Thursday, July 31, 2008

Internet Bombsites

Remember the days of the dot com bubble? Yeah, we all do because it only happened 10 years ago. Odd that a housing bubble happened right after it. Well a business website recently compiled a list of well known Internet Bombs. In the defense of the internet fever that gripped the nation, to most lay people, the potential was beyond our imagination, and reality would never match up to those dreams. Money making ideas were out there, just not where you would expect them. Many people forgot that many California gold rush miners didn't died penniless, but the pick axe and denim manufacturers and salesmen did well. I wrote a paper in 2001 about the destruction of some of these start ups in the manner that killed itself: advertising expenditures and other ways of burning through cash raised on frivolous jets and other corporate toys. Many of these firms were given more money than they knew what to do with and were under 30 with no prior business experience. My paper wrapped up with a prediction that brick and mortar retailers and businesses would learn from the failures of internet only start ups and expand their corporate reach through the web for revenue growth with lower overhead. I falsely predicted the death of and subsequent purachase of Amazon by a traditional book and music retailer. All in all, the internet boom was a redistribution of wealth rewarding risk takers and creative, intelligent people that ended horribly as a lot of that wealth went >poof< as everyone crowded into the boat to get some green. The destruction of so much stock market wealth in so little time has still kept many Americans from investing in the stock market 8 years after the peak.

I had to attach a photo of the sockdog. I loved the ads that they wrote for this sock puppet. Extremely quirky and funny, they could get you to laugh for the most ridiculous reasons. The sock dog sang "spinning wheel". I loved how they kept up the pretense that he was a dog ("he's got a stuffed thing") and mixed it with deliberate moments to show the puppet-ness of the premise ("i'm a happy puppet thing"). Having gone to wikipedia, I have learned that Michael Ian Black of "The State", which was MTVs funniest concept ever, was the voice of the sock puppet. I would look forward to each new ad. Sadly, selling low profit margin kibble on the internet was not a good business model. The company went under, the entire schtick became a symbol of the dot com boom, but the sock puppet lived in. The sock dog puppet likeness was sold for use in another company's ads. These were creative ads that I wished more companies used for television, but I fear companies would only do something like this through a 'viral marketing' campaign now.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Pop Music Brilliance

For the last few days, my wife and I cannot get that damn song "I Kissed A Girl" out of our heads. First off, this song is a scorching hit right now, but I think had it come out a few years back at the peak of the "what the fuck is up with all of our college age daughters making out with each other" phenomenon, it would be even bigger. Although at 5 weeks at the top of the charts, it's hard to be a bigger hit. The whole girls kissing thing is so cliche now, and when I see young women do it now at parties, it seems like such a desperate act to get attention. These are not Sarah Lawrence undergrads truly questioning the idea of philia with friends and whether that should develop into eros. I'll give the lyrics some props because it's not about getting attention, it's about a girl being attractive. I agree with that idea. Why is this song such a hit? The douchebags at the LA Times break it down, and I actually agree with most of the points written in the column. I love when newspaper columnists try to use big words and snazzy concepts to make you feel like they are smarter than the average person, therefore they deserve to control how you get the news. Sorry for that rant. Stay on target.

A. This is a former Christian singer singing about lezzing out for a night. The PR that generates is going to be worth sales and some airplay.

B. As mentioned in the LA Times article, Cathy fucking Dennis has a hand in this song. She's not Diane Warren, whom through her songwriting has been present everytime a woman has ever cried over loving a man, child, sister, parent, or pet, but Cathy Dennis has skills at writing a good pop song (her own work and Toxic by Britney Spears). Her solo career was a solid effort in the early 90s pop scene, and she may have discovered the formula copied by all of Rap and Hip Hop in the last decade of having a girl sing a and a guy rap horribly in between the woman's significantly superior singing with C'mon and Get my Love. That video is even funnier than I remember because they did the giant letters in a white studio routine and had some terrible dancing. What the heck is going on there? Also, watch her videos for Just Another Dream and Touch Me and tell em they didn't shoot those at the same time.

C. It's a subject that perfectly fits that vapid side of "girl power". Not good "girl power" like get an education, feel self confident, be yourself, and be strong. It's that side of "girl power" that fits in with bad decision tattoos, thinking your tough when you wear leather sex boots and buying a diamond for yourself. "See I'm cool I kissed a girl one night out". Yup, just wake up the next morning and cry with your oversized, overpriced Dolce & Gabana sunglasses.

D. Lesbians everywhere can use this as a lame pick up angle when it comes on at a bar, and they are trying to turn a straight girl. I'm thinking of one in particular, but it's good for lesbians everywhere.

E. Are you kidding me, I waited to put this here, but this is already inducted into the Strip Club Song Hall of Fame. I haven't been to one in years, but now I am looking forward to my next trip to a strip club to hopefully, hear this song and confirm my suspicions. If I ran a strip club, this would be played once an hour.

F. This is the the best example in 2008 of the double standard in regards to being a gay woman in America instead of a gay man. Could this be a hit if it was "I kissed a boy, and I liked it, the feel of his scruff was fantastic"? No.

G. This is the key to everything: the song's unbelievable beat and production. Seriously, she could sing about killing puppies and people would still dance to this track. The beat is what is what sticks in my head all day. I pick up lyrics quickly with a lot of music, but the lyrics are insignificant to me. I am a firm supporter of the "kick it up a notch" school of music, best showcased in the music of the Goo Goo Dolls. This song's kick up to the chorus is really funky and fierce. Two thumbs up.

I do not care if this pop song has any staying power, but I know it will be stuck in my head for a couple of weeks. I will also be on the lookout in my music downloads for the instrumental version of the song.

A Broken Clock is Right Twice a Day

Looks like Congress is voting on my compromise for an energy idea. Drill and use the proceeds for alternative energy investments. This will probably pass the Senate by stall in the House because of Nancy "Midget" Pelosi. (Seriously, she's a midge. My sister worked in Congress for a short while and saw Pelosi take her heels off and shrink by a full foot in height.) I'm personally excited about opening up oil shale in the Rocky Mountain states and the nuclear proposals as well as the funding of alternative energy.

This is good. This is a step. Maybe it will get passed. We can only hope.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Could Hitler's War of WW2 Been Stillborn?

After completing the wonderful "The Rise & Fall of the Third Reich", it dumbfounds me how the world stood by and let Nazi Germany rise in strength and rampage central Europe. Agression dealt with in its early stages could have prevented millions of deaths and the later suffering of millions behind the Iron Curtain. Europe was dealing with the monstrous hangover from World War 1, and many world leaders made moves that they thought would prevent war. They would avoid small skirmishes that could have prevented the big one just to give themselves time. Part of it comes down to Hitler's nature. He was crazy and driven to conquest. This should not have been a surprise to anyone after his 600+ page book on his goals for conquest. No one took him at his written word, and constantly deluded themselves with his broken promises, which racked up over the years.

There were 4 major points where Nazi Germany could have been stopped in its tracks sparing millions killed by warfare and genocide. In chronological order....

1. When Hitler ordered the Rhineland occupied, the 300,000 troops of the French army could have overrun the small contingent of German Troops used for the occupation. Hundreds of thousands of troops at their disposal, but the French did nothing. After countless History Channel specials, books and stories from my grandfathers, the behavior of the French leadership prior to and during WW2 was despicable. This simple chase of the Germans was easy to accomplish and was a strict enforcement of the Versailles treaty. Hitler would have lost face and his support would have been weakened, possibly leading to overthrow.

2. When Hitler gave Austria's chancellor Schuschnigg a week to answer on the Anschluss, Schuschnigg could have coordinated a resistance in Austria with the support of the Czechs and French. If the Austrians had arranged for the French and Czechs to attack Germany if the Austrians were invaded, Hitler would not have invaded Austria, and had he invaded Austria, the combined resistance within Austria and attacks on the west and east from France and Czechoslovakia would have destroyed the Wehrmacht. This might have been tougher to accomplish as it would rely on the Austrians coordinating with the Czechs and the Czechs to get the French to honor their treaties. A loss for Germany would have collapsed Hitler's regime. Game over.

3. Rather than the appeasement of Nazi Germany at Munich, a coalition of resistance could have offered Germany an ultimatum that any attack on the Czechs would be met with attack by multiple countries on the oceans, in the airs and on the ground. The Czechs had fortifications so strong the German generals later said they could not have penetrated them at the time, and the Czechs had a huge army called up for the fight. This was on Germany's east wing. To their west was France and hundreds of thousands of troops. On top of this, The British could provide a Naval blockade and bombers, and the Russians, who were not needed, could have provided help in the air if needed. Faced with an ultimatum from so many countries, the German generals would have overthrown Hitler.

4. A last moment for peace was out there. Had the British and French teamed up with the Russians in the summer of 1939 to guarantee Poland and come to one another's aid in conflict with Germany, there is no way Germany would have attacked Poland. The key here was getting over the fear of the Russian Bolsheviks that the British had, and to convinve the Polish to accept Russian help. I think a simple "you accept their help or no one helps you" would have worked. This would have kept Hitler boxed in, and encouraged other small countries to trust in the Anglo-Franco-Russo alliance.

Alas, it is the past and cannot be changed. We can only wonder what if........

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Best Lines Either Candidate Can Use Against the Other

McCain should pound Obama with.... "You have done absolutely nothing to merit or show that you can handle the office of the president of the United States. You claim your judgment will make you a keen POTUS. In regards to the "surge" of US troops in Iraq, you judged it to be a failure before it was even launched and that it would increase violence and worsen a sectarian civil war in Iraq. You have been proven 100% wrong. What else should America trust to your judgment?"

Obama should pound McCain with.... "America went from budget surpluses and a strong dollar under the Democrats, to a dollar halved in value and monstrous deficits, which burden all Americans with further debt, future tax obligations and less purchasing power to pay for basics. You have propsed nothing to ameliorate these circumstances."

I'm predicting an Obama victory because this is the perfect year for the Democrats. They can't screw this one up. They have a lot going for them and the GOP is a terrible brand right now thanks to Tom Delay, Trent Lott and Dubya. Obama has a fired up base, and enough protection from the media that he's going to have to screw up royally in the last 3 months to lose. Just remember, if Dan Quayle (or Dubya) had made statements like this or this, he would have been destroyed in the mass media. The only hope Obama will give anyone is hope for any candidate, who can give pretty speeches & get the media to fawn over him, the opportunity to be president despite doing nothing to prove they could be a competent executive. I really feel bad for McCain as I supported him in 2000, but ask Nelson Rockefeller how it feels to be denied by a weaker, but good ol' boy primary candidate and then not get your chance at all or at a very late stage in life.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Big Traffic Blog Comment Boards Without Filters

Blogs can serve a very good purpose in the world of information. Blogs have ended the careers of newcasters lying to swing elections (Dan Rather) or show the fake elements of photographs trying to skew world opinion (fill in the blank terror group and Iran). Blogs can keep the media honest, blogs can share information in a network fashion, and blogs can spotlight things that big media doesn't care about. I like to point out how I rarely hear about Iraq on the nightly news anymore but I can read about it all I want on the Mudville gazette, Michael Totten's site or Michael Yon's dispatches. The Internet is serving a positive purpose for me. Comment boards on high traffic blogs will eventually disappear as they will become too big of a liability. What kills blogs that share wonderful information and can awaken people to ideas and issues are the dumbass comments by random posters.

Autobloggreen, Future Pundit and Next Big Future have made me excited about technological things that could be right around the corner. These are examples of the good blogs can contribute to information networks and sharing. Even with these blogs, mention a code word and the crazies come out. Mention "peak oil" and the fucking loonies come out. Mention "George W. Bush was right" (I don't know when you would say this but go with me), and you get flame wars on the boards. The anonymity of the web has allowed people to be gigantic douchebags. We've covered this. This turns off a lot of folks from using web sources or trusting information they find on the web from people who are telling the truth but watching random Joes/Janes tear down their credibility. This retards the discourse that might be achieved because some bloggers are concerned with credibility and are trying to offer an alternative to the big media outlets and are shutting down their comment boards.

Economic and financial blogs suffer from this horribly. I love investing and finance. I love to search these blogs for analysis and a point of view, I might not share or have not even considered. I have learned quite a bit from cruising these blogs. I also notice the same 10 posters cruising the same sites. I have commented on this before, and believe me I have noticed any even worse trend, which has inspired this post. Here's a sample comment thread on an unmoderated comment board.....

Title: Random Post on the Gold/Oil Relationship

comment 1: nice post have you considered X? I think X will happen.
comment 2: I am a fan of X as well and consider it a hedge to Y.
comment 3: I think gold is great for protecting against hyperinflation and deflation
comment 4: Let's not start the hyperinflation/deflation debate again. :)
comment 5: Oil is a bubble.
comments 6-18: Comments hijacked by peak oil believers and skeptics. This could be an additional 40 comments.
comment 19: Back to gold, I think it has room to go higher in price.
comment 20: the central banks keep trying to hold gold down

and here it comes.....

comment 21: it's jew bankers like the Rothchilds in London who are trying to control the price of gold.
comment 22: the jews will get us to strike >fill in the blank Arab country< any moment.

What the Fuck People!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! This is 2008. Let's stop with the Jews control the world conspiracy theory. The lame-o recycled protocols of Zion crap must go. If the Jews did control all, don't you think Europe would have a better opinion of Israel and would side with them instead of the Palestinians? Same with the UN's hatred of Israel. Don't you think the Jews would have picked a spot of land in the Middle East with some oil under it????? Some blogs are better than others with shutting down the conspiracy theory shit, and believe me, I love to discuss conspiracy theories. What I dislike is horrible racism in a forum meant for discussion of other subjects. I believe in freedom of speech, but the original topic of a post or essay is what comments should be directed to. You want to be a racist, you can on your own time and on your own website. Go do it there.

I am highlighting anti-semitism here because I have noticed it pick up a bit on some financial and investing blog comment boards I visit. I used to read comments to maybe learn a different point of view, and I'm running into centuries old racism. It is disheartening. It is not even fun to argue with these tards. I love the Jews. A lot of people hate them, but they never change their ways. Plus, Israel is surrounded by countries that hate them. When those countries try to start shit, they get blown the fuck up. This anti-semitism is on political blogs as well like the daily kos and even obama's supporters' blogs. I've run into anti-semitism in many different places, and the Internet is no different. This I think will ultimately doom high traffic blogs. They will have to shutdown comments, moderate them much closer, or suffer the consequence of a big media outlet using a comment to smear a blog by attributing it to the blog host rather than the anonymous comment poster.

On a side note, I enjoy arguing with the Chinese commie defenders that pop up on business websites with talking points straight from Beijing. I love the Chinese; I dislike the oligarchial dictatorship running the show. I understand defending the homeland and being patriotic, but they take everything so personal and fail to ever recognize the enviromental destruction being forced on that country and the political killings in the thousands every single year. They take every attack personal, then dump on the USA and expect you to not take it personal. A good person rises above the attack. I freely take the abuse hurled at my homeland from anaonymous internet posters because they are little douchebags hiding behind their CPU screen. The absolute beauty of the USA is that you can rip it and the President to shreds in speech, and no one shoots you the next day. Sometimes the Chicoms even say "I live in NJ, my relatives back home say...". First, you can call them on their BS by asking why they don't live back home if China is so great, or asking who won Monday Night Football? If they can't answer that quickly, they aren't in Jersey. You know that! The odd inferiority/superiority split personality the China defenders have is even more pronounced than the defenders of Islamo-terrorism. The China defenders are easy to get mad, easy to spot, and easy to argue with in a fun manner.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Energy Idea that Dipstick Politicians Should Love

Energy is on the tip of just about everyone's tongue. Gas prices are high, winter heating oil keeps chugging higher, solar cells are becoming cheaper for the homegamer to install in the Southwest, and even my homestate is witnessing municipalities waking up to the idea that coastal communities should allow their citizens to install wind turbines if they want to pay for it. I'm all for spreading out power generation and putting control into the customer's hands, and heck, transmission losses are reduced because of onsite power generation and use. Still, we are a long ways away from a solid basket of energy sources to power the future. We, as is the world, is still a coal powered place with lots of oil for transportation.

Part of our nation's problem is that we have companies and activists pouring millions of dollars into political parties to shape policy, that affects everyone, to meet their specific goals and needs. Enviros pour money into the Dems coffers to make sure we eventually live in hairshirts and eat grass. Prime example is California where they have not built a coal power plant in who knows when, but they suffer from rolling blackouts. Gee, I wonder why: increased demand, stagnant supply growth. The republicans are no better with their oil, coal and nuclear money (ever wonder why McCain is so pro-nuke; he's smart and well funded by them), which skews their views towards favoring those industries. Could there be a way to satisfy both of these lobbies, and benefit the nation? Here's a shot in the dark from one crank.

There are multiple issues at work. We have an issue of energy for electrical generation and CO2 issues. We then have the energy issue of transportation fuels. We have issues of energy generation and storage from intermittent sources, and of energy conservation. I like the T. Boone Pickens plan. The big reason is that it is an idea. We don't have a plan right now, and haven't had one ever really. It's usually just: get more energy. Pickens is trying to take advantage of our abundant energy potential in wind and help free up our natural gas usage to go to fueling our cars so we import less oil. He tackles both electricity generation and transportation fuels in one plan. Brilliant. Let me tackle energy as energy czar.....

Let's start with the here and now. We can't change overnight, but $4 gas sure is changing behavior rapidly. Let's go after the fat in our oil use first. Aggressive tax breaks for hybrid vehicles, PHEV and all electric 3 wheelers like the Aptera. If we could have them for SUVs for a decade, alt cars can get them as rich and as long as SUVs enjoyed them. Get rid of the tariff on sugar cane Brazilian ethanol and end our ridiculous corn ethanol subsidies (yah, food prices go lower). Study different metro areas for opening up commuter systems run by private companies. Let a private business determine if it is feasible and make them work it in areas that make sense. Offer up tax breaks for rail companies to develop regional rail systems between cities. Long distance rail travel is not feasible across the 3000 mile wide continent, but high speed regional systems in areas like the Bos-Wash corridor work. Could not the same be done between Chicago-St. Louis-Indidnapolis-Cincy-Louisville-Columbus-Cleveland? Start small with the super high speed trains like Chicago-St. Louis non-stop; hell get Bos-NYC a 175 mph train. Those distances are more in line with those fancy Euro systems. I once took an overnight train from Paris to Barcelona. Good experience, but that's the max I would want to be in a train (600 + miles). Lock in a gas tax that will create a floor in the price of gas so that gas does not get below $3.50. I decided that arbitrarily, but with the promise of gas never becoming "cheap" again, many folks will not slide back into SUV dream world. Here's the important part: use the tax revenue for developing battery technology which is critical for electric vehicles and for energy storage for the next step.

Sure, I just marked out major moves to destroy oil demand and added a gas tax so that the price will never dip below $3.50, but why not help prices a bit now? Sure, let's open up offshore drilling, allow for municipalities and states to decide if they want to reopen closed down refineries or build new ones, open up the gigantic, trillion barrels of recoverable oil shale in Colorado on federal lands, and reduce how much oil we have to import by increasing domestic supply. See destroy demand for step 1, and increase domestic supply for step 2. Now my argument to enviros is if the Norwegians and Brits are so environmentally friendly, how come they do offshore oil drilling? Busted. Don't worry enviros, I have something to make you feel all warm and fuzzy. Offshore and oil shale will need higher oil prices to be profitable, and projects will take a while to come online to make a dent in prices, so the current oil price climate is a benefit to these projects. These projects will help in the short term of 10-20 years.

See federal land rights and leases are going to generate big time money when companies like Shell start using oil shale deposits and wildcatters start drilling offshore. Let's set aside all of the land lease revenue dollars for alternative energy R&D, nuclear reactor subsidies, battery development R&D, electrical grid investments, tax breaks for alt energy companies. Let's also set aside some of those revenues to support breaks for consumers in colder regions who want to install geothermal and air heat pumps to heat their homes rather than use oil and nat gas. Those systems can be between 10-17K to install. I seriously recommend home heat pumps after using one the last year for cooling and heating. Amazing work if you have the area to support it, and since they work in Canada, I think they can work almost anywhere in America. Let's help folks north of the Mason Dixon line with some help in making that choice if they want to to change how they heat their home. Why not an entire cost of the unit tax break. We gave tax breaks for SUVs for years and that did nothing but move doctors, lawyers, and McMansion moms around. These heat pumps heat and cool homes. We would transfer the wealth from oil revenues into funds for the nascent alt energy sector of our economy. Let's have oil and nat gas revenues be the stepping stone to the future of alt energy and nuclear. Enviros would compromise on the oil drilling now, while everyone would see the benefit of a lower oil import bill, which is a large chunk of our trade deficit and reason of the debasement of the dollar. This move to partial and then almost a complete electrification of the transportation industry will be long term 20-40 years. Right now in reality, we need to set up the systems to offer alternatives that get people out of single person riding in a time convenient manner, and prepare the nation for a transition to an electric future like they used to show people when they visited Epcot center.

This would be absolute gold. If W came out and said, "I love me some oil, hmm, yeah, but we must use this oil revenue for alt energy investimications" it would be a big step by a pro-oil guy. If Obama or Pelosi came out and said the same thing only different, "I think we should use oil exploration & drilling today for funding the alt energy of tomorrow", it would be political gold. The political center cares about the environment, but it also cares about its wallet and having the lights on when they want (hint hint Obama, fuck off for telling me where to set my thermostat). This is what the state of Texas is doing as it has displaced California as the number oeen producer of wind energy in the 50 states. Texas!!! Enviros would love it because it is a long term idea to move us away from fossil fuels and limit CO2 levels. Everyone else can like a way to avoid paying at the pump with other modes of transportation, and help with energy sources that can directly help them without the variability of oil price swings. Pickens and studies say we have the potential to displace 20% of our electricity generation with wind power. An area the size of Ohio located in the southwest covered in solar cells and solar thermal plants could generate tons of electricity to displace our nat gas and coal fired power plants out West. We would still use coal and nat gas a bit, but in reduced roles. Electric companies would like this because they would receive help in forging ahead with alt energy investments to provide power on a mass basis without the fear of a solar burn out or anti-nuke demonstrations like happened after the last solar and nuclear boom. I think some electric companies have to fear the idea that solar PV and thin film is going to get so cheap that individuals in the southwesta nd southeast start buying PV and thin film with grid tie ins to reduce (or eliminate) grid usage and cut into electric companies' profits. As we transition our transportation fleet from an almost entirely liquid fuel basis to a mix of liquid and electric, and hopefully one day mostly electric, we need to have steady leadership that will produce some short term tangible changes while maintaining a long term focus. We needed to invest yesterday, but we can't. No use crying over what we cannot change, so let's start it in a way that helps us here & now and for the future.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Book Reviews of The Last Lion: Alone and American Caesar

William Manchster is a former U.S. Marine who took up the task of writing a trilogy about Winston Churchill entitled "The Last Lion". Sadly, he suffered a stroke and passed away before he could finish the third book of the trilogy, but fortunately, he gave to us the second volume, which is the finest biograhpical work of writing I have ever read. The Last Lion: Alone covers the years of 1932-1940, which covers Winton's time out of power and influence right up to the very threshold of that great moment when he stood up against the Nazis as prime minister.

The book starts off with a description of the average day for Winton at his home. It is a funny way to kick off a book of such serious subject matter. After reading this book, you will begin to view World Wars 1 and 2 not as separate events but as bookends to a long struggle that ended the world order. The British Empire would be rendered kaput by its dumb decision to fight the Kaiser in WW1 but its valiant fight against the Japanese and Nazis in WW2. This was the Empire's finest hour and it's final act, and it had its greatest citizen around for leadership. Sadly, in this book, you read how Churchill was kept out of power and viewed poorly by everyone in power. It is amazing to read how the British and French were scared to fight the Germans at every single turn despite numerical superiority. The first World War truly paralyzed thought and rational decision making. As an American, this is difficult to understand because we entered WW1 so late, avoiding the millions in casualties that the Germans, British and French suffered. You will get upset at the stupidity of the British government officials, as they try to make friends with the Nazis, while Churchill is screaming daily about the Nazis thirst for blood, war and territorial expansion. Churchill was one of the few foreigners who had read Hitler's manifesto, Mein Kampf, and saw the blueprint for Hitler's actions once he became leader of Germany. Hitler didn't hide his ideas; he wrote them down for all the world to see. Few took him seriously, and no one in the British government did except Churchill. The book is about 700 pages long, but is a well paced read.

If you do pay attention to the news, beyond the NY Times, you will chuckle at how the Brits and their media go out of their way not to offend the Nazis even after war is declared. It will remind you of how messed up the UK is right now with their inability to face the Islamic terrorism and cultual suicide that is going in the UK. About 70 years ago they did not have the will to face Hitler when they should have, and now they refuse to fight for the common citizen of the UK and face up to the "no go zones" popping up in British cities for non-Muslims and countless other small things that will eventually snowball ro cause a major counter-movement that will end ugly. A "no go zone" means that Muslims have said that the area is not safe for non-Muslims to enter. Yup, basic human freedoms gone for everyday people. This is why so many UK citizens are moving to Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia. Sorry for the rambling. One additional bonus in this book is the author's sense of humor. He was witty and sarcastic at times; I thought he was British. I highly recommend this book, and have already made mym grandfather excited to get it from the library. It's worth the read.

Because of my love for Manchester's work on Churchill, I also purchased for $1 his biography of Douglas MacArthur. At just under 800 pages, it is a rich work and a wodnerful story. First, Douglas MacArthur had a son, brother, father and grandfather all named Arthur MacArthur. How stupid is that? I'm Scottish like MacArthur and my last name starts with Mc, but in no way would I name my son Blank McBlank. MacArthur was a unique American soldier, and unique person in the story of human history. American Caesar is a good description for MacArthur because he seemed cut from a different time and thrust into the modern world.

Extremely intelligent, romantic, direct, hateful, arrogant, distrustful and creative are all good ways to describe him. MacArthur was in love with fighting at the front, which could be best described as from a need to meet his father's standard from the Civil War of charging up a hill in the midst of battle to win a victory as a teenager. Douglas had what I would not quite describe as a death wish, but a glorious death wish. He seemed to grasp the realities of modern warfare faster than his contemporaries, and was a master of doing the unexpected. One thing this book did was spark an interest in mean or learning more about the Pacific theater of WW2. Because of my grandfathers and their brothers service in Europe, the History Channel's use of Hitler's video records, Steven Spielberg's obsession with making money off WW2 in Europe, the pull of studying an evil force like the Nazis and America's focus on Europe, I have read up on the European theater and feel comfortable with the facts and themes. I was close to a blank slate about the Pacific theater until this book. I think all Americans should learn more about teh pacific theater and the aftermath.

The absolute greatest portion of this book is the portion that covers how MacArthur handled the Japanese in WW2 and afterwards as the viceroy in charge of that defeated nation. While much focus was on how the powers split Europe up, MacArthur was given a free hand to do whatever he wanted to do in Japan. Did you know MacArthur wrote the Japanese constitution? Did you know that he didn't mess with the power of the Emperor? MacArthur gave Japanese women the right to vote, liberalized the economy, and tried to retain honor for the vanquished country despite being the victorious General. Reading the book, it appears that MacArthur understood the Japanese better than any other Allied officer. If ever a post-war occupation went smoother, I have not heard of one. Does anyone ever learn about this in US history class? No.

Like all classic characters, they have flaws that lead to their downfall no mater how gifted they are. MacArthur decidd to tussle one time to many with Harry S. Truman, and he was relieved of his command. I see both sides in the argument. Truman was right to be worried about expanding the Korean War to a World War by bombing Chinese based bases. MacArthur was right in wanting to be able to bomb the Commies from their front lines on back to the bases that they would run home to for cover just across the Chinese/Korean border. A chill went through my body as I encountered the passages where the civilian government placed handcuffs on the UN fighting force in a conflict. It reminded me of some of the bits from history books I have read about a conflict that happened in Vietnam.
Regardless of that, MacArthur was an intriguing character and a distant relative of Mr. Winston Churchill. I enjoyed this biographical work immensely, and I am sad to know that Manchester will never again write another historical study for fans of history ever again. Sitting back and reading "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", I am in awe of how many truly amazing figures were in charge of the warring nations in WW2. I have already read a dual biography on Stalin and Hitler by Alan Bullock and "The Conquerors", which dealt with Allied plans for post-war Germany, focusing on FDR. FDR, Churchill, Stalin, and Hitler: that is a murderer's row (literally) of heavyweights in their respective homelands' histories. As previously stated, Churchill was the British Empire's finest leader and first citizen in its finest hour. FDR is one of the top 5 presidents in US history. Hitler is a figure who will forever haunt, Germany, Europe and debates of genocide. Stalin's crimes and lasting impact still affect the world to this day. Has there ever been a collection of world leaders all in power at the same time that had such a huge impact on the world? I do not think so.

Housing Still Sinking

On a 3 mile stretch of road ont he way back home from dinner last night, my wife and I saw 30 houses for sale. It is a densely populated area, but still 1 house for sale every tenth of a mile. I live in a region where the housing stock did not experience a bubble, and it is sinking here. I know there is price inflation in energy and food, but homes keep sinking. Cheers to every renter out there getting ready to pounce.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Some Movie Ideas

Back when I was in college, I had tons of free time to fill with odd activities and hobbies. One was refining screenplays I had conjured up during my insomnia nights, late night talk sessions with friends and random intimate idea sharing moments. I recall an awesome Time column on the college experience that joked that if universities went out of business, the amount of semi-autobiographical books that end with snow turning into rain would plummet. I had a great coming of age movie set during the first winter break frosh year. That is a unique time in the circles of high school friends where shit really blows up. My favorite screenplay, which I had actually completed second semester sophomore year in the depths of depression with most of my friends kicked out of school, centered around a frame story of someone confessing to a revenge murder, but it never is established if he is confessing to anyone or just remembering it out loud. A great friendship that had a split, and one friend reacts in an inhuman calculating way. The smallest detail would be that the killer would have married his friend/victim's sister.

An intriguing idea I have is of a counterterrorism movie based on a young American who was a relig studies/arabic major who, through the CIA's direction, infiltrates an 'al qaeda' type organization as an operative/translator to help bring them down over the course of a couple years. You might think this is ridiculous, but think again. An overweight California boy did become an al qaeda operative high up enough to appear in videos and do translation work. This would be like that wonderful TV show Wiseguy, but condensed into a 2 hour movie. Wiseguy was a show that was 10 years ahead of its time and should have been on HBO. Hollywood would dig this, because if successful, it could spawn a franchise. They would have a problem with it: the US would be portrayed as good. This would have terrorists being bad guys and Americans being good guys. I may have mentioned this before, but I think audiences would eat this up. Americans want to see terrorists blown up. Because it's got those mole and terrorism puzzle piece aspects to it, I'd work in some "thinking" into the movie and have some of the tense action scenes be how the protagonist gets messages back to the CIA undetected by both his organization and by other intelligence orgs... instead of just explosions, guns and bodies hitting the floor. No love interest. None. I would fight this tooth and nail. We don't need a love interest to sell a movie when terrorists are getting blown the shit up. Women will come if we have the protagonist get half naked. There'd be two training montages because you need the CIA training montage and then the infiltration terror camp training montage (monkeybars included). Exotic locations would be used. Not just non-descript city scene and non-descript desert training scene. I'm thinking desert, then London, with a wrap up in DC. If you're an action fan, you like this idea already.

A second idea, I haven't yet tied down the reason for the depopulation of the world, would be a journey/road trip movie. Ultimately, some virus, I don't know maybe Bird Flu, wipes out lots of people, like it truly could. A couple survives, but decides to high tail it back home to where they are originally from. I haven't decided if leaving NYC for some Midwest town, leaving southern California for Washington State/Colorado, or leaving Chicago for some small New England town is best. I'm leaning on the NYC exodus, but Chicago to New England sounds tempting. It's about the spots and people they meet on the way to the destination that matter. Really showcase the country. They can't drive, because shit hit the fan that much. Flesh out lots of conversations. Investigate the fear of danger lurking around every corner or a beautiful, solitary joyful event in each town. I think I just described the road trip section of the Stand, but if Stephen King hadn't made it all about a battle of good vs. evil, each centered in major cities in neighboring states. I'm a talentless hack.

My third idea is a crusades movie. There are not many of them. Magnificant battle scenes could be produced depicting the lighter clad Muslim warriors versus the heavy armor Christian soldiers. Have the backdrop be based on some English or Scottish dude. That way we can find a Brit actor to play the guy so somoene isn't trying to do a bad French, Spanish or German accent. It would be one of those classic hero's tales. Young man rejects call to Crusades, talked into it by priest brother, learns techniques from older knight, gets in Crusades battles, older knight dies leaving young guy to grow and fight, makes it home to his lady to retire to the estate or whatever they did (research needed), and roll credits. This time I would allow for the love interest to be there, and you'd need the obligatory flashback/dream sequences where he pictures himself with his lady. One twist. While the hero is early in doing his Crusades thing and protecting pilgrims journeying to the holy land, there is a raid on the pilgrims. The hero and his buddies do battle with these raiders. Of course, there is one raider he recognizes. This raider would resurface in the movie once the hero has gone home. There would be this obnoxious new lord in the area. The protagonist would recognize the raider as the new lord at a bountiful feast of meats & cheeses and realize he has his wealth from raiding pilgrims. This would result in a final sword fight between the two men at night with torches lighting the courtyard. Is that cliche and cool enough?

I'm still working on my 4th idea, which is a modern love story. As movies teach you, love conquers all, but not real love like between a 20 year married couple. Only that freaky 2 month love affair love. See Cracked's brilliant rip of Hollywood's life lessons. I have not fleshed it out enough. The protagonist has to be one of those 'manchild' stereotypes, that social commentators like to rip on, in a terrible, going nowhere, cohabitation relationship with a power attorney in training girlfriend. This would fairly describe some friends. I do not know if I would have the guy meet someone new at the gym, work, a bar, a party, a karaoke night? A more normal place than the odd places people meet each other in chick flicks now: rock climbing center????? I'd be preying upon that phenomenom where two people seem to be a perfect match but they never get it together. I have seen 50+ instances of this in my short life; I will no doubt see 50 more. In this movie, they get together for a brief moment. Reality would set in and choices would be made. I do know I will have the new lady end the love affair, but it is part of the overall growth of the protagonist. Where the female viewed it as a playful adventure more than the male, inverting movie norms. The female lead would be the older of the two. I would do this out of my extreme hatred of how all of Hollywood is full of youg females that can't act and usually look like pre-teens. I won't get into how there are few if any good male leads under 40. I digress. A love story where it doesn't work out???? Female audience members would absolutely love this, as they do with other love stories that have stood the test of time like Casablanca, From Here to Eternity, The Thornbirds, An Affair to Remember, or The Way We Were. It is money in the bank.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Sara by Fleetwood Mac

Sara by Fleetwood Mac is one of my favorite FM songs. It's an awesome blend of piano, drums, good vocals, interesting story song lyrics, and a vibe spooky enough that it could end every downer love or suicide story. This song, and Gypsy, represent the pinnacle of Stevie Nicks witchy vibe. This vibe is typified by her wearing some shawl thing and doing spins with a tambourine in her hand. She gave off that vibe so that guys could buy her albums and try to defend it like she enchanted them and was a bit tougher than other 70s chick singers. As a kid, her Stand Back video scared and excited me at the same time. When she's on the treadmill with the backlighting and the wind machine in full force, it would freak me out. I read this article, and Sara is never the same again for me.

Through other articles and rock n roll urban legends, I had heard of the Stevie Nicks parade of lovers like Buckingham, Fleetwood, Kenny Loggins and Don Henley. I really dislike Don Henley. I always liked Frey's vocals over his in the Eagles, and his solo albums always had 2 good songs and then 10 crappy-self-righteous-hippie-california-condescending songs on them. That is a catalogue of great 70s music right there in Nicks' little black book. Hat tip to Stevie. Sara was one of those songs I had listened to in the past and associated with a certain person or certain moment in my life (I'm a hopeless romantic so fuck off). Now, I'll first think "Don Henley is a self righteous dick... I can't believe he screwed over Stevie Nicks", then proceed to think for 15 seconds about my original association with the song, and then just enjoy the song for what it is: a beautiful, emotional song.

Sara is over 6 minutes long and does not feel bloated. If you listen closely, there's a progression in the lyrics as the singer becomes more desperate to maintain contact with their loved one. Plus, a straight woman singing a love song about another woman is truly weird. Knowing the meaning of the song now, it makes sense, but is even wilder than thinking it could possibly be lesbian in meaning. I can't stress this enough, but Stevie Nicks really holds back that power in her voice and the verbrado (sp?). Current Stevie Nicks really ruins songs with her non-stop verbrado. Sometimes I fear she has early onset Parkinson's, but then I recall Cher's vocal style. Cher turned "time" into a 3 syllable word: "ti-heeem-ma".

Favorite Fleetwood Mac Songs:

"You Make Loving Fun" - If they play this at my wake, I will be happy.

"Sara" - We established this awesomeness.

"Landslide" - Original recording, not the lame-o live version where she sounds like Lambchop.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Music That Feeds the Soul

This songs really hits me hard. I can't speak Italian, but sometimes you do not need to know the language to understand. The female singer was the first Christine from Phantom. When I went to Phantom, she was not playing the lead. Bums me out. Andrea Bocelli I think suffers from the same problem as Stevie Wonder. Prior to birth, he was given that great voice, but the Gods said, "we can't give you such a beautiful gift without something in return".

Sunday, July 06, 2008

So My Letter to the Editor Was Not Printed

Recently the Indianpolis Star published articles and columns describing ideas and challenges concerning a commuter rail line to be installed along the busy commuter corridor in metro Indianapolis. This is an idea I support. It inspired me to send an email to the paper spotlighting a huge blind spot in the articles and opinion columns. My response was not published as I found out it made sense, was not completely retarded, and brought up a fact that no one wanted to address because it did not fit perfectly into the desired narrative of the newspaper or act as a knee jerk, stereotypical reader response. The author published a second collection of emaislt hat were not as positive to the idea. It bummed me out because I looked over my email, and realized I did not sound like a hick with overalls on or a lattee sipping, liberal geebo who spits on veterans.

The crux of my argument was that to ask taxpayers at this point in time in the economic cycle to fork over some extra dough for a commuter rial line that for the first few years will only help one section of the suburbs is asking for trouble. That is pissing up a rope in Dad-ese. A solution is to act in a similar manner as the governor did with the toll road in the northern section of the state: sell it to the highest bidder. Let them take care of it, run it, collect cash from it and make it work. All the while, the state earns a hefty fee from renting that road out. Put the idea for a commuter rail up to the highest bidder. Let some private company figure out how to make a profit from it. That is probably the only way an efficient system will be put in place with stops in the prime locations to induce the most users. Allow for something ridiculisu like a tax break the first few years to help it get to breakeven quick and allow for expansion. A government program is just going to create headaches about where stops are located, what do the government workers get paid, how many trains get run & at what times.... it would be endless. Even worse would be the government going back to the people ever so often for more funding. This was mentioned nowhere in the columns or editorials. The debate framed by the paper was should we or should weo not do this... not "how can we make this beneficial for people in a total rewards manner". I guess original ideas are not welcome to the debate.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Haiku Attack

The ash tree looked worn
Branch caught the wind, grabbed my arm
I felt its embrace
Connections are mostly chance
Timing matters most
At once it crushed me
The bird that sang out of view
The soul wilts away