Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Take me out to the Big House

Mills of the gods

American sports continues to take itself way to seriously. A teenager in New York named Ryan Leli buttoned up his plea bargain today with the New York district attorneys office. The plea bargain will keep him from standing trial and possibly receiving a seven year sentence for trying to meet his idol, Mike Piazza.

Leli, like many boys, loves baseball. According to his mother he has attended baseball camps every year since he was five. But what he really wanted to do was meet his idol, Mike Piazza. It was not so long ago that that would have been pretty easy. As a boy, I would call ball players at their hotels when they were in Houston for games and chat with them. I even called the Houston clubhouse a couple of times to talk to Houston players.I'm sure that it irritated some of the players, but they certainly never let on to me that it did.

Now that players derive income by signing their names to things, they no longer want to meet the public, in part from fear that someone might ask them for an autograph that they would have to give away. Even in Florida and Arizona now,during spring training, the teams have set up security measures to guarantee that kids don't get too close to their heroes.

Well enterprizing Mr Leli found away around the problem. He forged a press card and passed himself off as a newspaper reporter so he could get into the clubhouse and meet Piazza. It worked too. The only reason Leli is now a convict is because he got greedy. He tried to do it twice and someone figured out that this kid probably was not really a reporter. So the Mets called the authorities, and young Leli was looking at seven years hard time.

Hard time for what, you ask ? I thought maybe impersonationg a reporter is a felony under New York law. Maybe criminal tresspass is considered particulary henious there. But it is shocking that the Mets and the D.A. would take things so seriously. The last time I checked there was still a good deal of crime going on in New York that would seem to be a bit more dangerous than a kid trying to get an autograph. I knew that the crime was not theft of service, because Leli bought trickets for both games. Well it turns out that the crime was "criminal impersonation" which I guess means that pulling a prank phone call in New York gets you thrown in the slammer. "This is Mr Smith, do you have Price Albert in a can?"
That's good for seven years if they catch you. The world just does not have a sense of humor anymore. At least Leli won't go to jail. He worked out a deal that bans him from Met games (including minor league games and Spring Trianing ,for three years). He says he will have to become a Yankee fan.Now I don't want to get too nasty about this, but, after all, this is the same police department that was in charge of protecting the World Trade Center. Maybe their priorities are just a tad screwed up.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

You're Doing Fine Oklahoma

Mills of the gods

The good people of Tulsa are getting ready to dig up a 1957 Plymouth that was buried under their court house lawn in 1957. 1957 was the 50th anniversary of the admission of Oklahoma to the union. Oklahomans, back then, thought that when they celebrated the hundreth anniversary, this year, it would be nice for someone to win a shiny new car. So they buried a Plymouth. They took some precautions to try to keep the car in pristine condition, but no one is sure if they will be digging up a pile of rust or not. The winner is the person who came closest to predicting Tulsa's 2007 population back in 1957. The entries are on microfilm, in a steel cannister, in the Plymouth.

I imagine that a lot of people back then thought that the future would be very different. Movies of the era seemed to predict flying cars, people living in the sky and food from pills. I am sure that many people thought that most of the drudgery work would be done by robots now.

There have been a lot of changes. But anyone from 1957 would easily recognize the problems in the middle east today. So a lot has stayed the same.What else do you think those crazy 1950s Tulsans put in that car ?Maybe some products of the era. Those would be cool to see. As of now, the only place I know of to see goods purchased in the 1950s is my mother's pantry.

If this were a TV show, the car would be dug up with a skeleton at the steering wheel and the town would be enveloped in a real mystery. a fifty year old cold case. I guess that is too much to hope for, but you never know. The car will probably have old bumber stickers on it. Maybe "I like Ike" from the previous election or "Visit Beautiful Tulsa".

The most likely thing to happen will be that someone has locked the keys in the car. I can just about guaraantee you that. If the keys not buried, someone would have stolen the car by now.Likewise if the car were unlocked. So my guess is that the keys were locked in the car. Of course, if there is a skeleton at the sterring wheel, that will prove that locking the keys in the car did not deeter all crime, merely theft.

What would you do with a 1957 Plymouth ? It would not run on today's gas. It would not have seat belts . It might have airconditioning, but it probably does not. I bet it has white wall tires.I think that the best thing to do with it would be to bury it for the bicentennial of Oklahoma in 2107. Let them figure out how to deal with it.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Let's Chat

Mills of the gods

Hillary Clinton has announced that she is forming an exploratory committee to see if she should run for President. In her announcement she said "let's chat" about what we think is important in America today. I was not surprised that Hillary wants to chat with me. I met her once after a speech, and when I thanked her for coming, she looked me right in the eye and said, "No, thank you for coming." in a very serious manner. I suppose that she knew just how important my time was and wanted to convey true gratitude for my appearance. So, I know that when Hillary says that she wants to chat, she is talking right to me, and looking forward to hearing my ideas, to get my guidance and advice.

I do have a lot of ideas about America and how we can get out of this mess we are now in and go back to those heady days when our only problems were Hillary's husband's predilictions. What a wonderful time that was. The market was up, unemployment was almost zero, and we had a budget surplus. More importantly, all of our forgien adventures were managable and did not involve the deaths of 3,000 American soldiers, nor, as of yesterday, the amputations of 500 more. So I guess you'd have to say that the number one thing I'd like to chat with Hillary about, is the fucking war in Iraq and some creative ideas that I have come up with to end it. President Bush propses sending 21,000 more troops and Congress says that that won't work, but among Democrats, I am the only one I know of who is proposing concrete alternatives to the administration. Here are some of my ideas. Don't attack them unless you have thought of something more workable.

1. Send in the Missionaries- Everyone knows that the root cause of all of these problems is Islamic fundamentalism. These guys think that dying for the cause is a great privlege, so sending in more soldiers is about the dumbest idea imaginable. Instead of 21,000 soldiers, how about we send in 21,000 fundamentalist Christian missionaries to convert these heathens. If God is really on our side in this battle, it will work ! If God is not on our side, it won't, but at least the missionaries will go to heaven for their sacrafice, so they get something out of it.That is unless we are really wrong about this and the Muslims are right about everything. Further, the presence of 21,000 Christian missionaries in the Bahgdad area will act as a deterent to terrorists. No Al Queda operative is going to come into Iraq if he has to pass one of those grinning missionaries handing out tracts at every corner. No country is worth putting up with that.

2. Time Travel- We have the finest minds in the country working on weapons systems when all we need is a good time travel machine. We send someone back to 2001 prevent 9/11, or, more to the point, to November of 2000 to teach all those old people in florida how to vote for the right way. Either one of these keeps us out of Iraq at a fraction of the cost of the war.

3.Bring back Kissinger- Say what you will about Henry, he knew how to paper over a bad war. Lock him in a room with the Shites, the Sunnis and the curds and he will cobble together an agreement for peace with honnor for all concerned. It will be a worthless treaty which will fall apart with disastorus consequences inside of two years, but hey, we'll be out. Just like last time.

4.Change in geopolitical strategy- If Hillary would just announce that the Middle Easy is no longer the lynch pin of our geopolitical strategy, there would be no reason for us to be there. Instead, we could carve out a new forgien policy built around the Carribien and certain vacation islands in the south pacific. We say that it is the stated purpose of the United States to maintain the freedom and prosperity of these places, and start committing our resources to that end.We immediatly send all of our troops in Iraq on a Carnival Cruise Ship to Jamaica as a start. When Castro dies, the Marines "hit the beaches" at Cuba and start bringing back the old days to that Island.We hit each island until each is safe for vacationing, retirment and off shore banking.

5. Buy off the Muslims- This is the easiest plan of all, and if it had been put into place three years ago, we'd be out of the Middle East. We are going to spend between four and five hundred billion dollars destroying Iraq. Do you realize how much money that is. In a region where people are always desperatly poor, if we had just passed that money out to the citizens (with the proviso that they buy western products with it) everyone would be too happy to fight. That sounds a little ineeficent, but if you want efficency, we just give 50 billion to the leaders and tell them to live it up and repress everyone else. That's how it already works in Saudi Arabia, and we have not had to go to war in Saudi Arabia have we.But back to the original idea, The population of Iraq is about 27 million. I figure conservatively that there are about 6 million families in Iraq. Tha means that we could take 500 billion and give more than $8,300 to a family That's about four times the annual income for each family in Iraq now. Hell, they'll party like it's 1999. There won't be time for any fighting.

So Hillary, these are my ideas. I'm ready to chat and will call you monday.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Great Snow of '60

Mills of the gods

Friday, February 12, 1960 was Lincoln's birthday. It was the year after his sesquecenntinal celebration, although the students in Mrs Harrison's first grade class at Houston's Richmond Elementary School did not know that. They only knew that it was Lincoln's birthday because Mrs Harrison had a special stamp of Lincoln which was stamped on each paper that was turned in by a student that day. What was important that day was the class Valentine Party.

As far as I can recall, that was the first Valentine's Day I was really aware of. I know that it was the first one where I had to make a special Valentine mail box with my name on it, to line up with the other Valentine's boxes with other students names on them. We had cut slots out of the sides of the boxes, which is hard to do with rounded scissors, and pasted red hearts and other decortations ,appropriate for the day, on the boxes. Some of us, especially me, had rather sloppy looking boxes because we , especially me, were never able to properly quantify the amount of paste needed to make construction paper stick to a box without having the paste squirt out from underneath the heart and cake up when it dried.

But Valentine's Day in first grade is not the nerve racking occurrence it becomes in future years. Everyone slips everyone else one Valentine. There is no petty jealousy over someone getting four Valentine's from the girl you like, as begins to happen in about fourth grade. It is a nice, pleasant, although somewhat boring celebration. I remeber that that was the first year I ever saw those little candy hearts with the inscriptions on them (which were written by someone years before and made no sense to the modern seven year old). I also recall Mrs Harrison making us sing a Valentine Day song that I still think of every February.

" Oh how we love St. Valentine's Day,
when our box will be open and all will be gay.
Valentines big,
Valentines small,
Valentines funny, enough for us all.
Oh how we love St. Valentine's Day,
when our box will be open and all will be gay."

It was not much of a song, but then again, it was not much of a holiday.

We got out of school at 1:50 every day, which meant that we ate lunch at about 10:45. My guess is that the Valentine's party probably started about 1:00 or sometime shortly thereafter. It was the usual Richmond Elementary School Party, which meant that it took place at our individual desks. I don't recall a school party in elementary school where we were allowed to roam around the room like you would at a cocktail party. I am sure that we had some kind of punch, we were never allowed sodas of any kind. I seem to recall a pink or red cake and some heart shaped cookies, although since those appear at every Valentine's party, it is possible that I am just assuming those were there.

At any rate, it had been a cold and rainy day. One in which we had not been permitted to go outside at recess. The cloak closet was full of yellow rain coats and hats, even a few rubber boots. The room had that glorious smell of wet rain slickers, gas heat and chalk dust that you might recall from your childhood (if you are at least 45). I recall looking out the window at the rain and noticing that it appeared to look a little different than most rain . Someone, I don't recall who, but probably someone from up north, said that it was snowing outside. This caused excitement that was unprecedented in my short experience at school. People rushed to the window without permission and began to opine as to whether what we were seeing was snow or not. I did not believe that it was snow, having learned the hard way that snow was not something that kids enjoyed in Houston, Texas. The one time I had previously seen snow, I had had one in a series of early childhood ear infections, and had not been allowed out for very long. All other snow rumors in my short life on the planet had died on the vine. The rumor would start at night and I would go to bed hoping to get up to a splendid Currier & Ives scene, only to be disappointed, time and again.

Even Mrs Harrison, the ultimate arbitrator on this occassion, was not sure if it was snowing. But she quickly gained control of the class and got everyone in their seats. Then she decided that Jeff Franks could open one of our windows and stick the top half of his body out to see if it was snowing. Jeff had been in colorado at one time during a winter and was thus thought to be some expert on snow. Franks carefully crawled out the window, with several of us holding onto his legs (to prevent what would have been a two and a half foot fall). He stuck out his arms to feel the precipitation that was falling. After a short investigation, he was pulled back in and pronounced it "snow" . Excitement reigned , followed by pandamonium when the bell rang, dismissing class. To be able to walk home in a snow fall ! 35 seven year olds, all holding their Valentine's boxes, skipped out onto McAvoy street and began the trudge home. On the way, we mixed with other seven and eight year olds, most experiencing their first winter wonderland.

As soon as I got home, I changed into heavier clothes, probably two or three pairs of pants and went out to revel in it. The snow continued all afternoon and into the night. When I woke up the next day the yards of Robindell were covered with blankets of the stuff. A real snowfall. Not a little ice or a little slush, but snow that you could roll up into a snow man. which my neighbor Jennifer Stansbury was doing, and did most of the day. That was when I learned that the joy that you got from a snowman was nor proportional to the work you put into it. But that was Jen-Jen's problem. I hooked up with the "big guys" and began a day of snow ball fights. These, of course, got rowdier and rowdier as the day went on. By about 4:00 p.m. we had tired of throwing snowballs at each other and gone down to the corner to throw snowballs at cars as they drove by. This is my most vivid memory of the great snow of '60. After pelting several cars, rather inefficently, with a few snowballs, we all loaded up at once for a car streaming down Bob White at about 25 miles an hour. In the car was a short middle aged man that looked like anyone's father. He wore black glasses and a Fedora. I assume the car was a sedan made in the mid to late 50s and I am sure that it did not have seat belts. The other thing I remember, and I can understand why some would challange this, but I remember it,was that the idiot had his passenger side window rolled down. I remember that pretty well, because I remember exactly what he looked like as our snowballs entered his car and began colliding with dashboards and seats and his hat. I remember him trying to dodge the things while still holding onto his steering wheel. Even a seven year old knows, when he sees a car careen out of control and finally come to a stop just before plowing into a front yard, when the time has come to run. And I did. But my legs were not very long, and I never ran very fast.

Behind me I heard the incessant pounding of this guy's leather shoes. I can't understand why he did not slip and fall. I remember the shouting and the look of panic on the faces of the six or seven kids who did not run as fast as the older guys ,who had organized the ambush. The I remember the voice of heaven. Belonging of all people to Frieda Roland.

Frieda's two boys, Rick and Mark would have been two of the instigators of the deadly game we had undertaken. Rick, s superior athlete was nowhere to be seen, but my conteporary Mark, much shorter than I was, was pretty close to being collared by the enraged victim. That's when I heard Frieda:

"What is going on here ?" she screamed ( and boy could she scream).But she was not screaming at us, she was screaming at the hapless man in black eye glasses and a cockeyed fedora. He slammed to a halt. In half a second he tore into a rage about what we had done and the danger we had wrought to him and the neighborhood. Frieda let him spew for awhile and then, when he took his first breath, raised her five foot two frame up on her toes and got right in his face and starting letting him have it. By this time various parents had gathered at the scene, all bemused at Frieda's handling of an admittidly delicate situation. "Let me just ask you one thing" she sneered, "don't you have any kids". Of course he had kids, the fellow bellowed and I assume was just about to point out that he did not want them orphaned when Frieda reared up again and spit out, "Well get home and play with them !". Tittters of laughter followed from the so recently pursued children, joined quietly by several parents who now saw that the potential neighborhood incident had totally been defused. In complete defeat, the man with the Fedora uttered not one more word, but retreated to his car where he proceeded to start the engine and go home.

I don't see snow very often. I thought of this story again this week while watching it come down in my back yard. I thought of how irresponsible the children, and frankly Frieda had been in the whole episode. But then I recalled that no one was hurt, not even any property damage, and we did play a little bit more gently for the rest of the day. It was an odd moment for a child, being stood up for by an adult even though you were totally in the wrong. It was very odd, as odd as a Lincoln's Birthday snow in Houston, Texas.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Confederate Flag

Mills of the gods

With an election looming next year, Democratic Presidential candidates all beat it out to South Carolina today so that they could denounce the flying of the Confederate Flag on the grounds of the State Capitol in Columbia. Until eight yeaars ago, the flag flew over the State Capitol where it had been hoisted, not in memory of the Civil War, but as a state sponsored "fuck you" to integrationists in the 1960s.There was no historic reason for the flag to fly there, other than as a reminder of the history of South Carolina's recalcitrance to desegregation. I would have thought that any state would have removed a flag which reminded its citizens of its lack of responsibility and boorish behavior over the issue of whether all persons are created equal.

Eight years ago South Carolina bent to public sentiment and hauled down the flag, only to plant it in front of the state house, where it remains to this day, a political football for candidates, and a trap for the unwary (Joe Liberman).

The Confederate flag was a part of my childhood heritage. The library where I read as a boy was presided over not by portraits of Washington and Lincoln, but by Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.My family has been in the south since 1799, and in Texas since 1840, so I suppose that my southern heritage is fairly impeccable. When I was growing up, the term "Yankee" was generally still used as an epithet, as though any day now, Stonewall Jackson and his boys would ride over yon ridge and set things right.

Slowly though, with the advent of air conditioning and television, the south of my youth joined the rest of the union. In 1959, the state of Texas dedicated a state public building to the Confederate dead, martyrs of the lost cause. By about 1966, such a thing would have been unthinkable, by 1975, laughable.I can't imagine why anyone, anywhere, would want to be identified with the Confederate battle flag. And yet, I find myself ambivalent over the issue. Perhaps it is because politicians from the north waved the bloody shirt in elections for decades, insulting my part of the country, implying that we were lesser Americans. Perhaps it is because I think that every state, and every person for that matter should have a sense of its own history, good or bad, and that it is very important that the bad things not be forgotten or hidden. No, I don't think that Belin should fly a swastika in front of their capitol for historic reasons, and I do realize that the institution of slavary is in every way comparable to the holcaust.In othe words, you would have to be a hard hearted person not to understand the pain that flag brings to people.I think I understand the pain.

But I simply don't think that it does any good to bury the old flag and pretend that it never existed. It did exist. Once we stamp it out of state capitols, do we say that it can't be depicted in movies or pictured in books ? It needs to be around, somewhere, because people still need to think about it and what it represented, both good (heroic sacrafice for ones own country) and bad. I think that the bad certainly out weighs the good, but once we forget the flag, we may forget that too. And that's a lesson which needs to be remembered.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

What's a power nap ?

Mills of the gods

Some guy from Burr Ridge , Illinois named George Hood just pedaled 85 consecutive hours on a stationary bycycle, sort of. I say sort of because the Guiness World record people allow you to take off five minutes for every hour you peddle and George took advanatge of this giant loophole by taking "several power naps." I assume that the 5 minute rule is given so that a participant doesn't have to wear some type of kit for certrain bodily needs that are going to happen many times during such a "trip". Although I will say that I don't know where the Guiness Corporation, a brewer and bottlerer of alcoholic beverages, gets off by claiming that they make the rules for world records. I don't know of any International treaty which recognizes the makers of stout as the Judge of all world records. I don't know why their judgment on what constitutes a stationary bicycle world record is any better than mine. This five minutes per hour allowance is a good example.

You know darn well that this George character, probably on the advice of some lawyer, put together his five minute per hour allowances and made several nights sleep out of it. If you peddle for 85 hours with five minute breaks, that's over seven hours of sleep you can get. I bet the guy took several two hour naps. That's not 85 consecutive hours ! That's three and a half days riding, on short sleep each day. I bet lots of these nut cyclists could do that, hell I've got a partner that I bet could do that, and I might just put him up to it.

At any rate, George beat the old record, held by some Dane named Brian Verkaer, by three hours. I have mentioned a certain lack of resepct on my part for the Danes in these pages previously. I am not surprised that George not only beat, but shattered the record. How many world records (out side of ones involving furniture and sweet rolls) do you think the Danish own ? Well, I will tell you how many athletic event world records they hold. According to a pretty comprehensive list on Wikipedia, none. I did as thorough a job as I could on the web trying to give them the benefit of the doubt for other records, and found these two.

In July of 2006,Danish eel researchers set a world record by keeping lavare of the European eel alive for five days. Even that is a tainted record and should be denoted with an asterisk. It is only for European eel. What's the all eel record ? That's what I want to know.

If that's not enough excitement, I found that researchers at the University of Denmark recently set "several" world records in optical transmission, i.e., "most flashes per second". Probably done to more quickly communicate the prestigious eel larvae world record. The record ? 160 billion flashes per second, or, put another way, the equivalent of 2 million phone calls being transmitted via a single optical fibre.
I am a bit dubious of this last record. Christian Larsen, the great Dane who is quoted claiming the record,said, rather enigmatically, "It may well be that our name isn't on the papers when the researchers announce their world records but it is often our fibres they have used." This is how desperate the Danes are for a world record. It's like some Japaneese guy setting a world record for putting away 75 Danish rolls in an hour, and Denmark sends out a press release first claiming that it's their world record because they invented the consumed item.

At any rate, we have a new world record holder for the stationary bike. Now if the guy would have just gotten on a real bike, he might have really gotten some where. That's a long time to travel to end up in Burr Ridge , Illinois. Hardly seems worth the trip.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Returm of the prince of Egypt

Mills of the gods

Just when you think that all news is bad, Robert Nuranen of Hancock, Michigan returns a book to the local library which had been due since June 2, 1960. He had checked out the book, "The Prince of Egypt" out for a school assignment back then and lost track of it when "his mother misplaced it". I would have blamed it on my mom too. Nuranen (who never finished the book) says that the family would run across it every few years and set is aside, "meaning to do something with it". That is the most believable part of the story. That makes it not a lost and found story, but a record of 47 years of procrastination. Something that I can relate to.The most amazing thing about the story is the fine he paid. It was only $171.32, or, as I figure it, about a penny a day.

A long time ago, I talked my way into a teaching job for a semester at a Houston high school. I was waiting to go to law school, and to this day I am amazed that I got that job. The hardest part of the job to me was not the teaching, I knew a good bit about English literature, it was the bureaucratic stuff that you had to do. I was always in trouble with the Assistant Principal for something. Not covering the halls in the morning, not ever turning in my attendance records, dismissing class early, you get the picture. But the scariest moment came about a week before the semester ended.

The Assistant Principal was in charge of the text books that were checked out by each teacher to their students each semester. He explained to me that at the end of the term that I had to turn back all of the 105 books that had been checked out to my students before I ever got the job. Failure to return a book meant that I was responsible for obtaining payment from the student who lost the book. The idea of one of those students coughing up any money to me for any reason, except for maybe a lid of marijuana was laughable. I had not seen more than a dozen students even use the text book over the course of the semester. They had not used it because of one of my other weaknesses, following the state prescribed curriculm. Since I tended to teach what I wanted, we seldom used the text in my classes. The Assistant Principal made it clear to me that if I could not get the money from my students, it would be withheld from my rather meager pay. That got my attention. I had one last thought though. Since I had not been the one who checked out the books to the students, I did not have any record the "book numberts" stamped into each book and so I told him that I could not guarantee that I would return the same books that were checked out. This was somewhat of a lie, I did have a bunch of index cards with each students name on them, followed by their book number that I had found in my desk. But I planned on throwing those away as soon as possible, so the the lie was only temporal in nature. As the Assistant Princiapl smiled and looked me in the eye, I knew that we were on the same wave length. "Mr Porter" he said, "all I am concerned about is quantity, you just get me 105 books."

I decided to forgo teaching that day for a series of class meetings. As I had guessed, over half of the students did not know where their books were "their mothers had misplaced them " . So I explained to the class that I needed 105 literature books, and I did not particularly care how I got them. I told them that if I had 105 books by the end of the week that we would have a big end of school blow out party. I then dismissed each class to let them go "search" where ever they needed to.

By the end of the week, I had 112 books. I learned that some not so subtle methods had been used in gathering the books, but I was focused on going to law school and so morality was far from an issue for me at the time . One of the students, a football player, a huge fellow who never studied, but always came to class, took pride in returning more than a dozen books. I was told by another student, with some awe, that he had actually seen the big fellow tear the door off of a locker to procure a book. I was gratified at the loyalty I had managed to inspire in such a short time.Good bye Mr. Chips, I remember thinking to myself.

The Assistant Principal was proud of the job I had done in turning in all the books, he never mentioned the extra ones, and I never got into any trouble for dismissing my classes for the book search.

All of that was more than 30 years ago. A lifetime ago. Yet some of those kids who came to my rescue, had just been born the year the "Prince of Egypt" was checked out in Hancock, Michigan. That, my friends, is some impressive procrastination.

Friday, January 12, 2007

A phone by any other name

Mills of the gods

I was confused about a new type of cell phone I was interested in and wondered if I could buy one. It was being sold by Cingular, and so I thought that I was out of luck because we are an AT & T family. My daughter had to explain to me that Cingular was At& T. I had gotten so lost in the myriad changes of the name AT&T that I did not know my own phone company.

When I was a boy there was really only one phone company, AT&T . It had been the phone company since Bell had told Watson that "he needed him". But the political winds which had begun to blow under Teddy Roosevelt, finally knocked down the old AT&T ,in the 70s I guess, and split the phone company into "baby Bells". This was not so bad, except I sort of lost track of who AT&T was. Then, with the advent of cell phones, they began to make more noise as AT& T wireless. That is until Cingular bought AT&T Wireless and dropped the AT&T brand. At that point, AT&T was still around, but did not have much to do.

Well the baby Bells did not work out quite like everyone thought they would, and one of the babies, I forget which,I think Southwest, began buying up its little brothers and sisters. They bought Pacbell and BellSouth and maybe some more. Then they bougdt the old AT&T and changed their name back to the old monopolistic one.

What I missed was that Cingular was owned by BellSouth and so AT&T now owned Cingular which had bought the old AT&T wireless.

Today, AT&T announced that they are phasing out the Cingular name and phasing in "AT&T' for the Cingular Product. So now I will no longer be confused when I see the cell phone ads. I will know that I buy AT&T which is really Cingular, which is really the old BellSouth, which was the original AT&T, which is now owned by the "new" AT&T which is really the Old Southwestern Bell (I think) which had formerly been part the old AT&T. See how much confusion and time could have been saved if the original monoply had never been broken up ? I miss my rotary phone.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Poking the Picasso

Mills of the gods

Over the years I have had a number of cases with Llyods of London, the British Insurance market. I always found the Interested Underwriters I worked with there to be nice people. However, the only time they are ever mentioned in the media is when they are stiffing someone on a claim. Lloyd's latest escapade involves Casino builder and operator Steve Wynn, the man who has now replaced Wayne Newton as the most identifiable man in Las Vegas.

Wynn bought a Picasso ten years ago for $48.4 million. That's a lot of money, even for someone who makes a living off the bottomless stupidity of the American Gambler. The painting is caalled "le Reve" and according to Wynn it is now "Le Wreck" after he stuck his thumb through it. Yes, stuck his thumb through it.Think how this sounds in Europe, "An American Casino Tycoon stuck his big fat thumb through Piccaso's "le Reve" yesterday."

Did you ever go over to some rich guys house and have him show you and try to hand you something of great value ? Remember how you were scared to hold it because you just knew that you were going to do something to damage it ? Well it turns out that really happens. Wynn was showing off his painting to some other rich louts, including one of the current biggest louts on the American scene, Barbara Walters in Las Vegas. Also there was David Boise who managed to lose the 2000 election case before the U.S. Supreme Court which put into office a fellow now responsible for the loss of 3,000 American soldiies lives as well as (according to CNN) enough expenditures on the war to pay for everyones gasoline for an entire year. But I digress.

While showing off the Picasso, Wynn did what he, himself has called, the "world's clumsiest and goofiest thing to do." Actually, it is not anywhere near that, but it was clumsy and goofy (unless he did it on purpose) all the same. He poked his thumb through the painting. Lloyds say that it can have the painting fixed for about $90,000, which is a lot of masking tape. But Steve, the guy who poked his thumb through it wants $54 million for "lost value". In other words, Wynn thinks that after the painting is repaired it will be worth $54 million less than it was before he decided to be little Jack Horner and stuck his thumb into it.Mind you, he paid $48.4 for it, it is worth, according to him $5.6 million more than he paid for it with a patch on it (or maybe masking tape) . Wynn thinks the painting is still worth about $85 million. You do the math as to what it is worth without a hole in it. That is quite a return on investment over ten years. I guess he was going to sell it to pay off his latest Casino.

All this proves is that the trend of sending valuable works of art to Las Vegas is dangerous. Not only is it casting pearls before swine, in that your average Vegas gambler thinks Picasso is a brand name for a frozen pizza, but it subjects these treasures to the rough handling and clumsy practices of people like Steve Wynn and Barbara Walters. It is time to ban art from Las Vegas. It is just too risky.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

march of the (gay) Penguins

Mills of the gods

A year or so ago there was controversy in the zoo world over the question of some reported homosexual penguins in the Central Park Zoo in New York. Questions had been asked about the pair of penguins at issue for some time. It seemed that their nest was more tastfully decorated than their neighbors and they had displayed an affinity for gourmet food that your average penguin does not show. Plus, people saw the two males having sex together. Now the "queer Penguin" crisis has arisen anew in, of all places, North Carolina.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools banned the book "And Tango makes Three" a childrens picture book that tells the story of two male penguins who paired up and hatched an egg. The news story I read does not describe where the penguins got the egg, nor does it mention that the egg was even a penguin egg, but my guess was that "Tango" was the baby penguin produced from the egg. It turns out that the story is a true one, but that did not prevent one of the County Commissioners of Mecklenburg County from looking into the matter, and a few parents getting nervous. The book was pulled from four elementary school libraries which puts it on the same plane as other famous books which libraries have banned, Huck Finn, Brokeback Mountain, Tropic of Cancer and Lolita. It has been a decade since this districst banned a book, but then again, there probably have not been many gay animal picture books published recently.

As of now, no parent has officially "complained" and so the books are being put back on the shelves.If a parent complains, some type of hearing will be held, and the penguins will be given a chance to come in and defend their life style choice. In the meantime, the North Carolina Legislature has begun debating a State Constitutional amendment, limiting the hatching of penguin eggs and the raising of penguin chicks to penguins of different sexes. This "Defense Of Penguin Act", as it is being called, may well be just a start to an overall ban in North Carolina of any homosexual relationships between any species. this will cause many North Carolina animals to have to move to states with more liberal mating laws, such as Massachusetts.

Many North Carolina parents have now gone back to review the hit movie "Happy Feet" to see if "Mumble", a penguin with an unusual talent for dancing, might be a dangerous introduction for children to the homosexual lifestyle. This backlash at penguin dancing is thought to be having a positive impact on Mumbles chances to receive an Academy Award this year. Several of the more family oriented sponsors of the Academy Awards program have already indicated a fear that should Mumble win, he will kiss his new friend Tango on the beak when accepting the award. All in all, it looks good for the ratings of the show that night.

Monday, January 08, 2007

And the Baffling Continues

Mills of the gods

It what must be a new baffling record for the month of January, city officials in the City of New York are reportedly "baffled" over the presence of an "unpleasant and mysterious gaslike odor" which can be smelled throughout Manahttan and into parts of New Jersey. No one in New Jersey has claimed to be baffled yet and my guess is that no New Jersey native would have noticed much difference from the usual boquet wafting through the Garden State. Newark in the morning, ah, "smells like victory". At any rate seven people, with nothing better to do with their time reported to a hospital, suffering from the smell. None were admitted. Damn HMOs. Twenty years ago you'd have gotten four days in a semi-private room if you came in complaining of a bad smell.

Mayor Bloomberg has called the odor "unpleasant" but says that he is "sure" that it is not dangerous. He then goes onto say that he does not know where the smell is coming from (although he says authorities are investigating, what do they do, go house to house ?). Not suprisingly, the "odor had no effect on subway service in the city". If you are used to running for your life to avoid being raped or mugged on a New York subway, a mysterious odor is not going to be the deciding factor of keeping you off of the A train.

As New York was adjusting to its new ambience, my home town of Austin , or at least its main street of Congress Avenue was being shut down for several hours because of the mysterious death of some 60 birds overnight on that street. So far, none of the media has reported that any city officials here are "baffled". That's probably because everybody knew that the grackle problem we have downtown, which starts at dusk each night would eventually lead to something like this. I will bet anyone dollars to donuts that this turns out to be an intentioanl poisoning. That may not sound like much of a crime to you, trying to rid the street of Grackles who crap all over everyone's car ,every night, but this is the city that once successfully prosecuted a guy for poisoning a tree and got him a sentence of 9 years. Killinng 6o birds has got to be a life sentence, if it is not a capitol offense. It is a sorrowful thing to see, a broad beautiful avenue, littered with the carcasas of five dozen grackles. It will be even more sorrowful if it turns out that I am wrong and some that awful Grackle flu is the cause of death. Crack teams at Texas A&M University are working on the issue now. By tomorrow, everyone on Congress Avenue may have to wear those little masks the Chinnese wore during the SARS epidemic. But even that would not be all bad, that would at least mean the Feds would then have to come in and help us kill all of the damn grackles and finally clean up Congress Avenue.































garden

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Extortion is an ugly word

Mills of the gods

The Chicago-Sun Times, one of my favorite newspapers (tabloids) in the country is reporting that someone named Keifer Bonvillan has been trying to extort money from Oprah Winfrey. Oprah has not been available for comment as she is off in South Africa opening up a leadership school for girls. This is a terrific idea and amazingly generous on her part (the school, not the extortion), but she has tried to ruin it by making it all about her. As she ruins most things by making them all about her.

At any rate, Blackmailer Bonvillan allegedly has 12 hours of taped conversations with one of Oprah's business associates in which the associate told him "awful things" about Oprah. Bonvillan was dumb enough to send Oprah an e-mail saying he had the tapes and apparently tried to get $1.5 million from her for the tapes. This is about the last person on earth that you want to mess with and it quickly got Bonvillan arrested. Bonvillan now says that it was all a "big mixup". It is certainly going to prove to be the biggest mistake he ever makes in life, unless he takes up shop lifiting in Saudi Arabia. Blackmail Oprah Winfrey ? Why don't you just go poke a stick into the rear end of a lion ? At least the end for you would come faster.

So Oprah gets the FBI to do a little sting operation and the next thing you know, Mr Bonaville has to learn not to drop his soap in the shower. I predict he is going away for a long, long time.

What could he have had on her ? Apparently her company (Harpo) is famous for making its employees sign lifetime confidentiality agreements about anything they learn about Oprah So the "business associate" is probably going to go down in some fashion too, even though she claims not to have known that the recording was going on. Twelve hours ? There are twelve hours of good stuff on Oprah. I have been no angel all my life but there's not more than six or seven minutes of good stuff on me. Twelve Hours ? I bet three hours are on Gail alone.

All of this shows the ineptness of Mr Bonaville (which is why he is going to get to address his next roommate as "Daddy"). If he had twelve hours of trash on Oprah (whether it was true or not) he could have sold it to the tabloids (probably the Chicago Sun-Times) or written a book to make that much. Under our libel laws you can say pretty damn much anything you want to about a person in the public eye and not have to pay for it. But no, he chooses the one way to try to make money out of the scheme that is guaranteed not only to send him to jail, but to make it impossible for the rest of us to ever know what is on the twelve hours of tape. Thanks a lot moron.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Mills of the gods

Cops still baffled

Ove four hundred news outlets reported the mystery rock story ,which had appeared in my blog yesterday. I am sure that untold hundreds wrote their daily blog on the subject. There has (as I predicted) not been much follow up the the story, althought the intrepid Associated Press folllowed up on its story of yesterday ("cops baffled") with a new story " Mystery object still baffles experts". The police are certainly not the only ones baffled. who are these "experts" ? A couple were named in the new story and a few more of the mystery family's neighbors got in on the press coverage.

From a legal perspective, the most importnat new fact is that the unidentified owners of the unidentified matter were told that they "own" the rock. Which under just about any legal definition of property, they clearly do. So now we know that if the object turns up for sale on e-Bay in the next couple of weeks, the New Jersey family is not a group of aliens as I suggested uesterday. It will show that they are good Americans trying to squeeze a couple of bucks out of the rock. I do have a feeling that the rock is going to have an outline of Jesus on it, which will mean that Freehold Township can become a shrine for tourist Christians.

You will recall that I mentioned my apprehension about this object yesterday. As I would have predicted, the police out there, who were supposed to be able to identify the object in 72 hours, now say that results of the testing would not be public. When pressed, the cop in charge, Lt. Robert Biungham "declined to say why". Does that send shivers up your spine or what ? We do know one new thing, magnets held near the object were attracted to it. So what is it ?

Some alleged expert, examining pictures on line is dubious about the possibility that it is a meteorite. Why ? " It doesn't look like the ones I've see. " said Alan Treiman of Houston. Well Alan, you have not seen it yet. Let's hold off judgment. A University of Tennessee prof. thinks that the mystery family could get "big bucks" for the find and advised them to also cut out the wall where the object made its mark and "sell that too."If they do get the "big bucks" every mother's son in this country will jam a magnet into a rock and try to sell it as space debris.

While it is hard to top the mystery rock story, CNN tried to this morning with a feature on a two headed calf. At least that Virginia family wants to give the two headed calf to a vet or school to be studied so that similair tragedies might never happen again. The family was advised by several people to "kill it" but to their credit, they have denclined to do so, even though it is hard to feed a two headed cow.

I find it very peculiar that a two headed calf would turn up the day after the mysterious magnetic rock like object turned up. My thought is that the two headed calf is probably an alien that was traveling on the magnetic rock and is now working its way into the agricultural system of the United States in order to destroy our food supply. This may be how mad cow disease got started. At any rate, I imagine that we won't be hearing any more about the two headed calf, now that the Men in Black suits have found out about it. All of this is creepy because these are exactly the kinds of warnings that Ceasar got before the ides of March. meteorites, deformed sacraficial animals. Maybe Pat Robertson is right. Maybe we are in for a bad time in 2007.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Cops Baffled

Mills of the gods

CNN had a headline this morning which began with the phrase "Cops Baffled". You don't see that much anymore. Back in the days when I read Superman comic books, the Daily Planet often had a headline about the Police of Metropolis being "baffled" over some mystery or another. It took Superman to straighten it out. I never could figure out why Metropolis bothered with a Police department. Superman did all the hard work and the cops spent most of their time being baffled (eluded by shifts and terms, confounded). Metropolis could have saved millions of dollars by disbanding the Police force and letting Superman handle crime, which he did, for free, anyway.

The baffled cops in today's story are in Freehold Township, New Jersey. They are baffled as to just what "mystery object" crashed through the roof of a local home owner into the bathroom and lodged in the wall. The Police say that they hope to know what the object is in 72 hours, which is a long time to stay baffled, even in New Jersey. Superman would have already identified the object, and, unless it was Kryptonite (and there was a 50/50 chance that it would be) figured out how it got there and what dastardly villian was behind it.

The object is described as "rough surfaced with a metalic glint" and "rock like" and "heavier" than it looks. My guess, based on the second description, is that it is some kind of a rock, but what do I know ? The object was found by an unnamed man, who lives in the house, at about 9:00 p.m. Tuesday night. The Police will not release the name of the family who lives in the house, which raises suspicisons that the family could be space aliens and that 72 hours is needed for the Federal Government to move in the army. You may recall that New Jersey is also where the Martians landed in "War of the Worlds". I tend to believe this suspicion because the reported story has a real ring of falsehood to it, sounding exactly like something the CIA would dream up as a cover story.

According to the Associated Press, the guy that found the object, only did so because his mother told him, upon his return from work, that he might want to look around because "something has crashed through the roof, a few hours earlier". Think about it, if you are watching TV and something crashes through your roof one night would you say to yourself, "wow, something crashed through the roof, I guess I will ask Jess to look for it if he ever gets home from work tonight". If Jess had gotten lucky that night, the object would still be unfound.Who waits hours to see what has crashed through their roof ? Aliens, that's who, probably Martians.

The object is the talk of what is being described as an "affluent neighborhood". One fellow, Robert Nalven, said that nothing that exciting had happend in the six years he had lived in the neighborhood. The the A.P. got what is the quote of the new year from Mr Nalven. " I'm happy it didn't hit my house." None of the neighbors would say who the hosue belonged to, meaning that the CIA had already gotten to them (or possibly that it is a secret neighborhood of aliens). However, the FAA has performed an investigation and their spokeswoman has said with certainty "It's definitly not an aircraft part, I can't speak beyond that as to what it might be". Can't, or won't ? That's what I want to know.

The guy who will play the "good scientist" (they always smoked a pipe) when American International makes this into a movie is Carlton Pryor, an astronomer from Rutgers University. Dr Pryor tells us, " It's not all that uncommon to have rocks rain down from heaven." Huh, ? Not all that uncommon maybe if you lived in a Philistine village which stood in the way of the Israleites Exodus from Egypt and had angered Jehovah, but in the twenty first century I find that it is pretty damn unusal for "rocks to rain down from heaven", at least here on planet earth.

The bad news is that we will never know. The government will hush this up and the story will vanish from the press. People who believe in Roswell, New Mexico aliens will talk about it for years, but they will be considered just so many crack pots. What ever it was that broke bath room tiles and bounced into a wall in Freehold, New Jersey will never be explained outside of the pages the "National Enquirer". Robert Nalven, the only neighbor who would talk ? He's a dead man. Dr Pryor ? Within three weeks he will be in a mental institution where he will remain for the rest of his life. That's how those movies always end.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

God told me

Mills of the gods

Unlike many of us, Pat Robertson talks directly to God. I guess I said that wrong. Many of us talk directly to God, but in Robertson's case God answers back. Or perhaps even initiates the conversation. This is how we know that there will be a mass tragedy along the lines of 9/11 later this year. Because that's what God told Pat.

Unlike many television evangelists, whom I find amusing, I have never cared for Pat Robertson. Except for his manner of speaking, there is nothing very funny about him. Once I saw him answering questions from callers on his T.V. show. A disturbed young man asked why the God of the bible threatened to visit iniquity upon several generations of a sinners progeny. This seemed like a reasonable question to me. Why Pat's forgiving God would hold my great, great grand daughter accountable for some sin I had committed 100 years before. Pat's answer before he moved on to the next caller ? "That's just the way the world was set up. " Now there is a thoughtful theological answer.

I guess it was last year when Pat said that he thought that the current President of Venezuela should be "taken out" by someone, presumably the CIA. I don't understand why Pat should have to rely on governmental intermediaries. Why can't he just ask his buddy the Lord to visit seven plauges on Venenzuela ? I mean , as long as they are chatting anyway, why not throw that out as an idea ?

Call me cynical, (call me anything but late for dinner) but I just don't believe that God, who could talk with anyone he/she/spirit wanted to, would waste time on a moron like Pat Robertson. Suppose you are God, you have a whole world to chat with, actually, a whole universe. Would you waste fifteen minutes of eternity talking to Pat ? I bet that fifteen minutes would seem like an eternity. Think about it. We have more direct quotes from God to Pat Robertson than we do from God to Jesus. Does that really seem likely to you ?

If God and Pat are really such buddies, why doesn't Pat just have him on his show ? Maybe he is waiting for the February sweeps. Maybe he has invited God, but God is holding out for Letterman. Someone who would ask funnier questions.

At any rate, God has now let us know, look for a bad time toward the end of the year. No sense preparing for it or raising the color alert. Pat has spoken. The fix is on.