Saturday, November 17, 2007
Ellen DeGeneres has been accused of violating strike rules by the Writers Guild of America.
Although the sparky comedian passed on a monologue the first day back on her show - in honor of the writers on the picket line - the next day the funny lady began with the regular opening segment, business as usual.
The WGA charges that the opening monologue is "struck" material.
Not unlike Dave & Jay's shows, the start-up gab before an in-house audience is usually given some pep with a zesty one-liner or two, generally artfully crafted by an accomplished team of union writers.
For this reason, reps at the Guild argue that the use of monologues during the strike phase place DeGeneres in violation of Guild rules.
Ellen has responded by noting that the monologue is ad-libbed.
More importantly, she pointed out that due to binding AFTRA Contracts, she is obligated to fulfill her contract with the network.
When the strike began, both AFTRA and SAG (unions I am also a member of) notified all dues-payers of a "no strike" clause, requiring that all performers report to work and honor contractual agreements, in spite of the WGA strike.
The funny bone of contention is whether Ellen's jokes are off-the-cuff or scripted in advance.
In case anyone forgot, Ellen started her professional career as a stand-up comic.
In fact, it was due to her unique ability to deliver up zany bits impromptu, that she landed the show.
I'm in Ellen's corner and support her wholeheartedly.
If anything, now is the time to tune in to the popular daytime show.
Fans have an opportunity to catch her in the raw without a golden parachute.
Sometimes flying by the seat of the pants is what an entertainer needs to get the creative juices flowin'...
Do you suppose Ellen's capable of delivering up the zingers, like in the old days?
Thanks to the WGA strike, we'll have the delightful chance to see.
Today, I hopped out of bed, showered, and headed out the door - only to discover that I was strapped for cash!
Too much partying last night, I guess!
So, I headed off to the ATM to make a quick withdrawal.
Unfortunately, my financial institution was across town, so I was forced to facilitate the ATM machine at the Bank of America.
I was flabbergasted when I inputted the info at the machine and was summarily informed that I would be charged $3.00 for the transaction since I was not a customer at the B of A.
When I was asked if I would accept the charge, I hit the "no thanks" key!
Was it my imagination, or did the ATM hesitate a moment before returning my card?
What? You said no?
Yeah, I don't support greed!
Others are critical of the excessive ATM charges, too.
"That's the highest surcharge in America, and it affects millions, because B of A has the largest ATM network in the country," USA Today reports.
"Banks often move like a school of fish on punitive charges such as ATM surcharge," added an analyst.
Bank of America has been quietly introducing the new fee at ATMs throughout the country since July, but the charge will remain $2 at machines in malls, convenience stores, and at airports for the moment.
"The higher fees in the other two-thirds of ATMs will reduce wait time for our own customers," a representative of the bank stated straight-faced.
Most banks charge $2.00 currently, and one I know of at 7/11, only bills a dollar and fifty cents.
On a $20.00 withdrawal, the charge at B of A is excessive, don't you agree?
Notwithstanding, my financial institution will also bill me for using the facility - yeah, I get a slap for using a convenience ATM at B of A and for balking at the idea of going cross-town four miles to my own branch for the ready funds.
Based on figures from the General Accounting Office, Bankrate.com estimates that banks are collecting over $1.9 billion from consumers every year at a minimum.
"These charges continue to be a hotly debated issue," a study has indicated, "with consumers and advocacy groups on one side, and banking institutions on the other."
Recently, I received a notice in the mail informing me that I was entitled to sign on as a Plaintiff in a class-action suit against B of A in respect to a Visa Card I once held with them. Apparently, they were charging me illegal fees without my knowledge.
Gosh, clever billing procedures; I never noticed!
Ha, got caught with their hand in the cash register at last!
Well, there doesn't appear to be any current plan for B of A to gobble up any new banks just yet, so until they pounce on mine - I'll avoid the money-grubbing monster!
If push comes to shove, I'll open an off-shore account.
I guess I'll have to deal with the Nigerians then!
Friday, November 16, 2007
According to one of the slick glossy mags on the newspaper stand - thirteen years after the 1st Democratic elections - there is evidence of an advancing affluence among the South African majority.
Allegedly, the first fruits are noticeable.
For example - in upscale regions of Soweto (Johannesburg's largest township) - exotic roadsters line the neat pavement and plush architecturally-sound homes push the skyline.
In fact, according to sources, the housing market in this region has enjoyed a thirty-nine percent increase which is double the National average.
In the wake of this prosperity, malls are being opened in red-taped ceremonies. The trend is not only towards chic retailing, but includes a focus on entertainment, as well. At comfortable eight-screen cinema complexes, South Africans are discovering the joys of leisure activities.
Some are referring to the new rich as - "Buppies" - otherwise known in the long form as, "Black up-and-coming Professionals".
In America, would such a term fly?
How would you respond to the idea that some journalists are labelling 2.6 million middle-class South Africans as "Black Diamonds"?
Talk about reducing an entire sector of a society to a marketable commodity!
The BD's (Black Diamonds) include working professionals, property owners, university students, and those "knocking on the door" (capable of surging forward into the new social strata).
A survey by the University of Cape Town's Unilever Institute of Marketing alleges that 12% of South African adults make 26.2 Billion - or put another way - represent 28% of the country's buying power (representing half of Black Africa).
One socialist disagrees with the figures; he says the core-middle class realistically represent 322,000 Black South Africans.
Notwithstanding, there appears to an ongoing economic blow-out!
This has led to considerable consumerism - the heavy purchase and investment in - DVD players, refrigerators, and other creature comforts normally associated with a "home" setting.
Apparently, the big thrust is towards land ownership and the "elusive dream" of financial security, career fulfillment, and peace of mind.
The forward surge focused on the sale of goods - and the subsequent splurge on commercial products - has made credit more readily available, according to informed sources.
Can a debt load be far behind?
Maybe South Africa should use the U.S. as a role model and buck the trend to spend!
As Americans have learned in recent years, easy credit at high interest rates, is not the answer!
Fiscally-sound choices are.
A feature story on Wayne Gretzky in the sports section of the local newspaper stirred up old memories.
Up North, Wayne soared high like a great Eagle - way above other Canuck notables - such as Ann Murray, Wayne & Shuster, and William Shatner.
I fondly recall the mind-boggling day when one of my own art patrons - high-flying Nelson Skalbania - sold Gretzky's hockey contract for $1 to Peter Pocklington (Edmonton Oilers).
The rest is hockey history, as they say!
And, when the great Gretzky flew south, there was a cry all over the land.
Canada lost its National Treasure, after all!
Would the patriots ever forgive?
Did the "Great One" really care?
Although Gretzky and I both owned cottage property among the picturesque pines outside of Port Carling (Muskoka) our paths never crossed.
And - in spite of the fact we lived in close proximity for a few years in the big bad orange after we both became U.S. transplants - still no cigar!
The closest I ever came to the ornately-tooled Stanley Cup was when it was being transported to a Press Conference in San Francisco earlier this year on one of the local Cable Cars!
In the final analysis, though, you have to admire the guy.
After all, he's still undoubtedly the greatest hockey player to ever grace the ice.
According to Wikipedia
"Wayne Gretzky held or shared 61 NHL records upon his retirement on April 18, 1999, including 40 regular season records, 15 playoff records, and 6 all-star records.
Specifically, the "great one" scored the most goals in a season (92), most assists in a season (163), and most points in a season (215).
He also holds the record for the fastest 50 goals, accomplishing that feat in only 39games and the record for most goals in a 50 game period (61, which he accomplished twice).
In 1983-84, he had a 51-game point-scoring streak that has been compared to "Joltin' Joe" DiMaggio's streak in baseball, during which he scored 61 goals and received credit for 92 assists (153 points).
His 47 playoff points in 1985 and 31 assists in 1988 are still records for a single post-season round, and he holds the record for career playoff goals (122), assists (260), points (382), hat tricks (10), and game winning goals (24)."
In sports circles, some say he had the killer instinct, in spite of the fact he was meek and mild in appearance.
But, if you study closely, you'll notice there's a flashy diamond ring on his finger which appears to be a little out-of-character - just maybe - there's a more exotic persona just below the skin, waiting to bust out?
Obviously, he has something that keeps his trophy wife content - especially in a town where divorce is the norm - not the exception.
In recent years, Gretzky's come to be known as a bit of a cry baby.
But, when you're used to getting your way, what the heck!
I suppose the coaching job keeps him anchored, focused, whatever.
His appearance has been likened to that of a hip nattily attired college professor - teaching Stanley Cup Playoff skills - in Hockey 101?
In spite of the excellent cudos for being hardworking, on-top-of it, honest and unassuming - the morning newspaper profile was captioned with a negative bent.
"Now he needs a little more talent."
Yeah, it's like showbusiness - typecast - at the drop of a stick.
Once a great hockey player, never a great coach.
Is that because there's an insatiable yearning for an icon to boldly hop out on the ice and show 'em how it's done?
In Gretzky's case, maybe.
Perhaps that's what all the crying is about.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Just got the news today...Hillary's comin' to town.
Yup, she'll be appearing at the Wadsworth Theatre on Wilshire, in Los Angeles, Saturday November 17th, 2007, at 1:00 PM - 3:30 PM.
Well, you know you'd better surf over to the Hillary Clinton online store and snap up some goodies, to be ready to turn out in full regalia for the occasion!
Yeah, they've got baseball caps with her name emblazoned on the front, piggy banks to facilitate on-the-spot canvassing, and a chic Hillary Pack with all manner of goodies that any self-respectin' supporter would pine for!
Check it out: http://hillaryclintonstore.com
Well, John Edwards appears to be flexing some muscle these days...in the coffers anyway.
This is what he reported in an e-mail today,
Last month, I challenged you to help us raise $500,000 during October. Thousands of you responded and, by October 31, your support helped us meet—and exceed—that goal.
But, in spite of this, there is a new pitch for money today...
"Now, I'm asking you to help us raise $500,000 in just two weeks."
"If we hit that target, this $500,000 will be doubled by matching funds through public financing. That would mean you can help us raise $1 million for the campaign just four weeks before the early caucuses and primaries—money that puts boots on the ground and gets our message out in these critical key states, winning over real voters."
What say, gang!
Should we cough up?
According to futurists, 50 years from now, cars will want to be robots.
Above, one of the snazzy concept cars conjured up for "Robot 2057" at the annual Los Angeles Auto Show.
I heard a great voice out of the heaven saying,
The Tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them,
And they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them
And be their God.
God shall wipe away all the tears from their eyes;
And there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying
Neither shall there be any more pain:
For the former things are passed away.
And he that sat upon the throne said,
I make all things new.
And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great and high mountain
And showed me that great city, the Holy Jerusalem,
Descending out of the heaven of God.
The Nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it:
And the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it.
And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day:
For there shall be no night there.
And he showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal
Proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
On either side of the river was there the tree of life
Which bare twelve manner of fruits,
And yielded their fruit every month:
And the leaves of the tree were for healing of the Nations.
And he saith unto me,
Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book:
For the time is at hand.
I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Across a treacherous reach of steep mountain terrain a lone skier races downhill - expertly working a spine of snow with a watchful eye on the slough - a potentially deadly avalanche in the gathering wake.
The breathtaking rugged expanse beckons the skier beyond - but within seconds - the trail ends in a staggering sheer rock face.
For a split-second, the sports enthusiast fathoms the dilemma, then suddenly shoots forward
In one Divine moment of Grace - the skier slices through the sky without hesitation - and somersaults artfully in a dazzling series of awe-inspiring tucks until he straightens up miraculously to land sturdily on strong legs.
Now, the thrill-seeker is propelled forward in a dynamic burst of energy on down the slope into the unknown reaches below to tackle the next challenge.
The event is X-treme Skiing - captured with precision and poetic luminosity - in the spell-binding documentary "Steep".
North American skiers who popularized the sport include Doug Coombs, Shane McConkey, Seth Morrison, Glen Plake and Scott Schmidt.
A handful are featured in the well-crafted breathtaking documentary.
One of the first practitioners of the dangerous death-defying sport was Bill Briggs who descended Grand Teton on June 16 in 1971.
Swiss skier Sylvain Saudan is another stand-out participant who invented the "windshield wiper" turn in the mid-1960s.
Skiers give a nod of thanks to Briggs for a number of miraculous descents previously considered impossible which were captured on film.
"Le Ski Extreme" - a term the French coined - best describes the exhilarating thrills now rampant in the slope sport.
"Extreme skiing" exalts big mountain skiing - and free skiing - and encompasses all aspects and methods of descending spines and lines in uncharted terrain.
But, danger lurks at every bank of snow.
A twisted ankle or a slight miscalculation at the wrong moment - in a handful of incidents - has led to disaster and death on occasion.
According to experts in the field, this distinguishes true extreme skiing (in the French sense) from just the spectacular and dangerous on the American turf.
Directed by Mark Obenhaus, with a keen penetrating lens, "Steep" follows a posse of ski enthusiasts who crave thrilling heart-stopping chills on the pristine remote peaks of God's most astounding natural creations on the face of the earth.
Tops in the field of their emerging sport - the sports enthusiasts engage in spirited conversations about their escapades, pine about the adventures that await, and envision the exciting challenges ahead as they push the sport to ultra-extreme levels.
"The mountains are alive," one young athlete noted with great reverence in his voice.
"They speak to you, and if you don't listen, you will surely meet death."
Another was inclined to get mystical.
"There are quite a few Blackbirds flying about. I believe they are the spirits of the skiers who have lost their lives up here."
In fact, during the course of shooting of the extraordinary footage for this captivating documentary, one of the featured athletes suffered a fatality when he attempted to save a pal fallen in a run.
"He was much too young," his wife said softly.
"But, he went in a way he would have loved."
Clearly - the documentary underscores what death-defying depths ski extremists are willing to go to - in a bold-faced effort to satiate their cravings.
The skilled enthusiasts lit up when they talked about skiing "without boundaries" and the potential challenges that lurked ahead.
"Unlike a resort", one jokes tellingly, "There are no rules."
In fact, the rugged lot often seek adventures off-the-beaten tracks, where no man has skied a line before - or ever attempted to - at least.
In one scene, an experienced champion surveys a photograph of a mountain ridge, gets a drop on the scenario that looms ahead, plans the line, then goes for it.
The steeper and the bigger the conquests, the more enticing the challenge.
Some of the footage features skiers zigzagging lines down slopes with a 50 degree angle.
"You can feel the pull of gravity," a seasoned skier noted.
The athlete was forced to caress the slope and work diligently - mindful of the mighty natural forces of nature (the unseen and the foreseen) - and all the while tenderly absorb the lay of the beauteous land.
At any given moment there could be a flare up or sudden intrusion - capable of throwing off the skier - and headlong into a dangerous tumble.
Some noted they engaged in the sport for sheer fun.
A skier featured in the "Blizzard of Aahhs" (ski documentary) joyfully revealed his hopes and dreams to the camera-crew.
Essentially, the die-hard thrill-seeker wanted a kick-a** good time and - he joked - "he usually got it in spades."
"Blizzard of Aahhs" showcased the extreme talents of cliff-jumper Scott Schimdt, bad boy skier Glen Plake, and precision skier Mike Hattrup.
"You remember the first time you caught the video, where you were, who you were with," one dude excitedly recalled to the filmmakers.
Aahs was so impacting, he ran the reel continuously on end.
Other young adventurers - newcomers to the scene - pined for the adrenalin rushes their heroes on video had experiencing in the flesh and in the raw.
In fact, young ski enthusiasts have been lining up their options, and heading out for adventure in recent days.
One smart cookie realized a run he wanted to undertake was not possible because of a sheer drop on a rock face.
So, he broached the problem by learning how to parachute.
When the moment of truth arrived - he soared off the cliff, pulled the chord - and glided to safety below.
Exhilarating, no doubt.
For many, a landmark achievement in the sport, amounted to a stab at the slopes in Chanomix.
As far as the filmmakers and interviewees were concerned, an athlete did not made the grade as an extreme skier until they had fought and won over a spine there.
But then, along came Valdez, in Alaska.
For centuries, the awesome peaks perched quietly, away from the prying eyes of the world in all their undiscovered bounty.
The awesome beauty of the remote landscape appealed alright, but it was the remarkable quality of the snow that lured most.
After a wet snow falls - a cold wind from the north rolls in and sucks out all the moisture - which results in a texture to the snow that is unique and unmatched anywhere on the planet.
"The snow feels like velvet as it swishes against the leg. It's heavenly."
Ah, a whisper from God...
After the pioneers featured in "Steep" mapped the ranges - they were soon up-and-ready - to helicopter fans of the sport in for exciting trial runs at Valdez's new adventure playground.
In the question and answer period after "Steep" screened, the Executive Producer noted the documentary was made for those keen on the sport already, and others ready to discover the wonder of its possibilities.
Sony Classic picked up distribution with the intention of screening the entertaining documentary in limited markets around the country.
For those of you ready for the Extreme-ski experience - remember - if you spy a blackbird soaring high above the others - it's undoubtedly our young ski enthusiast who left us too early - presiding over the mystical canyons with an eye-out for the initiated who may have lost their way.
He does so with quiet majesty!
While the male presidential candidates - Barack Obama and John Edwards - were posing for GQ and Vogue to spruce up their image, Hillary Clinton's team was busy supplying questions for supporters to pose to Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail to boost hers!
When Hillary Clinton stopped at a bio-diesel plant in Newton, Iowa, to witness alternative fuels in the making, she fielded questions from supporters who had gathered to greet her.
Surprisingly, when a young woman asked Hillary how her plan would combat climate change, the ever-optimistic candidate was ready with a pat answer.
"You should be worried. You know, I find as I travel around Iowa, that it's usually young people that ask me about global warming."
Of course, Hillary got egg on her face when it was revealed that her handlers had specifically selected the question for a faker to raise to bolster her image!
To be fair, a Clinton campaign spokesman openly admitted to planting the question, but underscored to reporters that Hillary did not know which questioners she was calling on during the event.
I was inclined to believe her camp, but as I was finishing up the draft for this post, I noticed a news article in the morning Times which reported that there was another similar incident a few months ago, as well.
On that occasion, the supporter informed Clinton's staffers that he was uneasy about the idea, so he was abandoned as a potential helper in the scheme to make Hillary look good to voters.
Of course, it's incidents like this which have caused some Americans to be so mistrustful of Mrs. Clinton.
You know what they say about crying "wolf", too!
Too often, Hillary has expected the benefit of the doubt - and right about now - she's skating on thin ice.
If image is an all-important consideration - especially as the Presidential Race moves into the next stretch - all candidates would be wise to pay attention to a recent study that was carried out with "swing voters".
According to the New York Times, a group of researchers used functional magnetic imaging, to watch the brains of a group of swing voters as they responded to questions about the candidates - John Edwards, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama - to name a few.
The registered voters - twenty in number (ten men & ten women) stated at the offset they were open to choosing a candidate from either party.
The enthusiastic group of guinea pigs were then given a list of ten questions, focusing on their political preferences; later, their brain activity was studied in a high-tech gizmo to log the results.
After the first session, the participants answered a second questionnaire.
During the course of the research, the swing voters viewed political pictures through a scanner with special goggles.
During the first part of the study, subjects were shown a series of photos of candidates in random order; video excerpts from speeches followed.
In the next stage, a second set of photos were scrutinized thoroughly.
On the before and after questionnaires, subjects were asked to rate the candidates on a scale of 0-10, facilitating a process frequently used in polling.
The swing voters in the study marked their papers accordingly; the responses were either - "very unfavorable" to "very unfavorable".
The results were intriguing.
When subjects were shown the words Democrat, Republican, and Independent, they exhibited high levels of anxiety in the part of the brain called the amygdala.
Also, the two areas in the brain associated with anxiety and disgust - the amygdala and the insula - were especially active when men viewed the word "Republican".
Curiously, the three labels denoting each party, also elicited some activity in the brain area associated with reward - the ventral striatum - as well as other regions related to desire and feeling connected.
However, there was one exception. Men showed little response, positive or negative, when viewing the term "Independent".
Apparently, voters who rated Mrs. Clinton unfavorably on their questionnaire, were not entirely comfortable with their assessment. When viewing images of her, these voters exhibited significant activity in the anterior cingulate cortex - an emotional center of the brain that is aroused when a person feels compelled to act in two different ways but must choose one.
Researchers concluded that the subjects were battling unacknowledged impulses to like Mrs. Clinton.
In contrast, subjects who rated her more favorably, showed very little activity in the brain area when they viewed photographic images of the Senator.
The researchers theorized the results indicated Mrs. Clinton may be able to gather support from swing voters who oppose her if she softens their negative responses to her.
However, in spite of the foregoing, she may be vulnerable to attacks that seek to reinforce negative associations.
So, listen up, Hillary!
According to the team, John Edwards has promise, but suffers a difficult problem to overcome.
When looking at his picture, subjects who had rated him low on the thermometer scale showed activity in the insula, an area associated with disgust and other negative feelings. This suggested to the researchers that swing voters' negative emotions toward Mr. Edwards could be quite powerful.
On the other hand, there is good news for Mr. Edwards...the swing voters who did not give him low ratings, when looking at still photos of him, showed significant activation in areas of the brain containing mirror neurons - cells that are activated when people feel empathy.
The activity of the subjects infers voters feel connected to the man.
In the final analysis, John Edwards has a strong effect on swing voters - those that do like him and those that don't.
Photos of Barack Obama failed to indicate a notable lack of any powerful reactions, positive or negative.
He was rated relatively high on the pre-scan questionnaire, yet both men and women exhibited less brain activity while viewing the pre-video set of still pictures of Mr. Obama than they did while looking at any of the other candidates.
Among the male subjects, the video of Mr. Obama provoked increased activity in some regions of the brain associated with positive feelings, but in women it did not elicit change.
The study concluded that Mr. Obama has failed to register an impression on some swing voters. While his speech resonated with men in the study, it failed to engage the women.
Since the scans were taken, researchers claim that Mr. Obama has changed his tone, and are enthused about any changes that may be reflected in the next round of studies.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The opening scenes of "What would Jesus Buy?" are hilarious.
The insightful lens of the filmmakers capture frenzied consumers in the count-down before Christmas - in a mad crush of heightened consumer hysteria - fighting their way to bargains, precious gifts silky to-the-touch, and a long suffering need to satisfy their primal urge for shopping!
From the offset, it's evident that the true meaning of Christmas has been lost on American consumers; after all, their joy is more focused on a craving and an insatiable desire to buy and receive gifts than the birth of the young saviour they're supposed to be celebrating.
Enter Reverend Billy and his gang of merry choristers - effervescent - and attired in eye-catching flowing red robes.
In a sort-of-travellin' salvation show, the motley crew head out across the Nation in a rusty old bus to storm America's malls with the ultimate aim of healing an ailing America.
What is the stirring, uplifting, and inspiring message?
"Take heed brothers and sisters! The shopacalypse is upon us! America is fat with greed and addicted to shopping. Luckily, Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir are here to save our souls from overspending."
According to the producers, Reverend Billy is dead-earnest.
No, he does not beg for the impossible - to wipe out shopping altogether - but he does encourage each and every shopper to be mindful of where their hard-earned dollars are going.
Of course, the band of merry pranksters do not meet without resistance.
On one mission, they appear at "Wal-Mart" unannounced, bow down to the retail giants billboard at the entrance of the store, and ritualistically attempt to exorcise the demons out of their greedy cash-registers!
Understandably, Wal-Mart is alarmed, and threatens to have the rag-tag band of spoil sports escorted off the property in the event they don't depart forthwith.
At this juncture, one of the agendas of - "What would Jesus Buy?" - rears its ugly head.
Reverend Bill and the filmmakers are out to expose Wal-Mart and other corporations as insensitive business entities who turn the main streets of America into ghost towns.
The aggressive protestors also point a finger at the practice of non-union hires, and the tendency of conglomerates to sell "non-American made" products in their stores which have often been crafted on the backs of slave labor in foregin nations.
In another momentous incident, the "Stop Shopping Choir" seize the opportunity to take the stage at the largest mall in America so their voices may be heard above the ominous ka-ching of the cash registers.
Understandably, the alleged do-gooders are miffed when they are escorted off the property.
That is one of the problems with the "What would Jesus buy?"
I'm all for peaceable assembly, but when Reverend Billy and his band of mischievous followers show up - they usually cause an uproar, disrupt businesses, perplex shoppers, and oftentimes alarm a gaggle of families out for a relaxing day at the mall.
Yes, one has the right to free speech and access to public space; but, it's a two-way street.
While the protestors are entitled to peaceably object to a retailer's business practices, likewise, the sellers have a reasonable expectation that they be allowed to engage in their free enterprise without harassment.
Notwithstanding this glaring problem with the documentary - produced by Morgan Spurlock - the filmmakers have failed to do their homework, as well.
Spurlock's team goes to great lengths to accuse, point fingers, and make nasty accusations about the companies in question.
But, no hard-core evidence has been presented on screen to support their wild allegations.
Moreover, I would have to cry foul, because the "other side" - Disney, Wal-mart, Starbucks - were never given the chance to offer up a defense on-camera, issue a public statement, or even account for their actions.
Is that what America is all about?
In addition, this film goes off on various tangents, to its detriment.
One moment Spurlock takes aim at Wal-Mart for its alleged gargantuan stranglehold on the retail business.
In the next, there is a half-a**ed expose on the evils of slave labor.
Essentially, Spurlock has thrown out a handful of stale ideas - without much background to support any of 'em - then, expects the audience to rely on news reports they may have encountered in the media - to fill in the blanks.
The man-of-the-cloth's methods are questionable, too.
For example, his gang secretly gained entrance to Disneyland on the sly under false pretenses; once inside, the cranks slipped on their Chorister garb and proceeded to cause quite a ruckus on Disneyland's sugar-coated "Main Street".
Did the selfish band of desperados ever stop and pause to consider how the disturbance might impact the young children and families present, just out for a well-deserved - but costly day - at the theme park?
Don't get me wrong - "What would Jesus Buy?" - is a funny doc and makes a powerful statement about the excesses of Christmas.
But, there is so much lacking.
"What would Jesus buy?" is sort-of a plum pudding without any filling.
Spurlock's lament about controversial views on the use of "public space" were well-taken, though.
You see, Reverend Billy has been arrested for a couple of riots he allegedly caused out-in-the-open.
At press time, he was gearing up for an appearance in a New York Court, to defend himself on charges of harrassing city-dwellers.
While I am not familiar with the particular incident, Reverend Billy contends that the arrest took place at Speakers's Corner at Union Square.
If that's the case, and his conduct was not as objectionable as the incidents on-camera in the film, I wholeheartedly support him in the cause.
The incident raises an important legal issue:
What kind of restrictions on free speech may the government impose on public sidewalks and in City parks?
The three categories of public spaces I am referring to have been identified by the Court in the past as (1) the traditional public forum; (2) the designated public forum (which might be either “limited” or "unlimited"); and (3) the non-public forum.
In the past, the Court has ruled that:
"Streets and parks have been held in trust for the use of the public and have been used for the purposes of assembly, communicating thoughts between citizens, and discussing public issues. Such use has, from ancient times, been part of the privileges, immunities, and liberties of citizens."
I'm all for the right to free speech and believe that all Americans (and Citizens of the World in general) should vigorously defend it when threatened.
In the final analysis, "Would Jesus shop at Wal-mart?"
But, in all truth, it's doubtful he'd spring for a ticket for the film either because there is not a lot that is Christian about it.
"Jesus" is fun flawed filmmaking - brimming with good visuals, sight gags, and mindless entertainment - but leaves a bad aftertaste in the mouth.
Good luck with the screenings, Spurlock!
Although the winter months are creeping up on us, there's no reason to pack away the swimsuit.
After all, guys, you don't want to end up looking like a couch potato this winter - do you?
Maybe it's time to sign up for a health club, take on a handful of swim routines at the local YMCA, whatever.
So, you want to do it in style!
Here are some great choices.
The pattered suit featured below (Vilebrequin of St. Tropez) actually comes in kid sizes, too, so Daddy & the little man can go for a splash together when weather and time permit.
On the heels of reports that Ray L. Hunt signed a secret pact with the Kurds for oil exploration in N. Iraq - many concerned Americans were taking pause to wonder which came first - the horse or the cart?
Of course, it was always alleged that the United States attacked Iraq for the "oil", although reputable pundits and political analysts pooh-poohed the silly, hysterical thought!
However - in retrospect - the idea was not far-fetched.
For the record, it should be noted that Ray L. Hunt contributed $35,000,000.00 towards the purchase of land for the Bush Library. And, as a gesture of his appreciation, George W. Bush bestowed on Ray L. Hunt a prestigious post on the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
Some may recall in the cobwebs of the inner recesses of their minds that the Hunt family - from whence Ray L. was sprung - tried to corner the silver market a scant few years ago.
Nelson Bunker Hunt (born February 22, 1926) was an American oil company executive and chairman of Hunt Exploration and Mining Company (HEMCO) and the son of H. L. Hunt (deceased, 1974) whose oil empire started from poker wins which Nelson - nonetheless - inherited most of.
Nelson Bunker Hunt played a very significant role in the development of the oil fields in Libya which were later Nationalized by Muammar al-Gaddafi.
In 1973, the Hunt family of Texas - one of the richest families in America - hatched a scheme to buy precious metals as a hedge against inflation. Private citizens were barred from owning gold at that time, so the Hunts gobbled up silver in enormous quantities.
In 1979, the sons of H.L. Hunt (Nelson Bunker and William Herbert) and a handful of wealthy Arabs formed a silver pool. In a short span of time, they amassed more than 200 million ounces of silver equivalent to half the world's supply.
When the Hunt's started accumulating silver back in 1973 the price was in the $1.95 per-ounce range. By early 1979, the price shot up to $5 dollars. Remarkably - by early 1980 - the price stood at a whopping $50 dollars to later peak at $54 an ounce.
Once the silver market was cornered - outsiders sought a piece of the pie - but a combination of trading rules changed on the New York Metals Market (COMEX) and the intervention of the Federal Reserve caused the precarious game to come to a screeching halt.
The prices plummeted - a 50% one-day decline on March 27 (1980) - from $21.62 to $10.80.
The collapse of the silver market meant countless losses for speculators. Caught in the flap, the Hunt brothers declared bankruptcy.
By 1987, their liabilities had grown to nearly $2.5 billion against assets of $1.5 billion. After a thorough criminal investigation, the Hunts were convicted of conspiring to manipulate the market through an International Metals Investment Company in August of 1988.
Ray L. Hunt, subject of this post, stuck with oil reserves and scored big with a deal in Yemen.
At this juncture, Hunt moved into natural gas in Peru.
You know the old saying.
"There are no Nations, only Corporations."
And yes, the conglomerates have been special friends to the Bush's, believe me!
But, it's a two-way street; indeed, the shenanigans of the Hunt family - whether cloaked in the corporate veil or not - have prospered remarkably through ties with the Bush clan.
Unlike many of the powered-elite, Ray L. Hunt prefers to keep his name out of the papers.
For good reason.
In high society, it's often deemed gauche to have one's good name dragged through the spotlight - the focus of the lowly media - or used as fodder for the tabloids.
Limited intrusion by the press is a standard the old guard strictly adheres to.
For a Blue Blood, a requisite three presses releases are issued to the media during the course of his life which consist of a birth announcement, a formal notice of the "union" of two house in marriage, and - at the time of his demise - an understated obit.
But, Ray L Hunt's penchant for mystery may be motivated by his clandestine activities and the need for privacy. In fact, there has been a swirl of intrigue around his investments and business activities over the past year.
However, securing details about his private oil deals and investments is like pulling teeth, some say. Wild horses couldn't drag the info outta' him!
Democratic lawmakers moved forward on investigations pertaining to Hunt's oil exploration contract in Iraq last year, noting the company's ties to President Bush raised questions about whether insider information helped seal deals.
U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman (Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee) and U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) asked Hunt to turn over all Iraq-related communication with the U.S. government by a set deadline.
The lawmakers also demanded that Ray Hunt (Hunt Oil's chief executive) submit copies of information he may have received about Iraq as a member of Mr. Bush's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.
A Hunt spokeswoman said the company would cooperate with the request for "certain limited information." Typical Bush language for "no way".
Of particular concern are the facts surrounding the biggest oil exploration contract to come out of Iraq since the war began - which has upset, for want of harsher words - the Iraqi Parliament.
The Iraqi oil Minister denounced the agreement as illegal, but there is no law in place, so that the issues may be pursued.
In recent months - a law was requested to regulate in respect to revenue sharing - but the talks stalled on occasion because of the release of information about the Hunt deal.
In retrospect, it appears that while the government was fervently pursuing an agreement on the much-touted oil revenue sharing law, Ray L. Hunt was cutting his own deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government - and some accuse - contributing to the death of the negotiations in Baghdad.
In fact, it has been reported by informed sources that Iraq-Arab leaders were angered by the Hunt machinations; after all, they perceived the deal as a Kurdish power-play for the country's oil reserves.
In the final analysis, the deal shattered fragile negotiations for peace and an agreement to share oil profis in the region with the Sunni, Shiites, and Kurds.
One reporter lamented in response,
"Was there any flappy-jowled howling outrage from the Republicans in Congress? Any bellowing accusations of undermining the mission of our troops from right-wing loudmouths like Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly and Rush Limbaugh? Nope! Not a peep. Why? Ray is golden. Ray is untouchable. Ray is a "Loyal Bushie"."
It should be noted that Ray L. Hunt's power additionally resided in the fact he has held posts on the Board of Directors for Dresser Industries, EDS, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, Pepsi, and Haliburton.
More disturbing is the revelation that he is also on the Board of the American Petroleum Institute, a lobbying organization for the oil and natural gas industry.
In the past, Hunt donated oodles of money to the Republican party; enough - in fact - to secure an appointment as the Finance Chairman of the Republican National Committee’s "Victory 2000" Committee.
But the real capper was yet to come.
In October 2001 (one month after 9/11) George W. Bush appointed him to the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory. In sum, the panel of outside elders oversee whether the Commander-in-Chief secures advice from the Intel community.
"The President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB) provides advice to the President concerning the quality and adequacy of intelligence collection, of analysis and estimates, of counterintelligence, and of other intelligence activities. The PFIAB, through its Intelligence Oversight Board, also advises the President on the legality of foreign intelligence activities."
"Through meetings with intelligence principals, substantive briefings, and visits to intelligence installations, the PFIAB seeks to identify deficiencies in the collection, analysis, and reporting of intelligence; to eliminate unnecessary duplication and functional overlap; and to ensure that major programs are responsive to clearly perceived needs and that the technology employed represents the product of the best minds and technical capabilities available in the nation."
"In carrying out their mandate, the members of the PFIAB enjoy the confidence of the President and have access to all the information related to foreign intelligence that they need to fulfill their vital advisory role."
Mr. Hunt, 64, has not talked about his role on the intelligence board which meets about six times a year. Its members are all Presidential appointees with security clearances and much of their work is classified.
Former board members and intelligence experts allege the membership doesn't often deal with specific intelligence. Instead, it is hinted that they focus on broader concerns such as whether one agency is cooperating with another or how a training program is working.
"Their job is to advise the president about the efficiency of the intelligence systems and where things need to be changed," said Arthur S. Hulnick, a CIA veteran who is now an associate professor of international relations at Boston University.
"It is more management than substantive."
That said, members must study intelligence-gathering efforts if they are expected to judge how the system works, Mr. Hulnick said.
"They clearly have to see it, things like estimates and daily reports, finished intelligence and analyzed intelligence," he said.
If I recall correctly, wasn't one of the excuses that Bush made about the errors regarding "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq due to "bad Intel"?
Mr. Waxman's committee have subpoena power.
"We are in the information-gathering stage," said Natalie Laber, a spokeswoman for Mr. Kucinich. "Before we hold hearings, we gather information."
Mr. Waxman (D-Calif) has held a series of contentious Iraq-related hearings in recent months. At one - Democrats grilled Blackwater - the State Department's private security contractor.
Members also investigated corruption in the Iraqi government.
In a climate of anti-oil, and accusations of invasions of Iraq for the development of rich oil fields, Mr. Bush has distanced himself from Mr. Hunt in the public arena.
In spite of the fact Hunt donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to get George Bush elected (and daddy, George Senior, too) and lobbied to build the Bush Presidential Library at SMC (with $35 million donated for the land purchase) our President claims he had no knowledge of the N. Iraq deal with the Kurds.
The accusations against Bush are typical. Critics allege he helped a big time contributor line his pockets at the expense of Iraqi peace.
Of course, the White house denies knowledge of the deal!
And, guess what? Ray L. Hunt is mum, too.
When Government officials dialed up Hunt for details, they were denied info.
His rep issued the following statement,
"We do not discuss deals with the United States Government."
Critics noted there was a simple way for the Government to determine how the deal came about.
Mr. Bush should call up his good buddy on his cell and ask point-blank, they argue matter-of-fact. In response, Mr. Bush stated for the record he was concerned about Hunt's deal if it jeopardized Iraq's ability to pass a National oil-sharing law.
In a letter to Hunt, Mr. Waxman and Mr. Kucinich asserted that Hunt's deal "may have undermined U.S. national policy of working toward the passage of an oil revenue sharing plan."
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki's oil Minister was more strident and asserted Hunt's deal was illegal.
Congressional Democrats have jumped into the fray alleging that Hunt Oil managed to secure the deal with the Kurdistan Regional Government because it had insider information about the future of Iraq's National oil law.
"Ray Hunt is in a unique position to know what is happening in Iraq," said Rep. Edward Markey (Chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming).
Hunt Oil's decision to enter Iraq was only based on information that - "was in the public domain" - asserted their public relations department.
Hunt Oil and the Kurdistan Regional Government have said that their deal complied with the National constitution and noted that the agreement called for sharing revenue with other regions of Iraq. They said Mr. Hunt's political relationships were irrelevant to the firm's decision to explore in Iraq.
"The outcome of the deliberations for the national hydrocarbons law will not affect this agreement one way or another," noted Qubad Talabani, a Washington representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government.
The Government put a positive spin on the issue, nonetheless; with a straight face, representatives noted it was a good sign that investors wanted to put their money in Iraq.
Back to the question.
Which came first, the horse or the cart?
Some analysts have touted the turn of events as positive. They assert that machinations of Hunt Oil will motivate the three groups in Iraq to secure a National oil law to avoid future secret deals with Hunt and others.
Texas' Hunt Oil and the Kurdistan's regional government acknowledged publicly they had signed a production-sharing contract for petroleum exploration in the Kurdistan region of northern Iraq, the first such deal since the Kurds passed their own oil and gas law last August.
Meanwhile - a Hunt subsidiary began geological survey and seismic work with a plan for drill exploration to be underway fully by the end of 2008 - according to a press release issued a few months ago. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
"We're very pleased to have the opportunity to be a part of these landmark events by actively participating in the establishment of the petroleum industry," CEO Ray L. Hunt said in a prepared statement.
Revenue will be shared by the KRG throughout Iraq, consistent with the Iraq constitution and the Kurds' new petroleum law, issued by the Kurdistan National Assembly.
Despite Iraq's vast oil reserves, major International companies have basically sat on the sidelines - not only for security reasons - but because of the absence of legislation governing the industry and offering protection for investments.
Ashti Hawrami, the regional government's Minister of natural resources, argued that the Hunt deal is evidence the government's new oil and gas law created a "supportive and transparent business environment which promotes investment by international oil companies in our region for the benefit of all."
A major strategic goal of the signing may have been to resurrect an old pipeline route from Mosul in Kurdistan through Jordan and on to Israel. The pipeline would presumably follow the southern route on the map.
In the final analysis, critics assert that Hunt was in a position to know what Cheney and Bush would like to see happen in Iraq. Ultimately, because Hunt was privy to the grand strategy for the Middle East, it is alleged that he elected to seize the opportunity to use that knowledge for the profit of his own company and his family.
Investigators noted they intended to pursue the possibility that Hunt's connections with the intelligence community may have been more sinister; after all, a Hunt company aircraft was recorded landing at the CIA's training facility at Camp Peary (Virginia) in late November (2006).
There are some pressing questions as to whether Hunt's connection with CIA activities extend to covert activities in Iraq's Kurdistan.
Others speculate that Hunt may have allowed his company to be used as a commercial cover mechanism to ship arms and launder money for activities directed by the CIA.
More strident accusers claim outright that the Bush/Cheney White House used Hunt and his commercial enterprises to circumvent the legal requirements of informing Congress of covert activities by conducting such operations through the National Security Council (which Hunt is a member of) and the Department of Defense as "black operations" with no notification to Congress.
Hunt Oil, with its presence in Kurdistan, would be in an ideal position to serve as a commercial vehicle for such "black operations".
In time, perhaps the truth will be revealed. Do inquiring minds want to know?
In the interim, other oil companies have followed Hunt's lead in pacting oil deals with the Kurds. At last glance, the French company Perenco, had signed on.
Others will surely follow.
Then, what of the War in Iraq?
Candidates for the Presidential Race are putting pressure on Hillary Clinton to release documents for close scrutiny - in particular - those pertaining to her Health Task Force records.
According to Barack Obama, in an interview with Newsweek Magazine, the papers are important and should be released because they relate to,
"Issues like health care. She wants to take credit for having tried but there was a lot of big mistakes in preventing us from getting health care back in 1993...what was she involved with? Where did she participate? Where did she not participate in decision-making?"
Hillary innocently responds,
"Now, all those records, as far as I know, about what we did with Health care, those are already available."
However, Newsweek alleges that most of the papers are under lock and key.
A case in point...
Judicial Watch applied for release of the documents under the Freedom of Information Act, and determined and identified in the process, that 3,022,030 documents related to health care have yet to be forthcoming.
Obama laments that Mrs. Clinton is being "disingenuous".
When Newsweek asked Obama the difference between being disingenuous and dishonest, he retorted, "...ask Hillary Clinton".
In defense, Mrs. Clinton has stated for the record that she has no control over the documents.
At a debate, Hillary lamented that she could not move up the process by encouraging Bill to lift restrictions or seals placed on confidential communications with his wife on policy issues.
"That's not my decision to make," she said matter-of-fact.
However, Newsweek dug deep and located a document that establishes that Bill Clinton formally designated both his wife and his close adviser Bruce Lindsey as co-representatives for control of his papers in the event of his death or disability.
Ah, the plot thickens!
Why the stalling?
The longer you wait, Hill, the worse off it will be for your political health and well-being.
Years ago, when there was another Clinton scandal brewing, a box of papers disappeared into thin air. When the documents suddenly reappeared without explanation, a couple of journalists noted that,
"Hillary's fingerprints were all over the box..."
So, is there a smoking gun somewhere?
Monday, November 12, 2007
For the first time in 31 years, the Canadian dollar has finally been on par with the U.S. greenback...and chomping at the treasury to lurch past it.
Understandably, in the great White North, hockey-lovers are rubbing their hands with glee.
Canadians are jubilantly tossing a few beer busts with party favors purchased south of the border - no doubt - now that the Canadian buck has some kick to it.
Years ago, when I first moved to the California, the dollar generally trailed behind the greenback by a few pennies.
Although the copper often took a gentle roller-coaster ride - up a few cents, then down again - there was little consternation over the issue.
Over time - the gap stretched so - that the "Maple Leaf" stooped to a dismal 87 cents on the dollar and was being referred to with disdain as the northern peso.
When I returned home to Toronto one Christmas, the monetary system was in a disturbing state.
The Government had cast out the "dollar bill" and replaced it with a coin.
The face was graced with a fine-feathered Canadian friend, the Loon. Not as awe-inspiring or as commanding as the all-powerful American Eagle on U.S. currency, though. Perhaps for this reason - or dismal fiscal state of things - the coin became known as the "loonie".
To make matters worse, the Canadian mint banished the two-dollar bill and introduced a two-buck coin in its place. It was quickly dubbed the "doubloon", or more succinctly, the "toonie".
Although crafted with a breathtaking design, the beautiful coin is flawed.
Fashioned in two alloys - with an outer rim in silvery tones, and a brassy-looking interior circle - startled Canucks discovered by accident one day that if tossed against a wall in frigid, freezing winter weather - the center popped right out!
My pet peeve? Once you pass a five-dollar bill to a cashier, you never catch sight of paper notes again...yeah, cashiers foist nothin' but flashy coins at ya!
It was kind of an unexpected windfall for waiters and bartenders, though.
American tourists, and other world-weary travellers, are not always aware that the change on the table may amount to a fistful of dollars; so, ignorant of the fact - and assuming the amount a paltry sum of a buck or so - they're prone to leave the change intact on the counter as a tip, none the wiser.
Do you think the congenial workers are aware of the fact tourists may be in the dark?
You bet your sweet bippy...why else would people in the service industry warm up so quickly to the new currency???
For me, the coins cause too much jangling in the inner recesses of clothes - and over time - wear holes in trouser pockets.
Give me the greenback any day, to fold crisply in a billfold, or slip with a flourish into a fancy money clip.
It's so much easier to pass the buck, too!
Ah, for the old days, when Kinko's was the place to head to wrap up all your printing needs...
Of course, the big draw with Kinko's was in the extras.
There was always an endless supply of paperclips, white-out, glue-sticks, and yellow highlighter to organize your project. And, always within easy reach - in case you screwed up - rulers, scissors and paper-cutters to render a quick patch-up job.
Yes, Kinko's was the one-stop place that met all your needs!
When Jay Leno started to make jokes about Kinko's on the Tonight Show, the owners knew they were on their way!
Occasionally, I strayed too far away from the Kinko zone and was forced to saunter into one of those "other" printing places - only to find the cupboard was not only bare - but I was begrudged a lousy piece of scotch tape by the miserly staff on duty.
Meanwhile, over at Kinko's, they were not only generous, but also ran on the honor system, too.
In the early days, you printed up your own copies, then casually strolled over to the cashier to pay up. I guess some customers were fudging on the numbers because after a while Kinko's outfitted all their copy machines with counters - those bulky, non-aesthetic-looking devices that could easily double for a weapon, if you were in a pinch.
But, some die-hard kleptos found their way around that; after copying their documents, they just slipped out the store and surreptitiously by-passed the cashier altogether.
At this point, Kinko's introduced the pay kiosk with credit card capability; is it my imagination, or did Kinko's start to head downhill from there? Copies rose to 9 or 10 cents a piece, the cost of Internet access jumped to a staggering 18 cents a minute, and they reluctantly provided you with a bag for your purchases when you signed off at the cashier.
But, the staff always remained friendly and weathered the storm.
Then, along came Fedex and the big buy-out. Now, they're known as FedexKinko's.
The name doesn't exactly trip trillingly off the tongue, does it? Even Kinko'sFedex has an oddball sound to it, wouldn't you agree? I kinda' like KinkyFedex - but something tells me they'll never go for it.
Besides, after paying all those big bucks for the popular giant of the printing industry, I expect they'll want to keep their own name up front and middle stage. I expect they're only using the Kinko's association right now to attract loyal consumers familiar with the brand name.
In time, Kinko's will be axed, and FEDEX will stand alone.
Until General Electric comes along...
It's a corporate jungle out there.