July 28, 2005

In honor of the rapidly approaching weekend, I present to you one of the best advertising slogans ever crafted. It’s been featured in recent TV commercials for the Jamaican brew known as Red Stripe:


I didn’t major in advertising, but I know a good sales pitch when I see one.

* Update: My friend Larry sent me his thoughts on the Red Stripe ad campaign and its sharply dressed spokesperson:

Any beer that makes an ugly man look beautiful is one I should be drinking. Hooray Beer!
(And I think I should get one of snazzy sashes to wear over my suit, so I can look as distinguished as the beer ambassador.)

[ No. 190 ]

July 25, 2005

An important cause you should know about: Take Back the Memorial.

First, take a few minutes to read an eye-opening OpinionJournal article titled “The Great Ground Zero Heist” by Debra Burlingame, the sister of the pilot whose hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001. Her editorial describes some very disturbing plans for the site on which the World Trade Center towers once stood.

You would think that the memorial on that site would serve a singular purpose: to honor the heroes and victims of 9/11. But instead, the most prominent feature of the proposed Ground Zero memorial will be the International Freedom Center (IFC), which is said to include numerous exhibits about the failure of human rights in the U.S. and elsewhere — e.g., the mistreatment of Native Americans, prisoners in Soviet gulags, and Chinese dissidents.

Pardon me, but what does any of that have to do with 9/11?

Not surprisingly, the IFC project is being sponsored by various human-rights organizations who are trying to do some hijacking of their own — they want to shift attention away from the 3,000 lives lost on 9/11 in order to advance their own political agendas. Their plans comprise some of the most outrageous opportunism I’ve ever heard of. And shouldn’t the victims’ families have the final say on this delicate matter?

If you agree, take a minute to sign the petition and join over 36,000 people that feel the same way.

* Update: On Sept. 28, 2005, Gov. George Pataki officially removed the International Freedom Center from the plans for a 9/11 memorial at Ground Zero:

“Freedom should unify us. This center has not,” Pataki said. “Today there remains too much opposition, too much controversy over the programming of the IFC. … We must move forward with our first priority, the creation of an inspiring memorial to pay tribute to our lost loved ones and tell their stories to the world.”

At the time of the stunning announcement, nearly 49,000 petition signatures had been collected online. Nice to know that all of those people — many of whom were relatives of the victims of 9/11 — were heard loud and clear.

[ No. 189 ]

July 21, 2005

The fifth in a series (see posts 1, 2, 3, and 4):

Stop it.

Stop prompting me for the language that I speak before I can withdraw my hard-earned dollars from an ATM. I know, not everyone in this country is fluent in English, but I shouldn’t have to press an extra button to confirm that I speak the native tongue.

Stop trying to reform your rock band through a shameless reality show. No, I haven’t watched a single episode of Rock Star: INXS, but I really don’t need to. I know this much: INXS was a great band, but they’ll never be the same without their late lead singer, Michael Hutchence. Leave your place in rock history alone; don’t tarnish it with this embarrassing contest.

Stop introducing intrusive legislation in New Jersey that aims to ban smoking in your car, even if you’re driving alone! There are plenty of other distractions on the road besides smoking, and there are plenty of other legal matters that need more attention. Drop this nonsense — fast.

Stop running back-to-school promotions in mid-July. Is it really necessary to load up on notebooks and pens a full six weeks before Labor Day? Hold off on the office supplies a little while longer and enjoy the summer while it lasts.

You heard me. Just stop.

[ No. 188 ]

July 17, 2005

Warning: this post involves computer geek humor. I apologize in advance.

At work last week, my coworker Paul was searching for information about a specific Oracle database error and landed on a particular post on an online forum. A quotation under the user name “dweezil” (Zappa, perhaps?) happened to catch his eye. It read as follows:

SELECT * FROM users WHERE clue = 'yes';
Records found: 0

First of all, this code format is called Structured Query Language (SQL), which is commonly used to query databases for information. Most of you probably aren’t familiar with SQL, and if that’s the case, then you’re probably better off. But you can probably get the general idea of what “dweezil” is trying to say in his online signature: non-IT folks don’t have a clue when it comes to computers.

It takes a special kind of programmer (an arrogant one with very few people skills) to craft an insult in code. And as Paul correctly pointed out, this SQL put-down sounds especially funny when you read it aloud in the condescending voice of Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons.

[ No. 187 ]

July 12, 2005

I’ve decided to mark the occasion of tonight’s All-Star Game by returning to the topic of baseball — specifically, a long-overdue rant about the pure evil that is the New York Yankees.

Most of what you need to know can be summarized by the following graph, which depicts the payrolls of every Major League Baseball team in 2005:

Graph: 2005 MLB Payrolls

Data source: ESPN / Graphic: Mike Devine

That’s quite a commanding lead in the finance department, huh?

The Yankees’ huge payroll of $205.9 million is nearly 70% higher than that of the Red Sox (second-highest with only $121.3 million), more than double that of all other MLB teams but two, and more than triple that of half the league.

I’ve often heard spoiled Yankees fans defend their team’s extravagant budget, and most of their arguments are variations on this theme: “They’re not breaking any rules; what they’re doing is perfectly legal.” But does that make it right? Do you think that teams like the Devil Rays and Royals can consistently compete for a title while George Steinbrenner’s buying power dominates the league?

The worst part of all is that many Yankees fans bitterly complain when their team doesn’t win a title every single year. The Yanks have won four World Series titles in the last decade alone and 26 championships overall — that’s an average of one title every four years. And that’s still not enough!

If the Phillies miss the playoffs for a 12th straight season this fall (and with their middling 45–44 record at midseason, that’s a pretty safe bet), I guess I’ll just have to root against the Yankees once again. Down with the Evil Empire!

[ No. 186 ]

July 8, 2005

Last year, 3.07% of my gross earnings went to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and its employees. Technically, the state government works for me and my fellow Keystone State residents. They’re our public servants.

So you can imagine my surprise when I heard that Pennsylvania state legislators received a double-digit wage increase this week. Strange, I don’t remember approving that motion. Oh, wait, I forgot — they voted for their own raises!

Without a word of debate, in the wee hours of the morning yesterday, state legislators voted themselves a double-digit pay increase before hurriedly leaving the Capitol for their 10-week summer recess.
“We deserve it,” Rep. Frank Oliver (D., Phila.) said as he walked out the House chamber at 2 a.m. moments after the body voted, 119–79, for the raise. “See what time we are getting out right now. We work long hours sometimes.”
Minutes later, the Senate voted, 27–23, for the bill, which would increase the pay for back-benchers by 16 percent, with leaders getting much more.
Source: Mario F. Cattabiani, “Pa. legislators OK double-digit raises”
(The Philadelphia Inquirer, July 8, 2005)

Do you know anyone — anyone on God’s green earth — from the private sector who received a 16% raise without a promotion and 10 weeks of vacation? (So much for your whining about “long hours,” Mr. Oliver. Some of us are required to contribute to the economy between now and Sept. 19, you arrogant fool.)

The substantial raise will have no effect on the other perks that state legislators enjoy, such as $128 per day for meals and lodging and as much as $650 per month for a car lease. Those benefits are in addition to the new base salaries that will run between $81,050 and $145,553 — the second-highest salary range for state lawmakers in the nation behind California.

The next time one of these legislators is running for re-election, look back at the voting record for this pay-raise bill. If the candidate voted in favor of it, ask yourself, “Did this person accomplish enough to justify a double-digit raise?”, and if the answer is no, vote for that candidate’s opponent.

Assuming enough Pennsylvanians do the same, at least some of these greedy bureaucrats will receive a well-deserved 100% decrease in pay.*

* Update: There hasn’t been a news story in recent memory that has angered me more than this one, mainly because it’s becoming increasingly hard to believe with each passing day:

Shortly after the late-night vote on the bill, House Minority Leader H. William DeWeese actually demoted 15 of his fellow Democrats, apparently in order to punish them for voting against the pay raise.

Then, on Aug. 1, about two-thirds of the General Assembly — including some brazen legislators who had voted against the billaccepted their raises. You read that correctly: some state lawmakers said “no” on the record but took the money anyway!

The raises are effective immediately, a full 16 months before the lawmakers are constitutionally allowed to accept them. How did they get around the system, then? They simply referred to the substantial increases as “unvouchered expenses”:

The raises are supposed to go into effect in December 2006, after the next legislative elections, under a constitutional provision prohibiting lawmakers from voting themselves raises in their current term. But the legislature maneuvered around the constitution by paying members through expenses.
The state Supreme Court ruled 19 years ago that the practice was legal.
Source: Amy Worden and John Sullivan, “Legislators opt for an early raise”
(The Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 2, 2005)

Is it just me, or does the phrase “unvouchered expenses” sound like a euphemism straight out of Enron’s accounting department?

Fortunately, I’m not alone in my fury. One equally outraged Pennsylvania resident by the name of Russ Diamond recently launched Operation Clean Sweep: Pennsylvania, a campaign that seeks to oust the legislators who voted for the pay-raise bill. If you happen to live in Pennsylvania, make sure to spread the word about Operation Clean Sweep, and don’t forget to vote against these corrupt thieves in the next election.

* Update 2: Every once in a blue moon, voters actually can make a difference.

On Nov. 2, 2005, Pennsylvania legislators finally bowed to public pressure and repealed their self-appointed raises. The Senate approved the measure by a 50–0 margin, and the House followed suit by voting 196–2 in favor of the bill. (The two dissenters happened to be the highest-ranking Democrats in the legislature — Minority Leader Bill DeWeese, who was mentioned in the first update above, and Minority Whip Mike Veon. Shame on both of you! What will it take for you to listen to your constituents?)

The cynic in me couldn’t help but notice the interesting timing of the reversal. The original pay-raise bill was approved in July, and the legislators waited until the week before Election Day to rescind it. But all’s well that ends well, and my faith in the democratic system has been restored, at least for now.

[ No. 185 ]

July 6, 2005

Household hints (some obvious, some not) from your pal Monorail Mike:

[ No. 184 ]