Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Sony: The Worst Customer Service in the World

I normally like Sony. Have for some time. I have a number of Sony products -- including a big-screen TV, desktop PC, and laptop PC. But no more.

Here's the story of the worst customer service I've ever encountered. (And I've encountered a lot of bad customer service, so trust me on this.)

On Wednesday Dec 13, I used my Sony laptop as normal during the day, no problems. That evening, at home, I try to turn on the laptop and nothing happens. Nada, no power, no lights, no nothing. Panic ensues, as I use my laptop for my professional writing, and had a ton of work on it that I now couldn't access.

This was about 10:00 p.m. (Eastern time) on the 13th. I called Sony's 24/7 support line. A lady (in India, of course) talked me through various procedures, to no effect; the ultimate conclusion was that I probably had a bad motherboard.

At this point I stressed that I needed repairs as fast as humanly possible, due to the needs of my profession and some looming deadlines. As the laptop was purchased just a year previous and supposedly had in-home service, I thought the next step would be fairly straightforward. Not so.

The lady in India said that before she could schedule service, I had to fax them my sales receipt. I questioned this, as I had purchased the laptop directly from SonyStyle. Doesn't matter, she replied, her department and that department are on different systems. I still needed to find and fax my receipt to a different number in California, and then call that office to confirm -- after 8:00 the next morning (Pacific time), which is apparently when that particular 24/7 service department opens for business.

Arguing did no good, so I hung up the phone, dug up the receipt, and faxed it to California.

The next morning, at 11:05 sharp (Eastern time), I called the California number. Yes, they'd received my fax. Unfortunately, it showed that my computer was out of warranty, and I wasn't eligible for either free or in-home service.

To this point, I argued. The computer had been ordered on December 8, 2005. Obviously, I didn't receive it on that date; to the best of my recollection, I received it on December 11, or thereabouts. The PC went dead on December 13, 2006 -- although it was now December 14th. To the kind and understanding folks at Sony, that meant that the PC was six days out of warranty (from the 8th to the 14th). To me, it meant it was at best two days out of warranty (the 11th to the 13th), but that wasn't really the point. Whether it was two days or six, it was close enough for Sony to take care of the issue.

Which they didn't.

For the next three hours, I talked to a dozen different people at a half-dozen different phone numbers, trying to get some satisfaction. There was none to be had. The folks at Sony, all twelve or so of them, went out of their way to tell me in no uncertain terms that they need not, could not, and would not help me in any way shape or form. All of them said that I had to ship my PC back to Sony and pay for the repairs myself. No in-home service. No warranty coverage. No help, no sympathy, no apologies. (One jackass even had the temerity to suggest that if I had just purchased an extended warranty...)

Finally, mid-afternoon, after spending more than three hours on the phone, I finally, finally found a supervisor of a supervisor who offered this solution. He would (and this is his exact word) "accommodate" me. This one time, he said, he would cover the repairs under warranty, but only if I shipped the PC back to Sony. I replied that this wasn't an accommodation, it was an obligation, and one that should have been offered at the start, not after three hours of pushing and pulling. And, I stressed, the needs of my business wouldn't let me wait a week or more for the PC to be shipped to them and then back again; I needed immediate local service. That was not possible, the Sony person said. The only way they'd do the repairs for free was at their San Diego service center.

I argued and cajoled and threatened some more (including the threat -- no, the promise -- to blog about it here and on my AOL Digital Lifestyle blog, which is read by tens of thousands of people daily), to no avail. This was his accommodation, and I could accept it or not. Fine, I finally said, who should I send the bill to? What bill, he asked. The bill for the new PC I'd have to buy that afternoon, I answered. There's no one to send it to, he said. Sure there is, I continued. You have a boss, don't you? Yes, he said. Then give me his name, I said. I can't give out that information, he said. Fine, I said. Just send the damned FedEx box so I can send the thing to San Diego for repair. He said I should receive the box by Monday (the 18th). "Is there anything else I can help you with," he said, directly from his script. I hung up the phone.

Three things happened next.

First, I went out that afternoon and bought a new Gateway laptop. Twice the performance of the year-old Sony at half the price. And it wasn't a Sony.

Second, I waited for the shipping box. It didn't arrive on Monday the 18th, as promised. It didn't arrive on Tuesday the 19th. It finally arrived on Wednesday the 20th, ensuring that I could not ship the PC to California, have it repaired, and have it returned to me by the Christmas holiday.

Third, I fixed the Sony PC myself. After loading the new Gateway PC with as much backup data as I could, I realized that I had still had some irreplaceable files on the Sony that I really needed. If I could only get it running for five minutes, I could retrieve those files.

I remembered something the first Indian tech support person had me try. I was to remove the battery, plug in the unit, depress the power button for 25 seconds, then try powering up again. This supposedly would fix any Windows hibernation-related problems. We had tried it that first evening, to no effect.

I wondered if, perhaps, 25 seconds wasn't long enough. So I plugged in the notebook, depressed the power button for 60 seconds, then tried starting it up.


Then I tried one last thing. I unplugged the unit, reinserted the battery, and pressed the power button.

Voila! The notebook sprang to life, and has been working perfectly since then.

So here's the list of Sony's technical support failures:
  • Failed to offer to repair a potential problem under warranty
  • Failed to honor the warranty's in-home service provision
  • Failed to provide a FedEx shipping box in a prompt manner as promised
  • Failed to properly walk me through the process that would have fixed the problem

Ultimately, Sony's biggest failure was in the way they handled a customer in need. At no point did a single person say "I'm sorry, Mr. Miller. We'll take care of this for you." Not a single apology, not a single note of sympathy, not a single person willing to step outside the process to take care of the situation and help the customer. Every single person I talked to went out of their way not to help me. Every Sony representative had to emphasize how he or she couldn't help me. No apologies, no sympathy, no help. This is not the way to run a business.

(In contrast, when I had similar problems with my Niveus Media Center PC this summer -- a bad motherboard, it was -- the Niveus people bent over backwards to help, rectifying the problem to my satisfaction and without cost to me. Yes, their PC broke just like the Sony, but Niveus' superb customer support made the best of a bad situation. Kudos to Niveus for their first-class customer-focused support.)

So now you know why I will never buy another Sony product. Never. I gave the now-functioning Sony laptop to my girlfriend to use (until it does eventually crap out) and I'm happy with my new Gateway machine. But the Sony experience is one everyone must know about; to be forewarned is to avoid companies that treat their customers with such disdain.

There will be no more Sony products in my household. This type of customer disservice must not be rewarded.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


The war in Iraq is a failure. No one knows what "victory" may mean, but it is clear that it is now unattainable. Iraq is is worse shape now than under Saddam Hussein, before America invaded. U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians are the target of almost constant violence, and the country is the midst of what is and will remain a bloody civil and religious war.

Facing these facts, President Bush wants to send more troops into Iraq in a final "surge" that amounts to little more than a late fourth-quarter Hail Mary play. His Joint Chiefs oppose this strategy. Most members of Congress, both Democrat and Republican, oppose this strategy. The American people oppose this strategy. It is, in all estimations, a recipe for failure, a move that will only prolong the inevitable American withdrawal at the cost of hundreds if not thousands of new American deaths.

Despite the facts, despite the reasoned opposition, despite the will of the American public, Bush intends to pursue this deadly strategy. He exists in his own fantasy world where the public supports him, the American will shall always prevail, and victory in Iraq is just a surge away. Bush is not just blind to reality, he is a madman. He must be stopped before more lives are lost, and before America as we know it is irrevocably destroyed.

Defeating his party in the mid-term elections apparently was not enough to stop this madman from pursuing his insane agenda. Wiser heads must prevail, using whatever means are necessary. On a ship, this would be cause for mutiny. In the ship of state, other means are available -- including but not limited to impeachment.

Stop the madness. Stop the madman. Now.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


In late November, six Muslim clerics were removed from a US Airways flight in Minneapolis after some other passengers were disturbed by their very public praying at the gate. This has become a major incident, with the imams claiming religious discrimination, various interfaith organizations conducting "pray-ins" and calling for the acceptance of public prayer, and other Muslims calling for the establishment of a private "prayer room" at the Minneapolis airport.

Here's where you might expect me to get all up in arms and plead for more tolerance toward minority religions and such. Suprise.

Not that I support yanking the obviously harmless clerics off the plane (that reeked of overkill), but I do think that their actions in the terminal were inappropriate for the very public place they were in. Praying silently and privately is one thing; laying down prayer mats, kneeling down and bowing, and reciting your prayers out loud is something completely different.

While this activity is perfectly acceptable in a mosque or private home, in a public setting it can be very disrupting. There is an unstated obligation in a public society to fit in with your surroundings, to not draw attention to yourself. You can be as individualistic as you want in private, but in public you become part of the public. That's why we have various laws regulating public behavior -- you can't walk around naked in public, or play your car radio too loud on a neighborhood street, or stagger around drunk and beligerant. We moderate ourselves in public in order to form an orderly society; practicing private ritual in public disrupts that order.

I don't direct these comments solely to Muslims who feel the need to pray five times a day, no matter where they are or what they're doing; the same holds for anyone who wants to make private religious rituals public. Imagine a Pentacostal loudly speaking in tongues during dinner hour at Applebees, or a Buddhist sitting down to meditate in a cross-legged position in the middle of a crowded shopping mall, or a fervent Baptist holding his Bible aloft and shouting out prayers in the aisle of a commuter train. None of these are appropriate public behaviors; all become disruptive when forced on nearby strangers.

I would think this would be self-evident, that individuals would police themselves in these matters, and that further restrictive rules and regulations would not be necessary. Instead, what seems to be to be common-sense restraint is viewed as advocating religious intolerance. Asking someone to tone down their behavior in public is now tantamount to attacking an entire religion. It's political correctness elevated to a level of religious evangelism, and it's wrong.

If you want to pray, do it at home, or in church, or silently to yourself. When you're in public, moderate your behavior so as not to offend or disrupt others. Asking someone to pray to themselves is not religious intolerance; it's simple civility.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


The results are in, and the public voted for a change. Top among the reasons for voting as they did, the public cited the war in Iraq, terrorism, and corruption. That's right, we voted to throw the bums out. Good for us!

Voting for a change is effective only when there's a valid choice, however. Some areas of the U.S. had lots of choice; some didn't. I happen to live in Hamilton County, Indiana, one of the most Republican areas of the entire country. As happens most every election day, I found myself very pissed off when I realized that many of the offices on the ballot presented no choice at all -- only Republicans were running. In particular, there wasn't a single Democrat on my ballot for county sheriff, court clerk, recorder, coroner, assessor, or commissioner. There was also no Democrat on the ballot opposite Senator Richard Lugar, and only a token opposition to Congressman Dan Burton. In other words, for well over half the offices on the ballot, I had no choice but to vote Republican. Maybe it's time for me to move.

Across the country, though, there was more of a choice, and people in general voted against the Republican incumbents. This is a good thing. The country is a in a real mess, and while the Executive branch is chiefly responsible, the Congress is to blame for letting it happen. When the bums and scoundrels are too much in the pocket of the President, it's time to change staff. Which is exactly what happened yesterday.

The good news is, a fresh Congress will provide the necessary checks and balances on an Executive branch used to unfettered and unquestioned power. Even better news is that it looks as if everything happened on the up and up; the wave was so big that the ruling party couldn't steal it this time.

It's definitely time for a change. Get ready for an interesting two years.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Sunday, November 05, 2006


Tuesday is election day. It's important that you exercise your right to vote. It will be disappointing to see half the electorate not exercise this right; it essentially means that half the populace doesn't care enough about our democracy to play their part.

I understand why some people don't vote. I've encountered lots of folks, both young and old, who are totally disillusioned with the process. Some of these folks view all politicians as corrupt, or feel their vote doesn't count, or are convinced that money and privilege provide power, no matter what the vote results. Maybe some or all of these views are valid, but you still have to try. That's our duty.

If you don't vote on Tuesday, you forfeit all right to complain about the way things are run. Don't like what's happening in Iraq? Think we need health care reform? Concerned that your taxes are too high? Hate the way your local schools are run? Then quit complaining and go vote. It's the only opportunity you have to make your voice heard -- unless you're a lobbyist with big bucks to donate, of course.

So get out and vote on Tuesday. No matter which side you vote for, your voice is important. Don't squander your opportunity to instigate change -- and, slowly but surely, work towards a better way.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree. (But if you want to disagree, you better vote!)

Friday, October 27, 2006

Change the course

On next Tuesday, I will vote -- as should you. While most people think of me as a dyed-in-the-wool liberal Democrat, I vote for candidates from either party. (Although, I admit, my lifelong vote tally is predominantly Democratic.) As an example of my open-mindedness, this time around I'll be voting, once again, for Indiana Senator Richard Lugar. He's done an okay job, for a Republican apologist, and I especially like his efforts to contain loose nukes from the former Soviet republics. So he gets my vote, in spite of party affiliation.

For other offices, I vote Democratic even though the Democrats have no chance in hell of winning in my particular district. For example, I have to vote against Representative Dan Burton, one of the biggest slimeballs in Congress today (and that's saying a lot), even though he doesn't even have a viable candidate running against him. That's the peril of living in one of the most solidly Republican districts in the country -- an area so Republican that some offices don't even have Democrats listed on the ballot. It's not that the area is hyper-conservative; my neighbors engage in more than their share of drink and illicit sex, thank you very much. No, the district is extremely wealthy, and apparently well-off people vote Republican for financial considerations. So be it.

For lesser offices, where I have no idea who's even running (voting uninformed is one of the major shortfalls of democracy), I always vote against the incumbent. My take is that, more often than not, whoever got voted into office is probably corrupt, so I'll take whatever alternative is available. Retain judge so and so? Nope. Re-elect incumbent whomever? Not a chance. I always vote for change, as it were.

Speaking of change, this election is the best chance we have to express our discontent with the current resident of the White House. I know King George isn't up for re-election, but we can kick out his faithful and irresponsible toadies. That means voting against Republican incumbents, wherever you can. Stay the course? Not this election. This time, the election is all about changing the course -- and bringing some modicum of responsibility back to Washington.

But that's just my opinion; the important thing is that you vote, for whichever side.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006


So the Bush administration says that it is no longer using the phrase "stay the course" when speaking about the Iraq war. Notice that they didn't say they were changing their strategy. They're just changing their slogan. It's not the same thing.

The Bushies have no clear goal for getting out of Iraq. They have no plan. They have no timetable. In my mind, if you're not getting out, you're staying -- the course, that is.

And if they were getting out, wouldn't that be the same sort of "cut and run" strategy they accuse their detractors of? I mean, if you're not staying, you're running. And if cutting and running is so bad, then so must be not staying, shouldn't it?

To make matters worse, Bush goes to the Orwellian extreme of denying that "stay the course" was never their strategy in the first place. Press secretary Tony Snow recently stated that "The idea that we're staying the course is just wrong," even though until very recently Bush uttered that phrase regularly and repetitively. The administration seems to think that they can erase memories just by saying the opposite of something. Maybe memories can be erased, but videotape can't. It's not quite 1984 yet -- even though they're trying.

This administration believes that appearances matter more than reality. Thus the changing of the slogan while maintaining the same strategy. As a public, we shouldn't much care what the Bushies call something. We should care about their actions, not their words. And their actions are dangerous and disastrous. It doesn't matter what you call it, invading Iraq and then refusing to exit the resulting killing field is calamitous. Call it staying the course, call it whatever you like, it's stupidity bordering on criminality.

So, come next Tuesday, let's make a public effort to not stay the course. Vote the incumbents out of office, and give our democracy a fresh start -- and the Bush administration something new to worry about for the next two years.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Studio 60

Yeah, I know, "good TV" is an oxymoron. But every now and then something decent appears, and it's worth noting.

Despite the fact that my big-screen TV is on quite a bit, I really don't watch much regular network TV. The major exception in recent years was The West Wing, especially in the original Aaron Sorkin days. Good TV, that -- and occasionally great.

Well, there's a new West Wing on NBC this fall. Not surprisingly, it's by the West Wing team of Aaron Sorkin and Tommy Schlamme, and it's called Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. The show is a workplace drama set in a fictional SNL-type weekly live comedy show, and judging from the first episode, it's terrific. Terrific Sorkin dialog, terrific characters, terrific everything. Lots of intelligence, lots of realism, lots of heart. I can't say enough about it. If the quality holds (or builds) from the pilot episode, then Sorkin has another winner on his hands -- and I have a new weekly show I have to watch.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Saturday, September 16, 2006


There's been a lot of fuss and bother this week about the Bush administration's push for new legislation defining U.S. obligations under the Geneva Convention. It's good to see some Republican heavyweights, such as John McCain and Colin Powell, coming down on the side of reason and opposing this bill. Pure and simple, Bush is arguing for the right to torture. It's no more complicated than that.

What McCain, Powell, and others rightly point out is that if we get to ignore the Geneva Convention, then our enemies do, too. So we want to torture some suspected terrorist we hold in a secret prison somewhere. If we do so, then that gives other countries the right to torture any of our soldiers or citizens they may be holding. Tit for tat -- or, if you prefer, the Golden Rule applied in reverse. Beware what you do to others, for they may do so onto you.

But, as with most things in the burgeoning Bush/Cheney dictatorship, this issue is about much more than it seems. It isn't just about the right to torture enemy combatants; it's about the administration's right to do anything they want, with no oversight whatsoever. It's all about the power, the enshrining of the executive as the sole branch of power in the U.S. government. Bush talks a lot about Islamic fascism, but he's well on his way in establishing fascist rule here in the United States. In Bush's world, no rules apply -- not the Geneva Convention, not the U.S. Constitution, not anything. The president and his men should be free to do whatever they please, with no restraints.

This vision of dictatorship America is horrifying. The new Bush doctrine should be stopped in its tracks, and its purveyors thrown from office -- and punished for their crimes against country and humanity. Enough is enough.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Sunday, August 20, 2006


Assuming you can get past the all-JonBenet, all-the-time coverage this past week, you may have read that Judge Anna Diggs Taylor struck down the Bush Administration's warrantless, illegal, and unconstitutional wiretap program. The administration and their right-wing lackeys have predictably fired back with both personal (Taylor is a "Democrat-appointed judge," she's an activist judge, she's an appointee of that weak and evil Jimmy Carter) and generally jingoistic (supporters of this decision are supporting the terrorists, they're anti-American, they're traitors) responses. This decision, they say, weakens the country in its ongoing war on terror; it prevents us from wiretapping the terrorists.

But this decision has nothing to do about wiretapping the terrorists. Hell, I'm all for wiretapping terrorists; most people are. In spite of the hue and cry from the right-wingnuts, this decision doesn't prevent the government from doing that.

The administration claims that this decision would stop us from finding out about and stopping terrorist plots, like the one recently defused in England. That's a blatant lie. Here's the truth:
  • The U.K. plot was foiled by the British, not by Americans; our ability to wiretap (or not) was irrelevant in that case.
  • The CIA can wiretap any communications it wants to outside the U.S.; this decision has nothing to do with that.
  • The government can wiretap communications within the U.S. by simply asking for permission and receiving a warrant from a special FISA (Foreign International Surveillance Act) court. The FISA court almost always says yes; it's pretty much a blank check (much to the chagrin of civil libertarians).

The fact that the government has to go through warrant-friendly channels to do a wiretap is no great restraint; it doesn't hinder our anti-terrorist efforts in any way, shape, or form. The Bush Administration saying otherwise is simply untrue.

So what's the deal, then? If it's not about stopping the terrorists, what's all the fuss about?

It's about power.

You see, Bush and Cheney and their cohorts want no limits whatsoever on presidential power. Forget the Constitution, forget the two other branches of government, forget checks and balances. The executive branch must have the power to do whatever it wants, with no oversight from either Congress or the courts. It's the Imperial Presidency, one short step from dictatorship, that Bush and Cheney want.

And why do they want this? It's the unholy alliance between Bush, the rich fratboy who's used to always getting what he wants, and Cheney, the evil spawn of the Nixon Administration who wants to recoup the powers that Congress unjustly (in his view) stripped from the presidency after the Watergate scandal. It's about having no one to answer to; it's about unfettered, uncontrolled, unheard-of power.

The thing is, the current administration should be careful of what they ask for. If they succeed in creating an Imperial Presidency, what's to stop the next Democratic president from using those same powers against them? Short of a coup, this administration ends in two years, and the next guy gets to use all the power that these guys have massed -- and the next guy could use that power in ways unimagined. It won't always be you in charge; think of the future, guys.

And the future is just what Judge Taylor, the ACLU, and all other responsible Americans are thinking of. The country and the Constitution must endure, despite the efforts of the current despots.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Conspiracy theories

It is, perhaps, human nature that conspiracy theories abound. Simple explanations for earth-shattering events never seem quite enough; there has to be something bigger behind the scenes to give the big events their proper weight.

I'm reminded of the story that FDR knew about Pearl Harbor before the Japanese attacked and did nothing to stop it, calculating that America needed a shock like that to push the then-isolationist country into the war. (Read more here.) Or the various theories that claim the Bush administration was either aware of or behind the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Read more here.)

In the latest issue of The New Yorker, journalist Seymour Hersh reports a story that some will no doubt include in these same ranks of conspiracy theories. But Hersh isn't a wild-eyed whack-job; he has a long and respected history of publishing truths that other reporters are either incapable of or unwilling to report. It's unlikely that this alleged conspiracy is fictional.

What Hersh reports is astonishing. According to his sources, the Israeli government plotted with higher-ups at the White House and the U.S. State Department to invade Lebanon and make war on Hezbollah, months before the recent military action. With these plans in hand, the Israelis only had to wait for the right pretext to go to war. It's FDR and Pearl Harbor all over again, except this really happened.

What did the U.S. get out of this? For Condi Rice and the State Department, the pending attack was "a way to strengthen the Lebanese government." For the White House (re: VP Cheney and his neocon cohorts; the President is apparently a non-factor when it comes to most international business), this was a test for their planned upcoming attack on Iran -- "the mirror image of what the United States has been planning for Iran," as stated in the article.

And here's the thing. Despite the cries and uproar from the right-wing media, Hersh isn't a conspiracy theorist. He's a solid, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, responsible for exposing the My Lai massacre, the Abu Ghraib scandal, and other important stories. If Hersh says something is true, it probably is.

The fact that you probably haven't heard much about Hersh's report says something about the timidity of our country's mainstream media. This is an important story, global manipulation on a grand scale, and it deserves to be heard. Why isn't The New York Times reporting this story? Why do you have to go overseas (to the BBC and similar media) to find out about this? Our media ignoring this story is a conspiracy in and of itself.

Let's also not gloss over the most important part of this story: Cheney's White House is already planning an attack on Iran -- just as they planned an attack on Iraq long before 9/11 and the non-existent weapons of mass destruction. The 9/11 attacks were just the pretext that Cheney and his pals needed to give the green light to their Iraq invasion plans, just as the Israelis used the pretext of the kidnapping of two soldiers as justification to invade Lebanon. It's probably just a matter of time before some minor event serves as the trigger for the Bush administration's next war.

Makes you wonder about all those other conspiracy theories, doesn't it?

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Monday, July 31, 2006

And things break again

The saga of my sweet little Audi S4 convertible continues. I took it into the dealer today for the trunk shelf and antenna problems. The trunk shelf was broken, they need to order a new one. The antenna problem is actually a shorted cable harness -- the one that runs all the way from the radio up front to the antenna in the trunk lid. They have to order one of those, too. I asked if these two trunk-related problems were in any way caused by them disassembling the convertible top storage compartment in the trunk, and they said no. Of course not. Just a coincidence. Maybe I hit something, they suggested -- or snagged something in the trunk. Sure.

So I drove the car home, sans on-order parts, with the top up. That's the way they handed it to me, and it was too hot today to take the top down. Until this evening, that is, when I pressed the "top down" switch and -- lo and behold -- the top wouldn't go down. Again. It just unlatched and stayed there, no motor running. Had to do the manual operated top secure thing. Again. Just like a few weeks ago. Probably another bad microswitch. Related to the other problems? One wonders.

In any case, at least I'm not missing any prime top-down days. It's too damned hot around here to bake in an open-air cockpit. I am, for once, enjoying the cool comfort of an air conditioned sedan.

And I want my car fixed.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Things get fixed -- and break again

With all the strife around us today, the problems of one little man don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. But still, they're my problems, so they matter to me.

Last time out, I wrote about the rash of technical problems I'd been experiencing. Well, what goes down must float up, so here's an update on how things worked themselves out.

First, my cable box problems, which amounted to a firmware update breaking the HDMI connection. No fix from the cable company (nor did I expect one, those technical morons), so my workaround was to switch from HDMI to component video. No big deal, aside from having to reprogram my remote to a different input on my TV.

Next, my Audi, which had a bum convertible top. The dealership fixed it right up, although it took two days, since they had to order the part (a bad microswitch). However, here's where things keep happening. I'm not sure whether it's related to the top fix or not (although it probably is, since they had the whole trunk assembly taken apart), but now the little shelf in my trunk that raises and lowers to accommodate the convertible top is broken; it won't raise to give me the extra trunk space when the top is up. Then, a day or so after I noticed that problem, the antenna on my car audio system (which is located in the trunk assembly) went bad. The AM/FM is completely unlistenable, and while XM satellite radio still has reception, I get an "ANTENNA" error message on the display. The Audi goes back to the dealership on Monday for additional repairs.

The dishwasher repairman made it out to repair my Bosch dishwasher. I thought a bad control panel was the culprit, but apparently a stuck latch was causing all the problems. A little jiggling with his screwdriver and everything was back to normal. And it only cost me $85. (Hell, I could have jiggled the damned screwdriver myself for a lot less than that.)

The folks at Niveus took good care of me concerning my broken Media Center PC. I had to pay to ship the hog back to California for repairs, but they took care of everything else. The problem was a bad power supply, which apparently fritzed the BIOS as it was going out. I got the monster back on Friday, but then more problems ensued -- no component video after boot up. Taking the advice of my contact at Niveus (who happened to be working over the weekend), I connected a second VGA monitor, set the video card for dual-monitor "clone" operation, and reset all the video settings for the big-screen TV's component connection. Not sure why it got bumfoozled, or how exactly I fixed it, but it's now working. I had an additional scare when the whole system started moving at a snail's pace, but that eventually worked itself out; it was almost like it had to take an hour or so to settle back into its old routine. (Actually, I think it had more to do with performing all the background maintenance -- spyware and antivirus updates, and so on -- that it hadn't had a chance to do over the past two weeks.) Anyway, it's back up and running, and I can't tell you how much I missed having my music. Kudos to the folks at Niveus for the exemplary service.

So, aside from my car radio and trunk thingie, I'm back in business. (And my Windows Vista installation continues to stay up and running, which is another plus.) All I want is my stuff to work. Is that too much to ask?

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Things break

I've had a streak of bad luck this past week regarding the reliability of some of my most cherished possessions. And these aren't cheap and shoddy possessions. Cheap and shoddy was okay when I was younger and less well-to-do, but now that I have a bit more disposable income I try to buy nice things. Things that look good and perform well and are supposed to last. Supposed to, that's the operative phrase. Let me elaborate.

It all started about a week and a half ago. My cable company pushed a firmware upgrade down to my SA8300HD cable box/DVR, which promptly broke the HDMI connection between the box and my Sony big-screen TV. (Every time I switch inputs on my TV, the cable box video goes blank; it gets confused.) I promptly called my local cable company (after switching boxes on my own; this -- and some Internet research -- is how I determined it was a firmware problem), who sent a friendly enough guy out to take a look. He didn't know any more than I did (and, in fact, knew a little less -- thank you, Internet research), and pretty much said that I'd have to downgrade from HDMI to a component video connection, which I did. It now works okay, but it's not the way I'd like it to be -- nor is it the kind of performance I expect when I'm paying a hundred bucks or so a month to Big Cable.

Then, a few days later, I was up in Minnesota, visiting my girlfriend. The weather was nice, so I pushed the button in my high-performance, overpriced Audi S4 convertible to put the top down. Except it didn't go. The top unlatched, but the motor didn't activate, which left me with a half-up/half-down top that we had to manually put back in place -- something that wasn't intuitive, wasn't easy, and in fact was the exact opposite of how the instruction manual described it. Not cool. A few days later I drove back to Indianapolis, visited my friendly neighborhood Audi dealer, they ordered the proper part (a malfunctioning microswitch), and now everything is back in working order. Still, not something you expect to happen on a $60,000 automobile; I'm just glad I had the spare 15 minutes it took to get things manually latched down, instead of being stuck at a stoplight trying to get the top back up.

Back home again in Indiana, I came home last night and found my expensive and totally silent Bosch dishwasher acting funny. The front panel wouldn't function properly, the door wouldn't latch, and it appears that the electronics are all goobered up. So I put in a call to my friendly neighborhood Bosch repairman, who'll be out in five days to charge me $85 just to walk in the door and say hello. Again, not something you expect to happen with at top-of-the-line $1,000 dishwasher.

And it got worse. Over the past few days my extremely expensive (see a trend?) Niveus Media Center PC had been throwing off odd error messages about a missing CPU fan. (It doesn't have a CPU fan; it's a totally silent design.) I powered it down when I left the house yesterday morning, and when I tried to power it back up last night, nothing happened. Nada. Zilch. Dead dead dead. So I called my friendly not-so-local Niveus technical support line, left my message on their answering machine, and promptly got a call from their VP of Marketing. (That's one of the perks of being a technology writer; personal service when something breaks.) I described my problem, and the current thinking is that while I might just have a bad power supply, it's more likely the motherboard that's gone south. In any case, I'll have to pack up the monster and send it off to California for (free) repairs. Once again, not something you expect to happen with a uber-high-end $5,000 PC.

Like I said, it hasn't been a good week. About the only thing going my way is that I finally got the Windows Vista beta working on my desktop PC so it doesn't crash every 10 minutes. (It took a combination of upgrading to a new video driver, disabling User Account Control, disabling the automatic background hard disk search, and uninstalling the Vista version of Computer Associates' anti-virus program; now it works just fine, thank you.) I guess it goes to show that just because you spend a lot of money to buy nice things, those nice things can still be pieces of crap that break down when it's least convenient. Almost makes me wish for the days when I drove a cheap and shoddy AMC Gremlin; yeah, it broke down all the time, but at least I didn't pay an arm and a leg for it.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Superman returns

I went to see Superman Returns last week, and I liked it. It's kind of funny how a lot of fanboys are picking nits at it, as well as how a few big-time critics (such as Roger Ebert) are finding the film to be something other than what they expected. But that's the problem with Superman; he's so many different things to so many different people, it's difficult for one single interpretation to please everyone.

In the case of Superman Returns, the choice was made to make the movie a sequel of sorts to the original Superman and Superman II movies. (And, in some eyes, a blatant "reimagining" or remaking of the first movie.) That set up direct comparisons between the first movie and this one, and between Christopher Reeve and Brandon Routh as the Man of Steel. Some moviegoers found this new film lacking in comparison with the first; I found it superior.

To understand my take on the new movie, you have to understand that while I liked the original Superman movie in general, there were lots of pieces of it that I didn't like at all. I liked Chris Reeve's portrayal of the Big Blue Boy Scout, but thought his turn as Clark Kent was a bit too broad. I liked the Smallville scenes, but thought the Krypton passages boring and unnecessary. I didn't much like Margot Kidder as Lois Lane (too ditzy, not aggressive enough), and I hated Gene Hackman's portrayal of Lex Luthor (way too comedic). In general, I liked the Superman parts of Superman, but disliked just about everything else.

In Superman Returns, they took similar situations and played them more seriously -- which I think worked quite well. Routh's Superman is just as earnest as Reeve's was, but his Clark Kent is more believable -- mild mannered as opposed to nerdy. I also thought that Kate Bosworth's Lois Lane was a lot more believable as an aggressive reporter and independent woman, and Kevin Spacey's Lex Luthor -- while still a tad too comedic for my tastes -- had the requisite amount of menace. Obviously, the special effects were a few generations improved on the 1978 version, and the subtext of Supes as the ultimate loner and reluctant savior added depth to the entire production. In short, I thought this movie was everything that the original Superman could have been, but wasn't. I liked it.

But I can understand why some people wouldn't. For those who really liked the 1978 version, Superman Returns was maybe too serious. And for those fanboys who stick to the comics canon, there was a lot to find offensive, most notably the apparent closure to Supes' relationship with Lois, and the (spoiler alert!) introduction of what appears to be the Kid of Steel. Not only was none of this in the comics, it also goes against the general trajectory of the comics version of the character.

Of course, everyone has their own idea of who and what Superman is. For folks of a certain age, Superman is Superman the movie, and the Man of Steel is Christopher Reeve. For folks of another age (myself included), Superman is The Adventures of Superman TV show, and the Man of Steel is George Reeves. For yet other folks Superman is the animated character from the 1940s Fleischer cartoons, or from the 1960s New Adventures of Superman cartoons, or the 1970s-1980s Superfriends cartoons, or the more recent Superman: The Animated Series and Justice League cartoons. Still others see Superman as Dean Cain in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman, or as Kirk Allyn from the old 1940s serials, or as Tom Welling in Smallville, or as one of the two relatively anonymous dudes from the syndicated Superboy TV series in the late 1980s.

That's not even counting the many ways Superman has been presented in the comics. Depending on when you grew up, the comics Superman might be Siegel and Shuster's squinty eyed crusader for social justice, Wayne Boring's barrel-chested Son of Krypton, Curt Swan's realistic-looking father figure, John Byrne's revamped Man of Steel, Alex Ross' older and grayer legend from Kingdom Come, or any one of dozens of other legitimate pencil-and-ink portrayals.

And that's the point. Superman is something different, and something personal, to everyone. To me, Superman in human form is always George Reeves from the 1950s TV series; in comic-book form, he always looks the way that Curt Swan drew him. That's because those are the versions of Superman that I grew up with as a kid. If I were born a little earlier or a little later, my personal Superman might have been from the Fleischer cartoons or the Christopher Reeve movies.

So I can understand some of the criticism of Superman Returns. My big beef was the choice to tie the new movie to the old ones, thus missing the opportunity to start things really fresh, as Batman Begins did with the Dark Knight franchise. I'm also not that down with Superman as such a young guy; I've always thought Supes was somewhere in his thirties, not his twenties. A younger Superman, as portrayed by Routh, Cain, or Welling, simply lacks authority for me. It's a personal thing.

Those minor annoyances aside, I did enjoy Superman Returns, and look forward to the inevitable sequel. I figure after they've done one or two more, they'll give Big Blue a few years' off and then reboot the franchise with a fresh take from a new team. That's ten years to wait for a truly new Superman -- just about enough time to give another generation its due.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Seattle: Good and Bad

I just got back from a week-long vacation in Seattle with my two nephews, my girlfriend, and two of her kids. Seattle's a nice town; we had very nice (re: dry) weather while we were there, had a fun time.

The things we liked best were:
  • The food. Two-pound crabs? Thirty-ounce prime rib? Yeah, we indulged. Great food, especially the seafood.
  • Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame. The boys and I loved this. Not just SF movies, not just SF TV, but also lots of SF literature -- even if the boys had never read any Clarke or Bradbury . The best part was the huge screen with all the different spaceships from different media (from the Rama cylinder to the Millennium Falcon to the Planet Express ship from Futurama), and the interactive information about each ship.
  • Game On. The Pacific Science Center was host to the traveling Game On exhibit, chock full of videogames from Pong to the latest Xbox 360 titles. A fun way to spend an afternoon.
  • The Museum of Flight. I wasn't sure the nephs would like this, but they did -- and so did I. Lots and lots of aircraft from different eras, and a fair amount of (interesting) behind-the-scenes stuff, too.
  • The Space Needle. Good view. What more to say?

What didn't we like? Here's a short list:

  • Experience Music Project. Good premise, poor execution. There simply wasn't much there, there. Aside from the Jimi Hendrix room and the fun interactive instrumental jam area, it was a big letdown. Where was the history? Where was the music? The place was poorly laid out (which way to turn?), had little to no content, and cost way too much ($20/each). Underwhelming, to say the least.
  • Nintendo Welcome Center. Okay, so it wasn't really advertised as a tourist attraction, but you'd think Nintendo's U.S. headquarters would have a little something to show to visitors. All we found was a combination customer service desk and smallish gift store. Game over, Nintendo.
  • The streets. This is one of the most confusing cities I've ever visited, and that's saying a lot, given that I've traveled to both Boston and Milan. Streets change names every few blocks, major streets veer off into minor streets, street signs are obscured by foliage, just a real nightmare trying to find your way around. (It took us four tries to find our hotel -- and it was just a few blocks off I-5!)

We also liked our hotel, the Residence Inn at Lake Union. Nice location (centrally located and on a beautiful lake), very large facility, fun pool to play in, roomy rooms to sleep in (we did two-bedroom suites), free breakfasts every day, and a free dinner on Wednesday. The free meals almost made up for the bread we spent at the expensive dining establishments (Daniel's Broiler and Chandler's Crab Shack) we enjoyed across the street.

All in all, a very good vacation. Everyone enjoyed themselves, my nephs got along fine with my girlfriend's children, and the good points outweighed the bad. Seattle -- not a bad place to visit.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Windows Vista: What Not to Like

I'm a writer by trade, and one of the many things I write about is technology. I typically don't blog about my work, but I'm making an exception today because I've found a new technology which is more annoying than helpful. I'm talking about the next version of Microsoft's operating system, Windows Vista.

I get to beta test Vista because I'm writing a book about it. I'm used to using unstable beta software, of which Vista definitely is, but aside from the expected early bugs, there's some very serious things wrong in the general design of the thing. I wish I could be more positive (I do have books to sell, after all), and I know that Vista will sell a lot of copies (because that's the only operating system you'll be able to buy after January 2007), but I think Microsoft fucked up royally here.

First, to start off on a positive note, let's discuss the things about Vista that I like:
  • Aero interface. The new Aero interface is nice. It's cool looking and 3D-like and translucent, and all that -- just like the Mac. Finally.
  • Internet Explorer 7. It has tabs. I like tabs. And, once again, Microsoft catches up to a competitor (Firefox), which is a good thing for us MS users.
  • Windows Media Player 11. Nice. Really nice. Better than iTunes nice. Much easier to use than previous versions, much easier on the eyes (big album art throughout), and it works well. This is now the best music player program on the market, bar none.
  • Windows Photo Gallery. If you need sophisticated photo editing, stick with Photoshop. But if you need simple touch ups (brightness/contrast, cropping, red eye removal, etc.), having it built into Windows is a good deal. Excellent addition to the Windows suite of products.
  • Windows Media Center. With XP, Media Center was a separate OS SKU. With Vista, it's built into the operating system -- everybody gets it. And if you're using a living room PC, you want it. The changes to Media Center in Vista are minor (new colors, horizontal scrolling instead of vertical scrolling, etc.); it's the fact all versions of Vista (save for Home Basic) come with it that's the big thing.
  • Better networking. MS changed the whole IP stack and redid the networking internals, and it shows. With XP, home networking tended to be a bit hit or miss -- computers disappearing from the network, shared folders showing up (or not) at random, that sort of thing. With Vista, networking simply works. Everything's where it's supposed to be, no unpleasant surprises.

So that's the good. (And note that most of the good things aren't really part of the operating system per se, but are rather accessory programs.) Now let's look at the bad -- the really bad:

  • User Account Control. Microsoft, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that users have too much control over their PCs. All that control makes for sloppy security; users can install any program they want (even malicious ones), delete important files, you name it. Well, in the name of increased security (isn't everything, these days?), Microsoft has taken away the user's ability to do these supposedly administrator-level operations. It's all called User Account Control, and what it means for the average user is that you're now prompted (often twice!) whenever you try to install a new program, delete or move certain types of files or folders, or even empty certain files out of the Recycle Bin. It's a HUGE hassle, being prompted to confirm all this stuff that you do on a daily basis. In addition, many existing programs just assume that they have administrator rights (to write files, etc.), and simply won't work with UAC. In other words, users get a significantly worse experience under Windows Vista -- and people aren't going to like that. I recommend right now that Microsoft either turn off this invasive feature, or start staffing up their tech support lines; this one is going to catch the company a lot of flack. My solution? Turn off the damned UAC for your main account, which then makes Vista work just like XP, in terms of administrator privileges and the like. A bad, bad, really bad idea.
  • Windows Explorer and file management. In Windows Vista, Windows Explorer is back. That's not a bad thing. What's bad is what Microsoft has done to the Explorer window. First, there's no menu bar, which means no File menu. (Although you can display the menu bar by pressing the Alt button -- but what users are going to know or remember that?) Second, there's no task pane (like XP had), so all the obvious operations are no longer obvious. Instead, Vista has added an Organize button, which displays what is pretty much a mashup of the old task pane and File menu. But this is less than intuitive, and is a major step backwards in usability for non-technical users. Why hide the common file management tasks (copy, delete, move, rename, and the like)? Stupid, stupid, stupid. What was Microsoft thinking?
  • "Streamlined" Start menu. The old Start menu grew and grew and grew with each new program you added. Messy, but easy enough to figure out. The new Vista Start menu is "streamlined," which means that folders are collapsed until you click on them; they don't expand outwards, they grow and shrink within a very limited space. Neater, I supposed, than the old method, but harder for users to figure out. Another step backwards in the ease-of-use department -- and another example of Microsoft changing something that worked, for no apparent reason.
  • Sleep mode from the Power button. To help speed up shutdown and startup, Microsoft essentially is steering users away from powering down their computers. Instead, when you click the Power button (which you think would shut off your computer), Windows goes into Sleep mode. I hope Vista Sleep mode works better than XP Sleep mode (which was problematic, at best), but it's disingenuous to take something that users expect to do one thing (turn off the PC) and make it do another (leave the PC on while Windows goes to sleep). Misleading, it is.
  • Instant Search. In itself, this isn't a bad thing. Microsoft puts little search boxes all over the place, to better find files, programs, and the like, and this function appears to work better than the lame XP search. But I think Microsoft is wrong in thinking users are going to want to search for everything this way; some people, after all, like to organize, and searching instead of browsing -- while a Google conceit -- isn't the way most folks approach all their tasks. As I said, not necessarily a bad feature, just one in which Microsoft places too much emphasis.

I can go on and on, but basically I find Vista underwhelming. Once you get past the pretty interface and the improved applications, there's little there, there. And the security-related changes interrupt the user experience rather than enhance it; security should be invisible, not invasive. (And I do understand that Microsoft is reacting to a lot of bad press about Windows security holes; making users jump through hoops just to do their daily tasks is not an acceptable solution, however.) People are going to complain a lot about this, trust me.

Should you upgrade to Vista? No, not on your current PC. (You can, after all, download Internet Explorer 7 and Windows Media Player 11 separately for XP.) Yes, if you're buying a new PC -- if only because you'll have no choice; after January 2007, all new PCs will come with Vista pre-installed.

Will you like Vista? On the surface, probably yes; the Aero Glass interface is pretty cool. After you get to use it, maybe no; the User Account Control security is just too invasive -- and will crash too many of your old programs. I'd like to think that Microsoft will recognize the error of its ways and change or disable UAC before Vista ships to the public, but that's probably hoping for too much. Microsoft knows what's best for us, after all.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Catching up

For those few demented individuals who actually read this blog, I owe you an explanation for the lack of recent posts. Well, actually, I don't owe you anything, but you're getting one, anyway.

First, I've been busy professionally. I just finished writing a big-ass book about Google, and am starting two new books right on the heels of that. I've also been very busy with an online project that I can't mention at this time, but it's very time consuming in a lot of ways and a very big deal. You'll know more in a few weeks.

Personally, I've been spending a fair amount of time commuting between my home in Indianapolis and my girlfriend's home in Minneapolis. That's 600 miles each way; it's a good thing I like to drive, and a have a car that I like to drive. I try to keep as normal a schedule as I can while up there, but the traveling alone takes two days (one each, up and back) each trip. Then there's the whole bit about spending time with my girlfriend, either in person or on the phone, and the simple fact is that something has to give. Hence the lack of blog postings.

I'd like to promise to keep a better posting schedule, but the hell with that. I'll continue to post whenever I damned well feel like it, or whenever I'm particularly annoyed at something, whichever comes first. That's the only promise I'll make.

(I have, BTW, been keeping up on my reading, viewing, and listening. Make sure you take a look at the books, DVDs, and CDs listed to the right of these postings -- they're as up-to-date as anything.)

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


I'd like to say I have a love/hate relationship with the dental profession, but there's not a lot of love there. Let me tell you what I mean.

Perhaps the best -- or least annoying -- dentist I ever had was back when I was a kid. This dentist was a lone duck, didn't have a team of dental hygienists or even a receptionist. If the phone rang, he had to stop the tooth cleaning to answer it. Unfortunately, over time this guy's practice became a tad antiquated. Started to remind me of Sir Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man. ("Is it safe?") I needed a slightly more modern approach, so I moved on.

After several years of not denting (or is it dentoring?), I got a new dentist nearer my home. This guy was very aggressive; after decades of never having a cavity, this guy discovered something that needed fixing on every visit. And he wanted me to visit every three months, more often than my doctor wanted to see me. To top it off, he had the most annoying dental hygienist imaginable, overly perky and always talking about some damned thing that I just couldn't care less about. I gave this guy the heave-ho after a couple of years.

My latest dentist isn't drill happy, and only wants to see me once a year. So good so far. The problem is, he's forgotten who the customer is. I made an appointment a year ago for a cleaning today, and when I showed up ten minutes late, he wouldn't take me. Wanted me to reschedule. After 12 months, ten minutes isn't that big a deal. And, besides, it's his job to serve me and my schedule, not the other way around. Frankly, I view visiting the dentist as a minor annoyance at best, and you have to work harder than that to keep me as a customer. I told the receptionist thanks but no thanks, and now I'm looking for a new dental practitioner.

Bottom line, I hate dentists -- even when they're not poking their fingers in my mouth.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Star-spangled hypocrisy

Yesterday, in response to the artificial controversy surrounding a Spanish-language version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," President Bush said the following:

"I think the national anthem ought to be sung in English, and I think people who want to be a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English."

Okay. Then explain this:

When visiting cities like Chicago, Milwaukee, or Philadelphia, in pivotal states, [Bush] would drop in at Hispanic festivals and parties, sometimes joining in singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish, sometimes partying with a "Viva Bush" mariachi band flown in from Texas.
(Thanks to ThinkProgress, as first reported by Kevin Phillips in his book, American Dynasty.)

Or the fact that the U.S. State Department lists four different Spanish-language versions of "The Star-Spangled Banner" on their website.

Or the fact that all the way back in 1919, the United States officially commissioned a Spanish-language version of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

I find the entire uproar over this issue quite embarrassing -- especially the fact that two-thirds of Americans apparently agree with the President's latest statement. I simply don't see what the fuss is about; I'd rather have Hispanic-Americans singing "The Star-Spangled Banner" in Spanish than singing the Mexican national anthem in any language.

And the President's stance? Call it flip-flopping, call it hypocrisy, call it what you like, but it remains that he said one thing when he was running for election and is saying another thing now. He either lied to Hispanics then or is lying to rabid white males now. You can't have it both ways, Mr. Bush -- you're either with us or against us, you can't be both.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Bruegger's Bagels: Good and Bad

I've been spending a lot of time up in Minnesota, where they have a Bruegger's Bagel store on every corner. This is a good thing; Bruegger's is my favorite bagel place. We don't have Bruegger's here in Indiana, where Einstein's is the ruling chain. I like Einstein's, but I love Bruegger's.

So I've been eating my fair share of bacon and egg bagel sandwiches, which is a very good thing. But last week I decided to go a little lighter, and ordered a plain bagel with hummus. Imagine my surprise when the clerk rang my bill and came up with a $3.69 charge.

I pointed out to the clerk that a bagel with smear should be $.79. The clerk, in response, pointed to a menu item under the "deli sandwiches" section that said "Hummus, $3.69." That was 70 cents more than a bacon and egg bagel sandwich, and the same price as a turkey or roast beef sandwich. I pointed out this fact, and the clerk offered to put more hummus on my bagel. I replied that this wasn't the point, that the issue here was that I didn't order a sandwich, I ordered a bagel with a bit of hummus spread on it, just like they do with cream cheese and the like. Again, the clerk offered to put more hummus on my bagel. I pointed out that the exact same item at Einstein's cost $.79. The clerk once again offered to spread more hummus on my bagel. One last time, I noted that I could purchase an entire tub of hummus and a single plain bagel for less than the cost of this so-called hummus sandwich. The clerk just shrugged her shoulders. Bah!

At that point I gave up, but did email Bruegger's management about the situation -- after finding out that this was a chain-wide thing, not just a single-store aberration. So far, nothing but a form letter response, but here's hoping. I really like Bruegger's, but find this issue exasperating. Why should a knife-full of hummus cost more than a similar amount of cream cheese? It doesn't make any sense to me.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Immigrants, Part 2

My previous post on Hispanic immigrants proved prescient. As I write these words, Congress is debating sweeping new immigration legislation. The debate is tearing the Republican party apart, as it exposes two wildly contradictory wings of the party.

The first wing, which tends to call itself nativist, can be more accurately described as bigoted and racist. Led by ethically-compromised (and aspiring presidential candidate) Senator Bill Frist, these Republicans want to send Hispanic immigrants back to wherever they came from, before they move into their monochromatic neighborhoods and marry their lily-white daughters. They can make all the "we have to protect America" arguments they want, but the bottom line is that these narrow-minded, hate-filled, quasi-white supremacists hate people of color (any color), and would like to see an all-white America devoid of Hispanics, African-Americans, Asians, and all other non-Western European descendants. (They probably don't like the French, either.) Frist and his intolerant ilk are the cleaned-up, pseudo-respectable, 21st century equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan. Short of lynching the Mexicans, they want to deport them.

Opposing these nativists/racists is the corporate wing of the Republican party. Led by the likes of Wal-Mart and other low-paying employers, these Republicans like Hispanic immigrants just fine. That's because the influx of Hispanic workers represent cheap labor to these bald-faced capitalists, and getting rid of them would mean they'd have to hire higher-salaried American workers in their stead. This profit-minded thinking has inspired "moderate" Republicans -- such as John McCain and Arlen Spector -- to endorse an amnesty program for those illegal aliens already here. Though the motivation may be less than pure, it's actually the best idea on the table, and has also been endorsed by the Democratic minority.

There are other Republican views on the issue, of course. President Bush tried to navigate a compromise between the two extreme wings of his party by proposing a three-year "guest worker" program, but the stupidity of the solution only served to piss everyone off. Then there are the security nuts, who think that building a big wall between the U.S. and Mexico will keep terrorists out of the heartland. (But why stop with Mexico -- how about another wall sealing off the Canadian border, and maybe stopping all incoming plane flights, as well?) These viewpoints seem to be subsidiary to the main argument, however, and don't factor much in the current debate.

It's kind of fun to see the Republicans tearing themselves apart on this issue. As noted in the new book American Theocracy, today's Republican party is a fragile coalition of competing constituencies -- much like the Democratic party has always been. But in the Republicans' case, what's good for one segment isn't always good for the others, so it's really just a matter of time before their "small tent" collapses. Social conservatives (religious or racist) can't long live with corporate fiscal conservatives, nor with power-hungry neo-conservatives. I give Bush (and Rove) credit for holding the coalition together, but it's a temporary collaboration that is now starting to fray.

On the immigration issue, here's what I think we should do. First, we need to treat our Hispanic visitors as human beings. That means offering citizenship to all who want it, and offering essential services to all who need them. Second, we need to pay these folks the going wage, so that they're not taken advantage of and so that their presence doesn't depress wages for native American workers. Third, we need to work with the Mexican government to improve living conditions (and increase wages) in our neighboring country, so fewer Mexicans are tempted to head north to better their lot.

Finally, we need to work much harder to assimilate both visiting and resident Hispanics into the American culture. Our latest immigrants are not blending into the American melting pot as previous generations of immigrants did, and that's not good for them or for our country. Our culture becomes richer when new immigrants are added to the mix, and those immigrants need to learn to live and to thrive in their chosen new society. It's not good for Hispanics to live in a parallel version of the United States; separate but equal has never been a winning strategy.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Saturday, March 11, 2006


America is a country rife with contradictions, not the least of which is the fact that we are a nation of immigrants who hate immigrants. That is, each previous generation of immigrants hates the following generation of immigrants. It was okay for our grandparents to immigrate, but it has to stop there; we don't want new folks to come in and spoil the fun.

Of course, it's much more complex than that -- although the description is apt. It doesn't matter that all of our families came from somewhere else (save for the few remaining Native Americans, of course -- but that's another story); we resent the intrusion of whomever happens to be immigrating today.

In generations past, however, immigrants eventually were assimilated into the culture. Typically not first-generation immigrants, but by the time the second generation made it to the workplace, they were firmly integrated into American culture. Germans, Polish, Irish, Russians, the country of origin didn't matter; the sons and the daughters of these immigrants became true Americans, in every sense of the word.

This second-generation assimilation doesn't necessarily seem to be happening with today's batch of immigrants, however. Instead of immigrants adapting to the existing American culture, our culture appears to be adapting to accommodate the current generation of Latino immigrants. You see it everywhere, from the growth of Spanish-language media to the de facto bilingualism in locales with large Latino populations. It may be too early to tell, but it appears that today's Hispanic immigrants are retaining their native culture and not fully integrating into the American culture; instead of adding to the melting pot, we're creating a dual culture unlike anything we've seen in the past.

This influx of Hispanic immigrants who are not adapting to the American culture frightens many people. There are many reasons for this -- some justified, some not.

On one level, opposition to Mexican immigration is simple racism -- we don't want those stinking Mexicans living in our neighborhoods. There has always been prejudice against people not like exactly us, people of a (slightly) different color, people who come from a different place, people who speak a different language. Many ignorant citizens are afraid of and therefore irrationally hate Mexicans; they think Mexicans are racially inferior, and a danger to our "American way of life." This argument, of course, is despicable -- but unfortunately widespread. It should come as no surprise that many opponents of Mexican immigration, no matter what arguments they make publicly, are private racists.

On another level, opposition to Mexican immigration is a somewhat rational concern over the allocation of increasingly scarce public resources -- why should we let those freeloading foreigners live off the public dole? The argument doesn't have to be that crass; how we disperse our public funds is a legitimate point of discussion, especially when the Republicans-in-charge keep cutting the budget for essential public services. With class size increasing and extracurricular activities being cut, can we really afford to educate the children of illegal immigrants alongside our native-born children? Of course, this argument tends to ignore the fact that even illegal immigrants make positive contributions to our economy and our society, including contributing to our tax base. I haven't done the math, but it could be argued that the financial impact of today's illegal immigrants is a net positive -- that is, they contribute more to the economy than they take out. This will become increasingly so as the baby boomer generation retires and ages; we'll need as many Mexican immigrants as possible not just to care for the aging boomers, but also to take their place in the job market.

On yet another level, opposition to Mexican immigration is a justified argument against America's increasing racial and cultural bifurcation. In previous generations, we didn't require bilingual accommodation for the immigrant population; we had one unofficial American language, and immigrants were expected to learn it. Yes, the American way of life changed (and, in fact, became richer) due to the injection of immigrant culture, but we didn't expect the existing culture to change completely to accommodate the immigrants; the immigrants were expected to adapt to the prevailing culture, not the other way around. Can America as we know it continue to exist if it adopts too much of the immigrants' Hispanic culture -- or will America become a kind of Mexico North, losing its historical identity? Do we really want a polarized America, with one side composed of affluent Caucasians of European descent and the other composed of poor Hispanics, each side speaking their own language and living in their own isolated cultural cocoon? If we go this route, the ideal of the American melting pot will devolve into separate but unequal societies, separated by an insurmountable cultural divide. This is not the America of our forefathers, but it may be the America we bequeath to our grandchildren.

The answer to the growing immigration problem, alas, is not to put a halt to future immigration. For one thing, we can't stop the tide. Previous generations of immigrants were constrained by how many people could fit into a limited number of boats to cross the ocean to our shores. Today's generation of immigrants have no such constraint; immigrating, legally or illegally, is as simple as walking across our huge and porous physical border. Some politicians advocate building an unimaginably long fence from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, but this is not only impractical but also easily surmounted; there isn't enough fence in America, nor enough border control guards, to protect every linear foot of our border and prevent determined immigrants from scaling or tunneling under such a barrier. No matter what measures we enact, the immigrants will continue to come -- until, that is, there is no benefit for them to do so.

The solution to the influx of Mexican immigrants isn't an American one, it's a Mexican one. To stem the tide of immigrants from Mexico, we must remove the benefits of immigrating. That doesn't mean making things worse for these hard-working immigrants here in America; it means making things better for them in their homeland. If we can work with our neighboring country to improve the conditions for average Mexicans, there will be less reason for them to cross the border to find employment in America. Water always finds its own level, and the reason so many Mexicans are immigrating to the United States is that their economic fortunes are better here. Improve their lot at home, and they won't need to travel north for work; the water level will be equalized.

Until this happens, we have to deal with reality. That doesn't mean deporting illegals who are already here, nor depriving them of basic rights and public services. Give them medical care, give them schooling, give them driver's licenses; treat them like the residents -- legal or not -- that they are. But resist the urge to redefine American culture in their image. It's not racist to insist that newcomers adjust to the existing culture; it's not culturally insensitive to expect visitors to speak our language and adapt to our way of life. If I immigrated to Mexico (or France or China or Germany), I wouldn't expect the citizens of that country to speak my language or change their culture to accomodate me; I'd expect to learn their language and ways. The same should apply here in the United States. We should be gracious hosts, and we should expect our newest vistors to be gracious guests. We can -- and must -- learn to live together.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

True colors

For five years now, the Bush administration has played the terror and fear card for all that it's worth. Practically anything and everything the administration does is justified as part of the so-called "war on terror;" any critics of administration policies are decried as weak on security and possibly traitorous. The security issue has been the administration's strength; it's earned Bush support from many quarters of the populace who would otherwise be opposed to his disastrous economic and social policies. As long as Bush remained strong on security, all of his ill-conceived foreign interventions, his attempts to restrict the people's civil liberties, his class-busting tax and economic policies, and even his monomaniacal strivings for an all-powerful imperial presidency got pretty much overlooked by a frightened populace.

But no more.

This week, Bush showed his true colors by stridently supporting a deal to turn control of key U.S. ports to a company from the United Arab Emirates -- the same country that financed the 9/11 attacks and has been a haven for terrorists of all stripes. Even Bush's most dyed-in-the-wool supporters were taken aback by the brazen abandonment of U.S. security in favor of what is quite obviously a financial windfall for some members of the Bush administration. Bush's craven support of this deal -- even threatening to veto any attempt to block the deal, when he hasn't yet used a single veto in his six years in office -- speaks to the power of money over all other issues in the Bush administration. It's not really about security, or terrorism, or fighting the Islamist evil-doers; it's about the all-mighty dollar, and about Bush being able to do whatever the hell he wants to do, everyone else (including his former supporters) be damned.

At the very least, Bush's support of the UAE port deal bespeaks a political tone deafness (as pointed out by several members of Bush's own party); at its worst, it's selling out American security for financial benefit. Even worse, Bush seems to think that his actions -- no matter how extreme or politically illogical -- should be strictly obeyed, no questions asked. It's Bush as the power-mad dictator, finally going over the edge in a way that astounds and confounds even his supporters. By insisting on approval of the UAE deal, Bush's actions contradict all the fear-mongering he's instilled in his red-state base; how does he jibe his support of Arab-run port security with his NASCAR-dad supporters' fear of all things Arabic?

It's actually quite humorous to listen to Bush's remaining toadies try to wiggle their way around this one. There are still a few right-wing shouting radio heads that are contorting themselves to all end in an attempt to justify Bush's support for the deal. It's really funny to listen to Rush and Sean and their fellow travelers accuse Democrats (and Republicans) opposed to the deal of prejudice against Arabs, especially when they're the same bloviators who inspired that prejudice among their listeners. It's equally amusing to hear them play down the deal as not at all important to national security, when prior to this every little thing that popped up was played as a major security issue. You can't have it both ways, guys; your hypocrisy is evident even to your red-state listeners.

There are so many crimes Bush has committed against America that this one actually seems minor; it's ironic that the symbolism of the thing elevates it to a level that could be politically fatal to the administration. A new day is dawning over America -- the public is finally waking up and realizing that the emperor has no clothes.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

A tale of two cities

I live in Indianapolis, but have been spending a fair amount of time in Minneapolis. While there is an obvious similarity in names, there are lots of subtle differences between the two cities -- despite the fact that they both purport to be nice, sedate, family-friendly Midwestern cities. Here's some of what I've found.

Nice... and nicer. Both Indianapolis and Minneapolis pride themselves on being friendly cities where everyone is super nice. Only one of those cities lives up to the niceness hype, however, and it's not the one in Indiana. I've lived in central Indiana all my life, and the people there tend to be as rude and insular in a way that blends the worst of big city and small town cultures. Minneapolitans, however, take the niceness thing personally; the concept of "Minneapolis nice" is real, the people here going out of their way to be friendly and polite and genuinely helpful. Score a big one for our northern neighbors, at the expense of those snarky Hoosiers. (Not all Hoosiers are nasty and grumpy, of course, but a lot are -- and my apologies to those truly nice people in the Hoosier state.)

Passive-aggressive. It's probably part of the niceness equation, but Hoosiers are much more aggressive drivers than their northern brethren, who tend to take polite driving to its illogical extreme. Hoosiers are pushy, rude, and extremely lead-footed drivers, constantly cutting one another off in traffic and being somewhat reckless about it. Minneapolitans, in contrast, always let the other driver cut in front of them, hesitate to merge at speed on the interstate (that would be too pushy), and actually cause accidents by stopping to help stranded drivers by the side of the road. Speed is also a factor; Hoosiers tend to drive 15-20 miles over the stated speed limit, while Minneapolitans drive at or under what the signs say. Put another way, a typical Hoosier driver would eat a typical Minneapolis driver for lunch.

Speed freaks. Speaking of speed, let's spend a moment discussing the Greatest Spectacle in Racing -- which is practically unheard of in Minnesota. I'm talking about the Indianapolis 500, and Indy car racing in general. It's safe to say that few people in Minneapolis have ever heard of A.J. Foyt or Johnny Rutherford (Mario Andretti, maybe...); everyone in Indy knows their favorite racers. Sorry Minneapolis; Indy is the home of world-class automobile racing, and all the hockey players in the great white north can't cover the Speedway's five hundred glorious miles.

Hockeyball? Indiana is basketball country (remember the movie Hoosiers?); Minnesota is hockey country. I don't know a puck from a hat trick, but I do know a three-pointer from a three-second violation. 'Nuff said.

Health and beauty. Minneapolis is an amazingly healthy city. In spite of spending more months of the year than I like to think of under near-arctic conditions, Minneapolitans like to get outside and partake of all forms of exercise, from winter sports to summer walks around their ten thousand lakes. (And they have tons of wonderful parks in which to do this.) Indiana, on the other hand, ranks as one of the most unhealthy states in the nation. Hoosiers are, to generalize, fat, out of shape, cigarette smoking, doughnut eating porkers. The people of the Twin Cities are much healthier, in all ways -- slimmer, trimmer, fitter, and less likely to die of lung cancer. Smoking appears to be mandatory in Hoosierland; Minneapolis is pretty much a smoke-free city. As a bonus, Minneapolis is filled with fair-skinned, blonde-haired women; Indy isn't. Guess which burb I like best in this regard...

White... and whiter. Neither Indianapolis or Minneapolis are what you'd call ethnically diverse cities. That said, Indianapolis has a sizeable African-American community, a growing number of Hispanics, and a surprising number of Asian immigrants. Minneapolis has... well, a lot of fair-skinned, blonde-haired, white people. Yes, there are some blacks up north, and a decent number of Asians, but the great white north is just that -- primarily white.

Left and right. Minneapolis is a blue state, primarily Democratic and fairly liberal. Indianapolis is George Bush country, a red state where Democrats aren't just the minority, they're pretty much missing in action. (Believe it or not, many local races don't even have a Democrat on the ballot.) I'm a liberal. I hate living in Indiana. Minneapolis is a much more friendly environment for old-school lefties like me.

Weather... or not. In Indianapolis, the TV weathermen report a winter near-miss like this: "Good news! The winter storm hit north of the city, so we only got a dusting of snow." In Minneapolis, a similar situation is reported like this: "Bad news! The winter storm hit south of the metro area, so we only got a dusting of snow." That's right, the Minneapolitans like their snow -- which means that they're really hating this winter. January was the warmest month in recorded history, and there's barely any snow cover on the ground. Not the normal sub-zero, several feet of snow piled on the ground type of weather they've grown to know and love. Which has the locals complaining, of course. Indy has had a similar uber-warm, near-snowless winter season, and no one is complaining about 50-degree days in February. A marked cultural difference.

Weather, part deux. One last thing about the weather. In normal years (and this year is anything but), Minneapolis is damned cold in the winter time. Indiana, not so much. Minneapolis also gets a shitload of snow, none of which ever melts, which results in streetside piles of Everestian heights. In Indiana, what snow we get (and we do get some) melts within a week or so, so there aren't those imposing snowpiles that last until the spring thaw. The only good thing about Minneapolis winters is that the sun actually shines; you might get 12 inches of snow one day, but it's nice and sunny the next. An Indiana winter is an exercise in bleakness; it's not unusual to go several weeks without the sun ever peeking through the depressing gray clouds. So, yeah, Minneapolis might have testicle-chilling cold, but at least you won't get seasonal affective disorder from too many cloudy days.

Bottom line, I like both places, but I'm starting to like Minneapolis more -- in spite of the weather and the slow drivers. Minneapolis is all that Indianapolis promises to be, but seldom is; Indianapolis is an aging rust-belt city that's not very friendly to singles, strangers, or anyone remotely artistic or high-tech. Minneapolis is a thriving metropolis with lots to offer in the way of both intellectual and physical pursuits; the locals are also more welcoming to individuals of all stripes. Sorry, Indy, but Minneapolis has what it takes -- Indianapolis doesn't.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Report card

Just so we don't forget what's what in the continually expanding bog of quicksand that is the Bush II administration, here's a short list of the crimes against the country committed by Bush, Cheney, et al, courtesy of right-wing Wall Street Journal opinion page editor Daniel Henninger. (Good to know even the Tories are keeping count!)
  • The stolen 2000 election (and the co-opting of the primarily Republican-nominated Supreme Court)
  • The possible stealing of the 2004 election (I'm just saying...)
  • The Enron corporate fiasco
  • Cheney's top-secret energy task force (and subsequent carving up of America's energy future between the big energy companies)
  • The continuing anti-"sunshine" actions designed to keep presidential papers secret and out of the eyes of the general public
  • Class-busting tax cuts for the wealthy (and resultant cuts in funding for valuable public programs), designed to eliminate the middle class and destroy what Republicans think of as the welfare state
  • Ignoring numerous warnings about al Queda (and botching internal intelligence efforts) that in effect enabled the 9/11 attacks to take place
  • The disgraceful response to the 9/11 attacks -- in effect channeling public sentiment into unjustified warmongering
  • The lying to the country (and to the United Nations) about Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction, as a pretext for war
  • The unmitigated gall in linking, however subtly (but quite effectively), Iraq to the 9/11 terrorist attacks
  • The unwarranted, unprovoked invasion of Iraq -- a country that posed no danger, immediate or otherwise, to America -- and the resultant deaths of at least 100,000 innocent Iraqi civilians
  • The subsequent operational mismanagement of the Iraqi occupation, which set back that country's infrastructure by several decades and has led to what is in effect a nascent civil war
  • The related monetary mismanagement of the Iraqi occupation, in which billions of dollars have gone missing and favored "contractors" (such as Halliburton) have received no-bid contracts worth even more billions of dollars
  • The also-related underfunding of our fighting force, particularly in the form of non-existent body armor for our soldiers, forced conscription of unwilling National Guard troops (and equally unwanted extensions of their tours of duty), and the disgraceful way soldiers are treated by the military when they return home from combat
  • The illegal imprisonment of "enemy combatants," without any First Amendment or Geneva Convention rights, at Guantanamo Bay (and, via the use of "extraordinary rendition," in torture chambers throughout various uncivilized nations around the globe)
  • The use of torture (either implicitly condoned or explicitly ordered) on prisoners in Abu Grahib prison and at Guantanamo Bay
  • The criminally negligent response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster
  • Various and sundry financial/funding/lobbying scandals within the administration and the ranks of the Republican party, from Tom DeLay to Duke Cunningham to Bill Frist (and quite possibly beyond)
  • The illegal leaking of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame, from deep within the bowels of the administration
  • The President's admitted unlawful and unconstitutional wiretapping of American citizens, in itself quite clearly an impeachable offense
  • The seeking of virtually unlimited presidential authority, in a bid to undermine the Constitution with an all-powerful imperial presidency

That may not be everything, but it's a good starter list. (And I didn't even mention Dick Cheney's shooting of his hunting partner -- the first VP shooting incident since Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton.)

Of all these sins, I'm surprised that being the home team when al Queda attacked New York isn't seen as a bigger deal by the public. Having the world's largest terrorist attack take place on your watch is at best extreme negligence, at worst something bordering on enabling behavior or co-conspiracy. The fact that Bush then used that attack as a rationale to go to war in Iraq (and kill more than 100,000 civilians in the process) is an Orwellian act of such magnitude as to be almost inconceivable -- except that it really happened. You can't make this stuff up, folks.

Anyway, lest we (and our media) get too complacent, it's good to have a copy of this list handy. This isn't your average, run-of-the-mill, incompetent administration we have here, folks; this is the most dangerous, the most malevolent bunch of power-hungry despots our country has ever seen. And, given the general uber meat-eating nature of American politicians, that's saying a lot.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Don't shoot the messenger

No, this isn't a post about Dick "Shoot First, Dodge Questions Later" Cheney's birdshot incident, as tempting as that might be. (And why was he shooting at Dan Quayle to begin with?) Instead, this is about Al Gore's recent speech to the Jeddah Economic Forum, in which he addressed various and sundry incidents of abuse against Arabs in America following the 9/11 attacks. As has become predictable, the right-wing shouting class are all over Gore on this one -- not so much countering his remarks as attacking him personally as a traitor and a loon.

Let's look first at what the former VP said. Gore stated that the U.S. government committed "terrible abuses" against Arabs after the September 11, 2001, attacks. He said that Arabs in America had been "indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges," and "held in conditions that were just unforgivable."

Like him or not (and most conservatives obviously don't), Big Al spoke the truth. The facts are that, in the weeks and months after 9/11, the U.S. government did round up thousands of people of Arab descent, often on spurious charges (and sometimes on no formal charges at all), and held them -- often without access to lawyers -- for days, weeks, even months at a time. Some of these Arab-Americans were subsequently released, some were sent back to their countries of origin on lightweight visa-related charges, but none were proved to be involved in terrorist-related activities. It was an Arab-flavored witchhunt, pure and simple, a series of incidents embarrassing at best, wholly disgraceful at worst. (I remember the story, told after the fact, of an Indiana man whisked away from his family in the dead of night, held without charges, his family not notified of where he was or why he was there; the man was just a simple merchant with the wrong kind of surname.)

While some right-wingnuts are disputing Gore's facts, most are attacking him personally. And viciously. His remarks have been called "inappropriate in a time of war," outrageous, repugnant, loathsome, ugly, insidious, even treasonous. Gore himself has been called confused, disloyal, shrill, "nutty," insane, and traitorous. He has been accused of bribery (making the remarks in return for Arab money) and of inciting Arab violence against the U.S. He has been labeled Osama bin Al, Al of Arabia, Sheikh al-Gore, and Al-Queda (with the emphasis on the "Al"). The nicest criticism I found labeled Gore as "just wrong;" the worst wished violence upon his person. One blogger even tried to make a Cheney-Gore connection, by joking that "while Cheney errantly shot off his shotgun, former Vice President Gore purposefully shot off his mouth." Another suggested that Gore must be "off his medication."

So much for reasoned, dispassionate political debate.

People, we need to debate the facts. Instead, conservatives insist on Rottweiller politics, always attacking the messenger in the attempt to draw attention away from the message. Al Gore's timing and choice of venue might be questionable, but his statements were truthful and should be debated. Just because he brings up difficult issues doesn't make him crazy or traitorous. Addressing our country's faults in an effort to improve the land where we live is the ultimate act of patriotism -- especially in the face of withering personal attacks. Is it any wonder why our best and brightest avoid public service? Don't shoot the messenger -- deal with the message.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.