Friday, May 30, 2008

The Immodest Mr. Cruise

I have seen the best definition of hubris, over-arching self-pride, that I suspect the Internet will provide for many a year. And I could go back for more [a very odd reaction on my part; I normally avoid such displays like I avoid the olive tray at a buffet].

As you might guess, the person presenting and presented in this masterpiece of self-celebration is one of the two people in the picture above [I'd ask you to guess which one, but we'd be here all night]. In the interest of time, I'll just tell you: it's Tom Cruise, and his new web site []. No, it's not the fact he finally has a web site [considering the beating he's taken, and continues to take, on the Internet, I'm surprised he hadn't done it sooner, in self-defense]. No, it's not 98% of the site's content [I'll be honest here; I haven't seen the vast majority of the site. Nor do I intend to]. It's not whatever he may or may not say about Scientology [in the spirit of tolerance that makes this nation great, I'll keep my thoughts on the subject out of this conversation; besides, they have nothing to do with the matter at hand].

Disclosure; I'm not a huge Tom Cruise fan [as an actor]. It's not that I think he's bad or anything; I just usually don't go to the kind of movies he makes [the only one that I remember seeing all of was Rain Man. And I saw that one for Dustin Hoffman's incredible performance. In a movie like that, all anyone else really needs to do is stay out of the way. Cruise did that well enough]. But Cruise, or his handlers, or somebody, was smart enough to acquire the services of the staff at The Museum Of The Moving Image to put together a "best-of" reel. Whatever else any one can say about Tom [and the conversation started before this post got here], that highlight film is magnificent! Sound and image quality were both superb [when seen on T-1 quality access; I can't imagine this working well in anything lesser than Broadband]. And it does point out just how many big pictures Cruise has been a participant in. Were you to see this during an Oscar (c) telecast, you would stand up and cheer.
And that's my problem [not your reaction; hell, I'd stand up and cheer and, as noted above, I'm not a huge Cruise fan]: not yet 50, Cruise is beginning to make his case for a "Lifetime Achievement" award from the Academy. I'm not saying he doesn't deserve it; that's for more expert movie watchers than myself to decide. I'm just a little uncomfortable when someone places the mantle of greatness on himself. Others should make that choice, not Mr. Cruise.
That said, I will go back to see the highlights reel. As a marvel of editing, it's a real gem. The rest of the site, probably not so much.
-Mike Riley

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Presenting: What May Be The Most Unpopular Proposal Made On The Internet Today

[...actually, in the spirit of accuracy, I do not yet know if this will be a truly unpopular proposal or not. But I know which way I'd bet]
With the price of "Regular" grade gasoline nearing $4 a gallon in most of the United States [and reaching that dubious milestone in several places, including Buffalo - Niagara Falls, NY, our home base], the last thing anybody is interested in is a reason for prices to rocket higher still. But, in the interest of fairness, I feel obliged to point it out.
For the last two decades or so, the tax rate on cigarettes sold in different states has risen. The rate is far out of proportion to the Cost Of Living, or other factors that should raise the price of a pack of cigarettes [the fact that we're talking about "packs" or "cartons" of ciggies is an important distinction; unrolled cigarette tobacco sells at a much lower tax rate, keeping its price correspondingly lower than rolled cigarettes. For instance, while a pack of "premium" brand cigarettes goes from around $4.75-$5.00, enough tobacco to roll yourself 20 (or more) cigarettes sells for less than $2. And they throw in the rolling papers, in most cases!]. When asked, officials in the states with high cigarette taxes openly admit they are trying to discourage smoking by putting the price out of convenient reach for most consumers. As a gesture of commitment, they plow the taxes into "Quitlines", or cancer research, or what have you, as long as it's somehow connected to ending smoking, or curing its unfortunate effects.
Fair enough. Consider the issues relating to petroleum consumption:
1. / It's a limited resource
2. / The countries with the most of it hold an unhealthy control over those with the
most need of it
3. / While the US has a fair amount of petroleum, our over-use of it in the past has
led us to become one of those nations desperate for more [the analogy of a
junkie may be unpleasant to some, but not inaccurate]
4. / Alternatives to petroleum are not forthcoming, or lead to their own problems
[for instance, ethanol. It stretches the gas we do have. But it also may lead to
dramatic shortages of corn, and foods made from corn. It's not a big step to
link ethanol with food riots that have broken out in several world regions].
As far as rationing gas, let me introduce you to the first politician who'd suggest such a move.
Point taken? Okay.
So what CAN we do? Well, if it works [somewhat] for cigarette smoking, it may just work for gasoline. Raise the tax on gasoline to painful levels, and force people to at least consider using public transportation. The tax windfall should be used to improve and extend public transport to as many places as possible. There you have it. Any politician, environmentalist, or good-deed-doer is free to use this plan without charge. Just, please, please, please keep my name out of this.
-Mike Riley

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Love Hurts [And Scars]

In the two or so years I've been writing these little "thought-pods" [is that the most pretentious description of a post you've eve heard? It is? Good. Thank you], and reading other blogs, I've discovered that the most commented on entries are either about the best money-making programs, or sex. I know nothing about making money on the Web, so...

-We travel first to our neighbors to the north, Canada. Specifically, prairie metropolis Winnipeg.That city's excellent Free Press newspaper recently shared the story of a man who suffered, shall we say, "unusual" injuries during a romantic interlude. No, nothing THAT interesting [or perverted. Get your mind out of the gutter. There's no room for mine].The 24-year-old man was brought to a hospital suffering from a rather gaping hole in his heart [now that's a sex game I don't want to learn]. Things were, as they say, "touch-and-go" for a while, but he made a full recovery, just in time to speak on behalf of his 25-year-old partner d'Amour, accused of carving a heart into the skin over his real heart, and slicing it open in the process. [By the way, while we're on this subject, I think I've finally found something that Google doesn't have an image for. Nothing for chest carving. Lots for pumpkin carving, but that didn't seem helpful] This left us to settle for the rather generic surgery image that illustrates this post. Apparently the two had been drinking rather heavily [oh, what a surprise!], and he had requested the heart job. A sympathetic judge sentenced her to probation, since both parties agreed he had asked for it. On so many levels. But another story beckons us now. Crank up the Enola Gay, somebody. We're bound for...

-Iceland [Am I just suspicious, or is there a cold weather/sexual adventure theme developing here?], home to the Phallological Museum, displaying examples of the wide variety in the penises [penii? I'm never sure what the plural here is] of creatures great and small. Founder/curator Sigurdur Hjartartson started collecting "retired" male members in 1974 with a bull's penis [most people want the ears and tail, but not our Sigurdur], and now is the proud [for what else could he be but proud] owner of some 260 examples, distributed across 90 species. Currently not on display is an example of the human tallywhacker [where's Relax Max, of BritishSpeak fame, when you need someone with a list of synonyms for the male sex organ? Between his own imagination and the clever wankers in the UK, we'd have euphemisms 'till the cows came home], but Mr. Hjartartson is just waiting on one of four donors to die, and deliver his already-promised lightning rod to the Museum. The potential donors, a German, an American, an Icelander and a Briton [and if that's not the start of a joke, it should be. Imagine the four of them walking into a bar. Imagine them having a date with the same girl on the same night. Now, write the damn joke and get out of my face], are currently represented by certificates that note their great donation [I'm not impressed; if they were really concerned about the completeness of the collection, they'd give it up now!]. The American contributor was helpful enough to give the Museum a plastic, oh let's call it a "representation" of the tool in question [some viewers have their doubts as to its accuracy], as well as the information that he calls his member "Elmo" [now, that's disturbing. Is anyone out there waiting for the Museum's take on "Tickle Me Elmo"?]

Before you dismiss the attraction of a penis museum, know that 6,000 visitors walked in by the abstract human penis sculpture that identifies the Museum. For what it's worth, 60 % of them were women. Which is as good a transition as any for our final stop...

-Tokyo, where a lingere company has created the first "solar-powered bra" [hold on a minute. This one deserves an illustration]

If I understand the concept rightly, the little light receptors on the front of the brassiere are connected to batteries strapped to the girl's chest. The solar energy is sent to the battery for storage. The only FLAW in the whole plan involves the common practice of wearing clothing over underwear. This negates the light receptors, and the rest of the plan as well. Then again, the lingere manufacturer calls this a "concept bra". Not a well-thought-out concept, was it?

Now, let's see what kind of comments I get!

-Mike Riley

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bloggers Unite - The Four Freedoms

Today, bloggers across the world are considering the topic of human rights, as part of Bloggers Unite's First Anniversary Celebration. I am happy to join my thoughts to the conversation, and grateful to God and the many brave soldiers of every nation that fights for freedom that I have the privilege to do so.

There are many who say we live in dark times. Sadly, I must agree. The forces of repression and subjugation are strong at this hour. But so are the forces that take up the cause of freedom. At another dark hour in the world's history, the winter of 1941, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressed the question that is at the root of any discussion of human rights: what are the fundamental, unarguable rights of a human being? In other words, what do those who fight for human rights truly fight for?

On January 6, 1941, President Roosevelt delivered that year's State of The Union Address. In addition to giving the President a chance to speak his mind on the direction the nation was going, it gave Roosevelt the opportunity to "set the agenda" for the next year. His words did more than that. They made the case for the establishment of basic rights for every person on the planet.

Consider the world that Roosevelt saw as he spoke. In Europe, Adolph Hitler's Nazi regime was bringing the free nations of that continent under his repressive control. In Italy, he found a willing associate in Benito Mussolini, the Fascist dictator. The Russian people, long under the subjugation of Joseph Stalin, were at this moment fighting for Hitler as well [Ironically, this was almost over; in July of 1941, Hitler violated a non-aggression pact with the USSR by invading Russia. The Soviets soon joined the Allies]. In Asia and the Pacific, the Japanese Imperial Forces had overrun many formerly-independent states and colonies. As the President gave his address, Great Britain was the most powerful of the world's free nations taking on the forces of oppression. Much of their armament was being constructed in the United States, a move that still met with opposition from Americans uninterested in a war they saw as Europe's to fight. After all, hadn't thousands of young Americans been killed or maimed in the First World War? And what had America gotten out of that?

But President Roosevelt saw that this war was more than just "Europe's" to fight. He saw the chance to establish a basic set of principles that future governments should, no, MUST be based upon:

"In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.

The first is freedom of speech and expression--everywhere in the world.

The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way--everywhere in the world.

The third is freedom from want--which, translated into universal terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.

The fourth is freedom from fear--which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor--anywhere in the world.

That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb."

It took years of struggle, on battlefields around the world, but the forces that strove for those principles proved victorious. The principles of the "Four Freedoms" were written into the charter of the United Nations, and are recognized as the starting point for any discussion of human rights. As we explore the rights of humanity on this day, and every day, let us never forget them. Let us never feel that our rights are secure, as long as any person is not under their protection.

-Mike Riley

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The Revolution WILL Be Televised [But Who'll Notice?]

Big happenings in our little town Monday night! We had rare [for us, anyway] live coverage of a real hostage/standoff drama on local TV [For some reason, this doesn't happen a lot around here. Not that we're complaining...].

Of course, we've seen action footage from other cities. Los Angeles TV, for instance, must look like a Cops marathon some days, what with all the car and foot chases that seem to be the main news fare. Living close to the Canadian metropolis of Toronto, we get to see the occasional police pursuit, live via helicopter, on their stations. But, since this is an unusual happening here, we're not jaded yet.

The news first broke towards the end of the 6 PM newscast. The anchors noted that a "breaking story" [and we all know what Polisicks says about breaking news] was in progress on one of this area's busiest roadways, just at the end of "rush hour" [another mildly foreign concept around here; most people have a less than 45 minute commute from work to home, even on heavy traffic days]. The screen quickly switched to a view of police cars surrounding a pickup truck. Traffic had been shut down in both directions, leaving more than a few cars and trucks stranded. Amazingly, people were getting out of their cars, and coming as close to the scene as police would allow! [This is one unfortunate effect of so much televised mayhem; like squirrels, we've lost all fear, and are likely to get knocked off by an act that simple caution would prevent. Then again, it thins out the herd...]

Details began to trickle out about the incident: someone [who called the TV station with his story] had seen the pickup truck's driver beating on a female passenger as he was about to drive out of Niagara Falls. The witness quickly called a friend of his, who happened to be a County sheriff's deputy. He was off-duty, but recommended that 911 [emergency services] be called. They were, and the pursuit was on. State Police officers eventually caught up with him in Buffalo. He pulled over to talk to the Troopers, which was when they realized that he was carrying a gun. The police quickly insulated him from the other drivers on the road, keeping him talking and awaiting more help.

During the talk, his passenger left the truck [with permission or not is uncertain at this hour] and was soon spotted in conversation with Buffalo's Police Commissioner [While I think it was nice that the Commissioner took the time to talk with the woman personally, shouldn't he have been more involved with the gunman? Someone else could certainly have gotten the poor woman's story]. Meanwhile, officers were quickly clearing the roadway of trapped drivers, escorting them to "entrance" ramps, which worked just as well, as it turned out, for exiting the highway. SWAT teams arrived, and the TV cameras showed them crouching down behind the concrete barrier that separated North- and South-bound traffic, guns drawn.

As all this was going on, several curious things happened. People began e-mailing the station camera phone photos of the gunman, or the police. A huge crowd gathered in a nearby park, that overlooked the scene. Police began ticketing and towing cars that stopped to watch the drama [this tactic did little good, though; as soon as one car was towed away, another parked in the opened space. It's that "loss of fear" thing again...]

Then everything went into "waiting" mode. Conversations with the gunman continued. He was shown, standing outside his truck, occasional gesturing wildly with his gun [it looked like a pistol, but I'm not really sure]. Finally, as darkness fell, a lone officer approached the truck from behind. Somehow, he got the drop on the driver [who had returned to his vehicle a little earlier]. Meanwhile, other police set off a "whiz-bang" device [a bag that sets off a bright flash of light, followed by a loud explosion]. Startled [and possibly stunned], the gunman was easy prey for a group of officers, who dragged him out of the truck, disarmed him, and put him in restraints. End of crisis, but only the beginning of the questions:
1. / How did all this start? (I could write a scenario involving the two [in a truck with out-of-state plates] visiting Niagara Falls, getting into an argument over losing their vacation money at one of the three casinos that serve this area, with it escalating to violence, and the police incident that followed. But I must emphasise that this is only a theory)
2. / What the Hell were the people in the park thinking? Did they learn nothing from First Manassas [For the uninformed; First Manassas (sometimes called First Bull Run) was an early battle in the US Civil War, fought near the village of Manassas, Virginia. Near to Washington, DC, it seemed to many in the Nation's Capitol an opportunity to spend a pleasant day, watching the Union Army crush the Confederate forces. Some people even brought picnic lunches. The Confederates thoroughly routed the Union side, forcing the spectators to flee for their lives as the Confederates charged the badly-broken Union line. More than a few picnic baskets were lost that day...]
3. / Semi-related to #2, What role does TV coverage of such incidents have on those viewing that coverage? Here in Buffalo, apparently, it leads to people coming out to watch a possibly gory spectacle [Fortunately, no shots were fired by anyone, and any injuries were minor]. More than once, younger people were trying to "get on camera" while the standoff continued. A disturbing response. Does a TV camera encourage bad behavior in spectators? [I don't think the gunman had access to TV] Where does the desire of citizens to know what's going on in their community butt up against the real possibility of injury to those emboldened to come out and watch the event, even at risk to themselves?

Now, remember, I'm sort of on the edge of this. I work for a local radio station [although we carried no special coverage of the standoff]. We play music, and try to take people's minds off the mayhem of the world. But, in fairness, it could be argued that I'm "part of the problem". However you come down on that question, ask yourself this one: what's the solution?

-Mike Riley

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Cowboy Wisdom

Someone once asked Will Rogers [above], Cowboy entertainer and humorist, about his political beliefs. Rogers replied that he didn't belong to any organized party, then added, "I'm a Democrat".

Now that joke is eighty, if it's a day. But it still serves as a starting point to understand the current intramural dust up between Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama for the party's nomination for President. The two are currently criss-crossing the country, trying to pin down a majority of delegates for this summer's national convention. But it's not that simple. In the Democratic Party, it never is. Under the party's convoluted system, a candidate can have a majority of delegates, but still fall victim to the "superdelegate" vote, from delegates that are committed to no candidate, and thus free to vote for anyone they choose [does this seem like any way to run a political party?].

The sad part about all this is, after eight years of the current Republican administration, it seems likely that anyone who isn't a member of the GOP should have an edge in the general election [especially since presumptive Republican nominee John McCain is previewing a platform that smells suspiciously like "more of the same"]. And yet, the Democrats have chosen an election that should be theirs for the taking to put on a bruising primary series that may lead to unrepairable rifts among the various factions supporting one or another candidate. The differences between Clinton and Obama on the issues are small, so this series of votes is based on trying to select the most "electable" candidate [or, as cynics in the crowd are saying, do Democrats want the opportunity to support the first [potential] female President, or the first [potential] black President? For some in the party, it's a hard choice].

Complicating matters, longtime third-party candidate Ralph Nader, who usually draws off Democratic votes, has entered the race. It's a scenario that seems fraught with disaster for the Democrats.

[Readers of this blog in other countries have the right, I suppose, to feel smug about the whole thing. Most of you are governed under the parliamentary system, where candidates run on a platform determined by the party, and individual personalities have a reduced role. Our system frequently comes off as sensible as the sport we call "football"...
and yet, it seems to work for us]

Being a Democrat, as candor requires me to admit, is a lot like being a fan of the Buffalo Bills football team [not mandatory to admit, but it helps the analogy]; we have big dreams at the start of the season, but usually are out of playoff contention well before the end of the campaign. Maybe it's time to punt...

-Mike Riley

PS: Please, oh please, oh please DON'T ask me to explain the Electoral College. Like the "infield fly" rule in baseball, NO GOOD AMERICAN can explain it - mr