Sunday, October 10, 2010

Crippling Reliance On Social Security

While reading an Associated Press article today on Social Security that you can read HERE, the following two sentences really stood out. "Social Security was the primary source of income for 64 percent of retirees who got benefits in 2008, according to the Social Security Administration. A third relied on Social Security for at least 90 percent of their income."

These statistics explain a lot, I think, about why 'real' Social Security reform is so politically perilous. 

This broadly-based dependency can't be what was originally intended, I thought.  So I did a little online research just now about its history and stumbled upon the following factoid.  "The first monthly payment was issued on January 31, 1940 to Ida May Fuller of Ludlow, Vermont. In 1937, 1938 and 1939 she paid a total of $24.75 into the Social Security System. Her first check was for $22.54. After her second check, Fuller already had received more than she contributed over the three-year period. She lived to be 100 and collected a total of $22,888.92."  That's a photo of Ida May above.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Brett Favre "Sexting"

The NFL announced yesterday it was investigating claims that Brett Favre, "sent lewd photos and messages to a sexy team sideline reporter in a brash bid to charm the buxom beauty," according to a New York Post article that you can read HERE (which includes photos of the "buxom beauty" and former Maxim model, Jennifer Sterger). This is alleged to have occurred when Favre played for the New York Jets in 2008. 

This story is surprising at first for two reasons.  For one, Favre has a famously close relationship with his wife of 15 years, Deanna, whom he initially met in high school.  The other is that Favre is alleged, among other things, to have sent Ms. Sterger photos of his genitals. Whoa.  Brett Favre?  He's 41 years old.  And a grandfather.

But like the best of these sorts of stories, there's a rich depth of detail beyond the headlines.  The article goes on to note that, at the same time,  Favre also allegedly pursued two female massage therapists who worked for the Jets.  And as with Tiger Woods, Ms. Sterger apparently kept Favre's incriminating voicemails, one of which reportedly was, "Jenn, it's not a setup. Just got done with practice, got meetings here for a couple more hours then I'm going back to the hotel to just chill.  So send me a text . . . I'd love to see you tonight. All right, talk to you later. Bye."

Favre's Minnesota Vikings play the Jets this week. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

CHiPs Star Charged With Securities Fraud

Do you remember the 1970s TV show about two California Highway Patrolmen called "CHiPs"?  It was huge in its day, and ended up running from 1977-1983. Erik Estrada (at left in that photo), who played "Ponch," became the much bigger star of the two.  

The actor who played "Jon,"  Larry Wilcox (right), has just been charged with securities fraud. He is alleged to have been involved in a classic 'pump and dump' scheme involving penny stocks, among other things. You can read more about it on the Wall Street Journal website HERE

The quote they pulled from the website of Larry Wilcox's own company was pretty bemusing.  The UC Hub Group, "is currently focused on Precious Metals, Gems and the Oil and Gas Industry. The Company is also focused to [sic] increase the value for shareholders by doing the proper due diligence to prove economic validity for the acquisition of the target systems, operations, company or companies."

When I was in college 20 years ago, a friend of mine swore that he once saw Larry Wilcox scalping tickets to a football game outside the LA Coliseum.  I had been sure that was a case of mistaken identity.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Domino's New "Breakfast Pizza"

Domino's is apparently test marketing a "breakfast pizza" (with eggs and cheese as the main toppings) in an attempt to get its slice of the lucrative fast food breakfast market (i.e. McMuffin dollars).  According to a New York Daily News article HERE, the corporate idea behind it is, "to improve sales during the slow, typically non-pizza-eating hours between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m." (Is 5 AM still prime pizza time?)

It strikes me that there's a direct analogy to alcoholism here.  If you're waking up at 6 AM and craving pizza on a regular basis, and maybe sneaking by a Domino's on the way to work, you've probably got a problem. (Maybe more than one.)

When I Met Tony Curtis At 1 AM In Las Vegas

News is just breaking that actor Tony Curtis has died today at the age of 85. His most famous role was in Billy Wilder's Some Like It Hot (1959), with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe. But that film was made well before I was born.  So to me he was most famous for having had relationships with some of Hollywood's most famous leading ladies back in the day, and then for having been married six times.

I remember seeing a  piece about him on Entertainment Tonight 15 years ago or so, which profiled his retired life in Las Vegas as he turned 70. It noted that he had become a well-regarded painter whose works sold for tens of thousands of dollars. But what impressed me most at the time was that he was accompanied by a statuesqe blonde woman who looked to be 30 or 40 years younger than he.  (He later married her.  Jill Vandenberg was 42 years younger than he, as it turns out.)

That profile made a surprisingly strong impression on me at the time. So I I was oddly less surprised than I might have been when I bumped into the couple, literally, on the dance floor of "Club Ra" at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas about a decade ago.  It was well after midnight, and the techno dance music was blaring. As I was dancing on the not-so crowded dance floor, I accidentally bumped into someone behind me.  I turned around to apologize and there was Tony Curtis and this same beautiful, tall blonde woman, looking pretty much like that photo above.  Despite never having seen Some Like It Hot, I instantly knew who they were.  My first reaction was not, "No way! It's Tony Curtis!" though.  Instead, I remember thinking in that instant, "This guy is amazing.  He must be 75, and yet he's out dancing at 1 AM at a club with this beautiful woman in her 30s.  Incredible!"

Before I could say anything, he immediately apologized for bumping into me.  He was really nice, and didn't 'big time' me at all. Then there was that moment he must've had a million times in his life, where he could see in my eyes that flash of recognition. But then my eyes darted to his wife for a second (I couldn't help myself), and then back to him.  I could tell that he knew exactly what I was thinking in that moment, because he flashed a knowing smile at me before dancing on.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

"You'll Do More Before 9 AM..."

Listening to the radio this morning in the car I heard a recruiting advertisement for the the US Army. The tag line at the end promised, "You'll do more in a few years than most people do in a  lifetime."  That caught my attention because when I was growing up in the early 1980s that tag line went slightly differently.  It used to say, "You'll do more before 9 AM than most people do all day."  

Even as a teenager I thought that was an unusual point of emphasis when trying to recruit high school kids to join the military. I wonder if it says anything about changing attitudes among 18-20 year olds today that this tag line has now been revised in this way.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Chinese Spy Caught "Red Handed"

Last night  CBS's 60 Minutes aired a piece examining the extent of Chinese espionage in America today, including hidden camera footage from the FBI in which one such spy and a Defense Department employee are caught 'red handed' exchanging cash for secrets in an SUV.  I particularly enjoyed the part at the end where, after their transaction is concluded and the Defense Department employee exits the car, the FBI surveillance tape captures the Chinese spy pulling out his own hidden recording device.  You can watch the  entire 13 minute segment HERE

Friday, August 27, 2010

Leia's Metal Bikini.Com

Personally, I was never as entranced as some by the metal bikini that Princess Leia wore as a captive of Jabba The Hut at the start of Return of the Jedi.  In fact, until I saw it parodied on an episode of Friends in the 1990s I was totally unaware that among guys from "Generation X" like me it apparently remained a powerful object of adolescent attraction even into adulthood.

But if I told you that there was a website devoted solely to every aspect of this outfit; one which features hundreds of photos of fans dressed in that same costume, would you click on it?  Only you can answer that for yourself..... HERE.

Dead Spy Was Apparently A "Keen Cyclist"

Did you see the story earlier this week about the British spy who was found murdered in his London apartment? His dead body had been mysteriously dismembered and stuffed in a duffel bag.  The discovery of his body (a full two weeks after he died) set off a wave of speculation that he may have been killed by an enemy agent, or perhaps by the "Islamists" on whom he was reportedly spying.  Well, more details are now emerging about 31 year old Gareth Williams that paint a very different picture.  The first clue, perhaps, that there was more to the story may have been that he was apparently a "keen cycling enthusiast."

He was indeed a 'spy.' In a sense. But not a James Bond-type spy.  He was an introverted math prodigy who worked as a code breaker for Britain's GCHQ (the rough equivalent of our National Security Agency, or NSA).  It's now emerged that he had few friends and no open relationships, but according to an article in the Daily Mail newspaper today HERE, "gay magazines and the phone numbers of gay escort men were found in the apartment near the agent's body."

Perhaps they were merely plants to throw investigators of the trail, however, as some have speculated.  His parents were apparently totally unaware that he might have been gay.  So they may have been dismayed by the further revelations in the same article, "The latest reports on Mr Williams include claims that bondage gear and equipment associated with sado-masochism had been discovered in the flat he used in Pimlico, London, while it has also been claimed he had links to a male escort."

Disturbingly, no one seems to be able to explain how someone holding such a sensitive post could have been missing for two weeks before police were called.  And it's also now been revealed that Mr. Williams travelled to the United States several times a year to liaise with the NSA. 

Oh, in case you don't recognize it,  that photo above is of Sean Connery in one of his post-Bond films, the 1973 science-fantasy Zardoz.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Well Adjusted, Surely

Have you ever considered home-schooling your three daughters?  If so, had you also considered incorporating Dungeons & Dragons into the curriculum?  If you have, then you should read THIS.  Here's an excerpt:

"My oldest daughter - known on this blog as Elerisa Celerna - expressed concerns over this. When we first got started and I kept changing my mind about what system we would be running (AD&D 2nd Ed., then D20 SRD, and finally Pathfinder RPG), we kept making changes to hers and her sisters' character sheets. The other girls just kind of rolled with it, but Elerisa by nature is a bit of a rules lawyer... "

Monday, August 16, 2010

KFC Franchisees: What Happened To The 'F'?

KFC franchisees are apparently suing the parent company, Yum! Brands, angry that their increasing emphasis on healthier grilled chicken over tradtional fried fare has been a financial failure for Kentucky Fried Chicken and has hurt the brand.  You can read the article HERE.  Here's an excerpt:

"Tempers flared again when KFC launched a grilled chicken giveaway on Oprah in May 2009. Management told franchisees to expect a couple hundred customers to redeem online coupons at each store, says Pat Dempsey, who owns seven franchises with her husband. Thousands showed up. Dempsey says she and other franchisees ran out of food and had to placate angry customers... Grilled chicken sales have dwindled since, says Larry Starkey, who owns seven franchises in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Grilled chicken accounts for about 16 percent of all 'on the bone' chicken sold, according to Starkey. He says an internal survey of 642 franchisees showed almost 50 percent of stores' grilled chicken is thrown away."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Return of the Jedi" Deleted Scene

At the "Star Wars Celebration" this weekend, George Lucas has reportedly revealed that the original Star Wars trilogy will be released on Blu Ray in 2011, and that Return of the Jedi will include this never-before-seen 1 minute deleted scene. It features Darth Vader telepathically reaching out to Luke Skywalker while Luke puts the finishing touches on his new lightsaber in a Tatooine cave.  This was originally intended to be the opening scene in the film, apparently.

Friday, August 13, 2010

New Steve Rude Documentary

Steve Rude has been one of my favorite comic book artists since the mid-1980s, when I first discovered his most famous creation: Nexus.  I almost met him once twenty years ago at the San Diego Comic-Con. I saw him standing at his table just a few feet away, but was too afraid to walk over and introduce myself.  He's in  his 50s now, married with two children.  Disillusioned, he recently left comic books behind to concentrate instead on fine art. A new documentary about him apparently focusses on his ongoing struggles with depression and money. Here's a five minute trailer.  I found it compelling and sympathetic.  But it's also a little hard to see a personal hero so vulnerable.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dan Rostenkowski Has Died

Dan Rostenkowski, a democrat congressman from Chicago who was the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee (before Charlie Rangel) from 1981-1994, died yesterday at the age of 82.  As noted in his New York Times obituary that you can read HERE, he was first elected to Congress in 1958 at the age of 30 and was its youngest member for many years.  But Rostenkowski is best remembered today for his spectacular fall from grace starting in 1994 when he was indicted on 17 counts of abusing the congressional payroll.  It all began with an investigation into abuses at the House post office. 

Rostenkowski was suspected of buying $22,000 worth of stamps with public money and then converting them into cash.  Then he was accused of, among other things, hiring 14 people on his congressional payroll who did little or no work, and of misusing his House expense account to bill Congress for $40,000 worth of furniture and crystal.

It was all relatively petty for the powerful Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.  Rostenkowski fought back against the charges and refused to resign. “I did not commit any crimes,” he told reporters. “My conscience is clear, and my 42-year record as an elected official is one I am proud to once again run on.”  It's amazing how familiar that sounds today in light of Charlie Rangel's impassioned defense against the charges against him and his 40 year career in Congress.

Rostenkowski subsequently lost his re-election bid. Two years later he negotiated a plea deal to the charges against him and served 15 months in federal prison.  What's not mentioned in this obit, however, is that, despite having been convicted of mail fraud, until his death Rostenkowski still received one of the highest Congressional pensions, over $100,000 per year. 

Jon Stewart On Charlie Rangel 2

On The Daily Show last night Jon Stewart did this seven minute piece on Charlie Rangel's address to Congress earlier this week. Especially funny, I thought, was Stewart's analysis of Rangel's convoluted defenses to the ethics charges against him. ("Ok, this one I understand actually. You incompetently exerted your influence in exchange for a benefit you didn't really want," says Stewart, who then goes on to speak in Rangel's voice.  "I mean sure there may have been a quid pro quo.  But the quid was accidental and the quo was for sh*t.")

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Alcatraz: The Shoddy Rock

The first prisoners arrived at the new federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay on this date back in 1934.  I was surprised by how recent that was, since Alcatraz was closed again for good in 1963, just 29 years later.  

You may have heard that it was closed in part because the prison was much more expensive to run ($10 per inmate per day) than the average federal prison ($3). But the other two reasons are more intriguing.  The prison buildings themselves were apparently suffering from extensive premature saltwater corrosion. This was traced the money-saving decision during construction in the 1930s to pipe in salt water rather than fresh water to the buildings for most uses.  This had the unintended consequence of corroding the pipes, so salt water seeped into the concrete, causing it, in turn, to weaken and begin to crumble. (Thus the inmates in the infamous 1962 Escape from Alcatraz were able to 'dig' out of their cells using modified spoons.)  That escape attempt highlighted the need to rebuild substantially all the buildings on the island, if it was going to continue as a prison. The third reason is more prosaic. Apparently San Francisco Bay was being badly polluted by sewage from the 250 inmates and 60 Bureau of Prisons families.

So in essence "The Rock" was done in prematurely by shoddy construction and inept design.  It's interesting to me that it's not remembered that way today.  Imagine the hue and cry that would be raised if a similar situation occurred now.

Late Night Comedians On Jet Blue Flight Attendant

This is a 2 minute compilation of Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, and Stephen Colbert (among others) with their takes last night on the Jet Blue flight attendant who freaked out as his flight arrived at its gate in New York.  I thought Stephen Colbert was especially good.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

In Search Of... Stonehenge

I was fascinated by Stonehenge as a kid.  (How was it built?  And why? Were aliens involved?)  I fulfilled a childhood dream by making it there in the winter of 2003. What struck me most was something that's not shown on television: two major roadways run right by it on either side.  Big trucks and other traffic rush by constantly, really breaking the mood.

I liked the TV show In Search of... a lot as a kid in the 1970's. I've enjoyed re-watching some of the old episodes and lovingly critiquing, with the benefit of 30 years of hindsight, some of the explanations proffered for the mysteries the show examined. An episode of In Search Of... titled "The Mystery of Stonehenge" first aired in 1977. You can watch a 10 minute segment from this episode by clicking HERE.  "There are a number of theories as to whether there is any reality to the magic power of megaliths," explains a so-called expert, Francis Hitching, interviewed in this clip while standing in front of Stonehenge. "It is known that around some of these sites, underneath tombs, around the standing stones, there are anomalies in the Earth's magnetic field. And here I think may lie the secret to the power of these megaliths. Is it just possible that people in those times somehow knew how to tap the electromagnetic anomalies that were in these stones and used them in their healing? Is it also possible that they used it, as birds do, and dogs seem to, in telepathy?  They could find their way by these stones. They could perhaps communicate from one stone to another.  They were perhaps like a giant psychic grid which could be used for telepathic purposes."

I remember being a little iffy about the 'psychic telephone' theory, even as a kid.  But I wish that In Search Of.... had explained that Hitching was then (and presumably remains) a self-described 'dowser' who had also written a book called Earth Magic that was published the same year as this interview.  That would have given his theories on Stonehenge a little more 'context.'

Last week I watched a National Geographic Channel documentary called Stonehenge Decoded. It re-examined Stonehenge in light of new archaeological discoveries, focussing on the work of British professor Mike Parker Pearson. He has theorized that Stonehenge was linked, more prosaically, only with another site a mile away called Durrington Walls (once the location of a wooden equivalent to Stonehenge). Pearson believes that the area around Durrington Walls Henge was a place of the living, while Stonehenge was a domain of the dead. A journey from Durrington Walls (the site of a large Stone Age settlement) along the nearby River Avon to reach Stonehenge would have been part of a ritual passage from life to death to celebrate past ancestors and the recently deceased.  

This documentary also vividly illustrates some generally accepted current theories about how Stone Age people could have hauled the huge stones from their source 180 miles away in Wales and then built the monument, given the technology of the time 4,500 years ago.  This perhaps answers the open ended note on which narrator Leonard Nimoy ended this episode of In Search of... while standing alongside a 'cosmic' poster of the Milky Way galaxy.  "The question which still eludes us is who erected these working monuments.  Clearly they were the work of people more advanced than we had thought possible for that time.  We can speculate that our ancestors were possessed of knowledge that was somehow lost to succeeding generations.  Or perhaps they had 'help'... "

Not quite.  Here's a 2 minute preview of this new National Geographic Channel documentary that vividly answers these questions and debunks the concluding 'implication.'

Lost Gold of the Dark Ages

A month ago I wrote HERE about how a middle-aged British hobbyist with a metal detector recently stumbled upon one of the largest finds of Dark Ages gold ever discovered. It lay just beneath the surface of an unprepossessing English farm adjacent to a major roadway.  ("In coming days, I just couldn't keep the objects from coming out the ground.  It was frightening, in the end.")

Last weekend I watched a new National Geographic Channel documentary about this find called Lost Gold of the Dark Ages.  It details many fascinating aspects of the horde, including how authorities attempted to keep it quiet initially while rushing to dig it all up in plain view at a site by the side of a freeway.  (The farmer who owned the land, who was in on it, told neighbors that police were looking for a dead body.)  The show also examines multiple theories about how the gold got there and what exactly the impressive, but mysterious, artifacts may have actually been. It airs again next Sunday, August 15th apparently.   Here's a 2 minute preview:

Chicken McNuggets Provoke Rage (Repeatedly)

I don't know why I find stories that involve both fast food and crime so compelling.  But why ask why, I guess.  Below is a 30 second video of a woman freaking out at a McDonald's drive thru recently after being informed that Chicken McNuggets were not available on the breakfast menu. (She was later sentenced to 60 days in jail for this attack.)  

This is reminiscent of that infamous case a year ago of a woman who called 911 because another McDonald's was out of Chicken McNuggets.  (The caller was later fined for misuse of 911.) You watch a 2 minute piece that includes 'highlights' of that call HERE.  Here's a partial transcript of that call:

Operator: Do you need police, fire and ambulance?

Woman:  Police.

Operator:  Where?

Woman:  I'm at the McDonald's on ummm Delaware.

Operator:  What's going on there?

Woman: I ordered uhhh ummm the Chicken McNuggets with a small fries...."

He Grabbed Two Beers On The Way Out

By now you've probably heard the story about the 39 year-old Jet Blue flight attendant named Steven Slater who, after his flight landed in New York and arrived at its gate, got on the intercom and cursed at a passenger (who was prematurely grabbing his overhead baggage, apparently, and then became abusive after Slater told him not to) before opening the emergency door and sliding down the inflatable slide.  He then ran across the tarmac to his car and fled home.

It seems that he was just really fed up with his job and quit spontaneously in an almost theatrical way. (That's his photo above.) What he allegedly said over the intercom tells the whole story. "To the passenger who called me a motherf**ker, f**k you… I've been in the business 28 years. I've had it. That's it."

An under-reported detail of the story I really loved is that he apparently grabbed two beers from the galley just before he launched himself down that inflatable slide.  You can read more about the story HERE.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Headline News' Chuck Roberts Retired Yesterday

Chuck Roberts anchored CNN's Headline News from it's very first broadcast in 1982, until he retired yesterday. You may not know his name, but you'll almost certainly recognize his face (and/or voice) if you watch this 2 minute clip HERE of his sign-off. 

From the mid-1980s through the mid-1990s I watched Headline News almost everyday, sometimes twice a day.  Back then it ran repeating half hour news broadcasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Each was a complete news broadcast in 30 minutes.  They ran at a clipped pace, with news at the top and sports 18 minutes in, I remember.  There was also a slot for business news and entertainment news, as well as weather. 

It can be hard to remember today why that was so compelling back then. Before the internet it was more-or-less the only way to get 'immediate' news and sports scores. The internet made that obsolete, however. So Headline News (now "HLN") has morphed itself several times since to try to make itself more relevant in the internet age.  Most recently their prime time line-up has been populated with opinionated 'personalties' like Nancy Grace, who hosts their top-rated show. 

Through it all Chuck Roberts persevered for almost 29 years, with his his more traditional 'anchorman' style.  Until today.

Friday, July 30, 2010

In Search Of... Jimmy Hoffa

Jimmy Hoffa, the former head of the Teamsters union, disappeared from a suburban Detroit restaurant on this date in 1975, where he was scheduled to meet two mob associates. His remains have still never been found. The 1970's TV show In Search of..., which I really liked as a kid, once did an episode examining Hoffa's mysterious disappearance that first aired in November 1980. You can watch a 10 minute segment from this episode by clicking HERE.

As part of a pardon agreement with President Nixon in 1971, Jimmy Hoffa was barred following his release from Federal prison from participating in Teamsters activities until 1980, a ban he was actively seeking to overturn (and undermine) at the time of his disappearance in 1975.  His efforts had met with resistance from many quarters, however, even among his supporters. 

"If Hoffa's disappearance was a mafia hit, what was the motive?" asks narrator Leonard Nimoy near the end of this episode. "[Investigative reporter] Dan Moldea believes an angry Hoffa had begun to squeal about connections between the mafia and the CIA in Cuba... Did Hoffa know the secret behind the 'Crime of the Century'?  Hoffa hated the Kennedys for hounding him during the McClellan Hearings.  But did he know more than the rest of us about the President's murder?" Investigative reporter Dan Moldea himself then asserts in an on-camera interview, "During my investigation the FBI informant also added that Traficante quote 'made it clear' that it was Hoffa who was making the arrangements for the President's assassination."

Ah yes, the Kennedy assassination. Of course.  That explains it: Jimmy Hoffa masterminded the Kennedy assassination and had to be killed (12 years later) to cover it up. What's not revealed in this episode is that Tom Moldea had just written a book detailing these theories titled The Hoffa Wars: Teamsters, Rebels , Politicans and the Mob, which had been published in 1978.  At the time, Moldea was only 28 years old. He's still alive today (he's only 60) and even has his own website HERE.

A significant part of the story was not known in 1980, however.  Just a few years later, wire taps on mobsters in Kansas City proved for the first time what had previously only been suspected: that the Chicago 'Outfit' had used under-the-table loans from Teamsters pension funds to build Las Vegas casinos in the 1960s and 1970s.  The 'skim' from these casinos was believed to be their most lucrative racket at the time. It's now believed that Hoffa, bitter about a lack of support for his bid to retake leadership of the Teamsters, may have been killed because the mob feared that his high profile legal wrangling and electioneering might draw unwanted attention to this link, or, in the unlikely event he succeeded in re-taking the Teamsters' Presidency, that he might ultimately put an end to this arrangement.

On June 16, 2006, the Detroit Free Press published in its entirety the so-called Hoffex Memo, a 56-page report prepared by the FBI in January 1976. While it did not claim to establish conclusively the specifics of his disappearance, the memo memorializes law enforcement's belief that Hoffa was murdered at the behest of organized crime figures who deemed his efforts to regain power within the Teamsters to be a threat to their control of the union's pension fund.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

History Repeats Itself With Charlie Rangel

In all the recent coverage of the Charlie Rangel ethics investigation I've only seen it mentioned once that the 20 term congressman from Harlem had initially won his seat in 1970 by beating incumbent Adam Clayton Powell Jr. in the Democratic primary. (That's Powell at left.) By 1970 Powell was an "iconic, charismatic and flamboyant figure," who was the first black man elected to the US Congress from New York. He held the seat for 25 years, from 1945 until 1971. 

Here's two notable sentences from his wikipedia entry:
"By the mid-1960s Powell was being increasingly criticized for mismanagement of the committee budget, taking trips abroad at public expense (including travel to his retreat on the Bahamian isle of Bimini), and missing sittings of his committee. Following allegations that Powell had misappropriated Labor Committee funds for his personal use and other charges..., in January 1967 the House Democratic Caucus stripped Powell of his committee chairmanship."

Reading that you can't help but think of the controversy over Congressman Rangel's vacation villa in the Dominican Republic and that infamous photo of him sprawled out asleep on a lounge chair at the beach during a trip paid for by lobbyists, as well as the fact that he was stripped of his Chairmanship of the House Ways and Means Committee earlier this year. The parallels are so striking that they would be unbelievable if they weren't true. 

Tokyo's "Oldest Man" Had Been Dead 30 Years

Initially the headline to this Associated Press story HERE caught my eye because I assumed it was about 'typical' bureaucratic incompetence (it's the same worldwide, I thought to myself with a knowing smile).  But like the best of these sorts of stories, it just got better with each sentence.

It turns out that local welfare authorities had been suspicious about 111 year old Sogen Kato for some time but, "his family members repeatedly chased them away, saying Kato was well but didn't want to see anyone... Police, who forced their way into the house Wednesday... said the mummified body believed to be Kato was lying in his bed, wearing underwear and pajamas, covered with a blanket." 

It turns out that this was apparently a case of welfare fraud.  Authorities now believe he died 30 years ago but that his family continued to receive pension payments for him and for his deceased wife for decades afterward.  That's a tough way to get a few extra Yen on the side, though, isn't it? Having to leave the mummified corpse of your dead grandfather in his bed in the next room of your tiny Tokyo apartment for decades.  Especially for the first 6 months or so.

Lastly, I really love the fact that when this scam began 30 years ago Sogen Kato was just another faceless Tokyo octogenarian.  But the family let it go on so long that over time he became, in absentia, the oldest man in Tokyo, apparently bringing him a sort of notoriety. 

How Dirty Are Concession Stands At Your Stadium?

"ESPN's Outside the Lines reviewed health department inspection reports for food and beverage outlets at all 107 North American arenas and stadiums that were home to Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Hockey League and National Basketball Association teams in 2009. At 30 of the venues (28 percent), more than half of the concession stands or restaurants had been cited for at least one "critical" or "major" health violation. Such violations pose a risk for foodborne illnesses that can make someone sick, or, in extreme cases, become fatal."

So begins an article posted on that you can read HERE.  Its focus is an interactive map that allows you to click on any of the stadia surveyed to see the reported violations.  My hometown parks, Qualcomm Stadium and Petco Park in San Diego, came out pretty well actually.  Surprisingly to me, all the really chronic violators seem to be in the state of Florida.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sumner Redstone's "Friend" With Benefits

Sumner Redstone, the hard-nosed 87 year-old billionaire owner of Viacom and CBS, is in the news today for reportedly forcing Showtime, the pay TV division of CBS, to put a "young, apparently unqualified brunette" girl described as a "friend" on the public company's payroll, with the mandate to "make her happy." You can read more details and see her photo HERE.  

Her name is Rohini Singh. She is described in the article as a "veteran of the Los Angeles party scene." Redstone also gifted her 2,522 shares of Viacom stock valued at over $75,000. The article goes on to say, "Redstone instructed Showtime executives to give Singh free reign to pick the job she wanted... But after a rotation in casting, programming, and other departments within the network, Singh landed in publicity, in part because her best asset is her ability to party and, according to this former insider, 'you don’t need a specialized skill set for PR.'"

Redstone divorced his first wife (of 55 years) in 1999, and completed his divorce from his second wife (39 years his junior) in January 2009. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Jon Stewart On The Shirley Sherrod Fiasco

Last night on The Daily Show, Jon Stewart pointedly critiqued attempts by the White House and the NAACP to foist blame on Fox News and others for the firing of Agriculture Department Shirley Sherrod, rather than admitting they acted too hastily and before watching her whole speech. ("You were 'snookered'?   What are you: an old lady in a Groucho Marx movie?")  You can watch the 9 minute piece HERE.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Al Gore: Two More Masseuse Eruptions

Authorities are now investigating allegations made by two other masseuses that Al Gore attacked them in ways very similar to his alleged attack on the middle-aged masseuse in a Portland, Oregon hotel in 2006. According to a new National Enquirer story HERE, Gore is alleged to have assaulted another masseuse at a luxury hotel in Beverly Hills when he was attending the 2007 Oscars, and then yet another masseuse in Tokyo in 2008. Just in case you're on the fence about clicking on that Enquirer story, I'll note that it quotes Al Gore commanding one masseuse to, "Take care of THIS" while pointing.

Monday, July 19, 2010

California's Payroll 'Puzzle' Is Actually Very Simple

Did you hear the news last week that the Controller for the State of California, John Chiang, announced that it was technically impossible for the state to re-program its antiquated computer system to comply with Governor Schwarzenegger's order that all state employees' pay be temporarily reduced to minimum wage until a state budget is passed? He called it an "unsolvable puzzle" and then released a three-month study concluding that it would take two years and $8.7 million to reprogram the computers to accomplish.  And in the end, he says, that would be a waste of money because an entirely new state computer system is scheduled to be installed in 2012.

An "unsolvable puzzle," huh? Well, as the Los Angeles Times is reporting this morning HERE, eminent computer experts from across the state are now coming forward to dispute that assessment (saying it should take just a few months) while noting that the system has had no trouble "calculating dozens of raises for unionized employees" over the years.  Indeed, as it turns out state controllers have slow-rolled demands for over seven years that California's computerized payroll system be re-programmed to accommodate this precise change. 

Why have the state's controllers acted this way?  They are elected directly, not appointed by the governor. And, according to the LA Times, "Labor unions spent millions to elect Chiang in 2006 and so far are among the largest contributors to his reelection bid, giving more than $350,000 to his campaign."

Friday, July 16, 2010

The 1 Minute "The Catcher In The Rye"

J.D. Salinger's novel The Catcher In The Rye was first published on this date in 1951.  The book really resonated with me when I initially read it as a young teenager.  But I've tried to re-read it a few times over the years as an adult and haven't ever gotten very far, maybe no further than the 10th or 20th time Holden calls someone a "phony."

A series of 1 minute video summaries of the book have been posted on You Tube. They're serious rather than satiric, but the discipline of making each one a minute long makes them a little comedic as well, intentionally or unintentionally.  You can watch the 1 minute "overview" HERE, or the 1 minute plot summary HERE.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Sandwich In A Can (of Crime!)

That's a real product alright. Candwich: the sandwich in a can.  Despite the fact that it's purportedly "perfect for emergency food storage needs in the event of a natural disaster" and for "people on the go such as students," it remains a fledging product marketed by a start-up company called Mark One Foods.  

But the Candwich gained some unexpected attention a couple of weeks ago when the SEC charged a 47-year old Utah man with securities fraud, alleging that he misused $139 million of the $145 million investors had given him over the last decade.  He allegedly told investors that their money would be used to fund loans secured by commercial real estate.  But instead he used the money to fund his "lavish lifestyle" and to invest in unrelated ventures, including the Candwich as well as a film about the Boy Scouts' annual Pinewood Derby.  You can read the Fox Business article about it HERE.

Fast Food and Crime:  two great tastes that taste great together.