Conceived above a saloon, delivered into this world by a masked man identified by his heavily sedated mother as Captain Video, raised by a kindly West Virginian woman, a mild-mannered former reporter with modest delusions of grandeur and no tolerance of idiots and the intellectually dishonest.


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Saturday, March 25, 2006

My wise friend

"Everyone needs a spiritual guide: a minister, rabbi, counselor, wise friend or therapist. My own wise friend is my dog. He has deep knowledge to impart. He makes friends easily and doesn't hold a grudge. He enjoys simple pleasures and takes each day as it comes. Like a true Zen master, he eats when he's hungry and sleeps when he's tired. He's not hung up about sex. Best of all, he befriends me with an unconditional love that human beings would do well to imitate.

"When I become too serious and preoccupied, he reminds me of the importance of frolicking and play. When I get too wrapped up in abstractions and ideas, he reminds me of the importance of exercising and caring for my body. On his own canine level, he shows me that it might be possible to live without inner conflicts or neuroses: uncomplicated, genuine, and glad to be alive."

"For ages people have known that animals have a balance and harmony we can learn from. 'Ask the beasts, and they will teach you,' counsels the book of Job. Other creatures have inhabited the earth much longer than we have. Their instincts and adaptations to life are sometimes healthier than our own. 'In the beginning of all things,' said the Pawnee Chief Letakots-Lesa, 'wisdom and knowledge were with the animals; for Tirawa, the One Above, did not speak directly to man. He sent certain animals to tell men that he showed himself through the beasts, and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and the moon, man should learn.'"
-Gary Kowalski, "The Souls of Animals"

On March 25, 1995, Jellybean Louise (Beanie) arrived at our home and became its emotional center. The past eleven years have been tumultuous- births, deaths, job changes, financial success, bankruptcy, loss of faith, the search for rediscovery, loneliness, happiness, marriage, divorce- changes which test and torment us, delight and perplex us.

There's been one stable soul through this maelstrom of life- who, like Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, has been "constant as the Northern Star, Of whose true fixed and resting quality There is no fellow in the firmament."

I could go on, but my friend sees that I'm staring balefully at the computer screen, and has decided it's time we take a walk to the end of the street and enjoy smelling the faint traces of deer and bunny rabbit.

And who am I to argue with her wisdom?

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Friday, March 24, 2006

CIA Oversight

I dunno... knowing that someone like The Covert Comic works at the CIA sort of puts a human face on the agency. I just wish that face wasn't Steven Wright's:

If there's intelligent life elsewhere in the cosmos, they probably have middle managers just like we do. Translation: don't expect a visit from extraterrestrials any time soon.

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Quote of the Day

I like to write when I feel spiteful; it's like having a good sneeze.
-D.H. Lawrence

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Thursday, March 23, 2006

Cartoon of the day

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Quote of the day

The preservation of our liberties depends on an enlightened citizenry. Those who get most of their news from television probably are not getting enough information to intelligently exercise their voting franchise in a democratic system. As Thomas Jefferson said, the nation that expects to be ignorant and free expects what never can and never will be. We can bring that up-to-date and amplify it a bit: The nation whose population depends on the explosively compressed headline service of television news can expect to be exploited by the demagogues and dictators who prey upon the semi-informed.
Walter Cronkite

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AT&T: The Next Generation

Jerry Pournelle was the reason I subscribed to the old Byte magazine and its current online incarnation. My monthly ramblings in the now-defunct DEC Professional and Digital Age magazines was modeled after his Chaos Manor column in Byte, and I attribute its success to that stylistic plagiarism.

One of my most prized possessions is a hand-written note from Mr. Pournelle complimenting one of my old DEC Pro columns, which was a thrill (and a relief, since he wasn't bothered by the similarities in the tone of the columns.)

Anyway, for 30 years or so, Jerry's been making astute observations on matters technical. His comments on the zombie-like resurrection of AT&T is worth reviewing:

The Return of Ma Bell
(subscription required, and heartily recommended.)

Both financial and general news pages carry it as a big story: AT&T was just taken over by SBC, which itself took over Pacific Bell and other chunks of the former AT&T empire. The new company will be called AT&T, and now the new AT&T wants to buy out BellSouth, which will give it complete control of Cingular as well.

Judge Green thought he had killed Ma Bell dead, but The Phone Company seems to be rising from the grave. AT&T isn't yet what the old AT&T was (they even spell it at&t for no comprehensible reason), but it's headed that way, and it may not be long before it's all reconstituted.

Of course it's not quite the same. The old AT&T was a regulated public utility. It was guaranteed a profit, and it didn't need any skills in marketing, which is just as well because it didn't have any. I recall back before Judge Green's decision when AT&T tentatively tried its luck in building and marketing small computers. They made darned good ones. We had one here that ran both PC DOS and UNIX, and had pretty good communications between the two operating systems. AT&T made great mini-computers, and I had one of those too. It was both powerful and reliable for the times, with robust fault tolerant provisions; not a lot of power compared to today's machines, but impressive at the time. AT&T technology was good.

Their marketing was inept. I was about the only columnist writing about AT&T's machines. You almost never heard about the AT&T computers in the computer magazines, or newspapers, or indeed anywhere else except at COMDEX where they had big booths but little presence. I got my AT&T computers by bullying a sales engineer I met at the COMDEX booth into inviting me up to the AT&T Suite where I met some executives who apparently thought the notion of sending review machines to reviewers was a splendid new idea and they were glad they had thought of it.

At another Chicago COMDEX in that era I found myself talking to the then VP of marketing of the AT&T Computer division. For some reason I made bold to say "I like your computers, but you aren't going anywhere with them. If AT&T bought Colonel Sanders, you'd advertise hot, dead chicken." He sighed and said, "With my luck we'd advertise warm, dead chicken. And aren't you the guy who called our logo the AT&T Death Star?"

AT&T as a regulated public utility had its good points, as those of us who did international travel discovered on every overseas trip back in those days. I never had a problem talking to Peterborough, New Hampshire, from anywhere in the US; but I do recall once at an aerospace show in Paris having to have a call from Paris to Marseilles routed through New York City as the only reliable way to establish contact. AT&T may have been stodgy, but their business was communications and they took that seriously.

Another of Ma Bell's good points was Bell Labs, which was a genuine treasure of the human race. When Judge Green broke up the old AT&T, each chunk had to become a profit center. That meant Bell Labs had to go. Long term research was abandoned, and the result was Lucent, a pale shadow. The loss to mankind was grievous. I am not at all sure that what we got in return was worth that loss.

We were supposed to get lower telephone rates, and for a while there perhaps we did, but our phone rates aren't lower now. For every reduction in phone rates we seem to have a corresponding increase in taxes and fees. In Los Angeles a basic Lifeline telephone installation, a number that is seldom used for outgoing calls and never used for long distance, still runs more than $25 a month. More than half of that is taxes and fees. The lower rates came and went pretty fast after the breakup, and where AT&T had powerful lobbyists to resist new telephone taxes, the successors weren't able to resist. Now we have so many taxes and fees I think no one understands them all.

Now certainly many of those fee increases are from local entities exhibiting typical rent-seeking behavior. They tack on charges to phone service because they can, and the phone companies pass those along to their customers because they may as well: They have no real competition, and where the old Public Utilities Commissions were jealous and fought any rate increases they hadn't imposed, there is no such counter-bureaucracy in today's phone picture. This distorts the daylights out of both the economic and regulatory structure of the communications business. The result is that the hoped-for consumer savings have pretty well vanished from your regular phone bill, and users are turning to SKYPE and Vonage and other VOIP communications services in the hopes of escaping the taxes.

The breakup was supposed to further competition, which would lead to innovations, new technology, and the latest in communications capabilities. That latter is hilarious: The U.S. is way behind compared to Korea, or Japan. Even Europe is moving ahead of the U.S. in connectivity. Sure, that was achieved with massive public subsidies, but the infrastructure is being built there and not here. So much for the new competitive environment.

The breakup certainly generated a lot of money. During the 1990s enormous sums flowed through the system. Precisely how much got invested in new technology and delivering high speed service to households is another story. Once public regulation of executive salaries and perks was removed, apparently competition drove those management compensations way up, far higher than AT&T used to pay. Fortunes were made from stock deals. But much of the new technology was in ways to speed things up a bit through existing copper lines, and there was darned little investment in really new facilities.

So now we have a new AT&T growing to become The Phone Company again, and its (well compensated) chairman wants to charge Yahoo and Google and others for "using my pipes" to deliver to subscribers what the subscribers think they are already paying for. The Phone Company wants a slice of Internet telephony, and no wonder; while the cable companies want a slice of the telephone communications business. And everyone wants to buy everyone else and create a monopoly, only these monopolies won't be regulated public utilities, and none of them will finance Bell Labs.

The general public doesn't understand these technologies. Neither does Congress. Meanwhile, the computer-using community, the readers of BYTE and other such publications, understands the technologies but hasn't much of a clue as to what regulations are necessary. Just as the DMCA is going to be revised, with or without our input, the balance between the various telcos, cable companies, and networks is going to be defined not by competition but by legislation, and the legislation is going to be influenced by lobbyists who have definite goals. Perhaps we can all trust Bill Gates to instruct the Microsoft lobby machine to look out for our interests? Of course, since we don't seem to know what our interests are, that seems inevitable.

Speculation on Wall Street is that when it all boils down, the new resurrected AT&T will give the cable companies stiff competition, breaking their monopoly on cable and cutting deeply into their high speed access (cable modem) market. One analyst thinks it will eventually settle down to $100 a month for a bundle of cable services, unlimited telephone calling possibly to include George Jetson video phones, high-speed Internet access, and a partridge in a pear tree. Perhaps so. I pay over $250 a month for most of that package of services, and I would be most pleased to have that cut in half, but I'm not holding my breath.

I may be the last mourner of old Ma Bell, but I frankly wish we had the old AT&T, a regulated public utility, with Bell Labs and a public utilities commission. I'm pretty sure I'd be paying more than $100 a month, but I'd be paying less than I do now for my combined cable, telephone, and Internet access. And we'd have Bell Labs, where they discovered the transistor.

Good night, Judge Green, wherever you are. I can't say I wish you well.

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Cheney Invites Helen Thomas on Hunting Trip

(from The Borowitz Report)

Effort to Reach Out to White House Press Corps, Observers Say

In what Washington insiders believe is an attempt to mend fences with an increasingly contentious White House press corps, Vice President Dick Cheney today invited veteran journalist Helen Thomas on a quail-hunting trip to Texas.

"I would like to extend an invitation to Helen to join me on a quail-hunting trip to the Armstrong Ranch," Mr. Cheney said in an official statement at the White House. "It will be a chance for the two of us to spend some quality time together."

The vice president's invitation took many Beltway observers by surprise, coming as it did only one day after a heated exchange at a White House press conference between Ms. Thomas and President George W. Bush.

But Ms. Thomas, never one to shrink from an opportunity, said today that she would be glad to join the vice president quail hunting in Texas so long as the Pentagon provided body armor for her first.

At the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said that he was taking Ms. Thomas' request for body armor "very seriously" but warned that the Pentagon has been plagued by production delays.

"The earliest we could fit Helen Thomas with body armor would be spring 2009." He said.

Ms. Thomas said she was considering other protective measures, such as wearing a quail outfit: "If I look like a quail, there's no way Cheney will hit me."

Elsewhere, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said that his department would beef up security at the nation's chemical plants by compiling a complete list of plants that are vulnerable to attack and publishing them online.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2006

It's that time of year again.

William Shatner is 75 today.

His hairpiece is 48.

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That's it. All I'm going to eat is bacon. And dirt.

From The Wall Street Journal:

"[A] troubling body of research is beginning to suggest that vitamin supplements may be doing more harm than good. Over the past several years, studies that were expected to prove dramatic benefits from vitamin use have instead shown the opposite."

And the quote of the day, from a Journal article in the 90s:

Nutritional supplements just give you expensive urine.
-Dr. Herbert Victor

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Tuesday, March 21, 2006

How the mighty have fallen...

"After being surprised by her husband's role in the Dubai ports deal, Sen. Hillary Clinton has insisted that Bill Clinton give her "final say" over what he says and does, well-placed sources said."

Hey, Bill... welcome to the club.

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Reader comment

[From Random Quote at kgb.com:]
> Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and unto God the
> things that are God's, and unto human beings, what?
> Lec, Stanislaw

Soap. Render human beings into soap.

-Doug Elrod (***@cornell.edu);-)
   (who, of course, got this idea from Fight Club)

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Ecumenical Crackpottery

Sigh. Jews, Christians and Muslims- we're all children of Abraham. And, it appears, we all need a bit more chlorine in our gene pool:

Bird flu God's wrath: rabbi

An outbreak of deadly bird flu in Israel is God's punishment for calls in election ads to legalize gay marriages, according to Rabbi David Basri, a prominent sage preaching Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism. "The Bible says that God punishes depravity first through plagues against animals and then in people," Rabbi Basri said in a religious edict quoted by his son.

Rabbi Basri said he hoped the deaths of hundreds of thousands of turkeys and chickens would help atone for what he called the sins of left-wing Israeli political parties, the son, Rabbi Yitzhak Basri, said, a week before a national election.

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Somewhat related to the previous post quote of the day...

It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself.
-Thomas Jefferson

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Great minds think alike

Borowitz Report, March 21: Baghdad Bob Named Pentagon Spokesman

KGB Report, March 1: Whatever happened to Erik Estrada and Baghdad Bob?

Have to admit, though, he did a lot more with it.

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Quote of the day

I have always felt that laughter in the face of reality is probably the finest sound there is and will last until the day when the game is called on account of darkness. In this world, a good time to laugh is any time you can.
-Linda Ellerbee

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Monday, March 20, 2006

It's Spring. Big Whoop.

Treat spring just as you would a friend you have not learned to trust.
-E.W. Howe

There was a touch of spring in the air, a poisonous, malefic spring that seemed to burst from the manholes.
-Henry Miller

Every year back comes Spring, with nasty little birds, yapping their fool heads off and the ground all mucked up with plants.
-Dorothy Parker

The first day of spring was once the time for taking the young virgins into the fields, there in dalliance to set an example in fertility for Nature to follow. Now we just set the clock an hour ahead and change the oil in the crankcase.
-E.B. White

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Men and Dogs

* Both take up too much room on the bed.

* Both have irrational fears about vacuum cleaning.

* Both mark their territory.

* Neither tells you what's bothering them.

* The smaller ones tend to be more nervous.

* Both have an inordinate fascination with women's crotches.

* Neither does any dishes.

* Both fart shamelessly.

* Neither of them notice when you get your hair cut.

* Both like dominance games.

* Both are suspicious of the postman.

* Neither understands what you see in cats.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Adventures in Shameless Marketing

Can The Little Mermaid Harpoon Kit be far behind?

(from Leave it to Cleaver)

December 12, 2005

Mr. Andrew Mooney
Chairman
Disney Company
500 South Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91521

Dear Mr. Mooney,

I happened upon your Old Yeller dog food at the grocery store the other day.

Not sure if you read the book, but Old Yeller was tragically shot by his young owner after he contracted rabies. I guess I just spoiled the ending. Sorry.

Look, I'm no marketing expert, but I'd hazard a guess that linking a novella about a canine mercy killing with a product for real-life dogs might not foster the most positive associations. When I inspected the packaging, I didn't see any evidence that this was ironic. Or perhaps I just didn't get it? If that's the case, when can I expect the Bambi hunting rifle?

Love to know what you're thinking on this one. I'm not offended, just curious.

Sincerely,
Kenneth H. Cleaver

-----

Stacy Oakley
500 S. Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91521

January 25, 2006

Mr. Kenneth H. Cleaver
PO Box 61153
Denver, CO 80206

Dear Mr. Cleaver,

We received your letter dated December 12, 2005 regarding Disney's Old Yeller dog food.

We appreciate the comments. The Walt Disney Company is well aware of the history of this novella having produced a full screen movie version of Old Yeller in 1957. Although the ending of the movie is poignant, the heart of the movie is the bond between the young boy and his faithful companion.

Disney's Old Yeller represents the strong, positive feelings that exist between countless people and their connection towards their beloved pets. It is with this foundation that we created Disney's Old Yeller dog food in order to provide pet owners a nutritious and affordable means to assist in caring for their pet.

Sincerely,

Stacy Oakley
Sr. Manager, Global Pets
Disney Consumer Products

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Copyright © 1987-2014 by Kevin G. Barkes
All rights reserved.
Violators will be prosecuted.
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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Crystal Methodist


Laugh while you can, monkey-boy


I am a professional. Do not try this at home.


I canna change the laws of physics


As a matter of fact, I *am* the boss of you.
(as a matter of fact, i AM the boss of you.)


Truly great madness cannot be achieved without signficant intelligence


I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.


Left wing liberal nut job


Flies spread disease. Keep yours zipped.


Eff the ineffable, scrute the inscrutable.


If my answers frighten you then you should cease asking scary questions.


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Nutrition makes me puke


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eat wisely


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