If You’re Going To Lose Big, It Helps To Be A Billionaire

During the California gubernatorial campaign last year, Republican Meg Whitman spent a record $144-million of her own money to lose big to Democrat Jerry Brown. A new report came out that her wealth was relatively unchanged over the last three years despite dropping a pretty nickel on her first attempt at public office. Whitman, however, did drop in rank from 773rd to 938th on the Forbes list of the world’s richest people. When you’re a billionaire several times over, $144-million really is pocket change.

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A recruiter called me last year to talk about being a PC technician at the Whitman campaign office in Palo Alto. I flat-out refused to consider taking the position. This astonished the recruiter. I had previously worked 13 months at eBay as a desktop support specialist. A perfect background to work with the former CEO of eBay. After all, everyone at eBay loves Whitman. Sure, if you’re working at eBay. Like most tech companies in Silicon Valley, drinking the Kool-Aid is a requirement if you want to keep your job. Like most corporate CEOs who pull down a stratospheric salary, Whitman developed a sinister dark side when it came to dealing with the employees who serve her: a PR person was shoved in a verbal confrontation in 2007, and an illegally employed nanny of nine years was let go before the campaign got started in 2009.

Did I want to work for such a person? No way, Jose.

I also had more personal reasons not to work for the Whitman campaign. As a moderate conservative, I was supporting moderate conservative Tom Campbell in his run for governor. Didn’t make sense to work for Whitman when I wanted her to lose the primary election. Unfortunately, with the Tea Party gaining ungodly influence in the primary elections, a moderate conservative didn’t have a prayer even if he had a better chance at winning independent voters in the general election. Campbell dropped out of the governor’s race to run for U.S. senator but he still couldn’t beat the more conservative Carly Fionrina. I ended up voting for Jerry Brown for governor and Barbara Boxer for senator. Not a single Republican candidate won state office in the 2010 election.

For a moment I did seriously consider taking the job to write a kiss-and-tell essay after the campaign was over. I saw a documentary about Hunter S. Thompson who covered the presidential campaigns of President Richard Nixon and George McGovern for Rolling Stone magazine about a week before the recruiter called. I always did love the idea of independent journalism that spits in the eye of the establishment news media. I’m now reading “Smoking Typewriters: The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America” by John McMillian.

And maybe I did make a mistake by not taking the job to do just that.

I write and publish mostly fiction, and never seriously bothered with writing non-fiction beyond the occasional blog post. After the election was over I started creating ebooks to reprint my previously published short stories, and learned from other writers that original non-fiction tend to sell better as ebooks. (The reprint of my Christmas shopping essay is still my best-selling ebook to date.) If I’m still doing contract work next year, I’ll work for one of the presidential campaigns and write a kiss-and-tell ebook.

Should A Rape Court Case Be Live Blog?

You may remember this rape case that made headlines on March 4, 2007: a 17-year-old girl was plied with alcohol until she passed out at an off-campus party, ended up on the floor of a bedroom where eight men—seven were from the De Anza College baseball team—took turns having sex with her, three women from the soccer team broke into the bedroom to rescue the comatose teenager to take her to the hospital, and the district attorney’s office declined to file charges due to the lack of evidence two months later. The young victim is now having her day in civil court to seek justice that was denied to her. The San Jose Mercury News is live blogging the case with an hour-by-hour summary.

The whole idea of live blogging a rape case comes across to me as being a form of voyeurism, where the carnival barker cries out every hour to the passing crowds to look through the peephole to see an unspeakable horror that they would never want to experience themselves. This reminds me of the O.J. Simpson murder case that was a media sensation that did nothing more than to turn the legal system into a media circus. Of course, this civil case isn’t being broadcast live on national television and concerns probably no one except for people living in Silicon Valley.

I would feel more comfortable reading the end-of-day summary about this case. Some information that seems relevant in an hour-by-hour summary is often lost as being irrelevant in the end-of-day summary. The Los Angeles Times will sometimes create stub articles on their website to focus on one aspect of a developing story—for example, the rioting that took place after the L.A. Lakers won a championship basketball game—that will later disappear when the finished article is posted. One such stub article focused on the fact that most of the rioters were minorities, which elicited comments from readers that minorities could always be counted on to destroy property. The stub article and comments disappeared the next morning. The finished article made no references about race but featured a photo of two white guys jumping on the hood of a car.

What have we learned so far from this civil case?

The victim had two beers and a dozen vodka shots. She spite an ex-boyfriend by agreeing to go into the bedroom to make out with a different guy. The defense is arguing that she consented to have sex with eight guys. Two beers and a dozen vodka shots, I don’t think so. No woman in her sober mind would consent to being gang-banged comatose. Anyone who had that much booze in their system is incapable of granting consent. The fact that she was underaged should have been obvious that she wasn’t able to give legal consent, sober or not.

The defense had tried to undermine the victim’s creditability by introducing pictures from her Facebook account, including one showing her on a bunk with a guy lying on top of her, that she is still a party girl at heart. This is the sleaziest part of the civil trial. The defense can’t say that the men weren’t there in the room with her, so they need to cast doubt and blame on her to prove themselves blameless. A study came out today that women who post lots of photos on Facebook need attention. Considering what the victim went through, and not knowing what kind of help she had gotten over the last four years, she may still be crying out for attention and still attracting the wrong kind.

We do finally get an explanation to why the District Attorney’s office never filed charges. The three women who rescued the victim took her directly to the hospital without calling the police from the party house. They had the opportunity and the means to collaborate on their stories to implicate all the guys. Due to a turf dispute between different police agencies, the crime scene itself was not secured until seven hours after the victim was brought to the hospital. The guys had the opportunity and the means to clean up the crime scene and collaborate on their stories. I can see why this would lead the district attorney’s office not to file any charges if an outright victory wasn’t guarantee.

But there is one question that always bothered me about this case: Did the district attorney’s office drop the ball on this case because most of the men accused were college baseball players?

In California, it’s not unheard of for school administrators to piss, moan and groan that there is no money for buying school supplies, reducing class sizes and updating older buildings. However, when it comes to building a brand new, state of the art sports field, money can always be found in a hurry. We live in a society that enables “bad boy” behavior in celebrities, politicians and sports stars. (Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen and Mel Gibson are this week’s celebrity specials.) I wouldn’t surprised if the baseball players got special preferential treatment from the district attorney’s office in this case. After all, baseball is as American as Mom and apple pie.

And so is rape, live blogging or not.

Looking For Bargains At A Closing Borders Store

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Two weeks ago I received an email that the Borders store at Santana Row was one of 200 stores being closed as part of the bankruptcy deal and there would be a 20% to 40% clearance sale. (My buddy got an email for the Oakridge Mall store even though the Santana Row store was closer to him, probably because he spends more money there and I always find what I want at Santana Row.) The store on the first weekend was busy as people stood in line with  hand baskets filled with books. Which begs the obvious question, where were they before the going out of business sale?

A week later the shelves were thoroughly disorganized and the carpet wasn’t vacuumed, reminding me of the used bookstore that was in downtown San Jose during the 1990s (except they had a really friendly cat who kept the mice away). When I went in today, the shelves were somewhat straightened up and the carpet vacuumed. I was surprised to see plenty of books still available. I shouldn’t have been. For a going out of business sale, Amazon was still much cheaper.

The current 25% to 50% off sale is somewhat misleading. Nearly all the books were 25% off and all the magazines were %50 off. Signs were posted for 30% off on the more expensive computer and science books. These are not great prices. I could take the 33% off coupon that I got via email to a Borders store that wasn’t closing to get a better price. I don’t think the books will start moving off the shelves until the discount drops to 50% off.

But there are bargains to be found in the bargain books department. Many of the books I picked up over the last two weeks were priced at $5.99 or less. With the 20% or 25% off discount, and another 10% off discount for being a Borders member, these low prices became much lower. When I went into the store today, the bargain books department was reduced to nothing but a few shelves.

Here are the books that I got so far:


  • “A Most Wanted Man” by John le Carre
  • “The Malloreon: Volume 2” by David Eddings
  • “Duma Key” by Stephen King
  • “By Schism Rent Asunder” by David Webber


  • “The Great Depression Ahead: How to Prosper in The Debt Crisis of 2010-2012” by Harry S. Dent, Jr.
  • “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic—and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World” by Steven Johnson
  • “The Conscience of A Liberal” by Paul Krugman

The only non-bargain book that I picked up was “The Malloreon: Volume 2” by David Eddings. I had gotten the first volume a month ago and was planning to get the second volume before the store closing was announced. Eddings wrote fantasy with a large cast of characters and sweeping events that seems almost effortless in execution. This is something I want to emulate when revising my own first novel. I had read both the “The Belgariad” and “The Malloreon” (five books in each series) when they first came out when I was still a teenager. Having read the four omnibus volumes back-to-back since the beginning of the new year, I was overwhelmed with tears when I read the last lines: “And so, my children, the time has come to close the book. There will be other days and other stories, but this tale is finished.”

Once the Borders store closes at Santana Row, the heart of Santana Row will be gone. Barnes & Nobles will probably not put a store there since it is halfway between their stores at The Pruneyard and Steven Creek Boulevard. An independent bookstore couldn’t afford the rent for such a marquee location. I’m not sure what will end up going into that two-story location, although I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple relocated their Valley Fair Mall store from across the street. Besides the nearby movie theaters, there will be no reason to go to Santana Row. Bookstores are the great equalizer in society. Where else can you go after watching a movie and picking up a mocha at the coffee shop to browse the newest and greatest?

Replaying The California Lotto Scratchers

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After two years of being unemployed and living on substantially less money, I started playing the California lotto scratchers. No surprise there. The older I get the more I become like my father. He’s been playing the scratchers for years. I started playing during the holidays when the new Happy Holidays! scratchers came out. The key to being successful at playing scratchers is to start when a new game comes out. The prizes become less frequent the longer the game is out. The most I had won at one time was $20. I’m always hoping to win a pair of $500 winners to pay off the rent.

Sometimes I get a lucky streak that allows me to play multiple scratchers. I played $5 at FoodMaxx to win $1 back. Go over to CVS to play that $1 to win $5 back. Go over to Safeway to play that $5 to win back $2. (The scratcher vending machines are very much like slot machines: the longer you play the same machine, the less likely you will win.) Several times I had visited a store per day for a week before I stop winning, going through 18 scratchers from the initial $5 and entering the 14 losing scratchers into the replay website for a second chance $1,000 drawing.

I have entered 200+ scratchers over the last four months into the replay website. One-third were mine, one-third comes from my father, and one-third were found discarded in the parking lot. Being the computer guru in the family, it wasn’t surprising that I would enter my losing scratchers into the website. My father, who knows enough about computers to routinely get a virus infection after looking at some naughty bits on the Internet, gave me his losing scratchers to enter. I’m surprised by how many people discarded their losing scratchers out in the parking lot. Sometimes I find only a torn half of a scratcher that has the two control numbers needed to enter. A quick walkthrough of the parking lot usually turns up a half-dozen scratchers.

My father gave me one poker game scratcher that the replay website rejected because I either entered the numbers wrong or it was a winning scratcher. The numbers were correct but I couldn’t figure out why the scratcher was a winner. The hand to beat had three Jacks. There were two hands out of the half-dozen hands that each had a pair of pairs. Could the hand with a pair of Kings and Queens beat the winning hand of three Jacks? If so, that was a $25 winner.

I wasn’t sure since I’m a blackjack player. (My first dog—a black-and-white boxer— was named Blackjack, and, if I ever get an English bulldog, I’ll named her Blackjack as well.) The diagram on the back of the scratcher didn’t help. A Google search revealed that a pair of pairs could beat three of a kind under Texas Hold ‘Em rules. No where on the scratcher or the website does it say what poker rules were being used. It would be a scandal if the California lottery commission was using the rules from a Texas poker game. (Texas ain’t too popular in this part of the country since Enron’s Jeff Skilling cracked a Titanic joke about California during the 2001 energy crisis.) My father insisted that the scratcher was playing by regular poker rules and wasn’t a winner.

I took the card down to the store to find out that the winning hand was a straight flush (five cards of the same suit in numerical order). The winning prize was a free ticket (a $3 value).

I didn’t win the replay drawing at the end of December. The next replay drawing will be at the end of March. Scratchers from four older games will be having an end-of-game drawing in April. I’m still finding discarded scratchers out in the parking lot. My luck is still holding out that I’m winning more money than I’m losing. Maybe one of these days my rent will be paid from my winnings.

Goodbye Joomla, Hello WordPress

In January 2008 I started transitioning content from my handcrafted legacy website to a modern content management system (CMS) website. I wanted an easier way to post content and for readers to post their own comments. Features that were long on my to do list but I never got around to programming. It didn’t make sense for me to reinvent the wheel. My co-workers at Google recommended Joomla as the best CMS available. Setting up the blank Joomla website was the easy part. Moving content from the old website to the new website soon came to a grinding halt and was left undone for three years.

Although a powerful CMS with a steep learning curve, Joomla doesn’t include a native blogging and comment component. I ended up paying for those features from a third-party component provider that were adequate but awkward to use. Although much easier to use than my legacy website, I never really enjoyed blogging on Joomla. When Joomla 1.6 went into beta testing last year, it still didn’t have a native blogging and comment component. Worst, there was no migration from version 1.5 to version 1.6. If I went with version 1.6, I would have to transition from both the legacy and version 1.5 websites.

Again, I didn’t want to reinvent the wheel.

When I decided to set up a writing blog for my author website last year, I started looking at the alternatives and decided to install WordPress on a subdomain. Although it can be used as a CMS, WordPress was designed to do blogging exceptionally well. I was no longer fighting the little quirks that prevented me from getting something up on the website. I soon fell in love with blogging again.

Setting up WordPress on a test subdomain, I spent the last month transitioning both the legacy and Joomla websites over. Now that everything was copied and pasted over, all 222 blog posts and 707 pictures since 1999 are now back up on the Internet for the first time in three years. I still need to clean up the old posts that were written long before the word blogging came into existence, fix all the broken links, and add all the categories and tags to find stuff. I’m hoping to get that done in the next month or so. Considering how easy WordPress is to use, that shouldn’t be a problem this time around.