Friday, April 29, 2005



Have you been to Confession lately, all you Catholics? According to a prophecy of St. Malachy around 1139, there would be only 112 more popes after that time. Pope Benedict XVI is number 111. That means that judgment day is nigh.

Right now, I'm just adding that to the already scary understanding the Mayans had that the world will end on December 21, 2012.

But there are many more possibilities out there. If you want to check up on them, I'd recommend a visit to, where they seem to have everything nicely organized. So, whether you're worried about the asteroid that will just miss Earth in 2029 (or so the authorities claim), or the nut with the nukes in North Korea, you can spend a few minutes staring at the end of it all and contemplating whether you really think cheating on your taxes or your spouse is a good thing or a bad thing.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005



As usual, unhappy with their own personal skills of conversation, likability, and the option of buying commercial time from godless heathens, religious nuts -- from Texas, natch -- have voted to put the Bible in the 2006 Odessa, TX public high school curriculum.

If one takes it at face value, there is something to be said for teaching the Bible as literature, or even as history; explaining the geography of the Middle East and how it led to the sorry state of affairs currently occupying the world geopolitical stage; even how it has influenced art and literature for 6,000 years.

Of course, this is not to be taken at face value. This is all about inculcating a particular set of religious beliefs into Texas young'uns, regardless of which sect of Christianity the students belong, or whether the students may be Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, or, most especially, agnostic or atheist. All using money that comes from people who may not necessarily believe.

Think they mean it to be taken at face value? Go check out the website for the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools, which is so excited about this plan that it will assault your ears with celebratory music when its website opens. (I wonder if there's subliminal proselytization occurring. Remember, this is the sect of Christianity that believes that Jesus is all in favor of bombing people into body parts if they don't follow him.)

Here's what I believe. The First Amendment does not permit any arm of the government to authoritatively force a set of beliefs on anybody. That means you can't teach the Bible in class unless you establish it as what some people believe, just as you can't teach the Koran without the same caveat. That applies to public art, equestrian statues, or publicly funded Easter egg hunts.

On the other hand, there's no reason (sorry, ACLU) that students can't have a meeting of the Odessa Baptist High School Students Society in one of the classrooms... as long as any other religious group of high schoolers can do the same. I have no problem with a statue of Muhammad on any public property, so long as it is paid for with private funds. (Of course, Muslims will have a problem with that, so it won't come to pass.) A creche at the courthouse is okay around Christmas, as long as a setting is left for Elijah at the local public library during Passover.

If these Bible zealots really do mean to have the Bible viewed from a secular perspective in this class, then they'll have to discuss the historical fact of who the actual writers of its books are, how they were chosen to be included, and whether they indeed reflect the word of a deity, or are no different than an Ovidian discourse on Zeus and Hera. All religious belief is ultimately personal, and is best shared with those who understand the truth as you do.



I hate to pick on people's looks. I myself ain't exactly Tom Cruise, and I am constantly irritated by the otherwise funny Conan O'Brien's insistence on making his jokes about celebrities like Star Jones solely about their weight. Yes, I know he also calls himself a big-headed freak, but it’s still not right.

That said… did you see Farrah Fawcett on Late Night With David Letterman on Monday night, April 25? If ever proof was needed that Hollywood’s reliance on cosmetic surgery is a bad thing, there it was. Once a stunningly beautiful woman – and we’re not even talking about the figure that sold a million posters to college-aged geeks like me back in the 1970s – Ms. Fawcett looked like she had gone to the local barber college for her face work. I’m not talking about the once-a-day my spouse and I look at each other and say, "Oh, look at her eyes, she’s had work." This is a case where FEMA should have been called in after the surgery.

And I’m torn. I want to criticize her for being so vain, so stupid, so desperate, so silly. But I want to sympathize with her, because to her it was as essential as you or I going down to the local department store to buy a new suit for a job interview, and it clearly did not work. And now she’s stuck with it, looking like the next Joan Rivers (maybe worse). Plastic surgery is even helpful after disfiguring injuries, and I’d even say if one’s looks are such that they are affecting self-esteem, perhaps it’s worth it.

But geez.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005



I should have posted this at least a week ago, but I haven't had the chance until now. Both Harry Broertjes, who originally told me about Detroit Free-Press writer Mitch Albom picking on Jayson Blair, and Tom Peyer, who read my vitriol about Blair based on Albom's article, called my attention to the fact that Albom is 99-44/100ths per cent full of crap.

So now we've got another "journalist" inventing a story. Blair was building a reputation on his type of fraud, whereas Albom wrote his out of convenience. Like the Steve Martin weatherman in L.A. Story (a movie I highly recommend, especially to those with soft hearts), Albom didn't want to let the fact that he wouldn't be at the event prevent him from writing the story as if he were.

Broertjes contends Albom should be fired, and that's probably what should happen. But it's just another example of the blurring line between fiction and journalism, especially as practiced by the Fox News generation (where they substitute opinion for journalism).

Monday, April 25, 2005



Forwarded to me by my cousin Joe. All of which means, if I've calculated correctly, that it took 69.44 days for us to pay for our adventures in Iraq. That leaves plenty for us to spend on other stuff.

The next time you hear a politician use the word "billion" casually, think about whether you want the politician spending your tax money. A billion is a difficult number to comprehend, but one advertising agency did a good job of putting that figure into perspective in one of its releases.

A billion seconds ago it was 1959.
A billion minutes ago Jesus was alive.
A billion hours ago our ancestors were living in the Stone Age.
A billion days ago no-one walked on two feet on earth.
A billion dollars ago was only 8 hours and 20 minutes, at the rate the government spends it.

Saturday, April 23, 2005



The quiz was forwarded to me by my pal Harry Broertjes, whose inner European turns out to be Dutch. Me? Not Irish -- Italian! Maybe it comes from growing up In a neighborhood with kids like Giuseppe Confreda, Tommy D'Agostino, Tony Sullo, Butchie Fellegara, and the like.

Your Inner European is Italian!

Passionate and colorful.

You show the world what culture really is.

Monday, April 18, 2005



You've probably already had this one forwarded to your email account, perhaps several times.

President Bush and Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld are sitting in a bar.

A guy walks in and asks the barman, "Isn't that Bush and Rumsfeld sitting over there?"
The bartender says, "Yep, that's them."

So the guy walks over and says, "Wow, this is a real honor! What are you guys doing in here?"

Bush says, "We're planning World War III."

And the guy says, "Really? What's going to happen?"

Bush says, "Well, we're going to kill 140 million Muslims and one blonde with big tits."

The guy exclaimed, "A blonde with big tits? Why kill a blonde with big tits?"

Bush turns to Rumsfeld and says, "See, I told you no one cares about the 140 million Muslims."

If you laughed and you live in the United States, the odds are high that you laughed because you don't care about 140 million Muslims. The joke itself is predicated on the subject of the joke being stunned not by the enormity of those deaths, but the incongruity of killing one beer spokesmodel.

But here's the serious side of this joke: It's believable because you can picture this conversation happening with President Bush and Secretary Rumsfeld involved. Its their callous disregard for others that seems to drive the current administration. With the exception of Bill Clinton, who managed to bomb a few white guys, as George Carlin once pointed out, American foreign policy since the Germans surrendered in World War II has pretty much consisted of Americans bombing brown people. This is an administration that doesn't believe in international cooperation (ironically, after his father's was often criticized for appearing to lead the US into a global government)

Meanwhile, the architect of the September 11, 2001 attacks sits in his hiding place as if he had the largest silicon implants in the world. Thank God the credit card companies can now suck more money out of bankrupt Americans to contribute to Republican political candidates. I was worried there fore a minute, weren't you?


Our friends Bob and Laurie Rozakis have a Princeton graduate son earning kazillions in the brokerage biz, their daughter is equally amazing; our friends the Greenbergers have kids singing and performing and creating; our friends the Confredas have kids who appear to be well on their way to Olympic gold. And now I receive an email from Richard Pachter (whose reviews at the Miami Herald I reference to the left and below) who forwards this image of his daughter, the brand-new Miss Florida Keys.

We have cats...

Seriously, though, congratulations to all... although there are no surprises here.

Saturday, April 16, 2005



In a story about the IRS and how it's going to audit the heck out of people this coming year, Yahoo! cited the story of Eric Delore of Alameda, Calif., who owes the IRS more than $400,000. Delore owes the money because he received incentive stock options from his former employer; Yahoo! says these options "pushed him into the nightmare world of the alternative minimum tax."

The alternative minimum tax originally was created to prevent wealthy individuals from using loopholes to avoid paying taxes. Apparently, taxpayers who live in high-tax states or receive incentive stock options are particularly vulnerable.

In 2000, Delore exercised stock options worth $1.1 million. Rather than pay the tax he would have owed at the time, he held on to them so he could get a better tax rate when he sold.

You know what happened in 2000. The stock price of his company plummeted. When Delore sold his shares, they were worth $5,000. But the IRS says no matter what he sold them for, they were worth $1.1 million, and he therefore owed $420,000 tax bill.

It gets worse. In 2001, Delore's employer filed for bankruptcy, and he lost his job.

He got another job, but it just gave the IRS something to glom onto after it emptied his bank accounts and put a lien on his house. The IRS won't negotiate his tax bill lower, so Delore will file for bankruptcy if the IRS won't take his latest offer. Not good for a man with a wife and two small children. Never mind what the new bankruptcy rules will do to him.

Delore now believes he took a big risk when he told the IRS that he exercised his options. He says horror stories like his encourage taxpayers to break the law. The government "should make compliance easier," he says. "Then you'll get more people paying their taxes."

This is indeed a sad story. But, I want to know more. For instance, when he exercised his options, they were indeed worth $1.1 million. Yes, he would have had to pay $420,000 on them when he sold them, but he'd still have $780,000 in the bank on options that probably didn't cost him anywhere near the $1.1 million. So... isn't this just plain greed? Shouldn't somebody have advised him to do just that? Did he get advice from a professional to hold onto the options? If so, shouldn't he be able to sue that professional for what he owes the IRS?

All of this, of course, as I just barely got my extension in. I'm still paying off bills I ran up while self-employed, I'm now unemployed (and remember, that unemployment check is taxable income, as my mother discovered unhappily 25 years ago), and if my best friend and accountant, Joe Confreda (of Garen & Company; tell him I sent you) is right, the only reason I didn't owe money this year was because we had the IRS hold over $1,000 of last year's refund. But at least I didn't try to take big wads of money and turn it into a bigger wad of money, and then complain when it didn't work out.

I think the upshot here isn't that the alternative minimum tax is evil; I think the upshot here is that if you're going to play in the big leagues, you've got to be prepared to take one in the butt from Clemens occasionally.

Wow, I just wrote a piece supporting the IRS. Maybe the the Republicans are right about us liberals.

Monday, April 11, 2005



John Kerry -- remember him, he ran for president? -- says that there was partisan hanky panky at the polls last November. Long lines in strongly Democratic neighborhoods due to installing too few voting machines is something I could probably live with (although if done intentionally, it's still evil), but actually telephoning people and telling them that if they're going to vote Democratic, they need to go to the polls on Wednesday, or telling them they're ineligible to vote if they have unpaid parking tickets, that's just wrong.

Yes, people should know which day they vote, and they should know their rights. Then again, these people who are borderline disenfranchised are the very people who need to have a voice. It's clear that politicians and their operatives who are engaging in these dirty tricks are working diligently to keep those people from having a voice.

Our political system isn't about winning at all costs. The end shouldn't justify the means, even if the winners always get to say that it does. Our system is supposed to be about ideas and debate and giving everyone the choice and living with that choice because it's what people want. It's hard to live with a choice if you believe that the other side was afraid of your ideas.

Why, that sounds like totalitarianism.

So here's my suggestion: If you are an elected official who is responsible for deliberately putting too few polling booths in an area, then you need to lose your job and your pension, and nobody from your party ought to be able to hold that office for 50 years.

If you run a call center that calls people and tells them that they can't vote because they have an unpaid parking ticket, you need to have your business license revoked, your property seized, and you need to go to jail for one day for each phone call your center made. If you are the political party operative who hired the call center, you need to go to jail one year for every phone call the center made, and your party needs to be enjoined from raising any money for any political race anywhere in the country for the length of the election term for which the offense occurred (e.g., two years for a House race, six years for a Senate race). For a second offense? Death. No fooling around. This is the right to vote, and there is nothing more sacred in a democracy.

Do you think I'm too harsh? Perhaps you would prefer to live in a religious theocracy, such as Iran's? Oh, wait a minute... maybe you voted for Bush.

Saturday, April 09, 2005



My friend Harry Broertjes, who works at the Miami Herald, forwarded me Mitch Albom's column about Jayson Blair, the plaigiarizing reporter who snookered the New York Times. Albom's column is about how Blair is a disgusting excuse for a human being, and I have to agree with Albom.

Blair apparently spent his entire journalistic career, starting in high school, writing stories of marginal truthfulness. Nobody called Blair on his act, apparently because Blair is an African-American.

The Times gave Blair many extra chances, and admits in part it was because he is African-American. Blair also apparently got internships at the Washington Post and the Boston Globe, also as part of those newspapers' efforts to incorporate diversity in their workplaces.

So what we have is Jayson Blair being reprehensible in at least two ways. Not only is he a lying sack of crap as a reporter, but he has used other people's attempts to do good -- by rendering the playing field fair -- for his own wicked purposes. Kind of like asking for a glass of red wine so you can throw it on the hostess's new dress.

There was a time when the phrase, "a credit to his race" was bandied about, and I'm equally sure that there were similar statements about the Irish, the Jews, and the Italians. If I were an African-American working to make a mark in the world -- Barack Obama, Kweisi Mfume, Jesse Jackson, Oprah Winfrey -- I would make it part of my mission to go over to Blair's residence and read him the riot act. But then again, perhaps that's wrong, too. Maybe we shouldn't worry about Blair's ethnicity. Let's just pick on him because he's a lying sack of crap. I'm good with that.

Thursday, April 07, 2005


Today's Non Sequitur.



No matter who we are in the world, I'm certain we all feel sorrow that Pope John Paul II has died. Whether you're a lapsed Catholic like me, a practicing Catholic with some disagreements, a Lutheran, a Jew, a Hindu, or a Moslem, it's hard to ignore the role of the Pope, particularly this one.

When he was elected in 1978 -- amid whispers that his immediate predecessor, who lasted months before dying, had met an end not of God's choosing -- it was amazing news, because he was the first non-Italian elected pope in 450 years. I think the next pope, and several soon thereafter, will all be non-Italians. The greatest growth in Catholicism is taking place in the Southern Hemisphere -- Central and South America and Africa -- and it would be logical to select a pope from these locales.

Anyway, that's the money I'm taking to Vegas.

In the bigger picture, one wonders about the new pope, who will presumably be vigorous and will come into power with great fanfare. The new pope will have an opportunity to weigh in on, among other things, fanatical Moslem terrorists. The current problems the West is having with radical Islam can be traced, in part, to the Crusades of nearly 1,000 years ago. Who started that? A pope. Can a current pope do something to reduce the problem? You know, maybe apologize for trying to kill Moslems in the name of God? Or will he seek to escalate the problem, calling on all Catholics, perhaps all Christians, to kill more Moslems in the hope of going to heaven?

Which people did Christ advocate be killed again, was it?

The Vatican website.

Wikipedia's entry on electing popes, with speculation about the next one.