Operation Sketchbook: (The Trump/Nixon Tapes Part 7)

trump courtroom sketch

[What follows is a transcript of President Donald Trump speaking into the Oval Office recording device originally used by President Richard Nixon. This series of recordings encompass the president’s communication to his inner circle.]

To: The Trump Circle of Trust (TCT)

cc: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Majority Leader Mitch McConell

As all of you should know by now, I don’t watch CNN anymore. I think I made that clear to the AP when they were here this week. Where is it? Here: (sound of second tape recorder button clicking)

TRUMP: OK. The one thing I’ve learned to do that I never thought I had the ability to do. I don’t watch CNN anymore.

AP: You just said you did.

TRUMP: No. No, I, if I’m passing it, what did I just say (inaudible)?

AP: You just said —

TRUMP: Where? Where?

AP: Two minutes ago.

TRUMP: No, they treat me so badly. No, I just said that. No, I, what’d I say, I stopped watching them. But I don’t watch CNN anymore. I don’t watch MSNBC. I don’t watch it.

(recording ends)

So I was passing by CNN and noticed Sean was looking less fat. I was thinking that maybe we could put him back on camera, but then Steve pointed out that it was just a drawing by a CNN sketch artist. It was such a beautiful drawing I couldn’t get over it. So I got my own courtroom sketch artist. I like how honest he is about my hairline and number of chins. I’m thinking we just use this guy from now on: Operation Sketchbook. We can get him to draw me standing behind the podium and we’ll blow it up and stand it up there. The dishonest media can shout questions at it then go write their fake news.

Speaking of “fake news,” what about my big reveal on the Comey tapes? Pretty fantastic, right? Sean Hannity loved it. Wait. I’ve got that (button press)

SEAN HANNITY (HOST): I’m sorry, this was one of the most brilliant, strategic, doubt-inducing, mind-messing tweets in the history of mankind, because he basically said to Comey, “Well, if there’s tapes, you’re in trouble with the deep state,” it was also a nice shot at them. 

Ha ha ha. Oh and Fox and Friends thought it was pretty brilliant, too. I mean everybody is saying what a great Tweet it was. (click)

AINSLEY EARHARDT (CO-HOST): Big news today. You said you didn’t tape [former FBI Director] James Comey. Do you want to explain that? Why did you want him to believe you possibly did that? 

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well I didn’t tape him. You never know what’s happening when you see that the Obama administration, and perhaps longer than that, was doing all of this unmasking and surveillance. And you read all about it and I’ve been reading about it for the last couple of months about the seriousness and horrible situation with surveillance all over the place. And you’ve been hearing the word “unmasking,” a word you probably never heard before. So you never know what’s out there, but I didn’t tape and I don’t have any tape and I didn’t tape. But, when he found out that there may be tapes out there, whether it’s governmental tapes or anything else, and who knows, I think his story may have changed. I mean, you’ll have to take a look at that because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events. And my story didn’t change. My story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth. But you’ll have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed. But, I did not tape. 

EARHARDT: That was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in those hearings. 

TRUMP: Well, it wasn’t very stupid, I can tell you that. He did admit that what I said was right. And if you look further back, before he heard about that, I think maybe he wasn’t admitting that, so, you’ll have to do a little investigative reporting to determine that. But, I don’t think it’ll be that hard.

See? The honesty is really striking, right? Why can’t they get that over at CNN? It’s a disaster over there. What did I ever do to Jake Tapper? I mean who cares, right? I never said I had tapes. I just waited for 41 days to say I didn’t have tapes. I’m busy. I got a lot of things on my plate. Sheila? What’s for lunch? No. I want one of those shark steak sandwiches like Jeff Bridges got in that movie where he was president. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m not going to eat that. Get me a QPC from McDonald’s. Extra ketchup.

Okay. So what was I talking about? Sheila? Sheila? She’s gone already? Man, she moves fast. She’s a go-getter, Sheila. I mean she’s really going and getting, right? That’s the way it works.

You know, the more I look at that sketch of me, the more I like it this Operation Sketchbook. We should all just not appear on camera anymore. Jared gets the idea. He’s off solving the Middle East thing and nobody even knows what he sounds like because he can keep his mouth shut. Jared, you’ll have to tell me how you managed to talk a journalist from the AP into deleting photos of you from his camera. That must have been some talk.

Whoever is covering Jared’s muffin basket duty while he’s bringing an end to a centuries-old conflict this weekend should send Jared a muffin basket. Wait. Never mind. He’s done.

Will somebody bring me something else to sign? What is taking so long with that health care bill? Are the Democrats being obstructionists again? Just pass something so I can sign it and tell everybody how great your “mean son of a bitch” bill is.  Mitch, you fixed all that right? You told me to leave it to you and I said “Happy to do it” because one less thing for me to do, right? But you fixed it, right? I’m sure it’s okay. Here’s an idea! Must credit Trump!

Send it over, I’ll sign it before you vote on it. What about that, huh? Is that a great idea or what? I sign the bill before you bring it to a vote and you can say, “Look, it’s a done deal. The president has already signed it, so you need to get on the right side of this thing or you’re going to be left behind.” I think that would be beautiful. Can you imagine the look on Chuck Schumer’s face? [laughter]

But seriously, send me some legislation to sign. It is the best part of this job, showing off for the cameras and . . . hmmm. That’s . . . that’s tough . . . Guys, I’m not sure Operation Sketchbook is going to work out. Let me think about it. I’ll let you know something in two weeks.

I’ve been hitting the Russia thing pretty hard on Twitter. You know, I had no idea when I took this job that so many people would turn on you so quickly. I was just saying to Nixon’s ghost the other night. Nixon’s ghost is a good friend of mine, let me tell you. He’s the one who told me to tweet about the Comey tapes. “Keeps everybody honest,” he said. Ole Honest Nixon, they used to call him. Good times.

Anyway, I was telling Nixon’s ghost, “Look, it is nobody’s business who I call or when I call them or what we talk about when I call. Don’t give me “Presidential Records Act” this or “You can’t block people on Twitter” that.” The president deserves a little privacy to yell at his lawyers. Nixon’s ghost agreed with me, except for the Twitter part. He died in 1994. He doesn’t know what Twitter is. But I believe 90 percent of the ghost presidents living in the White House would agree with me. If not 95 percent.

So I don’t want to read in the paper about me making my morning calls to my lawyers to get all my Russia yelling out early in the day. That’s my “me time.” The dishonest media shouldn’t be writing about that, I don’t care if it is true.

So I’ve pivoted on the Russia thing, now that I’ve figured out how to blame it on Obama. I don’t know if you noticed because it was such a subtle shift in tone:


Amazing, right? It was such a subtle pivot that no one is going to notice my tacit admission that Putin stuck his thumb on the scale. Well, Sheila noticed, but she’s a real go-getter. I wonder when she’s going to be a come-bringer-er soon? I’m starving here.

So I’m thinking about firing Mueller. I know firing Comey didn’t work out exactly as Jared said it would. But this time I don’t have to be the one firing him. I can order Rosenstein to do it. Or whoever’s next in line if Rosenstein isn’t loyal. Have we fixed that yet? Find me a Bork and let’s get this Saturday Night Massacre on the road!

Mueller can’t investigate me if he’s best friends with Comey! He can’t use lawyers who have donated to Democrats! He can’t keep expanding his investigation to include money laundering and racketeering. I didn’t sign off on that and you guys know me, I’ll sign anything. He’s going after my general, my campaign manager, my consigliere, my Jared and now me? Putin told me I don’t have to put up with it. He said if it were him, he’d be making a pot of polonium tea for Mueller. That’s not really my style. Maybe some polonium Diet Coke? I’ll ask ghost Nixon. He knows how to handle these special prosecutors.



On the non-apology apology . . .

If you spend any amount of time reading the comments from readers on political stories, you’ll see this argument being thrown out there by some conservative: If liberals are supposedly so tolerant, why are they being so judgmental? This gets under my skin more than most of the standard conservative tropes about liberals.

I’ll give you a real-world example. Last week a pastor in North Carolina named Sean Harris gave a sermon in which he told his congregation that if a little boy of four is acting too girly or has a limp wrist, the father should snap that wrist back up and give the kid a “good punch” and tell him to take off the dress and go outside and dig a ditch. The father should squash that kid’s effeminacy like a cockroach. If a little girl is acting too butch, you should reign her in and tell her she must make herself attractive and act, walk, talk and smell like a little girl. He finished by saying if parents question whether they should be that abusive to their children, he would offer  “special dispensation” for them to go ahead.

When video of this rant went viral, Harris found himself the target of protests, which led to one of those “I’m sorry if you were offended” non-apologies that doesn’t really seem all that sincere. In Harris’ case, the apology included denials that he’d said things he clearly said on tape. So even though you can see and hear him say “give the kid a good punch” his apology claims he never said it.

So, his “statement of retraction” didn’t do much to quash the protests.

Shortly afterwards, he said this on Twitter:

@pastor_sean Even my apology is being judged by those who are supposed to be the most tolerant as insincere. At this point nothing seems sufficient.

I’ve listened to the sermon (which, by the way, was all about getting his congregation to vote for North Carolina’s Prop One, which would add an amendment to the state constitution banning gay marriage, which is already illegal in North Carolina). I’ve read the retraction. And he’s right in that his “apology” is being judged as insincere. Because it is. It is full of weasel words and statements that you expect from politicians, not preachers.

But what offends me is this idea that because I’m a liberal, I should be tolerant of his views. That’s the same as saying because he’s a Christian, he should be forgiving of the limp-wristed toddler and the sports-loving tomboy, instead of advocating physical and psychological abuse by their parents.

Harris implies that if you’re a liberal, you either have to be tolerant of his views or you’re a hypocrite. That’s stupid. I don’t have to be tolerant of bigotry in any form to maintain my progressive status. But that’s a club that conservatives like to swing at liberals all the time.

Not too long ago, Dan Savage, an anti-bullying activist and LGBT advocate, gave a speech at a journalism conference for high school students. In it, he offended several Christians in the audience with the use of foul language and what was, frankly, an attack on people who use the Bible to attack gays. When some of the kids walked out, he called their reaction “Pansy assed.”

It was clear that he was enjoying the notion that they can dish it out, but can’t take it. That’s playground stuff and Savage should have known better.

Conservatives attacked Savage for being a bully. I agree. Savage was wrong to hurl names at those who exercised their prerogative to not sit there and have their values challenged. He was wrong to call them “pansy assed” because he’s using the same language often hurled at members of the LGBT community. If it’s wrong for one group to do it, how can it be right for Savage?

Soon after, he apologized. The main difference between this apology and Harris’ “retraction” being that Savage didn’t deny what he said. That gives Savage’s apology more credibility in my opinion. Savage recognized what he did was wrong and said he was sorry. He went on to explain that his point still stood.

Harris denied he said what he said, then claimed to have been misunderstood and misinterpreted. That’s not an apology.

It’s the difference between saying “I’m sorry for what I did” and “I’m sorry you were offended by what I did.” See the difference there?

A non-apology apology should be attacked as insincere. His apology didn’t have the same passion that his sermon had because he doesn’t believe he should have apologized.

Here is a simple rule of thumb, should you ever feel the need to issue a public apology. Avoid the word “however.” If you feel the need to clarify your statements, do that separately from the apology. Don’t conflate a clarification with an act of contrition. A simple apology, truly felt, will be the first step in mending fences. Trying to spread the blame around by accusing others of misconstruing what you meant or (in the case of Harris) denying you said the very things that you’re apologizing for, will only lead to more accusations and ill will.

I’ve made a few public and private apologies and I’ve found that the best way to do it is to just do it. Make it simple, concise and don’t try to weasel you’re way out of it. Here is what Harris should have said:

“In a recent sermon, I said some things that were unkind, intolerant and contrary to the teachings of Christ who advocated for us to love each other. I apologize and will strive to ensure that it never happens again. I hope you will all forgive me as I struggle with the same issues that affect us all.”

Here is my fear. In all likelihood there is a child in his congregation that is being physically or psychologically abused. That child heard his pastor tell his dad to hit him. How likely is that child to come to his pastor for help in the future?

An open letter to Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY)

Dear Representative Weiner:

While I am not a constituent of yours, I have followed your career closely for many years. Up until today, I’ve always listed you as “one of the good ones.” You have a history of being a fighter, a political bomb thrower with a talent for both media and public relations. You could have been a star.

That is why I am so saddened by the news that you’re just another dumb ass in Congress.

I wanted to believe. It seemed plausible, if not likely, that someone was able to access your Yfrog account and send a picture of your underwear-clad genitals to a young woman in Seattle. You’ve made a bunch of enemies during your tenure in Congress. You can’t be a loud-mouthed liberal without bruising a few sensibilities.

You went on “The Rachel Maddow Show” and said you didn’t know what happened. Today, Radaronline.com posted photos of you posing down, bare-chested, in the mirror. These were supposedly given to them by a young woman with whom you had an online fling. Another woman in Nevada has come forward (sort of) with transcripts of you two exchanging erotically charged messages on Facebook.

I have to say it again: you’re a dumb ass.

For the moment, let’s set aside the fact that you’re married. For all we know, you and your wife have some form of an open relationship which allows for that sort of thing. You wouldn’t be the first. But when that first photo went public, you denied it and tried to cover it up.

As a politician, you have to know that the cover up is worse than the crime. Ask your friend President Clinton (who officiated your wedding). You played fast-and-loose with Twitter and it came back to bite you. We live in an age where embarrassing photos can not only be posted for the entire world to see (in some cases years after the fact), but they can be tagged with your name and linked to your profile. What were you thinking?

Then, when that first photo was made public, you lied. Posting a photo of your underwear isn’t a crime. Armani posted David Beckham photos in his underwear all over the world. But when it became public, you weaseled and lied and made an ass of yourself. Now you’ve got to apologize not just for your lack of judgement, but for your lack of character.

But even those first few panicked public statements would be forgivable, if not understandable. You did something stupid and public. But you’ve handed Andrew Breitbart a feather for his metaphorical cap. His credibility was at an all-time low after the Shirley Sherrod fiasco and now he’s going to be known as the one to expose you as a pervert and liar.

Dumb ass.

You called a press conference to admit your stupidity and there was freaking Brietbart taking the podium afterwards. Giving that lowlife a public forum is unforgivable.

I mean, how hard is it to just behave yourself and do your job?


DragonCon 2010

Well it is over now and time to start the countdown until the next one. This was my third trip to DragonCon, held each Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. My buddies and I drove down on Thursday morning in hopes of avoiding the 4.5 hours it took to get through the TicketMaster line last year.

While it was a little better (2.5 hours), it was still a brutal experience. I’m told that they’re switching to a bar code system next year, which should speed things along.

I knew I’d arrived when I heard someone complaining about their hotel room using the phrase “There’s no fracking way I’m going to stay on the 28th floor.”

That night, Greg treated us to dinner at Fire of Brazil, a Brazilian steak house near the hotel. This was my kind of restaurant. Our server gave us the rundown: there’s a card at your place setting with a red side and a green side. When the green side is showing, men will bring skewers of meat to your table and cut you off as much as you like. That night, there were 17 different varieties.

So, I ate a lot. Pork loin? Bring it. New York Strip? Yuuuuuup. Lamb? Why not? It just kept coming. About the time I felt like I couldn’t eat any more, a man comes by and says “bacon-wrapped sirloin?” Hrrrmm. Okay, maybe just a taste. I stumbled back to the hotel for an evening of people watching and groaning.

That night Dollie’s sister Megan and her husband Jeremy came down to meet up and do a little gawking before their trip to Boston the next day. It’s always good to see them.

Hung out at the bar with Grant and his buddies. We were talking briefly about adaptations of Terry Pratchett novels when two young women walking by the table and froze mid step. “Are you talking about Discworld?” one of them asked. I replied that we were and suddenly I had two new besties. For about an hour anyway.

A little later, Grant and I got into an argument over who could stay up later than the other. He had the advantage of youth, but I worked my way through college on the third shift, so I was pretty confident. I recall getting to bed about 4:30 a.m. The next day, we both had photos of the other sacked out. I call it a tie.

Friday was the official start of the convention and since nothing really opened until 1 p.m., I decided to donate blood. They have a drive every year and the t-shirts are always cool. This year the staff got into the spirit by either wearing fangs or dressing as Merlott’s waitresses.

My buddy Greg managed to get to the “I Dream of Jeanie” panel to see Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman and Bill Daley. It was one of the only panels to begin before 1, so I didn’t see it on the incredibly complicated schedule. He said it was great.

I spoke with Billy West and Phil Lamaar about how great “Futurama” is. I told Robert Beltran that my wife is a big fan of his work in “Big Love” but I preferred his work on “Billy Jack.” I got to say hi to the actors who play Vork and Zabu in “The Guild.”

Friday night we sat at the Pulse Lounge Loft and people watched. The costumes were great this year and I saw several friends from previous cons. At one point Greg wanted me to demonstrate how Twitter works. I pulled out the iPad and sent this Tweet:

Interested in a good time? My buddy Greg Is pouring drinks at the loft in The Pulse. I love #DragonCon

Followed shortly by:

Greg will give me $5 for every lady that comes up to him in the Pulse Lounge (Marriott) and says Hello Greg. Help me out here #dragoncon

After that, it was just a matter of time and letting the bartender know who to point to when someone asked for Greg. We had a couple of takers pretty quickly. Later that evening I received an email from the blood bank folks saying my blood had high cholesterol. “Your cholesterol may be affected if you recently had a high-fat, high-cholesterol meal.” You mean like the all-meat dinner at the Fire of Brazil?

Saturday morning I got up early to meet my friend Eveliene. She and I graduated high school together. She was an exchange student from Holland and moved to Atlanta about a year and a half ago. She works for a Dutch airline and is helping with transitions since they were bought out by Delta. We sat on Peachtree and watched the DragonCon parade before saying goodbye.

That afternoon my buddies and I were joined by Joel for the Venture Bros. panel. The line was out the door and around the block, but being old hands at this, we waited inside until the end of the line and filed in. We knew we would be in the back anyway, no reason to stand between the Klingons and one of 5,000 Sookie Stackhouses at the con.

After the panel I went back up to the room to get prepped for Mr. Freeze. I’ve been working on the costume for a couple of weeks, but this would be the first time to put it all on. I thought it came out well. You can see photos here. With Greg as Bane, George in his “First Contact” dress Star Fleet uniform and myself as Mr. Freeze, we meandered out way to the Marriott.

I’ve no idea what celebrity must be like. I can’t imagine being hounded by photographers or fans. But I got a small taste of it at DragonCon. Once we got to the hotel lobby, I was stopped every few feet to pose for photos. It was incredible. As I walked around people commented on the costume. At one point the official con photographers pulled me to a corner and took photos using their studio set up. The local ABC affiliate shot me for b-roll about their DragonCon story.

The two biggest groups of fans I encountered were children and black people. The children recognized me and wanted to say hello. Their parents encouraged photos and I was happy to oblige. I would say a third of the people wanting to pose with me were black women. I can’t explain it, I’m just observing and reporting.

The strangest encounter came late Saturday night. After wandering around with dark lenses and no eyeglasses and a big plastic bucket on my head, I was having trouble figuring out where I was. I wandered into the Hyatt bar where I was warmly greeted by a bunch of people in costume. One couple, a Batman and Batgirl combo, asked me to sit with them. We talked a bit and they bought a few rounds. They asked me why I chose Mr. Freeze (bald guy options: Lex Luthor, Vulture, Mr. Freeze, Professor X), where I was from and how long I’ve been doing this.

Turns out by “this” they didn’t mean the convention. I’d wandered into a polyamory gathering. These were swingers and Batman/Batgirl wanted to know if I was up for coming up to their room to play. I declined using one of my favorite Homer Simpson lines: “Look, I’m flattered, maybe even a little curious, but I have to go.”

When my buddies asked why I’d declined, I cited marriage and fidelity, but I also didn’t know these people at all. Suppose their idea of “play” was to have Batman and Batgirl tie up Mr. Freeze and beat the hell out of him. That’s not a good look. So I continued to wander around and pose for pictures.

One thing I thought was pretty entertaining was the revenge of the nerds going on outside the hotels. Labor Day weekend is a big college football weekend in Atlanta. Some fans manage to stay in the DragonCon hotels, but others just like to come down and gawk and the pretty ladies in their skimpy outfits. These people were unmercifully harassed by gangs of Jokers, Spider-men, Star Fleet officers, Browncoats, vampires and elves. It was, in a word, beautiful.

The next morning we set off pretty early. As old men, we can’t take the entire con anymore. I have very few complaints, but there is one worth mentioning:

Elevators: They are hard to come by at DragonCon. a 20-minute wait for a spot on one of the elevators is not unheard of. I walked up the ten flights to my room more than once while I was there. This situation is even harder for the people who need scooters to get around. A couple of them went to the very bottom floor (the Motor Lobby) and waiting for the elevators. Ideally, you only get on an elevator to go down if you’re actually going down. But people were getting on the down elevator and waiting for it to go up. That meant the down elevator would open up and no one would get off, despite the fact that it was on the lowest floor. This angered the scooter people and prompted one of my walks up to the 10th floor.

Religious Intolerance and Minor League Baseball

When I was in sixth grade, my social studies teacher gave us a lesson on the Middle East. We learned about the geography, the culture and the religion of Islam. She told us about Mecca and Medina and the importance of those cities to people of the Muslim faith. We talked about the similarities between Islam and Christianity, namely the monotheistic doctrine, the belief in prophets and the history of holy wars. We learned a little bit about the life of Mohammed and I recall she compared his importance in Islam with that of Moses to the Christians and the Jews.

This lesson has stuck with me because it was my earliest exposure to any religion outside of the Christian faith I was brought up in. The lesson was a mile wide and an inch deep, but this was sixth grade. I credit Ms. Carpenter with opening my eyes to the idea that there is a great big world out there and America is just a piece of it.

I don’t know much more about Islam now than I did then. I know that all religions have their extremists and it was radical Muslims who killed 3,000 people on September 11. It was a radical Christian who blew up the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It was a radical Sikh who shot at Robert F. Kennedy. It was radical Buddhist monks who set fire to themselves in protest of the Vietnam War. No particular faith has the market cornered on crazy followers.

Murfreesboro has been in the news a lot lately because the local Islamic Center wants to build a new building. They have been in Murfreesboro for years without incident. They followed all the laws, zoning regulations and codes. But, stoked by the hateful rhetoric of some narrow-minded fear mongers in an election year, the new mosque is having some difficulty getting built.

The sign announcing the new site has been vandalized twice, last Friday someone set fire to the construction equipment. Last Saturday shots were fired near the site. Murfreesboro has been my adopted home town for nearly 25 years and I’ve never been more ashamed of it.

I don’t know what’s more disturbing, the acts of hate and destruction or the comments about the crime posted on the Daily News Journal site. The discussion quickly devolved into a flame war that was less about the cowardly act and more about scoring zingers on the regulars who post there. People threw out scripture, quotes from the founding fathers, ugly hate-filled names, dire warnings of terrorist training grounds and impending Sharia law.

That’s an interesting argument I’ve seen repeated over and over. We have to stop these Muslims because they all want to enact Sharia law and force us all to become Muslim. These people are certain that this is coming. They use phrases like “When there is a Muslim majority in America . . .”

It seems to go like this: all Muslims are part of a big plan to take over the world. They start out nice and peaceful, building a little building here or there, smiling for the cameras and paying their taxes. All the while they are building up their numbers, making babies and training them to hate America. Then, just as soon as they have the majority: BOOM! Sharia law! Everyone has to be Muslim or die by scimitar. Oh, it may not happen tomorrow or even in my lifetime, but it will happen.

To stop this from happening, we have to be vigilant and take away their First Amendment rights. That way, they can’t take away our First Amendment rights. See how that works?

Now you can point out how crazy that sounds by noting that the First Amendment means that no one can force Sharia law on you, but they are immune to facts or logic. No, see, when the Muslims have a majority, that First Amendment thing will be the first to go. They point to instances of Sharia law overriding local laws in the British courts. They talk about Judge Joseph Charles not granting a restraining order in New Jersey, Muslim cab drivers who won’t pick up fares with service animals or open liquor containers or Ron Haddah, the police chief in Dearborn, Mich. who arrested four men for speaking about Christianity during an Arab festival.

But if you look at these cases individually, they tell a different story:

Like many religions, Islam has rules regarding marriage, divorce and other aspects of life that are usually adjudicated in civil courts. In Britain, there has been a movement to accommodate the 1.6 million Muslims by allowing them to take these civil matters to a Muslim council, rather than in the British courts. That’s unusual, but not unreasonable. These Muslim councils do not hear cases that put them in direct conflict with British civil courts and only adjudicate cases with the agreement of all parties. They mostly handle marriage, divorce and occasionally property disputes. Again, unusual, but not unreasonable and virtually no chance that Sharia law would override a British court’s ruling.

Judge Charles denied the restraining order citing the husband believed he was following his religion and that his wife must submit. This was  a mistake and his decision was overturned by an appeals court which granted the restraining order. The American judicial system won out.

The same people who decry Muslim cabbies who won’t pick up people with animals aren’t decrying pharmacists who won’t dispense birth control. Is the principle the same or isn’t it? If a Muslim cabbie wants to give up income in the name of his religion, there is no law that says cab drivers have to pick up everyone who flags them down.

Back in June, four Christian evangelists were arrested in Dearborn, Mich. for disorderly conduct. They say they went to the festival to engage Muslims in dialogue about their religion and to talk about the differences between Christianity and Islam. A local Christian minister named Pastor Haytham Abi-Haydar, however, said they were intimidating festival attendees with their video cameras and that he has been setting up a booth inside the festival since 1999 without incident.

I support the local Muslim community in their efforts to build their mosque. I supported the local Christians when they built those giant brick piles on Thompson Lane and North Rutherford Blvd. I support the almost continual expansion of the World Outreach Church on 99, which requires two sheriff’s deputies to get everyone in and out of the parking lot each week.

Everyone in America gets to worship their own religion. That’s what the Constitution says. To act any other way is to lose faith in the American ideal. To stir up fear and hate for political gain or to commit acts of violence and intimidation to suppress the expression of religion is un-American. It really is as simple as this: do you believe in the Constitution or don’t you?

The family and I attended the final home game of the Greeneville Astros last weekend. It was the largest crowd they’d had all season and they lost to the Kingsport Mets 6-4. It was even more tragic for Max who had a hankering for Cracker Jacks. You’d think that if there was any place in the world to buy Cracker Jacks it would be at a Minor League Baseball game. But this being the last home game of the season, the concession stands weren’t fully stocked. So, no Cracker Jacks.

“No Cracker Jacks!” he yelled. “But it’s in the freaking song!”

This disappointed him in a way that can only be felt by a 12-year-old boy. He was profoundly and completely dejected. It did not help that, due to it being “Dollar Dog Night” at Pioneer Park, the lines were very long and slow-moving. We stood in line at two different stands only to be disappointed. I missed a couple of innings and became a bit perturbed at Max’s attitude. He apologized the next day for his sullenness, but that night, he couldn’t see around his anger to how his behavior was affecting the rest of us.

It is somewhat unfortunate that Max was born with his father’s sharp tongue and sarcastic nature. I try to warn him that it won’t help him in the areas of life where it really matters: getting girls and making friends. But what do I know? I’m just an old man who’s been through it all before.

Finally, it is DragonCon week and I’m very excited. I will be tweeting about it regularly, so if you want to follow along as I wade neck-deep into the nerdfest that is DragonCon, follow @jutopia on Twitter.

Social networking media is a hell of my own making

Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp!, Grub.it, Brightkite, Gowalla, Loopt, Tumblr, Newsvine, Digg, Del.icio.us, LinkedIn, Spoke, Google Buzz, Flickr, Ning, Friendfeed, Jaiku, Plaxo Pulse, Bebo, Hi5, Xanga, Koomk, YouAre, Multiply, Yammer, StatusNet, Vox, Shoutem, Streetmavens, myYearbook, Posterous, Tagged …

It is all a little much to handle unless curating profiles on the various social networking sites is your full-time job. It seems like everyday we get a new place to share information, link up with friends and post the yammerings of our daily existences. I’m all for it. I love social media and I believe it is the future.

But there are pitfalls. For example, I received a private message on Facebook last week from the mother of a friend. She just got her first computer and was checking out Facebook. She found her son (much to his chagrin) and then found me. Now, what is my obligation should she ever figure out how to ask to be my friend? I’ve met her once or twice, but I’m not certain I could pick her out of a lineup. But she is my friend’s mother. Am I obligated to be her friend?

Facebook surpassed 500 million users this month. That makes Facebook the third most populous country in the world (if you’re into geographical metaphors). That’s half a billion people voluntarily turning over their personal information: posting vacation photos, videos of their cats, cell phone numbers, addresses etc…

This week, someone posted a torrent file containing profile information on 100 million Facebook users. Today, I read where a huge list of major corporations have downloaded that file. And why not? It’s free info on 100 million customers.

Old Spice launched a major social media campaign and it looks like the effort paid off. Sales of Old Spice products rose by 106 percent for the month and 53 percent over the last three. So, there are some valid reasons to dip your commercial toe into social media.

Did anyone notice a big exodus from Facebook during the big privacy news cycle? I didn’t, other than a few articles about upstart companies trying to be the next Facebook. “Ooooo, they’re awful, but I want to be just like them.” Bah.

My current social media fixation is FourSquare. But even it has competition. Yelp! has started letting users check in at locations and since Yelp! already has a giant database of businesses and users, it might be in a position to kill FourSquare. Then there’s Gowalla (which I can only get to show distances in kilometers), Loopt (which doesn’t make an app for my phone) and BrightKite – all of which do the same thing.

If you’re a business owner, which do you pick? You don’t. You set up a profile on all of them and make sure someone in your organization is managing those profiles and keeping your information both consistent across them all and up to date.

If you’re a user, which do you pick? That’s up to you and how much time you’re willing to give to a phone app, I guess. But there is another factor: the effectiveness of these sites is based on the number of users. I have more than 300 “friends” on Facebook, about 60 “followers” on Twitter (@jutopia, btw), about four “friends” on FourSquare.

If you choose a site where none of your friends are participating, then it isn’t very social, is it?

You could choose them all, but then you get into that list at the beginning of this entry and soon you’re walking into your grocery store and checking in on five different apps so you can be mayor of the grocery store, duke of the frozen food aisle and baron of the pharmacy.

And for the record, I currently hold four mayorships in FourSquare and will fight like a rabid dog to keep them, despite there being no reward at all at any of the venues other than the knowledge that whenever anyone checks in there, they’ll see my photo wearing a tiny crown.

Hell may be other people, but social media hell is other people who’ve checked in at my bus stop more than me.

Computer trouble (is there any other kind?)

My friend Greg recently gave me a computer. It was very generous and I was (and still am) amazingly grateful because I had determined that this would be the year that I stopped paying for TV. This bit of free hardware allowed me to tell DirecTV to go pound sand and, shortly thereafter, Bellsouth to do the same.

Friends have asked how this experience has been. And while it has been a challenge, I’m glad I did it when I did (that is to say during the summer before the new fall season starts) Because by then I should be an old hand at seeking out the programming I want to see.

Because, while the experience of watching TV hasn’t changed all that much (I don’t use a remote control any more, I use a mouse); the act of finding something to watch has become more involved than hitting the “guide” button on the remote.

A few days ago, the new computer wouldn’t power on. It tried to. The lights lit for a few seconds and the cooling fans spun, but it just couldn’t fire up. So, I figured it needed a new power supply. I called around town and found one for less than $40 and figured I’d install it myself. It seemed simple enough, you just follow the distributor cap model – replacing each old connector with a new one as you work your way around the drives and motherboard.

All seemed right with the world. I closed it up and hit the power button. It powered up. But I got a message that the drive had no OS and to put a boot disk in. Uh oh. One of the drives wasn’t hooked up. I opened it up again and, for the life of me, couldn’t tell which one wasn’t connected (and didn’t know which one was the C drive).

So, I asked Dollie to pack it all up and take it to the shop where she bought the power supply.

Incidentally, Joe’s Computer Shop in Murfreesboro does great work. They sorted the problem and fixed it quickly and cheaply. They have my business from now on.

During the day or so that the computer was down, I mentioned the trouble to a co-worker and how my computer repair skills aren’t as great as I thought they were.

“Won’t your friend fix it?”


“Your friend that gave it to you? Can’t he fix it?”

“What? No. I’m not going to ask him . . ”

And thus we come to one of the great conflicts of the 21st century. I’m not sure what the corollary is for the pre-information age. When one finds oneself with an overabundance of computers (which can happen easily for the tech-savvy) giving one to a friend is an act of charity and kindness, but it is also a way of decluttering your home.

It is bad form to come running back to him if the computer has issues. I’ve heard countless anecdotes about it from friends who are the designated free tech support for their families. I’ve heard tales of it on podcasts and read blogs about the anger and frustration the giver feels because he thought he was doing something nice for a friend and it turned into a huge headache.

No sir. I don’t roll that way.

Incidentally, when I hooked the computer up yesterday, it booted normally, but one of the drives wasn’t there. I cracked open the case, found the loose connector and hooked everything back up. It made me feel good that I wasn’t completely helpless.

Years ago I saw a documentary about a celebrity cemetery and about the only salient fact I recall is that a businessman is buried face down in the tomb directly above Marilyn Monroe. It turns out the guy’s name was Richard Poncher and he bought two plots from Joe Dimagio when he and Marilyn were going through a divorce.  Poncher’s hope, of course, was that he and Marilyn would be raised from the dead in some sort of black mass to have zombie sex at the turn of the millennium. I guess that didn’t happen. I don’t know, I don’t read the LA papers.

Regardless, the man’s widow has a Beverly Hills mortgage to pay off, so she plans to move her dead husband one space over to her burial plot so that she can sell the spot directly above Marilyn on eBay. As of this writing, the auction has four days to go and is at $4.6 million. Hugh Hefner, by the way, bought the tomb next to Marilyn a few years back.

Now I’ve seen some of her movies and yes, she was attractive and sexy and an iconic figure. But where is the cache in being buried near her? How is that possibly worth $4.6 million?


Murfreesboro doesn’t have a Whole Foods. I doubt we’re missing much. But Whole Foods is seeing a little backlash because John Mackey, the company CEO, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal against the public option for the health care reform bill. Suddenly all these crunchy granola types were shocked, SHOCKED! that the head of a large corporation might not be walking the walk and talking the talk that his company espouses.

If you shop at Whole Foods, you’re paying higher prices to make sure the products you buy are cruelty free, organic, fair trade, dolphin friendly etc… So the idea that the CEO would be conservative or even libertarian was seen as outrageous. So the customers have organized boycotts on Twitter and Facebook:

“A lot of people have been paying a premium for the Whole Foods brand for years,” said Mark Rosenthal, a playwright living in Massachusetts who founded the Boycott Whole Foods group a few days ago. It has nearly 14,000 members. “A lot of people are sad to look at this corporation and see that it is just like any other, if not worse.”

Whole Foods spokeswoman Libba Letton said that Mackey was expressing personal opinions in the op-ed and that the company has no official position on the issue. Whole Foods has sent letters to customers apologizing for any offense and created a forum on its Web site to discuss the issue. There are more than 10,000 posts, compared with 77 posts on the raw foods forum.

Like I said, Murfreesboro doesn’t have a Whole Foods and even if we did, I doubt I’d shop there. I find it amusing that these granola heads believed that this corporation was somehow different than all the others or that the CEO was motivated by anything other than the bottom line. I also find it funny that the CEO didn’t realize his customers would take offense to such a public statement. I wonder if his flaks were given the head’s up before it was published.

What he wrote was a diatribe on the public option that, for some reason, wound up calling for tort reform. I don’t think he intended to speak for Whole Foods and certainly wasn’t trying to piss off his customers.

For the record, it is my understanding that Whole Foods provides high-deductible health insurance for employees as well as $1,800/ year for health care expenses. That’s not too shabby.