Thursday, December 27, 2007

Ramayana Remixed

Cartoonist Nina Paley has a treat in store for us.

You might know her work from her daily comic strips, or possibly from cartoon anthologies like "What's This Thing Called Sex?". You might have even seen her critically-hailed early animation works.
Now she's taken on the Indian epic, Ramayana.

Watch the following clip for more background info, watch the clip below it ("The Battle Of Lanka") for a taste of what's hopefully to come. That's "hopefully" because no distributor has yet picked up this novel animation by this talented (and pleasantly bent) artist.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Why There Is No Hope - Go ahead, insult my intelligence! I love it!

The following paragraph was taken from an article in the Southern Poverty Law Center's magazine Intelligence Report. The article concerns an installment of The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News. The story under discussion is one on which Mr. O'Reilly asserted that gangs of homosexuals armed with pink pistols were terrorizing American cities and recruiting children into the gay and lesbian lifestyle. To back up his story, O'Reilly turned to Fox “news analyst” Rod Wheeler, who it seems once worked as a corporate security officer for McDonald's.

”...Wheeler told the Report that he spent seven years in professional law enforcement before going to work as a corporate security officer for McDonald's Corp., a job he has since left. ... Just this spring, he publicly warned that the Big Mac is vulnerable to bioterrorist attacks at "250 points" during production.”

Well heck, I'd have to say that the company itself is a bioterrorist threat, and a mighty successful one at that. Thanks to Mickey-D's and their competitors, obesity-related illnesses are at an all-time high, Americans' idea of what food is supposed to look and taste like has been thoroughly debauched, American retail and service-sector workers have only slightly more rights than a Soviet conscript-laborer and real wages are at their lowest level in 60 years. Try and top that, Osama Bin Laden!

Read the whole business here:

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

One costly fiasco is not enough!

"As former US military leaders, we strongly caution against the use of military force against Iran," -

-Lt Gen Robert Gard, a former military assistant to the US defense secretary

-Gen Joseph Hoar, a former commander-in-chief, US Central Command

-Vice Adm Jack Shanahan, a former director of the Center for Defense Information

In 2002, our Dear Leader (and our liberal media) started dishing dirt on Iraq. We were told that Saddam was behind the 9-11 terrorist attacks (even though our intelligence agencies could find no such connection). Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (even though the most diligent inspections uncovered little or nothing). Saddam Hussein was a murderer and a tyrant - which he was, but that didn't stop the United States from supporting him for many years because (1) he was at war with Iran, a country we were miffed at, and (2) after the Iran-Iraq war was over, he kept a lid on internal dissent and kept the oil flowing for American oil companies. When the deal went sour, the drumbeat began; “WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION!!!!! MUSHROOM CLOUDS OVER WASHINGTON!!!!”

I do believe the world is better off without Saddam Hussein (or “So-Damn-Insane” as one friend referred to him). Fact is, if all we'd wanted to do was depose him, we could have dispatched an elite tactical squad to pluck him out of the presidential palace and have him on a plane to Guantanamo before most Iraqis even got the news. In other words, the big mess that's been made of Iraq in our names and with our money didn't have to be.

It's been a while since Mr. Bush's much-televised “Mission Accomplished” celebration. Would that it were true, that American friends and loved ones (to say nothing of Iraqi civilians) were no longer getting killed or maimed, that our tax dollars were going to other things (like putting New Orleans back in order), that our administration were functioning more like an administration and less like a slapstick comedy troupe.

Now the drums are beating again for war with Iran. George Dubya has played the Weapons of Mass Destruction card again (“Nucular devices”), even though American intelligence has found that Iran abandoned their nuclear weapons program four years ago. Bush, Cheney and the usual gang of scoundrels are all hot to get us into another costly no-win war, probably just to thumb their nose at Hilary.

Between our misadventures in Iraq and Afghanistan, our military is stretched pretty thin. If our half-witted power-tripper administration does decide to invade Iran, they're going to need fresh beef. Which of course means that high school and college kids all over the Land of the Free are going to be drafted.

If you do not care for the Bush-Cheney program, then you'd better speak up now. I understand that certain Senators have introduced bills forbidding invasion of Iran. A call to your senator would seem to be of vital importance right now. Find out how to contact your U.S. Senators by following this link:

Please do make a call, send a fax or send an e-mail now. Your life, the lives of your family members and the fate of your country may depend upon it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Why There Is No Hope: Pride cometh before a fall

"They make us feel indebted
For saving us from Hell
And then they put us through it
It's time the bastards fell!"

Stiff Little Fingers, "Suspect Device" (1978)

The Religious Right (which as you may know is neither) has been having some problems of late, so much so that people on the other side of the political spectrum are thinking that they've finally slain the dragon which Falwell, Robertson, Dobson, et. al. unleashed upon this nation beginning in the mid-1970's. Even the New York Times published a somewhat convincing eulogy.

I'm not sure that the hurricane of theocracy-or-worse has passed. I think we might only be in the eye of the storm. And so does free-speech fighter and sex columnist Susie Bright. She's written several articles on the tribulations which now plague the movement which ran roughshod over science, sex education, and ultimately turned America into a Soviet-style one-party state, if only briefly. Some excerpts from the latest one:

This is the movement that could be relied upon to do anything at the flick of an abortion-shaming or homo-hating switch. Get them on their high horse, with a sexy leather crop in their hands, and you had them sweating and frothing their way to the finish line...."

"... Successful missionary work encourages conceit, and aggression. It always does. When it was 'fun' to be a Bush Family supporter, when W. was a 'winner,' then being a fag-bashing bully and killing a few more abortion doctors was righteous. Bomb Iraq! Your credit card is limitless! Gas is cheap! National Guard duty is a cakewalk! Jesus did a lot of kicking ass and taking names. ..."

Read the whole thing here (and remember that articles which deal with politics vis a vis sexual issues may not be work-safe).

I've heard of auto-eroticism, but...

According to the The Telegraph, a man in Scotland was arrested, and placed on a sex-offender registry for having sex with – a bicycle. (I can never look at a bike shop the same way again!)

While this man's sexual proclivities are somewhat unorthodox to say the least, did they warrant ruining his life by plastering his name and image onto the web and lumping him in with sex offenders (real or imagined)? Is getting off in a highly-unusual but essentially harmless manner really as bad as forcible rape? How does the English judicial system justify this kind of penalty for this kind of activity?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Why there is no hope, September 12th 2007 Edition

There's a man whose name you need to know: James Howard Kunstler.

Mr. Kunstler writes, and writes very clearly and articulately, about economics, architecture, suburban sprawl and some kind of liberal nonsense called "peak oil" in a blog called "Clusterfuck Nation". (That's clusterfuck as in "very bad turn of events", not as in "group sex".) From the biography on his site:

James Howard Kunstler says he wrote The Geography of Nowhere, "Because I believe a lot of people share my feelings about the tragic landscape of highway strips, parking lots, housing tracts, mega-malls, junked cities, and ravaged countryside that makes up the everyday environment where most Americans live and work.""

One of Mr. Kunstler's frequently-made points is that we are as a nation headed for what the elder George Bush once referred to as "deep doo-doo". His exquisitely no-nonsense essays on our culture, our politics and especially our economy, delivered at the rate of one every Monday, are all worthwhile reading for anyone who suspects that things are a bit different than what we see on the news and that maybe we just might not be living in the Best of All Possible Worlds®. One in particular, written just two years ago, had a significant impact upon me me, kind of like a two-by-four upside the head. It is this one. Check out this excerpt:

Americans were once a brave and forward-looking people, willing to face the facts, willing to work hard, to acknowledge the common good and contribute to it, willing to make difficult choices. We've become a nation of overfed clowns and crybabies, afraid of the truth, indifferent to the common good, hardly even a common culture, selfish, belligerent, narcissistic whiners seeking every means possible to live outside a reality-based community.

These are the consequences of a value system that puts comfort, convenience, and leisure above all other considerations. These are not enough to hold a civilization together. We've signed off on all other values since the end of World War Two. Our great victory over manifest evil half a century ago was such a triumph that we have effectively - and incrementally - excused ourselves from all other duties, obligations and responsibilities.

Which is exactly why we have come to refer to ourselves as consumers. That's what we call ourselves on TV, in the newspapers, in the legislatures. Consumers. What a degrading label for people who used to be citizens."

Is this guy on the mark, or full of beans? Why not read the rest of it, and his other essays, and see what you think?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Operation Coffeecup

A conservative web site has posted this rather interesting artifact from very early on in the universal health-care debate. This recording was distributed by the American Medical Association to members of its Women's Auxiliary in the early 1960's.

Click this link, have a look at the record's liner notes, and give it a listen.

NOTE: For those who might be tempted to say certain things in certain web sites' comment sections, just remember, rational arguments accomplish a lot more than flame wars.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Who is the next Murrow, the next Cronkite?

In a news media dominated by rah-rah cheerleaders for the administration and its policies, there is at least one newsman of the old school, someone for whom facts carry some weight. Someone who definitely calls a spade a shovel.

I just don't get how this guy has held up against Hannity, O'Reilly, Limbaugh, Coulter, etc. ad nauseum for so long. In the face of Faux News and Coulterama, this guy carries on much as Murrow would have if he were alive today. Not bad for someone who's nominally a sports commentator.

Carry on, Mr. Olbermann! You do us all proud!

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Don't laugh too hard ...

A moralistic radical-right-wing blowhard gets nabbed in an airport john doing exactly the sort of thing he publicly rails against. Bastard had it coming, right? Well unfortunately, it's not that simple.

According to this story, Senator Larry ("I'm not gay") Craig got busted not for openly soliciting sex for money as another member of Congress did, but for taking certain cryptic actions known primarily to gay men experienced at crusing. Apparently he neither did nor said anything openly sexual. Seems the undercover cops who busted him didn't know he was a prominent family-values Republican senator. They took him down because he was - a gay man cruising a public bathroom.

Like a lot of you, I enjoyed seeing this man, and others like him, getting exposed for the hypocrites that they are and receiving a generous dose of their own bad medicine. What I didn't like so much is the idea of authorities randomly victimizing gay people because - well, just because.

Knowingly arresting and criminalizing people who haven't actually violated the law is a frontal assault upon the rule of law itself. Why don't we put a halt to this kind of official misconduct before the Supreme Court upholds it?

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

WARNING - Cave-In Zone

That bridge collapse in Minneapolis and that mine accident in Utah weren't the only disastrous cave-ins that occurred recently.

Here's how the Washington Post's editorial board described what happened in Congress:

"The Democratic-led Congress, more concerned with protecting its political backside than with safeguarding the privacy of American citizens, left town early yesterday after caving in to administration demands that it allow warrantless surveillance of the phone calls and e-mails of American citizens, with scant judicial supervision and no reporting to Congress about how many communications are being intercepted. To call this legislation ill-considered is to give it too much credit: It was scarcely considered at all. Instead, it was strong-armed through both chambers by an administration that seized the opportunity to write its warrantless wiretapping program into law—or, more precisely, to write it out from under any real legal restrictions."

In honor of this outrageous wiping-of-ass with what's left of the Bill Of Rights, I offer the following open letter to every Democrat who's running for office (are you listening, Hilary?):

Dear (insert name of member of Congress here):

I have only 3 words to say to you – lead, or leave.

I have had enough of watching you and your colleagues piss away what few rights and liberties we still have. I have had it up to my keester with your confirming of blatantly anti-democratic Supreme Court justices, virtually pardoning an impeachable president by declaring impeachment “off the table” and making no serious effort to end the Iraq fiasco. Now you've given the green-light to KGB-style surveillance of any decent American citizen of whom the President and his henchmen simply do not approve. We gave you our trust in the last election, and now you've pissed it down a rat hole.

You probably think that your re-election is assured this November because, you think, who would vote for anyone as blatantly anti-liberty as the present-day Republicans? Right you are on that second point, but if you're going to let us down the way you've done thus far, I for one am going to do what voters did in droves during the dark ages of the 1980's – stay home. Yes, that's right. Why should I, or anyone bother pulling a lever (or punching a button on one of those easy-to-hack computerized voting machines) for you guys if you're only going to ratify the excesses, follies and flat-out criminal activities of the most anti-democratic (with a small "d") regime this country has ever had?

Now, I've been a registered voter since 1972. I have made it my business to vote in every general election. I believed that it was my right and my duty as an American. This November might be the first time I abstain of my own free will. Yes, you say, that's no way for the citizen of a democracy to behave. What democracy? If you don't care about voting to protect our liberties, then I don't care about voting to prolong your highly-paid, handsomely-privileged employment.

I mean it. Start standing up for us now, or get the fuck out of Washington.


I want to make it perfectly clear that this letter is in no way directed at those members of Congress, of either party, who have consistently stood up for the rights and liberties which Americans have fought for over the last 231 years. If you are fortunate enough to have one or more of these people in your Congressional district, support them with everything you've got, including your vote.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The past is not a theme park.

The past is not a theme park. Remember, the past was someone else's present. Whenever the nostalgia pimps get a hold of very select chunks of your elders' lifetime, you can bet they're doing some VERY heavy spin-doctoring of the facts, absurdly exaggerating the good points (and sometimes fabricating ones which never existed) and obscuring the bad points, making peoples' lives and indeed our very history look as glitzy and artificial as Disney World's “Main Street USA”.

Take for example the 1960's. the decade of my own childhood. Many of you have experienced it only through the popular media, so to most of you it's the decade of flower power, sexual abandon and drug orgies. To be certain, the latter part of that decade did see some downright revolutionary changes in attitudes toward sexuality. It saw the rise of a drug culture built at least partly around mind-expansion rather than anesthesia. It saw the maturation of rock music, the rise of fusion jazz, the establishment of electronic music as a serious art form rather than a novelty, and the mainstreaming, however briefly, of avant-garde music (the Columbia Masterworks and Nonesuch Explorer catalogs from that era were and still are something to check out). The first flickerings of what we now think of as “outsider” art happened in that decade. There were plenty of good times to be had, no doubt, the likes of which have never been seen before or since. But make no mistake, the 1960's were anything but a party. Sometimes they were downright scary.

Only two years into the decade, the world stood at the brink of Doomsday. The Cuban Missile Crisis, sparked by then-Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev's decision to station nuclear missiles not 90 miles from our shores in Cuba, threatened to touch off an all-out nuclear confrontation. The only things that saved us were then-President John F. Kennedy's cool-headedness and Premier Krushchev's wise decision to back off. I remember being sent home early from school on the first day of the crisis. I guess they must have thought that if World War 3 was going to break out that we should be vaporized along with our loved ones. I also remember those dumb-assed duck-and-cover drills you might have heard about, where you ducked under your desks and put your hands on the back of your neck in a laughable attempt to protect yourself from a nuclear blast. My home town had a lot of defense contractors in it, so it was reportedly in the top-20 targets favored by the Soviets. I remember asking my teacher what would happen if a Soviet missile scored a direct hit on the school. I never got an answer to that question.

A little over a year later, President Kennedy was assassinated, under what are still considered extremely shady circumstances. My 4th grade recess was interrupted by a hastily patched-through radio announcement on the school's public address system, “The president is dead. The president is dead from his bullet wounds. Let us pray ...” My initial thought was “OK, whose idea of a sick joke is this?”, followed a few microseconds later by “Holy shit, it's not a joke...” Again, they sent us home early. I remember walking home with what felt like a hole in the pit of my stomach. I was only a kid, I knew nothing about politics. All I knew was that some bad man had killed the president, and I was scared.

The civil rights movements of the 60's is rightly regarded as a high point in our history. It was a time in which people who had resigned themselves to non-personhood or worse for decades (if not centuries) finally decided that enough was enough. Week after week there were reports of appalling violence perpetrated against people who were only demonstrating non-violently for the right to be treated as human beings.

Of course there was the
Vietnam War, the olive-drab cloud which hung over the whole decade and then some. The arguments in favor of it were quite shaky (sound familiar?). Thousands of men were drafted to fight and die in a war which was billed as a defense against Communist expansionism, but was really meant to maintain American control over that region by propping up a corrupt dictatorship. About 58.000 Americans didn't make it back. In early 1970, then-President Richard Nixon compounded the folly of the Vietnam War by invading neighboring Cambodia, and then claiming in a TV address that it wasn't an invasion.

And then there was Kent State. It happened in early 1970, so technically it wasn't a 60's event. But it was part and parcel with everything that had gone before. It was my generation's 9-11. The picture of victim Jeffrey Miller lying dead on the pavement is just as appalling and stomach-turning as those replayed-to-death clips of hijacked jet airliners plowing into the World Trade Center. I was a high school junior when I heard that Ohio National Guardsmen had opened fire on students demonstrating against the Cambodia incursion. Thirteen people were wounded, four killed. Some think it was an accident or a breakdown in command. Others have cited a direct order from the White House to then-Ohio Governor James A. Rhodes to “discipline” the demonstrators at Kent State (and recent revelations would appear to bear that theory out). My first thought on hearing of the massacre were “That's it. My country has finally lost it.” My adolescent mind pictured more such massacres, concentration camps, and martial law. Other shootings later that month at Jackson State University did nothing to dispel my paranoia. Universities all over America shut down. Political pundits on both sides of the issue went ballistic. Impromptu talk shows on the local university's 10-watt student radio station varied from teary-eyed commentary to angry calls for justice, if not revenge. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young hastily cut a song about the massacre, You've probably heard it a million times. To the program director at your local “oldies” radio station it's just another song in rotation. To some of us back then, it was more like a primal scream.

“...Gotta get down to it, soldiers are cutting us down
Should have been done long ago...” - Neil Young, “Ohio”, 1970 Silver Fiddle Music

I didn't realize it at the time, but what the band is singing about is revolution. It was fashionable to talk about revolution in those days (Frank Zappa referred to it as “This year's 'Flower Power'”). It was quite another to even consider an October Revolution-style uprising against the world's most powerful nation. No revolution ever materialized.

My take on the shootings is that the Nixon administration on down was simply resorting to one of the oldest crowd-control techniques that there is: If you want to keep 100 slaves in line, kill one of them, in a very public manner, I believe that the lethal firepower directed at students was purposely meant to terrorize dissidents into submission.

Go ahead and enjoy the music, the retro fashions and the other trappings of the 1960s and 70s. Just keep your head screwed on and take care not to be fooled by the tendency of the popular media and the advertising industry (same thing) to romanticize that era, or to trivialize the very real struggles of the very real people who lived in it.

ADDENDUM: In my haste, I neglected to mention two high-profile political assassinations, those of Robert F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. That was due to error on my part. I certainly didn't intend to discount or minimize the importance of these events.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Back to the Middle Ages?

The urge to save humanity is almost always only a false-face for the urge to rule it.

-- H. L. Mencken

Our job is to reclaim America for Christ, whatever the cost. As the vice regents of God, we are to exercise godly dominion and influence over our neighborhoods, our schools, our government, our literature and arts, our sports arenas, our entertainment media, our news media, our scientific endeavors -- in short, over every aspect and institution of human society.

-- D. James Kennedy, Coral Ridge Ministries and advisor to President Bush.

As badly as I would like to, I'm not going to vent and rant and write a rambling screed about the sheer wrongness of the Supreme Court's recent decision to uphold the misleadingly-named and incredibly unrealistic Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, shepherded through a rubber-stamp congress by certain Republicans and their conniving, tax-exempt and sometimes closeted political allies a few years ago. There are plenty of bloggers, editorial columnists and others who are going to do a far better job of documenting and analyzing this outrage against our wives, our daughters and our mothers than I ever could. What I would like to briefly discuss instead is the slowly creeping dark cloud of joyous ignorance, glassy-eyed fanaticism, and malevolent, ends-justify-the-means cynicism that's not only at the root of the current "culture-war" jihad against not only abortion, but apparently sex itself.

You're probably already familiar with Focus on the Family, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and like-minded individuals, and all the interesting things that they have been doing over the last 25 years or so. Your town's family-planning clinic has probably played host to a pro-life be-in over the last three decades. You may have even winced at the antics of the Westboro Baptist Church's congregation at the funerals of Iraq war soldiers. What you might not have heard of is The Christian Embassy, a radical ministry which has actually taken up permanent residence inside the heart of the Pentagon.

You also might not be aware of the so-called “megachurches” which have sprung up at an alarming rate all over America, actively recruiting law-enforcement officials and local politicians with little or no media coverage. Far from being just extremely large places of worship, they are training facilities for future generations of culture-warriors and breeding grounds for religio-fascist thought. These organizations sponsor summer camps which are indoctrination pressure-cookers for children as young as early-grade-school. One such camp is examined in unsparing detail in the documentary Jesus Camp.

Margaret Atwood's 1985 novel, The Handmaid's Tale was a scary read back when it came out, but most of us believed that the constitution (and the Democratic party) would save us from the theocratic dystopia which it depicted. I don't have to tell you that a lot has changed since the mid-80s. If the current Supreme Court upholds abortion bans which contain no exceptions for protecting the life of the mother, what other established, fundamental rights are they capable of erasing?

Instead of attempting to detail the very real threat of theocracy myself, I have provided links, throughout this posting, to web sites which have examined and analyzed the situation in far greater detail. Check them out if you care to. Do some web-searching of your own. If you are a mainstream Christian, you might want to consider what these quasi-religious radical-right movements are doing to the faith that you were raised with. In any case, we need to think about what might be done to preserve what rights and liberties we still have.

Above quotes from -

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

R.U. Sirius Interviewed by UFO Abductee!

You probably already know about futurist/visionary/cultural analyst R.U. Sirius (who was actually an acquaintance of mine back in the day), through his webzine, his podcasts, his old magazine, Mondo 2000 or his books. Science fiction author Rudy Rucker's story blog has published an interview with this cultural icon, conducted by alter-ego and flying-saucer-pilot-drinking-buddy Frank Shook. Below is a brief excerpt:

FRANK SHOOK: How many women have you fucked?

RU: Can you ever really tell for sure? Was it me doing the fucking, and were they actually women? My seed has been aborted many times. John Perry Barlow took great delight in telling Randall Terry, from Operation Rescue, all about it when we were all in the green room getting ready to be interviewed by Chris Matthews for a late night talk show called “NBC Night Focus” back in 1992. Rudy was there too. Incidentally, Terry – like me – spent his adolescence in Binghamton New York. And part of his story is that he took acid in high school. A friend of mine distributed most of the acid in Binghamton in the mid-70s when Terry was in High School. So I feel some vague quantum contagion might be afoot here between Terry and myself.

Check the full version of the interview at the link below:

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Some Cosmic Truths about Vonage

For those of your who haven’t already seen one of their inane TV commercials or received at least one of those flashy orange-and-white cardboard brochures in your mail at least once a week, Vonage is one of the bigger and better-known VOIP (Voice Over IP) telephone service providers. Simply put, VOIP is the technique of making the Internet function as a telephone system, the main advantage being that long distance calls to the USA and Canada - and a select few foreign countries as well - don’t cost anything extra. There are no toll charges, and the sound quality of each call is claimed to be as good as what Ma Bell and her sisters have been giving us with traditional telephone service. Sound too good to be true? Read on.

Their hardware needs help.

A Vonage box is typically a combination VOIP interface for their network and broadband router (you can get dedicated VOIP adapters for use with an existing router). Since you’re using the same Ethernet connection for VOIP and data, you definitely need a router in order to still use your Internet connection for its intended purpose. But no joke, I’ve had not one, not two, but four, count ‘em FOUR Vonage boxes “brick” on me. You know why? I was trying to do something complicated and exotic with them, something they were obviously never intended for. Are you ready to hear about the heinous abuse I inflicted upon these poor, unsuspecting plastic boxes? I tried to - - set up port forwarding! Yes, the very same thing that on-line gamers do in their sleep was just too great a stretch for these substandard contraptions from D-Link and, of all people, the venerable Motorola. The first of two Motorolas bricked while I was working on it because, unbeknownst to me and without any discernible warning whatsoever (no mention of it in the instructions that came with it either), it began downloading and installing firmware updates for itself. Using a device during a firmware update is a big no-no, but as I said, I was given no warning and no indication. After the fourth trip to the local DHL office to send the last dead one back, I wised up and got myself a decent stand-alone router, the so-called “Linux-compatible” model from Linksys which got good reviews and is apparentlymore robust than the identical-looking models which they sell at the mall, and certainly more so than the bulk-purchase cheapies from Vonage. My Vonage service works just as well (or as lousy) as ever. Setting up port forwarding on the Linksys box was only slightly more difficult than sneezing. I set it up, and it just - ran, as it continues to do. As for the Motorola box, sound-signal strength and voice quality is all right, There is a faint, and slightly annoying high-pitched whine in the background on all calls, whether local or long-distance. Think fair-to-decent small-town telephone company.

Customer service? What’s that?

I have nothing whatsoever against India, or her people. I have everything against calling up Vonage’s (and too many other American technology firms') “customer care” department and being connected to someone halfway around the world who has difficulty speaking understandable English and understanding simple statements from my end. Now, if I go to Hong Kong or Mumbai and I can’t speak the local tongue, that’s my tough luck. But when I buy a service from an nominally American firm which serves a primarily American clientele, I have the right to expect that the person on the other end will be able to speak English at least well enough to complete any routine transaction. Their standard phone greeting is “Hello, this is Bill” or “Hello, this is Jane”. Come ON, Vonage, I wasn’t born yesterday, OK? These people apparently know little or nothing about computers, definitely a bad thing for an Internet-based business. I run Linux on my computer (Ubuntu, if you must know) and I was having some compatibility issues with my browser and their router’s admin screens. I asked one of these people if he was familiar with Linux. I may as well have asked him “What is the iron content of the soil on the Martian moon, Phobos?” As with all outsourced “customer service”, many phone-slaves – I mean representatives - read all responses to any customer questions from pre-written scripts. Scripts!!!. That means if your question is the least bit unusual (like my Linux question), they either have to try and wing it (mostly without success) or connect you to a supervisor, who might know even less. Hey, Vonage, if doing business as dirt-cheaply as possible regardless of the consequences is what you’re after, why not just drop the pretense of “customer care” altogether and have all your phones answered by machines that do nothing but play back those same scripts as read by American voice actors (“For questions about port forwarding, press 3").? At least they’d be easier to understand. And it would be easier on those poor schlubs over in Bangalore, who now must bear the brunt of your customers’ justifiable anger and frustration every single day.

Still quite a few bugs in the system.

My sister once tried to contact me at my Vonage number via her cell phone. Big mistake, bad combination, digital cell phones and VOIP. I heard nothing but unintelligible smears of sound which sounded vaguely like my sister’s voice. I said that if this in fact was her calling, that she should call me back ASAP, which she did. No problem on the second try (she may have been calling from her ground line on the second try). Other calls come through with annoying and confusing slap-back echo. When you talk, you hear your own words a split-second later. Sometimes when you finish a call, your phone will ring. You pick it up, and there's no one on the line.

More cosmic truths, as they are revealed to me.