Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Cassie the Web Cat

We have two Calico cats. Cassie, the younger one, loves to perch herself atop our computer. My wife calls her “Web Cat.” Here’s a recent pic.

Billionaire Buffett wants to pay more taxes

Multi-billionaire Warren Buffet, one of those who opposes the abolishment of the estate tax, recently stated that he wants to pay more taxes.

Buffet is worth an estimated $52 billion and claimed in a British newspaper story that he pays less taxes than any of his staff—including his receptionist.

This is according to an “informal survey” Buffet took of his staff and revealed on NBC. Buffet claims that the survey of 15 of his 18 staff members revealed that he paid a 17.7% payroll and income tax while his staff averaged 32.9%.

Far be it from me to second-guess a sage investor, but I find it a little hard to believe. Is Buffet being truthful, not being truthful or simply neglecting to disclose all the facts? Or is the “survey” subjective and riddled with errors and misinformation?

They say the survey was done at his office in England, and the Brits generally have a higher tax rate than what we have here in America. How else does a country finance socialized medicine?

Buffet said: “There wasn’t anyone in the office, from the receptionist up, who paid as low a tax rate and I have no tax planning; I don’t have an accountant or use tax shelters. I just follow what the US Congress tells me to do.”

No accountants and no tax shelters? Yeah, right. I find those extremely difficult to believe, especially that a multi-billionaire with countless savings, investments, and so on would do everything himself instead of having a team of hand-picked accountants do it for him.

If Buffett wishes to pay more in taxes, fine. I am amazed in his faith in our government, especially with its startling propensity to waste billions of tax dollars annually in pork barrel spending.

In the article, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce responded to Buffett’s claims, saying that the top 1% of U.S. earners (including Buffett) accounted for 39% of American tax revenue and that the highest-earning 25% accounted for 86%. The COC’s chief economist Martin Regalia had this to say: “Mr. Buffett has made an awful lot of money and if he wants to pay more taxes, I think that’s fine. But I think he should get his facts straight…There’s no question in my mind: if you were to impose [the Democrats’] tax increases, you would see the US go into a recession.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Saw IV: Critics are saying beware

I have a morbid sense of curiosity, which might be the only thing that propels me to watch Saw IV. For the record, I have seen the first three films. First film was great. Second film wasn’t bad. I was fairly disappointed with the third film. The fourth one, though, sounds intriguing.

Saw IV, as was Saw III, was not screened for critics. Generally, this is said to be a bad sign for a movie, although Dead Silence (which I thought was a great film) wasn’t screened for critics, either. By not being screened for critics, those who reviewed the film had to buy a ticket just like everyone else.

So, what have some of the reviews been? According to the Internet Movie Database, not very good:

Kyle Smith of the New York Post: “The franchise is getting long in the tooth.” Smith added the movie could instead be called “Saw It Be-IV.”

Elizabeth Weitzman of the New York Daily News: “If an hour and a half of so-called ‘torture porn’ sounds like fun, you’ll find Saw IV situated somewhere between the first in the cycle (a solid original with plenty of energy in it) and the last (a gasping copycat willing to do anything to stay alive).”

Scott Schueller of the Chicago Tribune: “If you like your films disgusting, deplorable and demoralizing rather than smart, scary and suspenseful, go ahead and feed the coffers of Saw IV’s makers. If you don't, please don't give the studio a reason to make Saw V. Please.”

Considering my disappointment with the third film, I can understand the critics’ criticism—to an extent. Still, my experience has been that some of the best movies I’ve ever seen (such as The Butterfly Effect) have been ridiculed by most critics while some of the worst movies I’ve ever seen (such as the hopelessly-overrated Malcolm X, Clerks and Mallrats) have received heaps of praise. Tom Clancy once said that critics are those who can’t do something and are bitter at those who can do something. If I do see Saw IV, it’ll be because James Wan is involved in the project; I consider Wan to be the M. Night Shyamalan of horror films in that the ending often is a complete surprise. Still, I hope they stop soon since movies tend to get ridiculous after the fourth or fifth sequel (and sometimes after the second or third).

I also remember that critics fell all over Knocked Up, which I got to watch a few excerpts of about a month ago. The film was a vile, unrealistic waste of celluloid. There was even a deleted scene where a man graphically complains about a lack of male sexual situations in movies like Brokeback Mountain.

Upcoming My Two Shekels column

I was thinking about what I should write about next. While watching Friday Night Lights, I thought of an issue in Christianity that doesn't seem to get addressed very often--but should. We'll see. Hopefully by November I'll have that one written...

Monday, October 29, 2007

Evan Almighty theology

Not a bad film...even had some thought-provoking theology. I have never seen the original, but this one has an interesting quote of God's (played by Morgan Freeman):

"Let me ask you something. If someone prays for patience, you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If he prayed for courage, does God give him courage, or does he give him opportunities to be courageous? If someone prayed for the family to be closer, do you think God zaps them with warm fuzzy feelings, or does he give them opportunities to love each other?"

It really gives you a lot to think about. God doesn't give us virtues on a silver platter but rather gives us chances to build them up, like spiritual muscles.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Reagan Diaries

An interesting read so far. I think it was President Ronald Reagan's journal and his other writings that made even historical revisionists realize that he was actually a very brilliant man. However, Reagan, just like the rest of us, wasn't perfect. He writes in 1981 that he thinks Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O'Connor would be a great lady who would support pro-life causes. Wrong.

Reagan also noted, and you could certainly read the frustration, that reporters would gleefully report of his leisure time but never bothered to learn that any unfinished work at the end of the day went with him to his private study in the White House. He also seemed to have a friendly relationship with Democrat and fellow Irish-American house speaker Thomas "Tip"O'Neill. Reading this book has inspired me to keep a daily journal and lament the year in which I didn't keep one. I hope to use my journal to keep myself up on the memories and thoughts I haven't recorded over the years.

An interesting fact: President Reagan and I share the same birthday. He was born February 6, 1911 and I was born February 6, 1973. He was (depending on when in he day he was born; I was born at 10:11 A.M. CST) exactly 62 years older than me.

Check out this Website, which is the home of Reagan's son, talk show host Michael Reagan. Mike is one of the smartest cookies in the business. He, along with Laura Ingraham, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Michael Medved and, of course, the godfather Rush Limbaugh, are among my favorites in the talk radio business.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Info on 24 trailer: a villain that will shock you

I love the Fox action-drama 24. my family and I discovered it a few years ago and we’ve been hooked ever since. During a break between seasons, we used Netflix to get caught up on the past episodes we haven’t seen.

A few moments ago, I just saw the trailer for this upcoming season. Kurtwood Smith, who played the acerbically-sarcastic Red Forman on That 70s Show is on as a senator who questions Jack Bauer regarding torture methods. Janeane Garofalo is also on it. All during the off-season they kept talking about how someone would return to the show as a criminal. Who? Someone Jack knew. I thought for sure it would be Behrooz, the kid whose mother and father died on Day 4; the last time we saw him, he was taken away by Habib Marwan’s men. Or perhaps it would be Behrooz's mother, played by the brilliant Iranian-born actress Shohreh Aghdashloo; her murder takes place off-camera, giving rise to the possibility that she's somehow not dead. Or perhaps it's the Chinese government official Cheng Zhi (played brilliantly by the Hong Kong-born actor Tzi Ma), who was apprehended by CTU and had held Jack in China for 20 months.

Surprise, surprise.

(Stop reading if you haven’t seen the trailer and don’t want any hints)

(I mean it)

(Final warning)

Ok, here it goes…

…this season’s villain mastermind is Tony Almeida.

Surprised? So am I. Not sure if this will work, since I liked Tony and felt bad for him when his wife Michelle died. Besides, I thought Tony was dead.

Apparently not.

So, Jack goes from answering to senators in Washington regarding his interrogation techniques while once again trying to save America from an impending disaster.

Let’s hope this season doesn’t require a boat chase during which Jack is forced to hurdle his boat over a shark. We’ll find out in January…

Friday, October 26, 2007

Writing fiction

As if looking for a job, freelance writing (journalism, columns and blogging), trying to learn more about God and taking care of my personal life don’t take up enough of my time, I’m also working on my dream job: fiction writer. I hope someday to make a full-time living writing fiction. It’s my first love.

Am right now about 2/3 finished with the rough draft of my first novel (which, at this time, I’d rather not so much as give the title). Also have some short stories that I’m finalizing and getting ready to submit for publication.

Writing can indeed be a lonely job, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Wil Wheaton's decision to leave Star Trek: The Next Generation

For years, not knowing all the details, I thought that actor Wil Wheaton committed career suicide by leaving Star Trek: The Next Generation. Why would anyone want to leave such an ostensibly popular show? I thought, thinking of how Wheaton’s career has been modest in comparison to his Stand By Me co-star Jerry O’Connell.

A few weeks ago, I stopped by Wheaton’s Website, and read his explanation for leaving Star Trek. Short form: he was turning down promising film roles left and right because they’d conflict with ST:TNG. Finally, he was offered one that would require him to miss the first episode of the season to film it. The STNG officials told him, no, that the first episode was centered around him. Reluctantly, Wheaton declined the film offer. He then discovered a few days before shooting began on the first episode that his character had been written out of the episode. Upon that, Wheaton contacted his agents and said he wanted to leave the show.

I can respect Wheaton’s decision. It really goes to show, though, that working in Hollywood can be eerily similar to tiptoeing through a mine field.

Frankly, I have never understood why my friends detested Wheaton’s Wesley Crusher character. My attitude was: are you trying to tell me there will be no adolescents in the future?

California's housing problems; the reasons might surprise you

From a homeowner’s standpoint, California Dreamin’ is becoming California Nightmares. And it has nothing to do with the recent fires that have swept across the southern part of The Golden State.

According to a Reuters news report, from July through September more than 72,000 notices of foreclosure (specifically, default against delinquent borrowers) were filed. This was an increase of more than a third from the prior quarter and a whopping 166.6 percent from the previous year.

Does this surprise me? Not really, unfortunately. I lived in California from 1996-1998, when I studied Mandarin Chinese and then Russian at the Presidio of Monterey’s Defense Language Institute while in the Army. California, is one of the most gorgeous states I’ve ever seen, but it is expensive. Gasoline was expensive, and housing is also. Back in the late nineties, a one-bedroom apartment in Monterey, facing away from the ocean and on a bad side of town ran about $500 a month. A few months ago, a former DLI teacher told me that the cheapest houses in the affluent Pebble Beach started at around one million dollars. I’d hate to think of how much the ritzy homes cost.

California also has a very high tax rate, and many spend hours commuting to work every day. Even in a home where both parents work at least one full-time job, it’s hardly surprising, I suppose, that some people fall upon hard times and make their mortgage payments anymore.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Professional chef sounds off on the Laura Ingraham Show

A few days ago I listened to a “Best of” broadcast of the Laura Ingraham Show. Laura, one of the most underrated talk show hosts in America, was talking about the phenomena that is the celebrity chef. Names like Emeril Lagasse and Rachael Ray came up. Laura then took some calls from two men who identified themselves as professional, certified chefs. Their thoughts surprised me. The following represent the chefs’ thoughts, not mine:

Justin Wilson, the famous celebrity Cajun chef whose catch phrase “I gar-on-tee” made him a cultural icon, once showed up at a chefs’ conference and cut his speech short; apparently he had been drinking;

Rachael Ray is a great cook, but her “30-minute meals” take an hour or an hour and a half to do; they can’t be done in half an hour. The chef speculated that Rachael had people behind the scenes to do additional tasks to get things done on time.

Emeril will sometimes put a dirty towel over his shoulder, something a real chef would never do. The chef also told Laura about how a colleague had chosen Emeril had been chosen to oversee a gourmet banquet and that the chef had asked his colleague: “Why did you pick Emeril? The guy can’t cook!”

I don’t have an opinion, good or bad, regarding these three. I think Ray’s show is fun to watch, and while Emeril is fun to watch, I prefer watching The Iron Chef (the Japanese version).

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jake Gyllenhaal sounds off on the treatment of terror suspects

Some people wonder if we’ll ever have another president who was an actor. The late President Ronald Reagan was president of the Screen Actors Guild and California governor before moving on to the White House. Obviously, California actor-turned governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is currently ineligible since he was born in Austria. There are also the actors out there like Warren Beatty who, though politically active, have never been elected to public office. Other actors have run for office. The late Noble Willingham (who co-starred in Walker, Texas Ranger) ran unsuccessfully in Texas for public office in his latter years.

And then there are the many in Hollywood that you hope never run for office—unless it’s to provide the public with comic relief.

Take Jake Gyllenhaal, for example. Out to promote his latest movie, Rendition, Gyllenhaal was telling reporters that torture is wrong. One has to wonder if he’s merely using a political discussion to promote his film. Or maybe Gyl simply doesn't realize just how complicated the world is, and that getting things done means rolling up your sleeves.

The film, which also stars Meryl Streep and Reese Witherspoon, is about renditions, or the practice of transferring suspects of terrorism to other countries where they could be abused or tortured. Keep in mind that this is a movie and that, such as the case in most cases, may not accurately represent real life.

Gyllenhall plays a CIA analyst who finds himself skeptical of the American government’s allowing of rendition. At the Rome Film Festival news conference, Gyllenhaal said this: “[The movie says] that torture is wrong. I think you can see in the film that it does not work.”

The Associated Press further quotes Gyllenhaal: “But I also think it presents the political side of it, too, which is saying that you could be torturing one innocent man, but at the same time 5,000 people are alive ... because of information that the government elicited through (extraordinary) rendition.”

Thanks for clearing that up, Jake. I like that line about how we can see in the film that torture doesn’t work. Well, that’s more due to the efforts of the screenplay writer, director and actors than it is real life, isn’t it? I wonder what Jake would propose to do if we captured a terrorist who had top-secret information regarding Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts. Obviously, such a terrorist would not talk, so extreme measures would have to be taken.

I think torture should be used in two circumstances only: when you have a prisoner/suspect who obviously knows something critical to our nation’s security and when either conventional methods of extraction have failed or if time is of the essence. If we can’t get physical, what does Jake propose we do instead? Force feed them pork? Make them watch that cinematic great of Great Satan filmmakers: Brokeback Mountain?

There are Hollywood celebrities from both ends of the political spectrum who show an ability to intelligently speak on the issues. I don’t see Jake Gyllenhaal as one of them.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Third Party thoughts regarding Daniel Imperato

One of the things about Daniel Imperato I really, really like is his support of a balanced budget. For years, we’ve been told by fellow conservatives that the Democrats are the sole problem for fiscal irresponsibility in Washington. And when President George W. Bush took over in 2000 with the GOP in control of the House and Senate, many of us thought the problem would be solved. Right?


Unfortunately, President Bush has been guilty also. Granted, he has had to work with Democrats, has levied a tax cut to stimulate an economy that was on the decline when he took over and has had to beef up military spending in the wake of 9-11, but it just seems like the wasteful pork spending continues.

I really hope conservatives can see a candidate—and it’s looking more and more like it’ll have to come from a third party—who truly believes in balancing the budget and spending responsibly. Are tax increases needed to balance the budget? No. When you consider the billions that get wasted every year, I honestly don’t see why we need another tax increase.

Wolfgang Van Halen, Mr. Precocious

He's 16 and the son of rock legend guitarist Eddie Van Halen and actress Valerie Bertinelli, and, believe it or not, he currently serves as bass guitarist for, arguably, the American rock band of the 70s and 80s.

Of course, I’m talking about Wolfgang Van Halen of—who else?—Van Halen.

I’ve never been a Van Halen fan per se, and I was very surprised to hear that that Wolfie was replacing longtime VH fixture Michael Anthony on bass. Not because the potential’s not there (his father Eddie, Uncle Alex and father have all been professional musicians), but at 16…I kept wondering if maybe he was too young. Especially with what’s on the road.

Then came an interview that Eddie and Alex talking about how much of a natural Wolfie is. “This kid can play,” Alex told one interviewer. So far, the reviews have been favorable. Based on what I saw in a People magazine story, Wolfie seems acutely and precociously aware of his father’s infamous struggles with alcohol.

And, of course, perhaps the most important thing for Wolfie—his job as bassist apparently has the blessing of one of the most important people of all—his mom.

Best of luck, Wolfie.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Review of 'My Big Fat Greek Wedding'

This last weekend, my wife and I got around to watching 2002 independent comedy My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Wow. I don't think I've ever fallen in love so much with a movie on the first viewing. It was hilarious, heart-warming and beautifully done. It's about a 30-year-old Greek-American girl named Toula who is increasingly pressured by her parents to "get married and make babies." Well, she finally falls in love--with a man who's the man of her dreams. One small problem: He's not Greek. As the cultures clash, hilarity results.

It was also surprisingly clean. I don't remember any objectionable material, except for the part where Toula's fiance is told how to say things like "Thank you" in Greek--only to be given PG-13 phrases by Toula's impish brother and cousin.

One of these days, when I expand my DVD library, this movie will have to have its own space. Special Edition DVD, preferably. Four out of four stars for one of the best movies I've ever seen.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Tornado in Millington, Michigan the other day

We were very fortunate; early Friday morning a tornado hit the village* of Millington and caused some damage. We actually live about five miles west of the Millington in Arbela Township**. Thankfully, no damage was done in our area, although I did unplug our computer in case we needed to take it downstairs.

*Millington, because of its small size, is actually a village and not a town.

** Michigan, unlike other states like Texas, divides its counties up into areas called townships. This is helpful in identifying the rural location of someone who lives outside a city.
(Photo courtesy of

Monk, one of my favorite shows

Recently, I watched the entire fourth season of Monk on DVD. This is one of my favorite shows on television. It's well-written, hilarious and mostly family friendly. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Tony Shalhoub plays the obssessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk, who's afraid of just about anything. He also has a habit of straightening things, which sometimes gets him into trouble (in one episode, his attempts to brush food crumbs off a keyboard ended up accidentally deleting two years worth of autopsy files).

Great show, one of my favorites today. It also contains one of my personal favorite actors, Ted Levine. I was disappointed when Bitty Schram left the show, but I suppose that's life. Besides, Traylor Howard has filled in nicely as Monk's longsuffering assistant.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Daniel Imperato in Washington D.C. at an AFA dinner

On Thursday night, Christian conservative presidential hopeful Daniel Imperato attended the American Family Association Dinner in Washington D.C. Dr. James Dobson was among the Christian conservatives there. At this time, Dr. Dobson has not officially endorsed a candidate, but his frustrations with the Republican Party are well-known. Dr. Dobson is said to be working to support a third-party Christian conservative candidate.

Imperato also was in the nation’s capitol for some International Monetary Fund meetings regarding diplomatic business. A UN representative for a number of organizations, Imperato has relations with many nations across the world.

My 'brothers'

I don't have any biological brothers, and that's something I've always regretted. My father (who has two brothers) and my three sons are a source of envy for me. One of the future Richard's Ramblings writing projects is a projected three-part column about three male friends of mine who are more like the brothers I never had. Those men are Bob, Joel and Howard.

My attempt at satire

As far as writing goes, I recently got my first byline writing for a satirical publication. I thoroughly enjoyed writing the story, and the editor seemed to like it also.

I don’t plan on using my real name on the bylines of my satirical work and will instead be using a pseudonym. Why? Because I’d rather use Richard Zowie for my non-satirical work. I call this the Mel Brooks Principle, meaning that a writer must sometimes alter his identity if he doesn’t want to give a reader the wrong impression of his work; Brooks executive produced the drama The Elephant Man but, because of his work as a satirist, he chose to take his name out of the credits. Brooks was apparently worried people would see his name on the movie and think the movie was a comedy. Satire is an enjoyable delve into fiction, but it’s only one of many things I want to do as a writer. I also enjoy column writing, blogging (Duh! Right?) and hope someday to get into my dream job: fiction writer. We'll see. In the meanwhile, keep reading, and God bless.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

A Bible 'contradiction' explained

Yesterday I worked at the local library. As I was making my sweep to make sure things looked tidy on the bookshelves, I noticed a peculiar book. The exact title escapes me, but it was something like “Contradictions in the Bible.” Looking at it, I saw that the author compiled a list of items where he felt the Bible contradicted itself. Of course, if true, this opens a theological can of worms: if the Bible is wrong in one area, where else is it wrong? Because of these “contradictions”, the author said, we must conclude that the Bible is nothing more than a historical book that is filled with myths.

Not so fast, high-speed.

Of the contradictions I was familiar with, most looked easily explainable. For example, the author notes that in First Kings 8:23, 27-30 King Solomon gives a public prayer while dedicating the temple. However, in Matthew 6:5, Jesus encourages the people to pray in private and not to pray publicly, as the hypocrites do.

On the surface, this seems to be a contradiction—unless you realize the context. Solomon’s public prayer was one of sincerity, especially when you read the text of the prayer and consider the painstaking details in planning and building the temple. From start to finish, it took years. Jesus was referring to religious leaders of the day who were trying to show how holy they were by praying in public. He knew their hearts and knew there was no sincerity whatsoever in their prayers. They were trying to please men rather than God. To avoid such an appearance of godlessness, Jesus said, when speaking to God it is better to do so in private.

Does this mean that all public prayers are wrong? I don’t think so. For instance, I don’t necessarily have a problem with the National Day of Prayer as long as it’s approached in sincerity. If you plan to participate because you think it would be great to attend and even get a chance to let the public hear your articulate prayer, then it’s best that you avoid it. If your reason is because you are deeply concerned about our nation and the world and want to join others in offering prayers up to God, then I don’t see a problem there. Again, it hinges upon how your heart is and what your motiviations are.

In the future, I will be posting examples (and writing columns about them in “My Two Shekels”) of supposed Biblical contradictions that can be easily explained by simply understanding the context and the customs of the time. Remember, the eastern mindset is wholly different from the western one.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Christian candidates for president

We’re used to politicians talking about their faith. Some generically describe how their “faith” is very important to them. Some even espouse Christianity while others say that faith is a private matter and should be left as such. There has been lots of criticism of “Christian” politicians, who claim to espouse conservative issues but yet are liberal when it comes to roll calls and signing of legislation.

Here’s another one to consider—third-party candidate Daniel Imperato.

A second-generation Italian-American, Imperato describes himself as a “man of faith” who was baptized by Pastor Benny Hinn. Raised a Catholic, Imperato now embraces both the evangelical Christian community and the Messianic Judaic community. Messianic Judaism is a branch of Judaism that recognizes Rabbi Y’shua bin Yosef (or Jesus Christ, as English speakers know Him) as the Messiah.

Blogger Joseph Oddo had this to say about the candidate: “[Imperato] studies the Torah and has been personally endorsed by several rabbis including Rabbi Moshe Koniuchowsky and Rabbi Eddie Chumney, showing his Jewish support and support for Israel.”

Update: Talk show host Randi Rhodes not mugged BUT was injured

Earlier today on this posting, I blogged about how radio talk show host Randi Rhodes was brutally attacked and mugged near her Manhattan apartment. Now, the police and her attorney, according to the New York Daily News, have now said that report was bogus.

Some thought that Rhodes, a liberal talk show host on the leftwing Air America radio network, had been the victim of a political hate crime. Turns out, no. the police say Rhodes neither filed a report, nor did she claim to have been the victim of a crime. Her attorney told the Daily News that Rhodes was injured in a fall while walking her dog and that she’s uncertain how it happened.

Rhodes is scheduled to return to the air on Thursday and is said to be in a lot of pain.

Again, let’s keep her in our thoughts and prayers that she’s able to recover and have minimal, if any pain. You don’t even have to be a liberal to pray such a prayer for Rhodes.

October 15: Blog Action Day

October 15 was Blog Action Day, a day in which blogs take time to raise awareness regarding environmental issues. What can you do to help out the environment? Here are some important but easy steps.

First, eliminate the hard copy. Print out documents only when absolutely necessary. At one radio station I worked at, the computers were linked. So, I could write up the news from my computer and bring it up in the production room computer, read it for broadcast and be done. Paper wasn’t needed.

Second, recycle. Items like cell phones, batteries, toner cartridges and computers can be recycled. Instead of putting them into landfill, recycle.

Third, conserve water. When I brush my teeth, I turn the water off while scrubbing. I also try to make sure my showers are no more than 15 minutes long--even though where we currently live now is a well water system and, therefore, has no water bill. When you go to a restaurant, please only request water if you intend to drink it.

Fourth, properly dispose of hazardous chemicals. Many counties will have times throughout the year when you can dispose of paint, used motor oil, batteries, turpentine and so on. Don’t simply dump them down the drain or into the garbage.

Fifth and finally, invest in some sturdy shopping bags. They last much longer than standard paper or plastic bags, and with the many sizes, designs and colors, they’re a worthwhile investment.

Remember, it’s our responsibility to be good stewards of the earth God has provided for us.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Prince William and Kate, his potential fair maiden, may soon get engaged

News reports say that Prince William, second in line to inherit the British throne, may soon be getting engaged to his girlfriend, Kate Middleton. I hope they are able to have a happy life together, should they choose to get married.

Things have been tough for William. A few weeks ago, I watched a television interview in which both William and his younger brother, Prince Harry, reflected on their mother’s death. It’s been ten years, but you can tell they still miss their “Mummy” very much.

The British tabloids have been very busy telling us the latest about William’s personal life, including unflattering details of William and Kate’s break-up a few months ago. I sincerely hope the Royal Family has learned from the centuries what happens when you compel a future king to marry someone out of duty rather than love. As beautiful and nice of a woman Princess Diana was, it is clear that Prince Charles was not in love with her. Is it really a surprise why all those kings had mistresses?

Christianity gets negative marks from younger generation

A news report in the San Antonio Express-News says most young Americans supposedly think of modern-day Christianity as "judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay". Also, many Christians try to avoid the label "Christian" because of its negative connotations.

This is according to a new book that bases its findings on research conducted by the California-based research firm Barna Group. The young group with negative feelings about Christianity consists of ages 16-29.

Christianity could be doing a far better job trying to evangelize the lost and encourage other believers, but I wonder if today's youth really knows enough about Christianity to be qualified to criticize it. I'll never forget that high school friend of mine who had no idea what the story about David and Goliath was about. And, no, the Christianity you see on television and the movies doesn't count.

We learn that the findings are based on a survey of 867 young people, which inccluded responses from 440 non-Christians and 305 active church members. The survey reported that 91 percent of non-Christians felt Christianity was anti-gay while 87 percent said it was judgmental and 85 percnet said it was hypocritial. Among those who were Christians, 80 percent felt the anti-gay label fit, 52 percent felt that Christianity is judgmental and 47 percent think the faith is hypocritical.

Please, don't get me started on polls. I know there are things like probabilty and statistics, but do you really expect me to believe that 867 young people accurately speaks for the tens and tens and tens of millions who are in this country?

One of the premier pollsters, John Zogby, has this to say regarding the accuracy of polls: "It's pure probability and statistics. The same theory is involved as when you take a blood test and the clinician draws only a small sample rather than draining all the blood out of your body."

I wonder if that's an accurate assessment. Doctors generally draw blood only from your arm rather than drawing from a different part of the body each time. I wonder if Zogby, et al, really gathers opinions from across the country or if those polled come from a certain area. Still, I find it very difficult to believe that the less than 900 respondants can accurate speak as a minute fraction of all this country's young adults.

Skepticism against Al Gore’s documentary, award grows

Another science professor has joined the other professors and scientists who are openly questioning the validity of former vice president Al Gore’s Nobel Peace Prize for his work in environmental matters.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald reporter Steve Lytte, Colorado State University professor Dr. William Gray—considered one of the world’s foremost meteorologists—called it “ridiculous” that Gore received the Nobel prize and that it was the result of “people who don’t understand how the atmosphere works.”

Dr. Gray gave his comments at the University of North Carolina and said that global warming is not caused by humans. The 78 year-old professor also alleged that Gore and other proponents of man-made global warming are “brainwashing” children. He added: “We'll look back on all of this in 10 or 15 years and realize how foolish it was… The human impact on the atmosphere is simply too small to have a major effect on global temperatures.”

What’s been the cause of global warming? The professor attributes that to the natural cycle of ocean water temperatures—caused by the amount of salt in the ocean’s water. He expects a cooling period to begin soon and last for several years. Furthermore, according to the article, he pointed out data that showed there were 101 hurricanes from 1900 to 1949, during a time of cooler global weather, compared to 83 from 1957 to 2006 (during the earth’s warming cycle).

Dr. Gray acknowledged that his comments aren’t well received by scientific popular opinion, and he said that though he is troubled by more scientists not speaking out, they probably don’t out of fear of losing grant money.

The professor is the latest official to criticize Gore’s Academy Award-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. A British court has ruled the documentary is riddled with inaccuracies, and that the film can be shown in schools only after the students have been informed of the errors.

What will the end result be? It’s difficult to say, but I do know this: Dr. Gray is a respected scientist whereas Gore (who has a degree in government from Harvard and briefly attended both divinity and law school) is not.

Doing the near-impossible: trying to determine my eye color

I've always thought I had very strange eyes. In the service I listed my eye color (top photo) as "Green". On my driver's license they are "Hazel". Sometimes they look brown while other times they look very green. In short, underneath they are green with brown mixed in at the top.

This weekend, my wife and I saw these photos (middle and bottom) on Wikipedia. The middle one is a person with Hazel eyes while the bottom is a person with Amber eyes. Jennifer tells me my eyes now look amber rather than hazel.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

For Christians tired of the two-party system...

Maybe you're a Christian who's a Blue-Dog Democrat, meaning you're a conservative democrat. Choice like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama don't appeal to you.

Or maybe you're a Christian who in the past has consistently voted for the GOP. But with each election, you find yourself getting tired of the Republicans' reluctance to embrace its Christian base.

If either of those fits you, check out this Website. It's a Christian who's running for president on a third-party ticket:

Swedish cartoonist goes into hiding over cartoons lampooning Islam

I was watching Headline News today, and it amazes me the contrasting stories. First you have the Foo Fighters who have released a new album. Surprise, surprise, the new album contains lyrics critical of President Bush and the world on terror.

Perhaps instead of whining about the president, the Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Green Day, Bob Seger, et al, should start calling attention the outrages of radical Islam. But then, that would be to acknowledge that Muslim extremists are every bit as dangerous as what conservatives say, and that’s too hard to swallow. The easy way out is to trash a president in a country where freedom of speech is alive and well.

Freedom of speech isn’t as free in other countries. Sometimes it comes with a stiff price. A Swedish cartoonist named Lars Vilks has had to go into hiding over his artistic expression. We remember how back a year or so ago 12 Danish cartoons satirizing the Islamic prophet Muhammad resulted in massive Islamic protests that left many dead. Vilks told Headline News that he wanted to make a statement about artistic freedom, so he drew a cartoon of Muhammad with the head of a dog.

The results are predictable. Swedish police have told Vilks he’s not safe at his home, and he has moved to an undisclosed location. The hatemongerers of Al Qaeda have offered a bounty for Vilks’ death, a la The Satanic Verses author Salman Rushdie. Al Jazeera reported in September that Iraq’s Al Qaeda leader Abu Omar al-Baghdadi, in a statement called for the deaths of Vilks and his editor, Ulf Johansson in a statement:

“We are calling for the assassination of cartoonist Lars Vilks who dared insult
our prophet, peace be upon him, and we announce a reward during this generous
month of Ramadan of $100,000 for the one who kills this criminal. The award will
be increased to $150,000 if he were to be slaughtered like a lamb.”

Lars was shown on HNN checking under his car for explosive devices. He told the network that he remains defiant and unapologetic.

It’s really sad that such a story is now such commonplace that it took a month for it to get widespread attention. In a world where the Christian faith is almost reflexively ridiculed and where Arab nations frequently publish anti-Semitic cartoons, Christian Science Monitor reported that art galleries in Sweden refused to display Vilks’ work. Back in August, the Swedish newspaper Nerikes Allehanda printed one of his cartoons this past summer.

Apparently, the Islamic extremists were upset because black dogs are viewed as evil incarnate into animal form; if any dog licks a container, it must be washed seven times.

Moral of the story: while radical Islam feels it at 100% liberty to offend, threaten and terrorize the world, nobody, absolutely nobody, had better dare to so much as make fun of it. What hypocrisy, and it sickens me that the world refuses to recognize the danger of radical Islam and react accordingly. Seems to me that reacting with violence and death threats proves Vilks’ point in his art.

Nice little visit

Quiet weekend. My wife's brother, Jason, is up for a visit. Nice to see him again.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Al Gore wins Nobel Peace Prize amid growing controversy over 'An Inconvenient Truth'

Al Gore is on cloud nine right now, as he’s been awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to fight what’s popularly known as “man-made global warming” (or MMGW for short) Gore may have lost the controversial 2000 presidential race, but he has received two nice consolation prizes: this and an Academy Award for his documentary An Inconvenient Truth.

Does a peace prize really mean that much, considering that former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev, the late terrorist Yasser Arafat and former president Jimmy Carter all have one? Gorbachev received his “peace” prize during a time in which he ordered Soviet troops in to crush Lithuania’s (then a Soviet republic) attempt at independence. Arafat was a terrorist whose idea of peace with Israel was for the Jewish people to evacuate Palestine while Carter’s foreign policies were absolute disasters.

Gore’s documentary is facing mounting criticism, and it’s scientists and science professors who are coming out and announcing their skepticism of the documentary’s claims. Gore is accused of either misinterpreting data or making false claims.

If you’re waiting for Gore to hold open debates regarding the criticisms, you might be in luck., which has challenged Gore to debates before, announced that he will finally be participating. Meanwhile, Junk Science offers a reward on its site for anybody who can prove MMGW.

If Gore’s claims of MMGW are proven to be false, does this mean he’ll have to surrender his peace prize? You know, kind of like how former Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke had to give up her Pulitzer Prize when it was revealed that the eight year-old heroin addict she’d written about didn’t exist.

I’m not saying MMGW exists or doesn’t exist, but it bothers me when people like Mr. Gore (who, by the way, has no science degrees) insist that we believe them without encouraging people to get all the facts.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Some of the things I’ve learned in life

Each day I have more questions about this life and the next one. And I know that since the Bible is but a brief snapshot of what heaven and eternity will be like, most of the answers will have to wait.

When I get to heaven, the first two people I want to see are two ladies named Kim: my sister, who died in infancy before I was born, and the daughter my wife miscarried.

I think the biggest surprise we as Christians will have in heaven is learning just how pragmatic God is.

I frequently disagree with film critic Roger Ebert but when it comes to movies and—for that matter—books, Ebert said something that I absolutely agree with one million percent: no good movie is too long, and no bad film is too short. I wish the movie Heat could’ve went on another three hours, and I was ready to turn off National Lampoon’s Senior Trip during the opening credits.

One of my biggest regrets about growing up is not trying out for high school football.

I’d never make it as a humanist. The older I get, the less convinced I am that mankind is capable of solving its own problems. Not even close. Not in a world where unborn children are murdered but murders are not only allowed to live but are allotted endless excuses for their crimes. In my steep pessimism regarding this, I become Woody Allen.

There are three phases of a politician’s career: doing what’s necessary to get elected, doing what’s necessary to stay elected and then doing what’s necessary to convince the public that they did a great job.

I love writing, but it can be hard work.

I hate store-bought spaghetti sauce, no matter how much it “tastes like Italy.” I’d rather make my own from scratch.

In my experiences, three of Christianity’s biggest problems are: not demonstrating God’s love to the world and each other, not studying the Bible and majoring on the minors.

If there’s one thing about heaven I suspect strongly, it’s that the iced tea will taste a lot like the tea from Bill Miller Bar-B-Q.

Probably the easiest thing for me to do in life is to get bored out of my mind. That’s why I try to make sure I never go anywhere without a book to read, a pen and notebook.

I’m one of the few Americans who absolutely hated the sitcom Seinfeld. It was exactly as advertised—a show about nothing.

If there’s one thing about South Texas summers I miss, it’s the sound of the cicada bugs.

I get really sick of people saying that actors and musicians “sell out” when they do commercials. Not every musician wants to spend the rest of his life performing makeshift concerts outside bus depots. Just because you’re Robert DeNiro or Gene Simmons doesn’t mean you don’t have groceries to buy and bills to pay.

I don’t consider myself an egotistical person, but I have learned that self confidence—believing in yourself—is an invaluable trait to have.

Life is unfair and filled with sorrow. Get used to it, fellow Christian, and take comfort in knowing someday it’ll be all over.

One thing about Christians that bothers me is the tendency there is to take preferences, support them with out-of-context verses and proclaim them as convictions. I knew one guy at college who would keep his shirt buttoned all the way up to his throat (as if he was wearing a tie) because he felt he was being immodest otherwise.

I get tired of hearing how men are supposedly shallow compared to women. Some women suspect that all men want is for a woman to show up nude, serve pizza and beer and don’t block the television. It’s a stupid stereotype, similar to a man thinking that all women want is to wear makeup, expensive clothes and max out their husband’s credit cards.

My favorite animals, by far, are ducks. One of my favorite things in life is to spray them with water on a warm summer day. You can almost see them smile.

One of the most annoying radio commercials out there are the guys with the New York accents telling you about the “guaranteed picks” in sports betting. I’d rather hear a Miss Cleo commercial…at least she’s entertaining.

Writing is my window through which I look at the world.

As a reporter, I learn how to deal with people. One of the things I’ve learned is that by treating a person with respect and not patronizing them, you can learn lots of great things.

I’ll never understand why ESPN broadcasts poker games. Poker is not a sport.

As a writer, you have to treat hate mail as a comical badge of honor. One angry Seinfeld fan wrote me an X-rated e-mail (I was shocked they allowed this preschooler Internet access), while one angry lady told me I should do the world and commit suicide. I pity these people for not realizing there's a great big world with a wide array of diverse opinions.

Germany punishes racist Iranian-born soccer player over his refusal to play against Israel

It’s nice to see that somebody is holding Iranian extremists accountable for the anti-Semitic nonsense they pull.

German officials have announced that Iranian-born German soccer player Ashkan Dejagah (left) has been permanently suspended from the German-Under-21 team. Dejagah, 20, had refused to play in a match against Israel for the Under-21 European Championship qualifying match in Tel Aviv. He cited personal reasons, but the German daily newspaper Bild quoted the striker as saying his refusal was for “political reasons.” Bild also quoted him as saying, “Everybody knows I am an Iranian-born German.”

Dejagah plays for the Bundesliga side VFB Wolfsburg soccer team.

Ever since the 1979 Islamic revolution, Iran has refused to recognize Israel’s right to exist. It does not allow its citizens to travel to Israel. Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has openly called for Israel to be wiped off the map and has questioned whether the Holocaust really took place. In Germany, where millions of Jews died in concentration camps during World War II, it is a crime to deny that the Holocaust took place.

Think this young soccer star is the first Iranian to take such a stand of refusing to play against Israel? Guess again.

In the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece, Iranian judo athlete Arash Miresmaeili forfeited a match rather than compete against Israeli Ehud Vaks. A spokesperson for the Iranian National Olympic Committee released this statement at the time: “This is a general policy of our country, to refrain from competing against athletes of the Zionist regime, and Arash Miresmaeili has observed this policy.”

Miresmaeili had this to say, according to an Iranian news agency: “Although I have trained for months and am in shape, I refused to face my Israeli rival in sympathy with the oppressed Palestinian people…” He later claimed that his disqualification was due to weight problems, but reportedly he was observed gorging on food before a weigh-in in an attempt to deliberately be overweight. The Iranian also allegedly was still awarded with $115,000—the prize normally given to gold medalists—when he got home.

Regarding Dejagah and Miresmaeli, I sure wish I knew the Farsi words for “Whatever, you racist pigs.”

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Something I've learned about God

Maybe you’re a Christian like me, and you often get discouraged because you don’t feel God’s presence in your life. I’ve been frustrated by this in recent years, and after a lot of contemplation I have concluded something. A Christian who isn’t spending time every day reading God’s Word, praying and meditating on God and His Scriptural promises really can’t expect God to be there to guide them through life and its challenges.

We remember from the Old Testament that King Saul, near the end of his life, was a broken man. He tried in First Samuel 28 to get guidance from God for his battle against the Philistines (where he would end up seriously wounded and would commit suicide). God chose not to answer his prayers. It wasn’t that God was uncaring, but rather that Saul all of a sudden wanted a relationship with the God he’d disregarded for so long. Saul, described by some as a man “after man’s own heart” rather than God’s own heart, was reaching out to God for convenience rather than for a relationship. Think of the stories of a parent trying unsuccessfully to get together with a child with which they’ve been estranged for years. Very difficult task.

For me, the best time for devotions is in the morning, which is a challenge. I encourage you to make time daily to spend time with God. It makes more of a difference than you can imagine.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Reminiscing about people I've known, Part 1

Every once in a while I’ll provide a list of people I’ve known in an attempt to see if they’re reading this. Am always curious to see where the people I’ve known are and what they’re doing now.

Drill Sergeants Richard Kenner, Mark Copelli, Larry Gilman, William Thompson, Vern O’Bryan, Carlos Colón

People I knew in the Army
Steve Parkhomov, David Hull, Eric Johnson (known in Chinese class as Li Yingbin), Christy Riddell-Simmons, Dean Beckstein, Corporal Nicolas Carriker, Karen Guthrie (nèe Clark), Jory Woods, Amy McGeehee, Brad Smith, Michelle and Josiah John.

Other military servicemembers I knew
Sergeant Olan Tiangco, Staff/Tech Sgt. Dane Lance

From college: Teddy Williams, April Rich, Susan Swigart (last known to be a missionary in South America), Ed Ferrer, and many others whom I can’t remember right now.

If you’re reading this and are one of those above, feel free to drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

Learning more about God

I am reading this book called God of Weakness by John Timmer. Have only read the first chapter, but what I have read has really floored me. I'll be writing a future My Two Shekels column about it, but here's the gist. We as Christians can't exlude God from our daily lives (such as failing to have devotions and private time with God) and then wonder why God doesn't seem to be present in our life during the tough times. Very convicting, indeed. Just as the Apostle Paul wrote about dying daily in First Corinthians 15, we have to decide for ourselves every day to live for God, spend time with Him and make Him our focus. I am reminded also of NBA legend Chris Mullin, who's a recovering alcoholic. He told Sports Illustrated once that fighting his addiction is a daily battle. When he gets up in the morning, Mullin looks into the mirror and says, "I'm not going to drink today."

Ding! Dong! The Yankees' season is dead!

I am very happy indeed now that the New York Yankees have been eliminated from postseason play by the Cleveland Indians. Thank you, Tribe! Yee-haw! Do I respect the Yankees as a team? Yes. Am I tired of seeing them in the postseason? Yes.

Senator Clinton pic--provide a caption

I saw this picture of New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton on Matt Drudge's Website. The link below goes to a Boston Globe story regarding New Hampshire voters warming to Mrs. Clinton. I suspect it's an older pic. Was wondering if any blog readers care to suggest a caption for it...

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Barack Obama campaigns at South Carolina church...

...Hey, IRS! Is it possible for a change to start investigating churches that allow Democratic candidates to encourage votes from the pulpit?

Illinois Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama took to the pulpit at Redemption World Outreach Center and accused Republicans of pushing people aside when it comes to the faith issue. Obama also told the church that he desired to become "an instrument of God" and finished by saying: "We're going to keep on praising together. I am confident that we can create a Kingdom right here on Earth."

Sorry, Senator, but that's not going to happen until Jesus returns back to earth. Only He can untangle the mess of mankind.

Obama's comments make me think of the cycle of a political candidate: announce candidacy, criticize party opponents, then current administration and make heaping promoses, get into office, find out how unrealistic your promises were and spin things to depict your predecessor as having made it impossible for you to keep your promise.

To me, Senator Obama is 100% talk. I'd vote for the fictional Jack Bauer as a write-in candidate before I voted for him (or for Senator Hillary Clinton, for that matter).

Girl With a Pearl Earring--great film

Last night, my wife and I saw Scarlett Johansson's film Girl With a Pearl Earring. Drama with virtually no humor and little soundtrack, but I enjoyed it a lot. A servant girl works for a painter and develops an interest in his trade. His wife has no interest in it. Though they share some relatively intimate moments in enjoying the craft, their onscreen relationship is 100% platonic. I got the impression that he was falling in love with her (perhaps in the romantic or platonic sense, possibly romantic), as his own wife didn't really care for what he did for a living. No nudity, and nothing even close to it. There is a scene of an aborted rape (her boss' benefactor tries to force himself on her but is stopped in the beginning) and where she and her boyfriend have a relationship, but as for the latter, you see them kissing fully-clothed and the next scene you see them fully dressed as she prepres to leave again. Thought-provoking film, foreign-made. Doesn't surprise me. If it had been made by one of the major L.A. studios, they probably would've thrown in some flesh and ruined the film. I'd give it 3.5 out of four stars.


Besides this blog, I also keep a private journal. There are two reasons why nobody will be able to read my journal. One, my handwriting. :D Two, it's private. In the week I've been journaling longhand, I am starting to rediscover the beauty of using a pen to put words down on paper. It's a very beautiful process. May God forgive me for not being more active in my life in creating a journal.

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Scientists say they have discovered appendix's purpose

Well, I guess the appendix isn't a vestigial organ after all.

Scientists say that they have discovered that the appendix does indeed serve a purpose as a producer and protector of "good" germs. Another news report said that when diseases like cholera or amebic dysentery clear the digestive system of useful bacteria, the appendix help to "reboot the digestive system."

Barack Obama doesn't wear a flag pin on his lapel? So what?

Indeed it’s a slow news day when the media reports on such a glaring non-issue like Barack Obama refusing to wear a lapel pin of the American flag. Yes, President Bush (whom I voted for) wears one religiously. But to me, it’s a non-issue. There are far more important things to consider when choosing a president.

You know it’s a non-issue when I find myself agreeing with former Democratic running mate Geraldine Ferraro, who was debating with a lady who thought it was practically sacreligious for Obama not to wear a lapel pin. The Illinois senator, who’s trying to wrestle the Democratic nomination from New York Senator Hillary Clinton, said that the flag has become a substitute for true patriotism since the 9-11 attacks.

It's a beautiful mornin': Cleveland leads New York 2-0 in ALDS; 2 down, 1 to go

When I logged off my computer last night, I saw that the New York Yankees led the Cleveland Indians 1-0 in the sixth inning. So, needless to say, I was tickled to death to log on today and learn that the Indians had won 2-1 in 11 innings.

As you see from the picture above, it’s hard to win a game when even the insects don’t seem to like you. :D Yankees hurler Joba Chamberlain gave up an eighth-inning run, leaving Yankees pitcher Andy “My fingers were crossed when I said I wanted to play at home in Houston” Pettitte with a no-decision despite his pitching 6.1 innings and giving up no runs.

As for Alex Rodriguez, in the first two games he is 0-6 with two walks and three strikeouts. There’s a part of me that wonders how well Pay-Rod would be playing if he truly loved playing in New York.

Next game is Sunday evening at Yankee Stadium. Roger Clemens will be pitching what could be the final game of his major league career. As a disgruntled Houston Astros fan, I certainly hope so.

(Photo courtesy of the Associated Press, Amy Sancetta)

Friday, October 5, 2007

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's madness over Israel continues

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (or Ah-Mad, since it’s shorter and accentuates his madness) is proving daily that putting him in control of a country like Iran is like giving an aggressive child prone to temper tantrums a very sharp butcher knife.

Remember, back in 2005, Ah-Mad called for Israel to be wiped off the map. He now accuses Israelis of genocide against the Palestinian people, conveniently ignoring that the Jewish people have lived in Palestine far longer than the Arabs had and that early in the 19th and early 20th centuries they bought up large tracts of land from landowners (including Arabs) who considered the land to be uninhabitable. So, when you think about it, the Israelis are indeed the true Palestinians.

Ah-Mad also has at times either denied or questioned the Holocaust. It’s a good thing he’s not a German citizen; in Germany, such denials are illegal. He now feels that Israel’s Jewish population should be transferred to Europe, Canada or Alaska so that the Arabs who call themselves Palestinians can have the land.

I have a better idea. Since nearby countries like Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon are predominantly Arab/Muslim, why not transfer the “Palestinians” living in Israel to there? Israel is the only predominantly Jewish country on the planet.

Ah-Mad is like a spoiled brat who, despite having dozens of his own toys, screams hysterically because someone else has their own toy. I still can’t believe the spin job this clown tried to pull on 60 Minutes recently. Unbelievable.

A few years ago I met a very pretty Iranian-American lady in San Antonio. She had some brief but disturbing stories to tell about living in Iran. Her reason for coming to America (via Germany)? “Because women are treated like dirt in Iran,” she told me.
(Mahmoud Ahmadinejad photo courtesy of Reuters)

Cleveland make Yankee haters happy, defeat New York 12-3, lead series 1-0

It's a happy day for those who hate the New York Yankees. The Cleveland Indians cruised to a 12-3 win in Game 1 of their ALDS against New York. Derek Jeter and Alex "Pay-Rod" Rodriguez both were hitless.

I hope this trend continues. 1 down, 2 to go.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

I hate the New York Yankees!

As long as it's not the Yankees, I don't care who wins the World Series--although I would like to see the Chicago Cubs finally break their curse.

That is all.

Deal or No Deal

Call me a stick in the mud, but I don’t care for Deal or No Deal. The show runs far too slow for me. I wish Howie* Mandel and the guests would do less mingling and more playing. But what really grates me is how the women holding the suitcases always have to make some type of face that foreshadows what’s inside. Sometimes they’ll pretend it’s something really bad when it’s really good. Please, ladies, don’t ruin a fascinating show by doing that. Just open the suitcase and let us see for our selves what it is.

* For those who wonder how my surname, Zowie, is pronounced, it rhymes with Howie. I once joked about naming a son Howard and nicknaming him Howie, but my wife wasn’t crazy about that idea.

(Photo courtesy of NBC)

Want to know where to get GREAT iced tea?

Iced tea is a very important beverage for me. I love drinking tea, preferably the subtly-sweet kind that’s as cold as midnight on Pluto. Well, not that cold, but you get the idea. Anyway, I’ve experimented with ways to make the perfect glass of iced tea. Lipton works great, and Luzianne’s not bad, either. I often use Wal-Mart’s Great Value brand to save money, but it makes a decent glass of tea, also.

As far as the water goes, I tend to be a big stickler. When I was a kid, I used my parents’ well water, which seemed great. As an adult, I’m much fussier. I used Wal-Mart brand water once, which tasted gross. One of my kids once brewed me tea using San Antonio’s tap water, which I wasn’t crazy about. When we lived in San Antonio, I liked to use Glacier Water (which is also excellent drinking water) for my tea. It was wonderful.

Up here in Michigan, I don’t see many Glacier machines, so I tried out Culligan Water. Very nice. Now, I tend to brew tea using Culligan. When I have a better budget to work with, I will probably go with Sara Lee tea (for reasons I’ll detail see below) and may even invest in an iced-tea brewing machine.

Where is the best place for tea? Of all the restaurants I’ve tried, I would say San Antonio’s Bill Miller Bar-B-Q. If there’s tea in heaven, I can imagine it will taste similar to what they make at Bill Miller. It has a crisp taste and isn’t too sweet. In short, it’s perfect and absolutely to die for. I’ve told my wife that the next time we’re in San Antonio, Austin or Corpus Christi, I’m getting Bill Miller tea.

Recently, I called Bill Miller to express my pleasure for their tea and find out their secret. “What kind of tea and water do you use?” I asked.

They use Sara Lee teabags and, believe it or not, the local tap water.* I suppose that in the boiling process the water is made great, or maybe Sara Lee tea is just that good. I always thought the Alamo City’s tap water was bad, but I guess they somehow make it good. Still, for the time being, I think I’ll stick with filtered.

* Here’s a link to BexarMet (pronounced “Bear Met”), San Antonio’s other tap water provider. I’m not sure which system Bill Miller uses, but I suppose it depends on each restaurant’s location.

Media overkill with Phil Spector

Have you ever noticed how sometimes journalists engage in overkill? I can think of two examples. During Arthur Miller’s death and in the years prior to it, reporters always seemed the need to insert that the playwright was once married to Marilyn Monroe. Never mind that two of his plays—Death of a Salesman and The Crucible—are considered classics in American literature. Yes, I know Ms. Monroe was beautiful, but come on.

Our current example lies in music producer Phil Spector, who will be retried for second-degree murder in the death of actress Lana Clarkson. Reporters just can’t resist constantly inserting that Spector invented the recording technique called “the wall of sound” in every article. I had no idea before what this is, but ok, I get it now. Please stop reminding me about Spencer’s nifty invention.

That being said, Spector is said to be looking for his third legal team. According to the Associated Press, the first team resigned and the second one was fired. I’m not an attorney, but I suspect this isn’t the greatest news for Spector.

Spector, whose first murder trial ended with a hung jury in a 10-2 deadlock (10 in favor of convicting him), probably yearns for the day when all he had to worry about was using the wall of sound to make great music. As a non-musical person, I have to wonder…does the wall of sound bear any resemblance to the Great Wall of China?

Prosecutor Alan Jackson (no, not that Alan Jackson of country music stardom) recently confirmed that Spencer will be retried, and lead defense attorney Roger Rosen announced he won’t return for Spector’s sequel. And for the time being, one defense attorney, Christopher Plourd, said he would remain as Spector’s attorney.

You’ll remember that the 67-year-old Spencer, who invented the Wall of Sound, is alleged by prosecutors to have forced a gun into 40-year-old Clarkson’s mouth at his mansion in 2003 and made her pull the trigger. They had met earlier that evening and then had gone back to his home.

Prosecutors allege that Spector is notorious for using firearms to threaten women when they either try to leave or when they ask stupid questions like, “How is a crazy man like you so rich? Is it just your Wall of Sound technique? How does that work anyway?”

The Wall of Sound’s attorneys contended that Clarkson was depressed by financial and professional problems and that the fatal gunshot was either a suicide or a tragic accident.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Modern-day Mr. and Mrs. Bonnie and Clyde

You’ve heard of shotgun weddings, right? Well, this story could result in a “jailhouse wedding”.

Seems that a Lapeer, Mich. couple are wanted by authorities on charges that they robbed the Lapeer County Bank and Trust on September 19. James L. Smith of the Flint Journal reports that 24 year-old Harold “Aaron” Holt and 23 year-old Elizabeth A. Bruman, who were living together, allegedly took an estimated $5,000. Detectives, according to Smith, learned that the couple allegedly used the stolen cash to purchase wedding rings, pay legal fees in a custody case and pay back rent.

Authorities always want a peaceful end to a fugitive search, and this is no exception. Smith also writes that Lapeer County Sheriff Ron Kalanquin has announced that if the suspects turn themselves in, he will allow them to get married in the jail.

Police also say a toy gun was used in the robbery, which tells me this couple was more desperate than criminal. Both, unfortunately, have criminal records.

Not condoning them, but I hope they are able to get their lives straightened out.

Another missle defense update

I mentioned this in last night's (or this morning) post. Matt Drudge has now linked the headline. Interesting things to consider.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Missle Defense update

Matt Drudge has an unlinked headline on his Website (as of October 2 at 11:45 p.m.), that states, "MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM IS UP AND RUNNING, MILITARY SAYS..."

Russia is still opposed, as are other nations. While reading through Dutch: A Memoir (a biography on President Ronald Reagan, mention is made of Reagan's meeting in Iceland with Soviet Union premier Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986. The Strategic Defense Initiative, a.k.a. SDI, (or "Star Wars" by its critics) was a sensitive topic of discussion. At one point during their debates, Gorbachev told Reagan that his scientists in Russia told him that the missle defense system was a scientific impossibility.

Reagan's response: if it's impossible, why are you so against America pursuing it?

I don't know what Gorbachev's response, but Reagan's question was very relevant. If you think it's so useless, why are you so against us trying to develop it?

Just wondering...

Democrats criticize Rush Limbaugh's 'criticism' of soldiers

It was but a short time in the past when Democrats in Congress were criticizing President Bush for focusing on “non-issues” like flag burning and gay marriage while ignoring the real issues like the war, the economy and health care.

Now, the Democrats are the ones focusing on a non-issue.

Forty-one Senate Democrats sent a letter to Clear Channel Communications CEO Mark P. Mays requesting that he publicly rebuke radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh for his alleged actions of labeling soldiers who speak out against the Iraq War as “phony soldiers”. (Clear Channel owns the right to broadcast Limbaugh’s talk show).

In the letter, they wrote: “Thousands of active troops and veterans were subjected to Mr. Limbaugh’s unpatriotic and indefensible comments on your broadcast. We trust you will agree that not a single one of our sons, daughters, neighbors and friends serving overseas is a “phony soldier.” We call on you to publicly repudiate these comments that call into question their service and sacrifice and to ask Mr. Limbaugh to apologize for his comments.”

Mays, in his response, wrote that he supports the troops, believes that Limbaugh does also and that while he doesn’t agree 100% with Limbaugh’s takes, he does not believe that Limbaugh was calling all soldiers who question our government’s actions to be “phony”. It was sort of a diplomatic way of saying, Rush is entitled to his opinion, and I’m not going to apologize for comments Rush made that you just might be simply taking out of context.

Let’s take a quick revisit to the first sentence of the Democrats’ letter: “Thousands of active troops and veterans were subjected to Mr. Limbaugh’s unpatriotic and indefensible comments on your broadcast.” I’m a veteran who served from 1996-2000 in the Army and spent time as a Russian linguist. The Democrats’ comments about veterans does not speak for me.

Limbaugh, on his Website, responds that he was taken far out of context and that the Democrats are attacking him to cover up their own failings as the Senate Majority. He adds that he and the caller named Mike were discussing a single soldier, Jesse MacBeth, described as an anti-war soldier who served in Iraq and witnessed American atrocities firsthand. Well, as it turns out, MacBeth never finished basic training (much less went to Iraq) and never was an Army Ranger (which he apparently claimed to be) and never won a purple heart. MacBeth ended up being convicted of falsifying a Department of Veterans Affairs claim and his Army discharge record. The transcript goes like this:

RUSH ARCHIVE: It’s not possible intellectually to follow these people.

CALLER: No, it’s not. And what’s really funny is they never talk to real soldiers. They like to pull these soldiers that come up out of the blue and spout to the media.

RUSH: The phony soldiers.

CALLER: The phony soldiers. If you talk to any real soldier and they’re proud to serve, they want to be over in Iraq, they understand their sacrifice and they're willing to sacrifice for the country.

RUSH: They joined to be in Iraq.

RUSH: It’s frustrating and maddening, and why they must be kept in the minority. I want to thank you, Mike, for calling. I appreciate it very much.

It’s really amazing the things you pick up when you read things in context. Frankly, I find the Democrats’ response to self-serving nonsense. I wonder if this is sour grapes over how Limbaugh consistently kills liberal Air America talk show hosts in the ratings.

Now that we’re on this subject, why wasn’t there any Democratic outrage over D-List comedian Kathy Griffin’s sacrilegious comments about Jesus Christ during the Emmy Awards? Why no outrage when Senator Dick Durbin compared Guantanamo Bay to the Nazi concentration camps?

I don’t ever want to hear any U.S. Senators accuse President Bush of spending time on irrelevant issues. It scares me that people who jump to conclusions without bothering to do research and find out what Limbaugh really said are in positions of power. God help this nation.

Limbaugh has invited Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid onto his program to discuss and debate the issue, but Reid has so far not responded. Officially, I presume, Reid would say he doesn’t want to dignify Rush. It’s more along the lines that Reid doesn’t want to give Rush a chance to show the remarks in their context.

Not all drunken driving victims die

Those who know me know that drunken driving is a serious topic for me. My cousin was killed by a drunk driver almost six years ago. Frankly, American drunk driving laws are a sick joke. A few years ago in Michigan, a man was arrested for DUI. He was found to have had more than 10 prior arrests. Of course, getting arrested doesn’t guarantee conviction, thanks to attorneys who care more about making money than making sure a drunk driver answers for their crime.

As you’ll find from this Website, not every victim of drunken driving dies. I encourage you to visit Jacqui’s site and read her story. Think about her anytime a celebrity gets arrested for DUI. Yes, we’re human, but when we engage in risky behavior that could harm others, we cross the line.

Isiah Thomas found guilty of sexual harassment

Former Detroit Pistons star and current (for now) New York Knicks head coach Isiah Thomas has been convicted of sexual harassment. A jury today found that Thomas sexually harassed Anucha Browne Sanders, a former Knicks executive, and made unwanted sexual advances and directed verbal insults toward her.

The jury also ruled that Sanders will receive $11.6 million in punitive damages from the Knicks organization.

Both the Knicks and Thomas plan to appeal. Thomas, who grew up in south Chicago and went on to become one of the great point guards in NBA history, maintained his innocence.

Is Zeke guilty? I don’t know. One sports industry friend of mine, who has met and knows lots of people in the business, tells me that the general word on Thomas is that the megawatt smile we often see in public is just that—for the public. In other words, this friend says, Thomas is not a nice person and has a penchant for treating people with disrespect.

Of course, Thomas practically shot himself in the foot when he testified that though it wouldn’t offend as much if a black man used the term (a slang, derived for the word for a female dog, that I’d rather not post here) on a black woman, he thought it would be “highly offensive” if a white man did. I guess this means that while black men are entitled to disrespect black women, white men better not do it. Does this mean that white men can disrespect white women but that black men can’t?
(Photo courtesy of New York Daily News)

My name in Hebrew, revised

A Jewish friend showed me a Website that listed Richard as being written this way in Hebrew:


Hebrew, though, doesn’t have a “ch” sound, as in Richard, so the above would be pronounced “Rikard”. In Hebrew, they transliterate the “ch” sound by adding a short vertical dash after the Tsadi letter, which itself is pronounced “ts”.

Below, I’m told, is how Richard would be completely transliterated into Hebrew:


Hebrew and my friend, Howard

I have a friend named Howard, who lives in Virginia. Like my friends Joel and Robert, Howard is the brother I never had. As self-deprecating as he is, he’s hilarious and someone I consider a spiritual mentor. If you’ve ever read my inspirational columns and think they’re great reads, chances are good I’ve bounced some ideas off of Howard. A few years ago Howard half-jokingly told me to brush up on Hebrew since it would be the official language of heaven. When Howard signed my yearbook in my senior year of college, he wrote: שלום

Shalom, in Hebrew, literally means “peace” and can be used as a greeting to say hello or goodbye. I knew almost nothing about Hebrew at the time and because of Howard’s handwriting (which is slightly better than mine), it took me almost an hour to look up the word in Strong’s Concordance!

As I learn the alphabet, memorize some vocabulary and begin the long, arduous process of learning pronunciation, verb conjugation and tenses and then grammar, I see just how fun my self-study will be (in the meantime I’m trying to brush up on the three languages I’ve studied [Spanish, Chinese and Russian] and even dabble a little into my great-grandfather’s language of German).

To you, Howard, I say:
שלום, אח

I also learned the Hebrew words for our vocations.

Mine: כותב
Or: סופר

As for Howard’s vocation when I knew him at college:

These are presented above without the vowel points. I hope someday to be able to read Hebrew without them, since I know they’re considered training wheels. Happy reading, Howard!

Monday, October 1, 2007

Teaching my son chess

I'm reluctant to play chess against my oldest son, Jonathon. He's 15 and in the past few years has gotten really good. I've taught my three sons to play chess, and I'll never forget teaching the youngest, Robby, 7. When Robby was about five, I was showing him how to castle. Then, a while later, I decided to review with him. "Robby, what do you call it when you switch the king and rook?" I asked.

Robby thought for a few moments and then replied, "Stupid?"

Robby also has this fool-proof way of winning against Dad at chess. Once I've cleared the board of all but two of his pieces, he will then insist that he and I switch sides. Now that I have two pieces to his multiple ones, he is almost certainly guaranteed victory.

Question about writing submissions

I encountered a problem recently that reminded me of a snag a few years ago when trying to contribute a short story to a science fiction magazine. They accept snail mail submissions only. The query and manuscript must be sent, along with an SASE, to the publisher. Depending on where you live and to where you're sending it, you're looking at at least three days before they receive it. When I asked the magazine about this, they stated that they don't open attachments because of the concern about viruses. That's fine and dandy, I suppose, but why not just accept submissions where the text is pasted into the e-mail itself?

There are two columns of mine, Richard's Ramblings and My Two Shekels, that are submitted to clients by pasting into a text box. With this, why in late 2007 do some companies still prefer to live in the 20th century when it comes to submitting writing work?

Dallas Cowboys Tony Romo--is he the pigskin messiah?

Yes, as a Cowboys fan I'm thrilled the 'Boys have gotten off to a 4-0 start and that Tony Romo is really showing grace under fire and the ability to make his passes count. Please keep in mind, though, that of Dallas' four opponents, only one has had a winning record (New York Giants). Dallas in a few weeks will play the New England Patriots, and it should be a real test for Dallas.

Will Conservatives go Third Party in 2008?

A New York Times blog is reporting that Christian Conservatives are so fed up with the Republican Party that they are considering supporting a third-party candidate for the 2008 White House run—especially if the GOP nominates former New York City major Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani is considered by many disgruntled conservatives to be a RINO—Republican In Name Only. They take particular issue with his support for abortion and gay rights.

Dr. James Dobson, acting as an individual rather than the head of Focus on the Family, has been especially critical of the GOP and has even expressed reluctance supporting former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson since Thompson ostensibly doesn’t openly espouse Christianity.

Third party candidates are understandable, especially with the growing displeasure many have with the Democrats and Republicans. But for conservatives who wish to go third party, they should realize it means risking a few terms with a person in the White House who is opposed to all their views. A few years ago, I chatted with a conservative libertarian regarding the 2004 presidential race between President Bush and Massachusetts senator John Kerry. This gent wrote to me that if he really thought Senator Kerry could do grave damage as president, he’d vote for Bush. Otherwise, he was voting Libertarian.

I would consider going third party (such as the Constitutional Party) if I had assurance that a Republican was a lock to win in 2008. I don’t feel comfortable making it easier for Senator Hillary Clinton to win the White House, though, so I will likely vote GOP unless given a compelling reason not to.

Man of the Year mini-review

Last night, my wife and I watched the Robin Williams comedy-drama Man of the Year. It’s about a political comedian named Tom Dobbs (Williams) who decides to run for President and—surprise, surprise—gets elected as an independent over the Democratic incumbent and Republican challenger. However, the happiness and shock are both short-lived when it’s revealed that a software glitch in the computerized voting system propelled Dobbs to victory. In fact, as we learn in one scene, he didn’t even come close to winning.

While the ominous computer software company that created the voting system tries to silence the truth, we’re left with two giant plot holes. In light of the 2000 elections (namely, Florida), why didn’t the two main candidates make an issue over the result? After all, again, Dobbs didn’t even come close to winning. Second. Dobbs’ comedic team has virtually no suspicions. Comics are generally very intelligent people whose humor often serves as an acerbic-but-sharp social commentary. How come none of them suspect anything amiss, either? They all just want to bury it and move on. Maybe it’s from the euphoria of a Hail Mary-style election win, or maybe it’s just inferior script writing.

Intriguing film, but I would’ve liked to have seen the story line developed more. The one thing I did like about the film is how, though flawed (Dobbs seems to pick and choose the issues over which to be pragmatic and which to simply joke around and follow status quo) it captured the American frustration of the two-party system.