Gay marriage legal in Arizona

In a post that took way too long to get to, gay marriage is finally legal in Arizona. -This after an amendment passed in 2008 banning it was ruled unconstitutional.

You’re goddam right it’s unconstitutional.

While I’m not gay, I do have both friends and family members that are, and any law that singles them out is clearly against the principles that founded this country. It is in no way different than singling out a group of people for any other reason, be it race, religion, or even something more trivial like eye color. That each state in a country founded on the principle that all land owning white men are created equal still has to challenge this fundamental right in court just boggles my mind. But, in a state like Arizona (where stripping people of their basic rights is status quo) it is quite a victory.

At least we weren’t quite as bad as Texas, or so I keep telling myself, whose ban on gay marriage had actually banned all marriage since being enacted with 76% of the vote in 2005 (this one was ruled unconstitutional in July 2014). Their law actually stated that, “This state or a political subdivision of this state may not create or recognize any legal status identical or similar to marriage.” And marriage is just about as identical to marriage as one can get.

I’m happy that same sex couples will finally be able to enjoy a right that they should have had all along. I’m even happier that I will never again have to listen to this bullshit argument: “If two guys can get married, what’s next? A guy can marry a horse?”

And if you are one of the ignorant rednecks that made that argument, let me explain something to you called logic. Before you go bandying about same sex marriage leading directly to bestiality being legalized, consider this: In order to apply logic to the thing you are trying to decry, you must also apply it to the thing you are trying to protect. In other words, if you want to make that case against gay marriage, you must first check it against straight all marriage. It seems that your logic there is if a man can marry his male partner, he would then marry his male horse (he is gay after all). So applying your logic to traditional marriage, that would mean that since a man can marry his female partner, he would then go on to marry his female horse. We’ve not seen a lot of that here in the U.S., and marriage has been legal for a long time…

When the few remaining states finally overturn their unconstitutional laws, we can move on as a nation and get back to telling women what do do with their bodies despite the UN requiring certain basic rights to health care among its members:

[UN members] must take measures to ensure that legal and safe abortion services are available, accessible, and of good quality.

Public morality cannot serve as a justification for enactment or enforcement of laws that may result in human rights violations, including those intended to regulate sexual and reproductive conduct and decisionmaking. Although securing particular public health outcomes is a legitimate State aim, measures taken to achieve this must be both evidence-based and proportionate to ensure respect of human rights. When criminal laws and legal restrictions used to regulate public health are neither evidence-based nor proportionate, States should refrain from using them to regulate sexual and reproductive health, as they not only violate the right to health of affected individuals, but also contradict their own public health justification.

with liberty and justice for all land owning white men

Fox News misleading people? Surely you jest

After probably three years without posting any news, this one is just too precious to skip.  Evidently Fox News is again accused of airing misleading video.  I know what you’re thinking, not Fox News, surely they mean one of the more dubious, liberal media outlets.  Fox News is certainly above suspicion on this sort of thing, right?  I guess not.

For the second time in just over a week, Fox News is coming under fire for misusing old news footage. The latest flap is leading some people to charge that the cable news network is intentionally misleading its audience, while Fox claims a “production error.”

Wednesday’s incident occurred when Fox News host Gregg Jarrett mentioned that a Sarah Palin appearance and book signing in Grand Rapids, Michigan had a massive turnout. As footage rolled of a smiling and waving Palin amidst a throng of fans, Jarrett noted that the former Republican vice-presidential candidate is “continuing to draw huge crowds while she’s promoting her brand-new book,”…

All sarcasm aside, is there anyone who is even remotely surprised by this?  Fox News has been a mouthpiece for the Republican party since its inception.  Their stock and trade is to mislead their viewers/listeners into believing what they deem necessary for them to believe in order to demonize Democrats (although there is no such thing as a Democrat to Fox News; All democrats are Liberal Democrats when spoken of) and push their viewers/listeners to believe that whatever it is they are talking about is so right that every person in the country -aside from a couple of Liberal nutjubs- is behind it.  If there is no evidence to back them up, they make up the evidence.  Probably the only thing I find surprising about it in this case is that the subject is of the “who gives a fuck anyway” variety.

The last time they were caught doing it, just last week, in fact, at least they were trying to sell bigger support for a Republican rally:

The current mishap comes on the heels of a controversy sparked last week when footage from a conservative rally held over the summer was played on “Hannity” during a segment on a more recent rally.

It is kind of a blessing really; People tend to get more conservative with age, and Fox News has a viewer base with a median age of 65 (all the websites that I could find with a median age for Fox News in 2009 had the same number.  Unfortunately all I could find from the Fox News website was a “30%” increase in viewership).  While they are keeping the fleece over the baby-boomers, they are further isolating themselves from the moderates with these antics.  I, for one, know that regardless of how conservative I happen to get as I age, I will never assume anything on Fox News is factual.  Of course as the nation ages, values will change, and the Republican agenda will probably start to more closely mirror my ideals by the time I am in my sixties.  That doesn’t mean I want to be lied to.

This particular piece of deception is of such little importance it would hardly warrant a mention were it not for the fact that it really exposes Fox News’ capacity to outright lie to make a point.  Perhaps they should change their taglines from things like Fair and balanced and We report, you decide to something more accurate, Op-Eds for Old People or Inventing a more Conservative reality, would certainly be more accurate.

My government in action

Since I have to go out and vote tomorrow, I decided to go ahead and take a peek (at the wife’s urging) at the propositions that I am going to be voting “no” to. I like to take part in the democratic process after all, but I rarely take more than a couple of seconds to familiarize myself with any of the specific propositions that I am voting on. This might seem like a bad idea, but in reality it is exactly the opposite. Virtually all of the propositions that make their way to the public ballot are going to be of huge benefit to a very few people, and usually cost everyone in the state. There are exceptions to this, of course, and many don’t technically cost anything since they are just changing the way the government’s budget is allocated. While voting “yes” to a proposition could have a horrific impact on you and your family, voting “no” will keep things the way they are now. And if you have seen some of the propositions that have passed in Arizona over the last few years, you would understand that the status quo is far from perfect, but it is still better than having such ridiculous propositions passing. Personally, I am going to vote “no” to all but one of the propositions on the ballot.

I am not going to pretend that I know a great deal about the propositions, but there are three of them that got my mind fired up enough that I decided to sit down here and write out a couple of opinions. Unfortunately I don’t know what the particular numbers of them are, and I am not going to waste the time to look them up since it isn’t as if anyone is reading my site for objective political information and advice anyway.

The first proposition that I want to talk about pisses me off just because it doesn’t make a lick of sense. It seems that there isn’t enough funding in the state for pre-school. I am not going to argue with that, as it could be true; I wouldn’t know, as I never attended a pre-school. I am not sure how pre-schools are run these days, but when I was a child they were voluntary and the childrens’ parents had to cover 100% of the costs of the daycare -I don’t think pre-school can really be considered anything other than baby-sitting since the children who attend pre-school don’t reach grammar school with any knowledge or skills that children in the care of baby-sitters do.

I don’t want to argue about whether or not there should be public funding for such institutions though, since I just don’t know enough about it. What I do want to argue is how they are currently trying to fund them: Tobacco.

Arizona currently has three separate taxes on the sale of tobacco products. Each of the taxes funds a different program, but each of them goes to a program that deals directly with problems caused by tobacco, such as healthcare. The current proposition wants to put an additional tax of 80 cents per pack on cigarettes, which they estimate would raise about 180 million in the first year, with the proceeds going directly to pre-schools. Why? The taxes already in place on tobacco are already raising hundreds of millions per year, money which goes directly to the people (insurance companies, hospitals, etc.) who are affected by the use of tobacco. How do you justify taxing only people who use tobacco and using the money to fund programs that have nothing to do with it? It just doesn’t make any sense. If you want to raise money to fund pre-schools, why not put a tax on the sale of SUV’s and mini-vans? That would be forcing the people who are benefiting from the tax to also be the ones who foot the bill, which would make a hell of a lot more sense. Failing that, a tax on non-food merchandise statewide would only have to be thousandths of a penny per dollar to raise the same amount, and it would spread the tax over everyone. As I say, I have nothing against public funding for the pre-schools, but placing a tax on tobacco is not the right way to do it.

The other two propositions that I have to bring up are both regarding pay increases. I honestly wouldn’t have even thought twice about either of them if it hadn’t been for my local PBS stations. They had the same person argue for one and against the other, and it just irritated me.

The first one is to raise the statewide minimum wage. I am not 100% sure on this, but I think that it has been the same since 1990 (I know from living here that it has been the same at least since 1994). The current minimum wage is 5.15/hour, and even that has exemptions for “tipped positions”, such that a waiter will make a base of 2.13/hour (some employers do pay them minimum wage in addition to tips). So if you were working full time at minimum wage, you would be making roughly 11,000 a year. That is just not enough to survive on. The average rent on a home has doubled where I live since the last time minimum wage was increased, in fact with an average 3 bed, 2 bath home renting for about 800 a month, that would basically be the entire annual salary of a minimum wage employee. That is simply unacceptable.

This proposition would raise the statewide minimum to 6.75/hour. Hardly a huge increase, but it would be enough that it could take young couples from near poverty and government assistance to self-sufficiency. I have not actually read the entire proposition (quality reading time in the voting booth, baby!), but there are supposed to be some exemptions to it which will allow small businesses a time to adjust. I also would not be opposed to there being an age stipulation which would keep high school kids at the old rate. Inflation is estimated at 3% per year, and this increase would almost cover the 3% per year since the last time minimum wage was raised. This is the one proposition that I am going to vote for. I just don’t think that you should be able to work full time and still be in poverty.

Which leads nicely into the third proposition that I am going to bitch about. This one would raise the salary of our state legislators by 50%! That’s right folks, the very people who have voted against a minimum wage increase at least four separate times over the last decade are trying to get their own salaries increased by 50%. The increase would be from 24,000 to 36,000 a year, and I am voting no to that one for sure. Mind you, I really think that they should be making more than they are, but they are trying to take way too big of a chunk there -especially since they have refused to raise the minimum wage every time it has come to a vote. Funny thing is, I bet they would get their increase if they would have just raised the minimum wage the last time they had the chance.

Anyway, the reason that I decided to write this at all was because one of the people that they interviewed on PBS was arguing for raising the legislator’s salaries by 50%, yet arguing against raising the minimum wage by a buck and change. She said, and I am paraphrasing “raising the minimum wage will result in thousands of lost jobs statewide, and it will put small companies out of business” when she was arguing against the minimum wage increase, then said “the state legislators are barely above the poverty level” when arguing for that proposition. And it just pissed me off to see someone argue that millions of people should remain below the poverty level (based only on speculation as there is no way to know if it will actually cost jobs; do you really think McDonald’s is going to quit selling burgers if minimum wage goes up?), and in the same breath argue that a select group -who is making way more than double that- needs to be paid more. Yes, I know that comparing a job at McDonald’s with a job in congress is apples and oranges (you have to have some intelligence and god-given skill to land a job at McDonald’s), but it is a microcosm of government today: Even at the state level those in charge are so oblivious to the needs of the people they represent that it seems logical to raise their own pay while forcing millions to remain destitute.

Get out there and vote, and remember when in doubt vote “NO”.

Caution: Uninformed political rambling. Do not read.

You know, just to put it out there, is it just me or do the powers that be seem to be passing a whole lot of legislation based on their inability to control their own actions? Seriously. Whenever someone stands up to champion the cause of getting pornography banned from the internet, it is only a matter of time before his hard drive is found to contain tons of porn, and generally the kind that already is illegal. Sort of like the priests that cry foul when a strip club opens near the church, all the while they are in the rectory ass raping an altar boy.

It is on that note that I question the timing of sneaking the gambling controls into a bill that passed last week. The religious zealots had been trying to get this thing passed for a long time, no doubt because they are gambling addicts, but for this to happen just when yet another Republican is found to be a pedophile… Let’s just say that I think the powers that be were aware that the internet would be abuzz with talk about the gambling law and it would take attention away from the ever more perverse and degenerate cult that is the Republican Party.

Maybe it would be easier if we just tried to pick out the Republicans that aren’t involved in unlawful and immoral behavior. I’m just saying… Might save some time.

The gambling law though. Yeah, it sucks that it went through, but the House, Senate, and President all lost touch with what the people actually wanted years ago. In fact I will be a bit surprised if the next Republican to run for president doesn’t lose by a margin of at least 30%. The democrats could probably nominate someone who is currently in prison and still take it down with the reputation the Republicans have at this point.

My brief career as a lead prosecutor

As I have noted here before, I lived in a lot of different places during my childhood. Not because we were a military family, but because when my parents divorced, my dad was rather a dick about it; he seemed to think that by not supporting his kids at all it would force mom to go back to him -or so much I have come to assume when looking at the situation with adult eyes. At any rate, we lived in many places that were either already condemned, or would become condemned and force us to move along. I’m not complaining about this, mind you, I think that the experiences I had all that time ago really hammered home the importance of preparing for the future -particularly, the uncertainty of it.

The huge downside to moving from place to place was the schools. Anyone who has ever been transferred to a different school in the middle of the school year knows how difficult it is to fit in with the kids, who can be brutal at that age, when they have already formed into their own little groups. It never helped matters that the teachers always found it helpful to force you to go stand in front of the class and tell them your name and a brief story about what brought you to the new school (no kidding, damn near every teacher made me do some form of this). So you quickly go from hoping to fly under the radar for a bit to being that new kid who can’t stop talking about himself. Most of the kids hate you on principle alone.

After transferring from school to school a few times, I began to learn that the kids who didn’t reject you at first were often the ones that you really wanted to stay away from. Like this one kid Bert, he was (so I found out later) a troublemaker, but he was friendly with myself and my brother on the first day at our new school (we were all of 10 and 11). A short while later, a rumor began going around (which may or may not have been truthful, but the fact that the parents believed it lends to its credibility) that Bert sexually assaulted a little girl in the town. No one saw Bert for quite a while after that, though we never really knew where he went. Of course we were at that age of grandiose speculation, so we surmised that he must be serving time in the dreaded Juvenile Hall (which sounds like a place that child superheroes would hang out, actually. You know “Later, at Juvenile Hall..”).

So after transferring to too many schools to count, I kind of gave up on making friends for while. The kids who were friendly to me right away were often of the same ilk as Bert, and the kids who weren’t were already established in their little social circles, insofar as one can have “social circles” at the age of 11. This probably has a lot to do with the way I am today actually. I have very few friends, but the friends I do have are the type that I would give a kidney to.

One of the few good friends that I had in my childhood after all the moving around started was a kid by the name of Art (and I can’t remember his last name, some friend, eh?). I met Art just as I was starting the seventh grade. The school was in Winston, Or., and was the middle school where kids from three different grammar schools would go before moving on to high school. The students there came in ready made groups, some coming from Tenmile Elementary, some from Sunny Slope, and some from Winston Elementary. I had moved to live with my father that summer, in hopes that the school hopping would stop, but it still left me as one of the kids that didn’t know anyone when middle school started. Art was the same way.

Art was a bit heavyset and abnormally tall for his (our) age (not freakishly tall, or even fat, but just awkward enough that the kids poked fun at him, as kids will do). It was within the first couple of days at the new school that we would meet, and even then it would be more from circumstance than genuine good nature. While I don’t remember exactly what happened, I know that Art made the cardinal mistake for a kid who was already on notice as far as “not fitting in” was concerned: he answered an unanswerable question in geography class. This was, of course, the quickest way to get everyone to shun you. It seems that kids really hate people who aren’t outright stupid, and there he is flexing his mental muscle.

When lunch came that day, Art was alone at a table in the furthest recess of the cafeteria. I would love to say that I was such a big person that I went to sit with him just to be friendly, but that is hardly how it shook out. The truth is that as I was looking for a seat at one of the more populous tables, backpacks, duffflebags, jackets and other such things began occupying the seats, as the “cool kids” pointed to Art’s lone table and told me to “go sit with the nerd”. As I say, Art and I were in pretty much the same situation as far as the ready made friends group was concerned, but I had theorized that since everyone already had someone to pick on, I would be able to sneak into the cool crowd unnoticed. No luck with that. I did learn, however, that one really shouldn’t be the only kid in the school wearing a dress shirt when it is his intention to fit in.

Art and I sat and ate lunch. I know that we introduced ourselves, but beyond that I don’t think we really shared in any conversation. The next few days at lunch, I would still try to make my way to the cool kids table, but would invariably end up again at the table with Art. After a few days, I wasn’t even trying to sit at any other tables, I would just go to that table in the back of the cafeteria and sit with him. It was just eating lunch, not as if this was going to be something that was seared into my memory, right?

One day, while eating lunch, Art saw the novel that I was reading (I think it was The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, and began talking to me about it. It seemed we had something in common. While that was wonderful and everything, I was still holding out hope that I would eventually make it to the cool kids table, and sharing interests with Art wasn’t the way to get there. The thing about it was, Art and I shared not only this interest, but we also seemed to excel in the same classes (we were both in the advanced math class), and read the same magazines (if I didn’t get to the library in time, Art would already be looking at the latest issue of OMNI). I began to realize that it was foolish to think about trying to fit in with the other group when I had so much more in common with Art.

So over the course of the first few weeks of school, Art and I sat there at lunch together, but also began hanging out between classes. Of course our hanging out wasn’t in the form of slacking off and making fart sounds, we would be talking about science or the latest episode of Riptide or, a personal favorite, the miniseries V. In short, we would be geeking it up between classes. It was at this point that I realized I was never truly going to be one of the “cool kids”, my interests would never allow it. Sadly, Art would transfer to another school sometime near Christmas the following year. But for the year or so that I knew him, we became quite good friends.

One of the things that I remember most about Art was a project that we worked on for a grade in History class. Our teacher, Mr. LaFontaine, had a different way of handling our final reports, which was completely unknown to us when we wrote them. Instead of just grading us on our final reports, some of the final reports were picked out to be part of a court proceeding, which would be set up and run by the students, all of which was going to count as part of our “final”. Everyone was to be involved in the proceeding, which would include the accused, prosecution and defense councils, a jury, and the teacher would be the judge. The one thing that I don’t clearly remember is the jury; I know there was a jury, but I don’t remember if it was kids from the same class that were the jurors or if they were kids from another class. The class was given four days of class time (I think) to prepare for this all.

The court cases were all to deal with possible plagiarism (which is, of course, rampant on final reports in high school) on our final papers. The teacher had pulled a number of them that looked suspicious to him, and the people who wrote them would stand accused of it. Of course, the would be innocent until proven guilty, and would be given a defense team that would try to dispute the prosecution’s evidence. I don’t remember for sure if we were assigned to the teams or if we were able to choose, but Art and I ended up being on a prosecution team. It was our charge to prove that a beautiful and quite popular girl named Aurora actually plagiarised her final report.

Since we were UbergeeksTM, Art and I didn’t just use class time to put together our case, we were in the library after school, at lunch, even before school on a few occasions. We read through all of the books that she had listed as References in her paper and couldn’t find any sign of plagiarism. There was a great deal of paraphrasing, but that is far different that plagiarism. Hell if one couldn’t paraphrase, no paper would ever be written on the high school level. We couldn’t find any sign that she had actually plagiarised anything though, at least not in the books that she had listed as her sources…

The report was about some event in the American Revolution, so we began looking at every reference book we could find that had anything to do with that subject. If you were going to plagiarise, we surmised, you wouldn’t want to list your source right on the last page of the report. We found what would be our only evidence (at least our only compelling evidence) in a single sentence in one of the books. I don’t remember the whole sentence, but it was talking about a message being sent from one person to another, one of the books described that action as being done by “Warren via Roxbury”. That sentence used the word “via“, which was not a word that your average 11 or 12 year old is going to be throwing around. Yet, right there in her report were those three words, along with a paraphrasing of the entire sentence. The smoking gun, as it were. We had her.

We also had a problem. In the reference book, “Warren via Roxbury” was written just like that, obviously meaning that a message was sent to Warren by way of Roxbury. In her report, that was written “Warren Via Roxbury”, note the capitalization of the word “via”. It became pretty clear to me that she was paraphrasing the sentence and mistakenly thought that Warren Via Roxbury was actually someone’s name (or a royal title such as Von in Baron Von Ess). Of course it was our charge to prove that she plagiarised her report, and this was all that we had, so we had to use this as our evidence even though we believed that it was really just a simple misunderstanding.

I don’t remember much about the actual trial. I know that we made our case and that Warren via Roxbury was our key evidence. I know that I felt terrible about actually doing it, since I was almost positive that she hadn’t done it on purpose. I know also that we won our case. I can’t remember what her punishment was, though I would like to think that she just had to rewrite her paper (she went to the next grade with the rest of the class, so she obviously didn’t fail based on this). I know that after the trial, any hope of ever being even remote acquaintances of the “cool kids” was completely out of the question. Ahh, the joys of youth.

I started thinking about this this morning as I was watching some show on American Justice. You see, I felt guilty as hell about proving this girl guilty when I knew that she didn’t do it, and this was all small potatoes. I wonder how lawyers can do the same, or worse the reverse of that with a clear conscience. I mean, it is their job to provide a vigorous defense, even if they know that you are guilty as sin, even if you tell them, show them photos, take them to where the bodies are buried, they have to defend you. How can anyone actually do that?

DMCA: The greased pig of a new generation

I stood in my living room looking at the cd tower that had been untouched for about half a decade hoping to find my …And Justice for All album (is a cd an album?). The carefully conceived alphabetization has long since vanished; 20 cd’s per shelf means that every time you buy a new cd you have to move them all over starting at the bottom -something that I think everyone eventually gives up on. I found what I was looking for on the third shelf down, it was crammed between an old Motley Crue release and Eric Johnson’s Venus Isle (which is instrumentally wonderful, and a good cd to throw in when you just need to mellow out.). I opened up the case and, to not much shock, found that the cd inside was not Justice, it was Limp Bizkit (why do I have that cd at all?). Thus the game begins.

An hour later, I was sitting in the middle of a pile of empty cd cases and oddball cd’s. Limp Bizkit’s case was holding Zamfir (I used this for music at my wedding. It played softly for about an hour while everyone was being greeted and seated). Zamfir’s case was holding Madonna’a Immaculate Collection (that one is the wife’s). Madonna’s case held Slayer’s Reign in Blood (which was cool, since I had also been looking for that one for a while). Slayer’s case was holding a Phil Collins greatest hits. The Phil Collins case was holding The Hunger’s Devil Thumbs A Ride (the only song worth listening to on that one is Vanishing Cream). The Hunger’s case was holding Pantera… And on. And on. And on.

The stereo in my living room is a throwback to the late 80’s. A Pioneer receiver that boasts some ungodly wattage spread over the sophisticated left/right speaker system. It is capable of producing some really, really loud music, which I used to think sounded great -the louder the better- but a visit to an electronics store recently taught me that a cheap surround system with a subwoofer sounds 100 times better than two speakers -no matter how many Jigawatts of power they can handle. Truth be told, I haven’t actually listened to the cumbersome stereo in the living room for years, with the exception of playing a cd while playing the guitar, and even that would be better achieved with a small boom box. In fact, I get more use out of the cd player mounted under the cabinet in my kitchen (though I usually just tune it to the satellite radio and tune it to Octane). Aside from listening to the radio, none of the stereos in the house have much use anymore (I recently found that the stereo I bought for the shelf in this room won’t play cd’s at all).

Being an avid Gamer, I try to keep both my computer and the wife’s pretty current. There are actually three pc’s in the room I am sitting in, two of them with 19 inch LCD monitors, the other with a 17 inch. Graphics cards go from the 512mb Radeon card in this machine, to the 256mb GeForce card in her machine (which is actually superior to the 512 Radeon for many reasons, and it cost a hell of a lot more), even the third pc has 128mb of GeForce goodness. There is no point in having such awesome graphics if you don’t have the sound to back them up, so they all have some spiffy sound cards in them (the third pc has the best card, but I don’t want to go through the headache of swapping cards, downloading drivers and fucking with settings for hours on end). And for the ultimate gaming experience, our pc’s have (some middle-of-the-road) subwoofer speaker systems.

You see, an mp3 played through either of our pc’s sounds far better than an actual cd played through our actual stereo. And the difference is huge. While the stereo is run through a nice ADC equalizer, no amount of tweaking can equal the sound that comes out of the subwoofer system on either of the pc’s. So when I buy a new cd (most recently Nickelback’s All the Right Reasons), I listen to it first at the pc -usually while playing poker, surfing, or playing a game. So it seems odd that until yesterday the 160gb drive on my computer didn’t have a single mp3 on it.

Years ago, I used to have a lot of mp3’s on my system. Back when Napster was in its prime, I filled up two hard drives on an old, clunky 366mhz pc, over a 56k connection, with every song that I could remember having heard. That happened in a time when it would take me like a half an hour to download a song, then I would have to get really lucky to actually get it burnt to cd -at least for that cd to actually play in a stereo. When that pc eventually crashed, all the music that was on it was gone. Between that and the litigation that Napster was involved in, I kind of got soured to the mp3 format altogether. Well, my recent frustration while looking for my Metallica (I bet they love that) cd has finally thrust me back into the mp3 world.

Boy how technology has advanced in the last six years or so. It used to take me about a half an hour to rip a cd (on that antiquated -even at the time- pc), now it takes about two minutes, sometimes a bit longer if the cd is scratched up. Ditto for burning cd’s, about half an hour, often longer, on the old system, maybe five minutes on a new one. With this newfound knowledge, I began ripping every cd I could get my hands on. Within a couple of hours, I had thirty hours of music on the machine, and the majority of that time was trying to find the discs in the first place. The problem is that I never found some of them. I have the cases in hand, and know that the discs are around here…Somewhere…but they may as well be in Jimmy Hoffa’s jacket pocket for all the luck I am having finding them.

Well, Wal-Mart has song downloads for 88 cents apiece. Maybe I could just download the songs that I liked. After all, there aren’t many albums that have more than two or three that you like, right? (Old Metallica, Megadeth and Pantera are obviously excluded from that) But my first search showed that Wal-Mart didn’t have some of the songs that I was looking for. But google did. Well, google didn’t actually have the mp3’s, but it pointed me to many, many outlets that did. And the prices, well, that is why I am typing right now.

I found a website called that has song downloads at unbelievably low prices. The songs range from ten to twenty cents each. They even have cheaper versions of the songs if you get them in lower bit-rates. The thing about it is that the price for each song seems to be based on the size of the file, not the artist or any other criteria that a record company might base it on. That, combined with the way you buy music has me a wee bit concerned about it all.

The purchases are (theoretically) on a per song basis, but there is a minimum purchase; you have to buy in for at least ten bucks. I can understand the logic of that, since if you could just go and buy a song for a dime, the record keeping would be a logistical nightmare. When you are forced to buy in for a larger amount, it will keep small, individual purchases to a minimum, which will also keep credit card fees on their end low. But if you step back and look at it, it looks a smidge different; pay them ten bucks and you can download “X” mbs of music. Looking at it from that perspective, it would seem that you are not paying for the music so much as you are paying for the bandwidth to download it, which I am pretty sure would be illegal for them to do. Realistically, I don’t see how they can offer both the music and the bandwidth for a dime (although most songs are closer to twenty cents).

Being a fairly conscious consumer, I went and read their terms of service and license agreement(otherwise known as the TOS and EULA, both of which I ordinarily ignore completely). The company is based in Russia, and claims that it pays international license fees for the music that it provides… But it goes on to say that every country has different copyright laws, and that they do not know the laws for every country. Thus it is your responsibility to find out if the music from their site is downloaded in accordance with the laws of the jurisdiction you are in. That sounds just a wee bit shady, eh? That sure would seem to release them of any liability from a purely legal standpoint, and place the blame squarely on you.

I am going to continue to use the service (until I spend my initial balance at the very least), because the prices are great and I think I have found a close parallel to it: cigarettes. It’s no secret that the majority of the price of cigarettes is directly due to state and federal taxes. However, it is possible for a consumer to purchase cigarettes in foreign countries and bring them into the US without paying a penalty. That is, R.J. Reynolds sells the cigarettes to Cambodia (for instance), a nation that doesn’t require such taxes. Cambodia can then sell the cigarettes to anyone for any price they want. A US citizen can buy the cigarettes and bring them back into the states (although I think there is a limit to the amount you can bring in) for personal use. Of course the resale of the cigarettes would be highly illegal, but for personal use it is fine. There is a bit of a grey area regarding buying them over the internet or the phone, but since you can buy them legally, and they can sell them to you legally, there is little that can be done about it.

Since says that they pay the international copyright fees for the music, I have to take that at face value. As an individual, I’ve no way of getting into either their records, or the music industry records to verify it, so I simply must assume that it is true. At the same time, I do have access to google, and a quick search there shows that it is also apretty grey area. All of the articles that I have read regarding the service show that the consensus seems to be that it is legal for private use (with the RIAA, of course, disagreeing). So until it shakes out in court, I am not going to get too gung-ho about it.

I don’t want to break the law, but I also don’t want to being paying for Lars’ solid gold bathtub. If a service like this one is actually legal (even if only for Russians to use), that means that the music that we pay 15 bucks a cd for is being sold elsewhere for two bucks. To me, that makes it seem far more likely that the recording industry is breaking laws by selling the music to US citizens at seven times fair market value. As much as I hate to admit it though, I could be dead wrong on this. It is necessarily going to take some landmark lawsuit being settled in the US Supreme Court to decide whether the record company is using their monopoly to extort the US people or the users are stealing content from the record companies. And the sooner the better for all of us.

George Bush doesn’t care about poor people

As the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina nears, The Discovery Channel is releasing a documentary called Surviving Katrina. In what is probably the ultimate in ironic detachment, it appears to be a show focusing on what people did to help each other in a time of crisis. Now I am all for a good story, but if that documentary focuses on the good aspects and ignores all of the negative aspects, I am going to start looking to see if it was funded by a GOP contributor.

I don’t live in New Orleans, of course, so I can only base my assessment of what was really going on down there on what I saw on the internet (I do refuse to watch television news, you are better off just making things up and calling them the truth). Because of an absolute lack of any immediate help, many of the residents (particularly those in the low income areas who couldn’t realistically afford to evacuate) were forced to extreme measures to survive. I don’t mean to say that all the looting and the such actually happened, I want to focus more on the assisted evacuation, some week after the initial tragedy. Think about it, and use common sense. You are trapped in a flooded home with no electricity, food or running water. A week later, buses show up to start evacuating people, but not nearly enough buses to get everyone out. Do you really think people just lined up in an orderly fashion, then said “too bad” as the last bus drove away without them? Hell no, I am willing to bet they fought each other for seats on those buses, because that is exactly what I would have done.

There was relief from non-governmental sources during the whole fiasco; I remember reading that Wal-Mart (how I loathe that corporation) actually had semi trucks with bottled water on site in less than 24 hours; There were many other organizations that also provided much needed support, things like food, blankets, and personal hygiene products -again, all private organizations- Once the evacuation was complete (at least 10 days after it should have been), the people’s good nature got a chance to shine through.

The Red Cross raised an astronomical sum of money to help those left homeless, as did many other organizations. Many foreign countries even made substantial donations to the relief effort; Kuwait alone donated 500 Million dollars, many other countries joined in with multi-million dollar donations. Eventually, television news stations quit running stories about the affected area, so, in the eyes of the average US citizen it was over. The problem is that the average US citizen doesn’t actually live in New Orleans.

When Katrina initially hit, I remember thinking to myself that it was tragic that a city with such history could be destroyed. But that got me to thinking. A city with that much history has something else that many cities don’t have: old, privately-owned homes with extremely poor residents. I don’t know this to be true, but I am not actually going to look it up either, as such I am just guessing. Many houses in the New Orleans area were old, it is fair to assume that many of the houses had been privately owned for decades, and that the owners of the homes could certainly not afford to buy a new home on today’s market. Since the homes were already paid for, it can fairly be assumed that many of the poor residents may also have quit carrying homeowners insurance, as it is not required unless you have a mortgage. Do you see where this is going?

In addition to these low income homeowners that are now displaced, there will also be low income tenants that are affected. Certainly there were many old homes that were being rented, the type that barely made it past inspection, and probably wouldn’t even do that were it not for the area they were located in. These run-down homes would have been renting for far less than fair market value because their condition would have required it. Again, the only people this would be affecting is the poor. Aunt Nellie (even though she wasn’t really your Aunt, that was what you always called her) had been renting you that house for the last 11 years, you could barely afford to make the rent, but Aunt Nellie was compassionate and would let a little slide so long as you helped her change the shingles on the roof to keep it from leaking.

A lot of these houses should probably have been condemned a long time ago, but the city had let it slide, knowing the situation and not wanting to start a fuss with poor communities. Unfortunately, now there are building inspectors rolling in and checking over all the structures. These houses don’t stand a chance. Aunt Nellie certainly can’t afford to build brand new houses, and even if she could finance it, she wouldn’t be able to rent them so cheap, since she would have to make mortgage payments. Even if 10% of the Aunt Nellie’s out there are willing to be so philanthropic as to rebuild on their own dime and keep the rent the same, that will still leave the vast majority of the poor without an affordable place (affordable to them) to live.

So now to do a quick news search.

Here is the first story I found that matched my search criteria:
Report: New Orleans lacks affordable housing

The news stories that I am reading don’t go into a lot of detail, but I think it is fair to assume that the very poor in New Orleans are the ones affected by this the most. It is sad that as the city tries to rebuild, the struggle of the displaced poor doesn’t get any sort of national attention. As the outpouring of support when the hurricane actually hit shows, the American people really will help those in need, as I am sure they would help now, if they only knew that for the poor in New Orleans this ordeal is far from over.

Free Speech TV

Sometimes when it is really late at night there is very little on television worth watching. On one of those nights, I happened to flip way to the high end of my satellite’s channel listing and came across Free Speech T.V.. I was unimpressed at first, since I happened to flip to it when the show on was 5 minutes of a cricket standing on a pocketwatch (no kidding). But I left it on that channel when I turned the T.V. off. The next morning when I flipped the T.V. on, there was a documentary showing called Toxic Sludge is Good for You. Now that was a program.

If you have ever been in doubt as to whether or not your local news stations are reporting actual news or not, you really should watch that documentary. It goes into a great amount of detail about what isn’t actually news, how and why it is on the local news, and who is paying for it. I think everyone knows (even if they hate to admit it) that some of the stories that make it onto the six o’clock news aren’t really news, but advertisements. This show details how the ads make it onto the news in the first place. Even if you think that such an idea is a ridiculous lie, you should still watch it, just for the differing view.

The next show to come on was Liberty News. Liberty News is political news with less spin than I have ever seen. While I am pretty sure that it is definitely a product of democrats, I think that is only because there is no news channel in the nation with the balls to show anything even remotely critical of the Bush administration. To those who would disagree with that statement, making the argument that Rove, Delay and Santorum (among others) have taken a beating in the media, I have to point out that they committed jailable offenses and the so-called “liberal media” is calling pursuing charges a witch hunt. Clinton got a little head in the white house and people were calling for his resignation, yet even mentioning the charges against Bush administration officials(I just had to) is considered taboo. I can’t say that Liberty News is actually politically left though, since they also took Hillary Clinton to task for her campaign statements not meshing with her voting record. Showing the truth about both sides and letting you form your own opinion? What a novel concept.

If you have FSTV on your channel line-up, I urge you to flip it on and watch a couple of shows. Much of what is on does look like it was made by college students who were really stoned (a cricket on a stopwatch?), but when it gets to the documentaries and news, you are never going to find an outlet that is as critical of both sides. It certainly is a welcome alternative to the Rush Limbaugh and Larry King crap that fills the airwaves now.

It’s a good thing I’m not religious

I finally got around to watching the South Park episodes I taped during the season 10 rewind. Trey and Matt are still writing some top notch stuff.

One thing that really has me curious though is why Comedy Central refused to show the image of Mohammed. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that it is supposedly forbidden to make a likeness of Mohammed in the Muslim religion, I know that this is why Comedy Central made the decision. The thing that really has me curious is why this was the one religion that they decided to respect.

In the very same episode, Comedy Central aired footage of Jesus Christ defecating on the president of the United States. Now I know that it is not specifically written in the bible that it is a sin to draw a likeness of Jesus dumping a steaming pile on the president, but I am relatively sure that it is sort of implied. Hell, Jesus has his own Jerry Springer-esque talk show on the series, which is just brilliant IMHO, but I am pretty sure that it is a straight mockery of Christianity.

Even Scientology, while just a kooky fringe cult, has been the subject of continual mockery on the show. One episode took it so far as to lead to the resignation of Isaac Hayes, who is unfortunately affiliated afflicted with the cult religion.

Poking fun at Christianity is one of the many cornerstones that has helped to build South Park into the phenomenon that it has become. In fact one of the first episodes was a battle between Jesus and Santa Claus (which was just a remake of the very first short Jesus vs. Frosty). Since then the show has lampooned religion at just about every opportunity. Be it having Kenny wage the war of good vs. evil because God wasn’t powerful enough, worshipping an idol of the Virgin Mary bleeding out her ass, or highlighting the special relationship that Priests share with little boys, nothing seems to be taboo when it comes to Christianity.

If I were a religious person I would really be pissed off that Comedy Central thinks that it is fine to depict Christianity as a caricature on a repeated basis, yet refuse to so much as show an image of Mohammed. Comedy Central certainly pushes the envelope further than any other network (religious right wing networks not withstanding) in testing the limits of free speech, but they need to do it with some consistency; If Christianity is fair game, every other religion needs to be as well.

Granting special exclusions to any one group, religious or otherwise, is akin to letting them define freedom of speech. Last time I checked the United Stated was not a theocracy, I, for one, would like to make sure it remains that way.

Big oil laughs at customers

I saw the news on the internet yesterday, then on the front page of the Arizona Republic paper today, it turns out that the big oil companies really are making a mint off of the oil shortage. That is all well and good, that it to be expected, they are in business to turn a profit, but $10,000,000,000 in profit, for a single oil company, in a single quarter, seems a bit excessive. (that number was later revised to just over $9,000,000,000)

I am no financial analyst, but it seems to me that the oil companies may have been getting a bit too rich off of the oil shortage. Their profit margins seem to indicate that it really wasn’t costing them any more, why did it cost all of the customers more? Stupid supply and demand.

My main beef with this situation is that many commuters can no longer afford to buy other things. We are coming up on the holiday season and your average, middle class family is going to have to spend most of their disposable income on gas and increased heating costs, as opposed to throwing it away on petty crap in the malls. I am betting that this Christmas shopping season is going to hit with a resounding thud. But, the oil companies will have record profits for the quarter, yet again!

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were some sort of system whereby the oil companies were forced to follow strict guidelines when gouging their customers? Of course that would have to be a federal act and even I laugh at the thought of the current administration approving any form of regulation for big oil. That would be a serious conflict of interests.

I hope that at the very least, this “oil crisis” will force some staunch republican voters to think that maybe we need to look into funding for alternative energy sources. While there is no way that can truly matter for at least a couple of years, it would at least be something. If, once the current administration is out, the legislation were to pass immediately, wouldn’t that be a nice legacy for Mr. Bush. The President who refused to pass legislation that could possibly take away from his massive oil empire. That has to be right up there with “The Great Emancipator” as far as single phrase summations go.