TheodoreSLaBarbera.com

Since 2003, the off-ramp on the Information Superhighway.

Month: December 2009

Introducing: The Alarm Clock From Hell

I have always had massive issues getting a full and rest-filled night’s sleep.  My anxious and over-worked mind finds it nearly impossible to wind down in the evening, and when factoring in some pretty significant issues with loud snoring/sleep apnea, it’s no wonder I’m always tired and ready for a nap.

My worst sleep-related flaw, though, has to be snoozing.  I set my alarm clock on work days for 6am, but damned if I get out of bed before 7:15, usually with a massive rush to get showered/dressed to follow.

So, to combat this latter symptom, I asked for a Christmas gift from my folks: a helicopter alarm clock.  No, it’s not a giant transformer or shaped like a chopper.  It features an actual, working propeller that, when the alarm goes off, takes off and flies around the room until you physically get out of bed, track it down and stop it. Don’t believe me?  Here’s the video:

Eh, so it’s a work in progress that will likely wind up just crashing into the ceiling and hitting me in the head every morning.  But kudos to the designer for engineering a seemingly brilliant solution to an age-old problem.

Now can someone assist me with that night-time “Brain Power Off” button?

It’s Days Like Today That Make Me Grateful I Work in a Skyscraper

Bush on 9/11You may be surprised to hear it, but the biggest danger facing each and every one of us today isn’t the pressing near for healthcare reform, or a slow and shaky economy, or even those nasty, racist, evil conservative teabagger protesters that are so mean and uncooperative towards President Barack Hussein Obama.

Nope, it’s a bunch of Muslim fanatics based in Asia and Africa that want to kill us and end our very way of life.

We very fortunately narrowly avoided a Christmas Day Massacre thanks only to the ineptness of a would-be, now-phallus-less suicide bomber, despite all the best intentions of Homeland Security officials, passengers, and the like.  But don’t worry; Obama and his top representatives are “on” the case, don’t you know?  The mainstream media is doing all it can to tell us this is the case, notwithstanding the fact that the President might not have heard about the foiled attack until nearly three hours after it happened…and then managed to go back to the gym and golf course for a little rest and recreation.  Surely, there will be a movie about his paralysis to act called Fahrenheit 12/25 soon, right?

But don’t worry again, rather than starting to profile and screen passengers based on their potential risk (the bomber’s name was curiously Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, not Peter Smith) or more carefully focus on threats emerging from Yemen and the African contingent of Al Qaeda, the Transportation Security Administration is going to prevent us all from using laptops or drinking that last bottle of water during the final hour of international flights.

I, for one, feel so much safer now!

They’re Coming To Take You Away, Ha Ha

See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evilThe Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution clearly states:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

It’s one of those inalienable rights set forth that helped set America on the path towards being, for two hundred years, the single greatest force for freedom and privacy in human history.  Barring a justified cause — and appropriate legal documentation — there ain’t nobody that can come into your abode and take you away for thinking the wrong thought, expressing the wrong idea, or engaging in the wrong action (to the accuser).

While you were out Christmas caroling, debating the healthcare fiasco, or even catching up on your DVD watching, President Barack Hussein Obama quietly moved to undo the United States Constitution by granting the international police force INTERPOL unlimited rights to run amuck throughout our nation.

Last Thursday, December 17, 2009, The White House released an Executive Order “Amending Executive Order 12425.” It grants INTERPOL (International Criminal Police Organization) a new level of full diplomatic immunity afforded to foreign embassies and select other “International Organizations” as set forth in the United States International Organizations Immunities Act of 1945.

By removing language from President Reagan’s 1983 Executive Order 12425, this international law enforcement body now operates — now operates — on American soil beyond the reach of our own top law enforcement arm, the FBI, and is immune from Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) requests.

Got that?  The Right gets a bad rap for allegedly wanting to curtail liberties in the names of morality and safety in the public debate, but let’s be honest: it’s the Left that consistently has proven that, if you dare to question their brand of political thoughtspeak, it’s off to the gallows for you.

Now, I find it hard to believe that this Executive Order can stand as legal if challenged in court — not only is it unconstitutional, it seems to vaguely resemble an element of international treaty that would require a Congressional seal of approval as well.

That being said, is it really far fetched to wonder if, one day, the International Police Force of the New World Order might come, apprehend, and even execute you for daring to speak against it, or for not having the correct carbon footprint, or for serving in a prior war that it deems now worthy of prosecution for War Crimes?

The plans are already being formulated, my friends.

“House, MD” Season One: A Review

House MD Season 1 DVD CoverIn the interest of full disclosure, House, MD could be my favorite television show of all time.  The combination of pithy, sarcastic humor, witty banter, and grave seriousness match my own twisted personality nearly perfectly, and I can easily watch each episode time and again, one after another, without even remotely suffering from boredom or restlessness.

The show is a masterpiece of design.  From the stylish opening credits (to the tune of Massive Attack’s “Teardrop”) to the lighting to set design to ambient music throughout, no detail or care is overlooked in creating a wonderful, sleek, and bold package. Producer Bryan Singer (X-Men) spares little expense in setting the mood and tone for the show with every element. It’s television as art in a neat, dramatic, and humorous package.

Of all its six seasons to date, though, none matches the perfection and charm brought forth in its first season, which ran from 2004-2005.  The cast for the show remained small and intimate, and the focus more on the show’s primary gimmick — diagnostic forensics — than in future years.  Indeed, several of the program’s top episodes all ran during its debut season:

  • DNR: a legendary jazz musician (Harry Lennix, Commander Locke from the Matrix Trilogy) loses feeling in his legs and eventually collapses from a lack of oxygen.  House (Hugh Laurie) further complicates matters by violating a “Do Not Resuscitate” order to save the patient’s life and risks jail while fighting to determine the cause of the underlying condition.
  • Histories: a mentally unstable homeless women, who is favored for some reason by Dr. Wilson (Robert Sean Leonard), suffers from rabies and is not diagnosed due to complicating factors until it’s too late.
  • Control: a young, driven CEO (Sarah Clark, 24’s infamous Nina Myers) takes Ipecac as a means of facilitating bulimia and destroys her heart in the process.
  • Role Model: a passionate, charismatic black Senator runs for President but displays symptoms of AIDS, raising issues of trust and honesty with respect to politicians.
  • The Socratic Method: a schizophrenic mom is cared for by her struggling 15-year-old son.

Despite the focus on medicine and the individual story, though, great character moments were never at a loss and we as the audience grew to like and respect each of the main cast as if they were old, favored friends: the childish, almost infatuation-like affection Cameron (Jennifer Morrison) has for her boss, the glimpse into Chase’s (Jesse Spencer) paternal issues, and the revelation/”origin” of House as it relates to his condition and relationship with Stacy (Sela Ward).

Of course, the show lives and dies — so to speak — on the performances of Hugh Laurie, who portrays the titular character.  Unlike many medical dramas, Laurie nails the unique dynamics of a top-notch physician nearly perfectly.  House is arrogant, sarcastic, self-righteous, and critical to a fault.  He practices strict atheism (“dying is never dignified”) and, with the literal power of life over death, it’s difficult to not understand just why he and so many other doctors and scientists display those traits.  His dry wit in even the most somber of moments often proves genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. Above all, though, he is an educator — Princeton Plainsboro is a teaching hospital — and for all of his flaws its clear how brilliant an instructor and illuminator he is (witness his turn in front of a room of young doctors in the Emmy-winning episode “Three Stories.”)

The apex of the season’s main arc involves the hospital’s Chairman of the Board, Edward Vogler (Chi McBride), and the power and influence he wields thanks to his $100 million investment in Princeton Plainsboro.  A larger than life figure, Vogler is determined to run his new toy as a strict business and House’s unconventional style and philosophical differences eventually nearly cost himself, Wilson, Cuddy (Lisa Eddelstein), and Cameron their jobs. I won’t lie, watching House bristle in nearly all interactions with his new boss — who neither understands nor appreciates what he brings to the hospital — probably hits any officer worker suffering with a tough job a little close to home (I may or may not resemble that remark).  It’s the addition of those little extra and seemingly unnecessary dynamics that make House, MD so deep and rewarding a viewing experience.

It’s also most interesting to watch this arc today, while the United States debates whether or not to publicize the healthcare industry.  Just which method is in the long run most accurate: a true laissez-faire focus on profits and helping the most patients possible, or a far more expensive and ethically less dubious focus on the individual, no matter the cost?  While House and crew emerge “victorious” in the interest of perpetuating the series, the show provides no clear answers and shows both sides suffer from their own limitations.

I’m no expert on video quality or DVD conversions, so as to the product itself I’ll say that sound and video fidelity appear to be consistent with most modern programs ported over to video, and will likely look and play well on nearly any system.  After promoting the package’s bonus features through the first five discs, though, its hard not to find massive fault with what is offered: a few brief “behind-the-scenes” clips that run perhaps twenty minutes in total and do little to provide a closer look into the show, aside from illustrating Laurie’s real-life British accent.  This is clearly a DVD set put together merely to provide what it claims to — the complete first season of a top-notch television show — and little more.

So, all in all, House, MD Season One recaps on of the best pure story seasons of any show in broadcast history, albeit it with little flash or style.  Buy it for the sheer quality of the episodes, but don’t expect much else.  9 out of 10.

Congratulations, America, These Are the Men Who Will Determine if You Live or Die

Obama, Reid, PelosiWith so-called comprehensive healthcare reform all but passed in the United States Senate, it seems certain that our nation will soon nationalize a major segment of our economy and place it under strict, socialist government control.  I will spare you for now a thorough discussion on the merits and demerits of such a system, aside from noting that the plan actually faces shocking opposition on both sides of the political aisle — perhaps an indication of how unnecessary the plan is and how out-of-touch our federal legislators have become.

But what of these legislators?  Are they the sort of sober, serious, thoughtful men and women that form the bedrock of a representative democracy, filled with the gravity of their responsibility and steeped in the common sense framework foundation provided by the Constitution?  Or are they another, far worse form of despotic, greedy, arrogant, and hyperbolic monster?

Let’s start with Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson, a Democrat at one time considered to be relatively conservative and perhaps even opposed to nationalized healthcare outright.  Oh, how a few lucrative dollars from the public teat had him changing his song rather abruptly.

But special attention should go to Senator Ben Nelson, who played hard-to-get the longest and in return for being the 60th vote won an exemption for Nebraska from paying any of the additional costs for the bill’s Medicaid expansion, which is worth $100 million. He also won millions of dollars of exemptions from the $6.7 billion in health insurance fees for Nebraska-based companies like Mutual of Omaha.

This is the same Senator who declared a few weeks ago that “my vote is not for sale.” Well, he never said: at any price.

Sadly, Nelson was only one in a long line of elected officials willing to sell out their constituents in exchange for some fresh graft.  It’s the new way of doing business, says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and if you aren’t up for the game then you just aren’t doing your senatorial job.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered a vigorous defense Monday of the deals in the Senate reform bill that benefit individual states, saying “it doesn’t speak well” of senators who didn’t secure such deals.

“There are 100 senators here and I don’t know that there’s a senator that doesn’t have something in this bill that isn’t important to them,” Reid said. “If they don’t have something in it important to them then it doesn’t speak well of them.”

He likened the legislation to the defense bill, which is thick with earmarks and other provisions benefiting individual members and even private corporations.

“That’s what legislation’s all about,” Reid said of the compromises. “It’s the art of compromise. In this great country of ours, Nevada has many different problems than does New Hampshire. Michigan has many different problems than does Georgia.”

Besides, its not as if the rules even apply to our fair Senators.  Why, even asking one to so kindly turn off his mobile device so his flight can become airborne without crashing in a fiery hell is simply too much to ask.

New York’s famously garrulous senior senator, Chuck Schumer, got busted Wednesday for calling a female flight attendant the B-word aboard a US Airways flight from New York to Washington on Sunday.

Schumer was sitting next to protege Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, gabbing away on his phone, when a flight attendant told him to shut it down.

Schumer turned off his phone, and then argued with the attendant that he was allowed to talk while the cabin door is open. He lost.

He then muttered his complaint about the flight attendant to Gillibrand.

They know better than the lowly proletariat, don’t you know?  And if you dare to question their authority, well, you are no better than a klansman or Nazi.

This afternoon, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) gave a speech in which he quoted Richard Hofstadter’s 1964 essay, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics” and accused ObamaCare opponents of inciting “vindictive passions”:

“Far from appealing to the better angels of our nature, too many colleagues are embarked on a desperate no-holds-barred mission of propaganda, obstruction and fear. History cautions us of the excesses to which these malignant, vindictive passions can ultimately lead. Tumbrils have rolled through taunting crowds, broken glass has sparkled in darkened streets. Strange fruit has hung from Southern trees. Even this great institution of government that we share has cowered before a tail-gunner waving secret lists.” (Emphasis added.)

Truly, a great close to a great year for the United States of America.

Study Finds: If You Have an iPhone You’re Nuts

Newsflash, for those not paying attention: I own and desperately adore my iPhone.  Without it, I feel uncertain and anxious, as if a very part of me has been unplugged from life, and I struggle to maintain focus and balance.  It’s utterly ridiculous, but I guess I’m one of the people Strand Consulting is referring to when it declares that iPhone users are delusional.

The Strand thinkers released an opinion entitled “How will psychologists describe the iPhone syndrome in the future?.” It focuses on the sorts of people who buy into Apple’s great success.

Here’s a flavor of the somewhat-skeptical nature of Strand’s feelings: “Apple has launched a beautiful phone with a fantastic user interface that has had a number of technological shortcomings that many iPhone users have accepted and defended, despite those shortcomings resulting in limitations in iPhone users’ daily lives.”

The consultants’ likening of iPhone buyers to kidnapped hostages may raise more than the eyebrows of many an Apple fanboy (fanperson?). Indeed, it already has the Mac world aflutter.

“When we examine the iPhone users’ arguments defending the iPhone, it reminds us of the famous Stockholm Syndrome–a term invented by psychologists after a hostage drama in Stockholm. Here, hostages reacted to the psychological pressure they were experiencing by defending the people that had held them hostage for six days,” Strand declared.

Hah.  An amusing — and deliberately controversial — opinion, but it’s not one without a kernel of truth.  Verizon has been spot-on with its latest batch of advertising geared towards knocking the iPhone off of its mighty pedestal.  The Island of Misfit Toys commercial, in particular, is so on-point that I cannot help but hang my head in shame and simultaneously chuckle in agreement.

I’ve spoken in the past about my issues with the way Apple and AT&T conduct their business, including how poor the processing power of the device is and how devastatingly awful the broadband network has proven itself to be.  That all being said, when my phone broke down — twice in the span of 2.5 years — there was little question that I was heading to the Genius Bar to make damn certain the thing was repaired or replaced.  A new brand/model of device was simply out of the question.

Maybe it’s a coastal/Northeastern elitest thing, but I’m too accustomed now to using and depending on the phone to handle my every Internet, e-mail, SMS, MMS, and music-playing need, and I don’t think it will ever be possible to go back.

Learning From Great Political Advertising

When historians compile a list of New York’s greatest leaders one day, it seems unlikely that our current accidental occupant of the governor’s mansion will find his name etched into inclusion.  Despite his near blindness, alleged infidelities and drug abuse, David Paterson built himself a steady if unspectacular life as a career politician in one of the most dysfunctional legislatures in the fifty states — only to be thrust into the unexpected role of Governor after his running mate himself became embroiled in his own sordid sexual scandal.

Now, Paterson finds himself commander of a state hemorrhaging tax revenues and even contemplating withholding or deferring payments to vendors and debtors to keep from having to declare total bankruptcy.  With the specter of an extremely difficult primary challenge on the horizon at the hands of current Attorney General Andrew Cuomo — and possibly a November showdown with 9/11 hero Rudy Giuliani to follow — it becomes difficult to fathom the Governor’s political career surviving past 2010.

I guess nobody told that to him, though, because since mid-November Paterson has unleashed an array of campaign spots that rank as among the best I’ve ever seen. The one I have chosen to embed here, “When,” stands as the best of the bunch.

[Editor’s Note 01/24/17: Alas and woe, the ad appears to have swirled down the memory hole of the Internet, and is lost forever. Or, at least, I cannot find it after scrolling through pages after pages on YouTube and Google. Unfortunately, though, literally hundreds of videos from Saturday Night Live and elsewhere cruelly mocking Paterson for his disabilities and dalliances remain, painting him as a buffoon and borderline mentally handicapped. Today, we’d call that bullying.]

Simple, heartfelt, and compelling. Paterson is immediately rebranded as a humble, hard-working man thrust into an untenable situation and doing the best he can with the impossible.  And, after repeated views, it’s hard to disagree on a certain visceral level; Paterson has inherited a massive debt and out-of-control budget built for decades by Democrat and Republican officials alike, and with the rank and file of the Assembly and Senate filled with corrupt and shady politicians of the worst kind, the Governor comes off as a sympathetic figure.

NY has a lot of real problems, and much like with government at the Federal level, it’s hard to see how anything but a complete revolution and 100% turnover of office-holders will bring about the change required to keep our democratic republic going for another three centuries.  But in this one instance, its good to see an official displaying the sort of inner-city yeoman attributes that the state desperately needs.

Pretty extraordinarily unlikely that I’ll vote for him, though.