In short, one might conclude that all knowledge, wisdom, and wit are confined to those who inhabit New York City, Washington DC, or Hollywood.
I am now in my 6th decade of life experience - which was gained in many cities in the U.S. and in about 30 foreign countries.That experience has included the U.S. Marines, law school, the ATF, the CIA, Fortune 500 executive, writer, public speaker, educator, editor, and publisher - for openers. For over 20 years, I have written articles off and on for various magazines and newspapers. I've had an enormous number of letters published in major national publications. The Outback is the rural area in Northeast Texas where I have lived for the past 11 years. I will attempt to post a new set of musings from the Outback about every other Saturday.
Women in Austin, Texas, are planning a demonstration where they will bare their breasts at a city intersection. It is a protest against some crackdowns on exposing breasts in public, which are alleged to have created breaches of the peace in New Orleans during Madris Gras, for example. The police have agreed to allow the event to take place between 11 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. I hope that the ladies have a screening committee, or it could get ugly. And it has been near freezing around midnight in Texas in recent weeks. That ought to mean there will be lots of perky breasts on display. I won't drive to Austin for the event, but I will buy the video. Probably some cop will be selling them (under an assumed name), don't you imagine? Or a UT student will post a streaming-video version on the Web.
CBS is going to air a program featuring footage shot inside the World Trade Center towers as the South tower collapsed. Some think we have had enough images of the disaster. I look forward to the special. Americans have short memories and are impatient. Many are no doubt getting complacent as the war in Afghanistan appears to have been won. But, there are about 30 other countries where terrorists are hard at work, planning and plotting. Perhaps we need another reminder of what the war on terror is all about - just like we would get a booster shot for an earlier vaccination. Maybe we constantly need a "terrorism booster shot" to stay focused. If all that entails are some graphic images, and not more attacks, we should be thankful.
For about 20 years I have been watching the interplay between Pat Sajak and Vanna White on "Wheel of Fortune." It seems obvious to me that Vanna adores Pat. She was married for a while, but I think she is now single. I don't Read "People" or the tabloids, so I am out of the celebrity-gossip loop. Pat married a cutie-pie model years ago. Lately, I have seen a new dynamic between Pat and Vanna. It is subtle and may only be at the behest of the producers to "pay more attention to Vanna." But there are subtle hand touches, and interesting comments by Pat - like "We all love you.... You are a beautiful person ...." and so on. If it turns out that Pat and Vannah are having an affair, or that Pat leaves his wife for Vanna, my instincts will be vindicated. Otherwise, I am delusional, as usual. Pat has to be careful. Vanna has the Clap. The cure, however, is not a 7-day dose of Tetracycline, but to handcuff her. Pay attention.
A poll showed that about 80% of Ivy League college professors voted Democrat and were liberals. Only 3% said they were Republicans. What have I been telling you? These are many of the "experts" the liberal TV media trot out when they want to have a "balanced discussion" on an issue. Hillary, there is a "vast left-wing conspiracy in academia, Eastern academia in particular, and in the mainstream media." Somebody said the poll sample was too small and was not a true reflection of the makeup of academia. Fine. Take a larger poll. The results might be 90%. Would you be happy then?
For about $3,500 you can buy a heart defibrillator for your home, office, or car. You know of the device from all the TV medical shows where they put the paddles on people's chests. The heart is shocked back into action. For a moment, I thought I might get on the Web and check out one of these gadgets to have around the house. But, you don't need one unless your heart stops. You will be unconscious. How does an unconscious person apply the paddles to himself or herself? You don't. If you are alone, you die. Since I live alone, as do millions of other seniors, that was a comforting thought. Explain the problem to Grandma if she asks for a defibber for her birthday. One more reason not to live alone!
In the Outback for Nov. 10, 2001, I mentioned the inordinate number of jail breaks that take place in Texas. In 2001, 56 inmates broke out of county jails in Texas. The other night, cops and the FBI in Oklahoma captured four escapees from a Texas jail to the west of me. Two were convicted murderers. The media reports are muddled about how the fuzz came to know that the escapees were using a pay phone outside a convenience store in Southern Oklahoma. It appears that there was a wire tap on the home of a friend or relative of one of the escapees and that led to the pay phone. I sure hope that no innocent people's civil rights were violated by a phone tap - to catch these murderers. The ACLU better get on this right away. Put me down in the "my phone was not tapped" column, since I do not harbor or consort with escaped murderers.
A House subcommittee was grilling John Magaw, the newly-appointed Undersecretary for Transportation Security at DOT. I praised John's past work in my Outback for Dec. 29, 2001. John has been given unprecedented authority and leeway by the legislation that created his position. He was implored by the chairman to cut the red tape, ignore letters and pressures from committee members, and not let there be a "feeding frenzy" with respect to the contracts that would be let for airport screening equipment. That is the good news. The bad news is that the overall questions that were asked of Undersecretary Magaw were inane, uninformed, posturing to constituents about "their safety being paramount, regardless of cost" and general drivel. I have great faith in John Magaw. Now, his big challenge is to have as little to do as he can in publicly- televised discourse with the House subcommittee that oversees his department. They really make us look inept. And they talk too much in public about our plans.
Need a watch? Try www.wristwatch.com , where I have now bought two watches. They have a huge inventory, and they send you e-mails at every step of the confirmation and shipping process. It appears to be a first-class operation.
On my main Web page is a story about me flying a privately-owned Cessna 182 in Laos in the middle of the Secret War there. Incredibly, I got an e-mail from a fellow in California whose father was a missionary in Thailand and had been involved with the man who did the conversions on the aircraft before it went to Laos. He had read my story. The attachment to his e-mail was a photo of "my" airplane in Laos, with the tail number 49R. I had no photo of my own of the aircraft, or if I did I lost it. Man, is this a small world. (See Fascinating Odyssey on my Web page.)
I got an e-mail from a fellow who is writing a novel about the war in Laos, and he said he planned to incorporate into his novel a fictionalized version of some of my experiences that he found on my Web page. No problem for me. Again, small world.
After reading about all the viruses and worms that can get into your computer and send information outbound, I deleted all credit-card account numbers from Quicken 2002. There is no need for them there, other than maybe about four characters to differentiate two cards from the same bank. I have Zone Alarm Pro and Norton AntiVirus. But why have things on your computer that you do not need and that are an inviting target for hackers?
The portly Wilford Brimley was mentioned as a poor spokesperson for diabetic supplies in the Outback some time back and then "Saturday Night Live" did a brutal takeoff on his comments about "watching his diet and exercising." Now, Wilford is in a new commercial for the diabetic supplies. There is no mention of watching his diet or exercising. The dolts in Hollywood do pay attention sometimes. Although, the old commercial continues to run now and then.
Along with President Bush and Donald Rumsfeld, my newest "straight-talking" hero is Hamid Karzia, the interim Chairman of the government in Afghanistan. Asked about a suggestion in Congress that aid to Afghanistan be tied to their stomping out the Opium-poppy growth, Chairman Karzia bristled. He said that his country did not need or want aid with conditions being attached to that aid. It says that the U.S. does not trust the Afghans to carry out their promises. Karzai pointed out that his people need to get back to growing food crops. The farmers get paid very little for the poppies. Only the drug traffickers make any money. "We used to grow some of the finest fruits and other crops and need to get back to that." "We," he said, "will take care of the poppy growing." Here is a man who has been to Hell and back several times. It would be amusing to see some coddled Congressman - who has never missed a meal or had the house colder or warmer than 82 degrees - think that he might win a verbal joust with the indomitable Hamid Karzai.
Everybody Needs a Break Now and Then
Meet a would-be Texas Goat Roper. A couple of weeks ago, while trying to catch a baby goat that had gotten into my yard (to return it to my neighbor's pasture), my ailing Achilles tendon let go, triggering a massive tear of my calf muscle and I fell flat on my face, banging up my ribs in the process. Oh, that I knew how to "rope a goat." If that darling little goat comes back, there will be an Afghan Luau at my house. I hope PETA reads this.
I took a vacation from writing the Outback. In part, I was getting more and more angry at people in the news, to a level where I was having unhealthy thoughts about sending threatening letters to various people. Since I served my country with some minor distinction in several capacities, and am too old to go to jail for the first time, I quit watching the news on TV or reading any news for a couple of weeks - other than about health and computers. Ignorance is truly bliss.
I had become livid with the whiners who were criticizing the treatment of the detainees at Camp X-Ray. We all now know that they have it made in the shade. We should all get such a nice vacation in Cuba. Prisoners in Afghanistan are asking to be sent to Cuba's Club-prison Med.
I was mad as hell with the management at TV stations who would not let their on-air people wear American flag pins on the grounds that it might reflect on their objectivity. I noticed that the President wore a flag pin during his state of the union speech. Good for him. Brit Hume on Fox wears one. Good for him.
I was incensed that the father of John Walker, the American Taliban, came on TV and repeatedly told us how much John loved America (I saw that on Leno's show, while not watching news.)
Now, John Walker's attorney has asked that he be set free on bail pending his trial. That's a cool idea. In that way little Johnny might never have to stand trial, for obvious reasons. He would be a lot safer in jail. Predictably, the judge said, "No way, Jose," to letting Taliban John wander around pending his trial. The media has metamorphosed Walker in his published photos from the filthy, unkempt Taliban fighter to a nearly clean-shaven All-American boy. What's next? Will our liberal media dig up a picture of John in the uniform of an Eagle Scout? And the legal posturing has started. Poor Johnny was denied his rights in Afghanistan - where he was questioned without a lawyer present. Who cares? I know that lawyers have a reputation for chasing ambulances, but they have not sunken to hanging out in war zones hoping to hand out their business cards to American traitors.
When I think about some of the preposterous statements and requests made by attorneys defending accused terrorists, like let Johnny Walker out on bail and televise the Moussaoui trial (even though it is against the law to do so in a Federal court), I liked what Jay Leno said. He commented that the lawyers were working on a new, updated, code of ethics. He said this surprised him, as he did not know they had a code of ethics.
I was going to pull all my past columns and say the hell with it, this is all too much grief, especially at these prices. Then, I got an e-mail from a fellow in Taiwan. He thanked me for my insights and for "telling it like it is." He said that all he sees there is CNN and my column helps him put events into perspective. There have been other similar e-mails, but that one got my attention.
So, I will try to keep reasonably calm, not threaten too many people with bodily harm, and see if I can get back to digesting the news of the world without getting an ulcer, soaring blood pressure, a heart attack, or a stroke. And those are real dangers at my age from just watching the evening news! Let alone the Congressional hearings on C-SPAN. I made the mistake of watching (at midnight) the CIA director testify. I could not get to sleep until about 3 a.m. due to his litany of all the problems we and other nations face from terrorism, et al.
Sen. Daschle Keeps Digging a Bigger Hole for Himself
In the Jan. 12, 2002 Outback, I was very critical of Sen. Tom Daschle. I am not alone. He seems to be striking an "unresponsive chord" among many. There is a "Dump Daschle" Web site (www.dumpdaschle.org). Contributions are coming in from all over, even from Hawaii.
Buried in a discussion of how much information the Windows XP activations sends to Microsoft, Dr. Emilio Bombay, writing in the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram said: "Microsoft says that no information about your or your software or any of you data (credit-card numbers, dirty pictures, threatening letters to Tom Daschle and so on) is transmitted." (Emphasis added by me.)
Sen. Daschle says he has the floor votes to block any amendments to the energy bill that would allow oil drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge - ANWR. I have followed the ANWR debate closely, and have written about it. If you had seen the thoughtful and well- documented presentation on the Senate floor - in favor of the drilling - by one of Alaska's senators, and if you consider the implications of dependence on foreign oil during this time of condemnation of the U.S. in the Arab world, it is hard to imagine any real argument against drilling in ANWR. The Caribou will be fine, you weenies.
Public support continues to grow for the approval of the ANWR drilling. The public is not stupid, but Congress seems to want to prove that it is. Somehow the environmental extremists seem to continue their stranglehold on Democrats. Barbra Streisand, Bill Maher (the traitor), Ted Danson, Brad Pitt, John Travolta, and other Hollywood environmental experts are against the drilling. That ought to be enough of a reason to drill.
A new poll indicates that at least half of the people in S. Dakota think Sen. Daschle is more interested in pleasing the national Democratic Party than those in his home state. What did I tell you a few weeks ago? The poll said that if Daschle ran for President today, he would lose overwhelmingly in S. Dakota! The respondents said that Bush would get 54% of their vote and Daschle would get only 31%. Remember, this is his home state. I predicted that he had not the slightest chance of becoming President in the next election, regardless of who the Republican candidate might be. Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee in the last election. What is it with these Democrats that they alienate the very people whom they represent or represented in Congress?
"Boston Public" on FOX Under Fire
Several Christian and conservative groups complained to the FCC about the FOX show "Boston Public." Their problem is largely with some of the sexual themes among the students in the fictional high school - and/or among the faculty. I loved this show from the start. Maybe if some parents watched the show and asked their kids, "Is stuff like that happening at your school?" they might get a better handle on the reality of what teenagers are doing in school these days.
Interestingly, I had already quit watching "Boston Public." I sent the creator and brilliant writer, David E. Kelley, a letter in which I said I had all I could take of the lady with the artificial hand. The subject has been used solely for shock and titillation value. I found it repugnant and offensive to handicapped people. No, not physically challenged. Handicapped. That's what the parking spaces say. Get real, you PC people.
I also told David I was no longer going to watch "Ally McBeal." In one recent scene, Ally bent over on the street and smelled the rear end of a man who was bending over. Good grief, David. What is the matter with you? Mr. Kelley is married to Michelle Phieffer. Really! On a recent appearance with Jay Leno, Michelle said that she and David sometimes watch his shows together. She has said to him, "David, you have gone too far...." Exactly. Tell him, dear. You can find Mr. Kelley's address in my "Media List."
Speaking English is Often a Fuzzy Concept
The other day, I called the phone company to cancel one of my phone lines. It was a gut-wrenching experience. First, the voice messages and long, long series of keypunches to get to the right party. Then, when the rep came on, I had great difficulty understanding her. At one point, she read me a prepared script of some length. I was as polite and soft-spoken as I could be. "I am sorry," I said, "I did not understand anything you read to me." We finally agreed on the gist of what she had read and moved on. My guess is that she was black. Oh, don't start. She could have been Indian, Pakistania, Korean, Mexican, Vietnamese, or whatever. Same problem. My point of this discourse is that "speaking English" requires more than learning some words. In order to compete in the market place and even in social settings, one should try to speak with as little accent as possible. And enunciate!
I have lived, worked, or traveled in about 30 countries and the majority of the states in the United States. When I lived in Europe, I could get around in Spanish, French, German, and Italian - with very little American accent. In addition, I speak regularly via ham radio with people in dozens of different countries, all of whom speak English on the radio. So, I think I qualify as an "accent expert."
There is a "standard" American speech pattern. It is spoken by most radio and TV announcers and some on-air personalities. It is nearly completely devoid of regional influences. Listen to Edd Hall on the "Tonight" show and others. Can you tell where they are from by their accents? I doubt it. There are exceptions. Peter Jennings, who is from Canada, still says "aboot" for about, and "dullar" for dollar, for example. You guessed it. I have pointed this out to him - to no avail.
There is a trend among many young people to speak very rapidly and to clip their words, rather like we used to joke about the "Valley Girls" in southern California. I order a lot of stuff over the phone. Half of the time, it is a struggle to finish the transaction. I end up repeating stock numbers to ensure that I am getting through and ask the person to read me back the item and the stock number, and so on. Something interesting. I carefully and slowly read my credit-card number and seldom do they read it back to me for confirmation. They understand me - the first time. Well, there is this problem with things addressed to Honney Grove and Hunny Grove instead of Honey Grove.
Most of you will not remember this, but when O.J. Simpson first became a TV sports color commentator, he was nearly totally incomprehensible. You guessed it. I wrote the network and suggested remedial speech lessons for him. He got them, and over the years became quite the articulate - and understandable - guy. A real charmer, right? Mary Matalin, the brilliant political strategist, who now works for V.P. Dick Cheney, had a TV program called "Equal Time." Mary spoke through nearly clenched teeth and was nearly incomprehensible. I quit watching the show. You guessed it. I wrote the show's producer and suggested remedial speech lessons for Mary. Today, Mary is no Demosthenes, but you can at least understand her.
When I met my future wife in a class as the University of Minnesota, I was surprised to learn that she was from a very small town in Texas. She had no Texas accent. She explained that when she worked in a bank in Minneapolis, she got teased about her accent. She got rid of it by practice. Anybody can speak clearly, without an accent, if they care to. Just listen to other people and mimic them. Parrots can do that! There is no hope for Henry Kissinger, of course. In contrast, the lady I call most often when I need computer parts is Chinese by birth and works in California. But, she speaks like a college professor. Much better to talk with her than with some "Valley Girl" who sounds like a tape recording made on a tape with a lot of bad spots and being played in fast forward.
Many of my ham-radio friends in Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, Bulgaria, Estonia, Costa Rica, Brazil, Siberia, and on and on, speak English with virtually no accent. Some apologize for their "English." I tell them, "Hey, no problem. You speak better English that a lot of Americans." Of course, the British speak with a British accent. What would you expect? Most of the French hams I know speak with a French accent. What would you expect? The point is, if some guy in a small town in Siberia can learn to speak nearly unaccented English, is it too much to ask of the folks at the phone company or a major catalog-sales company?
Pay attention to Dr. Condy Rice (Ph.D. doctor), the black National Security Advisor and Colin Powell. Listen to J.C. Watts, the black congressman. They are eloquent and unaccented in their speech. Compare them to Jesse Jackson (old mushmouth) - who claims to be speaking for blacks. Very interesting. Listen to other "minorities" with high-profile jobs, both in and out of government. There ain't a lot of ghetto talk in their speech. Listen to Hamid Karzai, the interim Chairman of the Afghan government. If he can speak English so well, how come the clerk at 7- Eleven is often relegated to sign language and sentence fragments? Too damn lazy to learn. It's that simple.
Sometimes I buy wine at a store owned by a Vietnamese family. The daughter is fluent in English and has virtually no accent - and is a charming girl. Mom and Pop seem to know about one-dozen words of English. I know that if I say, "Do you have....?" either parent will say, "I get daughter. You wait." One of the reasons I learned as many phrases as I could in several languages while living overseas was that I felt isolated and alone unless I could carry out rudimentary tasks and requests in the local language. I do not understand why anyone comes to this country and has no interest in learning English. "I get daughter. You wait." What a hell of a way to have to live.
My favorite accents are those from the East Coast, especially from New York City, Brooklyn, et al. There are sub-cultures within sub-cultures. They all understand each other, I guess. Rudy Giuliani has no pronounced accent. Hmmmm. When I worked as a Federal agent in N. Carolina, my two associates were from Alabama and Georgia. You would think that as a Yankee, I would have been the source of local ridicule. But, many times I had a local bootlegger, who was being spoken to by one of my associates, take me aside. "What was he trying to tell me? Dick" Priceless.
So, the debate rolls on about "English Only" requirements in various work places on in government documents, etc. But, that is only part of the battle. I repeat my favorite story about accents. President Johnson was making a short speech on the grounds of the American Embassy in Brussels. I heard one fellow turn to another and ask, "Does the President speak any other language?" The reply. "Hell, he doesn't even speak good English."
A success story. During the Cold War, I struck up a friendship on ham radio with a young man in Estonia. His English was so good that I thought he was an American living in Estonia, but he was a native. When I asked him how he got so fluent and without a trace of an accent, his reply was simply, "listening to you guys." He meant listening to American ham-radio operators. At that time, the Russians occupied Estonia and he worked in a chicken-wire factory. Years later, after some study about computers, he landed a job in Helsinki (he also spoke Finnish and Russian) with a company that did computer factory automation work. During an assignment in the U.S., he and his wife came and spent a few days in my home.
Recently, I was talking with a friend in Estonia and he said that my good friend had gotten a job with one of the largest electronics firms in the world and had been assigned to a project in Israel for a year. I sent an e-mail to his address in Helsinki and in a few days back came a message from Israel. Yep, he was there for about a year - no doubt on a high-paying project. Here was a kid who worked in a chicken-wire factory in Soviet-occupied Estonia when I met him. In large part due to his self-taught fluency in English, and also being very smart, he had worked in Helsinki, done trade shows in Moscow, an important assignment in the U.S., and now the assignment in Israel. My pride in him and his story is unbounded.
While the lovely and gracious First Lady is working on reading programs, she might consider adding a program: "Speaking English so that it can be understood." Those who mangle and mumble the language are destined to stay in low-paying jobs - I'm pretty sure. They may not even get past the job interview. Unless you are a sports hero or a political genius.
The American Red Cross Needs A Complete Overhaul
Okay folks, this charade has gone on for decades. It is time to insist that the American Red Cross reorganize, stop living so high on the hog, and do a better job at disbursing donated funds for the purposes they were intended.
We all now know that the Red Cross took in $850 million for the Liberty Disaster Relief Fund for the victims of Sept. 11. They made an in-house decision to disperse only part of the money to the victims of the September 11, 2001 tragedies. Donors found out and many demanded their money back if the donations were not explicitly used for the Sept. 11 victims. After much media exposure and pressure, the Red Cross said they had made a mistake in judgement in setting aside part of the funds for future contingencies. The president of the Red Cross resigned. They finally agreed to disburse 90% all of the money collected in the name of Sept. 11 victims to the victims and families by Sept. 11, 2002.
Some of the disbursements are raising eyebrows. The WSJ reports (Feb. 7, 2002) that some of the funds are being given out to those in the Tribeca area of Manhattan, which is near the WTC site. One lady was forced to move (presumably from the soot and ash, etc. fallout from WTC) and spend 10 days with relative and friends. She did not lose her job nor did she have a family member die in the WTC collapse. Only in the most generous of definitions is she a "victim" of Sept. 11. She figured she was out about $4,000 for increased day-care fees, acupuncture, psychological counseling, etc. The Red Cross gave her $6,500. The Red Cross is going door-to- door looking for people who think they might be "victims."
In Tribeca, new property owners' average income is upward of $417,000 (that would be for each year, not a lifetime). The average apartment rents for $3,600 a month (more than most monthly incomes here in the Outback). About half the people in the area approached by the Red Cross say they don't need the money! I would think not. This will not be the last we hear of the strange practices of the Red Cross in doling out money in New York. They actually collected too much. That they are going around paying people who only lived in the WTC neighborhood for acupuncture expenses is just a hint of how desperate the Red Cross is to make sure they "spend" all the money they collected.
The Red Cross ran expensive TV commercials telling the American people what a great job the Red Cross was doing in helping the Sept. 11 disaster victims. Was this a proper use of "charitable" funds? Some victims could have better used that money.
The Web site of the San Diego Chapter of the Red Cross has an apology on it for the way they handled the contributions that came in after "The Alpine Fire." It was apparently another case of collection too much money for the apparent needs and dispersing funds in questionable ways. (Go read it yourself at: www.sdarc.org)
Somebody ran a TV report about the lady who heads the San Diego branch of the Red Cross. With salary and benefits, she makes about $300,000 a year! In a report (www.give.org) for the Red Cross for July 2000, it is noted that the CEO for the Red Cross of the Southeast Pennsylvania Chapter was paid $281,575. Wow. What must the total payroll be for the entire executive staff nationwide? Makes you think about that 20 bucks you gave to the Red Cross, doesn't it? It bears repeating. This is a charitable organization, not a FORTUNE 500 company.
In the national report, they took in $2,475,197,000. That is nearly 2.5 Billion! They have 32,390 paid staff. The pie chart indicates that 83% of funds went for programs and Administration was only 5%. I would love to see how the precise expenditures for "Programs" and "Administration" are documented. I am willing to bet there are some imaginative (possibly/probably legal) accounting practices used in those calculations. Maybe they use the ENRON accounting firm.
Here is an example of the kind of accounting jargon I mean. The pie chart shows that only 4% of income is spent on fund raising. In the text we find: "Fund raising costs were 11% of related contributions." (Related contributions are donations received as a result of fund-raising activities.) So, I guess that means if you count the total donations, many of which are grants, from the United Way, etc., then fund raising was only 4% of that total.
One only has to look at the trappings to get an idea of where a lot of money goes. Have you ever noticed what nice offices they have and the fleets of high-dollar cars, vans and so on? The Red Cross travels first class - likely on a par with corporate America. It would be interesting to see the expense accounts of employees and managers. I will bet there is not a Motel 6 receipt in there.
My distrust of the Red Cross goes way back to my days in the U.S. Marines, in the early 1950's. I remember our platoon Sergeant standing at the pay table, where we were paid in cash, and threatening us with bodily harm if we gave anything to the Red Cross who had a table nearby. He would recite a litany of times when the Red Cross had failed to help Marine families in need.
In the WSJ for February 4th, 2002, there is a letter from A. Vogel of White Plains, New York. He noted that as a GI in Germany, in the dead of winter, the Red Cross would show up at the training site and sell coffee and doughnuts for five-cents a piece. There are literally tens of thousands of such stories of the lack of "charity" by the Red Cross. Somehow, they have always enjoyed a sacrosanct position in American thought and culture. They have wonderful PR.
Sure the Red Cross does much good work, with blood collection, and providing on-site relief at disasters. But, if the nitty-gritty were known of how they spend the hundreds of millions of dollars they collect, my guess is that it would outrage the American public. Where are the new Woodward and Bernsteins of journalism? Get on this.
At www.give.org, there is a report on the Salvation Army, (USA Financial) which is for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2000. They show $2,792,816,000 in income! Holy Toledo. That is more than the Red Cross, unless I am having a senior moment with my sea of paper. The CEO of the Salvation Army was paid $87,470. The compensation of the lady at the Red Cross in San Diego is more than three times that. And she is just a local chapter head. Their pie chart shows Programs got 64% of the income, with Admin accounting for 9%, and fund raising only 3%. I do not have time to delve into why there is only 64% spent on programs. Not my job right now. Maybe later. They also show a 24% increase in assets (that portion of the assets remaining after expenses.) In other words, they have a chunk of dough in the bank or invested for a rainy day. Maybe that bankroll was too tempting for a former employee, who has been arrested for stealing $233,163 from the Salvation Army through the manipulation of a checking account. We live in tough times, with an FBI agent spying for the Russians, and a Salvation Army worker stealing more than $233,000 dollars.
Goodwill Industries takes in about $1,800,000,000 per year. (See www.goodwill.org) About 84% of revenues go directly into employment training programs for people with disabilities and other barriers to employment.
I have donated furniture and a microwave to the Salvation Army and many boxes of clothes to Goodwill Industries, but never a dime to the Red Cross. When I think of giving even a penny to an outfit that pays local chapter-heads upwards of $300,000 - for working in an organization that is supposed to help the needy, my scalp gets tight and my teeth begin to grind.
As usual, while prowling the bowels of the Web, I found some interesting associated facts. At www.charitywatch.org there is a list of the top 20 compensation packages in non-profit organizations. One guy got $1,784,777. The CEO of the YMCA got $349,650. The National Easter Seal CEO got $357,632. Check it out. It is incredible reading
Jason Alexander's Agent Talks With KFC
Agent: "We want Jason to represent KFC in commercials. He would be a natural."
KFC: "A natural what? He is a short, bald, pudgy guy with an annoying voice."
Agent: "But he was in 'Seinfeld' ...."
KFC: "And was the dullest one of the lot. Don't try to blow smoke up our ass, please."
Agent: "Yeah, but now he will be starring in his own new sitcom. There will be a tremendous amount of name recognition from that show."
KFC: "You mean like Kramer got when he had his own show?"
Agent: "That was unfortunate. Probably didn't have the right vehicle - or the right writers."
Agent: "Jason's show will be a big hit. The critics are already talking about it, before it airs."
KFC: "Mostly that it will bomb."
Agent: "Not going to happen. Trust me, it is like money in the bank, baby. Get on board now before his rate per commercial goes up."
KFC: "Okay. But if the Colonel were still alive, he would probably say 'there is no cotton-pickin' chicken-lickin' way this annoying guy can help us sell chicken.' "
Agent: "Sign here. You watch the boost you get when Jason's show is number one. You're getting a hellava bargain."
KFC: "Fine, but no more Seinfeld people. I don't care how good Julia Louis-Dreyfus is in her new show. She ain't selling KFC. Can't you find us a tall, thin black guy with a Ph.D. and a deep voice, or maybe get Gloria Estefan. Somebody that has real charisma."
Dragon NaturallySpeaking 6.0- Voice-Recognition Software
One of the reasons I wanted to build a powerful computer was to see if voice-recognition software could finally achieve its promise. With a 1.8 Gigahertz Pentium 4, 512 MB of DDR RAM memory, many GBytes of free hard disk space, and a fast ATA-133 hard drive interface, I felt I probably had the power I needed.
The parent company of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, headquartered in Belgium, has gone through some difficult financial times and scandals. So, I was a little hesitant to spend $165 for a new version of the software. They had no upgrade path for my version 5.0, Standard Edition. But, I bit the bullet and bought the current Preferred Edition.
So far, I am very impressed. With only about 25 minutes of voice training, it now seems to recognize my voice with incredible accuracy. And when it does type a wrong word, you can say "select" and say the word in question. It then offers you several suggestions of what you might have meant to say, and usually it has the right word in the list. If not, you can spell the right word or type it. So if choice No. 2 is the right one, you simply say "choose two." At that time, the correction is made, and the program "learns" what you actually said.
You do need a lot of memory to run this program. My diagnostic program shows that Dragon NaturallySpeaking uses about 100 MB of RAM memory! And, the program does not play well with some of the other children. When I left several of my Internet programs open in RAM, such as Ad-Subtract, Zone Alarm, and Norton AntiVirus, Dragon would lock up repeatedly and freeze the computer. That is understandable. You should not have programs running that are "servicing the memory or the disk in the background." Dragon needs the computers undivided attention. It does integrate into other programs, such as Word, WordPerfect, and Internet Explorer. I can even dictate e-mails in Eudora Pro 5.1. And as I dictated this last sentence, the program knew to put a hyphen in "e-mails." Pretty smart!
You can also access the menus by voice. For instance, I can say "Save Document," and the Save File screen comes up. I can give it the file name I want, and then I can say "Click Save" and it will save the file. There are so many capabilities that I have barely begun to explore the possibilities.
The way the program handles numbers, dates, and times is almost spooky. For instance, if I say "One hundred twenty nine dollars and fifty cents," it will type $129.50! If I say 9:30 PM, it knows to put the colon (:) in between the 9 and the 3. It understands fractions, the @ sign, the ? mark, and on and on. It is obvious that a great deal of work has gone into this program over the years. As you use the program, and continue to correct it when it doesn't type what you said, it performs a learning process. You can surf the Web using voice commands in Internet Explorer, but I am not yet that brave. I am liable to order a new computer by mistake.
When you come to something like an e-mail address, you can use the phonetic alphabet to dictate the address - such as Romeo Charlie Romeo will print out rcr (which is the first part of my address). If you want a word capitalized, you simply say "Cap." If you have a headline you can say "Caps On." Each Word Will Be Capitalized Until You Say "Caps Off." How does the program know which is a command and which is a piece of dictation? Very interesting.
In a menu, you can adjust the amount of pause time between words, so that the program will know that you're going to give it a command. For instance if I say "save document" - as part of a rapidly-spoken phrase - it types "save document." But, if I pause for just a little bit in my speaking - then say "Save Document," it will execute the Save command. In the same way, you can execute other commands. I preferred to add the word "Click" to my command structure - which is available as a menu choice. So, if I say "click start,"the Windows Start menu opens. I can say the name of most any program on the Start menu and it will execute - such as WordPerfect.
There is still a lot to learn, but I'm looking forward to transitioning from typing to speaking for all of my letters, articles, and for the material on my Web page. And I am surprised to tell you that in the last sentence the word "transitioning" was spelled correctly (even though WordPerfect's dictionary says it is not a word). This is a very smart program.
Dragon NaturallySpeaking uses a form of artificial intelligence to consider the context in which you speak. So, it actually likes you to speak rather rapidly in full phrases at a minimum, full sentences if you can manage that. This is one of the advantages of having a lot of RAM memory and a fast CPU. Some people will find the software hard to use, because they have difficulty thinking ahead and forming complete phrases and sentences in the correct a manner. The smoother and more correctly you speak, the better the results will be. I suspect that it will even help people who are not good at thinking on their feet, as it trains them to speak in a more fluid way.
Here is an example of some actual dictation using the words lead and led, which are pronounced the same.
He was driving fast with a lead foot.
He led me down the path.
Didn't I tell you this thing was smart?
They say that if you learn to speak clearly and continue to train the program to the eccentricities of your voice, you can obtain somewhere around 99-percent efficiency. I can already see a very high percentage of correct dictation results. In addition to having lots of RAM memory and a fast CPU, and I presume some open disk space, it helps to have a good microphone and a high-quality audio card. I did not use the microphone headset that came with the program. I am using one from Plantronics, which I assume is of better quality than the Labtec mike that was supplied. I may be doing Labtec a disservice, but I know the Plantronics accurately reproduces my voice. And I am using one the higher quality Creative sound boards, the Audigy. I'm sure all of that helps me obtain the amazing accuracy that I have gotten even in such a short time.
The printed dictation that I see on the screen already has a higher percentage of correctness than I can type. And I suspect that would hold true for a lot of people. So when somebody says the program is only 95-98 percent accurate, I say - just how well do you type? Not to mention that you get to rest your weary hands. I have yet to hear of a case of carpal tongue syndrome. By the way, the program correctly typed "carpal tongue syndrome." I rest my case.
Of course, after dictating and teaching the program to recognize your voice and some of the particular ways you pronounce words, you had better back up your voice files. There are instructions on how to do this. I back up the files automatically to the hard drive after every session, and to an LS-120 floppy disk every couple of days. There are several Megabytes of voice files.
In summary: Dragon NaturallySpeaking 6.0 is a remarkable program. But, it requires a lot of memory, a fast CPU, and a good audio chain consisting of a high-quality microphone and a high-quality audio board. If you put all that together, and you speak clearly and at a reasonably-rapid pace, then you're in for some remarkable computing experiences. Which includes, of course, some pretty funny things. Such as in the previous sentence when I said "you're in" for some remarkable computing, the program typed "urine for some." Check your e-mail before you send it.
("PC Magazine" for Feb. 26 came today, just as I was about to post this column. They gave a good review to Dragon, but used the Dragon Naturally Speaking Professional Solutions 6.0, priced at $695, as their test bed. They then tested IBM Via Voice for Windows Pro USB Edition 9, price $229, and commented that it was a good program that might appeal to "budget-minded" people. That is an unfortunate choice of words. The $165 version of Dragon Preferred has all the features the average user needs. So, in fact, Dragon Preferred is a good choice for those who want a solid program and are also "budget-minded.")
Suggested Reading From Past Columns
(Right-click on an underlined link and select: "Open in New Window" to leave this window in place)
"Profiles, Stereotypes, and Common Sense" Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002
"John Magaw is Transportation Security Director (TSA)" Saturday, Dec. 29, 2001
"Are We Shredding the Constitution?" (Must Read!) Sunday, Dec. 16, 2001
"Enviro-Terrorists Operate With Near Impunity - But Not for Long?" Saturday, Nov. 10, 2001
"Hackers Are Terrorists, Too" Saturday, Nov. 10, 2001
"U.S. Government in a Frantic Scramble to Catch Up" Sunday, Nov. 4, 2001
"Americans Succumbing to a Climate of Fear" Sunday, October 28, 2001
"Secure ID Cards and Visas" Sunday, October 28, 2001
"Anti-Terrorism Bill Sniping Begins" Sunday, October 28, 2001
"Various reflections on the events of Sept. 11, 2001 Thursday, Sept 20. Must read Outback re Sept 11 Events
"The World Trade Center & Pentagon Attacks!" Update on Sept. 11 to Outback for September 8, 2001
Global warming and environmental debate:
"Rush to Glacier National Park Before All the Glaciers are Gone" September 8, 2001
"Chipping Away at the Global Warming and Environmental Alarmists," September 1, 2001
"John Stossel And ABC's 'Tampering With Nature,'" June 29, 2001
"The Kyoto Protocol & Global Warming - A Monumental Scam?" June 16, 2001
"Public Interest Groups With Sometimes Very Little Public Interest," May 12, 2001
"Environmentalism For Dummies - Part II," April 21, 2001
"Environmentalism For Dummies," April 7, 2001
"Environmental and Animal-Rights Terrorists," March 24, 2001
"Sen. Tom Daschle for President - How Absurd" Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002
"Buckley & Moynihan - Obfuscating the Obvious" Saturday, Dec. 29, 2001
"My Friend Senator Jesse Helms," September 8, 2001
"Forget Liar & Adulterer - Cong. Gary Condit is Simply Stupid," September 1, 2001
"Government Waste and Fraud," August 18, 2001
"President Bush's Excellent Adventure," June 29, 2001
"The Bush Budget - Fighting Over 4% Growth Versus 8% Growth Is Nonsense," April 21, 2001
"The Chinese Demand for an Apology Regarding the Aircraft Accident is Preposterous," April 7, 2001
"Campaign Finance Reform - A Senatorial Catharsis - And National Snow Job," March 31, 2001
"Florida Secretary Of State Literally Begged Networks Not To Call Election Early," March 24, 2001
"Charlton Heston Speech at Harvard," March 10, 2001 (about free speech, PC, et al.)
"The Ever-Expanding First Amendment," January 26, 2001
"Bush Administration Needs To Review The Mission Of Federal Law Enforcement," January 26, 2001
"New York, What Were You Thinking?" November 13, 2000 (Re: Hillary Clinton)
"Lessons Learned In Election 2000?" November 13, 2000
"How the Federal Government Corrupts the Constitution to Intrude Into Your Life," October 30, 2000
"Let's All Make Fun of the Dumb Guy From Texas," December 15, 2000 (Pres. Bush)
" 'BIAS' by Bernard Goldberg" Sunday Dec. 16, 2001
"How the Media Should Cover a Covert War" Sunday, November 4, 2001
Prescription drugs - advertised on TV - abuses in the pharmaceutical industry - supplements:
"Prescription Drug Plans," September 8, 2001
"Baycol Cholesterol Drug Withdrawn From the Market," August 18, 2001
"Prozac Gets New Life!" July 28,2001
"The New Cholesterol Guidelines - Everybody Gets A Pill," July 7, 2001
"Bitter Pills To Swallow," June 2, 2001
"The Drug Companies Continue Their Assault On Your Pocketbook," May 19, 2001
"FDA Questions Practice of TV Ads for Prescription Drugs," March 31, 2001
"Prescription for Disaster," September 11, 2000
Health - General:
"America's Obesity Crisis" Saturday, Jan. 12, 2002
"Trans Fatty Acids - The Hidden Fat," August 4, 2001
"Your Body Clock," August 4, 2001
"My Medical Writing Credentials - Such As They Are," July 7, 2001
"The 'Eggs Are Bad For You' Alarmists Strike Again," May 12, 2001
"Herbal Remedies, Supplements, And Alternative Therapies," September 18, 2000
Computers and Technology:
"Build Your Own Computer? Are You Crazy?" Saturday, Dec. 29, 2001
"The Microsoft Settlement" Sunday Dec. 16, 2001
"Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 and Platform for Privacy Preferences (P3P)" Saturday, Nov. 10, 2001
"LCD Flat Panel Displays & Dual Monitor Video Boards," August 18, 2001
"DishNetwork's Personal Video Recorder Dish Pro 501," July 28, 2001
"Internet Via Satellite," June 16, 2001
"The Internet in China," April 21, 2001
"Mark Cuban is the Posterboy for Dotcom Mania," April 21, 2001
Interesting Books to Read:
" 'BIAS' by Bernard Goldberg" Sunday Dec. 16, 2001
"Your Body Clock," August 4, 2001
"Body of Secrets," by James Bamford, July 28, 2001 (About NSA)
A case history of horrendous abuse by Federal law enforcement:
"FBI Sniper At Ruby Ridge My Be Tried For Manslaughter," June 9, 2001.
Crime, guns, gun-control:
"Real Anxiety - Texas Jail Inmates Break Out Weekly" Saturday, Nov. 10, 2001
"Eyewitness Testimony is Suspect," August 18, 2001
"The AMA Is Losing Its Way," June 29 2001
"Doctors Have Written the Wrong Prescription for Guns," April 14, 2001
"The FBI and the Hanssen Case," March 10, 2001
"FBI Director Freeh Stays On," January 26, 2001 (Some clues to recent FBI failures)
"Aircraft Cockpit Security," December 29, 2000
Late Night TV Cruel Humor, et al.:
(I quit watching late night in disgust, so there are no new articles on the subject.)
"David Letterman Grovels For The Colombians," May 19, 2001
"Are Leno And Letterman Using The Same CD-ROM For Constructing Jokes?" May 12, 2001
"Late Night Comedians Struggle To Lampoon Bush," May 5, 2001
"Late-Night TV Sick Humor," August 28, 2000
"Late-Night TV Political Comedy," August 14, 2000
Hollywood, Entertainers, Celebrities:
"Celebrities Rush to Move Overseas in Protest of Bush Victory," January 5, 2001
"The Mother of all Hollywood Activists," December 22, 2000 (Jane Fonda)
"Elton John, Political Pundit - Druggie - Drunk - Compulsive Spender," Dec. 15, 2000
"Telemarketers, Caller-ID, et al.," August 4, 2001
"Rid Yourself of Telemarketers," October 23, 2000
"TV 'Crawls' - Annoying and Distracting"Sunday, October 28, 2001
"The Decline in the American Work Ethic," May 12, 2001
"Made in USA," January 5, 20001
"How Many Gigabytes in Your Brain?," December 15, 2000
COPYRIGHT 2000 Richard C. Rhodes
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