Shots Across the Bow

A Reality Based Blog

Thursday, January 29, 2009

He Came in Through the Bathroom Window


Alternate title: "This is not the door I remember."

Hint for future reference: If there's no handle, it's not a door.

Obama's singing the blues along with B B King

My baby changed
She done changed the lock on my door
And the key I got won't fit that lock no more

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, January 08, 2009

There’s No Accounting for Taste.

Say Uncle, a real life accountant, who actually can kill you with a pencil, although he'd probably prefer using one of his evil black rifles, doesn't think my accountant jokes were funny.

He probably didn't think the title of this post was funny either.

That's why he is an accountant.

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Wish List Paradox

A little known aspect of quantum electrodynamics is the Wish List paradox. It goes way deeper than Schrodinger's cat, which suggests that reality isn't real until it is observed, and states that once a quantity is assigned to a variable, it immediately assumes any value other than the named value. For example, under the Wish List Paradox, as soon as I assign the value "5" to variable x by saying "x=5," the actual value of x will be the set of all real numbers other than 5. It could be 6, or 3, or 8.1437.

Anything but 5.

I discovered this paradox by observing the results of my Christmas lists over the last 4 decades. I noticed early on that the things on my list never showed up as Christmas gifts, particularly where my former wife was concerned. At the time, I thought it was just further evidence of her future future status as former, and wrote it off, but I now know that she was constrained by the principles of the Wish List Paradox.

While the implications of the paradox are mind bogglingly complex, the way it works is actually quite simple.

1) When asked, I create a list of things I'd like to get for Christmas.
2) In the time between the generation of the list and Christmas, I am not allowed to purchase any of the items on the list, because she might want to buy it for me.
3) However, she won't buy anything on the list because then I wouldn't be surprised.

If I create a list of things I want for Christmas, I am guaranteed not to get the things on that list, thus fulfilling the Wish List Paradox.

Unfortunately, this process is not reciprocal. In other words, if I list things I don't want, like a life time supply of broccoli or a chartreuse turtleneck sweater made from yak, the Universal Law of Male Gift Suckage, the one that fathers everywhere know as the "Tie for Father's Day," trumps the Wish List Paradox, and I'll be clothed in yellow green yak fur and enveloped in a cloud of broccoli farts.

You don't want to mess with the laws of nature my friends.

Posted by Rich
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

Our economy may be crashing around our ears, but illegal immigration is becoming less of a problem as the jobs dry up. The flow of illegal immigrants into the country and dollars out of the country have both slowed with the economy, proving the old saying that every cloud has a silver lining.

Or is it the one about curing a hangnail with a hatchet? I always get those two confused.

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Looks Like Tina Fey Has Some Job Security if 30 Rock Goes Bust

Ad in los angeles craig's list
Looking for a Sarah Palin lookalike for an adult film to be shot in next 10 days. Major adult studio. Please send pix, stats etc. ASAP Pay: $2000-3000 No anal required Location: LA it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests Compensation: $2000-3000

UPDATE: Too Late! Via Nick Denton's Fleshbot (no linky love since it's NSFW and it's a Gawker related site) Hustler is already set to release a fake Palin porno, sans Tina Fey.

Which should let us all sleep a bit easier.

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Saving Money the Old Fashioned Way

The water pump on my truck began leaking last week, so today, I replaced it with a new one. I figured I'd save money by doing it myself with parts I acquired from the parts store.

Yeah, that went well.

First of all, I drive a 1998 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup. It's got 186,000 miles and this is the first repair other than brakes that I've had to make on it, so I really like this truck. Or I did until this afternoon.

After taking Luke to school, I stopped by the parts store, and got a new pump, belt, gasket, and sealant ($148.00) and headed for the house. Having learned on an earlier adventure that allowing the car to cool down before playing with the engine isn't just a good idea, it's mandatory, I went into the house to work for a couple of hours.

I woke up bright and early at around noon thirty and got to work.

I pulled out my trusty Haynes guide and started the rpocess of pulling the water pump. It seemed so easy when I read over the instructions the night before. Pull the belt. Pull the fan shroud. Pull the fan. Disconnect the hoses. Remove old pump. Clean the seating surface. Apply new gasket. Install new pump. Put the car back together.

Ok, cool.

My truck has what's called a serpentine belt. It's called that because if you don't watch it carefully, it will reach out and bite you. It twists and turns through multiple gears and pulleys like spaghetti on steroids, and all of it runs right next to a fan blade made of surgical steel finely honed to a razor's edge. I'm not sure why the fan needs to be that sharp, but if I'm ever trapped in a Mad Max movie, I've got my weapon of choice ready.

The way you remove a serpentine belt is simple. You hook up a ratchet to a nut on the tensioning pulley, and you pull the ratchet towards the engine. In theory, this will pull the tension pulley towards the engine, releasing the tension on the belt, allowing you to slip the belt off of the pulley and begin to remove it. In practice, this will slam your hands into the razor sharp fan blades because you forgot to check which direction your ratchet was set.

Upon setting the ratchet correctly and again pulling towards the engine, I successfully disengaged the belt from the pulley, and began the long process of threading it around the fan blade so I could remove it entirely. After 15 minutes and 2 stitches, I went for plan B and I cut the silly thing off.

The next step in the Haynes manual is to remove the fan shroud. But before you remove the fan shroud, you have to remove the radiator surge tank (See section 4.) Turning to section 4, I find out that removing the surge tank is simply a matter of pulling it up and disconnecting the surge hose.

I mention this process only so I can document the only thing that went right throughout my entire afternoon. So if you need a radiator surge tank pulled, I'm your man.

So I went to remove the shroud, only to find that I also had to remove the windshield washer fluid tank. According to the manual, this was so simple, it didn't even need its own section, just a picture. Just unplug two wires on the bottom, disconnect a hose, and lift the tank clear.

Yeah, right.

The two wires on the bottom are about two and a half feet below the hood area, which means I have to stand up on a stool to get high enough to get low enough. Yeah, you read that right. Then there's the little matter of plugging a rigid plastic nipple with out damaging it, or allowing windshield washer fluid to spray out all over the engine compartment. By the way, windshield washer fluid is very slippery. When you put your hand on a brace to support yourself, and that brace is covered in windshield washer fluid, things do not end well.

I finally got everything disconnected, and lifted the tank per the manual, and ran into a snag. There was a great big hose leading from the engine to the radiator that ran over the fluid tank. The manual said nothing about that hose, and when I looked at the pictures, it wasn't there, so I removed it.

I hope it wasn't important.

I lifted up the tank, now that the last obstruction was de-obstructed, and nothing happened. It would not move. I put all the force I felt comfortable using without breaking anything, and it wouldn't budge. Fine, I'll skip that step.

Now it's time to remove the shroud, so I quickly release 3 of the 4 screws holding it in place. I say three because the fourth screw is located, you guessed it, behind the windshield washer fluid tank.

At this point, I inadvertently enlarged my grandson's vocabulary a bit more than his mother would like.

I managed to work a box wrench in to loosen the last screw holding the shroud in place, and the assembly was free. This is when I found the two plastic tabs holding the tank in place. I popped those bad boys right off and the tank was free. Well, except for the third wire the Haynes manual didn't tell me about.

I don't think it was important, but I'll let you know in a few days.

Now it was time to play with the fan. Remember the fan? With razor sharp blades and an appetite for my blood? The manual sad that I should use a large screwdriver and a special wrench to remove the fan, since the fan nut was attached to a clutch that went both ways. Now I don't have the special wrench, but I do have a lathe that has a large spindle nut on it, and it seems to be they are roughly the same size, so I get my spindle nut wrench and surprise surprise, it was a perfect fit. Not that it did me much good. Have you ever tried to use a screw driver to brace a free spinning pulley by trying to catch it between two bolt heads, all while
leaning over an engine with the hood latch wedged firmly in the perfect position to either castrate or disembowel you depending on which way you slipped?

I haven't been in a position that awkward since junior high when my dad walked in on me furthering my relationship with Col Wilma Deering from Buck Rodgers. (I'm sharing too much again, aren't I?)

Anyway, the screwdriver wouldn't hold, and I couldn't get enough leverage to back the fan nut off and any time I tried to apply a burst of force, the screwdriver would slip and I'd find a new and interesting place to bleed. Not to mention the silly fan shroud kept falling in front of me, interfering with my line of sight and access to the nut. Eventually, I got tired of it flopping around and bolted it back in place temporarily while I figured out what to do with this nut. I decided to get creative, and got a pair of slip jaw pliers and used them to hold the pulley steady. I was finally able to apply some good torque, but 10 years and 180,000 miles had pretty much welded the nut to the fan clutch. It was time for my secret weapon, 3 in1 oil. A few pops of the can, and 10 minutes later, I gave it another try. A used the pliers to hold the pulley, put my wrench on the nut, and thrust down with all 300 pounds of my weight on both tools. Of course, the 3 in 1 oil had worked and the nut spun freely and I rammed my head into the air filter housing.

Doc says the double vision will clear up in a day or so.

With the fan loose, I unbolted the shroud again and pulled both pieces out of the truck. After 2 hours, I was finally ready to start working on the water pump.

The pump is held in place by 3 hoses, 7 bolts, and a mysterious gasket-like substance with a bonding strength greater than super glue, but more about that later. The first thing I had to do was drain the radiator and engine of coolant. According the Haynes manual, there was a little knob on the left side of the radiator that opened a drain, and two drain plugs on the engine block. I looked all over the left side of the radiator and didn't see any sign of a knob or drain valve. For grins, I looked on the other side, that would be the right side, for those of you playing at home, and loo and behold, there was the drain plug. Apparently, when the folks at Haynes say "left," they mean "on the left if you were physically superimposed over the engine, and were looking out from the engine compartment," not "on the left as you stand outside looking at the radiator."

Silly me.

I opened the little valve and nothing happened. Consulting the Haynes manual, it said that sometimes the drain would get plugged by rust, and I should insert a screwdriver into the drain hole to remove the rust. The drain was about as wide as a drinking straw, and I don't have any screwdrivers that small, so I said forget it, and started pulling hoses from the radiator.

I caught most of the fluid in a bucket, which is good, because I have dogs and I want to continue having dogs.

After the flood ended, I was ready to start pulling hoses from the water pump. Two hoses were very easy, sticking out on either side but there was a third hose coming from the top of the pump, ducking immediately under something that looked very important and highly technical, and leading back into the dark recesses of the engine compartment. There was almost no room to get a hold of the hose clamp, and even less room to move the hose clamp back off of the nipple, and to make matters even more fun, the hose was acting like it had been welded to the nipple.

About this time, my son got home from school, which worked out nicely because he could help. It was even nicer because now I had somebody to blame when things didn't go well.

Working together, the two of us finally managed to remove that last hose, and after removing the bolts, the water pump wouldn't budge. I consulted the magic book, which was rapidly becoming dark, smudged, and much harder to read. It recommended hitting the pump with a soft faced hammer, so I immediately got my 5 pound sledge, and that water pump sailed out of the engine compartment. Then I found out that I needed an inlet tube from the old pump, so I climbed the tree where the pump landed and brought it into the garage to remove the tube.

I think I avoided all the poison ivy.

While I removed the tube from the old pump, Luke prepared the surface for the new pump by scraping off the old gasket material. If you've ever changed a newborn baby's diaper, you'll understand the task that Luke faced, and also why I let him do that part.

The tube was held in place by a simple o-ring. Well, a simple o-ring and 10 years of road dirt, mud, tar, and other assorted nastiness. It was supposed to pull free, but of course, it didn't, and I resorted to brute force, grabbing some slip joint pliers and trying to twist it free. Then I jumped in Lissa's car and drove to the parts store for a new intake tube. They don't twist really well, but they crush flat in a heart beat.

Meanwhile, back at the house, Luke finished scraping the seating surface, and we were ready to start putting things together, which was good because we were running out of daylight. Assembly was in reverse order of disassembly, and everything went together just as well as it came apart, which was no big surprise. I dropped a bolt from the new water pump and it fell between the radiator and the the thing in front of the radiator that looks like a radiator and isn't really. or maybe the truck has dual radiators; I don't know. But where the bolt fell, there was no way to reach it. We wound up picking up a random piece of rebar and using it to probe the small gap and managed to knock the bolt free without doing too much damage to the radiator.

Slowly but surely, piece by piece, we reassembled the truck into something similar to the way it was before I started. The last step was to install the new serpentine belt, which again involved the no longer razor sharp fan blades, and the labyrinth of pulleys and tensioners. At last the job was done, and it was time to refill the cooling system with fresh antifreeze and water.

When I bought my supplies, I paid a couple of extra dollars for the low toxicity anitfreeze. It's propylene glycol, instead of ethylene, and it has a bitter agent that is supposed to keep dogs from drinking it. I tasted it myself, and it is pretty nasty. If it keeps my dogs healthy, it's worth the extra couple of bucks.

Luke filled up the radiator and I started the truck and we waited for it to heat up. As far as I could tell, there were no leaks, and the truck ran as well as before, and seemingly a bit quieter as well. I'll know more in a couple of days, but for right now, I think I've got a good truck again.

So in the end, I spent 5 hours doing a job a mechanic could have done in 2 hours tops, collected several new and interesting scars, and saved about $150. On the other hand, if I had worked at a paying job for 5 hours I would have made $150, and had no scars, and no grease and oil under my fingernails. (If my mom saw my fingernails right now, she wouldn't let me eat at the table for a week.) I also have a sore back, cramps in my hamstrings, a mild concussion, and my fiance says I'm too smelly to kiss.

But I also have the deep soul satisfying satisfaction of doing the job myself, and that's worth, well, that's worth something. Not a lot, but something anyway.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Just When I Start to Take Things Too Seriously

Along comes this gem from the Volokh Conspiracy.

A throwaway post on Schoolhouse Rock becomes one of the best riffs on campaign ads I've ever seen.

Go read it.


Posted by Rich
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Thursday, September 18, 2008

CEO vs President

Apparently somebody said that Sarah Palin, along with every other Presidential candidate, wouldn't make a good CEO, and there are a lot of folks who seem to think, and I mean that literally, that this means she is unqualified to be President.

Hmmm. Where to start?

How about with Ken Lay? (Enron)
Bernard Ebbers? (WorldCom)
Richard S. Fuld, Jr.? (Lehman)
Robert B. Willumstad? (AIG)
John Rigas? (Adelphia)

It appears that some big name CEOs aren't quite ready to play President either. How about Martha Stewart? She'd make a lovely President now wouldn't she? The WHite House would be decorated with impeccable taste, fully soundproofed to muffle the screaming fits of rage, and you can bet our intelligence services would be well funded.

Well, the Wall Street branches anyway.

Or how about Bill Gates? We'd get a new and improved version of the Constitution every three to seven years. Of course, we'd have to patch it 12 times and it wouldn't work well with older documents like the Bill of Rights, and security leaks would be nightmarish, but the blue screen of death might become a desirable feature, particularly when Congress is in session.

Or maybe Ben Cohen of Ben and Jerry's fame. The White House would smell like fresh baked waffles, the bitterness would be removed from Congress by quarts of New York Super Fudge Chunk, and labor unions would flourish across the land.

Except in Ben and Jerry's factories, where unions are not allowed.

Yes, CEO's would make for wonderful Presidents. A Harvard MBA is all the education you need to know when to deploy the military. A degree in Finance certainly qualifies you to negotiate arms reduction treaties. And I can't think of any better preparation for holding the nuclear trigger in your hand than a background in buying and selling computer code.

Sorry folks, but the comparison stinks. The jobs are too different. Being a CEO is one small piece of the President's job, and that means a Presidential candidate cannot afford to specialize to the extent a good CEO does. It's just that simple.

Posted by Rich
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Monday, September 15, 2008

The Political Chicken

Citizen NetMom posts one of the funnier things I've seen in a while. I've seen earlier versions, but the additions for this election cycle are excellent.
Why did the chicken cross the road?

BARACK OBAMA: The chicken crossed the road because it was time for a change! The chicken wanted change!

JOHN MC CAIN: My friends, that chicken crossed the road because he recognized the need to engage in cooperation and dialogue with all the chickens on the other side of the road.

And my own small addition:

SARAH PALIN: The chicken didn't make it across the road. I shot it, cleaned it, cooked it, and had it for Sunday dinner.

UPDATE: From Manish JOE BIDEN: I bloodied the chicken's nose.

Posted by Rich
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Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Remake I Want to See

It's a mashup between two documentaries. The War Room, and Spinal Tap. Set on the Obama campaign trail and starring

Barack Obama as David St. Hubbins. After all, Obama is pitching himself as an unusual saint, so why not?
Hillary Clinton as Nigel TufnelTheir love/hate relationship drives the story.
Al Gore as Derek SmallsBecause global warming will leave us all like lukewarm water.
David Plouffe as Ian FaithUnsung hero of the show. He's the adult in a room of children.
Nancy Pelosi as Jeanine PettiboneBecause I'm pretty sure she's got dubly in it somewhere.
Michael Moore as Marti DiBurgiBecause he's made a career out of fake documentaries. It should come naturally to him.
Keith Olbermann as Artie FufkinBecause who wouldn't want to watch Olbermann begging to get his ass kicked?
Bill Clinton as Mick ShrimptonBecause as long as he has sex and drugs, he can skip the rock and roll as well.
Howard Dean as Peter James BondBecause blowing up onstage comes naturally to him.
Joe Biden as Joe Mama BesserAnother in an endless stream of faceless replaceable parts

Yeah, I'd pay money to see that one...

Posted by Rich
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Monday, September 08, 2008

Fun With Telemarketers

The phone rang.


I picked it up.

"Molowackabesai?" I said.

A gentleman with a decidedly unAmerican accent was on the other end.

"Hello. Are you to be speaking of English?"

"Nolo mackarie inno English a besai moba," I said in an excited voice.

"Ahhh, you speak Djabootie! Mola wamba tu meko alska!!"


I was on vacation in a rental beach house early in June when the phone rang, and I knew it couldn't be for me, so I decided to have a little fun with the telemarketer. You can imagine how stunned I was when the guy on the other end apparently understood my gibberish. Not wanting to waste anymore time on the call, and afraid that I might accidentally say something to offend the fellow, I hung up.

The phone rang again, not 2 minutes later.


I picked it up.

A recorded voice, filled with concern for my well being, said, "Hello, my name is Rob, and our research shows that you have over $10,000 in unsecured credit card debt and you are about to go delinquent, which will cost you thousands of dollars in penalties, and negatively affect your credit rating. Fortunately, we've caught this in time. Give us a call at 1-800-555-1234 and we can take steps now to correct this situation for you. Again, the number is 1-800-555-1234."

The recording ended and the call disconnected.

I was alarmed. I mean how did they know I owed over $10,000 in credit card debt? How did they know I was about to default? How did they know that the man was coming for me and it was only a matter of time before my life was ruined? More importantly, how did they know which beach house in which Florida city I'd rented for that very weekend?

These guys must have been living in my pocket.

I called the number, and when the young fellow picked up, I said in a very urgent tone, "I need to speak to Rob right away!"

"Do you have a case number with us?"

"I don't know! I just got a call from Rob that says I owe more than $10,000 and I'm about to default on it and I need to find out what's going on!"

"Well, Rob's not here right now, but I might be able to help you."

"OK, well somebody needs to help me. I have no idea what is going on!"

"That's alright sir, my name is Neal, and we're here to help. So, how much to you owe?"

I replied in a puzzled tone, "How much do I owe who?"

The young man seemed confused. "How much do you owe in general."

I gave it right back to him. "Hey, you called me first and told me I owed more than $10,000. That's why I called you. You're the ones who know what I owe. Ask Rob about it. He seemed to know more about my finances than I do. Don't you people talk to each other there?"

The young man was even more confused. Apparently we were way off script so he decided to try and reboot.

"Sir, how much do you owe on your credit cards?"

I wasn't going to give him anything. "What credit cards?"

"The cards with the debt you are calling about." He sounded even more unsure of himself.

I put an edge in my voice. "The card I am calling about? You called me first! Rob said I owe more than $10,000 and I need to find out what he was talking about. Look, he called not 5 minutes ago, so I know he has to be there, so put him on the phone. He seems to be the only one there who knows what is going on!"

"Sir, nobody named Rob works here in this call center, but I'm certain I can help you if you'll just answer a few basic questions..."

"Nobody named Rob works there? Then who called me five minutes ago to tell me I owed $10,000 and that I'm about to go into default, and why would he give me your phone number? Come to think of it, a few minutes ago, you told me he was gone for the day! Are you lying to me? Does he work there or not?"

The guy is obviously ratttled now. "Sir, that call you got was an automated call sent out as a service by our company to help people who are overwhelmed by debt and..."

I interrupted. "You mean that that call goes out randomly?"

"Yes sir. It's provided as a free service to our customers."

"So if it goes out randomly, then you really have no way of knowing what my financial situation is do you?"

"No sir." I could almost see him beaming as he thought I was finally seeing the light. "That's why I need to ask these questions to see exactly where you stand financially."

"I see, so I really don't owe $10,000 right now?"

"I have no way of knowing that sir, until you tell me."

I was through toying with him. "So what's really going on here is your marketing team is sending out recorded phone calls designed to scare the crap out of people in hopes that they will use your services, is that about right?"

He stammered more than Barack Oba'ma when speaking without a teleprompter, "Err....uhmmm...well...." click.

Who says you can't have fun with telemarketers?

Posted by Rich
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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Like He Needs the Traffic

But this is too funny not to link

Posted by Rich
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Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Post in Which I Say Something Good About Stacy Campfield

This is a funny joke.

Posted by Rich
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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

The First Fight of the Presidential Campaign

The sun had barely set on the Democratic Primary Race, and already, Sen. Obama and McCain were battling. The issue...

Who gets Hillary as their VP.

McCain needs her to cement his image as a spineless RINO bridge building maverick, and Obama needs her as a life insurance policy.

The two Presidential candidates lost no time in beginning to suck up to Sen. Clinton, who lapped up the attention like Scarlett O'Hara at the Twelve Oaks barbecue. Sen. McCain, speaking in New Orleans yesterday, said
Senator Clinton has earned great respect for her tenacity and courage. The media often overlooked how compassionately she spoke to the concerns and dreams of millions of Americans, and she deserves a lot more appreciation than she sometimes received. As the father of three daughters, I owe her a debt for inspiring millions of women to believe there is no opportunity in this great country beyond their reach. I am proud to call her my friend.

Obama was quick to plant his own smooches at the belle of the ball's feet.
I want to publicly acknowledge Hillary Clinton for the outstanding race that she has run," he said. "She is a true friend of Israel. She is a great Senator from New York. She is an extraordinary leader of the Democratic Party, and she has made history alongside me over the last 16 months. So I am very proud to have competed against her.

As for Sen. Clinton, she just batted her eyelashes, let out a "fiddle dee dee" followed by a genteel giggle, and asked for another plate of barbecue.

On a more serious note, I don't understand why folks are assuming McCain will choose a running mate who will bolster his conservative credentials. After all, conventional wisdom says that in a Presidential election, you run to your base during the primary, then to the center for the general election. McCain ran so far to the middle during the primary season, the only people out there further to the left are Democrats like Lieberman, Obama, and, you guessed it, Hillary Clinton.

Posted by Rich
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Saturday, April 19, 2008

This is a Joke, Right?

Brian is shocked at the depths of depravity exhibited by the News Sentinel and Michael Silence.
To the contrary, the News-Sentinel continues to lower its standards, led by none other than the News-Sentinel's standard bearer of working with on the Internet, Michael Silence.

Three obscenities in one sentence! Just when you think the News-Sentinel can't go any lower, they continue to stoop lower and lower.

Wow. It must have been a really bad post. Here is the post, in its entirety:
TV, Tweeter and Tweets and being a smart ass

The only thing better than sitting on the couch and making smart ass comments while watching the debates is sitting on the couch making smart ass comments while watching the debates and watching everyone else make smart ass comments.

Apparently, Brian finds the word ass obscene, which is interesting since the word obscenity specifically refers to things which appeal solely to the prurient interests. In other words, it makes you feel funny down there.

At the worst, Michael can be accused of copying a vulgarity. A vulgarity in common usage in our schools, (Oh, the children!) on playgrounds and in gymnasiums all over the country. A vulgarity which appears in the Bible some 90 times.(Gasp!)

How asinine!

Posted by Rich
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