May 20, 2013

Getting used to the future: Why I’m going camping this weekend

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 11:54 am

Consider this message in your inbox to be like a vacation e-mail response. “I’m going camping this weekend — roughing it, so to speak. No electricity. No automobiles. No computers! No heating and cooling units, no public library, no TV and no Berkeley Bowl Marketplace for food.”

Just me and a tent and the great outdoors, up on the Tuolumne River.

Will I survive? Given my low-level camping skills, the answer to that question might actually be “no”.

But going camping occasionally is always a good idea. It makes us more grateful for the soft life we now live down in the cities. And it should also make us appropriately angry that our greedy, stupid and immoral leaders have systematically squandered the incredible wealth of our national cornucopia on unnecessary, stupid, immoral and endless wars.

Happy Memorial Day — although it looks like no one in America seems to remember what our thousands and thousands of heroic dead soldiers should have been fighting for but were not — the right for ALL Americans to have a future that doesn’t involve living in tents.

August 19, 2011

What recession?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 2:13 pm



On the morning of August 18, 2011, while the cable channels with new were delivering non-stop monitoring of the numbers for the Dow Jones industrial average, people who were more concerned with automobiles were pouring into the town of Monterey California where their attention was focused on more esoteric topics such as the pre-auction estimate that a privately owned Ferrari would sell for two to three million dollars.

Anyone who asks why someone would be willing to pay that much for a car that had been driven in the 1952 La Carrera Panamericana race by Alberto Ascari and Giuseppe Scutuzzi should generate such expectations would probably not comprehend the answer.

Recently in both Berkeley and San Francisco, the ranks of the homeless asking for spare change seems to be growing exponentially, so which bit of news tells the true story about how the economic picture for the USA looks this week?

Journalists who focus on one aspect of contemporary culture can be compared to a gourmet critic who goes to a smorgasbord takes one bite of one offering and then basis his entire evaluation on that isolated bit of factchecking.

A writer with a sharp sense of irony might find it curious that at a time when more and more people are becoming homeless, the story for travelers arriving in Monterey was a modern variation of the “no room at the Inn.” A single at a nationally know chain of hotels was available for $309. The local hostel was booked solid.

In a predicament like that a columnist might envision writing something that Chuck Thompson, author of “smile when you’re lying: confessions of a rogue travel writer,” would be proud to submit.

A Hunter S. Thompson wannabe might find enough material to make an expedition to this year’s installment of the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance sound like it should be titled “Beer and Loafing in Monterey.” Would “Champaign and Loafing” be more appropriate?

In an era when austerity measures have nearly crippled the concept of “paid vacation” assignments, if the Ferrari (serial number 0226 AT) with Vignale coach work sells for considerably more than the pre-auction estimates, the resulting sensation will trigger a desperate scramble at various news organizations that had failed to send someone to the weekend event.

If, on the other hand, the vehicle fails to meet expectations, the various news media that skipped the costs of being on hand just in case will breathe a sigh of relief.

There is a journalism legend that asserts that when a LIFE magazine photographer (back in the Eisenhower era) turned in an expense account for shooting a story onboard an ocean liner, he included an amount for taxi fare. The accounting department challenged the item and was informed: “It was a big ship.” They paid him the money.

Shouldn’t a columnist who posts on web sites that monitor the news and information about political issues be devoting his efforts to producing a column that challenges the reader to consider the possibility that the recent BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) computer snafu which shut down the system during a recent commute hour and preceded the recent series of news stories about the agency’s struggle to contend with computer hack attacks (allegedly from the Anonymous group) might (potentially) have been spawned via a hack from their adversaries? To which the hypothetical writer would probably respond: “What’s the policy for paying bloggers Over Time?”

Didn’t there used to be a ubiquitous vulgar suggestion about how an overworked and underpaid employee could sweep the floors while simultaneously contending with an already crowded “to do” list? Isn’t a complaint about being overworked now considered a quaint example of obsolete folk humor? What means it when journalists exclaim: “this afternoon, the ME wants to go waterskiing”?

Rather than waxing eloquent about a 750 Monza Scaglietti Spider (s/n 0492 M), which had been driven in various competitions by John von Neumann, Phil Hill, and Harrison Evans and “won” the fictional “Australian Grand Prix” in the movie “On the Beach,” shouldn’t a political pundit be speculating about the possibilities that Col. Qadaffi, who responded to President Reagan’s bombing of Libya by instigating the bombing of a Pan Am airplane over Lockerby Scotland, might retaliate even more vigorously to this year’s continued drone attacks on his own life and country? Probably.

Editors who have to contend with an obstreperous columnist, who shoots more than 800 photos on a Nikon Coolpix in a 40 hour period, rather than churning out 800 words on a more pertinent topic, know the concept of “high maintenance employee” very well. Wouldn’t the recent pathetic and anemic (with the notable exception of Mike Malloy) tone of progressive talk radio be more appropriate than the selling price of a mint condition Bugatti? Don’t the progressives urging the reelection of the incumbent in next year’s Presidential Election sound as strained and insincere as the assurances a wife gives regarding the admirable qualities of her husband who is notorious in the local community for conducting numerous simultaneous love affairs? (I.e. wouldn’t you love to get a buck for every time they reassure their audiences that “he really is a progressive and not a stealth Republican”? So why not elaborate that metaphor in the new column?

However, it’s not bloody well likely that the BBC would be interested in the (perceptive?) insights of a rogue American blogger about the fact that the Anonymous grope hackers seem to have no problem gaining entry to various computer systems while advocates of the unverifiable results from the electronic voting machines still stoutly maintain that those machines are immune to hacking efforts. On the other hand, if the magic aura of Ascari drives (15 yard penalty for unsportsmanlike punning) the price of the Ferrari well above pre-auction estimates, then it is conceivable that the columnist’s shot of the aforementioned car would the editor in charge of selecting the BBC’s reader submitted news photos be glad to see a file containing an image of the race car in his e-mail in box?

The World’s Laziest Journalist has had one photo published on the Jalopnik website. Do images of valuable Ferrari race cars interest their photo editor? Does lightening ever strike twice in the same place?

As the appropriateness of Bush’s term “the forever war” becomes more and more apparent to American voters would it be easier for a columnist to write a sarcastic evaluation of shrinking school budgets using the headline “Does cannon fodder need a state subsidized college education?” or to produce a column that would convince “Jersey Bill” that if he doesn’t get to see an installment of the Pebble Beach event before he dies; he will regret his poor decision for all eternity?

Ian Fleming wrote: “They have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, the third time it’s enemy action.’”

Now the disk jockey will play “Hey, Little Cobra,” “Little GTO,” and the theme song from “Goldfinger.” We have to go and try to make some hostel accommodation reservations for one year hence. Have a “be careful of that button” (as Q once said to James Bond) type week.

May 4, 2011

Mothers Day: “Greetings from the Pinnacle Collection Agency…”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Jane Stillwater @ 12:44 pm

I recently got an e-mail from a friend of mine who is truly a Marine Mom — being the proud mother of four (4) Marine sons who have either served in Iraq or Afghanistan or both. “Now that Osama bin Laden is dead,” Marine Mom wrote me, “now they can finally bring our troops home.” Don’t I wish. But as long as war profiteers such as Halliburton, CACI, DynCorp, Bechtel, Chevron, Aegis, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and General Electric think that there is even one last spare penny to be squeezed out of the blood, sweat and fears of American taxpayers by selling weapons, then America will remain in Iraq and Afghanistan forever. I’ve been to both countries. I know. There’s money to be made there. Endless war. Milk it for all that it’s worth.

And speaking of milking American taxpayers for every spare penny they can, the Pinnacle Financial Group apparently is also specializing in this line of work — enthusiastically milking any and all the poor suckers who fall behind in their T-Mobile or Verizon payments, happily milking them for all that they are worth too.

Another mother I know just e-mailed me a rather sobering story about how her adult daughter had fallen behind in her cell phone payments because she had been laid off of her clerical job, and how her daughter had then been hounded and plagued by a collection agency. Well, okay so far. After all, isn’t that a collection agency’s job — to hound deadbeats?

But this particular collection agency has apparently taken things too far.

For the past two months, my long-suffering friend’s phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from the Pinnacle Collection Group in Minneapolis, demanding money from my friend’s daughter — who doesn’t even live with her mom.

Finally, after about 20 annoying calls from Pinnacle, my friend demanded that the agency take her phone number off their list. “My daughter doesn’t live here, you have the wrong number, please don’t call me again,” she told them over the phone.

And the rep from Pinnacle then SCREAMED at her. “We can’t do that! Your daughter gave your number as her contact number. We have the RIGHT to keep calling!” And then the rep hung up on my friend. Hung up on her! Like she was some sort of criminal. Then my friend had a heart-to-heart talk with her daughter. “Can’t you just pay them off?” And her daughter replied that she had already fully paid back T-Mobile after she had finally managed to find a new job. And yet Pinnacle keeps calling and calling my friend’s house? Huh?

So my friend called the police and the police said to write to Pinnacle a letter to tell them to Cease and Desist — which she did.

And I also rose to the occasion and did some research about debt-collection agencies in general and Pinnacle Collection Group in particular — and it turns out that debt collection, like the endless “war” in Iraq and Afghanistan, is just another racket, another sleazy money-making scam.

And according to Google, my friend is not the only one who is being harassed by Pinnacle. Got a few minutes? Want to get entertained? Here’s a whole bunch of statements from truly angry people regarding their experiences with this nasty agency:

But wait. It doesn’t stop there. Apparently, even if you have already paid off your debt and provided airtight proof to Pinnacle, they will still hound you — or your mother. And apparently they will still keep taking money out of your account even after you have paid them off completely — or out of your mother’s account. Happy Mother’s Day!

And if Pinnacle can run this scam on my friend’s daughter and get away with it, and is also running this scam on thousands of other Americans, let’s do the math. If each unwitting victim ponys up, say, one thousand dollars each and Pinnacle is doing this thousands of times a day, that’s a whole bunch of money to be made. That’s debt profiteering!

But there are things that you and I can do to protect ourselves from collection agency scams. We can talk to the Better Business Bureau, hire an attorney to sue the agencies or complain to the FCC. But what can we do to protect ourselves from war-profiteering scams? Apparently nothing. And our multi-trillion-dollar national debt attests to that fact.

Can we vote war-mongers out of office? Not unless we have expensive lobbyists and campaign managers working night and day on our behalf. Can we just phone up the Pentagon and tell them to back off? Yeah right. Can we gather millions of angry Americans in Washington to protest needless war? Been there, done that. No results. Can we just stop paying that hefty 54% of our taxes that goes to “defense” spending? And end up in jail? No thank you to that one either.

Or can we do what Julia Ward Howe recommended in her Mother’s Day anti-war proclamation of 1870, written after she had seen the terrible after-effects of America’s brutal Civil War — the suffering endured by returning soldiers and their families. She called these effects “Soldiers Hearts”. We now call them PTSD.

According to Gary Kohls, M.D., “What was an unexpected development for many of the families of the returning soldiers — both North and South — was the fact that many of the veterans who had no visible scars were still disabled mentally, many of them getting worse after they came home. The healing effect of time didn’t work like it was supposed to in the combat-traumatized victim of war. These ones commonly became melancholy, suffered horrendous nightmares, couldn’t function in society and were frequently suicidal, homicidal and/or turned to a life of crime.”

Here’s what Julia Ward Howe suggests that we do (Ah, if only we had listened to Howe back in 1870, then America would not be so economically and morally bankrupt in 2011):

Arise then, women of this day! Arise, all women who have hearts, whether your baptism be that of water or tears!

Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.

‘Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have taught them of charity, mercy and patience. We women of one country will be too tender of those of another to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.’

From the bosom of the devastated earth, a voice goes up with our own. It says, “Disarm, disarm!” The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor does violence indicate possession.

As men have often forsaken the plow and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel. Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar but of God.

In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women without limit of nationality may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions and the great and general interests of peace.

PS: So instead of going off to Sizzler or the Olive Garden or the Red Onion to celebrate Mother’s Day, let’s all demand an end to war.

PPS: Speaking of Osama bin Laden, will somebody please explain to me exactly what happened over there in Abbottabad the other day? Apparently OBL was cornered and weaponless and defenseless, standing unarmed in his jammies and bunny slippers, but the SEALS shot him anyway. Was that a mercy killing to keep him from having to get water-boarded at Guantanamo? Or was it just to keep him from spilling the beans about all his connections to the CIA? We may never know.

And why would having OBL buried at sea keep his followers from erecting a shrine to him? They could still erect one at the compound — although if it takes bin Laden’s fan club as long to build a shrine in Abbottabad as it is taking Americans to build a shrine at the site of the WTC, then we obviously have nothing to worry about for at least the next ten years!


April 10, 2008

I Keep Looking For An ‘Exit’ Sign

Filed under: Toon — Tags: , , , — Volt @ 6:48 pm

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