Monthly Archives: May 2010

Lindsay Lohan Vs. the Judge

lindsay-lohan-mugshot.jpgI’ve been amused by Lindsay Lohan’s recent antics, supposedly losing her passport and all. She’s obviously got a good lawyer who is scrambling to keep her out of jail.Her name is Shawn Chapman Holley.

But on the other side is Judge Marsha Revel, an unsympathetic cynic of all things Lindsay. Actually, I think she’s been giving in too much. But it’s been amusing reading some of the exchanges between the judge and the lawyer.

This week, Holley asked the judge to let Lohan forgo wearing an alcohol-detecting ankle bracelet, because Lohan had to go to Texas to reshoot some scenes for an upcoming movie. So the judge checked with 20th Century Fox, the film studio. No reshoots were scheduled. The movie was well into post-production. Busted!

But this one really made me laugh.

Last week, Lohan missed a court-ordered alcohol counseling class. Holley said Lohan missed it because her uncle died.

“Did she go to the funeral?” Judge Revel asked.

“She did not,” Holley answered.

I love it.

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Not Ready for the Turn Signal

surprise.jpgPeople need to learn responsibility.

And it begins in the left-hand turning lane.

Being the first one in line in the turning lane is an important responsibility. Not everyone can handle it. Every driver behind you is counting on you to get off to a quick start, because as everyone knows, that arrow won’t say green for very long (turning lanes get no respect). A few seconds, and then it’s yellow…and then gone. And drivers must wait for the next round.

Too many drivers, first in line, just can’t handle the pressure. They space off, consult their cellphones, tune the radio, look around. Then, when the green arrow appears, they fumble around and cost several cars the chance to make it through the light. Too often, drivers don’t even get going until the arrow is yellow. And then there are a few hardened laggards who don’t move until you honk at them. Such persons should have their licenses revoked, if not their citizenship.

It’s especially problematic for stick-shift drivers, who too frequently don’t have the stick in the proper gear for starting off. When they come to a stop, they thoughtlessly leave the car in 4th gear (or whatever), so when the light turns green, there is a long pause while they shift into first gear. Stick-shift drivers should undergo special testing before having licenses issues or renewed. Think how many hundreds, or thousands, of man-hours are wasted at stoplights simply because someone didn’t downshift before the arrow turned green.

Responsibility doesn’t end with the first car. The second and third cars must also be ready. I’m talking about gaps. When the first car takes off, the second car should be right behind it, and the third one right behind it. I am obsessive about this, always following closely behind the car in front of me. A large gap between cars means that at least one driver, further back, won’t make it through the light, because somebody is meandering, thinking only of themselves and not of their fellow travelers.

The turn lane is serious business. You’ve got to be ready. You’ve got to carry your weight.

I feel strongly about this.

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Books: Stuart Woods and Robert Crais

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I’m always interested in finding a good detective series. I’m especially partial to strong male protagonists–tough guys. Even within those confines, there’s plenty of variety, from Jack Reacher at the hard end of the tough-guy spectrum, to the somewhat soft Kurt Wallander at the other end–still a fairly tough guy, but not terribly formidable. Between those bookends you’ll find Spenser, Lew Archer, Hammett’s nameless Continental Op, Marlowe, Jesse Stone, Martin Beck, Lucas Davenport, and Alex Cross. Among others.
I’m always looking for a good new series. And with that in mind, I recently tried two new authors.
Stuart Woods wrote a series–now up to 18 books–around private investigator Stone Barrington, a former cop in New York City. I actually read one of the later books in the series, “Fresh Disasters,” but wasn’t too impressed. However, I promised myself I’d give Woods another chance. That chance came with “Dirt,” the second book in the series.
“Dirt” was a true-blue winner. Someone is publishing dirt–not gossip, but real factual stuff–about a famous gossip writer. It’s the turning of the tables. She asks Barrington to find the identify of the anonymous gossipmonger. The job takes him into the high society social scene, and people inevitably die.
This was a superb book which kept me guessing. All the details dropped along the way came together in the end. And now I’m hooked. I need more Stone Barrington books.
Now let’s switch to the left coast. Robert Crais was totally new to me, as was his 12-time protagonist, Elvis Cole. I picked up “Chasing Darkness” at Sam’s Club, and ignored it for most of a year. Until last week. 
I was immediately taken with Cole and his mysterious bad-guy friend Pike. They are definitely modeled, however loosely, on Spenser and Hawk, but it’s on a whole different (lower) level of writing–still good, but not on par with Robert Parker. But then, nobody is.
Still, I really liked Elvis Cole. A man is found dead, an apparent suicide, with a book showing photos of seven murdered women. The case seems to be ironclad: he’s the serial killer who has eluded the police for most of a decade. But Cole, who cleared this guy of one of those murders three years before, just can’t accept the evidence. It was an interesting plot, which took some unexpected turns just as I thought I had things figured out. 
I really really enjoyed Elvis Cole and the collection of friends he draws on. Liked him even better than Stone Barrington. So now I’ve got two lengthy series to relish in the years ahead.
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Documentary: Food Inc.

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I highly recommend this 2008 documentary. It looks at how aspects of the food industry  control what we eat with little concern for its affect on our health or the humane treatment of animals. The film touches on big monopolistic companies like Tyson and Monsanto, examines the world of organic farming, gives glimpses into factory farming, and shows how big food companies carry the same political cloud as the oil, gun, and other lobbies.

This is a documentary where you learn a lot. Here are some things I gleaned:

  • We re-engineered the chicken to grow in 49 days, instead of 70.
    They now have very large breasts, because people prefer white meat.
  • The
    hamburger you buy in the store may come from hundreds of different cows
    slaughtered on factory farms, and there’s a chance that one of those
    cows had e coli. This scary argument is presented very convincingly.
  • In both Republican and Democratic administrations, key position
    involved with food regulation and policy are filled by people who once
    worked for the food industry–lobbyists, corporate board members,
    lawyers, etc. You won’t find ordinary farmers in any position of
    influence.
  • Why can you get a hamburger for a dollar, but you can’ get a head of broccoli for a dollar? It’s because we’ve skewed what we subsidize to the bad calories.
  • From an evolutionary standpoint, our bodies are not wired for sugar, salt, and fat. But those dominate our diets.
  • God designed cows to eat grass. That’s how their digestive system works best. But most of the beef we buy is corn-fed. The goal is to bulk up cattle quickly. But for corn-fed cattle, you must grow the corn, transport it, then remove the manure–all of which are not environmentally friendly practices. Grass-fed cows, by comparison, graze on the grass and their manure fertilizes it. It’s a complete system in one field, and it saves on gas and transportation costs.
  • Most Mexican farmers grew corn. NAFTA flooded Mexico with cheap American corn, and put 1.5 million Mexican farmers out of work.
  • The film blasts Monsanto to pieces. Monsanto basically owns everything involving soybeans because they patented a gene in the soybean. Farmers can’t fight them. Monsanto has a big team of investigators who go after farmers in court.
  • Wal-Mart was commended for some of their practices and their embrace of organic foods.
  • The food industry fights any kind of food labeling requirements. They don’t want you to know what’s in your food, how it was grown, and where.
  • The film suggests that the battle against tobacco is the model for how an industry’s irresponsible behavior can be changed.
  • Companies that don’t treat animals with respect probably don’t treat workers and the environment–and customers–with respect.
  • Buy locally grown food. It doesn’t need to be transported long distances (more eco-friendly), and it probably doesn’t come from factory farms, where animals are warehoused in squalid conditions until they are ready for slaughter. 
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Religious Diversity on the Supreme Court

Pat Buchanan stirred up some controversy by objecting to the idea of having 3 Jews on the Supreme Court. Elena Kagan would join Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. If diversity is desired, why have Jews, who comprise 2% of the US population, control 33% of the seats on the Supreme Court?

I’m not sure what I think of that. Processing.

Buchanan points out that of the last 7 justices nominated by Democrats, going back to Kennedy, 1 was black (Marshall), 1 was Puerto Rican (Sotomayor), and the other five were Jews (Goldberg, Fortas, Ginsberg, Breyer, and now Kagan).

Hmmmm. Buchanan regularly stands up for the persecuted American male WASP. He’s not a crazy man for doing so. But it’s sure not politically correct. Which is his point.

The current court has six Catholics, 1 Protestant, and 2 Jews.

  • John Roberts–Catholic
  • Stephen G. Breyer–Jewish
  • Ruth Bader Ginsburg–Jewish
  • Anthony M. Kennedy–Catholic
  • Antonin Scalia–Catholic
  • John Paul Stevens–Protestant
  • Clarence Thomas–Catholic
  • Samuel Alito–Catholic
  • Sonya Sotomayor–Catholic

Do we need that many Catholics? How about an evangelical? Someone who represents me. If not an evangelical, I’ll settle for a Mormon (who make up almost as much of the population as Jews). George Bush could have gone for an evangelical. Instead, he took the Path of Least Resistance by settling for two while male Catholics. Boring!

It’s hard to determine how large the evangelical population is, because we get lumped in with all-purpose Protestants. But evangelicals make up at least 20% of the population. Would it be impossible to confirm an evangelical to the Supreme Court, because of the pro-life stand which almost inevitably accompanies the label? (Doesn’t seem to stop Catholics from getting confirmed.)

I find it interesting that David Souter, one of the 4 (out of 111) Justices who was unmarried, was replaced by an unmarried woman. Souter never married; Sotomayor is divorced. “Unmarried” is a demographic group.

For that matter, at least 10% of Americans claim no religious affiliation; a growing chunk are atheists. Should they have a voice? It might be harder to confirm an atheist than an evangelical.

I’m not sure what I think of all of this, and whether demographic diversity should be the goal when it comes to the Supreme Court. Above all, I want qualified, sharp people. I liked adding a female Hispanic, though it didn’t need to be Sotomayor. I like the idea of adding yet another woman, though it doesn’t need to be Kagan. How about a woman who is an evangelical?

Just throwing out some evolving thoughts.

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Steve Jobs for President (of the USA)

images.jpgPundit/comedian Bill Maher says Apple CEO Steve Jobs would do a better job of running America than the Obama administration.

“America needs to focus on getting Jobs — Steve Jobs. Because something tells me that Apple would have come up with a better idea for stopping an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico than putting a giant box on top of it.

“In 2001, Apple reinvented the record player. In 2007, the phone. This year, the computer. I say, for 2011, we let them take a crack at America. Our infrastructure, our business model, our institutions. Get rid of the stuff that’s not working, replace it with something that does. For example, goodbye US Senate — Hello Genius Bar! So good luck, Steve — you’ll need it!”

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Anchor: Cleaning Up Our Neighborhood

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Yesterday (May 15), 17 people from Anchor helped clean out the alley behind our church. It was part of the city-wide Great America Cleanup.

We kept two pickups going up and down the alley, one being my Dodge Dakota. Once filled with stuff–mostly leaves and branches–we drove to the church and dumped it all in the church parking lot. The city will come by and pick it up…eventually. Maybe. If they get around to it.

Since I had knee surgery last week, I just drove the truck. None of the grueling work. Didn’t want to push it (though I did anyway, mostly in unloading the truck, and iced my knee once I got home).

Everyone else worked real hard. It was a fun time. We started at 8:30, and by 11:00 had gone the entire length of the alley. The place looks great.

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The Messy, Messy Cost of Oil

bush_kissweb.jpg“Drill, baby, drill” made a sure-fire applause line during the Republican Convention. But now we’re seeing one side effect of off-shore drilling. Because of our addiction to oil, and our official pampering of Big Oil, the fishing, tourist, and other industries on the Gulf Cost are suffering big-time.

Accidents do happen. This oil spill, the Exxon Valdez–those are aberrations, accidents that only rarely occur. But when they do occur, they wreak havoc.

The answer, of course, is to develop alternative energy sources. We wasted eight years under George Bush, whose policies always, ALWAYS, did the bidding of Big Oil. He did zippo on the energy front. And if Republicans regain control of the White House, the oil industry will once again get everything it wants.

For energy reform, we unfortunately must depend on Democrats. Scary, but true. I hate the idea of having to depend on Democrats for anything (or Republicans, for that matter), but it’s true.

The current BusinessWeek tells about all the excess energy Germany has from wind power, which generates 8% of the country’s electricity (compared to 1% in the US). During the past eight years, German doubled its wind-power capacity, while the US twiddled its thumbs and kept bowing to Big Oil. Germany’s problem is figuring out how to store the excess electricity. the Scandinavian countries have pushed big into wind power, too.

I wish Obama would start pushing nuclear power, which seems like the best longterm solution. It’s clean, dependable, safe, doesn’t hurt the environment. Of course, if we had a Chernobyl meltdown, I’d be writing something different. But for now, I’m sticking to nuclear power.

Under Obama, we are at least talking about Green Energy on a number of fronts–wind, solar, electric cars, a more efficient power grid etc. We need to get some things going strongly before the Republicans regain control and default back to blowing wet kisses to Big Oil.

“Drill, baby, drill” is not the answer. It’s a finite resource which will run out someday, and squeezing the last drops out of the oceans and ground will get increasingly costly, messy, and dangerous. This oil spill won’t be the last.

Years down the road, the Last Man Standing with coveted oil reserves will be Arabs or Iranians. We’ve gotta stop being in their debt.

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Books: MacDonald’s “Galton Case” and “Black Money”

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Ross MacDonald is one of the greats when it comes to detective fiction. His protagonist is Lew Archer, who is modeled after Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. The classic loner. Man against the system. No private life. No friends among the police. A competent fighter, but still tends to get beat up a lot.

MacDonald wrote 18 Archer books 1949-1976 (he died in 1983).

I’d read five MacDonald books, but still had two on my shelf (all rescued from used bookstores). Henning Mankell’s “The Pyramid” was the 100th book I’d read from the Black Lizard imprint. I decided to start the next 100 with those two Lew Archer books. I read them both during a three-day period while recovering from surgery.

“The Galton Case” is by far the best Lew Archer book I’ve read. An aging wealthy woman hires Archer to find her son, who disappeared 20 years before along with his streetwise bride. That part is solved in fairly short order. But by then the book has become a murder mystery, Nevada gangsters have shown themselves, an old murder surfaces, an apparent grandson appears, and…well, it just keeps getting more and more interesting. The plot takes Archer to Ontario a couple times. This was a highly satisfying book. It totally surprised me, and that’s not easy to do.

I then moved on to “Black Money.” A rich young fellow hires Archer to learn the identity of a suave guy known simply as “the Frenchman,” who has wooed away his girlfriend. Much of the book involves untangling the Frenchman’s identity. But mixed in is a seven-year-old suicide, gambling debts, money laundering, and a bunch of rich people.

MacDonald’s books are rollercoasters. There is no down time, no time for reflection, no private interlude with a girlfriend, no nice meal. It’s all plot. When Archer needs to get from San Francisco to Ontario, it takes a paragraph. You don’t read anything about the journey. He’s just gets on a plane, and a couple sentences later he’s knocking on a door. You really need to concentrate, because there is no chance to catch your breath. MacDonald is well worth the ride.

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Movies We’ve Been Watching

4-movies-475.jpgHere are some movies Pam and I have watched recently on DVD. Haven’t been to a theater all year…yet.

  • “Law Abiding Citizen,” with Gerard Butler (of “300” fame), was a lot better than I expected. Butler’s wife and daughter are brutally killed in a home invasion, and he later exacts horrific revenge. That’s not giving anything away. The rest of the movie is a cat-and-mouse game with police, and it all comes to a surprising conclusion.
  • “Twilight: New Moon” is the second movie of the Twilight series. Pam and I liked the first movie, and we liked this one just as well. Vampires dominated the first movie; now we have werewolves. The movies are well-done, and have a definite tone to them. They are not high-action movies, but romances with a, uh, bite.
  • We also watched all six of the Jesse Stone TV movies, starring Tom Selleck–5 on DVD, and the latest this past Sunday night on CBS. These are based on the books by Robert Parker. Parker started this series around 1998. We loved these movies. If you watch a movie and then read a Jesse Stone book, you can picture Selleck in every scene and saying every line. He plays Jesse Stone perfectly. Like the Twilight movies, they have a slow-paced, smalltown mood.
  • Having watched the Jesse Stone movies, we decided to try the Spenser movies made in the 1980s. “Ceremony” is the first one. I liked Robert Urich in the title role, was okay with Avery Brooks as Hawk, but didn’t like the gal who played Susan. She just wasn’t Susan. I didn’t particularly care for this movie, and it had a lot of gratuitous nudity. But we’ll try another one.
  • “All About Steve” is a Sandra Bullock movie, and who doesn’t like Sandra Bullock? In this movie, she plays a very quirky character who pretty much stalks a guy. It’s a fun, light-weight movie.
  • Finally, “Blindside,” the movie which won Sandra Bullock an Oscar. This was a great story, an inspiring story. This family took a huge step in adopting a basically homeless young black man into their family…but they changed his life. Now I know why everyone has raved about this film.
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