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By Joel Klebanoff

More Tirade Odds and Ends

It's once again time to rummage through my tirade topics database and harvest those news items and general observations that surpass my absurdity or noteworthy threshold but offer inadequate material to generate a full-blown tirade on their own.

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An October 28, 2005, article in The New York Times talked about people who are paying real money to take virtual vacations to digitally generated exotic locales rather than actually traveling. People. People. People. It's not a substitute. It's not even close. I'd say, "not by a country mile," but I have no idea how much longer a country mile is than a regular mile, nor how you'd measure one in cyberspace.

If you absolutely must go on one of these electronic holidays, here are a few tips that will help ensure a safe journey:

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On November 16, 2005, The New York Times ran a story about people who are taking prescription drugs that their doctors, if they have doctors, don't necessarily think they should be taking. They are employing a variety of means to do this. When some people stop taking a prescribed medicine, they give their friends any leftover pills. Some people use the Internet to get medications without prescriptions. And, to quote from the story, some people "lie to doctors to obtain medications that in their judgment they need."

Are these people totally deranged? Actually, if they weren't before, they might be afterward because some of the pills they're popping are psychiatric drugs.

But hey, it's OK, because they've done extensive research on the drugs and the conditions they treat. What's more, again according to the article, "a medical degree, in their view, is useful, but not essential, and certainly not sufficient." Well, good for them. Experts and politicians all over the world are racking their brains trying to figure out how to deal with soaring healthcare costs, and these people have had the solution all along: Medical degrees aren't essential. Let's shut down the medical schools, get rid of doctors, and treat ourselves. Think of all the money the healthcare system will save. I live in a country with government-funded universal health insurance. My taxes should drop tomorrow.

And where are these people doing their research? They're doing it on the Internet, of course. If you know people who are self-medicating based on information they've found on the Web, you might want to remind them of one small fact: Any damn fool can say anything the hell he or she wants on the Web and it costs almost nothing—and in some cases absolutely nothing—to do so. Heck, I write a weekly column that appears on the Internet, and I don't have a freaking clue about anything. Anyone who makes a major life decision based on what appears in these tirades is a complete idiot. And there are people who are even more clueless, yet much more prolific, than I am in their Web scribbling. Some of that scribbling is medical advice. Enough said.

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In the past, I've written disparagingly about television being incorporated into handheld devices such as cell phones and iPods. The reasons for my negativity included, among others, the miniscule screen size and the dearth of worthwhile television fare. Lately I've devoted a few of my scarce cerebral resources to reexamining the subject, and I've begun to alter my views. I might have overlooked some of these devices' entertainment possibilities, at least one of which has such a huge potential for amusement that I can't believe it never occurred to me before.

Now, rather than lamenting palm-sized televisions, I'm keenly looking forward to being able to watch all of those complete jerks walk along the sidewalk, repeatedly banging into lampposts because they are too engrossed in their ultra-portable TVs to notice such things.

Possessing a bit of a pacifist-humanist streak, I don't want serious harm to come to these people. Consequently, we're going to have to erect a lot more barriers in front of cliffs and between sidewalks and roadways, but, considering that the barricades will provide even more things for them to bump into, the numerous mishaps should be sufficient to teach these people a lesson while providing the rest of us with countless hours of truly great fun.

Maybe we should videotape these people's pratfalls. We could then broadcast them to cell phone screens and provide them as video podcasts to ensure that there is enough mindless content to keep these idiots sufficiently distracted from real life.

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The December 24, 2005, issue of The Economist included an article contrasting poverty in what, in less politically correct times, would have been referred to as the first and third worlds. The article included a few general statistics and observations, but to provide a more human face, most of it was dedicated to telling the story of two real-life individuals who were used as examples of a socio-economic class in their respective countries. One of the individuals lives in a trailer in the Appalachia region of eastern Kentucky. The other lives in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Kentuckian, a former truck driver, has been out of work since he had a heart attack 25 years ago. He lives on $521 a month provided by supplementary security income. He separated from his wife so that she and their three children could claim their own benefits. They live in a trailer next door. The article didn't specify how much the wife and children receive in social assistance, but needless to say, this family is considered to be poor.

The Kinshasan is a respected doctor with 28 years of experience. His salary is $250 per month, which is paid two months in arrears. He raises his earnings to $600 or $700 a month by providing private healthcare services after hours. With these earnings, he supports an extended family of 12, none of whom receives social assistance. Despite being much worse off than the Kentuckian even after considering the differences in costs of living, he's considered in Congo to be wealthy.

Interesting juxtaposition, isn't it?

This is a technology tirade, so where's the technology? Here it is. One of the general, statistics-based pieces of information provided in the article was that "A typical poor household in America has two televisions, cable or satellite reception and a VCR or a DVD player." I like to think of myself as compassionate. I'm happy to see some of my tax dollars going to help people who, often through no fault of their own, are down on their luck, but two televisions, cable or satellite reception, and a VCR or a DVD player on social assistance? I'm sorry. Maybe it's just me, but I'm having a little trouble seeing how that's a necessity of life. It's not that I think our help for the misfortunate should be restricted to the necessities of life. I believe that it's also to our and the underprivileged's advantage to assist them in gaining access to goods and services they can use to help lift themselves out of their current situation, but I really don't see how being able to watch Desperate Housewives and The Price is Right is going to do that.

The funny part is (as if that wasn't the funny part), what was the ad that appeared on the page facing the last page of this story? It promoted Lexus and, in particular, the ability to preset most of the electronic controls in its cars. That seems just a tad out of place following an article about poverty, doesn't it?

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The world would be a much better place if all thieves were incredibly stupid. A January 3, 2006, Reuters news item reported that a thief in Overtornea, Sweden, broke into a house and stole, among other things, a cell phone. The police called the number. The thief answered and forgot to push the Off button, so the line remained open. The police then heard the thief swearing about a late taxi he had requested. In amongst the profanities, he also mentioned the city, 37 miles from Overtornea, where the taxi was supposed to take him. The police, being much more clever than the thief, found the taxi that eventually responded to the call, and they were able to arrest the man.

This made me think of a security tip. Always leave a fully charged cell phone and a gift certificate to a local cinema in plain sight in your home whenever you go out. Don't forget to leave the phone on. If your house is broken into and the phone and gift certificate are stolen, call the number frequently. Then send the police to pick up the thief. If he's as stupid as the one in Sweden, he won't turn the phone off. He'll be the one lying beaten and bloodied on the theater floor after your cell phone repeatedly interrupts the film, triggering a visceral audience response.

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Here's one that didn't languish long in the database. As I was writing this week's column, Victoria, the illustrious editor, forwarded me a January 15, 2006, article from The New York Times. It seems that some proud parents are setting up email addresses for their babies—sometimes as soon as an ultrasound lets them know whether to get an address with a boy's name or a girl's name. Family and friends can then send messages to the little bundle of joy.

Obviously, the parents will have to read the notes to their children in the early years. Why do I get the feeling that what will be going through the little darlings' heads as they hear or, when they get older, read this stuff is "Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that sweet? Auntie Millie is sending me her best wishes. The darling little biddy is too damn cheap to buy me the transformer action hero robot that I really wanted. To hell with her!"

What's behind the parents' thinking is, to quote the article, "If a baby has an email address, and people do write to him, he has a virtual time capsule waiting, messages from future friends and family, bulletins from the past written long before he even knew he was reachable online."

Oh yeah, that's just what the kids are going to want to do when they grow up—read all of that nonsense. They're going to be overloaded reading the mass quantities of email, instant messages, and whatever other communication media their friends will use to inundate them with inane chitchat in the future, not to mention sorting through the millions of pieces of commercial spam that will, by then, probably be so sophisticated as to pass through the most comprehensive of spam filters, and these kids are supposed to also sift through years' worth of friends and family spam? I don't think so. They'd have to give up their college years, or at least give up the boozing and carousing that goes on in those years, in order to have enough time to do that. Trust me. It isn't going to happen.

This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.

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