Friday, June 23, 2006

Losing an Election? Blame Satan!

If God hates fags, then who does Satan hate? Why politicians, of course, despite the stereotype that they're willing to sell their souls to him. That's at least according to Utah congressional candidate John Jacob. Oddly enough, though, el diablo can't seem to decide who he wants to oppose, though, since Jacob believes he's also working against Republican representative Chris Cannon, the man he's trying to unseat in a primary election. (Maybe Satan is a Democrat?)
As if beating a five-term congressman wasn't hard enough, John Jacob said he has another foe working against him: the devil.

"There's another force that wants to keep us from going to Washington, D.C.," Jacob said. "It's the devil is what it is. I don't want you to print that, but it feels like that's what it is."

Jacob said Thursday that since he decided to run for Congress against Rep. Chris Cannon, Satan has bollixed his business deals, preventing him from putting as much money into the race as he had hoped.

Numerous business deals he had lined up have been delayed, freezing money he was counting on to finance his race.

"You know, you plan, you organize, you put your budget together and when you have 10 things fall through, not just one, there's some other, something else that is happening," Jacob said.

Asked if he actually believed that "something else" was indeed Satan, Jacob said: "I don't know who else it would be if it wasn't him. Now when that gets out in the paper, I'm going to be one of the screw-loose people."

Jacob initially said the devil was working against him during a Wednesday immigration event, then reiterated his belief Thursday in a meeting with The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board.

"There's a lot of adversity. There's no question I've had experiences that I think there's an outside force," he said.

University of Utah political scientist Matthew Burbank said Jacob's sentiment is unusual for a political candidate and might show his inexperience, but is unlikely to be a major issue for the conservative voters he is targeting.

"Given that, I don't think it's very likely to make a big splash among Republican primary voters, but certainly if he gets through to the general election it might come up again and he'd have to explain it more," Burbank said.

Jacob, who like Cannon is LDS, said he is not the only one who is being opposed by Beelzebub. He said both Cannon and Sen. Bob Bennett have lost millions of dollars since going to Congress, and he believes their adversity is rooted in the same dark origins.

Cannon's campaign would not address whether Lucifer is opposing either candidate.

"Chris would not attribute any adversities to any outside influence," Cannon's chief of staff, Joe Hunter, said regarding Cannon's diminished personal wealth since going to Congress. "I'm not sure that Chris would even call them adversities. It's a conscious decision on Chris' part to do what's important to him. There's been far more important events in Chris' life than his business."

Jacob explained that, when people try to do something good, there are frequently forces that align to stop them.

"We have a country that was created by our Heavenly Father and it was a country that had a Constitution and everyone who came to America had strong faith. If that can be destroyed that would be the adversity. . . . Whether you want to call that Satan or whoever you want to call it, I believe in the last eight months I've experienced that."

Going Out with a Whimper

Reality often is stranger than fiction, the saying goes. An author writing the story of former anchor partners Dan Rather and Connie Chung's lives would never have had the temerity to have them both get canned within a week of each other. Not after the two's well-known history of bickering and fighting with each other. Yet that's exactly what happened. Seattle Post-Intelligencer TV critic Melanie McFarland looks back at the twighlight of both discarded anchors (Diskussionsleitersdämmerung?), realizing that between Rather's delusions and Chung's bizarre singing debut, the former duo provide another lesson in how not to behave:

More than a decade has passed since Dan Rather and Connie Chung had us shaking our heads at the obvious tension when they briefly shared an anchor desk between 1993 and 1995.

Rather won in the end, using a nasty behind-the-scenes campaign to force out his co-anchor. He remained at CBS; she jumped to ABC and later to cable.

Nobody would have guessed their separate and drastically declined careers would share headlines again -- and in the same week. [...]

Many are the lessons of how to begin a journalism career. These two showed us how not to end one. Different as their career trajectories may have been for a time, Chung and Rather's respective undoings are, in the end, the same. They held on for too long. And you know what happens when you overstay your welcome: You get cast out with a rough push instead of a friendly wave.

This is truer of Rather's departure, of course. Given his inglorious step down from CBS's anchor chair, a muffled exit was inevitable. The 74-year-old newscaster insists he's not done and has announced his intention to host a weekly interview program on Mark Cuban's high-definition channel, HDNet, where he will be watched by a few thousand, if he's lucky. He told The New York Times that he's contemplating a blog.

Which means, to you and me, that he's done. [...]

It's not all misery for the once-formidable Chung. We're talking about her again, aren't we? For that she can thank the tool that has become the bane of evening newscasts and 24-hour cable news alike, the Internet. Chung's William Hung moment went viral over the weekend, and by Wednesday had logged in nearly 540,000 views on -- more than double the MSNBC audience for "Maury & Connie's" series finale, which hovered somewhere around 264,000.

But if these pitiful moments underscore anything, it is the growling irrelevancy of network news. Millions still tune in each night. But millions more have abandoned it because they're not home to watch or because they get their news from news radio, from NPR or the Internet. Plus, nobody needs to be told that broadcast and cable reporters and anchors aren't the fearless crusaders they used to be. The journalistic Rottweilers of yesteryear have been replaced by puggles. Where politicians once feared the wrath of Walter Cronkite, now they dodge correspondents from "The Daily Show."

Bloggers inform a great deal of the mainstream reporting happening these days. The idea of Rather mulling over the idea of a blog at this late date is somewhat laughable. [...]

So, good night, Connie. Good luck, Dan. And, all right, thanks for the memories, even if it would have been better for you, and for us, to have lived without the final batch.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Stinky German Kicked Off Airplane

Think twice before you go to the airport without showering:

A German man is suing an airline after being kicked off a flight for being too smelly.

Werner Brechtfeld, 46, who had spent the day sightseeing in the hot Hawaiian sunshine, was asked to leave the plane in Honolulu when the person sitting next to him complained.

The passenger told flight attendants that Mr Brechtfeld "stinks to high heaven".

A spokesman at the Duesseldorf court where Brechtfeld is suing for damages, said: "He was asked to change t-shirts but his bags had already been checked in.

"So the air hostesses said he would have to get off the flight as he was disturbing other passengers. He had to wait four hours for the next flight and missed his connection to Germany."

Brechtfeld is asking for £1,500 in compensation for missing his flight back home to Dusseldorf, via LA.

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Indecent Proposal

Some people have all the luck. Some have none of it:

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A marriage-minded man ran naked through his Michigan neighborhood, trying to show his hesitant girlfriend that taking risks is important.

However, he got more than he bargained for when he ended up being chased and shot at.

Police in Ann Arbor, Mich., said it all started when the couple was discussing marriage Wednesday morning and the woman said she wasn't sure she was ready.

Her boyfriend tried to make his point about taking risks by jumping out the window and running naked through the neighborhood. But after jumping out of the window and running across the street, he found trouble.

A couple strolled by and a man ordered the naked suitor out of his hiding place in the bushes and started chasing him, then shot at him.

The naked man fell to the ground and suffered minor injuries.

Police arrested the gunman on charges of aggravated assault and carrying a concealed weapon. But the naked man said he didn't want to press any charges. The naked man was not arrested.

A detective said, "Just when you thought you had heard everything."

Related: Islamic cleric: "Kerry was supported by homosexuals and nudists."

Al-Qaradawi is nuts but he's a typical guy in at least one respect: "Lesbianism is not as bad as homosexuality, in practical terms."

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cars and Public Image

From the Department of Obvious comes this never-before-known fact: People generally buy cars to fit their lifestyles. Amazing!
Some people seem a perfect fit for the cars they drive, like Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his Hummer, Michael Jordan and his Ferrari. Yet most drivers' faces and bearing give away clues that tip off their favored model, a new study has found.

Psychologists at Julius-Maximilians University in Wurzburg, Germany, report in a recent issue of the Journal of Individual Differences that students correctly matched photographs of male and female drivers to pictures of the cars they drove almost 70 percent of the time.

The drivers' age and wealth were the most helpful cues, the researchers reported. [...]

Psychologists had shown in previous studies that people can accurately gauge some personality traits, like extroversion, from photos of strangers, and from personal effects, like a CD collection or bedroom decorations. The German study is the first to demonstrate that clues from both sources can be combined to match owners to their cars, the authors say.

In the study, the psychologists took photographs, from the waist up, of 60 men and women at a rest stop who agreed to participate in the study. Their cars, also photographed, included luxury models, modest family sedans and compact cars, from BMWs and Audis to Opels, Fords and Volkswagens.

The students looked at 60 sets of three photos, matching one of a driver to one of two car pictures — either the correct one, or one belonging to another driver.

In matching experiments like this, early choices often alter later ones: if you have already found someone to match with a black-cherry Porsche Boxster, you are less likely to pair it with another person later. But because many of the cars were similar in color and model, students' early matches were not likely to alter later ones, the authors said.

The researchers found that 41 pairs, or about 68 percent, were correctly matched by more than half of the students. "Interestingly, it seems to be easier to match people with cars than people with animate beings like dogs. Or people with their babies," concluded the authors, Georg W. Alpers and Antje B. M. Gerdes. [...]

Moreover, in making judgments, people soak up dozens of clues unconsciously, noting the emotional cast of a person's face in a photo, say, or the style of the hair, the texture of the clothing, the tilt and quality of the eyeglasses.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Surprise from No. 3

MSNBC surprised everyone Monday with its announcement that the struggling channel will now be headed by an executive tag team of "Today" chief Phil Griffin and one of its show hosts, Dan Abrams.

The appointment of Griffin didn't exactly come as a surprise; last week's scuttlebutt had him being given the top spot. Abrams's elevation does surprise. But it also gives insight into what MSNBC's strategy to avoid being known as "electronic journalism's version of the Chicago Cubs."

Some key facts:

  • Griffin, known officially as "executive in charge," is also keeping his title as executive producer of NBC's "Today" show.
  • Newly dubbed "general manager" Abrams will keep his job as NBC's top legal affairs analyst but will be giving up his current main job as host of the courts-heavy "Abrams Report."
  • Griffin will not move his offices over to MSNBC's far-flung New Jersey location.
  • NBC is in the process of buying out its partner Microsoft's stake in MSNBC entirely. It's already the majority owner.

For Aaron Barnhart, the verdict seems in: "They're letting him keep his network job. Which tells you something about what a high priority fixing MSNBC is over there at GE."

UPDATE 20:54. My take: That Abrams was brought in as Griffin's deputy indicates that there may be relatively major changes in the near future, with a team comprised of a newsie and an exec, it will be harder for competing factions within the organization to resist management. Abrams's hiring also likely means that MSNBC is going to approach news with more irreverence, and give greater latitude to anchors to express their opinions and show emotion (i.e. be more like human beings instead of talking infoheads). [Abrams not getting the top spot also shows that upper management views this as a test of sorts for him. If he pulls it off, expect him to move up the NBC ladder.]

Griffin probably will restrict himself primarily to streamlining operations. NBC is interested in integrating MSNBC more into its news operations. This makes sense because NBC has wasted millions over the years maintaining studios and satellite stations in two separate locations, hemorrhaging money unecessarily. Griffin's staying in New York will either move the cabler closer to its parent broadcast network, or things will fall apart because of a lack of oversight.

In an interview with Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Gail Shister, Abrams claimed "everything is on the table" as far as primetime goes, but said "it would be crazy for us to think about moving or changing Olbermann or Chris Matthews."

I see that remark in a few ways. It could mean the rest of MSNBC will be transformed into Matthews and Olbermann's brand of brash liberalism.

Or, it could mean that the value Abrams sees in these two isn't their politics but rather their brassiness. It's not exactly a secret that many viewers have love/hate relationships with television hosts. Getting hosts with strong personalities makes sense especially for MSNBC since its competitors pretty much have the casual news observer market sewn up. This wasn't always the case. For a long time, CNN was the channel of choice for the so-called "news grazer" largely because of its brand recognition. Fox News coveted this large market segment and was only able to tap into it by establishing its own brand through making news more enjoyable and more politically balanced.

MSNBC has a similar chance before it. There is a large, underserved market out there, despite claims that cable news ain't big enough for three channels. Fact is, many people 20-50 don't find news especially interesting the way CNN serves it up. And they aren't interested in Fox's brand of confrontation and endless discussion. This is the same audience that is reading and writing blogs and forums.

Griffin and Abrams's predecessors have tried pursuing this elusive demo in the past but always in the wrong way. Instead of adopting the blog ethos, they tried to make television into a blog. That was bound to fail because television and the internet are such dissimilar media that one can't readily reuse techniques from one medium in the other. However, one can learn from the manner of a medium. The advent of the internet has moved news from being a small group's bloodless representation of "the truth" to a discussion in which a variety of interested parties try to find it. Fox's success has shown that people know there is more than one side to a story.

Will MSNBC manage to become the first truly modern television network? We'll see. I think it's possible.

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Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Stealth Wings

Seeing this story reminded me of the glider planes used back in WWII. They were a great idea during those days. Now, it looks like the technology is getting a well-deserved update:

Elite special forces troops being dropped behind enemy lines on covert missions are to ditch their traditional parachutes in favour of strap-on stealth wings.

The lightweight carbon fibre mono-wings will allow them to jump from high altitudes and then glide 120 miles or more before landing - making them almost impossible to spot, as their aircraft can avoid flying anywhere near the target.

The technology was demonstrated in spectacular fashion three years ago when Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner - a pioneer of freefall gliding - famously 'flew' across the English Channel, leaping out of an aircraft 30,000ft above Dover and landing safely near Calais 12 minutes later.

Wearing an aerodynamic suit, and with a 6ft wide wing strapped to his back, he soared across the sea at 220mph, moving six feet forward through the air for every one foot he fell vertically - and opened his parachute 1,000ft above the ground before landing safely.

Arbitrary Evil Day

Happy 6/6/6!
Buzz for the remake of the 1976 horror film has been building since March.

There were posters trumpeting "Heed the Omen" and "The Signs Are All Around You." Airplane banners reading "You Have Been Warned" flew over popular spring break destinations, prompting frightened calls to 911 dispatchers and the FBI.

Thirty years after the original classic, the story line remains the same: A couple suspects their son is the spawn of Satan. But the remake comes with a twist, debuting by design on June 6, 2006.

The folks at 20th Century Fox liked the tie-in with the No. 666, which is considered the "number of the beast," as written in the Bible.

Just one problem, according to a group of English biblical scholars. The number should be 616, which appears on ancient papyrus fragments of the Book of Revelation, they say.

Looks like the film's marketing gurus will miss their ominous release by five days.

So, why hasn't this 616 translation caught on?

"Because six-six-six rolls off the tongue easier," Daniel P. Winters, author of "Superstitions 101," said with a laugh. "Plus, `The Omen' would have to be rewritten, the related superstitions reconsidered, the stars realigned, a whole population re-educated. And, I'd have to rewrite my book."

The Gregorian calendar in use today was not adopted until the 16th century. John, the author of Revelation, lived under the Julian calendar which calculates time slightly differently. The actual 6/6/2006 date in the Julian calendar happens this year on June 19 (see this calculator). If 616 is the evil number, that makes things more interesting since every June 29th is scary.

But dates are most likely not what had John spooked, especially since the real 6/6/6 (i.e. 2000 years ago), took place before he wrote his book. Instead, John was probably thinking of numerology, the idea of using a number to represent a person or concept. Most Bible scholars see him as identifying Nero Caesar, or rather the idea of emperor-worship as the villain, since Nero was dead by the time Revelation was written.

This makes sense from a historical point-of-view since the earliest Christians believed the world was about to end. Because Nero's successor, Domitian, took Caesar worship even more seriously, it stands to reason that John saw this development as Satan-inspired.

In any case, I hope no one out there is taking today seriously. I'll be celebrating and I hope you are, too!

More 666 fun stuff: