Spelling not required

While surfing this evening, I came across this ad for some “university” thing. They’ll help you get your degree and set you on your way toward earning more money. As long as you don’t expect to get a degree in grammar or spelling.
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My cousin Kirk posted a particularly harsh comment this morning down there in the entry about Laurie Anderson. He made one of those ridiculous rants about how his tax dollars shouldn’t go toward such things as art.
I take exception to this. With all the billions and billions of dollars going into creating weapons of mass destruction, paying drug companies to supply erection drugs to government employees, and all the other crap that comes out of the government, I’m more than pleased that some of my money is going toward something uplifting and thought provoking.
What’s more, I’m pretty freakin’ excited about Cassini as it makes it’s orbital insertion at Saturn. In the midst of the horrors of war, the idiocy and fascism of the current administration, the absolute barbarism of terrorists… isn’t it just incredible to take a moment to look at what man can achieve when he’s not doing all of the above? Sending a little bit of ourselves out into limitless space, and sending back some postcards to all of humanity?

What’s it all about

Someone has been placing bizarre, cryptic, detailed ads in the May 1 edition of the University of Arizona newspaper, every year since the 1970s. One guy has embarked on a quest to figure out what it’s all about.

At least the nipple isn’t showing

If Viacom-owned CBS stations are going to be fined about $27,500 each for airing Janet Jackson’s boob, how much will Fox News be fined for showing penile penetration on their broadcast?

Thinking aloud

Carson Kressley is the Mr. Humphries for the new millennium.

Dude, you’re getting ripped

I’m not sure what Dell is thinking here.
They’re offering to give people their Dell DJ music player for only $99… with trade-in of your iPod.
Yeah, I’m gonna give up my $200 iPod for a Dell piece of crap (oh, and STILL pay $99?)…

Oh, Reilly

I love these stories that keep popping up telling us the very, very obvious — for example, this one which accuses Bill O’Reilly of not being (gasp) fair and balanced. Anyone with an IQ of 90 and above could tell you that by simply listening to this ass for more than a few minutes.

In kicking off what he called “no-spin coverage” of the issue, O’Reilly began the show by saying that “the Times and other newspapers have been under heavy fire for their misleading headlines, basically saying there was no link” between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

As Cole listened from Washington, the program played a clip of commission chairman Thomas Kean saying: “There is no evidence that we can find whatsoever that Iraq or Saddam Hussein participated in any way in attacks on the United States — in other words, on 9/11. What we do say, however, is there were contacts between Iraq and Saddam Hussein, excuse me, al-Qaeda.”

O’Reilly complained that this was the wrong sound bite. In retaping the commentary, he paraphrased one of Kean’s points but not the other: “Governor Thomas Kean says definitely there was a connection between Saddam and al-Qaeda. And he’s the 9/11 investigative chief, but that’s not enough for the Times.”

“I was sort of astonished he would do it so brazenly in front of guests,” says Cole, an activist attorney who has challenged the USA Patriot Act in court.

O’Reilly calls “totally absurd” the suggestion that he cut the sound bite “because it didn’t fit my thesis.” A producer had simply selected a clip that wasn’t right for the segment, he says.

But Cole says: “Here he is castigating the New York Times for misleading its readers, and he was misleading his viewers. I wish the show had been live because I’d love for his viewers to see what he was up to.”

What viewers saw was a lively debate among O’Reilly, Cole and Mark Jacobson, an Ohio State instructor who helped shape the Pentagon’s policy on Guantanamo Bay prisoners. The only clue that there was a blowup at the end of the interview — when Cole was asked to leave — is that O’Reilly didn’t thank his guests, ending the segment instead with a closing comment.

“We make mistakes because we bring in people who are trying to cause trouble,” he says of Cole. “I thought he was a rational person.”

… O’Reilly sees this as part of “a pretty well organized campaign” on the left to monitor his television and radio shows. He cited an appearance on “The O’Reilly Factor” last week by John Podesta, former chief of staff in the Clinton White House, who now heads a liberal think tank called the Center for American Progress.

Podesta complained that “you compare Bill Moyers to Mao Zedong. You say that’s a joke. You compare Al Franken to Joseph Goebbels, you know, the Nazi propagandist.”

“That was Michael Moore, by the way,” said O’Reilly, adding that such comments were often satirical. “I said that Michael Moore is a propagandist and so is Joseph Goebbels. And then I explained what propaganda is.”

“It’s a two-way street here, buddy,” Podesta said at one point. “You do this all the time as well, you label people, you smear people.”

O’Reilly also cites what he calls a false claim by Moore, in publicizing his film “Fahrenheit 9/11,” that O’Reilly had “banned” him after a contentious interview. The host insists that is not the case and typical of his liberal detractors.

“They’re trying to say that we’re liars,” says O’Reilly. “If you can’t beat ’em, slime ’em.”

Oh, Spacewoman

Laurie Anderson, a woman who can only be described as “avant garde”, has been tapped by NASA as their artist-in-residence.

NASA began its art program in 1963 but never before had it tapped a resident artist, nor had it pushed the aesthetic envelope so boldly by choosing a performer whose large-scale theatrical productions blended “Star Trek” and Melville. Anderson is no Faith Hill.

The pixie-haired classically trained violinist has approached her assignment like a journalist, visiting the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and NASA Ames Research Center and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, both in California.

The experience has been “overwhelming and wonderful at once,” Anderson said recently in a telephone interview from her loft in New York.

The idea of an avant-garde electronic fiddler hanging out with rocket geeks at NASA’s research centers may seem like an odd collaboration. At the Ames center in Silicon Valley, Anderson stood inside a virtual airport control tower to view scenes of Mars terrain, taking photos and recording notes in a small red notebook. The researchers’ reaction to their visitor was mixed, according to a NASA newsletter. One confessed to being a huge fan; another doubted the partnership of art and science. “What’s she going to do, write a poem?” the researcher asked.

In fact, Anderson’s passions run parallel with the pocket-protector crowd. She has collaborated with the Interval Research Corp. in California to design a wireless musical instrument called the Talking Stick, which emits sound when touched.

She intends to produce a range of works from her two-year NASA commission, including a film on the moons of the solar system that will debut at the 2005 World Exposition in Japan.

Anderson said her affiliation with the space agency has sustained her spiritually, especially as the war in Iraq has dragged on and the Abu Ghraib prison scandal has unfolded.

“Frankly, I find living in American culture at the moment really problematic,” she said. “But then when I think of NASA, it’s the one thing that feels future-oriented in a way that’s inspiring. The greening of Mars or building a stairway to Mars, these are unbelievable aspirations.”

Oh, remember the deficit?

We’ve all been preoccupied with the dismal Bush foreign policy lately, so it’s wise to take a look at his dismal financial skills as well: the budget, or lack thereof.
Bent on cutting taxes on the rich, he’s left the country with a record deficit, one that Congress is struggling to deal with. His supporters in Congress want to continue cutting taxes, increasing the deficit (which would require legislation that would legally raise the nation’s debt ceiling to it’s highest ever level). But they keep spending and spending, in a bizarre parody of their own “smaller government” claims. These, ladies and gentlemen, are “cut tax and spend” Republicans.

“For a majority of Republicans in Congress, tax cuts are now more important than budget constraints, and they’ve gotten themselves between a rock and a hard place because you can’t have both,” lamented former senator Warren B. Rudman (R-N.H.), a prominent advocate of fiscal restraint.

Then there are the more traditional Republicans, who want to cut spending. But the incredible size of the Bush tax cuts means:

Even if Congress had eliminated every penny of the $438 billion in domestic discretionary spending this year, every education and health program, every homeland security effort, national park, interstate highway and federal prison, the government would still find itself in the red.

I think it’s time for a new CEO and board of directors, don’t you?

Maximum Height

The other day I was over at my local McDonalds. They had one of those poles next to the drive-thru lane — you know, those things that are designed to keep a guy with a big, tall truck from driving through and smashing up the low-hanging roof.
There was only one problem with this one. It was installed backwards, so that the pole hangs over the sidewalk, not the drive-thru lane.
Take a look.

Another thing I hate about big business

There’s no such thing as “cost of doing business” any more. Nope, companies now charge you fees out the ying-yang, and try to disguise them to hide the fact that they are making huge profits from nickle-and-diming you to death.
A couple of articles this morning about fees. First, via MSNBC, a missive about the fees masquerading as “taxes” on your phone bill.

Regulatory Programs Fee. It sure sounds like a government tax.

It isn’t. The latest addition to T-Mobile’s monthly bill is merely the latest example of telephone companies passing their own cost of doing business to their customers with an array of surcharges that one might easily mistake for taxes being collected on behalf of the government.

Actually, T-Mobile’s monthly charge of 86 cents is among the more clearly labeled.

At Verizon Communications Inc., monthly bills for high-speed DSL Internet service will now include a surcharge ranging from $2 to $3 a month called “Supplier FUSF Recovery,” while DSL bills at SBC Communications Inc. now show an “FUSF pass-through fee” of $1.86 for new and renewing subscribers.

Cell phone subscribers at Nextel Communications Inc. pay $1.55 a month for “Federal-Programs Cost Recovery.” Other extras include a “Federal TRS Charge” and “State-Gross Receipts Recovery,” though thankfully there’s at least a footnote below owning up to the fees as Nextel’s doing.

With millions of subscribers at each company, these relatively small fees add up to billions of dollars per year in extra revenue from what amounts to an unofficial price increase. And in the case of the cell phone industry, companies are forcing their customers to reimburse them for basic marketing and customer retention costs.

… The companies are legally permitted by the Federal Communications Commission and local regulators to defray many of their regulatory burdens by charging extra.

But nowhere in the rules does it say that the companies should recover their costs through a surcharge to the basic price of service. Unfortunately, the rules also don’t force them to include the fees with the advertised price.

Beyond a general requirement under federal law that such fees be “just and reasonable,” there is no specific cap. Likewise, the FCC does not closely monitor many of the fees or the expenses they purport to recoup. Instead, they have left it up to companies, arguing that consumers will comparison shop and punish those carriers with excessive fees.

Not surprisingly, then, nearly every major wired and wireless phone company has exploited these vagaries to boost their prices without having to raise their advertised rates. And since all the companies have imposed these stealth price hikes, the market forces regulators expected to contain them have proven negligible.

Next, from the Washington Post, complaints about the high fees tacked on to tickets:

When David Guskin got the bill for the Britney Spears concert tickets his daughter, Emily, ordered from Ticketmaster, he was shocked. On top of the $56 price for the July 10 show at Nissan Pavilion was a $3.50 “facility charge,” a $9 “convenience charge” and a $4.10 “order processing fee” for each ticket.

“Where is the bathroom fee? The food availability fee?” complains Guskin via e-mail. “The total of various junk fees is $16.60 [per ticket]! This is almost 30 percent of the ticket price itself and about what the entire cost of attending a concert was not that long ago.”

Guskin, a Potomac resident, thinks the fees are “absurdly large.”

But such objections are nothing new to the world’s biggest provider of automated ticketing services. Ticketmaster has long been a complaint magnet largely because of its seemingly superfluous fees. Consumers like Guskin who are already hot over paying big bucks for concert, show or sports tickets feel they’re getting burned by add-on charges that jack up the advertised ticket price by 20 to 50 percent, depending on the event.

Some consumers have even taken Ticketmaster to court over the fees, though without success. Most cases are dismissed. Or, as with a 1994 New York lawsuit that alleged the fees were excessive, the courts found that the fees are “always disclosed” and didn’t constitute deceptive business practices.

This is becoming a common practice, this picking the pockets. I’ve always tried to avoid doing business with companies that charge the “revenue enhancers,” from banks to phone companies. But it’s getting tough — so many now have found it’s an easy way to boost profits. From $2 ATM fees (there is no possible way that it costs $2 per transaction to operate that ATM) to $5 to use a teller at a bank (suddenly that $2 ATM fee is attractive), this phenomenon is getting out of hand.
Businesses don’t price their products and services at a loss. These additional fees are just padding their pockets in a stealthy way, letting corporations gain higher profits while letting customers think they’re being taxed to the poor house.

The TiVo says “moo”

What’s on when I’m not around, like a creepy shadow crawling about when no one can see?
Night Gallery” on the Starz Mystery channel.

Oh, one weird thing about Mystery: they are showing, ad nauseum, the Dr. Who movie from 1996. Looks like they’re making a foray into science fiction these days — in fact, they classify Night Gallery as sci-fi.