Feb. 27, 2006

And now, for the textbook definition of irony:

H&R Block, the company known for tax preparation services and software, somehow messed up in its own field of expertise, understating its Missouri state income tax liability by a whopping $32 million in 2005.

Maybe all of those “rapid refunds” were a little too rapid…

[ No. 237 ]

Feb. 25, 2006

While I was bowling with a group of friends from the local Penn State alumni chapter, I noticed the back of a kid’s black T-shirt in the lane next to us:

Some may say the glass is half empty,
Some may say the glass is half full.
But the Irish will forever say
“Are you gonna drink that?”

What’s even funnier is that the kid wearing the shirt was no older than 15.

[ No. 236 ]

Feb. 23, 2006

Finally, a story about good customer service for a change.

A few weeks ago, I went shopping for a new pair of running shoes. I visited at least three or four stores, but none of them had a pair of the popular 2000 series of Asics shoes in my size. So, exhausted from a futile search at the mall and armed with a specific model and size in mind, I turned to Ye Olde Internet.

I remembered that my friend Todd, an avid marathon runner, had recommended Road Runner Sports to me in the past, and I myself had received their catalog for some time a while back. So I decided to give ’em a shot and ordered a pair of Asics GT-2100s online.

The shipment arrived at my house promptly, but the box appeared to be far too large for just a pair of sneakers. When I opened the bulky package on my kitchen counter, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the shoebox was packed inside a brand-new, black-and-silver RRS duffel bag, free of charge.

On top of that, I came home from work earlier this week to find a message on my machine from a Road Runner Sports customer service rep, who wanted to make sure that my order was “100% satisfactory.”

Well, let’s do the math. Their Web site was easy to use, my credit card was charged correctly, and they shipped a pair of running shoes in the right model and size to the right address in a timely fashion — that already deserves a perfect score. But by throwing in a useful, free gift for a first-time customer like me, Road Runner Sports earns a satisfaction score well above 100%, and they’ve landed a future repeat customer for sure.

[ No. 235 ]

Feb. 20, 2006

It’s a news story that sounds like it’s straight out of The Onion, but it’s absolutely true — there’s a deal in the works that would allow a company based in the United Arab Emirates to manage six major U.S. ports, including the one here in Philadelphia.

For the record, two of the 19 hijackers from the 9/11 attacks hailed from the UAE, and most of them received funding from UAE-based sources.

Not good.

Sure, we live in a global economy, but this potential agreement sounds like offshoring gone horribly awry — not to mention a frightening example of the fox guarding the henhouse.

* Update: Following weeks of increasing outrage over the controversial ports deal, UAE-based Dubai Ports World announced that they would transfer the operations of American ports to an unnamed “U.S. entity.”

That’s great news, as far as I’m concerned. Congress deserves a lot of credit (for once!) for their bipartisan effort to protect our security. And shame on President Bush — he says that he’s concerned that the failed deal will send the wrong message to Arab nations. To me, George, you’re sending a dangerous message, too: you’re more worried about alienating the UAE than your own citizens.

[ No. 234 ]

Feb. 16, 2006

A helpful rule of thumb, based on an observation at the gym earlier tonight:

If you’re pedaling on a stationary exercise bike and jotting notes into your PDA at the same time, you’re probably not working out hard enough.

[ No. 233 ]

Feb. 15, 2006

Dear Taco Bell:

I’m genuinely amazed by your consistent ability to concoct new menu offerings from the most basic of ingredients: dough, meat, cheese, lettuce, tomato, and sour cream. Your culinary creativity is truly impressive.

However, I must take issue with the current ad campaign for your latest innovation, the Crunchwrap Supreme:

  1. The actors’ swiveling hand gestures, which imply that the Crunchwrap Supreme is structurally sound enough to be considered “good to go,” appear to plagiarize the horrid dance move associated with the Bangles’ 1986 hit, “Walk Like an Egyptian.” (The mere mention of that song bothers me greatly.)
  2. Although I haven’t tried the Crunchwrap Supreme yet, I’m sure the delicacy is indeed “beefy” and “crunchy,” just as you describe. But I’m afraid I have to draw the line at “melty” — that’s not even a word en inglés.


[ No. 232 ]

Feb. 9, 2006

The American political scene has reached a new low, and that certainly takes some doing — eulogists at Coretta Scott King’s funeral actually used the occasion to criticize President Bush and his policies.

I disagree with many of Bush’s words and actions, and I voted against him in 2004. But angry political commentary simply doesn’t belong at the farewell to a highly respected American icon.

Can you believe that civil rights leader Joseph Lowery actually delivered the following venom at a funeral?

“We know now there were no weapons of mass destruction over there [in Iraq]. But Coretta knew and we know that there are weapons of misdirection right down here — millions without health insurance, poverty abounds. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor.”

Former President Jimmy Carter reflected on Martin Luther King and his wife by adding a thinly veiled complaint against the current administration:

“It was difficult for them personally, with the civil liberties of both husband and wife violated as they became the target of secret government wiretapping.”

Naturally, Carter failed to mention that the decision to wiretap King’s telephones in 1963 was approved by Robert Kennedy, a fellow Democrat.

What a disgrace. Coretta Scott King deserves better than such tasteless political opportunism.

* Update: On a lighter note, my friend Christina alerted me to an even bigger outrage from the funeral — Michael Bolton, the original no-talent ass-clown, performed at the service.

[ No. 231 ]

Feb. 6, 2006

It’s truly hard to believe that an anti-Muslim political cartoon, of all things, is the driving force behind violent protests and arson.

Even more surprisingly, the most insightful commentary about the escalating crisis came from France! Last week, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy was quoted by CNN as follows (emphasis is mine):

“I am totally shocked and find it unacceptable that — because there have been caricatures in the West — extremists can burn flags or take fundamentalist or extremist positions which would prove the cartoonists right.”

Since when is any religion beyond reproach? Imagine if Catholics rioted in the streets every time a newspaper criticized the Pope. And there’s a big double standard here — why is it OK for Arab newspapers to print anti-Semitic cartoons that are just as offensive?

* Update: As the worldwide cartoon furor rages on, another thought occurred to me — since the comic strip Dilbert constantly makes fun of office workers like me, then maybe I should protest by burning its creator, Scott Adams, in effigy.

Or maybe not.

[ No. 230 ]

Feb. 5, 2006

There are a lot of things that I’ll do for my friends, but there’s one big exception to that rule.

Do not ask me to borrow one of my CDs so you can burn a copy of it.

I know I’m in the minority on this one, it probably makes me sound old-fashioned and selfish, and I’m not really sure why I feel so strongly about it.

Maybe it’s because I never took part in the whole Napster frenzy a few years ago — the concept of downloading hundreds of songs for free just didn’t sit well with me. The practice seemed underhanded and lazy at best, and the typical justification of “CDs are too expensive” sounded like a really lame excuse.

I guess I thought about it this way: if I were in a successful rock band (and yes, that’s a major stretch), I certainly wouldn’t want people making copies of my copyrighted work and handing it out for free.

Anyway, back to the original point. I’d be happy to lend you some of my music, but I really don’t want you to burn a copy of it for yourself. Why? One, I paid $18 for it; why should I give it to you for nothing? And two, if you listen to the album and happen to like it, then you should vote with your wallet and pay for your own copy of the music.

It’s an amazing concept: exchanging money for goods and services.

[ No. 229 ]