Thursday, March 30, 2006

More Stupidity From the World of Law - Northern Edition

Today's legal head-scratcher comes from north of the border, in Ottawa. I know, it sounds like it came from the US, but amazingly that's not the case. It involves an insanity defense plea by Matt Brownlee. Brownlee, 33, was banned from driving for life following a 1996 drunk-driving accident that killed 2 people. He was arrested for drunk driving last October 11 and was charged with impaired operation of a motor vehicle, dangerous operation of a motor vehicle, failure to comply with probation conditions and driving while disqualified. But it’s OK! No problem! Brownlee had a perfectly good reason for being behind the wheel, according to psychiatrist Dr. Linda Grasswick. Grasswick told the court that Brownlee believes that Shania Twain was helping him drive. He also believed that Twain and other figures would have influence over the court.

And apparently, he was right! A judge ruled Brownlee was not criminally responsible because he suffers from delusions that female celebrities communicate with him telepathically. Well, DUH! Of course it’s a delusion. It’s me with whom Shania communicates telepathically. But if we’ve been drinking, I don’t let either of us get behind the wheel. Not when Canadian judges are letting nutcases like Matt Brownlee roam free.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

More Test Results

Neal down at the South Pole pointed out this personality test. It's kind of a longish test but gives some intriguing results. YIKES! Looking at the chart, I think it says that I'm a rich sexually charged religious hedonist. But don't worry - I won't be knocking on your door!

Fortunately, the analysis provided by the test site was a bit more interesting and insightful. I'm not normally branded an optimist, though...

Advanced Global Personality Test Results
Extraversion |||||||||| 40%
Stability |||||||||||| 50%
Orderliness |||||||||| 33%
Accommodation |||||||||||| 43%
Interdependence |||||||||||| 43%
Intellectual |||||||||||||||| 63%
Mystical |||||||||||||| 56%
Artistic |||||||||||| 43%
Religious |||||||||||||||||||| 83%
Hedonism |||||||||||||||||| 76%
Materialism |||||| 30%
Narcissism |||||| 30%
Adventurousness |||||||||| 36%
Work ethic |||||| 23%
Self absorbed |||||||||||| 50%
Conflict seeking |||||||||| 36%
Need to dominate |||||||||| 36%
Romantic |||||||||||||| 56%
Avoidant |||||| 30%
Anti-authority |||||||||||| 50%
Wealth |||||| 23%
Dependency |||||||||||| 50%
Change averse |||||||||||| 50%
Cautiousness |||||||||||||||| 63%
Individuality |||||||||| 36%
Sexuality |||||||||||||||||||| 83%
Peter pan complex |||||||||||||||| 70%
Physical security |||||||||||||||||||| 90%
Physical Fitness |||||||||||||||| 70%
Histrionic |||||| 30%
Paranoia |||||||||||||| 56%
Vanity |||||||||||||||| 63%
Hypersensitivity |||||||||||||||| 63%
Female cliche |||||||||||| 43%
Take Free Advanced Global Personality Test
personality tests by

The discussion of the results was probably more interesting than the table:
  • Stability results were medium which suggests you are moderately relaxed, calm, secure, and optimistic.

  • Orderliness results were moderately low which suggests you are, at times, overly flexible, improvised, and fun seeking at the expense of reliability, work ethic, and long term accomplishment.
  • Extraversion results were moderately low which suggests you are reclusive, quiet, unassertive, and secretive.

  • Trait snapshot: introverted, secretive, messy, depressed, does not like leadership, somewhat nihilistic, observer, does not make friends easily, unassertive, feels invisible, feels undesirable, hates large parties, does not like to stand out, leisurely, suspicious, submissive, abstract, unpredictable, intellectual, likes rain, likes the unknown, negative, weird, not a risk taker, unadventurous, avoidant, strange

Friday, March 24, 2006

A Woman With a Problem

Louise Arnold, from Cheltenham, England, has a problem. A serious problem. She has an irrational fear of peas. Not a rational aversion to peas, mind you. An irrational fear, to the extent that if she spots peas on a plate she'll leave a restaurant. Or, she'll have an anxiety attack if she sees them in a supermarket. Which pretty much limits her to the soft drink and kitty litter aisles.

This is a serious problem. And it is NOT related to my phobia of eggplant, which is entirely rational. I do allow eggplant into my house. I just won't eat it. Except in Baba Ghanoush, an eggplant dip which I absolutely adore, since it doesn't taste anything like eggplant. Which I can't say about eggplant parmesan. Or breaded eggplant. Or anything else made of eggplant. Baba Ghanoush is it. Period. My wife makes it during Great Lent. But not yet so far this year.

Anyhow, the stricken Ms. Arnold is now said to be seeing counselors, hypnotherapists and acupuncturists to tackle the phobia which began after the birth of daughter Chloe, five. She should have done more research into the name "Chloe." I just researched the etymology of "Chloe" and found a little-known fact - Chloe is derived from the Anglo-Saxon for "She whose mother is doomed to develop an irrational phobia to peas."

"I can't even go to my local pub because they serve peas on the menu," said Arnold. "I'd love to lead a normal life and be able to go into the pub and have a drink."

Wow! Those are different pubs than those I go to. Personally, I'm steering clear of any pub which serves peas, thinks of serving peas, or, just to be safe, has anything on the menu beginning with the letter P. Fortunately, I have yet to encounter a pub which serves anything derived from eggplant. Maybe that’s why I’ve never seen any business cards for acupuncturists there

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

There's a Bad Smell By The Bay

In Punxsutawney, they have Groundhog Day, a midwinter ritual involving alcohol, men in tuxedos, a rodent, crowds of thousands, including lots of college students, and more alcohol. In Annapolis, on the other hand, they have a vernal equinox ritual involving none of those things, except alcohol. So you'd think that the Annapolis event would be, well, somehow more civilized. The only problem is, you'd be wrong about that.

According to an Associated Press article, the Annapolis celebration of the first day of spring involves alcohol (so far so good), oysters (still good), fire (still promising - I like fire), and , um, old socks. That's right, old socks. That's right - in sailing-crazy Annapolis, boaters celebrate the first day of spring with a ceremonial Burning of the Socks, signifying it will soon be warm enough to wear boat shoes without socks. The wearing of boat shoes without socks is very important to affluent Maryland boaters. The Burning of the Socks is a tradition dating all the way back to the mid-1980s, when an employee at Annapolis Yacht Yard tired of his winter days doing engine maintenance on yachts and power boats. He stripped off his stinky socks, put them in a paint can with some lighter fluid and drank a longneck beer while looking forward to warmer days ahead.

Fast forward to yesterday - throngs estimated at upwards of 130 people attended the ritual, burning socks and pantyhose all the while eating Chesapeake Bay crabs and walking around in leather loafers without socks.

Hmmm. I think that maybe next year I'll head up to Punxsutawney for a taste of civilization.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Size Matters at Mama Lena's

Check out this baby, created by pizza maker Rob Carrabbia of Mama Lena's Pizza House in McKees Rocks, PA. (Rob's the one in the white shirt - with no tomato sauce splashes - hmmmm.) According to a short photo spot in today's Pittsburgh Post Gazette, this pizza measures 55 x 37 inches. Mama Lena's hopes to get the pizza, known as "The Big One," into the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's largest commercially available pizza. At $99 for a 150-piece one-topping pizza, you're covered for that next Stillers party an'at.

On the other've got a problem when you get this pizza. If you're eating right there at Mama Lena's, then cool. But suppose you want to eat it at home. If you want to save on delivery tips and pick it up, you're gonna need to borrow a Suburban to transport it. If you do want delivery, you've got a big problem, because
  1. The Big One won't fit in the cars driven by most delivery boys.
  2. The Big One will require at least 2 delivery boys to get it from the flatbed truck to your door.
  3. Consequently, the tip is going to cut into your beer budget.
  4. You're going to have to take the remaining beer out of the beer fridge to store the leftovers.
Now, regarding the size of this pizza...what is this 55 x 37 inches nonsense? How are you going to market that? How about 3 x 5 feet? Or 40 x 60 inches? Did they just have a spare 55 x 37 inch pan lying around gathering dust? Unless they're your waist and inseam measurements, 55 x 37 inches won't stick in your mind.

Which leads to my second point. What's with this name - "The Big One." Is that the best they can come up with in McKees Rocks? A different size could have fit in with a better name. Attenzione Mama Lena! This is about the dullest, stupidest name you could have given this magnificent, albeit weirdly-sized pizza! Look at the example of Denny's Beer Barrel Pub, which has the "Monsterous Belly Buster." Sure, they can't spell up there in Clearfield, but that's a great marketing name!

I really want to see you succeed, so I'm waiving my normal consulting fee for the following advice: Sponsor a naming contest among your employees, with the grand prize being a case of Arn. It'll be money well spent.

Allow me to suggest a few entries to get the creative sauces flowing:
  • The Flying Tomato (capitalize on the Winter Olympics and draw the McKees Rocks skateboarding crowd)
  • The 3 By 5 (You'd have to do the unthinkable and resize)
  • The 6 Foot Under (Another resizing opportunity)
  • The Al Roker Diet Buster
  • The Mega Mama Lena
When you decide on a name, do the same thing as Denny's Beer Barrel Pub and have an Eat-It-For-Free-Promotion. Something like if a team of 4 eats it in 5 hours they get it for free.

But be careful. If you start following my advice you'll be needing to expand to handle the crowds.

Results Of My Testing

4 out of 5 of my friends and acquaintances agree.


Saturday, March 18, 2006

Free Expression in the Workplace

One of the problems with the working world today, other than the threat of getting fired for blogging or laid off if last quarter’s profits were off by 0.003%, is the lack of ability to express oneself creatively on the job. Work rules, procedures, restrictive policies, and tight budgets can make it tough sometimes for that inner Scottro to come out.

But now, I need look no further than Hungary for inspiration. There, Budapest hair stylist Szabolcs Bodnar is breaking all the rules, ditching the scissors, and is cutting hair with axes, swords, and vacuum cleaners. Business has been booming since he adopted his nontraditional techniques. Best of all, his methods “allow him to express himself better.” Just the thing I’m looking for in a stylist.

Bodnar cuts hair by placing it on a chopping block and striking it with an axe. After that, the hair is styled using a vacuum cleaner, or straightened with an iron. If that’s not enough, and if you’re fit enough for it, Bodnar will hang you upside down while he cuts your tresses with a Samurai sword. Your haircut can be done in a matter of seconds, although I’m guessing that Bodnar doesn’t charge by the minute in such cases.

My main issue with this is that my longest hairs are probably only 2 inches long, meaning that I’d have to place an undue amount of trust in Bodnar’s swordsmanship. I’m looking for other kinds of excitement than that.

Bodnar noted that "People never fall asleep when I am cutting their hair. Today's hairstyles allow for more creativity and inventiveness, and that is what I offer."

I’ve never fallen asleep during a haircut. Ever.

Like Snowflakes, No Two Are Alike

“Got a photo ID?” It’s a question that can ruin your day, if you’re an underage barhopper or a would-be juvenile cigarette purchaser. But the photo ID has taken on new meaning for a couple of 15-year-old Austrian youths. The two vandals broke into Linz High School and caused more than $10,000 worth of damage.

Threats against teachers were scrawled across walls, holes drilled in floors, ketchup smeared on desks, gym equipment destroyed and windows smashed. Finally, they fired up the Xerox machine and, well, you guessed it, they photocopied their bottoms and left the pictures in the staff room for all to behold. And this was their undoing.

No, the cops didn’t round up a bunch of suspects and photocopy their butts for comparison. It turned out to be much easier. As the Austrian version of Inspector Clouseau, Helmut Palfi noted, "By enlarging the pictures we were able to make out part of their faces in the background. Their headmaster immediately recognised them as two 15-year-old pupils at the school."

Major bummer! Didn't Mom always tell you to aim?

Friday, March 17, 2006

RIP, Roller Derby Queen Ann Calvello

Ann Calvello, the original Roller Derby Queen and star of the San Francisco Bay Bombers, died Tuesday just one week after having been diagnosed with liver cancer. Calvello joined her first roller derby team in 1948, when she was just 18. Nicknamed "Banana Nose," she was known as roller derby's bad girl because of her splashy clothing and hair color that ranged from purple to green and even polka dots. That's her on the right.

Calvello skated in charity events well into her 60s. In 2001, she was the subject of a biographical documentary, "Demon of the Derby."

Speaking of Roller Derby, you may not be aware that Pittsburgh has its own Roller Derby team, the newly formed Steel City Derby Demons. You can read about them here. They had a fundraising potluck last week but I'm sorry to have missed it. I'm hoping to see them soon!

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Bush Administration Military Cutbacks Announced!

It's true! The Pentagon announced today that the US will be withdrawing most of its service members and all of its fighter jets and helicopters from Iceland by the end of September. This includes most of the 1,200 US troops stationed in Iceland, as well as the four U.S. jet fighters and several U.S. helicopters used in search-and-rescue missions.

Icelandic Prime Minister Haldor Asgrimsson and Foreign Minister Geir H. Haarde expressed their disappointment with the unilateral decision. "We have unconfirmed reports of Viking sleeper cells in Greenland who have been waiting for us to lower our guard," noted Haarde.

U.S. Ambassador Carol van Voorst said she and Nicholas Burns, the U.S. under secretary of state, told Icelandic officials that the U.S. accepts full responsibility for the defense of Iceland, despite its "Blue State" status on the White House War Room map. "The fact of the matter is that there are only so many U.S. military resources to go around. We need to be about the business of securing Iran's oil fields rather than protecting some left-wing geothermal pipe dream," noted a Pentagon official speaking on condition of anonymity.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

What I Should Have Known Then...

24 Years after I got my degree in Chemistry, I find out about this. What's really weird is that while I was practicing my Tae Kwon Do patterns last night I was thinking that I might enjoy teaching English!

You scored as English. You should be an English major! Your passion lies in writing and expressing yourself creatively, and you hate it when you are inhibited from doing so. Pursue that interest of yours!





























What is your Perfect Major?
created with

Today’s Stupidity From the World of Law

The Associated Press and CNN recently reported on a lawsuit nicknamed the Roe v. Wade for Men. The suit was filed by the National Center for Men on behalf of 25-year-old Matt Dubay of Saginaw, Michigan. The facts of the case appear to be as follows:
  • Dubay had a girlfriend, who is now his ex-girlfriend.
  • Dubay indicated he didn’t want children
  • The ex-girlfriend indicated that she had a condition making her incapable of becoming pregnant.
  • Oopsie!
  • Elisabeth is currently 8 months old.
  • Dubay now owes $560/month in child support.

The lawsuit is intended to give men involved in unintended pregnancies the chance to opt out of financial responsibility for raising a child.

My take on this is as follows. I have taken three deep breaths, and will state it calmly and in as politically correct a fashion as possible:


Help Me Pick a New Password!

Today I got yet another message from the Password Nazi. It appears that my password is weaker than that skinny 98-pound weakling who got sand kicked in his face in the old Charles Atlas ads. I am at risk to have the top secret information in my computer stolen by one of our burgeoning number of untrustworthy employees or cleaning contractors. Our password requirements are pretty much the standard ones. The actual list of criteria literally fill an 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper, but they can be condensed into the following 3:

  1. 8 or more characters
  2. Need at least one of each of the following: Uppercase letter, Lowercase letter, non-numeric character
  3. Can’t contain a common word

It’s the common word restriction that appears to be the problem. I’ll admit that I do use a word in my password, but it’s not what I’d call a common one from the dictionary. Also, in comparing notes with a fellow scofflaw, I found that the only possible word in her password was “of.”

I’ve come up with a list of possible new passwords that, in addition to meeting the security standards, should be robust enough to make me the password hero at my office. But I need your help in making a choice - please leave a comment selecting the one you like. Or suggest one of your own!

  • $u?ercalifragili$t!cexpial!d0ceous
  • Pr0ct0l0gi$t
  • Pa$sw0rd
  • D0wn$ize

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

A Triumph Over Your Spare Yokahama Tire

The Japanese have a problem. It's same problem seemingly faced by all affluent societies these days. They're getting fat. And we're not talking about functional fat, such as the fat seen on sumo wrestlers. We're talking unsightly paunches and overample derrieres.

For Japanese women, this means going to the nearest greater Tokyo カーブ. That's "Curves," if Babelfish came through. But for the men, this is quite a dilemma. It's also a money making opportunity for Triumph International Japan, which has revealed a new line of male corsets. These tummy-flattening garments have proved to be such a hit that production is being stepped up and a summer model is being planned. I'm guessing that "summer model" means it fits under a Speedo.

With that image in mind, I'm thinking that if I had to wear one of those things, I'd rather just accept my body and go to Sumo school.

When Life Gives You Beer...

Last weekend, according to an Associated Press article, Haldis Gundersen of Kristiandsund, near Oslo, Norway finished her dinner and was preparing to do the dishes. She turned on her kitchen faucet expecting water to come out. But instead, life threw Gundersen a fermented curve ball. In an apparent miracle, beer was coming out of Gundersen's faucet. It almost seemed like the miracle of the water turning into wine, except that there was no wedding, Jesus and Mary were conspicuously absent, and the beer was flat.

Downstairs, employees and customers at the Big Tower Bar were experiencing an anti-miracle, as water was inexplicably coming out of the beer tap. It turns out that someone in the bar had connected the beer hoses to the water pipes for Gundersen's apartment.

The local beer distributor was called in and soon walked the bartenders through the process of getting things connected properly. I'm guessing that the bar patrons were responsible for getting things fixed as quickly as possible.

It's lucky for the Big Tower Bar that they had the 50-year-old Gundersen as a neighbor. If some college students had lived upstairs, every vessel in the apartment would have been filled with beer in a matter of minutes.

Monday, March 13, 2006

International Women's Day - Better Late Than Never

I just found out that I missed International Women’s Day last Wednesday March 8. I think it’s because I’ve been so busy at work that I hadn’t updated my Dilbert-a-Day calendar in over a week. Also, I don’t know too many international women, so that may have been a contributing factor.

But I can still celebrate, and I need look no further than North Korea for inspiration. North Korea praises its women in song, according to a recent article on the Korean Central News Agency’s website. You really should read the article. Here is a list of songs “composed in the country in reflection of the pride and happy life of the women who are playing a great role in all fields of social life.

  • Song in praise of women in Songun era
  • Song of coast artillerywomen1
  • I am a servicewoman in Songun era
  • Like my mother in her military service days2
  • I am a front-line soldier's wife
  • I am a military officer's wife3
  • A girl innovator dashing like a steed4
  • Girls of our factory5
  • Girl silk-weavers of Nyongbyon
  • Song of wife
  • My mom who worries herself about her child
  • Women are flowers
  • Love your wives


  1. This is actually the B-side of “Mined Harbor Surfer Girl” by Kim and the Beach Boys
  2. The Kim-Mart version of this song strips out the verse about the tattoo of Kim Jong Il on mother’s chest.
  3. This is a decidedly happier song than “I am a front-line soldier’s wife.”
  4. I prefer my girl innovators dashing like mares, but “to each his own.”
  5. I’d be fired if I wrote a song about the girls of our factory.

Next year for International Women’s Day I’m taking an excursion up to Nyongbyon.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Slight Modifications Were Necessary

I love having my pocket camera! I was taking one of my sons and his friend to a movie, when this appeared in front of us. I scrambled to get my camera out of my pocket, and my son got a shot with his picturephone. This guy's a kindred spirit! Thanks to PetSmart for making this moment possible.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Ho Ho No No

The Associated Press reported today that the Santa Clara, California school board is considering a 24/7 ban on all junk food. This would mean no more PTA bake sales or classroom birthday parties with cake and ice cream. District officials said the proposal is prompted by the rise in fat kids.

Yep, there is incontrovertible evidence that it's those birthday parties that are turning Patty into Fatty.

I can just imagine the following conversation once this policy is enacted and all Santa Clara schools are designated "Low BMI Zones."

Mom: Patty, what do you want to take for your birthday snack tomorrow?
Patty: Ho Hos!
Mom: You can't take them. You remember what happened to Tommy when he brought in those Twinkies, don't you?
Patty: I know, they sent his whole family to the Al Roker Clinic for a week.
Mom: That's right, dear. So what's your next choice?
Patty: Letsee, what can we get by about raw unsalted peanuts?
Mom: Heavens, Patty, have you forgotten that Katie is allergic to peanuts. Why, if gets within 10 feed of a peanut she goes into anaphylactic shock.
Patty: Sorry, Mom, I forgot all about that. What about low fat yogurt sweetened with Splenda?
Mom: I don't think that would be such a hot idea. This is National Lactose Intolerance Awareness Month.
Patty: Oh, just forget it. Apparently the only approved snack is the Birthday Hunger Strike.

Good Riddance, Gale Norton

The Associated Press reported today that Interior Secretary Gale Norton has resigned after 5 long years. She worked tirelessly to open government lands in the West to more oil and gas drilling, logging, grazing and commercial recreation. But her biggest claim to shame was her role as the administration's biggest advocate for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on Alaska's North Slope to oil drilling, areas considered sensitive for caribou and other wildlife.

Norton letter of resignation said that she hoped to eventually return to the mountains of the West. Wait till she finds out that her favorite vista has been logged and turned into a strip mine.

Don't let the door hit you on your way out, Gale.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Where Have You Gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Scott from the My Mountain blog recently commented on my recent posting about Kirby Puckett and Barry Bonds, and also pointed to his blog entry on the recent Barry Bonds steroids use article in Sports Illustrated. I read Scott’s posting with interest, agreeing with some but not all of it. It did get me thinking more about this topic.

I agree with Scott’s point that we attach undue significance to sports, particularly professional sports. We take sports seriously, both individually and collectively. Some of us want to wear the jersey of our favorite player. Some of us collect baseball cards, or have some cards from when we were kids. Maybe we are part of a fantasy football league.

Collectively, sports can impact the psyche of a population. Even if you’re not a sports fanatic, the impact is unavoidable. In Pittsburgh, even if you’re not a football fan, you need to know how the Steelers are doing. The spirit in the area from the recent playoff run and Super Bowl victory was amazing. The marching band from one of the local high schools was in the Steelers’ victory parade and the entire school district closed down for the day!

The amount of attention paid to sports, and especially professional athletes, far exceeds their contribution to the general good of society and of humanity.

But that doesn’t mean that professional sport doesn’t matter. It matters because it’s a reflection of us. We created professional sports. They exist because of us. The athletes and their grossly inflated salaries and their huge egos exist because of us. We pay for them through our going to the games, by purchasing cable TV, from buying licensed merchandise, and through our taxes which subsidize the arenas in which our gladiators compete and which make sports a public priority. And we build the culture that supports this system by subscribing to Sports Illustrated, through betting on games, and through water cooler sports conversations. Sports is one of the only topics besides the weather about which you can talk to a stranger.

And what about steroid use by our athletes? It exists because of us, too. We expect our athletes to be the best. And not just the best, but the best ever. We expect superhuman performance out of them. We pay outrageous ticket prices for sporting events and we want to get our money’s worth. We expect that spectacular slam dunk or that acrobatic touchdown catch. We expect that our athletes will go to any length necessary to achieve the dreams of glory that we’re experiencing through them. And for some, that means getting that extra edge through the use of steroids.

But we want more than for our athletes to be the best and for our favorite team to be the best. We want to maintain an illusion that it was all done through “legitimate” means. We read about the records of heros such as Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Joe DiMaggio, and Lou Gehrig. And when those records are broken, we want to believe that the players breaking the records did it fairly. We don’t want an asterisk in the record book. Why? Because we have within us an ideal of fair play.

But that ideal of fair play is not always what’s rewarded. What’s rewarded is the performance, no matter how it was achieved. The ambition to achieve that level of performance can become so great that the line between right and wrong becomes blurred, and any action deemed necessary to achieve that goal is justified.

And this affects the rest of us who aren’t athletes. Because our ambitions in our lives can affect us in the same way. In sports, that can mean using steroids or other forms of doping in lieu of a good training program and proper nutrition. In school, that might entail cheating rather than putting in the hours of studying necessary to ace that exam. In business, it could mean that you lie on your resume instead of accurately representing your achievements.

The result? We have high school athletes taking steroids to get that added edge. We have Radio Shack’s CEO being fired for lying on his resume. And we have Charlie Weis who, when being introduced as the head coach of Notre Dame’s football team, said “Bringing in character kids is important. But it's all about winning games.” News Flash: If the message to our student athletes is that it’s all about winning games, then the corollary is that no sacrifice is too great if it’s necessary to win.

Notre Dame is in this sorry state because their fans and the school expect it of them. Baseball has a steroid use problem because we, as their fans, expect performance levels that can be achieved only through the use of steroids. And we have a problem because we expect achievements from ourselves that sometimes we can’t gain without cheating. We have forgotten that our ambitions must be limited, that there is a right way and a wrong way, that there are some paths on which we cannot go, and that success is not a matter of whether we got caught or not.

So the world of sports does matter. The Baseball steroids scandal matters. Barry Bonds matters. They matter because they reflect us. And we’re in need of a makeover.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I am the University of Wisconsin!

I don't normally like to post 2 quizzes in a single day, but this one was really a lot of fun - and dead on!

You're the University of Wisconsin!

A bit cold and frosty, you have been known to be awfully forbidding. Your surroundings, however, have grown more and more friendly and welcoming over the years, and there are those that say your whole reputation has gone soft. You hasten to point out that advocating human rights isn't necessarily softness. Given where you get your money, you're pretty sharp. Although, you have been known to waste hours staring at

I'm Ready for Some More Snow!

This hasn't been the best year for winter sports. I like snowshoeing and would like to try dogsledding, but according to this quiz perhaps I should give bobsledding a try!

You Are Bobsledding

You're not a world class athlete, but you are a world class maniac.
Your need for speed could have you blazing past the finish line!

Feeding the Slots: A Civic Duty for 60% of You

According to a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article, prospective casino operator Harrah’s is projecting that I, as an adult resident of Allegheny County, will lose $400 at its slot machines the first year of operation, and up to $521 by year four. The figures are in an economic impact study submitted by Harrah’s to the state as part of its proposal for a Station Square casino.

For a minute I was really devastated that my budget will not allow me to squander my fair share, but fortunately it’s known that 40 percent of Allegheny County adults won’t be darkening the doors of the casino even once. What that means is that 60 percent of my neighbors are actually expected to step up to the one-armed bandit and say Sayōnara to $650 the first year.

I’m calling on 60% of my fellow Pittsburgh Bloggers to do their part in fulfilling this important civic responsibility.

Two Sad Days for Baseball

The hearts of baseball fans everywhere were saddened by the death yesterday of Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett. Puckett, a Hall of Fame center fielder who played his entire career for the Minnesota Twins, led his team to World Series titles in 1987 and 1991. He had a career batting average of .318, won 6 Gold Gloves, and was a 10-time All-Star. He had 2,040 hits in his first 10 seasons, more than other player in major league history. He was forced to retire after the 1995 season after glaucoma caused him to go blind in his right eye.

But these brilliant statistics are only part of the story. Kirby Puckett's exuberance, his love of the game, his ever-present smile, and his team leadership were respected by players and fans alike. It was a joy to watch him play.

Kirby Puckett died yesterday in Arizona after suffering a stroke Sunday. He will be missed by baseball players and fans everywhere.

Baseball is unfortunately suffering another painful death. Baseball itself is dying. Tomorrow, Sports Illustrated is publishing a report detailing the extent of steroids use by San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds. The report is taken from the upcoming book Game of Shadows, by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams. The report details how Bonds, intensely jealous of the adulation of Mark McGuire, allegedly began using steroids in 1998, transforming him into the most feared slugger in baseball.

Regardless of whether all of the book’s allegations are true, what is true is that whatever was left of the unpopular Bonds’ reputation is tarnished for good. His records will either be erased or viewed as illegitimate. And Bonds is certainly not the only steroid user in the game. All of Major League Baseball will be tarnished as well. Players suspected of steroid usage will be viewed as guilty until proven innocent. And, if Baseball doesn’t take decisive action, performance enhancing steroid usage will continue to be one of the means of getting ahead, provided you can escape detection.

Sadly, Kirby Puckett is gone. May he rest in peace. And Major League Baseball? It’s alive, but headed into the ICU. I’m not sure what therapy will be necessary to bring it back. But they’d better think of something soon.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America

On Saturday we went to see Kevin Willmott’s C.S.A.: The Confederate States of America at Pittsburgh’s Harris Theater. This film is a done as a Ken Burns-like British documentary airing on American TV. The premise is that the South won the War of Northern Aggression (aka the Civil War), took over the entire country, and established the Confederate States of America, which went in a markedly different direction than what actually happened. Under the stars and bars of the C.S.A., the country saw an expansion of slavery, expanded into Cuba, Mexico, and South America, never granted voting rights to women, and was allied with Germany in the 2nd World War. A Cotton Curtain was established between the C.S.A. and abolitionist Canada.

Since the setting is as a television documentary on network TV, the program is broken up by a number of “commercials,” many of which hawk racially offensive products. A Newsbreak is thrown in for good measure.

The story’s premise could have easily been a reality – the British and French actually did consider aiding the Confederacy, which could have led to the South winning the war. And many of the racially offensive products on the commercials were actual products. One can only hope that their advertising was not as blatantly racist as depicted.

This film is both a spoof and a social statement. It is at its best when doing the short advertising spots and vignettes of past events (like a silent movie of “Dishonest Abe” being captured while attempting to escape to Canada), some of which were extremely funny. The film relies heavily on comedy to make its absurdity more believable. However, its attempts at creating a cohesive history of the country are awkward at times. Nevertheless, the film does show a Confederate States of America that struggles with the implications of slavery and racism. In that, maybe it’s not all that different from the history of the real United States of America.

Monday, March 06, 2006

The War to End Illiteracy - Operations Suspended

I was going to be positive today. No, really, I was! But it’s not to be, thanks to my good friends at Microsoft. According to an Associated Press article, Microsoft is working to answer the question “Can someone who doesn’t even know how to read or write use a computer.”

This is an example of research that Microsoft should have contracted out. Because if they had, they could have gotten the answer (Everyone together now, 1----2----3----NO!!!) for cheap. I might have even done it for free. But that obviously didn’t happen. Let’s learn a bit more.

Microsoft has something called “Microsoft Research TechFest,” a gathering of the company’s R&D employees from around the world. This event, fueled solely by tank wagons full of Starbucks coffee, normally discusses the progress on solving difficult computer problems, like if a computer can construct a tongue twister more difficult than “The sixth sick sheik's sixth sheep's sick.” However, this year, the Indian team, otherwise known as the “Unintelligible Technical Support Team,” developed a prototype of a system designed to connect illiterate domestic workers with families seeking their services.

At first, this sounds pretty good idea – a system designed to match job seekers with employers. But it’s not quite that simple. It won’t work, and here’s why:

1. Let’s start with the obvious. Illiterate domestic workers don’t have computers in their homes. A goodly number of them don’t have homes.
2. People looking to hire illiterate domestic workers want to hire cheap illiterate domestic workers, not expensive and uppity illiterate domestic workers who are going to spend their work time surfing the internet for a better paying job opportunity.
3. There is no toll-free tech support. If you dial the toll number, you’re put on hold for what seems like a cow’s lifetime and then you have to talk to someone with an American accent.
4. Illiterate people won’t be able to read well enough to know how to find the Ctrl/Alt/Delete keys every time the system crashes.
5. There is no culturally meaningful translation of “Blue Screen of Death” in Hindi.

In a “Duh” moment (or what should have been a “Duh” moment) the women who tested the technology revealed a surprising fact – they had trouble seeing why a computerized system for finding work was better than the traditional word-of-mouth way.

This hasn’t stopped Microsoft and others, like Raj Reddy, a Carnegie Mellon University professor who is also working on ways for illiterate people to use computers. Says Reddy, “…if you go to them and say ‘I’ll give you a PC,’ they have no clue what the hell you are talking about.” Undaunted, Mr. Reddy thinks people in rural India with few literacy skills might want to talk to their family via computer-based videoconferencing or use the computer to watch a video.

“There are many paths to nirvana,” said Reddy, a member of Microsoft’s technology advisory board. “There are many ways that one can attack these problems.”

Apparently, none of them involve the revolutionary idea of increasing the literacy rate.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

How to Profit From Deadly Bird Flu

I'm not normally inclined to give out stock tips, but I'm feeling generous and I can only spend so much money in my lifetime. Besides, there is plenty of money to be made on this one. I'm talking cat litter. Specifically, French cat litter. All companies in the French cat litter supply chain are going to be striking it rich over at least the next few months. The reason? Bird Flu, more commonly known as Deadly Bird Flu.

Deadly bird flu has made its way to the Bresse region of France, and cat owners have been asked to keep their cats indoors, due to a German cat having been infected and dying from the malady. And while this is bad news for Jacques, Danielle, and Tabby, it's great news for you. Because you're going to invest in companies that stand to profit from this unfortunate turn of events.

There are a couple of ways to get in on this action. The first is to invest in cat litter companies themselves. I'm thinking of companies like Nestlé, which owns the Tidy Cats brand name. They're based in Switzerland but do a lot of business in France.

Or, you can go right to the source. Clumping cat litters use clays called bentonite and montmorillonite. In fact, montmorillonite was discovered in the Montmorillon area of France. Süd-Chemie is a global company that produces montmorillonite in France.

And while you're at it, you'd better figure on Tabby having some accidents or missing the box. Trust me, I know this from experience. This means you should pick up some 3M stock. 3M makes Scotchgard stain remover and other pet care products.

On the other hand, you might not trust the results of my painstaking research. If that's the case, feel free to pay $1340 for a professional report on "Pet Food and Pet Care Products in France" from Euromonitor International.

And remember, while you're sitting there counting your hard-earned profits, remember the plight of the confined kitties who suffered to make you rich. Here's a photo of our cat, Nebula, who likes to talk to the birds, but hasn't a prayer of ever catching one before she goes to the great big litter box in the sky.

One more thing. If you're a French cat owner, there's another good reason to keep Tabby indoors. You don't want her outside when Cheney's Bird Squads come around. See my previous post for details. C'est un mauvais temps pour être un chat français.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Cheney Assigned to French Bird Flu Case

The Vice-President. Other than serving as a vote-getting running mate and casting an occasional tie-breaking vote in the Senate, he has no official duties. So most Vice-Presidents sit on their thumbs and bask in Washington society for either 4 or 8 years. But not Dick Cheney. Rather than waste his time inside the Beltway, he devoted himself to hunting in every state in the country.

It started with just stocked game birds, but soon that didn’t satisfy him, so he moved to the hard stuff – lawyers. Look, he got one!

The President had initially considered sending Cheney off to a hunting cessation program. But that was before he read an article in the New York Times (which he reads in its entirety each morning, often doing the crossword puzzle in pen) about bird flu (usually known as “deadly bird flu”) in France. It seems that bird flu, er, deadly bird flu, is being spread through various means, one of which is via infected migratory birds. And now these birds have brought the disease to France, where 400 turkeys were felled.

This is of grave concern to the French, due to the proximity of this outbreak to the
Bresse region, where the capons and the free-range chickens roam. Let’s put it this way – the only two things that could be more devastating to France would be if:

1. Grapevine virus killed all the vines in the Champagne region,
The "Replace French with English" virus struck and the French all turned into Lance Armstrong and ordered Freedom Fries with their steaks.

President Bush, never the guy to shy away from improving relations with our allies, seized the opportunity for the Veep to redeem himself. He has asked Cheney to head up a new agency called the “American Delegation of Duck Hunters” (ADD Hunters) and to lead American hunters in the sporting pursuit of infected French pintails.

The French, as well as the American Bar Association, have agreed to this arrangement in principle, as long as the only live ammo is in the hands of Cheney’s hunting companions. That's a plan we can all live with.