Sunday, December 17, 2006

Oh, PLEASE! *rolling eyes*

Time magazine's Person of the Year is YOU? What a cop out. The article I read says:
You were named Time magazine "Person of the Year" on Saturday for the explosive growth and influence of user-generated Internet content such as blogs, video-file sharing site YouTube and social network MySpace.
I was skeptical when they called the American Soldier the Person of the Year in 2003--couldn't they find ONE soldier, a soldier with a name, as representative of our armed forces? What's that say about English soldiers? Are they somehow inferior to American soldiers? Seems cold hearted to me.

But come on! It's a PERSON of the year. Not a PEOPLE of the year. Singular. One person. Okay, I'll give them suck-up points for naming the American solider a person of the year, but I really must protest using YOU as a person of the year. It's not personal, but my blogs aren't getting much action, all things considered, and I've never uploaded anything to YouTube, and I never created an account on MySpace. Frankly, I'm not very good at being "you."

Some of you might be surprised that the person of the year is "the person or persons who most affected the news and our lives, for good or for ill, and embodied what was important about the year, for better or for worse." For good or for ill. Yep, the runner ups this year include Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, China's President Hu Jintao, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il.

I like the idea of only nominating good people for this particular award--person of the year sounds like a title one should strive for, but we really don't want some people trying to get this illustrious honor. However, so long as "for good or for ill" is the criteria, I agree whole heartedly that Adolph Hitler was an excellent choice for 1938 (perhaps it would have been even better to use him as the Person of the Year in 1939 when WWII actually started--who won in 1939 anyhow?)

But am I the only person who thinks it's a strange contradiction to know that Adolph Hitler and the American soldier have won the same award? And now, every one of us--you who are reading this blog, and me who is writing it--have the honor of sharing an award with Adolph Hitler.

No thanks, I'll take a pass.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

And the Election is OVER!

Today marks the fourth day in a row I have yet to see a single political ad on television. It's a wonderful thing, is it not? =)

I'm in Florida at the moment, so elections here mean particularly little to me. Two people, neither of which I know, running for governor. All of those house and senate contests--all full of names I've never heard of. Terrible, terrible ads, though.

The biggest problem for me were the election results. I do not care that one contestant is ahead of the other by a 2 to 1 margin with 9% of the precincts reporting. WHO CARES?! Wake me up with 100% of the precincts reporting.

However, such false news is more annoying because there's some good television I want to watch that the "live election news coverage" tends to interrupt. NCIS, I'm happy, they decided was more important than the news, but that might be because it was on at 8:00pm and polls had not yet closed. Perhaps they consider 9% of precincts reporting news, but 0%, I'm happy to know, they'll admit isn't really news.

Leno, though, oh, that makes me mad. They delayed Leno for about a half hour for the election. You know what I learned during that time? Two things:

1. Democrats took control of the House.
2. Control of the Senate was too close to call.

You know what else? That's exactly what they said on the news the night before. EXACTLY the same.

My advice for future elections: Don't listen to the coverage. Turn off your television. Turn off your radio. Go out with your family and see a movie. Figure out a virtual letterbox, or write clues for a real one you planted earlier in the afternoon.

Just say no to "live election news coverage."

Thursday, October 05, 2006

And another thing....

For those following current events, you might have heard that representive Mark Foley resigned his spot in Congress due to some sexually explicit e-mails to underage interns.

There's a lot of finger pointing nowadays about who knew what and when, blah, blah, blah. The usual stuff you'd expect from Congress. Frankly, I think anyone who'd cover up such dispicable things are as criminal as Mr. Foley himself, but the investigations are ongoing and I'm sure we'll be learning a lot more information over the days and weeks to come.

But you know--none of this surprises me. Scandals in Congress? Not like it hasn't happened before. Granted, even Clinton at least wasn't trying to fool around with underage people, but there are a lot of perverts out there, and it's not exactly shocking that some of them snuck into Congress over the years.

No, the thing that surprises me is Foley admitting to being gay. He is a Republican, after all. Is it just me, or doesn't that seem a lot like a Jewish person joining the Nazis? I mean, yeah, I guess he has the right to be a Republican if he wants to, but it seems a bit hypocritical. Why? I just don't get it. *shrug*

Prop 87 blowing smoke up your you-know-what....

There's a commercial on television asking you to support prop 87 here in California. It claims to reduce dependence on foreign imports, reduce energy prices, and help prevent global warming. In a nutshell, Proposition 87 would impose a tax on oil produced in California.

Think about that. Do you think adding a tax to anything actually reduces energy prices? How exactly does imposing a tax on locally produced oil reduce dependence on foreign imports? If anything, it makes foreign imports even more desirable since they don't get the extra tax. Prevent global warming--well, that's probably true. High oil prices do tend to cause people to carpool more, use public transit more, and buy less oil products thereby reducing the pollution going into the air. Long term, the extra money generated from taxes would go towards funding alternative fuel sources which is also a good thing.

I'm not dissing prop 87. I haven't really read enough to make a truly informed opinion on the subject, claiming that adding a tax to locally produced oil will reduce foreign imports and reduce energy prices is absurd. All-in-all, it probably is good for the environment in the long haul, but I wonder if the people of California are willing to pay higher energy prices and increased foreign imports for the healthier environment. There's no right answer here--it's a pretty simple case of environment vs. extra costs. Is the cost worth it? I don't know. But I tell you, I'd be inclined to vote for the side that actually told the truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Unfortunately, there seems to be a lot of lies coming out of both camps, so I guess it comes down to those who think the expense is worth it and those who don't. *shrug*

Friday, September 29, 2006

Quit Smoking Made Easy!

I was in a bookstore this afternoon, wandering the aisles, trying to find something that caught my eye. They say you can't tell what a book is like from its cover. Perhaps that is the case many times, but as a whole, I disagree. You can tell a lot about a book from its cover!

One book I noticed out of the corner of my eye had an eye catching title of something about how to quit smoking, and how easy they'll make it. Really? Now, I'm not a smoker and never have been, so I can't speak from direct experience, but is there really an "easy" way to quit smoking? From everything I've ever heard, it's incredibly hard. Most people who quit often take years and several tries before they succeed. Some people who've had a lung removed because of lung cancer haven't even been able to stop.

And this book, on its cover, it promising to make quitting 'easy'? I never even touched this book. I never picked it, I didn't leaf through the pages. I didn't read about the author's credentials. Why should I? (Besides the fact that I don't smoke, of course.) It's obviously a bold-faced lie on the cover. What else do I really need to know about the book? If the title is a blatant lie, dare I ask what the contents inside might include?

It's easy to find such books in a bookstore. Just wandering around the aisles, you'll see plenty of titles like Make millions in real estate in just three years with no money down! or Lose 30 pounds by eating more!

Obviously, publishers wouldn't publish these books if people weren't buying them, but why the heck do people buy into such bold-faced lies? If making millions was so easy or losing weight was so easy, wouldn't everyone already be doing it?

I'm not sure what sickens me more--that people are stupid enough to fall for such a pile of manure or that there are people who are willing sell you such crap. I'd like to think a book titled something like, "The hardest thing you'll ever do: Quit smoking" could become a runaway bestseller. If I were a smoker, I wouldn't necessarily buy the book, but of all the choices on the bookshelf, it would certainly be the first to grab my attention, and I'd perhaps leaf through the pages to see if the inside is as remarkably candid as the cover.

Just say no to hype, people. If a book lies to you on the cover, the inside isn't even worth the effort of checking out.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

George W. Bush! George W. Bush!

There's a commercial showing here in California. It's election time, and one of my biggest annoyances living in this country are political ads. Most people would be better off and make better educated voting decisions if they did not have to listen to such crap. They're choked full of emotional pleas rather than logical discussion. They're full of information taken out of context, and twisted into what often becomes outright lies. It's disgraceful and does nothing to help the voting public, but rather confuses them more.

The particular ad I'm annoyed with now is against re-electing Schwarzenegger for another term as governor of this populous state. The reason? He supported re-electing George W. Bush. I had him, chanting with an audience, "George W. Bush!" with a narrator saying something about would you want to support someone who supports George W. Bush.

Really? Is that the worst they can do? As much as most people hate to admit it today, he was actually voted into office after getting more of the popular votes than anyone else--which is more than can be said for the first time he made it into office--but that's besides the point. More people in this country felt that George W. Bush was the best man for the job. Arnold Schwarzenegger felt that George W. Bush was the best man for the job.

Maybe Arnold made a mistake--George pulled the wool over his eyes just like he did with the rest of America. But is that really the best reason not to like Schwarzenegger? I wonder how many people who voted for Bush in the last election are thinking, "Yeah! That bastard voted for Bush too!" If that was a good reason not to elect Arnold, then it seems to me that everyone else who voted for Bush's second term really shouldn't be qualified to be voters anymore. They screwed up! They've lost the right to an opinion, and they've lost the right to vote!

Doesn't really make sense, I know, which is what is so friggin' annoying to me. They're trying to convince the very people who voted Bush into office that Arnold is not fit to govern because he supported Bush. That's f*cked up.

Monday, September 04, 2006

I dunt no no inglish

Since when has it been okay to use a double negative in this country? For instance, take this sentence, "I have not not gone shopping." Technically, it is grammatically correct. I suppose. It's awkward, obviously, but the two 'nots' essentially cancel each other out and you wind up with the meaning, "I have gone shopping." More or less.

Apparently, geeks with GPSes never learned this fact, because I constantly see coordinates written like this: "The latitude of Cumberland is 43.756N and the longitude is -70.189W."

It's that -70.189W that really bugs me. What is it? -70.189 degrees, or 70.189W? You can't have both. Well, technically, it's possible, but -70.189W actually means 70.189 east, which is clearly not what they meant to write since it would put Cumberland, Maine (a real city, btw, which I use as an example since it's the latest one to have bugged me) somewhere in Siberia, I suspect.

Think of it like this. Start at the prime meridian. Face west. Then walk precisely -70.189 degrees. That negative means you'd have to walk backwards and be walking a complete 180 degrees in the wrong direction!

So please, unless you live in Latin America (where two negatives actually IS a negative), use either a negative sign or the letter for W, but never use both at once. You just look like an idiot when you do that.

-- Ryan, who's currently located in Seattle not far from 47.57N and 122.39W, but will probably never be found at 47.57N and -122.39W (which would put me not far from Qiqihar, China)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Fox Guarding the Hen House....

One of my loyal readers--perhaps the only one--has recently complained about my not getting irate about something recently, so I promised that I would. I read the recent news online, and found this little article labeled "U.S. management-led buyouts soar." If that's not something to get your blood boiling, nothing will!

In a nutshell, what happens is that the management of a publicly traded company decides to take the company "private"--which means they own the company and you do not. Let's take a made-up example to make this clear.

The management of a company named Fuku decides that the stock is dirt cheap at $10. Too cheap, in fact. It really should be much higher--perhaps $20/share. Rather than wait for people to wake up and notice this absurdly low price, they offer to buy it themselves for $15/share. The shareholders, allegedly, are happy since they've just nabbed themselves a 50% profit overnight. The management is happy because they just screwed you out of $5 per share!

If there's one thing that management cares more about than shareholders--and remember, their job is to please and answer to YOU above all else--it's themselves. It should be absolutely criminal to allow management to act as both the seller of a publicly traded company and the buyer of the same company. Talk about major conflicts of interest!

All publicly traded companies trade over and below their true value for extended periods of time. When they trade below their intrinsic value, the management should be purchasing shares and retiring them to improve the fortunes of the shareholders. When shares trade above their real value, management should THEN start looking to sell shares to any idiot that would buy overpriced shares.

It's good business. And a CEO that wants to sell out the company out from under you when it's underpriced? That's a CEO that needs to get the boot. Any board members who support such an action should likewise get the boot.

Never, EVER sell out to insiders! They know more about the company than you do, and they're only going to buy when they know they can screw you out of money that's rightfully yours to begin with. Just say no to management-led buyouts! Then boot the management out of office. You can do better than that.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Real Problems in Society....

Did you hear? If not, you were probably dead or maybe vacationing in Guatemala, but Mel Gibson was caught drinking and driving and alas, verbally abused the Jewish people of the world while getting arrested. It's a big scandal. People of all religions were shocked and horrified. Many are ready to boycott his movies.

Did I miss something here? Since when has verbally bashing Jews been a bigger crime than drinking and driving!!! Mel Gibson could have run over a pedestrian, ran into a bus full of school children, or drove over the side of a cliff onto a bunch of beach hippies. Nobody cares about that, though. No, nobody seems surprised or concerned that he felt he could drink and drive and risk not only his own life but the people around him.

No, because he had a few bad words to say about Jews, he's off the hook for drinking and driving. It's the anti-Semite defense.

"You killed your wife, three children, and the pet dog. What do you have to say for yourself?"

"It's those damn Jews! It's all their fault! They're the cause of all the world's wars and problems!"

"Well, shoot, that's just wrong. We're going to boycott your movies! So there! You can go home now."

Now don't get me wrong. I have nothing against Jews myself. In fact, my first girlfriend was Jewish, and although it did not work out between us, her religion was the least of our problems. My thought it is that drinking and driving is a far more dangerous, far more disturbing problem than a few bad words against Jews. This should be a time to educate the masses about the dangers of drinking and driving. This should be a time to remind people that even famous movie stars are expected to follow common sense and respect the safety of others.

But no, sadly, it's just turned into an opportunity that a small minority in this country can use to educate the masses on their problems. I can't blame them for that--they're actually pretty smart doing this. Grab attention for their woes when they can. I only wish Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the police, and the news media would focus on the bigger crime--the one that could very well have ended in death.

Friday, July 21, 2006

A Real Chance of Winning Big... NOT!

I saw a commercial the other day. I wasn't paying particular attention to it--just your usual lottery commercial--at least until it claimed that you have a "real" chance of winning.

Really? Has there ever been a single lottery that gives people a "real" chance of winning? Aren't they designed to suck money out of your pocket faster than Las Vegas? Just because there are $26 million up for grabs doesn't mean the cost of 'winning' it is substantially more than that.

Besides giving people a false sense of hope, I have a special bone to pick on state lotteries. They're the absolute worst form of gambling--the largest state-sponsered fraud of all time. Las Vegas has payback ratios in excess of 95%. You see the ads all the time about the 'loosest slots' and even some with payback ratios of 98%. So for every one dollar you gamble, you'll likely get back 98 cents. The casinos still have the odds stacked in their favor, but they cash in when you go back and bet the 98 cents, then come out with 96 cents. Then try your luck again with 96 cents and come back with 94 cents. And so forth.

Those state lotteries, though--those are the worst. They typically payback about 50% of what you bet. Your odds of winning are significantly better by going to Las Vegas and doing your gambling there. Think about that. Those magnificent casinos were built off of the common man's gambling losses.

The worst part about state lotteries isn't the lousy payouts, though. No, the absolute worst part is that because so many states have become so reliant on the income lotteries generate, they actually encourage their citizens to play. A tax on stupid people, as it's called. Our state governments, which should be protecting us, are doing everything in their power to destroy the fiscal responsibilities of their constituents. They have lots of convincing reasons to throw your money out the window.

For instance, proceeds from the lottery help fund schools. It helps justify the state raping you. "Yeah, they took all my money, but at least it's going towards a good cause!" You know what happens when you take money from the lottery and give it to schools? Schools become very dependent on that money. The state may not fund the schools as much from general tax revenue--and why should they? The lottery is paying for it! Net gain for the schools: Absolutely nothing. When you hear about all this money the lottery provides for schools, ask yourself: Why have so many of them sold out to Coke or Pepsi? Why have so many of them started selling food from Pizza Hut and other fast-food locations? They aren't doing it "for the kids." They're doing it for the money. That such a terrible conflict of interest would be allowed to exist is astounding.

Now I'm not really qualified to say if schools are getting their fair share of money or not--I don't have kids nor is the total amount of money going to schools my beef--but rather, if we want to fund schools, I'd rather it come from the general tax revenue instead of putting schools into the awkward situation of promoting other businesses (lottery, fast food, or anything else for that matter) that, in the long run, can have an extraordinarily bad influence on the kids its supposed to be helping.

Lotteries are a terribly inefficient way to collect taxes. Satistically, it's the poorest people who fall for it--the very people who can least afford it. What would you do if a politician comes up for reelection after promoting a tax on the poorest of the poor?

Just say no to lotteries!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Turning Green?

I was in the library the other day and couldn't help but notice the cover of Newsweek. It was green. The whole cover. You'd have thought it was St. Patricks Day or something, but no, the headline on the cover said something about how "green" was in. Which was kind of surprising for a couple of reasons.

First, I thought being environmentally conscious had been "in" for quite a number of years now. When I was a kid, I don't ever recycling anything. It wasn't exactly yesterday recycling became "in". Probably the early 90s, I'd imagine, but don't quote me on that. My point being that it wasn't exactly yesterday, and there's already a whole generation of young adults today who probably don't even remember the time before recycling was a fashion statement.

My second thought was, "Bullshit!." Few people have had a sudden change of heart to save the environment. Nobody cared about hybrids when gas was selling at a dollar per gallon--they wanted SUVs. They didn't care about using double-paned windows to keep heat in and the cold out during the winter--electricity was cheap so they didn't care about conserving it. Few people worried about 'energy-efficient' appliances, carpooling, or public transportation.

The sudden change of heart has nothing to do with saving the environment--it's the wallet, stupid. People want more full-efficient cars to save money. They want to stop heat from leaking out the windows during the winter to save on heating costs. They want energy-efficient appliances to save on the electric bill, and washing machines that use less water to save on that water bill.

Give someone a million bucks and I'll bet you most of them will 'upgrade' their vehicle to something a bit less fuel efficient. Millionaires don't worry about the price of gas, after all. Drive down electric prices and people will start wondering if less expensive appliances that use more electricity might be the way to go.

It's the pocketbook, the almighty pocketbook. Sure, saving the environment is a nice bonus, but who are we kidding? High energy prices might save this planet yet. =)

*** This just in! ****

I just ran a spell check on this article, and it complained about the word 'carpooling'. I'm pretty sure I spelled it right and the spell checker just doesn't know the term--not a very green spell checker, is it? Or is it...? The first suggestion it offered as a correction was "corpulence". Make that a lesson--get out and walk whenever you can! Carpooling is good, but walking, riding a bike, or riding the public bus is even better. ;o)

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Prospering is a good thing.... right?

Some people like to read People magazine. Me? I like to read BusinessWeek. It took me awhile to find this publication. I wasn't really looking for it, though--I had frequent flyer miles with Continental Airlines but, alas, I wasn't flying frequently enough. After three years, they sent me a letter saying I had to have *some* sort of activity on my account or they'd close it. But, to help me out, God bless them, they included a form so I could subscribe to lots of magazines and use those miles that were sitting around doing nothing. Plus, since that would make my account 'active', they wouldn't close it for another three years.

I looked over the list and the more lusty magazines didn't seem to be offered, so instead I selected Smithsonian, BusinessWeek, Backpacker, Outside, and probably a couple of others I now forget. Anyhow, I had no idea that I'd become a BusinessWeek addict. First of all, it comes every single week! I really enjoy the other magazines. Smithsonian is amazing and I feel a certain degree of fondness for if for no other reason than introducing America to letterboxing. Who knew that such a little article could ultimately change the course of my entire life. The biggest irony of all was that I never did read that original article! =)

But it comes once a month. I get really into the magazine, finish it from cover to cover, wishing there were more. And a week later, the feeling's gone. "What? Smithsonian?" I think a month later when the next issue comes. "Did I subscribe to that?"

But BusinessWeek--oh, they hook you. Every single week. =) It's great. It has scandals! Sex! Shocking turns of events! The greatest of successes and the greatest of failures. Fascinating stuff.

The last issue I read had a small article about website that bring people who need money together with people who have money. Person-to-person loans. And it mentioned a website:

I'm fascinated by this idea. Cut out the middleman (i.e. banks). In theory, those lending money can get better rates than they would by giving it to a bank, and those needing money can get better rates than they could get from a bank--if they can get a loan from a bank in the first place. In a nutshell, borrowers list the loan they need, then lenders bid on the loan until the borrower can get the best rate possible. So I went to and checked out the site in question.

I was hooked. I read late into the night. What kind of interest rates was it for someone with an AA credit rating? What about a D or E rating? Who were these people that borrowed money from other people on the web? Who were these people that lent money to other people on the web?

I never did learn much about the people lending money, but if you check out the front page of you'll see a list of "Featured Loan Listings". When I visited, there was a woman in her early 20s wanting a $20,000 loan to start a consulting business. Another person was trying to consolidate credit card debt into a low, or rather, lower cost loan. He itemized all of his monetary expenses and listed his monthy income to show he could reliably pay off the loan.

I'm not sure there's anyone actually verifying all the information they put online, and certainly the borrowers have a good reason to make themselves look like better borrowers than they might be, but it's fascinating how much personal--very personal--information they've put online.

It was well after midnight when Amanda walked in on me. "What are you doing?"

"Uhh....." I looked ashamed. "I was surfing the web."

So I explained what the site was about, then clicked on the loan for the woman who wanted $20,000 for a consulting business. Amanda gasped. "It's porn!"

"No it's not! It's just someone who needs a loan!"

"It's financial porn!"

And I knew she was right. It is financial porn. I couldn't pull myself away. I wanted to read about other hardship stories. People with medical problems and the large debts they incurred because of it. Students trying to pay for their next semester of college. I kept clicking and clicking, unable to pull myself away from the monitor.

I'm still fascinated by the idea, and I keep going back to the site to read about newly listed loans. Right now, there's a woman with an E credit rating asking for $2,550 at 24.99%. A real tear-jerker of a story with a spouse that abused her and ruined her life, but she's digging out right now. I'm not really sure I believe the story--it could be true, but she seems a little too desperate for money. I'm not convinced she'd actually pay it all back. I wish her the best of luck, but as an investment, I'd stay away from her.

The next person needs $1,500 at 18% for nursing school. She has a D credit rating with a debt/income ratio of 11%. Not stellar, but definitely could be worse. I think this might be a good investment. Nurses are in high demand, and with baby boomers getting older the demand is bound to continue increasing. I like the fact she's in her 40s. Most of those kids in their 20s seem like irresponsible idiots, while most of the people I knew in school who were in their 40s really wanted to better their lives. This loan is actually already 100% funded by 13 different people, but the bidding doesn't finish for another 6 days, 15 hours, and 27 minutes. I could still get in on the bidding, but I'd have to offer something lower than 18% (as does anyone else who choose to bid on this loan).

I'm not going to bid on this loan--I've sent no money to to do any bidding--but I'm glad this person's loan is already fully funded. It sounds like she'll likely get a much better rate than the 18% she was asking for, and I want her to do well. This is a story, I think, that will have a happy ending. =)

Financial porn. Love it or hate it, it's here to stay.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Flag Burning

What better day to post about flag burning than Independence Day. The day our small, little colonies decided to get together and cast off the heavy glove of King George.

Since the dawn of time, flags have had a patriotic value, are cheap to make, and easy to burn. Thus, flag burning as a form of protest came about. Quite simple, really, and oh so controversial. The house passed a constitutional amendment to bad flag burning, but the senate did not. Even if the senate passed it, fully three-fourths of the states would have also had to agree to it. It's not easy getting a constitution amendment passed, which might be the reason it's happened only about two dozen times in over 200 years since our independence. The first ten you can't really count since it was a requirement to get the colonies to agree to the constitution in the first place.

People have spent a lot of time, money, and effort trying to protect or ban flag burning as a right to free speech which I think is the biggest tragedy of all. Of all the problems in this world to get worked up about, of all the millions of people around the globe who are starving, sick with AIDS, or tortured for having an opinion about their government, why the hell would anyone spend two minutes worrying about whether someone else can burn a flag or not?

Let's say we did ban it. What then? People who are so upset at the government to burn the American flag probably aren't going to let a little civil disobedience stop them. Never has before--civil disobedience has been a very popular option over the years for those who wish to protest, and making it illegal would just give those guys another way to attract even more attention than before. I sure as heck don't want to PAY money to keep such hardened, flag-burning criminals in jail. And when push comes to shove, they'll still show their disrespect for our country. Perhaps they'll buy little figurines of an eagle and drive over them.

But banning the flag burning--where does it end? Should we outlaw all forms of protest that might be considered disrespectful to our national symbols? What if we want to throw an anti-war protest and include a burning effigy of President Bush? After all, he's the face of the American government at the moment, and protesting him or anything he does could be considered anti-American.

Now, I'm not a flag burner myself. I'm pretty fond of this country I live in--despite the terrible things this country has done in the past from allowing slavery to the near extinction of the Native Americans. I don't know about the rest of you, but it seems to me that they've earned the right to burn the American flag in spades for the way we've treated them.

What if the shoe were on the other foot? What if you lived in Cuba and Castro decided to make flag burning illegal? Would that be terribly bad? Ruthless dictatorships don't really deserve much respect, in my humble opinion. The irony, of course, is they can ban flag burning far more easily than a free country such as ourselves.

If you don't like flag burning--try something new. Ignore them. Don't give those people the time of day and when they realize their message isn't getting across, they'll stop and do something else.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Never believe a commercial

It doesn't matter who pays for a commercial--they're all biased. Most of the time, it's to get you to buy something. During elections, many are about voting for or against someone or something. I have yet to ever see a commercial that's actually designed to inform the person who's watching it. Never. Not once. Zilch, zip, zero. And anyone who watches a commercial--which is everyone since they're impossible to avoid--should remember that. Commercials are not about providing information, although they are often designed to look like they are.

The thing that got me thinking about this was a Geico commercial I just heard claiming that the typical person who switches their car insurance to Geico saves, on average, about $500. I don't really have a beef with the Geico company, and I actually think they're one of the better insurance companies out there. But that sounds like a pretty solid number, huh? Call them up for a rate quote and they can save you $500 bucks. It's a very misleading number, though.

First off, they don't say how long it'll take to save $500. I assume they mean $500/year. But a disreputable company might show how much you save over the typical lifetime a policy holder sticks around with them. So perhaps the typical policy will save the person $500 over the next ten years. If you happen to assume they meant $500/year, well, that's your own damn fault.

Okay, let's say that the typical person who switches does save $500/year. It's still a misleading number. What about all the people who don't switch? How much did they save by *not* switching to Geico? Of course people who switch to Geico are saving money--if they didn't save money, they wouldn't have switched in the first place. And the more they save, the more likely they'll switch. After all, if I'm only going to save $10/year on auto insurance, it may not be worth my time to switch. Consequently, the numbers are going to skew very high.

In fact, I'd bet every single auto insurance company in existence could tell you how much their customers saved by switching to them. State Farm, Farmer's Insurance, Progressive, blah, blah, blah. Every one of them can tell you how much money their customers are 'saving' by switching to them.

In a nutshell, the claim that the typical person who switches to Geico saves $500 is pretty worthless as far as being informative. It's a big number, it's an eye-catching number, and it's a number that means absolutely nothing. After all, they aren't trying to inform you about anything--they want to catch your eye and get a shot at your wallet.

Since I'm talking about auto-insurance companies, I'd like to post a couple of comments about Progressive's ad campaign that they'll show you their rates and the rates of several other competitors. It's a very clever ploy, I think. Let's say they show you the rates of four other companies. They figure out a rate to give you, then search their database of ten other company quotes and list four that won't beat theirs.

Or maybe they just stock their database full of information with insurance companies that usually have higher rates than they do.

Seriously, though, does anyone really believe those rate quotes for their competitors is completely biased free? They can give very accurate rate quotes from competitors and still skew the results to favor themselves.

I hate commercials. If they weren't so misleading all of the time, it wouldn't bother me so much. If they actually educated consumers instead of trying to manipulate them, I'd be happy with that. But alas, that is not to be in a capitalistic society. *sigh*

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The $5 million baby photo

I've always been puzzled at the fuss people make over baby photos. Most babies, I've found, are pretty hard to distinguish from each other. More than once I've been looking at a baby and wondering if I should call it a 'he' or a 'she' while talking with the parents. Seems rude to call it an it, but heaven forbid, you don't want to get the sex wrong either!

So I've always been curious about why anyone gives a hoot about seeing a picture of celebrity babies. It always seems to be the case, but they always end up looking like--*gasp!*--a baby!

Now it's Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt's turn. Shiloh is the name--stupid name, but don't get me started on that rant. People magazine landed an exclusive right to publish the first photos of baby Shiloh, and they'll donate the money they paid to some charity to help the poor and hungry. Which is fine--I'm all for helping out the poor and hungry. But this is the line in one article that got my attention: Experts said worldwide rights to the pictures could sell for anywhere from $5 million to $7 million.

Holy crap! That's a lot of money for stupid little baby photos! Heck, I could Photoshop some of my baby pictures into a photo with Angelina and Brad and probably pass it off as legit. Do people really want to see what Shiloh looks like that badly? I've done a favor for you, and People can save themselves a boatload of money. I did a Google search for baby pictures, and found one that could probably pass for Shiloh. Oooh, and ahhh. Then go do something better than fret about what Shiloh looks like. It's a baby, people!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Wal-Mart Effect

I just read a news article this morning about the small town of Hercules using eminent domain to keep Wal-Mart out of town. Now I'll be the first to say I hate Wal-Mart. I wish they'd pay their employees better and work harder for the social good of the world, but I can also give them credit where credit is due: They're damn good at what they do which is providing low prices on everyday items. Wal-Mart has always been about making profit, and that's not a bad thing. Every non-profit company is out to make a profit--that's hardly unusual. They're just so darned good at it, but that's capitalism for you. If you think that's bad, try supporting a company like Enron instead--they didn't do so much for their employees either. All things considered, those working at Wal-Mart were probably better off in the long run. Wal-Mart didn't take anyone's life savings and flush it down the marble toilet.

But I find the use of eminent domain very disturbing. In fact, I find any law, ordinance, or protest that hits directly at Wal-Mart disturbing. People want to kick Wal-Mart because they're the biggest competitor out there. They want to kick Wal-Mart because it's popular to kick Wal-Mart. And that's just plain stupid.

Let's focus on the real issues here. Such as low-paying jobs. How do we fix that? We can't demand that Wal-Mart pay better than minimum wage. No other companies are required to pay better than that, so if Wal-Mart were expected to do that, it would put them at a competitive disadvantage. They couldn't provide everyday low prices, customers stop coming, they go out of business, and--well, since when is it good in capitalism to allow the poorly run companies to survive while the best run ones to wither and die?

And, Wal-Mart's not really the problem in this case. Almost every store you walk into starts paying their employees minimum wage. Such jobs require no specialized knowledge or training that a high school dropout could master. Not to pick on high school dropouts, but they aren't exactly known for getting good paying jobs to being with. Walk into a McDonalds, Barnes and Nobel, Pizza Hut, Gap, or even most of those local stores everyone goes on about that gives a town 'character'--they're all paying out minimum wage as well. But when Wal-Mart does it, it should be criminalized. That's just unfair. If minimum wage isn't enough to live on, our government should step in and force a minimum wage increase.

Force Wal-Mart and every other company in the United States to pay a livable rate. The reason Wal-Mart can pay such low wages is because our elected officials LET them. And Wal-Mart has to pay low rates to compete against other companies that pay minimum wage rates. Yes, it's not Wal-Mart at fault here, the fault lies square in the face of our elected officials.

A while back, Maryland passed a law that requires any employer with over 10,000 employees to provide health insurance for their employees. Not surprisingly, the only employer this effects is Wal-Mart. It was a sad day for capitalism. I heard Wal-Mart was looking to open a new distribution center in Maryland at the time. If I were running that company, I'd start looking for a new distribution center just outside of the state line. I'd immediately look into closing any underperforming stores. And I'd shorten hours until I got the employee count under 10,000. I have no inside information on Wal-Mart, but when you pass a law that targets one, individual company to its detriment, it makes strong business sense to skirt that law.

The biggest irony, of course, is that it's the smaller mom-and-pop stores that actually have a higher percentage of employees who are still on welfare--not the Wal-Mart employees.

Massachusetts recently passed a law requiring all residents to have health insurance. The poorest of the poor will get it for free from the state coffers, but this makes a lot more sense. It insures all people will get health insurance, not just those folks who work at Wal-Mart. The reason Wal-Mart has been able to get away with having employees that are still on welfare or have no health insurance is because, once again, our elected officials allow it. Requiring all companies to provide health insurance makes a whole heck of a lot more sense than just requiring Wal-Mart to provide it. That's just stupid.

And now, eminent domain is being used to bully Wal-Mart. If I were Wal-Mart, I'd fight that tooth and tail because it sets a bad precedent. What happens if you decide you want to open your own donut shop in your town, but the city council decides that donuts have too many calories and wants to run your little business out of town for the health of its citizens? What if you want to open a bookstore but the city decides that selling books with things like wizards and magic (i.e. Harry Potter) is un-Christian and decide bookstores should be banned? Extreme? Absolutely! And it's no less extreme to use eminent domain to keep Wal-Mart out of town.

I understand that many town want to keep the 'character' of their town by keeping big box stores out. In fact, my home town of San Luis Obispo managed to keep Costco out for decades by passing all sorts of ordinances, but they finally managed to get their foot in last year. (And frankly, if it's the choice been a Wal-Mart or a Costco coming into town, I'd pick Costco any day of the week.) But it's a bad precedent to pass laws meant to target an individual company. Pass laws for what you really want.

I've never been to Hercules, California--at least I never remember being there--but why didn't they pass some sort of law about what type of businesses they want in town. Perhaps something with less than 10,000 feet of selling space. If Wal-Mart wants to open such a small store, they should have that right. Banning any business that's owned by Wal-Mart from entering the market--that's just un-American.

Other option--this is my favorite idea and I wish more cities would consider it--perhaps close their main street so it's for pedestrian traffic only--which would certainly discourage big box stores because you know nobody is going to be riding around on a bicycle with a huge 32-roll block of toilet paper from Costco. It could give their town more 'character' than ever with countless small, interesting store to show for the effort, but no, instead, Hercules uses eminent domain to keep out Wal-Mart--a sad day for capitalism, indeed.

Wal-Mart is an extremely well run company that has succeeded wildly, and it should be criminal to punish them for that. We should want well-run companies to proliferate. We can raise minimum wage, we can require health insurance for all employees, we can require small stores that fit with the character of a small town, and Wal-Mart would still do well. Don't blame Wal-Mart for their success, blame the politicians who don't have the backbone to stand up for poor people. Kicking down Wal-Mart won't solve any problems, but raising minimum wage and establishing minimum health insurance standards will.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Big Oil Continued....

After my rant about artificially low gas prices and why I thought investing in oil several years ago was such a great idea, you might be curious where I think oil prices will go and if they'd make a good investment today. Or maybe not, in which case you can stop reading right now and save yourself wasted time. =)

Oil is cyclical. It always has been and always will be. Prices go up, and they'll come down again. I can't predict when they'll come down, and they might very well continue to go up for years to come before they start coming back down. Remember that Internet bubble? I have no doubt this is an oil bubble, and at some point, it will pop. With oil at historically high prices today and raking in record profits, I'd bet that when the bubble does pop, it'll probably fall well below the rate it's at today. The people who made money on Internet stocks are those who got in early. The people who lost their shirts were the ones who got in late. When it comes to investing, that's always the case. If you want a safe bet, oil isn't it. You might get lucky, you might not. Just depends on if you can resell that stock to a bigger fool than yourself which is always a dangerous game to play. Kind of like musical chairs--someone's going to be the last man standing, and you never know who that might be until after the music stops.

I'd also like to educate people--oil gets all the headlines, but all these so-called oil companies would probably be better called energy companies. They're in the business of providing energy, not necessarily oil. Oil, historically, has been cheap and plentiful, so it's not surprising that makes up a large part of their business, but when that last drop of oil is extracted from Mother Earth, rest assured, these companies will not go out of business. They'll be working on solar power, or wind power, or tidal power, or other fossil fuels such as coal. All of which pale in comparison to oil.

I read one article that the governor of Montana wants to start converting coal into fuel. This was very interesting to me--I had no idea that coal could be turned into fuel for cars. Apparently the technology has been around for about a hundred years now, but it's never been economical to convert coal into fuel since it costs about $3.00 to create a gallon of fuel. Now that gas prices are up there, it's actually becoming economical to do this. And, according to this article, there's enough coal in Montana to supply the entire country's energy needs for the next 75 years. Including the coal in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and the rest of the country, we've really got enormous amounts of untapped energy in this country.

Then there's nuclear power. Yes, the N-word. This country has access to enormous quantities of radioactive materials for use in nuclear power to last thousands and thousands of years. The catch, of course, is what to do with the leftover materials. But I can tell you something--as oil prices go up, a lot of people who are very opposed to nuclear power will suddenly find it preferable to $5/gallon in gasoline. As an added benefit, it doesn't contribute to global warming either. As Mr. Burns from The Simpsons might suggest, better to cause an environmental catastrophe in a small part of the world instead of doing it for the entire world. I'm not suggesting that nuclear power is a good thing, but I don't think it's any worse than oil. Just different, with different problems.

Add to all that coal and nuclear power the energy from the sun which could be very effective in desert areas with lots of sun, energy from tides which could be very effective along coastal areas, wind harnessed from locations known to be particularly windy, and, well, there's a lot of alternative energy sources out there.

Despite what I said earlier in this post--high energy prices may be here to stay, but that's not to suggest oil companies will continue profiting greatly from it. Exploration costs will increase as oil becomes more scarce, and it'll cost more to extract each drop of oil from the earth. They may resort to converting coal into fuel with the resulting higher costs invovled. When all is said and done, high energy prices might be here to stay, but large profits are not. As such, I wouldn't invest in any energy companies. They're cyclical, and when it comes to investing in them, you don't want to end up as the last man standing.

Nope, the time to busy was when oil was trading at $10/barrel and people were running around saying idiotic things like "cheap oil is here to stay." If history is any guide (and it is), that was a sign that oil companies were struggling, profits were hurting bad, and they only direction they had left to go was UP. Today? I wouldn't bet on it.

Imagine a world that runs out of oil, though. That's still a long, long way off, so we have plenty of time to develop alternative energy sources during this time, but without the complications that oil brings to the Middle East or even countries such as Venezuela, maybe a lasting peace can finally be hashed out. The area really is fucked up bad--far beyond just our reliance on their oil--but let's face it, oil isn't helping matters either. Imagine a day when the United States will provide for it's own energy needs through renewable resources (wind, water, solar, etc.) and non-renewable resources (coal and nuclear, though not as preferable to those renewable resources). That would be a great day, indeed. And it'll happen as soon as there's no more oil to be extracted from anywhere around the world.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

The Truths and Myths About Big Oil

With national gas prices now averaging something close to $3.00 per gallon, I'm absolutely astonished at many people's lack of common sense. You hear terms like supply and demand thrown around like the newspapers its written on, but based on e-mails I've received, I think it deserves another look.

At any point in time, there are a finite amount of resources available for everyone. This is the supply side of the equation--oil. We, the consumers, who like to drive everywhere, are the demand side of the equation. As consumers, we don't have a whole lot of control on the supply side of things, but we have a huge impact on the demand side of things. If demand goes up, so does the price. If demand goes down, so will the price.

It's like a good old fashioned auction where the highest bidder wins, and don't be fooled--oil prices work just like an auction except on a much larger playing field. If you want proof, try selling a gallon of gasoline on eBay and see how much you can get for it. I'd be shocked if someone were willing to buy it for a price that is substantially different than current, local prices. You can't sell it for more--nobody would buy it and go to the local gas station instead. You could try selling it for less, but everyone wants gas for less and they'll eventually bid it up to near or at current local prices.

I've gotten e-mails from close friends who, until they forwarded me the e-mail, I thought were highly intelligent enough to grasp the concept of supply and demand. Take the 'gas-out' campaign that seems to rear it's head every time gas prices go up. The e-mail suggests that if everyone does not buy gas on a certain day of the year, that means demand goes down and therefore prices will follow. Two problems with that:

First, unless people STOP using those resources on a given day, it just pushes demand from one day to the days before or after the gas-out day. Overall, demand doesn't change at all.

Second, even if somehow the laws of supply and demand were somehow overcome and prices did drop a noticeable amount, everyone would start buying less fuel-efficient cars, drive more often (instead of carpooling, walking, biking, or using public transportation), and so forth. Demand goes up, and prices end up back where they were before.

It's ridiculous, and anyone who's taken an high school econ class could see the e-mail was created by someone who obviously flunked the class in spades.

Then I got an e-mail from another not-so-brilliant friend, forwarded around the world multiple times, saying that the gas-out idea was just plain STUPID since it doesn't really change demand and thus affect gas prices. No, instead we should boycott certain brands of gasoline. Those companies will be forced to lower prices to sell their product, then other gas stations will have to follow suit to stay competitive--ergo, lower gas prices.

Have you ever been to a gas station--take Arco, for instance, since I see this often at Arco stations--with lines around the block because the gas is two cents cheaper than the gas station across the street where there's barely a car in sight? Just because Arco has cheaper prices, do all of the other gas stations nearby automatically lower their prices to stay competitive? No. Do you know why? Because I get my gas at those other stations. Saving less than 50 cents for a tank of gas isn't worth the wait it would require for me to get to the front of an Arco line, and I'm willing to pay that little bit extra for the extra convenience.

Let's say the Shell station (and why not Shell?) is located across the street and decides to lower prices even lower than Arco. What happens? Everyone starts getting gas at the Shell and leaves Arco? Probably, but the Shell station probably won't stay in business for long because they're selling their goods at a loss. There is a lower limit to how low prices can go, and no business will deliberately price themselves out of business.

It's actually much more complicated than that. Many gas stations share gas. Companies like Costco will buy their gas from whoever will sell it to them the cheapest so if you boycott one company and they drop their prices, Costco will start buying from them and make up the slack. It's like one of those long balloons filled with air. You can squish one end, but then the air moves to the other side of the balloon. If you squeeze both ends, the air will pop out in the middle. It doesn't matter what you squeeze, the displaced air will always find somewhere else to go.

But is it really shocking that gas prices have gone up like it has? It's all about supply and demand. For years we've known that oil supplies are tight. New oil finds are becoming more and more scarce and existing oil supplies are drying up. Supply is going down. All the oil drilling in the world won't stop that. The US passed its peak production rate decades ago, and there's some debate that the world's peak production rate has already passed. If it hasn't passed already, it almost certainly will within the next decade or so. Supply IS going down and it will continue to go down, thus driving prices up.

And looking at the demand side of things--in the era of 'cheap gas', people became wreckless. We became a country of SUVs and Hummers and did not care about fuel economy. Demand for this increasingly scarce resource called oil continued to grow.

And now the public is irate that gas prices are so high? Well, DUH! I remember a few years back when gas prices were near $10 per barrel and I thought, "Now THIS is the time to invest in oil!" I actually did buy into a couple of oil companies which I held for a couple of years and they did quite well as oil climbed to $30 per barrel. I finally sold the stocks--not because I didn't think oil prices would continue going up (no, I knew oil prices were going to keep going up)--but rather because I felt guilty for owning oil companies. I hate their environmental track record and I hate oil. For those that know me, I like to walk. I walked from Georgia to Maine, and in 2008 I'm planning to walk from Mexico to Canada. I'm currently 'thru-hiking' the city of San Luis Obispo. I walk to get groceries, I walk to the movie theaters, and I walk, and I walk, and I walk. Often, months go by and I don't drive. I once filled up the gas tank in my car in November and didn't have to refill it again until four months later in March!

But I always considered oil a necessary evil and thought I could buy an oil company and not have any qualms of guilt. I was wrong, so I finally sold my stake for a rather large gain knowing full well I was leaving money on the table. It wasn't worth the guilt.

In regards to taxes--the government collects taxes on every gallon of gas that's sold, and I've heard talk about some states cutting the tax to help make gas more affordable. The problem is: It just won't work.

There's only a limited supply of oil, and the oil companies want to sell every last drop they have. If the taxes on gas are reduced, oil companies will HAVE TO raise prices so the retail prices stay the same. If they don't, people will start buying more gasoline (it's cheaper, after all!) and since supply hasn't changed, they'd run out of oil.

Instead of gas prices going down, a cut in the taxes by the government means that the government has less money to maintain roads and bridges which means they'll either have to raise taxes elsewhere or cut funding for other important programs like education or police to make up the gap. And, since retail prices must stay the same, the very oil companies being accused of price gouging will have to raise the price they sell oil and make even more profits!

I'm very disappointed in our government not taxing gasoline more than they do. Driving has been artificially cheap since Mr. Ford built his first cars and nobody seems to realize the true cost of the automobile lifestyle. Road, bridges, tunnels, street signs, and so forth cost a LOT of money, and it would make sense that the people who use them most should pay for the cost of creating and maintaining them. And the easiest way to do this with a tax on gas. Those who drive more use more gasoline, and therefore pay the most in gasoline taxes, and therefore pay a larger percentage of road costs. But most roads and infrastructure are not supported with gas taxes--they're supported though income taxes and property taxes and goes into some big black hole that nobody keeps track of where it ends up.

So the main cost of driving is just the gasoline. The cost of the roads, bridges, signage, and so forth are largely covered through other taxes. Do you ever wonder why the United States has gas that's so much cheaper than any other location in the world? It's because most of the world pays for their roads through a gas tax. The cost of a single gallon of gasoline in Europe (it was about $8/gallon when I was in England) is the full cost of driving. We're still paying that, but the taxes are hidden making the true cost of driving seem much lower than it really is.

I'd like to see gas prices reflect the true cost of driving and stop funding roads through hidden taxes. Sure, we'll be paying more for gas, but income and property taxes should be reduced accordingly so the total amount of tax being paid doesn't change at all. Somehow, I don't see any politicians having the courage to propose more than doubling the cost of gas, but imagine if this could happen!

Research into fuel-efficient technologies would be unprecedented. Companies like Ford and GM that relied so heavily on cheap fuel might now be kicking Toyota and Honda's butt after having developed the first hybrid vehicle instead of wallowing on the brink of bankruptcy.

If you want to lower your gas bills, though, your best bet is to do it the old fashioned way. Get out and walk, bike, or use mass transit to get around town. And as an added bonus, it's healthier too. =) (It's true--there's at least one study that shows that there is a direct correlation between a person's weight and how much they drive.)

Monday, May 08, 2006

Where's the DUH in Da Vinci?

I'm starting this blog because there are things I read and things I see that get under my skin and make me want to slap people silly until they're thinking straight again. And today, the thing that irritates me are the religious zealots who seem to think the Da Vinci Code was written by Satan himself.

It's a WORK OF FICTION, people! Do people walk into a bookstore, browse the fiction section, pick up this book, and HOLY JUMPING JUNIPERS have a stunning realization that the book was incorrectly shelved and really belongs in the true crime section?

Now Catholic groups are demanding that the movie coming out soon have a disclaimer to inform the public that the movie is a work of fiction.

Is this really necessary? Was there also a disclaimer on Mission Impossible III--just in case someone might accidentally think the movie was true? Perhaps we should include a disclaimer on Ice Age 2: The Meltdown. Oh, drats, that's actually based on a true story. There was an ice age, after all, and it did melt, so let's label that one 'based on a true story' since accuracy is more important than facts,

When you walk into the typical movie theater, do people really think they're watching real life? Perhaps with the exception of United 93--a movie I haven't seen but rumor has it it might be the most true-to-life story ever created for the theaters. Even those 'based on a true story' movies usually have more fiction than fact in them.

Maybe I'm not giving the Pope enough credit. Perhaps he wants to stir up controversy regarding this movie. When the Pope tells the world that you should boycott the movie, well dog gone, I want to see why I'm not supposed to be seeing it! It could just be a conspiracy to drum up a little business for the movie. And of course, everyone knows it's a work of fiction because they've turned it into a controversy. And therefore they can educate the non-Christians of the world and seduce them with the power of their faith. What a wickedly clever idea.

It's a win-win situation. The Catholics have gotten tons of publicity out of the deal, and so has Dan Brown. Now Dan Brown I think is smart enough to realize that a bit of controversy is going to help sales. I don't really think the Pope is smart enough to realize this, however. If he were, he'd have gone into business school instead.

I, for one, am sick of hearing about the controversy. Only an idiot would believe the film was true, and for you idiots out there, there's a bridge in New York I'd like to sell you.....

It's kind of surprising that the other religions of the world don't seem to care about a disclaimer. Certainly Muslims and Hindus of the world also agree that the book and movie are fiction. Do Catholic groups demand movies about the history of Muslims come with a disclaimer? Of course not--we believe in the freedom of religion. We believe everyone has the right to pray to the god or gods of their choice. So let's assume some people really do believe this book is based on fact. There's a huge mass of people out there that believe Jesus got married and popped off some particularly mobile sperm. I'll be the first to say those people are idiots, but idiots have rights too and if they want to believe the descendents of Jesus are still walking around today, then by golly, let them. Stop persecuting these idiots.

I hope, someday, that the Pope will diss me. I'm writing a book too--about my Appalachian Trail adventures. Oh, the wicked sinners I met along the trail. *shaking head* No, I cannot imagine my book would please the Pope at all. Probably call it mean names and say it should be boycotted. People should spend their time reading the Bible instead of the filth I'm writing. Please, please, please, Mr. Pope, give my book a dreadful, scathing review. I could use the money. I'll even cut you in for some of the profits.