs. I'm no behavioral psychologist, but we've all experienced some type of effect such as the lower inhibitions and attitude adjustment received from food, drugs or alcohol. Perhaps the two are more intertwined than we believed.

The list of stars with drug problems is far longer than the Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, and Britney Spears trio we here most of today.

How many drug afflicted stars can you think of?

Wikipedia -List of Drug Related Deaths
CelebGuru -Top 20 Celebrity Drug Confessions -Death by Drugs Quiz

July 28, 2007

Another night in Paris and a trip to the Normandy coast

Upon returning to Paris, I rode the bus from the airport in the middle of nowhere back to the city. It was late- maybe about 11:00 or later by the time the bus arrived in central Paris. I hopped off the bus and was about to head for the subway when I saw the two guys from Notre Dame. Remembering how difficult Paris could be for an unseasoned traveler, I offered them my assistance in getting to their hostel. They immediately accepted my offer and we headed for the subway.

The metro was a couple of blocks away from the bus stop. After crossing a few streets and heading underground, it became apparent that the Metro ticket office had closed for the day. The subway was still running, but there was nowhere to purchase a ticket to ride. Fortunately, I had purchased a pack of 10 tickets while previously in Paris, and I managed to rummage through my bag enough to find 3. We caught the next train and I showed the two Notre Dame guys where to get off at their stop. All they seemed to know that their hostel was 'near the Louvre'. I took them that far, but because I didn't think I'd be able to get back on the Metro, they went off on their own. I'll just assume that they made it just fine.

The hotel for that night for Clay, Charlie and I was on the other side of the city. As I stepped out of the subway, I realized that I had never seen this section of the city before and had no idea where the hotel might be. After some searching, I found my way into hotel, which was poorly marked (of course). So much so that the address I had was actually for a hotel on a neighboring street. When I walked in that building, the receptionist acted as if this happened all the time- and sent me down the street. After dropping off my stuff, I headed back out to the subway stop to grab the guys before they had to search the neighborhood too.

The next morning we left for Bayeux, which is a small town on the Normandy coast. In order to spend a decent amount of time there, we had to leave on the first train out. After a train change in Caen, we made it to our destination. To our surprise, the town wasn't exactly on the coast, nor was it a very walkable place to be. There were a bunch of signs -in English- advertising cab companies and tours. We had French-speaking Charlie and his cell phone with us, so we chose one almost at random. The tour guide picked us up about ten minutes later and off we went.

Our first stop was the American Cemetery. The newly completed visitor center was full of World War II artifacts and exhibits. A lot of it was similar to exhibits I had seen elsewhere in London's Imperial War Museum or in many different American museums. We left the visitor's center and headed for the cemetery, which was one of the most immaculate outdoor locations I've ever seen. Even Arlington cemetery in Washington wasn't this perfect. The landscaping was professionally done, with a tree lined path along the beach and into the cemetery itself. Even the grass was at uniform height throughout the area. We stepped into the main area, which consisted of a arc-shaped monument and reflecting pool on one end and a mausoleum on the other. A path led between the two major features at each end of the cemetery and off to either side were rows and rows of grave stones. Each was an identical white cross or star of David that was precisely in line with other stones in every direction. Nothing looked the slightest bit out of place. The rows were a perfect parallel to the way soldiers would stand in uniform on the parade grounds. We spent several quiet minutes among the graves, appreciating the loss of life that was sacrificed for such a noble cause. Unfortunately, time was becoming scarce.

We went back to the cab and the driver took us to Omaha beach- arguably the most infamous place on the Normandy coast. We walked through the sand and to the water, then looked back up at the cliffs. I could only imagine how daunting of a task it must have appeared for a soldier landing on that beach in 1944. Standing on the sand and seeing the entire continent of Nazi Europe ahead must have made the mission appear impossible. By 2007 however, the concrete emplacements of the Atlantic Wall had been removed as well as the tank traps, land mines and thousands of German soldiers defending their seized territory.

From the beach we returned to the train station and rode back to Paris, taking with us an appreciation of a landmark battle that could only be attained by seeing the site in person. When the train arrived in Paris, we had get across town to catch another train to Bordeaux. It was in the Monparnasse station where we were supposed to meet up with Sean.

Sean was flying in from Chicago that morning and planned on meeting us in the station. We had approximately 45 minutes to find him or we'd miss our train. Sean was nowhere to be found. We scoured the platform for 30 minutes trying to find him, but to no avail. With about 90 seconds til departure, we took off down the track and jumped aboard the TGV to Bordeaux, only minutes before it left the station. We frustratingly tried calling Sean, but with no answer.

June 23, 2007

Rome Part II

I didn't reach my hostel til 1am, thanks to the riot caused by Bush's arrival in Rome. I could actually see the riot going on from the bus as we drove into town. Several exits were blocked as the hundreds of police officers decked out in full riot gear tried to control the crowd. I walked to my hostel and checked in, then asked if Charlie and Clay had arrived. The front desk had no record of their reservation, so we had apparently booked two different hostels. I was staying at the Hostel Beautiful, and the receptionist informed me that there was also a Hotel Beautiful just a few blocks away.

In the morning, I had to find the guys. I woke up early in hopes that I could find their hostel before they left for the day. I know Charlie wanted to try to catch mass at the Vatican, so I had to be quick. I first walked down the street that their hotel was on, but I couldn't find it. I did discover an internet cafe however, so I sent them an email stating that I would wait at a specific place in the train station until noon. I waited near track one at Rome's Termini station for about an hour before I decided I should look for the hotel again. It was only a block or two from the station, so I could make it back quickly if I couldn't find it. This time around, I was more successful.

I finally found their hotel, which was on the fourth floor of the building. The exterior sign was quite small and completely overshadowed by another hotel in the same building. I ran up the stairs, still concerned that I might miss them at the train station. When I got to the reception desk, I asked the clerk if they had booked Charlie and Clay. Before he could answer, a young woman who was also standing at the desk, but was a guest, looked at me and asked "Are you Tyler?" She told me that she went out to a bar with the guys the night before and that they waited for me until 2am near the train station. She also said that Charlie and Clay had already left for the day. I asked if they had internet access at that hotel, to which they replied "yes." With that, I thanked the young woman, whom I never saw again, and took off down the stairs. I started back toward the station when I caught what looked to be a familiar face down the street. I yelled out to Charlie, who was standing outside an internet cafe, looking in to where Clay was checking his email.

I was pretty relieved to find them, and it turned out not to be as difficult as my initial fears. They had gone out drinking the night before, so they were in no shape to go to early mass. Charlie told me later that he tried to think of what I would do if I was trying to find them, and sending them an email (virtually the only telecommunication tool we had) would probably be on the list.


We walked many miles the rest of the day, starting at the Colosseum and working our way through the forum. We saw the Pantheon, the Piazza Navona, and the Trevi Fountain before finishing our evening with some traditional Italian pasta and a bottle of wine.

The next day we went to the Vatican, which required a two hour line outside the building, followed by being herded through the actual museum and Sistine Chapel. At some point this day we decided that when people at home asked us about our trip, we'd reply, "Well, it's hot, there's a ton of stairs, and you have to wait in line for everything." Really though, sometimes we walked up stairs, sometimes we waited in line. Sometimes we stood in lines on stairs, or walked up stairs to get in a line. There was a gazillion people most everywhere we went in Rome. Frankly, with the climate of Italy, I'd recommend traveling there in the spring or fall and skipping the summer rush.

On our third day in Rome, we had to fly back to Paris later that evening. We were really tired from the previous two days of walking and line standing, so we went to the fortress that sits in front of the Vatican on the Tiber river. Our intentions were to go inside, but that quickly changed when we realized it would cost 8 euros. That's about $10. I was on a budget as is, and paying a bunch of money for the privilege of climbing a bunch of stairs didn't sound to appealing. Instead we sat in park area near the fort and relaxed for a few hours. Sometimes it's nice just to enjoy the fact that you're on vacation.

The flight back went without incident. On the flight, I met two guys from Notre Dame who were traveling a bit before starting their summer study abroad program. They were a couple years younger than me and were clearly traveling around Europe for the first time. More on them when we get back to Paris.

June 11, 2007

Rome: Part I

After my last post, Charlie and I went to the airport to pick up Clay. His flight arrived after noon so we easily made it to the customs area of the airport that he would have to come through. Charlie and I held up signs for him- mine simply said "Samsonite". Getting back to the city was easy enough, and Charlie couldnt resist but pull a trick on Clay. We gave him an already used Metro ticket. When he tried to put it in the machine, it would read it as invalid and not allow the turnstile to move. We kept telling him to keep trying, saying that he already "broke France" within hours of arrival.

The rest of that afternoon was spent seeing some Paris sights such as Sacre Cour and the Eiffel Tower. This time however, we went to the top. We went right at dusk, so we were able to see from the tower with and without the daylight. At 10 oclock and every hour afterward, the tower sparkles with strobe lights. We watched from the grassy park below.

The next day, we took the RER out to Versailles, which is the famous palace just outside the city. We took the standard tour that included the king and queens living quarters, the rooms and rooms of art and riches, as well as the hall of mirrors. We had to fly to Rome that evening too, so we didnt stay too long.

Charlie and Clay flew separately from me, because I opted for a cheaper flight from a farther airport. The two of them left a little earlier, then I found my way to thebus stop that would take me an hour away to the Beauvais airport. While it was cheaper, taking this alternate flight proved more difficult than I hoped. On top of it being a late flight, the plane was also delayed. I didnt get to the city of Rome until 1 am, at which point I realized that I was booked at a different hostel than the other guys. I found it just fine, but I needed to find a way to catch up to them in the morning. We didnt have cell phones or any other way to quickly get ahold of one another.

Were going to get some food, so ill finish this story later. By the way, this keyboard apparently doesnt have an apostrophe button.

June 07, 2007

First Days in Paris

I arrived in Paris yesterday morning. I was tired from flying, but it wasn't as bad as it was in previous trips. With some help from a walmart brand sleep aid, I managed to get myself to sleep instead of watching the movie. From the Paris airport, which looks like it was built in 1957 and not touched since, i took the RER into the city. Charlie told me to meet him at the St Michael Fountaine so I navigated the metro to that stop. I got there an hour and a half or so before he would be in town from Bordeaux, so I took the time to walk around the neighborhood. From there, I could walk to Notre Dame and the nearby Latin Quarter. Around 11ish, Charlie showed up at the fountain. It was good to see him- he's been in france since january.

From there we took our things to the hostel so we wouldn't have to carry them. We found our hostel near the train station and went inside. I had a booking confirmation page I had printed from the internet booking service. The woman at the desk was completely confused. She had no record of our booking whatsoever. Charlie conversed with her in French and she looked all over for any indication of our reservation. Everything seemed to be done on paper, which made it a bit mystifiying that the hotel would be listed on the internet at all. That hotel was full, so we left and were able to find elsewhere to stay for only a bit more money. I wrote an email to the hostel booking service and they said they'd refund my money.

After getting settled, Charlie took me on a brief tour of the city. We rode the Metro to the Latin Quarter and walked around the island in the middle of the Seine. From there we walked to the Louvre, which is enormous. It was a gorgeous day so we did a lot of walking. We didn't go inside the Louvre because we weren't ready to dedicate the time necessary to really take it in.

We did go to the Arch d Triumph though, which requires an aggressive stair climb. The arch is gigantic. It really stands out along the skyline, and from the top you can look down all nine roads that lead to the circle in which it stands. You can also see down the Champs Elysee.

For dinner, we went to a local grocery store and bought some cheese and ham to make sandwiches with a baguette. Not the most gratifying dinner, but for the price it was a great choice. We also had a couple beers, which was a nice way to relax after a long day. Somehow I stayed awake til 11pm, which was very helpful to adjust to local time.

Today we went first to the Catacombs, which is where the French put a whole bunch of dead bodies that were causing health problems because they were originally put in a mass grave near the city. After walking through hundreds of yards of tunnels, you get to a section of tunnels that are lined with bones. Lots and lots of bones. Thousands of skeletons worth. There are human skulls, femurs and other parts in rows and rows. Many of them are arranged in patterns of crosses or hearts. The tunnels go on and on, with intermittent plaques with french philosophy on death. It's a really strange place, and by far the creepiest place I've ever been.

After grabbing some lunch (chinese), we walked to the eiffel tower. Which is also bigger than I thought... I'm sensing a theme here. We walked below it and through the nearby park. We didn't go up to the top because it's somewhat expensive and requires a long wait in line. We also toured some of the surrounding area. That brings me pretty much up to the moment.

We got a message from Clay saying his flight has been pushed back an hour or two, so instead of him arriving at 1030 as we previously thought, it could be as late as 1230. Even after checking with Air India, his chosen airline, we're still not sure of his arrival time. Him getting in later might hamper our chances of going to Normandy that day as we previously planned. Hopefully we can move some plans around and still get out there before coming back to the states. We'll see.

In other news, I was offered a job at Southeast. I'll need to call them. Hope everything is going well at home. Feel free to email me, I've been able to check it the past two days.

May 29, 2007

Hypermiling: Update

Late last week I finished my first tank of hypermiled gas. Using the techniques I described in a previous post, I managed 38 miles per gallon. Unbelievable. That's a 20-30% increase over the standard mileage.

The biggest lesson learned is how far the car will really coast. When you take your foot off the gas, the car keeps moving for quite a distance without slowing too dramatically. I've become almost obsessed with seeing how far I can coast and avoiding the brake pedal whenever possible. It's to the point now that I cringe at drivers ahead of me who use their breaks every time they see another car move.

Nevertheless, it's a driving style that I intend to continue. If you haven't tried it yet, do so. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

May 08, 2007


Thanks to the efforts of a friend, we managed to locate a wii. It only took about a month! As it turns out, the system is every bit as fun and entertaining as expected, if not more so. We picked up an extra controller and 'nunchuck' so that we have equipment enough for two players. We mostly play Wii Sports, but have also tried the Rayman game, which makes full use of the three dimensional motion ability of the Wii. The full motion sensing control of the system makes it unlike any other video gaming system I've ever played.

Beyond that, there's only been two destructive incidents (so far), both involving yours truly. The first came in the form of a loud whack to my elbow by my tennis doubles partner. The other, just yesterday, resulted from leaving a glass of lemonade sitting on the coffee table during a game of Wii bowling. I managed to roll the virtual bowling ball straight through the glass, breaking it with my hand and the controller. The glass went everywhere, spraying all over the carpet, and even bouncing off the tv and back to where I was standing. Fortunately, I was uninjured. Gotta be more careful next time.

If you're still on the fence about purchasing a new gaming system, I highly recommend the Wii -if you can find one.

May 07, 2007

Hypermiling: How I'm Fighting the Fuel War

We've all seen the gas prices lately and it's no news that they're going to keep going up. Everyone has their own commentary on the gasoline price hike, and as much as they complain and tell stories about how it cost them $60 to fill up the tank of their Chevy Suburban, no one seems to be doing anything about it. I, however, am taking a few small steps. More on that in a minute.

In the midst of the $3+ gas pricing, we're proving just how inelastic the demand for gas is. For those not so economics minded, that means that as the gas prices climb, the demand, or how much gas we buy, is not changing. If the demand for gas were more elastic, the public would react to the price hike by purchasing less gasoline. So far there hasn't been much change in the quantity of oil purchased, therefore indicating two things:
1. Gas prices won't go down much because they don't have to.
2. People would generally rather pay increased fuel costs than create an alternative solution to this problem, at least at current prices.

Have you changed your driving habits recently? How does your current fuel usage compare to that of a year ago or five years ago when gas cost less than half what it does today? And if your driving habits haven't changed much, how high would prices need to climb before you took action?

I was talking to a friend last weekend who lives in a Cincinnati suburb and works just north of Dayton. Every day he drives about an hour to and from work, and spends many of his weekends in Athens, which is 130 miles or so to the east. I asked him how the gas prices were affecting his commute and weekend travel. He told me he still planned doing the same commute every day and making the trip to Athens most weekends. I followed up by asking how high gas prices had to go before he'd seriously consider moving to Dayton or driving to Athens less frequently. He thought $4 per gallon would be about as much as he could take.

Four bucks a gallon? Sheesh. In high school, which was really not that long ago for me, I could fill up my tank to the brim, starting from nil, for $20- and I'd get change back. Today, I spent more than double that amount for the same gas in the same tank.

I've been driving the same car -a '96 Corolla- since I got my license. Even though I'd love a new car, it's pretty much out of the question. I can't do it financially because I'm still working on that whole long-term employment thing. If I could, I'd get something with superb mileage. I'd seriously be considering a hybrid too. For now, I'm making do with what I have. Despite the fact that it'll hit 170,000 miles this week, my car is holding up very well mechanically. Throughout its life, it has maintained a solid upper twenties mpg. But I'm now making efforts to take that even further. In fact, my current goal is to hit 35mpg.

It's called "hypermiling", and it's becoming almost a competitive sport. Contenders use car modifications and driving techniques to squeeze every mile out of each gallon of gas. One driver who is a hypermiling extremist gutted the inside of his Honda Insight (already a high mpg vehicle) and added a few other modifications to hit 99 mpg. I'm not ready to commit to permanently altering my car, nor do I have the cash to replace engine parts. But I can use a few of the techniques to save some gas money and the environment.

To understand hypermiling, look no further than this article that illustrates a Wisconsin driver who can get 59 mpg with a 2005 Honda Accord -and it's not a hybrid. His techniques take the notion of avoiding braking a sudden acceleration to the max. The journalist who wrote the piece talks about how the driver would take curves at 50 mph, just so he wouldn't have to slow down (and then use gas to speed up again).

Here's what I'm going to do to improve my mileage. Many of the following techniques can be done by anyone, so see what you can do. I'm fortunate enough to drive a manual transmission (god bless it), but I'd imagine that you can make some of these work in any car.
  1. Put the car in neutral when going downhill or when needing to decelerate. - This happens more often than you'd think. While driving, pop the car in neutral and be amazed at just how far the car can coast without becoming a traffic hazard.
  2. Watch the speed. -Cars optimize their highway fuel economy around 55mph. When you speed up to 70, you're not only increasing your chances of getting a ticket, but you're wasting a significant amount of gas to stay at that speed. Furthermore, traveling at 70 instead of 55 only gets you there a few percent faster... no more than about 75 seconds on a 30 minute drive.
  3. Drive in the highest gear that works. - Instead of pushing the engine into 3-4,000 rpm in third gear, use fourth or fifth gear. This is especially helpful if there isn't a reason why I'd need to accelerate quickly.
  4. "Ridge-ride" -This is taken straight from the Mother Jones article. Especially when it's raining, keep your right tires on the white line on the side of the road. This will keep all four wheels out of the subtle grooves in the road that are created by years of use. These grooves collect water that your engine must move in order to keep the car going.
  5. Use the A/C sparingly. It's well known that the air conditioner lowers fuel economy. If you don't believe it, try it. With your car sitting idle, turn on the a/c and watch the tachometer. You'll see a slight increase when the air is on. A la Mythbusters, I'm going to lower the windows when I'm going slower than about 40 to keep the car cool, and turn on the air above that speed.
  6. Keep the tires fully inflated.-This tip has been around for as long as there has been an interest in mpg. Keeping the tires inflated keeps the least amount of rubber on the road and therefore produces less friction for the car to fight.
  7. Get the lead out. - Keep heavy items out of the car. Every pound in the car is one more pound the engine must move. I need to get my golf clubs out of the trunk, now that I think about it.
This list is just a beginners' guide, but that's probably more than enough for most of us. Just think, if we could each raise our mpg by just a few miles per gallon, we'd use that much less gas, save that much more money, be less addicted to foreign oil, and contribute to a greener planet.

April 10, 2007

Something Wii Don't Understand

Wii We have finally decided to purchase one of the current generation video game systems. The choice is between the Nintendo Wii, the Playstation 3 and the X-Box 360. We've come to the conclusion the Nintendo product is the one we should invest in, if we can find one.

The Nintendo Wii hit the market back in November- nearly 6 months ago. Despite this, they're nearly impossible to find. I've scoured a number of local stores looking for a Wii, but they're all perpetually out of stock. If they are expecting more units, they generally don't know when they might arrive. I've made notes of when some of the major stores get shipments in, but that's iffy at best. It's frustrating that I have to go through this much work for the privilege of paying someone $250.

I don't understand how Nintendo has not been able to produce enough of these systems to meet demand. Now, months after its release, you'd think they would have caught up on their distribution. Sure, there's something to be said for creating an artificially high demand for the system to create a 'buzz' about it, but I don't think the benefits from that strategy outweigh the costs.

While the Wii is out of stores, the XBox 360 and Playstation 3 are easy to find. Most stores have a number of 360's on hand, and at least one lonely PS3 behind a glass case. Many potential Wii owners are opting for an available system instead of chasing down stocks of Nintendo Shipments or paying a premium to purchase one on eBay.

In addition to losing system sales to its competitors, Nintendo is missing out on millions of dollars of accessory a game sales. After all, no one is going to buy additional controllers, games, and battery rechargers if they don't own the actual Wii. For video game makers, most of their profit comes from these accessory sales- not the sale of the actual system. Currently, the Playstation 3 and XBox 360 are actually being sold at a loss, and the Wii at a very small profit. But those losses are worth while because of the huge profit margin on the accessories. When I last checked Wal-Mart, they had no Wii's available, but were actually quite overstocked on Wii accessories and games.

If I were a video game console manufacturer, I would make as many units as I could before the release date (and immediately afterward) to take advantage of all the demand. And within six months, I'd fully intend on it regularly being in stock at major retailers.

All I want is the chance is to destroy my personal property with one of those 'wii-motes'. That's all.

April 07, 2007

Fertilize This

Every now and again we get mail that doesn't belong to us.... but sometimes we get mail that doesn't belong at all.

Case in point:

I live in an apartment building that has 16 individual residences. No one within a quarter mile owns a lawn. Oops.

April 05, 2007

Bush Works Around Congress Yet Again

Today, Bush made another one of his infamous recess appointments, placing a one Sam Fox as ambassador to Belgium. Mr. Fox was a major contributor to the ‘Swift Boat’ campaign ads that slandered John Kerry’s military record during the 2004 Presidential race. President Bush had made earlier efforts to place Fox in an ambassadorship, but was quickly shut down by the Democratic congress. While Belgium may not seem at first to be an incredibly key foreign post, Brussels is the headquarters of the European Union, as well as NATO.

Bush has a record of making these ‘recess appointments’, which allow him to bypass Congressional approval when making Presidential appointments. In addition to Sam Fox, controversial UN Representative John Bolton was put in office this way, as well as numerous others:

It’s all legal– check Article II section 2 of the constitution. Recess appointments were initially created so that the government would not be held idle because Congress was not in session. In ‘ye olde’ days, it could take days or weeks for congressman to gather in Washington. If important work needed to get done immediately, the President had the power to make necessary appointments so the important work could go on. Today, our legislative representatives can get to and from the Capitol in hours. If it were a dire emergency, representatives could congregate immediately and address a situation. Despite this, the rule still still in effect, and President Bush has aggressively taken advantage of this system to subvert democracy and do whatever he wants.

This law needs to be changed. If not removed entirely, it should make any presidential recess appointments valid only for a certain amount of time. I would suggest 30 days, or 14 days past Congress’ first day back from recess. This would be a change from the present rule, which allows appointments to remain in place -unconfirmed by congress– until the end of that congressional session. Of course, changing this rule would require a constitutional amendment- no small task.

February 20, 2007

We're all gonna DIE!

A contingent of astronauts, astronomers and yes, rocket scientists, are urging the U.N. to do something about an asteroid that's heading straight for Earth.

On April 13, 2036, the asteroid "Apophis" is scheduled to pass near our little blue planet and will have a 1 in 45,000 chance of colliding with us. The identified space object is 460 feet long, (which is about where I max out with my 8 iron) or about a football field and a half for those who are length-measurement challenged.

I think it's funny that they're asking the UN to aid in absolving a potential crisis almost 30 years away. This is an organization that has made minimal efforts to combat terrorism and has been hit and miss on averting genocide... not to mention the Secretary General's position being loaded with so many funny multi-cultural names.

The project to 'deflect' the asteroid could cost $300 million, which is less than one tenth of one percent of what the Iraq war has cost -and it could potentially save the world. Priorities, priorities.

February 18, 2007

Escape Club: Wild Wild West

Nowadays it's rare to actually see the music video for a current song. It's even rarer to see the video for an 80's song, as it requires tuning into VH1 Classic at exactly the right time to catch it. Thank god for the internet though- YouTube provides a place for us to find all of these outdated video goodies.

Here's the video for Escape Club's Wild Wild West. I've known this song for as long as I can remember, but have never seen the video. I'm not sure what exactly I expected, but it certainly wasn't this. Really, this video seems like a demonstration of one particular video effect.

Video Director (to video editors): What kind of effects can you guys do?
Editors: We can do wipes, captions, fluorescents, that sort of thing.
Director: Seen it. Anything new?
Editors: We can take specified part of a shot and mirror it, like an arm or something. (Editor demonstrates)
Director: Perfect. I want four minutes of that.

February 08, 2007

Anna Nicole Smith Dead at 39

Forgive me in advance for speaking ill of the dead, or blasphemy, or whatever. Anna Nicole Smith was found dead today in her hotel room, and I can't say I'm all that choked up about it. I'd never wish such an ill upon anyone, so it's not like that, but I certainly won't be in tears over her passing.

Anna Nicole Smith has annoyed me for years. She came to fame with a pretty face (I actually find her gummy smile sorta gross) and a place in Playboy. She became even more famous when she married an 89 year old billionaire, who then died shortly thereafter. That's what really brought her to the center of entertainment news. She was caught up in legal disputes for years regarding his money, as the man's family, friends, the media, and quite possibly the entire American public believed Smith was just after his money.

Later, she starred in her very own "reality" show, which focused on her wealthy life. In every tv appearance, news story, or other media coverage, I always thought she fulfilled the stereotype of the ditsy blond she was. The media in and of itself was her vehicle to stardom. In the end, she became famous because she was famous, in a situation reminiscent of Paris Hilton. Smith had no positive impact on society, and never accomplished anything more than establish a 'party girl' image.

Doctors have already stated that her body had high levels of methadone and anti-depressants. For those who don't know, methadone is a heroine substitute that is used to ween addicts off of the real stuff. Much of the time, heroin users are just as addicted to methadone as they were to heroin, but because it's considered a "treatment" drug, they can acquire it much more easily.

The media has already begun 24 hour coverage of Smith's death, and no doubt will continue for days. Look for coverage of her death on every channel from CNN to E to the major news networks and beyond. I'm sure Larry King will have a few words about her too. I fear that the death of Anna Nicole will spiral into one of those decade long controversies that are inescapable- sort of like Jean Benet Ramsay, Marilyn Monroe or Kurt Cobain. Because her death wasn't witnessed, the media will produce new theories about it for years to come.

Maybe me writing this now is a tad premature. In fact, yeah, it probably is. But I thought I should say something before she is canonized on tv. CNN already called her a modern Marilyn Monroe. The fact is that Anna Nicole Smith was a con artist junkie who brought on her own death by using countless drugs. She leaves behind a 4(?) month old child with an unknown father, and several lawsuits regarding her children and late husband. Her other son, who was older, died last fall as well. The investigation on her son suggests that it may have been foul play, and Anna Nicole could potentially have been involved.

I'm not going to let the media fool me into thinking she was an angel whose life was tragically cut short, because I'm in tune with reality enough to know that that is not the case.

February 06, 2007

Proof that life isn't fair.

One of the chief duties of my current job is to process new-hire paperwork. The recruitment side of human resources takes care of the actual hiring, then after the person comes in for orientation and fills out all of the tax paperwork and whatnot, we put it into a legible form then file it away.

Included in these packets of papers from orientation is everything that was used during the process. This includes a copy of their resume, job application, interview schedule, interview notes, offer letter, and other related info. Of course, I end up seeing all of these documents as they come across my desk. I’m required to pull certain information from each of these papers then sort them as needed.

While most of the hiring that I see is of qualified applicants with substantial industry experience, once in a while I get one that just doesn’t belong. This company imports employees from all over the world. I’ve seen many visas from Europe, Asia and Australia, and a group of people just walked by speaking in Spanish. When a company goes through this much trouble to gather the best workforce it can, it really makes me wonder how some people can slip through the cracks.

Today I did the paperwork for a new HR coordinator for the New York City office, at a salary that is easily three times what I make. The recruit had no relevant work experience. Not even a little. They were a former minor Broadway actor who had appeared in several shows, but had never worked in an office before. They also had no college degree, and went to a ‘fine arts’ type high school. In essence, this person isn’t qualified to run the copy machine, let alone be in charge of recruiting, hiring, and managing employees at one of the company’s biggest offices.

As if that wasn’t enough, I also saw the interview notes. These were actually written down in his application packet. The highlights:
-“No relevant work experience”
-“No degree”
-“incoherent at times”
-“communication skills are a bit poor”
-“struggled through specific questions”

And my favorite:
-“would be a big risk”

And this guy has a job, but not me.

February 02, 2007

Nintendo 22 years old. Holy crap.

It caught me off guard because I really haven't thought about it in a while. The Nintendo Entertainment System, or NES, is 22 years old.

This device was pretty definitive of my childhood... that is until super nintendo came out in 1991ish. For the record, the N64 probably ate up more of my time then the two combined, and don't even get me started on the PS2.

I'm sure many of us remember the glory days of the NES. It was the first truly mainstream in-home video game player. Sure, atari and commodore 64 preceded it, but those didn't have the pizazz of an 8 button controller a zapper and plumbing duo. Duck hunt, mario, dr mario, mario 2, mario 3... a lot of mario really. That was the bread & butter of the NES, though it didn't blossom into much of a blockbuster in theaters (1993).

It's still pretty easy to find a working NES console. I know my family has at least one or two around the house, and it generally works. You usually have to wiggle the cartridge a little bit from one side to the other and have to blow the contacts to get a game to play, but wasn't that half the fun?

Maybe not, but it's something we all dealt with at one time or another. After all, who's never played NES? I always wondered how much good came from blowing into the cartridge. I mean yeah, it could get the 'dust' off of the contacts, but how much of the true benefit was just taking it out and readjusting the cartridge when you put it back in? And how much damage did it do when you'd blow into it and get spittle all over the place? I remember that happening more often than not.

Those games were so much simpler. About 75% of the time, the objective was just to move the character from one side of the screen to the other. Come hell or high water (or goombas) you could get the hero, often clad in ninja attire or overalls, to the right side and move on to the next "world". Those games are too easy and too simple for today's youth who have grown up without ever seeing an actual music video on MTV, or played a video game that involved fewer than 12 buttons and an optical drive.

What brought the notion of 22 years of NES to my attention was the following comic from I think us NESers can relate.

January 26, 2007

Bush OKs Killing Iranians

According to this article from Slate, President Bush has officially authorized U.S. forces to kill or capture Iranians fighting with Iraqi insurgent militias in order to stop Iran's influence in Iraq.

If U.S. forces on the ground in Iraq are attacked by Iranians, I expect, nay, encourage them to return fire and defend themselves. There's no reason they shouldn't be able to protect their own troops. What concerns me is that this could potentially be seen as authorization to pursue and attack groups that definitely are from Iran- potentially throwing gas on the Persian-American fire that is already building.

Iranian insurgents fighting amongst Iraqis is not only possible, it's probable. I would have preferred that soldiers just did what it took to defend themselves without having an officially sanctioned policy that target Iranian citizens.

While this policy is not the same as declaring war against Iran, it still does mean the killing of another nations' citizens... and the Bush administration insisted this wasn't an escalation! It's only a matter of time until enough Iranians are killed or captured that Iran officials get really upset about this and does something drastic, or mobilizes their military to defend themselves in Iraq.

January 16, 2007

The Working Poor

My whole life, that is, until I finished college, I considered myself a part of the middle class. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a nice house in a nice neighborhood and went to a good public school. I always had a roof over my head, a warm bed to crawl into, and all of my needs were met.

After working through 4 years of college, I'm poorer than ever, with no sign of change soon. Today, I align myself with the working poor- a struggling group that doesn't seem to get ahead despite hard work and dedication.

I live with my girlfriend. She's a 4-year graduate of one of the best journalism schools in the country who managed to achieve a 3.8 GPA. I graduated with a masters degree in economics. Neither of us make more than $10 per hour.

Ten bucks an hour would have sounded like a lot just a few years ago. Even today, it's more than I've ever made in my life. I've had a number of jobs, and this one has more hours and a higher wage than any other. Despite this, I'm ineligible for health benefits, sick time, vacation time, 401k, or anything of the type. I also drive 40 minutes to and from work, so extra cash goes straight into the gas tank. Worst of all, I've been working temporary assignments for the past few months. I figured it would be a way of building experience, but it doesn't provide any permanence. I have no certainty that I'll still have a job here next week, let alone next month.

My girlfriend has made more money than this before. She used to be a waitress, and while it doesn't carry much in the way of prestige, it brought home more cash than her current job- bank teller. She's thought of going back to that line of work, and does often. The catch is that a restaurant won't provide health benefits. We need that medical plan, as we're both on it.

We don't have much spare money. We pay utility bills, rent, and car insurance with the majority of our paychecks, and the rest goes to food, car insurance and debt. She has credit card debt left over from college that she's been able to maneuver through 0% interest cards, and I have $20,000 in student loans that I'll be paying back for the next decade or so. Even though we each pay only half of each bill, it still seems like money disappears so fast.

If one of us could land a real job, it would take a lot of the pressure off of the other in so that they could find salary somewhere too. If we could each get a decent job, say, somewhere around $35k, (which is still well below the US GDP per capita of 41,000) we could substantially improve our predicament. It would alleviate the pressure to pinch pennies and use credit cards to keep afloat.

It bewilders me how we've had such a hard time finding work. We're both smart kids, well educated, with spotless legal records. We're friendly, respectful, and thoughtful. We're willing to take just about any job that promises opportunity. We've made substantial efforts to get ourselves out there, and have applied to several positions per week for months. I know we've submitted well over a hundred resumes, to job openings near and far. I've managed one interview, and she has had a few calls back, but nothing promising. Neither of us know why we're failing. It's unknown whether we're tremendously unqualified for the positions to which we've been applying, or if simply no one is reading our cover letters and resumes.

Maybe my presumptions were simply off the mark, but I expected more. I truly thought an advanced degree would put me on some kind of career path out of college. My girlfriend thought that good grades were a ticket to a good job. In this new year, we each only make a couple dollars more than minimum wage. That is to say that our college degrees and other credentials only benefit us a tiny bit over the least educated, least talented, and least qualified individuals employed in the state. If there's anything to be learned here, it's that a degree guarantees you nothing.

As downtrodden and hopeless as my words may read, I haven't given up hope. I am mindful that a job opportunity may be only a phone call away. One day, things will work out. We'll get jobs and be able to establish a better life. We'll even think back to today in few years, and laugh about how frustrated and stressed we were. However, when I do get to that point, I don't want to forget what this felt like. The lifestyle I lead now is the past, present, and future for so many people. I don't want to forget what it feels like to struggle.

I've been reluctant to publish this posts because it largely just sounds like me whining. And in a lot of ways, that's exactly what it is. But it's a way for me to air my frustrations with the system that's been pushing me back for months- isn't that what blogging is for? I do understand that even our frustrating lives are significantly better than so many others. We do have a lot to be thankful for. At the same time, I don't want use that as a rationale to cast my thoughts aside. Everyday I talk to people that don't seem to be any more special than anyone else, yet they hold down successful careers. Why not me? What it comes down to is the simple fact that I expected to have more by this point than I currently do- and I mean that in an overall life sense, not necessarily materialistic. Most of all, I'd like to share my experience with those younger than me. My friends, siblings and others who have yet to embark on this stage of your life. I sincerely hope that you have better luck than I- but don't get your hopes too high too fast. It's a difficult struggle ahead.

January 10, 2007

New Bush Plan in Iraq: Bigger Shovel

Bush announced tonight his new plan for Iraq. Just as described by the media leading up to tonight, his plan is simply to send 20,000 more troops in a 'surge' to attempt to quell the violence in Baghdad and other regions of the country.

While I expected nothing less from his naive and out-of-touch mind, I thought the overall plan would include a little more strategy than simply sending forth more American young people, I was not so lucky. Bush stated:

Our troops will have a well-defined mission, to help Iraqis clear and secure neighbourhoods, to help them protect the local population, and to help ensure that the Iraqi forces left behind are capable of providing the security that Baghdad needs"

Call me crazy, but I thought that was what were already doing. I thought all along that U.S. forces were being deployed for the purpose of protecting Iraqi civilians from insurgents. Bush is failing to recognize that such a strategy, defined so broadly, isn't enough. U.S. forces have been using the same tactics since day 1, and that was back in 2003. This is the strategy that dug the United States into the hole that it is in. Mr. Bush: when you're in a deep hole, a bigger shovel isn't going to help you get back out.

After all of the hoopla last year about new Iraqi strategy, and the multiple reports explaining the situation (not the least of which, the Baker-Hamilton plan), this is what we get. Sounds to me like Bush just didn't want to do the reading, and instead just did what made sense to him and him alone. After all of the work that was done developing a strategy, after all the analysis of what's happening on the ground, after all the consideration of diplomatic strategy, increasing Iraqi troop levels and criticism of Iraqi leadership, the best we can get is a 'surge'. It's as if the only message he understood from any of the reports was "Failure = Bad". For something so bad, he's damn good at it.

As if the situation isn't bad enough, Bush claimed that Al Qaeda is attempting to seize control of the Anbar province of Iraq. We know Al Qaeda wasn't in Iraq before the war, and we know that there has been a flood of jihadists moving into the area since, and now they're going so far as to take over a province? What the hell? Didn't this whole operation begin as a 'war against terror'? So not only is the U.S. apparently not winning that war, the terrorists are actually gaining ground? I certainly hope not. I'm going to call Bush's bluff on this one, and I hope I'm right. He and his cronies need to incite Americans to back his stale war, and they turn to the only words that many of us would respond to. There were ten mentions of al Qaeda in his speech, and one mention of September 11... just in case we forgot.

I'm tired of his 'whatever it takes' for 'victory' attitude. The man knows no limits, nor understands the reality in which we live. No American would say they want anything but victory in Iraq. Nobody wants to lose, and we are all in debt to those who have been lost. However, our definition of victory needs to change. The day will never come when Muhammad Jefferson, Jihad Madison and Osama Franklin will quill a constitution and bill of rights that will provide for the freedom of Iraqis the same way we have those freedoms in the U.S. That outcome was never an option, and anyone who thought otherwise is completely out of sync with the middle east, and really the world as a whole. The Bush administration needs to find what they believe to be an acceptable level of success and make progress to get out of Iraq and let the original objectives go. It's not worth it anymore. It's not as easy as you thought it would be, and it's not going to get easier. The beehive has been thoroughly shaken, and an extra baseball bat or two isn't going to put the bees back in the nest.

Even the generals are criticizing this whole 'surge' plan. Normally, generals are the most trigger happy of all government staff, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to utilize new weapons systems and demonstrate America's military might. When the generals get hesitant, you know there's a problem. Bush acts as if he's doing the generals a favor by giving them 'what they want'- he's insisted for some time now 'if they want more troops, they get more troops. if they want less troops, they get that'. Ceding too much authority to the military top brass is worrisome on its own. No general, corporal, admiral or lieutenant is an elected official- meaning there is no political recourse for citizens, nor is there a lawful obligation to serve the people... Only indirect obligation and recourse via the elected President, aka Commander-in-Chief. Fortunately, what those generals want now is strangely nonparallel to Bush's strategy

The most frustrating part of the whole scenario is the hopelessness I feel about the whole situation. It doesn't seem like there's anything you or I can do to slow down this boat ride down the river Styx. Even Congress has its hands tied on the whole thing. They can't directly stop the deployment of more troops- and if they decide not to fund the operation, they look like they're the ones putting U.S. forces in danger.

Just as Bush foresaw back in October, it very well may turn into just him, Laura, and Barney believing in the Iraq mission. And Barney was recently seen humping someone else's leg.