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Saturday, December 17, 2005

Gee, what a shock

Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!

Croupier: Your winnings, sir. (Hands money to Captain Renault.)

Captain Renault: Thank you.

Casablanca, (1942)

Why all the surprise about the Bush administration ordering wiretaps that appear to violate the Constitution's fourth amendment?

What's really surprising is that five Republican senators violated the laws of intelligent design, somehow evolved spines, and decided the insidious erosion of civil liberties permitted by the ill-conceived Patriot Act could not be permitted to stand.

The Sunday morning talk shows should be a lot of fun...

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Thoughts of the day

The outstanding problem of cryogenics isn't whether future advances in technology will enable you to be unfrozen and brought back to life 10,000 years from now. The outstanding problem of cryogenics is whether 250 consecutive generations of security guards earning $6.50 an hour will remember to check the thermostat every night.

Those who cannot remember the past are invited to come over to my place... again.

The Covert Comic

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Psst... PowerBlog...

Powerblog! is an extremely conservative, Christian-oriented weblog written and maintained by Shaun Pierce. Mr. Pierce, who is also a producer at Christian radio station WORD-FM in Pittsburgh, is apparently participating in the "War on Christmas" media pageant, the campaign mounted by the right to deflect attention away from the slow-motion train wreck that has become the Bush administration.

Mr. Pierce's positions are generally the opposite of mine. I redistribute propaganda from the left, I guess, and Mr. Pierce shovels it from the right. Just as the conservatives despise Bill Clinton, I can't tolerate Bush. So I rarely read the right-wing stuff, just as I'm certain Mr. Pierce avoids lefty literature.

But I found myself reading a PowerBlog! entry included in the aggregate feed from the Pittsburgh Bloggers website, and stumbled over something that demands a response.

Mr. Pierce published:

Fun with the ACLU

We did this one last year but thank to Dan for reminding me about it!

Wanna have some fun this CHRISTMAS? Send the ACLU a CHRISTMAS CARD! As they are working so very hard to get rid of the CHRISTMAS part of this holiday, we should all send them a nice, CHRISTIAN, card to brighten up their dark, sad, little world.

Make sure it says "Merry Christmas" on it. Here's the Address, just don't be rude or crude.

ACLU
125 Broad Street
18th Floor
New York, NY 10004

Tons of Christmas cards would freeze their operations because they wouldn't know if any were regular mail containing contributions. So spend 37 cents and tell the ACLU to leave Christmas alone. Also tell them that there is no such thing as a Holiday Tree... It's a Christmas Tree.

Okay, Shaun, a couple things here.

First off, screwing with thine "enemies" isn't what you'd call Christ-like behavior. Who Would Jesus Mail Bomb? Please.

Second, it's not an oversight that God is not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. The omission of His name is, indeed, the ultimate act of respect for the religious freedom of Americans.

Third, the ACLU is not anti-religion. In fact, the ACLU is one of the few organizations that actively and continuously fights to defend the religious liberties of all Americans.

Unfortunately, the only thing you hear about is how the ACLU forced a local government to remove a nativity display that was funded with tax dollars and erected by the government itself, a form of sanction explicitly forbidden by the Bill of Rights.

You didn't hear about the ACLU supporting the right of a second grader to sing the song "Awesome God" at a talent show. Or how it supported the rights of evangelists to preach on the Las Vegas strip. Or how it defended a Mormon student who was suspended from school for wearing a tshirt with a religious message. Or how it convinced officials in Stafford County, Virginia to allow baptisms in a public park. Or how it supported the rights of students to distribute Christian literature at an Iowa school. Or how it defended a Christian church's right to run "anti-Santa" ads in Boston subways.

Sorry to wander off there. Let's get back to your Christmas card plan.

Remember the story about how the NBC television network's mail room was brought to a screeching halt by the Save Star Trek letter writing campaign in the spring of 1967? And how they were blasted again, when all the Trekkers wrote thank you letters for renewing the show for the 1967-68 season?

I suspect this legendary operation is the inspiration for the proposed escapade. But you've missed an important point.

The Trekkers were told to send their requests in plain, white #10 business envelopes, the standard for business mail. It was impossible for NBC to tell the difference between the Save Star Trek missives and essential non-Trek letters.

Just because the ACLU doesn't share your views doesn't mean they're stupid. I did a little test, and you can try it yourself. When your mail comes today, see if you can spot the difference between the Christmas cards and your "normal" mail.

Pretty easy, huh?

Christmas cards look like- well, Christmas cards. It's impossible to mistake them for the return envelopes the ACLU uses for its membership renewals and donations.

There are several other things you failed to consider. I don't have the figures in front of me, but I suspect a large number of ACLU employees are, in fact, Christians. I'd wager the majority of its members are as well. I belong to the ACLU and the Methodist church. Believe it or not, the two organizations are not mutually exclusive.

I'm certain all the good Christian folks working at the ACLU will be thrilled to receive your Christmas greetings. It will certainly brighten their days and infuse them with the high spirits needed to continue to fight the good fight.

Even better, when Christmas is over, the ACLU can bundle up all those cards and envelopes and ship them off to be recycled. I'm certain that if your Christmas card campaign is successful, the recycling revenue will be pretty substantial, and heaven knows the ACLU can use the extra money.

Just between you and me, Shaun, the ACLU ticks me off from time to time as well. But that's the problem with the way our system of government operates. As much as I hate to say it, we need the extreme right in this country, as well as the extreme left, constantly struggling, never giving an inch, to make certain our unique democratic republic maintains the center course. If left to those lazy moderates, nothing would ever get done.

As famed closet liberal Barry Goldwater said, "I would remind you that extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue!"

Of course, the problem is that we don't agree on the manner in which liberty and justice should be defined and implemented. It's a problem that's existed since March 4, 1789, and it's one that has no foreseeable resolution.

So, I guess we're going to have to keep plugging away, my friend. As has generally been the case in this country, things will eventually work out. Neither of us will be complete happy; but that's how it's supposed to work.

Merry Christmas, Shaun. And I mean that sincerely.

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Friday, December 16, 2005

Great. Today, they're efficient.

Garbage collection day in our neighborhood is Friday.

The township allows residents to put out their trash after 6 p.m. the night before, but experience has proven that's not a good idea. With the dogs, cats, deer and other wildlife that wander through our semi-rural wonderland, it's not unusual to awaken on garbage day to find the contents of one's trash bags strewn across the lawn. In any event, the garbage truck never arrives before 8, and frequently doesn't make an appearance until noon.

So, I generally put out the trash at 7 a.m. Friday morning. A couple weeks ago I dragged the stuff out on Thursday night and, sure enough, a yogurt-loving furry mammal of undetermined species had ripped open one of the bags and had a midnight snack under our mailbox.

I can take a hint.

I reverted to my Friday morning routine, which is something of a pain, in that it requires me to awaken earlier than usual. This morning I was up at 4, surveyed the icy wasteland, and figured I had lots of time. The television news reported that all of the schools in the immediate area were operating on a two-hour delay and I hadn't heard the salt truck go by.

At 6 a.m. I was in the bathroom, reading Freakonomics and the engrossing tale of how the Superman radio show was primarily responsible for the downfall of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s, when I heard the unmistable hiss of air brakes and the grinding of gears.

Pants around my ankles, I shuffled to the front window and peeked through the blinds to see the garbage truck, already past my house.

"Mother pus bucket," I muttered under my breath, then turned to see the dog and cat sitting at the other end of the room, warily reacting to my wrath and odd state of undress.

Oh, well. That's life. There wasn't much trash, anyway, and the forecast of cold temperatures through next week means I can stick this week's stuff on the back porch until the next pick-up without having to worry about the smell.

But the dog and cat still won't come near me.

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The spirit of the season

A postal worker was sorting mail the week before Christmas when he encountered a letter addressed to God. Rather than route it to the dead letter office, he opened it and read:

Dear God,
I am an 83 year old widow, living on a very small pension. Yesterday someone stole my purse. It had $100 in it, which was all the money I had until my next pension check. Next Sunday is Christmas, and I had invited two of my friends over for dinner. Without that money, I have nothing to buy food with. I have no family to turn to, and you are my only hope. Can you please help me?
Sincerely,
Edna

The postal worker was touched, and showed the letter to his co-workers. Moved by the woman's plight, each made a contribution, and by the Thursday before Christmas they had collected $96. They put the money in an stamped envelope, cancelled it, and made certain the carrier on the old woman's route delivered it in time for her to buy grocieries for her Christmas dinner.

The workers had a particularly happy Christmas that year, knowing their generosity had permitted Edna and her friends to enjoy a holiday feast.

A few days later, another letter arrived from the old woman, also addressed to God. All the workers eagerly gathered around to hear about the special meal their thoughtfulness had provided.

Dear God,

How can I ever thank you enough for what you did for me? Because of your gift of love, I was able to fix a glorious dinner for my friends. We had a very nice day and I told my friends of your wonderful gift.

Sincerely,
Edna

PS- By the way, there was $4 missing. I think it must have been those thieving bastards at the Post Office.

(Thanks to Andy Green's brother-in-law.)

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Thursday, December 15, 2005

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

The 2006 Bush Quotation Calendar is now available!

Including such hits as:

Self governing relies on the governing of the self.

And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat.

If you're the Methodist church and you sponsor an alcohol treatment center, they can't say only Methodists who drink too much can come to our program- "All drunks are welcome," is what the sign ought to say.

Iraqis are sick of foreign people coming in their country and trying to destabilize their country.

See, in my line of work you gotta keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kinda catapult the propaganda.

http://www.bushcalendar.com

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Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Bush's Christmas Train-Wreck Segue

You know, either Dubya is sincere- which is scary- or he has a sardonic wit rivaling that of the original writers of Saturday Night Live. Come to think of it, I wouldn't want those guys to be in control of the world's only remaining superpower, either.

Consider this year's national Christmas tree lighting ceremony (the "Pageant of Peace"), at which our fearless leader said:

"Thank you all very much. Welcome to the Christmas Pageant of Peace. Laura and I are so honored to join you all. The lighting of the National Christmas tree is one of the great traditions in our Nation's Capital. Each year, we gather here to celebrate the season of hope and joy- and to remember the story of one humble life that lifted the sights of humanity. Santa, thanks for coming."

Don't believe me? Just go to the White House web site: http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/12/20051201-7.html. They even have it on video.

I think they need to keep George away from the eggnog.

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Thought of the Day

George Carlin on today's Imus in the Morning, recalling the observations of a fellow Alcoholics Anonymous member who noted that sobriety didn't eliminate the problems of everyday life: "Just because you get the monkey off your back doesn't mean the circus leaves town."

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Great job! Merry Christmas! You're Fired!

1,000 Sony seasonal workers get early dismissal from Westmoreland plant

By Patricia Sabatini, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Seasonal and temporary employees at Sony Corp.'s manufacturing plant in Westmoreland County apparently were too good for their own good at churning out televisions for this holiday season.

Having met their production quota ahead of schedule, nearly 1,000 workers are losing their jobs about a month earlier than usual.

The complex typically sees employment top 3,000 as output builds for strong end-of-the-year sales before slipping closer to 2,000 early into the new year, when sales slow. But this year, about 600 seasonal employees are slated to punch in for the last time Friday, while another 300 to 400 temporary workers supplied by an outside contractor were laid of last week.

Spokesman Mike Koff insisted that sales of Sony's two new big-screen, rear-projection, high-definition TVs produced at the facility, which retail for $4,000 and $5,000, "are in line with projections." The peak seasonal work simply is wrapping up early, he said, because the plant operated more efficiently this year.

"We hit all the numbers we were suppose to hit," Mr. Koff said, declining to disclose how many TVs the plant produced. He said the facility boosted efficiency by shifting workers to other lines when a shortage of parts shut down other lines.

The latest layoffs will reduce employment to about 2,200, he said. Another 275 jobs are in jeopardy because of plans to stop making cathode-ray tube TVs at the complex as of March.

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I got yer entendres right here, pally...

A blonde walks into a bar and asks the bartender for a double-entendre. So he gives it to her.

There's a discussion among the good folk over at Unspace about whether the headline "Skydiver survives plunge, learns she's pregnant" is a double-entendre.

No one has a filthier mind than I do. It's one of the few remaining sources of pleasure in my declining years. But frankly, I skipped right over the allegedly offensive line. Perhaps it's because it's too subtle. I've grown accustomed to headlines that more or less wallop one upside the head in- nudge nudge, wink wink, say no more- blunt Pythonesque delivery.

Anyway, a double-entendre doesn't necessarily have to be smutty. The term- pronounced either the French way, DOOB-lahn-TAHN-druh, or the English DUH-bul ahn-TAHN-druh- refers to a statement that has two "hearings", or two meanings.

For years I maintained a subscription to the Columbia Journalism Review specifically to read the lower case. The feature is a collection of real headlines, cutlines and stories that display riotous, mostly unintentional double-entendres. I suspect people who claim to subscribe to CJR for any other reason are like those people who say they buy Playboy for the articles. Perhaps most telling, CJR posts just about all of the articles in its print edition on its web site- except for the lower case. Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?

But I digress.

Rumsfeld Meets Rival Warlords, and Bush Planning Mars Trip are fine, recent examples of non-sexual double meaning. Admittedly, though, the headlines that people remember do possess a distinct shade of blue.

The most ubiquitous type of double-entendre headline is what I call "The C.I. Variation," a rather obvious reference inferring coitus interruptus. In a prior life as city editor of the Homestead Daily Messenger, I vividly recall being chastised for writing the headline Unexpected Pullout Frustrates Wives. You've seen hundreds of these uninspired entries over the years. Some have undoubtedly been written by cynical, ink-stained wretches fully aware of their transgression.

But I was a callow lad of 18 in 1972, tearing copy off the wire and churning out uninspired headlines as fast as I could. The advertising department had produced an unexpected, last-minute two-page spread that had to run that day. The sale bumped the page count of the issue and presented me with a news hole the size of the Grand Canyon, one that had to be filled in under an hour.

Possible headline misinterpretation never entered my mind. Come to think of it, the head I originally wrote was:

Unexpected Pullout,
Redeployment
Frustrates
Wives' Plans

This four-line example of excess verbosity was designed to fill up as much space as possible on the page. The problem was the jump from page one- stories that didn't fit on the front page and had to be continued inside- was deeper than I had thought. Twenty years before computerized page makeup, headlines had to be generated on a special typesetting machine, the photographic paper developed, dried, proofread, and delivered back to paste-up.

There was no time for that. On the paste-up table, I cleverly cut the comma off of "Unexpected Pullout," tossed away "Redeployment," lost the possessive apostrophe on "Wives'," dropped the word "Plans", and moved "Wives" up to the second line with "Frustrates."

So I had,

Unexpected Pullout
Frustrates Wives

I wasn't thinking about double-entendres. I had five minutes to get the page back to camera. My only concern was that the damned thing fit. Which, come to think of it, constitutes a recursive double-entendre.

Anyway, if someone did call the paper to complain, we always gave them to Marcia, who edited our chain's six suburban weeklies. In addition to being a crack editor, Marcia was an accomplished thespian, her acting skills honed to razor-sharp perfection at the annual Press Club revue. She would assume a very dignified, prim and proper manner that she combined with the ingenuous tone of a Sunday school teacher.

"Ma'am, I'm afraid I don't understand. The wives of our gallant soldiers were upset because the Administration's redeployment of their spouses disrupted their family reunion plans. It's as clear as crystal to me. What did you think the headline meant?"

The obstinate few who insisted on forcing the matter soon received a demonstration of another of Marcia's sterling talents, the ability to swear like a drunken sailor who, on a one-night shore leave after ten months at sea, finds the local bordello is closed.

Sigh. I digress yet again.

Jump ahead to March, 1998. My son, sporting a fresh summa cum laude degree in journalism and communications, is editing the Saturday edition of The Latrobe Bulletin. It's his first time in the slot, and, as is the case with tiny dailies, he's doing everything himself: calling the police stations, writing local news, checking the wire, doing the layout.

Unless something conveniently crashes, explodes, or burns down on Friday night, there's no big local news to use as the front page lead on Saturday morning. So, he plugs in what's at the top of the daily Associated Press budget. It's a report about Kathleen Willey, the Clinton White House aide who claimed the President sexually assaulted her.

It was close, but he put the paper to bed before deadline. The old-timers back in production, if not impressed by his efforts, at least didn't haze him. On Monday his boss complimented him for doing a good job. Subscriber silence bore witness to the readers' tacit approval.

Unknown to him, I'd purchased a mail subscription to the Bulletin and eagerly awaited the arrival of "his" first edition. It was delivered the following Tuesday, its arrival punctuated with a shriek and gales of laughter from my secretary.

She handed me the paper, and pointed to the lead headline:

Clinton Denies Forcing Willey

Hmm. Maybe it's genetic.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Marketing savvy

If it were up to me, I'd trash the yawn-inducing "A Victorian Christmas" campaign the Frick Art & Historical Center is currently using.

How about... Merry Frickin' Christmas!

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Quote of the day

Elsewhere, Albert Einstein did not devise the theory of relativity as originally thought but was the lead singer of the Miami Sound Machine, according to a new biography published online today by Wikipedia.
-Andy Borowitz

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The Barkes Family Christmas Haiku

Today's Post-Gazette has a frightening story of a book-length family Christmas letter. In the spirit of the season, here's all our big news for 2005:

Doug's getting married.
Kevin is back in Pittsburgh.
Everyone is fine.

You're welcome.

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Monday, December 12, 2005

Thought of the day

"The Gord likes to remind people that second place is just the first loser."
The Gord

(Thanks to Andy Green.)

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Spam of the day...

Just got this Intel ad via about.com. What, precisely, is being sold here?

For Incredible
Entertainment Experiences
in Your Lap,
Get Intel Centrino™
In Your Laptop.

Hmm. Doesn't the lady with Lucy Liu on her lap look kind of... ambivalent?

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Quote of the day

"All righty then, let's have our next contestant!"
-Cheerful Transportation Security Agency staffer in charge of one of the magnetomers at Greater Pitt last Friday. (One of the reasons why Pittsburgh is my favorite airport.)

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So there.  
The kgb@kgb.com e-mail address is now something other than kgb@kgb.com saga.
kgbreport.com used to be kgb.com until December, 2007 when the domain name broker Trout Zimmer made an offer I couldn't refuse. Giving up kgb.com and adopting kgbreport.com created a significant problem, however. I had acquired the kgb.com domain name in 1993, and had since that time used kgb@kgb.com as my sole e-mail address. How to let people know that kgb@kgb.com was no longer kgb@kgb.com but rather kgbarkes@gmail.com which is longer than kgb@kgb.com and more letters to type than kgb@kgb.com and somehow less aesthetically pleasing than kgb@kgb.com but actually just as functional as kgb@kgb.com? I sent e-mails from the kgb@kgb.com address to just about everybody I knew who had used kgb@kgb.com in the past decade and a half but noticed that some people just didn't seem to get the word about the kgb@kgb.com change. So it occurred to me that if I were generate some literate, valid text in which kgb@kgb.com was repeated numerous times and posted it on a bunch of different pages- say, a blog indexed by Google- that someone looking for kgb@kgb.com would notice this paragraph repeated in hundreds of locations, would read it, and figure out that kgb@kgb.com no longer is the kgb@kgb.com they thought it was. That's the theory, anyway. kgb@kgb.com. Ok, I'm done. Move along. Nothing to see here...

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