Could George Bush Be Right About Lebanon?

In crazy times like these I find myself thinking crazy things. One of the craziest is the possibility that George Bush may be right about a few things in Lebanon. It gives me the shivers.

To his credit, George is right on many counts:

  • Hezbollah is a group of ululating thugs who can't even manage to get along with other members of their own religion, much less anyone else.

  • Hezbollah kicked off this latest round of violence when it kidnapped the Israeli soldiers and it keeps it going by lobbing rocket after rocket into Israel.

  • The Israelis are perfectly within their rights to defend themselves against the constant incursions of terrorists. Regular skirmishes and suicide bombings punctuated by the occasional outright war is no way to live and they deserve to be free of it.

  • There is little doubt that Iran and Syria are eyeball-deep in fomenting the current troubles. Their tiresome, "who me?" posture doesn't fool anyone, including other Arab states.

  • And foremost, the Middle East would be a far better place if a lasting peace were attained. A step back from the constant threat of WW (fill in the blank) would be a welcome change indeed.

But being right on many counts isn't the same as being right on all accounts.

While the Israelis are entitled to defend themselves, their current elephant-gun-to-kill-an-ant approach does nothing but stir up more stink than usual. Stink that lands on them in the form of additional rockets. The lopsidedness of the fighting and the fact that it's done little to dampen Hezbollah's rockets is proof of its folly. As often happens with Israel, they are so bent on avenging legitimate wrongs, they fail to see they are cutting their nose off despite their face.

Their claim that leveling southern Lebanon is a "surgical" campaign designed to weed out Hezbollah may be true on one level, but it's so much more at another. The last time Israel decided they needed to take out the local terrorists du jour they stayed in Lebanon for six years. This "limited" campaign has all the earmarks of following suit and we can all expect a tenser world full of more terrorists as a result..

The Condo-Israeli faction is making that mistake so much worse. While they're happy to plink diplomatic rocks at Syria and Iran for being meddlesome (a bit of the pot calling the kettle black, I think), they are unwilling to take them on in a meaningful way. Instead of going to the international community to impose sanctions or work out some other suitable means to calm things down, they allow a war to rage that only increases Iranian and Syrian Arab street cred. Meanwhile, the alarmed international community - already soured on the Bush doctrine - is less trusting than ever that Mr. President can control the issue safely. The end to this debacle is not via more Israeli bombs nor Katyusha rockets.

It's also not through the fantasy that George will be able to broker a lasting peace.

First, there's his track record. In the wake of the good ship George lies at least two broken countries - Iraq and Afghanistan - and other leaky diplomatic lifeboats ready to sink - Iran, Syria, North Korea, and other Axi of Evil. While he is a legend in his own mind, no one other than he and the most addled-brained would call his handling of Iraq and other international trouble spots rousing successes. If they were, we'd all be wearing a lifetime supply of victory flower-garlands and attending the Iraq Independence Day Fireworks and Texas Bar-B-Que.

There's also that annoying reality thing to consider. Muslims, Christians, and Jews have been steeping in a toxic brew of hatred for thousands of years. At worst, the region has been embroiled in deadly wars that last for years. At best, suicide bombers and other religious maniacs keep the pot simmering with a well-timed terrorist act, a kidnapping, or the occasional artillery shell.

George claims to speaks to God and I'd sorely like to believe him, because it'll take the intervention of a supernatural power to set right that which has been broken for so long. George may believe he's the chosen one who will bring peace to the Middle East. He may believe this is a golden opportunity to turn the place around so everyone can live in harmony. He may believe that not talking to the parties involved in the conflict will resolve it somehow. He may even believe that allowing unrestricted warfare for a few weeks to stomp out the fires of Hezbollah is the way to go.

Me? Not so much.

So God, if you're talking to George, could you give me a sign that everything will be all right?

Perhaps your image in a toasted pita would be appropriate.

Bring it On!

The Poobah also appears at Bring it On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, July 31, 2006

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Vacations? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Vacations!

American Workers on Vacation

I'm going on a vacation next week, so I've got leisure time at the forefront of my mind. I'm as busy as the next overwhelmed American worker, so the thought of being away is a mixed blessing.

The easy-going, never-work-harder-than-you-have-to side of me says, "Alright! A week off! You're a God and you deserve it! Woo hoo!" The considerably more depressing worker-bee part of me thinks about the mountain of emails, phone calls, questions, and stalled work that'll await my return. I'll likely need two weeks to catch up on the week's accumulation of stuff, thereby negating any restorative benefits from the time off. Since I recently took a new job, I haven't yet accrued enough time off to cover my week away, so I'll be in the hole for awhile. No days off, no getting sick until I catch up a few months from now.

I used to travel extensively in Europe on business and the topic of time off came up often. To Europeans, time off is a government-guaranteed, sacred right worthy of riots and violent demonstrations if changes are afoot. It would be easier to completely rewrite Social Security, solve the health care crunch, and "win" the war on terror than to cut a European's vacation time. Most countries start with five weeks and bump to six after an average of five years while getting sick days as a gravy on top.

In the US, middle and upper class workers get an average of two weeks off per year (three weeks if your company pools vacation and sick days as sells it as an unfunded "benefit"). A few companies bump employees to three weeks after 10 years or so. Some factories "helpfully" tell employees when to take time, whether that matches their plans or not. Lower class wage slaves, many involved in heavy labor and strenuous tasks, are just shit-outta-luck. You don't work, you don't get paid.

"Have a good time on vacation! Drop us a postcard! Providing we don't hire an illegal alien while you're gone, we might even have a job for you when you get back!"

As a rule, American companies are pretty stingy with the time off. They base their business plans on a work ethic of, "We'll pay you eight hours for 12 hours of work. We know you'd like to have some time off, but golly we've already got one person out that week and we can't spare you. Check back with us next year. Okay?" In the biz-parlance of ROI (return on investment), vacations are an expense with no return. As long as a warm body occupies the chair - preferably a nice, sturdy, lower-paid chair in India - they're making money. Heaven forbid someone has to forego that fourth yacht they've had their eye on.

I happen to be lucky. My new company sees a benefit to the investment in time off. While they may not be as cutting edge as Europeans, they do understand the benefit of taking a break now and then. Accordingly, they're generous with the time off - at least by American standards. They even offer a paid six-week sabbatical after five years. It's true that it's your responsibility to work out coverage while you're gone, but at least they offer.

Study after study conclude Americans are among the most productive workers on Earth - mostly on the strength of working considerably more hours per week (many of them unpaid if you're salaried employee). Many studies also show Americans are heavily overworked. The attendant stress causes medical and psychological problems requiring expensive treatment. Expensive treatment that's now migrating off companies' balance sheets and into employees' steadily emptying pockets.

Americans have been at this for so long, they've forgotten how to relax. American workers vacation with PCs, Blackberries, and cell phones tethered to them like malevolent moons. The infernal gadgets ring unabated while they're away. Attending conference calls in between interrupted trips to the beach are not such a rare thing in America. Even without the weighty technology and a secret destination where you can hide from the boss, the office pace usually continues. Since they get so little time off, Americans try to cram the Euro-standard six weeks into one. They plan trips with a precision that would make a smart bomb designer proud. They rush from attraction to attraction with such a fury that a visit to a beachside Denny's reveals only the dissipating vapor trails of frantic families on the move.

When these folks return to their overstuffed everyday lives, they're more exhausted than if they'd never left. They immediately dive back into their pile of business junk with all the vigor of a marooned sailor.

Yeah, that's a productive worker all right.

Many companies have work/life balance programs. They give wonderful classes on identifying the important things in life and balancing them with your work responsibilities. The classes invariably start from the basic premise that you already have adequate time to do everything, you're just bad at scheduling it. They offer all manner of planners, electronic gizmos, and support groups for parents and those providing care for elders or the sick. But the real value they place on these classes is best demonstrated by when they give them - during lunchtime, after work, or on weekends.

Thanks guys! That was a big help.

As an ex-GE employee I once heard GE's puzzling lionized CEO, Jack Welch, explain to an employee who complained about routine 12 hour days and 6 day weeks that he was the problem. Sounding like he was talking to a mildly retarded six year old, Jack explained, "You need to work smarter, not harder. Look at me. I'm the CEO of one of the largest businesses on the planet and I still find time to get in a round of golf or two every weekend."

I thought to myself at the time, "That's mighty good advice Jack. How about you come down and fill in for me this weekend. Oh, can't make it? You're taking your caddy to lunch after your foursome on Saturday?"

"Um, can your caddy cover for me? I haven't seen my wife and daughter for about three months now. I promise I'll work smarter so this never happens again sir. Honest."

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Thursday, July 20, 2006

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News From the Front Office

Just a short note from the front office here at Omnipotent Poobah Omnimedia Intergalactic Headquarters about Poobah doings:
  • Stop by Bring It On to see my bi-weekly feature rant on the Lebanese crisis in Thursday's Edition (available after 1 am, EDT). I tried to suck some humor juice from a bad situation going south, but it was an uphill battle. They're a lively bunch over there, so don't be afraid to jump in with the comments, especially if Sandy the Troll turns up (you'll know her if you read her).

  • I'll be missing in action from July 22-30 for a visit with the Omnipotent Dad at the ancestral plantation in Chesapeake, Virginia. I know some of you will wither without your daily fix of snarkiness, so I'll try to get back up and running as soon as possible after my return.

  • In a bit of shameless self-promotion, I'm pleased to announce the Poobah's place passed the 15,000 mark last week. I owe it all to you and a few additional people I sucker in from other places - and they say you can't fool people.

  • I'm planning a regular post for Friday unless something unforeseen happens, so remember not to bail quite yet.
So while I'm gone, play nice, be safe, and stop poking the other kids in the eye with a stick. You could hurt someone.


Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Wednesday, July 19, 2006

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Keeping a Watchful Eye on the News

A few days ago, I wrote a short post about a news clip of US soldiers crushing an Iraqi taxi with a tank in retaliation for looting some wood. To be honest, I figured the comments - if there were any at all - would be of the "that damned war" variety. It turns out the comment thread opened a dialog that wandered into several areas you might not immediately expect and those areas painted a picture we can all learn from.

There are many communications theorists who posit that visual information is inherently different than the written word. At the center of these theories is the notion that humans attach more significance to visual messages than to those they can only read or hear. One common example is a photo or video of a small crowd.

Filmed from the top of a high building, a crowd of 50 people on a large city street looks like a paltry showing. That's because you can see it within the context of the area around it - the street, other buildings, cars, etc. There are no faces and you can see no emotion. Nothing about it really jumps out when you view it. The opposite might be true of a huge demonstration, for example on the Washington Mall. The sight of millions of bodies crammed into a tight space speaks to us with more emotion merely because of the same differences in scale.

But look at the small demonstration again from crowd-level. You can't see just how big the crowd really is - 50, 500, 5000 - there's no way to tell. The closeup shots of a few people chanting and waving signs at close range is much more visceral than when viewed from the building. At this level, you can see emotion and tension that's largely absent from the high building shot. You no longer perceive this as a distant event, but one in which you're actually participating. You reflect the emotion you see.

From either vantage point, the facts are the same, but how they're presented can make a crucial difference. Is image selection some sort of an attempt to bend the truth? It could be, but it's more likely that you'll see the more exciting images simply because they're more interesting. Would you watch news about the crushed car if it was covered solely by officials in a press tent relaying the facts or would you be more drawn by the pictures of the event itself? If you were the type to be outraged over the event, would you have mustered that emotion from a few straight-faced people in front of a curtain? Probably not.

How do you separate the facts from the emotion?

Several of the commenters alluded to a successful strategy - context. They pointed out that if they'd viewed the footage in a movie they might have thought it was "cool" in the sense that it was striking rather than a statement about a horrible event. Other viewed the clip context of a family's livelihood being squashed like a bug. To them, the same footage wasn't "cool" but sad, or angering, or both. In other words, some commenters forced themselves to take context into account rather than just relying on the raw images.

But what about what's missing from the context?

We know the video showed the family being punished for looting wood. However, we know nothing of the circumstances. Was this the 10th time the family had been caught or the first? Had looting caused a bigger than normal problem in the neighborhood, forcing GIs to take more violent action? Would the soldiers have crushed the car if they'd known beforehand that it was the family's sole means of support? And what about the justness of the punishment? What were the soldiers told to do and who decided to do it?

The truth is that you can't make a truly informed judgment about the video because you simply don't know enough about the context. If you're a smart consumer of news you have two options at this point. One is to accept it at face value, but know the limitations of what you've viewed. The other choice is more critical. Find another account of the incident, preferably a written one that doesn't carry so much of the emotion that visuals have, and see if that source can fill in some of the contextual blanks.

We often gripe about our information sources being biased or selective in the truths they tell. There may be dozens of reasons for this perception and many of them probably have nothing to do with a blatant attempt to cherry pick the facts. It takes very savvy news consumers to be able to cut through those interruptions and see the nuggets of truth in the middle. We must always be on guard against forming completed notions about events without taking the time to validate the facts. Read newspapers, watch the news, listen to the radio, watch Jon Stewart if you like, but don't depend on any of these sources as your only one. Because if you do, you'll only get some of the facts and we've got a shooting war to show what happens when you don't validate the facts before you act. Regardless of who has a knee-jerk reaction to an event, it's still a knee-jerk reaction. The right and left are equally guilty of too readily accepting one line of thought without question. That sort of attitude is not only counter-productive, it's dangerous.

So go ahead and watch what you want, read what you want, and listen to what you want, but before you go off half-cocked, make sure you know all the facts. We'll all be better off if you do.

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, July 18, 2006

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A Case of Writer's Block

It's been one of those days where the clutter in my mind has gotten a little too much. So instead of taxing myself, I'll just let you see some of the things in there for yourself.

Mirror Building - Vancouver BC

Lake Chabot - Castro Valley, CA

Downtown - Vancouver, BC

Enchanted Glen - Big Basin, CA

Gassy Jack's - Vancouver, BC

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, July 17, 2006

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The Sunday Paper

One of the great pleasures of my youth was climbing onto my Dad's lap and having him read the "funnies" to me. Those sessions - I suppose we'd call them bonding sessions today - grew into the adult pleasure of climbing into a comfy chair and reading the Sunday newspaper. A little soft sunlight filtering in. Perhaps a nice cup of coffee or a special breakfast. There are lots of ways to turn this all-American treat into a special time.

But times, as they say, have changed.

Today, no matter how comfy the chair or delicious the coffee, the Sunday paper isn't what it used to be. Gone are the nuanced articles on world affairs. The little end of column, quirky, two-inch stories don't cover odd man-bites-dog-stories anymore. They've been replaced by stories that depressingly shrink bank robberies with automatic weapons to common news. Feature stories, once a Sunday staple, have turned away from celebrations of interesting people to descriptions of life-changing struggles because of religious dogma.

Sure, things weren't all sweetness and light back then. We had war coverage, but it was only one war. This morning's paper brings news of the many active and soon-to-be-active wars. Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, North Korea, Lebanon, and all the rest that are too far away or not of sufficient interest to warrant even the old two-inch treatment.

Newspapers' stock and trade has always been bad news. It's fitting that bad news interests us and hopefully, outrages us. People in harm's way are infinitely more important than sports or the marriage of the latest celebrity du jour. However, a little personal enrichment is necessary too. If for nothing else but the strength it provides to carry on in the face of the relentlessly bad news.

I still cling to the shreds of Sunday papers past. I still seek out the feature stories and book reviews. I even find a little comfort in the "funnies". Although I regret it, I know that my daughter was probably the last generation to climb up in Dad's lap on a Sunday morning to learn about the world.

And that's very sad.

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Sunday, July 16, 2006

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An Undisciplined Mind

To anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis, it is abundantly clear that I don't possess a disciplined mind. My posts are way too long and never end up at the place I imagined when I started out. I am a poor candidate for academia, or mathematics, politics, or most any other career that requires concentration, discipline, or an attention span longer than a middle aged gnat's. If it weren't for the fact that I've developed an uncanny ability to fake it, I'd be living in my car.

Most of the time, particularly times when I should be doing something else, I just think about useless crap. I puzzle over minutiae. I remember bits of flotsam that serve no discernible purpose other than to clutter up a mind that is already like the apartment of one of those crazy old ladies who saved every piece of yarn they ever touched and have 600 cats. With the amount of amazingly arcane information in my head, one would think I'd be the Sultan of Small Talk. Truth is, I'm painfully shy behind this mask of omnipotence and am so uncomfortable around those whom I don't know well, that I rarely speak. At parties, people either have no remembrance of my attendance or remember me as aloof in an indescribable say. Oddly, I actually like to speak to crowds, so go figure.

My thinking is of the multi-tasking variety. I have a well-developed ability to seemingly make sense when my mind is actually a million virtual miles away. For example, these are some of the things I've been thinking as I wrote those first two paragraphs:
  • I once read that a modern 12-year old is exposed to more information in a single day that a fully grown adult living in the Middle Ages was exposed to in a lifetime. The fact that most of the information the 12-year old was exposed to came in the form of video game images doesn't seem all that important.
  • John McCain sometimes requires help to comb his hair because of the wounds he suffered as a POW. I assume that Bob Dole, doesn't use his withered pen-holding hand to help him.
  • A friend of mine used to attend wet T-shirt contests armed with the liquid form of Freon. He did this for obvious reasons.
  • I find sex blogs interesting. Not because of the sometimes lurid details, but because they provide such a good window into how other people think. I just thought how sad it is that I really do, "read them for the articles".
  • The only kid, other than my deranged sister, that was my playmate until the age of five was a kid named Roscoe. He lived in a low-income housing development behind my house and we played through a very high fence. My therapist has a field day with that one.
  • I named one of my dogs Roscoe. The therapist had no comment on that.
  • I played with my imaginary friend on rainy days when I couldn't go out to the fence. My imaginary friend was named Hurricane...for obvious reasons.
  • As a child, I thought the fire department came to set fires instead of putting them out. Our neighbor used to raise (and I'm not making this up) hamsters for the space program. His hamster house caught fire and I finally learned the fire department came to extinguish the flames. After that, I could never be trusted with matches.
  • I once traveled to Uruguay and felt more foreign there than in any of the 23 other countries I've visited. There seemed to be some sort of weird time warp there. I felt like I was in one of the "funny" time travel episodes of Star Trek.
  • As a child, I visited a Lipton Tea factory and went to watch the tea taster. I was fascinated by how anyone could do that all day long without throwing up.
  • It is amazing how many times foreign objects (microphones, elbows, tops of the set, etc.) appear in television shows and movies. I once had a film criticism professor who said all of these errors were there on purpose. As he spoke, I noticed the tops of his underwear peeking out of his pants. So much for that theory.
  • I read the novel The Strawberry Statement many times as a teen. There are two thoughts it contained that fascinate me to this day: "Isn't it truly lucky that fires can be extinguished by water. Suppose we had to use diamonds." And, "Save this. One day it will be old."
  • There are newspaper reruns of the comic strip Peanuts - they call them Peanuts Classics. Why are there no reruns of Lil' Abner, Pogo, or Prince Valiant. It makes me fear the day when Family Circus retires. I don't think I could stand reruns of that grotesque thing. That would be scarier than clowns.
  • I think there is a real call in this modern-day world to combine all the best traits of the Dadaists and Luddites. Perhaps we could start with broken, fur-lined computers.
  • I always wonder about the appeal of Cher. Or Meryl Streep. Or Charo. The fact that they are all breathing is almost more than I can bear.
  • What insane person invented curling?
  • What possessed the first person to try a durian?
  • Why does the combination of ice-cold chocolate milk and sharp cheddar cheese taste so good on a hot day?
  • Why do we have laws? Do we really need a rule that says you can't kill other people? Shouldn't that be readily apparent?
  • What does the world look like to a schizophrenic? I think it must look a lot like mine.
And that was just what I thought about during the first two paragraphs. I've thought of ten more things in the time it took you to read this sentence.

And six more just then.

I'm going to bed before I think of anything else.

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Saturday, July 15, 2006

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The Stinky Cheese Man: A Modern Parable

A few years ago the motivational book Who Moved My Cheese was required reading for management mavens. You couldn't swing a dead rat without hitting someone who'd read it. It was the parable of how people relate to change. The parable featured two mice looking for cheese in a maze. It occurs to me that perhaps a new parable about rodents and cheese might be in order.

Imagine Iraq is a cheese. A nice, fresh, ripe, good-smelling cheese. One that would be appealing with a little wine or perhaps some fruit.

Now, put the cheese in the middle of a maze. Let's call the maze The White House.

Finally, put a giant rat into the maze - say, one named George. Afterwards, release dozens of smaller rats into the maze. We'll call these rats - oooo, say, congressional rats. Some are big and fat, others a little puny.

Let them nibble around the edges of the cheese for a few weeks. A bite here. A bite there. And, let the natural hierarchical order amongst rodents rule the day - the bigger the rat, the more room the other rats give him. When the cheese runs out, replace it with new bits of cheese. But always use cheese of the same age and ripeness. It's very important not to change the environment in any way.

Rats in a MazeAfter a few weeks, the cheese will begin to smell. It'll only be a slightly musty smell at first. Certainly nothing to put the rats off the cheese, just a marginally stronger aroma.

Notice how a few congressional rats begin to wander away from the cheese as it begins to smell. As they wander, they find other sources of better smelling food within the maze or hang out at the water bottle to keep as far away from the cheese as possible. Also notice how George always eats heartily, even when the cheese begins to smell and grow mold. George enjoys the cheese so much he invites his bigger rat friends over to share it. We'll call these rats Dick, Donald, and Condi. The one named Dick has little teensie testicles. The one named Donald wears very thick glasses. And the one named Condi has really huge testicles.

Because the big rats consume most of the cheese, the smaller rats become hungrier and go in search of more wholesome and less stinky, moldy food. After all, you can't feed the same number of rats on a finite amount of cheese. The maze just doesn't work that way. Although some are slow to learn that.

Meanwhile, the cheese continues to age. The slight aroma becomes a huge, putrid stink. Like the stink of many dead bodies. A stink so bad, it drives more of the congressional rats away. But, notice how George, Dick, Donald, and Condi continue to eat. They eat all the cheese the Congressional rats abandon. In fact, the more the cheese stinks the more they seem to enjoy it. They constantly claw at the edges of the maze to get more stinking cheese, but never once do they leave the safety of the maze in search of less stinky cheese.

One day the cheese smell becomes intolerable. The mold is several inches thick and the sides of the cheese bulge and weep with a thick, black fluid. It's truly disgusting. The few remaining congressional rats flee. It stinks so bad they vomit from it. Imagine it! Hundreds of rats bent over tiny toilets, holding each other's ears back and vomiting. However, there are still a few rats in the general vicinity of the cheese. They've turned their back on it and occasionally abandon it to go to the secret food stashes, but they continue to lurk nearby where the smell is still thick, but not so bad. George, Dick, Donald, and Condi continue to eat. The more it stinks, the more they like it. Their bellies grow fat from the fetid dairy products.

One day, as George, Dick, Donald, and Condi eat the obscenely stinking cheese, George chokes on a piece. He's not worried though. That also happens when he eats pretzels. But now, the stink is so thick that Dick begins having chest pains from it. Donald grabs Dick by the tail and drags him out of the maze to safety. It's a long drag and Donald is very old. Condi makes a note to get a younger, smarter rat than Donald.

Back at the cheese, the stink sticks to George and Condi like the stink from a skunk's ass. Condi wants to leave, but George holds fast.

"Condi, I can't admit that I've been eating this stinky cheese for so long. What kind of a foolish rat would the other rats think I am," George says.

A few of the nearby rats say, "Here, here George! This stink is really nauseating for us too, but someone has to stay there and guard that stinky cheese. If we don't, some bigger rat might creep in a steal it or blow it up. There are terror rats as you well know and we cannot let them cut the cheese."

Finally, the stink is so unbearable that Condi acts. "George, follow me. We simply must get away from this stinking cheese," she squeaks. "It will ruin my hair and curl my long pretty tail!"

"Naw, the cheese might stink, but it's my cheese and I just know it'll become less stinky some day," George bellows.

"Geroge, you're one crazy rat," says Condi.

But finally, the cheese begins to stink so badly that even George can't stand it anymore. It's so bad that when he goes home to his hole at the end of a long day of cheese eating and maze wandering, his mate Laura tosses him out of the shredded newspapers they use as a bed.

"Lordy George, you stink!" she exclaims. "It's high time you get away from that stinky cheese or there will be no more breeding for you!"

So George begins to run. He turns corner after corner, always convinced that freedom is just beyond the next one. He looks for help from the congressional rats, but most have taken up refuge in a small model of the cruise ship Titanic. George's old friend Dick still likes the smell, but needs a new pacemaker so he can't help George. Donald is just too old and senile to help. So, Condi sticks with George, but is always very careful to stay at least three steps behind him in case something happens while turning the blind corners of the maze.

George continues to run. First, he runs to the corner of the maze called Guantanamo, but some Supreme Court rats push him away. Then, he runs to the Geneva corner, thinking that if he treats some of the other rats a little better they might help him escape. The Geneva rats merely laugh. He tries burning a small flag in an attempt to distract the other rats so he can ask them to help him escape, but only a few of the rats with the lowest IQs agree to help.

To make George's plight worse, the cheese is now so stinky it envelopes the maze, the laboratory room, the building it's in, and the entire college campus that houses it. It's a powerful stink that threatens to flatten him. George runs until he can't run anymore. Finally, he turns and looks around the maze.

In one corner is a rare Korean Loony rat. The rat hurls pebbles at George. In the opposite corner there's another rat - this one an Islamic rat from Iran. He keeps turning off the oil that keeps the maze's exercise wheel lubricated. In still another corner, Israeli, Syrian, and Lebanese rats kill and eat each other. They are, after all, accomplished killer rats.

George is isolated. All his rat friends abandon him. The cheese continues to glow with a mighty radioactive stink. The situation in the maze spins out of control until George can stand it no longer.

He turns slowly away from the cheese and heads for the exit. As he nears it, George trots faster and by the end of the experiment he's running at full, cheese-powered speed for the exit. He doesn't know where he'll go, but he inexplicably remains confident of his ability to rule the maze.

As George relishes the clean air at the exit, he becomes euphoric. In fact, so euphoric that he stops and looks back at the maze.

Suddenly he's seized by the urge to yell something in defiance. And this is what he yells...


The End.

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Friday, July 14, 2006

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My Days With the Kids

I work for a company dominated by kids. Not the snot-nosed, diaper-clad variety - though you'd be hard pressed to see the difference sometimes - but the young adult kind with college educations, lots of disposable income, and who are imbued with a sense of their own invincibility. At any one of the 16 million meetings I go to each day I'm invariably the oldest person in the room. My building has a gym, a Starbucks, a soccer field, tennis courts, basketball courts, a putting green and driving range, a cafe with fine dining, and a parking lot full of BMWs, Mercedes, and huge SUVs. Once a week, the company runs movies in the company theatre (this week's feature is An Inconvenient Truth). The CEO of the company - the person closest to my age - is three years younger than me. By contrast, my first workplace was a newspaper city room without air conditioning, lots of flies, and a ear-shattering teletype machine. If there was a tennis court, I'll be damned if I ever found it. In fact, it never occurred to me to look for one.

In truth, the age differences don't usually make much of a difference. We interact the way people in workplaces always interact. We talk things through and people then go off to muck things up. My young coworkers gracefully refrain from pointing out my lack of hair and my ever-expanding paunch. I reciprocate by not calling them "young whippersnappers" or talk about "these damn kids today". When I tell stories about working with first generation typesetting computers - they read data from punched paper tape you know - they listen with more than a degree of skepticism. I'm sure some of them are just humoring me and don't believe a word of it.

However, the most striking difference is how chaotic many of them are. They struggle with huge mountains of work, always staying late and trying to catch up. They disdain even the most rudimentary structured processes as something that simply takes too much time. The idea that you could actually do things in a relatively standard, efficient, and repeatable way is a foreign concept bred from too many all-nighters and too much rising from frat house beds to leave for noon classes. For them, every project is totally new and completely unrelated to any that came before or that will happen in the future.

"Processes? Processes? We don't need no stinkin' processes."

As a new employee trying to learn the ropes, this lack of discipline can be frustrating. When I ask questions, I can predict the answers will be wrong, directly proportional to the number of people I ask, or non-existent. I should point out this isn't unusual in technology companies. One must remember that many of these kids were only high schoolers at the end of the big tech boom and not yet born when I had my first experience with a computer. The "old hands" are mostly 3-year veterans - not at the company, but as working adults. Turnover is high as the youngsters change majors, er, change jobs at the drop of a hat. They're always in search of the new and exciting experiences and haven't yet learned how grinding change for change's sake can be.

There are many who look at these kids and wonder how they're going to steward the world we've handed them. There are so many problems and seemingly so little interest in the problems from them. The people who worry are mostly those who fear change. They're the ones who can only see the solving of problems from within their own experience. "I've had that problem dozens of times and I know just how to fix it," they'll mutter. But as they mutter, they forget that one of the most powerful teaching tools in the world is allowing people to make their own mistakes. The second most powerful is a mind open to other possibilities - even the ones you didn't think up.

So in those ways, these kids aren't any different from kids across the millenia. They are self-absorbed, sometimes dangerously lacking in common sense, and likely to make many a painful mistake before the lessons of those mistakes to sink in. They're also very bright, learn quickly, and are able to adapt to a rapidly changing world. They are the perfect evolution of humans in a machine age. While the old timers like me learned rudimentary technology as older adults, they were born with it. They are the ones who can make the machines do their bidding. They are the ones who will use the technology to solve some of our current problems so there's room for their kids to solve newer, even more perplexing problems in the future.

When I look at them, I neither envy them nor want to be one of them. I wouldn't give up my own experiences even if I could and I don't particularly want to live forever only to be handed yet another new, seemingly unsolvable set of problems. That sort of thing is for the young and we older folks have a much bigger role to play - mentors to them so they can move on with the business of moving on.

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Wednesday, July 12, 2006

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Democrats and The God Problem

A recent study by the Pew Research Center posits an interesting question - do democrats have a God problem?

The role of conservative evangelicals in the last presidential election is no secret. In a generally close contest, they turned out in droves and voted on their bread & butter issues - abortion, gay marriage, etc. - to help Team Bush win. That's not to say they completely ignored non-sectarian issues like the economy or the war, but that they tended to view those issues through the lenses of their own religious and moral convictions.

By contrast, the religious left is smaller and generally less vocal on religious topics. For example, their support of abortion rights is usually stated through messages speaking primarily to women's civil rights and healthcare than whether abortion is morally right or wrong. And when push comes to shove, they're much more likely to support the non-religious sides of any debate. In other words, the conservatively religious view those questions as moral ones while democrats view them as legal ones.

To make this disaprity starker, the religious right tends to be a more monolithic voting bloc, mostly crowded against the farthest right boundary of the spectrum. It's a place where a paranoid siege mentality prevails and acts as the root for many of the religious right's claims of persecution. On the other hand, the religious democrats act like a passel of cats being herded. They're distributed broadly across the religious spectrum from pretty strict to those who view the Bible as a guideline or who value a generalized spirituality more then the trappings of established religion.

I'm not so sure democrats have a God problem so much as an image problem. Many democrats behave as though religion is just one more crazy wing nut idea, rather than being a more selective in their criticisms. For example, I believe democrats' vocal opposition to teaching creationism as the primary scientific theory is valid. Arguing that "In God We Trust" should be removed from currency? Not so much.

Religion has been around for nearly as long as people and it isn't going away. You may not agree with it, but you can't ignore its power. You can't hope to beat it, but you can learn to peacefully coexist with it.

The gut reaction to religion from most democrats is one of disdain. Very few religious democratic party leaders hold much sway anymore. I think most people would agree that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton aren't indespensable for a democratic win. In fact, they sometimes don't even appear to be sane. Even though I happen to be an atheist, I consider myself a pretty moral person and I think there are quite a few people who might respond well to taking moral positions on issues other than the war. Perhaps if democrats were unafraid to speak to these issues from a moral as well as a legal perspective some of their "God problem" might be eased.

To be sure, I wouldn't expect a huge rush from right to left as a result of this change in thinking. Many of those on the right will never be separated from their prejudices and hardline stance, just like many hardcore lefties will continue to condemn anything that smacks of church. But I believe there is some middle ground where the religious left could help corral more votes. Sure, democrats wouldn't catch millions more votes, but they could catch a few and in these days of an evenly divided country, a few may be all it takes to make a difference.

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

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Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, July 11, 2006

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Mrs. Kravitz Teaches George a Few Things About Secrets

The United States has a long and varied history of successfully keeping secrets. Despite the massive size of the Manhattan Project - so big that entire towns were built in support of it - we managed to keep it a secret from the Germans. Ditto for D-Day, Area 51, and any number of other more modern secrets. Yet all the news lately is about how we apparently can't keep secrets anymore.

Skippy the Frat Boy and his housemother, Big Dick, have their boxers all in a twist over the "eastern media elites" reporting on the administration's numerous spy programs. It seems like every other week they take the media to task for cracking the very bedrock of democracy by reporting their secrets. There are enough accusations taking wing to keep Dick drunkenly firing away at them like quail for weeks. There's also plenty of self-flagellating hand-wringing on editorial pages to keep the reporters similarly occupied.

Just for a moment, let's give the Prez the benefit of the doubt and assume he's right about the reports damaging the country. Let's look past their rhetoric of people dying on the words of reporters and how bijillions have been squandered by uncovering spy programs that were supposed to be secrets. Let's assume the whole spying thing is legal. Let's assume that Congress isn't pissed off at the boys for not letting them in on the secrets. Let's pretend the programs actually are the vital components of American foreign and military policy the administration claims. Let's even assume the reports actually did crack the foundations of democracy.

Yet still, I don't get something.

If all the reports are as damaging as 007 George and Oddjob Dick claim, why are they after the reporters, who simply repeated what some administration hack told them. It seems like Spy Novel 101 that to silence a leak, you go after the leaker, not the person who reveals the actual leaker. The reporters didn't leak anything, someone from the administration did.

One of the cardinal rules of talking with a journalist is that you should always assume you're on the record. What kind of a boob - presumably a boob with a secret security clearance no less - would blab secrets to a reporter anyway? Doesn't it seem like common sense that if you have a secret the last two people in the world you should tell are a reporter and Mrs. Kravitz from Bewitched?

Yet, they blabbed anyway.

We know they sometimes blab because political expediency outweighs national security - can we all say Valerie Plame. Given their collective IQs, I'm sure they sometimes blab because they are simply too stupid to keep their mouths shut. Throw in a few vindictive employees, maybe an honest mistake at the wrong cocktail party and pretty soon, you have a veil of secrecy about as tight as a screen door on a submarine.

It's true, loose lips do sink ships - and sometimes careers, administrations, and national policy. Nations have secrets because it's sometimes important to have them. The citizenry isn't stupid. They know that. They realize that everything can't be done with full openness lest we one day find Kim Jong Ill living secretly in Aunt Tillie's guestroom. People don't need to be hectored about how the media is out to get the poor Prez and his minions of ineptitude. They need a dash of truth.

George, fer chrissakes! The cat is out of the bag and all the reporters did was file a story saying so. How can you blame them for that. Not only is that their job, it's imprinted in their DNA. Don't you think it would be a little more productive if you found the louse who left the bag open and perhaps punished them?

If your administration leaks this much, something is waaaaay wrong - and it ain't the reporters' fault. You have about eleventy-seven-thousand secretaries, administrators, assistant secretaries, and under-assistant secretaries to the first secretaries charged with making sure our secrets don't get out. How is it that after six years in office our intelligence services are about as tight as a slipshod game of To Tell the Truth?

Mr. President, I think it's time you start cracking down on the leakers rather than the reporters of the leaks. I also think you should start by looking in the mirror and in that famous "undisclosed location", because you and Dick appear to have the loosest lips in a town full of loose lips.

Don't make me come down there and take your security clearance away.

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, July 10, 2006

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Yearning Masses Hungry to Free Burritos

In the interesting and quite bizarre department, an opinion piece in today's WaPo points out a government contract up for bid that just has to be true, because it is so weird. The Department of Homeland Insecurity is asking for bids on a contract for an "indefinite quantity, indefinite delivery of burritos to be stockpiled along the Texas border".

No word on whether they intend them as illegal alien lures, food for the troops, or just lunch for next year's Cinco de Mayo festival.

Can the Bush administration be any odder?

I think this has finally answered the question.

Um. No.

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Sunday, July 09, 2006

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A Brief Note From an Undisclosed Location

The rumors of my demise are greatly exaggerated. I'm in an undisclosed location with Jimmy Hoffa, but SSSSHHHHHH, don't tell anyone.

I'll be back on the blogging trail soon. It has just been a bitch of a week and I'm behind.

Thanks for your support, and get this damn Cheney person out of MY undisclosed location. The bastard has a shotgun, he's drinking again, and Jimmy is about to get in a fight with him!

Damn capos.

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Saturday, July 08, 2006

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The Legacy of Ken Lay

It's certainly not the same as knowing where you were when Kennedy was shot, but I think I'll always remember the moment I heard of Ken Lay's unexpected death.

I got the news from the Randi Rhodes Show on Air America radio. I first heard it via a "comic" bit that was over-the-top, and pretty tasteless, even by my admittedly loose political correctness standards. What followed was even dumber though. Perhaps the dumbest thing I've heard on TV or radio in the past month - and that's saying something.

Randi implied the Bush administration had Kenny Boy killed to cover up their collusion with him in the Enron scandal.


Now, I'm not fan of either the Bush administration or of Ken Lay, but this sort of baseless charge - even in jest - is just plain stupid. It was stupid when the right wing tried to pin murders on Bill Clinton and Randi's actions are just as stupid now. They're exactly the sort of thing that earns liberals the "moonbat" monkier and they're doubly wrong because they're hypocritical. I remember Randi justifiably criticizing Bill O'Reilly for "joking" that San Francisco should be bombed, so it seems a tad disingenuous for her to "joke" about similarly dastardly deeds now.

But eventually I got over her comments and began to think more directly about Ken's departure.

I'm sure there are thousands who are muttering under their breath, "The evil greedhead deserved to die. I'm just pissed off that he didn't hang around for a few years in jail." Others muttered only a little more charitably, "good riddance to bad trash." Still others thought, "Damn! Now we'll never find out what his ties to the administration really were."

All of those points are understandable enough and maybe even a little more than true, but I think they miss a point that is worth probing, Ken Lay's personal legacy.

No one can have much doubt that Ken was a charlatan who ruined the lives of thousands of employees and small stockholders. I don't think you'd get a strong argument from most people that he left the world a worse place than he found it. You also couldn't convincingly argue that the distrust and fallout from his felonies haven't muddied corporate governance for generations to come, hurting companies, stockholders, employees, and consumers alike.

To some, Ken Lay was evil man in a nice suit - someone who would sell his own mother to make a buck. To others he was the kindly community booster who donated millions to a wide variety of charities. He had a good side and a bad side, something true of most of us - except perhaps the most crazed of psychotic criminals. Ken may have been an evil man in a bad suit, but I don't think he had the heart of a Jeffery Dahmer either. He was mostly just stupid and arrogant, something he was justly punished for.

I think the truest measure of Ken Lay's legacy may not lie in his public persona at all, but in what he did to his family.

It's true that Kenny Boy's family lived as high on the hog as he did. They certainly benefited from the big cash, multiple houses, and corporate jets. They may have even talked down to the servants and have been hell-on-wheels to live next door to. I don't know. But, what is true is that they trusted him when he said, "I didn't do it."

If they were like most families in this situation, they circled the wagons and supported good old Dad through the grinding ordeal. I'm sure it was as tough on them as it was on Ken. Each day dawned and they faced yet another day of scorn and ridicule they had no part in making.

As the circling legal sharks consumed the once vast fortune, the family watched much of what they owned be sold off to raise money for Ken's defense. When he died, Lay's estate was estimated at $8 million. His wife was still living in the luxury condo and she still drove a nice car. So with that kind of "downsized" lifestyle, it might be a little hard to generate much sympathy from someone making $20k and riding the bus to work.

But think of it this way.

You can bet that as long as there's still a dime in the bank, the lawyers will continue to circle. Unless the family is very lucky, the rest of the $8 million will evaporate like water in a hot Houston sidewalk. But worse, they'll get out of bed on funeral day and go to the cemetery in full public view. They will feel the burning eyes upon them and receive the accumulated public hate for Ken transmitted directly onto them. They will stand in a crowd during an event that is ghastly enough as a private affair, horrific as a public one.

As they stand there, many will think, "I have no sympathy for them. They lived off stolen money. They spent it obscenely. Their torture is their just dessert." That may be true, but even if you feel this way, think of this - Ken screwed many people in his life, nearly all of them complete strangers. However, the worst thing he did was drag his family down into the criminal muck with him. Then, he committed the final cowardly and nasty act of his life - he died and left them to face the music alone.

And for me, that will always be Ken Lay's legacy.

Shameless Plug Department: Stop by Dusty's post over on BIO. It's a humdinger!

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Wednesday, July 05, 2006

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The Fourth of July Tapes

Official FBI Transcript
Top Secret

Time of Recording: 08:32, July 4, 2006
Location: Oval Office, White House

Bush: TURD BLOSSOM! Get your ass in here!

Rove: Yes sir. Is there something I can do for you sir?

Bush: There damn well is. Look across the street there. Those people are out there burning flags in full view of the President of the goddamn United States. What the hell is going on in this country?

Rove: Sir, I believe those people are simply having a Fourth of July barbecue in the park.

Bush: You sure? That looks like a goddamn big fire for grilling a couple of wienies and that guy looks Arab. I don't trust them, there's a war on terror you know.

Rove: I'll check into it sir. (audible sigh)

Bush: Karl, I still don't understand why we can't go back to Crawford for the holidays. The brush is likely to get out of hand if I don't go back and trim it. It's a damn fire hazard, you know that your own self.

Rove: Sir, it looks bad for you to go to the ranch at this time. Your enemies will attack you for callously relaxing while our brave men are sacrificing their lives half a world away. The Fourth of July is an important time for us to grab some media attention and press forward with our agenda.

Bush: Dammit Karl, you know how cranky I get when I can't cut the brush. Besides, Crawford's so damned pretty this time of year. The long brown grass swaying in the hot breeze ... sweat glistening on your balls ... the cattle just shriveling up and dying from the heat and lack of water. It's a damn pretty place I tell you. Dick likes it a lot. Says it reminds him of that undisclosed location where he spends all that time. Where the hell is that place anyhow?

Rove: Sir, it's undisclosed. If I told you that, I would be disclosing it. That would be leaking sir, and you know we're not supposed to do that. Perhaps we could spend the afternoon at Camp David instead. We could have a nice little get together, maybe have the Cheney's over for a cookout?

Bush: Could we get us some of them little cocktail wienies and maybe a little "tater" salad like Laura used to buy down to the grocery store when I was a poor student at Yale? No pretzels though. NO GODDAMN PRETZELS! I hate pretzels. One of them sneaky bastards tried to kill me. Damn near managed it too. I bet Al Qaida made them. Pretzels look like some kind of foolish food them Arabs would eat.

Rove: Sit, I believe pretzels came from Germany.

Bush: Shut up Karl! I know what I'm talking about. If they came from Germany, it must have been East Germany. Sneaky commie bastards. You can't trust sneaking commie Germans with pretzels! Thank the good Lord that Ronald Reagan fellow shut those Godless bastards down. Great man. Hell of a communitater (phonetic spelling)! Can't we name something after him, an airport or something?

Rove: I believe that's already been done.

Bush: Well, hells bells man. The man was famous! He can have more then one airport named after him, can't he? When I'm out of office they'll be building airports right out in the middle of nowhere just so they can name them after me. Damn they love me, Karl! Can't you just feel the love from the American people?

Rove: Er, no sir. Your poll numbers a quite substantially down and it looks like people aren't actually lovi...

Bush (interrupting): Shut up Karl! If I asked for your damned opinion I would have asked, um, if I had an opinion, no that's not how it goes, if your opin ... Dammit Karl! Just shut the hell up! I say the people love me and I'm the President so I can decide things like that! That's why they call me the Great Decider! I decide things, you know?

Rove: Yes sir. You stupid motherf...(inaudible).

Bush: Karl, rustle me up Marine One! I guess I'm ready to haul ass to Camp David. This working stuff is hard work and by that I mean I'm working hard, trying to look like I'm working hard at working.

Rove: Yes sir. Should I notify Mrs. Bush?

Bush: Hell no man! Just fetch Barney. I love that little dog! By the way Turdie, what are you doing for the holiday?

Rove: Well sir, I thought I might accompany you to Camp David, perhaps to oversee the arrangements.

Bush: You can come if you want Karl, but this is a barbecue for the big folks and I suspect you'd be a might uncomfortable, being as you're a piddling little shitheel. And you can't sit at the rich folk's table neither Karl. You're there to work, nothing more. You can grab a hot dog from one of the plates when you're cleaning up if you want...maybe eat it later out behind the barn.

Rove: Yes sir. I'll just be making the arrange........(tape ended because junior field officer forgot to bring fresh tape)

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Tuesday, July 04, 2006

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As We See It: Gitmo on the Gitgo Edition

The Gitmo Smackdown

Coulter Accused of Plagiarism: What Would 9/11 Widows Say?

Money Can't Buy Happiness, But It Sure Makes Poverty a Whole Lot More Tolerable

The Perfect Running Mate for Lieberman's Independent Run for the White House

Ye Reap What Ye Shall Sow...Kinda

Bring it On!

The Poobah appears Tues.
& Thurs. at Bring it On!

Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Monday, July 03, 2006

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