Monday, October 31, 2011

Costume Tips for Halloween Parties

1) Get a plain white t-shirt, and draw a big "euro" symbol on both sides of it. That way, when you get drunk at your Halloween party and have to collapse, you can go as "the collapse of the euro".

2) If you're a girl, wear plenty of makeup and then toss yourself down a flight of stairs. Now, you're Lindsay Lohan!

3) If you can't make it to the party, just tell everyone that you'll be showing up as "civility in politics". Then when you don't show up, they'll understand your point.

4) Wear a Sarah Palin mask and go as 2008.

5) Dress up as Amy Winehouse and go as "Too Soon."

6) Drink all the host's booze, grope several guests, and smash something, and tell everyone that you're going as yourself before rehab. Note--you might really want to go into rehab afterwards.

7) Dress like Richard Burton's character in "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" and then spend the rest of the evening explaining to people what you were going for and get pissed at them for not having any taste for the classics.

8) Attach containers of fish food to your sweater, and go as "Osama Bin Laden".

9) Go as an abstract concept such as "The Importance of Being Earnest" and then marvel at how many fewer friends you have by the enf of the evening.


We had guests in town this weekend, my sister and brother-in-law, as the latter was to run in the Marine Corps Marathon Sunday. Fortunately the weather cleared up on Sunday (Saturday of course was miserable! It's as though October stole one of December's weekends) and we were able to stroll over to the route on the Mall to see the runners go by. The sight of even wheelchair bound competitors going by on their hand-operated carts gave me a bit of shame, as I can't run a mile without gasping for air let alone 26. Am I taking my legs for granted? Sadly, yes.

The problem with running--opposed to walking--is you can't really do anything else while you're running. Too much effort and concentration has to be expended on (a) keeping your lungs working and (b) not smashing into things. You can't make phone calls, read restaurant menus, or eat an apple while you're running.

Now, if they'll just let me walk the 26 miles, then we're in business.

Fortunately, my brother in law finished the run in good time, and seemed remarkably upbeat afterwards as we celebrated with lunch before their train back. I was so inspired by his example that I went back to my couch to watch movies and read for the rest of the afternoon.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Haunted House Injuries? Eek!

You know what really boils my potatoes every Halloween? Stupid people. Somehow, holidays can always bring out the incredibly dumb moronic bump-tards in a way that ordinary weekends don't. The latest is this story about morons punching out people working in a haunted house.

Look--you're voluntarily entering a "haunted house" by which I mean a house that you know is being set up for pretending to be haunted. Meaning, it's NOT REAL GHOSTS AND MURDERERS but rather, teenaged kids dressed up to scare you. If you're like six years old, you get a pass because six year olds are obviously stupid anyway, but if you're big enough to punch and injure a haunted house worker, you should know better.

Yet again, another group of people I deem "Too Stupid to Exist And Yet We Let Them".

If I ran a haunted house, I'd make everyone entering sign a waiver agreeing that if they abuse the haunted house staff, they'll get beaten to death and then there'll be a real haunting. And yet, I'd somehow be the bad guy.

We live in an unjust world.

Candidates' Movie Picks Revealed!

You can tell a lot about what sort of president you're about to have by their favorite movies. For example, a president who loves "The Godfather" will be a patient person, who can take time for a slow buildup and a big payoff, and this person will also consider loyalty above all other qualities among their staff. A president whose favorite film is "Armageddon" is clearly a retard and should not be allowed near any nuclear weapons. A president who enjoys watching "Roller Boogie" is going to be worse than Hitler on steroids.

(Incidentally, Hitler on steroids likely would have been less dangerous than the "Emo Hitler" that the world ended up with. Imagine when the time came to invade Poland, a juiced-up Hitler would have gone "Hitler SMASH" and his generals would have done a coup d'etat right then and there. No war, no 50 million dead.)

Recently, the GOP presidential contenders were asked what their favorite movies were. Ron Paul surprised no one by not picking a favorite film, since of course films weren't part of what the original framers of the Constitution envisioned. Michele Bachmann picking Braveheart isn't surprising, since she's a moron who would probably love a ridiculously simplistic film that challenges the mind about as much as "Breakin 2 Electric Boogaloo". Rick Perry surprised me by picking "Immortal Beloved"--something about his rough rancher image doesn't seem to scream "movie about Beethoven!"

I have to give a lot of credit to libertarian candidate Gary Johnson's pick--Dr. Zhivago. A sweeping epic with an anti-communist message, a compelling love story, and the great Omar Sharif and Julie Christie back when she was hot stuff. Too bad the guy doesn't have a chance in hell of getting the nomination.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Black Fans Loving the Redskins?

Football fans pick their favorite teams for a variety of odd reasons: New Englanders love their Patriots because it's the only team in their region; white kids who think they're gangster rappers love the Raiders because they think the team's colors give them street cred; New Yorkers who like having their hearts broken naturally root for the Jets. But one thing that makes the least sense to me is the fact that black Washingtonians seem to love the Redskins to a greater degree than their white counterparts.

This, of course, despite the fact that the Skins were the last team to allow black players (which we can understand because black people are notoriously bad at sports). This despite the fact that the Redskins have a racially offensive team name (and mind you I'm fine with the Atlanta Braves). This despite the fact that owner Dan Snyder--aside from being a team owner of James Bond villain levels of rotten--is so white that Pat Boone goes to HIS concerts. This despite the fact that even attending a Skins game requires the average Washingtonian to shell out the equivalent of a mortgage payment.

I'd welcome any theories for this one.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dog Scooping Controversy Abated

With all this talk of war and elections we often lose sight of the important things, such as laws governing where dogs are allowed to poop. A dogwalker in Fairfax County (motto--We Don't Really Know What We're Doing) was just exonerated by a jury after being accused of letter the dog she was caring for leave its surprise on the grounds of a condo development. Only the testimony of the dog's owner that the dog-leavings at issue were not consistent with those normally coming from such a small dog was enough to sway the jury. Revenge may be best served cold, but justice is often served in a steaming warm pile.

But the episode just served to remind me why I can't own a dog. There's something about picking up after another creature's droppings that just screams lack of dignity. (Sure, like this dog's owner, you can hire someone to do it, but by extension that still makes you lower than the dog since your agent has to complete this unpleasant task). And cleaning up after your dog's outdoor excretions is only what happens if you're LUCKY--it means you're not trying to reduce the mess on your carpet, or couch.

Let's face it, dog ownership is just a massive affront to your dignity any way you cut it. I'd make an exception, though, for true country living or if the dog is trained to get you nice things from the fridge.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

An Open Letter to D.C. Transportation Authorities

Dear D.C. Transportation Authorities:

Imagine my pleasant surprise--it's a typical day like any other, driving from Rte. 50 eastbound towards the Memorial Bridge, expecting a short hop on the GW Parkway to get to the bridge ramp as I often do. Of course, yesterday it was completely backed up, so I figure I'll cross the Roosevelt instead and hop on Independence Avenue from there. As a frequent commuter in this region, I recall a sign on the bridge indicating the far right lane takes you to "Independence Avenue." So like any non-crazy person, I surmise that this exit will in fact take me to "Independence Avenue".

Sure enough, the sign is still there as I cross Roosevelt, so I get into the far right lane and pass under the sign for "Independence Avenue." Years of driving on roads make me believe that if for any reason this would not permit me to get onto "Independence Avenue" there would be some sign on the bridge indicating that this could not happen. So imagine my next surprise as I get off the ramp--exit blocked for Independence Avenue! I now have the choice of going to Kennedy Center or up north on Rock Creek Parkway during rush hour. I elect the former, get onto Virginia Avenue, creep down 23rd to Constitution Avenue, which by the way is still under construction for the seventh consecutive month because why get a mile of road paved in less time than it took to perfect the Manhattan Project after all--and then turn down 17th to cross the Mall and finally get to Independence Avenue.

So technically, your brilliantly marked exit for "Independence Avenue" did in fact eventually get me to "Independence Avenue" though I wonder how many tourists have gotten completely flimshammed by your fraud of an exit.

Now maybe this is your silent protest against Virginians because you don't have representation in Congress or something. But as a D.C. resident, I see no reason why I should be collateral damage in your hopeless battle.

Please quit your job. You will do society a lot less damage collecting government assistance.


A D.C. Area Commuter

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tarantino at it Again

Part of the problem with the major movie industry is that everyone involved is completely stupid and worthless. Much has already been written about how basically every big release is either a sequel, a reboot, or an adaptation of a TV show, comic book, or foreign film. Of course they're remaking "The Birds", even though the remake of "Psycho" flopped. Of course they're remaking "Footloose", even though the original was a turd sandwich. Hollywood does only what it knows to do, and can do no other. Part of it is because the studios have a better bet financially by backing film fare that already has a built-in audience (and merchandising opportunity) therefore justifying the dreck they put out.

(I'd always wondered why Hollywood always makes profitable corporations look cartoonishly evil in all their films, until I figured this must be because the only corporations they actually deal with--Paramount, Tri-Star, Universal, etc.--are actually cartoonishly evil. Louis B. Mayer notoriously tried to invade Mexico just for kicks, until he realized that MGM didn't have a paramilitary division)

So it's even sadder when one of the industry's more original filmmakers, Quentin Tarantino, stoops to putting out exploitationist drivel like his latest project, "Django Unchained" (a story of a former slave who goes out to get revenge on slaveowners). Let's start with the fact that he's naming his black hero "Django". What, was "Sambo" taken??? Why not add an Italian organ grinder for comic relief, naming him Beppo Pastafazooli??? Interestingly, there actually was a late '60s Italian western called "Django" so who knows, maybe this is some kind of homage.

But while I've seen every Tarantino film released so far, I will likely skip this one for a few reasons. First, rape--I don't care to see it in a film and knowing the director it's likely to be graphic and gratuitous. If I want to be disturbed by a film I'll just watch "Footloose" again. Second, what message are we supposed to get from a simple revenge film? Bad guys do bad thing, hero goes and revenges. But a good revenge film will show additional elements, and make one consider a deeper message--say, that revenge leads to emptyness. Or that in the midst of righteous goals (such as fighting the Nazis) we often do morally indefensible things (like firebombing Dresden). It's one reason the best western films had a good character arc like that, in say "The Searchers" or "For a few dollars more".

But it's hard to imagine Django in this case having moral qualms about what he's doing--after all, what sort of movie will make the slaveowner's point of view sympathetic, or question the motives of a man avenging his servitude? Tarantino could have tried for something more daring--maybe a Vietnam War film from the standpoint of Viet Cong troops, or Jaws retold from the shark's standpoint (which would be "why the hell won't these people just let me eat??"). A slave having his wife raped and unleashing his fury isn't really a story--it's just cheap thrills for an audience's basest instincts.

Friday, October 21, 2011


Everyone seems to be talking about Herman Cain's "9-9-9" tax plan as if it has some chance of ever becoming law, forgetting that (a) Herman Cain is simply never going to be president and (b) even if somehow Mitt Romney and Rick Perry were discovered to both be secretly women having a lesbian affair and Barack Obama admitted to being in love with both of them and dropped out of the race and the Democrats were dumb enough to go with Dennis Kucinich, meaning Herman Cain wins the presidency, the fact of the matter is this 9-9-9 tax plan will simply never be passed by Congress.

In fact, the 9-9-9 plan has less chance of becoming law than the tree frogs have a chance of rising up against their human masters and taking over and instituting their own tax plan. This "tree frog overlord tax plan" has a better chance of becoming law than the 9-9-9 plan. So instead we should be talking about the tree frog plan, but we're not because the media is full of idiots.

So, let's recap--the 9-9-9 plan means replacing the current federal income tax with (a) a flat 9% rate on all individuals, plus (b) a 9% rate on all corporations and (c) a 9% federal sales tax. All deductions except charity would be eliminated. Liberals are already complaining that this would raise taxes on all the low earners who currently don't pay income taxes because they're too poor but I'm certain that an exemption for the tax would be granted for such tax filers and why am I even discussing this stupid plan?

The biggest flaw, I see--and why it'd never see the light of day--is not that this plan would raise taxes on anyone but that the taxes collected under such a plan would be so comically low that our government would have to function a lot less like it does now and a lot more like it did in 1840. Cuts necessary would include reducing our military to a weekend volunteer militia, reducing our police force to one sheriff per county with any deputies he can scrounge up, no more funding for roads, airports, farm subsidies, social security, medicare, and requiring everyone to find a way to home school. Forget food inspection--we'd all just have to do the sniff test. While I agree with the need for serious budget cutting, there's just no way the budget can be cut as deeply and quickly as this 9-9-9 plan would require without sending this country into a chaotic tailspin.

Add to that the sales tax hike, which would basically drive prices up on all goods and likely depress consumer spending, and we have a formula for competing with Zimbabwe for World's National Equivalent of Lindsay Lohan. So why would a seemingly smart man like Herman Cain push this plan?

The answer is obvious--Cain is a salesman, and his entire campaign is geared towards becoming a paid celebrity. He can sell books and get a show on cable, with big money and a national platform, as a result of this presidential run. Sarah Palin sort of showed the way for nonserious candidates. This whole thing deserves the degree of scrutiny that Donald Trump's "campaign" did--that is, very little. All the reporters (or his primary opponents) should be saying to him about the 9-9-9 plan is "okay, we get the joke--can we move on to something else?"

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Deep Dish v. Traditional

Longtime Supreme Court Justice Antonin "Nino" Scalia recently weighed in on one of the more pressing controversies facing our times--whether Chicago-style "deep dish" pizza can be properly called "pizza". As a man who hails from the New York area (famed for its traditional, thin crust pizza) but taught at University of Chicago, Scalia should have adequate experience with both pizza cultures and should be a good authority on the subject. Let's examine:

1) A literalist interpretation would argue that having the three key ingredients--baked dough, topped with tomato and cheese--should qualify Chicago-style as actual pizza. However, you can see how this would open the door for calzones, bagels and even some sandwiches to fall into this overbroad category. From there, it's a slippery slope and anything can become a pizza.

2) Precedent would dictate that Chicago pizza can still be called pizza, because that's what everyone--including its detractors like myself--have been calling it forever. However, as the Court determined in "Brown v. Board of Education", precedent can and should be overturned when it is not constitutionally sound. And don't get me started on whether we should call potato chips "crisps".

3) Original intent of the founders. The Neapolitans who invented pizza clearly intended a thin crust, in fact the earliest pizzas did not even use tomato.

I for one would have to agree with Scalia, in that Chicago "deep dish" is really just a tomato pie of some sort. My reasoning? A slice of pizza is something you should be able to grab n' go, fold up and eat while on the run, which is one reason for its popularity. Those deep dish pies will simply spill out all over your pants.

Let's hope this ruling doesn't get overturned.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Delegitimizing Protests

One positive from all the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) coverage is that it gives right wing hacks and left wing hacks the chance to completely trade talking points from the time of the hoopla over the Tea Party rallies. At this point we have seen:

1) Right wingers pointing out that in surveys taken among the demonstrators, OWSers by and large don't seem to know much about the economy or politics. It seems like just yesterday left wingers were pointing out surveys showing the same ignorance among Tea Partiers. The only thing this really proves though is that most people really don't know what the hell they're talking about most of the time.

2) Right wingers pointing out anti-Semitic OWS attendees in order to tar the whole movement (despite large numbers of Jews participating in the rallies themselves), while left wingers point out that a few nuts showing up at a rally shouldn't taint everyone else. Where did I hear something similar? Oh yes, some borderline racist (or blatantly racist) Tea Party attendees being touted by the left as emblematic of the whole, while the right points out that the Tea Party now seems to be enamored with Herman Cain.

3) Right wingers pointing out that the typcial OWSer is actually employed, and relatively privileged (educated, middle class) just as left wingers pointed out that Tea Partiers tended to be more well-off than most of the country.

4) Right wingers pointing out the hypocrisy of OWSers bleating about corporations while using iPhones, wearing designer clothes, and drinking Starbucks coffee. It wasn't that long ago that left wingers gleefully pointed out that Tea Partiers railed against government while rallying in public parks (like the Mall) and using the (publicly funded and run) Metro to get to their rallies.

Even better is the willingness of each side to argue that theirs is noble while the other side's demonstrations are just idiots/haters whose complaints are illegitimate and they don't have any good ideas.

But let's consider this fairly--aren't these two groups--Tea Partiers and OWSers--really more similar than anyone gives them credit for? After all:

1) They're all privileged compared to the average American (and certainly compared to the average human, when you toss in the Third World), but both groups are legitimately anxious about the direction of their futures. Tea Partiers are watching their retirement funds vanish, their house values drop, and the prospect of entitlements (Medicare and Social Security) run out of funding before long. OWSers are watching their job and salary prospects dwindle while their school loans are likely to be with them for decades and default could wreck their futures. This is a real prospect of loss, and it explains the anger.

2) The targets of their anger--government and big business that seem pretty good at granting favors to one another in ways that if not illegal are certainly slimy--are largely complicit in the mess we fell into years ago and are still in. (Yes, it's not as simple as "government and Wall Street screwed this all up" but they certainly deserve a good chunk of the blame)

3) There are certainly hate filled morons at both rallies, but I refuse to believe the majority at either rally condones such nonsense--if only because IT'S NOT HELPING.

4) At both rallies, there's always the overly simplistic message that can be reduced to a sign--"Zero taxes!" or "End all corporations!"--but I'd gather that most Tea Partiers want smaller, not nonexistent government, and most OWSers want corporate reform, not an end to the corporation as an entity. If there is an invididual absolutist though, that rides the metro while arguing that there should be no government at all, or enjoys his iPad while arguing that business profits should not exist period, then yes these are genuine hypocrites. Though it's the extremism of their positions and not the hypocrisy itself that should be reason to ignore them.

5) Sadly, neither the OWS or Tea Party crowds seem to have workable answers. Taxing just the very rich isn't going to close our deficits (not to mention the severe effects on the economy of doing such a thing) and neither will cutting government "waste". And of course neither of these things will create "jobs". The problem now is an overarching fear of risk that's keeping spending and investing down for everyone from the average consumer to big businesses--and until that changes we can expect a lot more rallies.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

More Racial Crap

With campaign season in full swing--sadly, over a year before the election--the stupid and the vile come shooting out of every side. The latest outrage (I sure do have a lot of outrages!) is from some of Barack Obama's supporters, chastising black voters for being too critical of the first black president. Because if there's one thing we learned from history, it's that black people need to think with one mind and should place racial loyalty above everything, including whether Obama has been doing a decent job as president.

Let's get the Al Sharpton quote out of the way, since the man is a rotten sack of human waste and has added nothing positive to society except keeping makers of XXL track suits in business. He's a great boon to conservative pundits, because he can stand in for everything that's ever been wrong with black activists--the same way Fred Phelps has been for those trying to point out that religious leaders are all nuts. These days, it seems adding "Reverend" in front of your name is about the equivalent of adding "Retard" in front of your name, considering the famous company you're keeping. But enough about Retard Al Sharpton.

If the lack of enthusiasm among black voters (at least compared to 2008) is a problem for Obama's supporters, then maybe they should stick to explaining what a great job he's done, and how he's going to continue to do a great job if elected, compared to the alternative. But why target black voters, as though they have some special responsibility here that white voters don't have? Should chubby-chasing perverts have had more responsibility to back Bill Clinton?

The big pitch for Obama in 2008 was that he appealed beyond race, and that his African blood should not be a reason to vote for--or against--him. Is he a bright, moderate pragmatist who can navigate the rough waters our country is currently floating on? Or is he a cowardly, corrupt deal-cutter who acts out of weakness and accomplishes nothing towards fixing the country's problems? That's up to white and black voters alike to decide, and should have nothing to do with his race. After all, if the guy accidentally nukes California, it won't matter.

How to Make a Great '80s Action Movie

The key to any great '80s action movie is to understand that the 1980s were a cultural wasteland, which is to be expected for any period that connects disco to grunge. Films of that era were no exception--this was the time after Godfather but before Goodfellas, and Michael Bay was just beginning to learn how to do explosions. Any great action movie from that period needed some key elements:

1) Synthesizers. Remember in the '70s when no one could chase someone else, in foot or in a car, without the sound of rapid bongo music? Well, someone finally decided that bongo music didn't make sense so they replaced it with cheesy synthesizer music. Because nothing brings out the tension as well as feeling like a 7th grader just got a Casio for his birthday.

2) Very "meh" love interest. Women in the '80s were hot in a way that you'd say "ok, if she was dressed better and changed the hair, she'd probably be hot". In the lower budget films, you'd be saying "she's not hot, but I can see how a guy in a mullet would like her". So you sort of wonder why anyone is risking his life fighting the big bad guy for her.

3) Top notch dialogue. Even while in a desperate car chase, the hero can't say "we got company!" without his sidekick responding with "better get out the good silverware!" because some screenwriter's girlfriend thought that was hilarious.

4) Horrible, horrible jeans. Extremely high waisted, tight, and stonewashed, with white sneakers. And these are the men I'm talking about!

5) The cars even looked awful back then when they were relatively new. Remember evil bad guy Brad Wesley's LeBaron in "Road House"? Wasn't he supposed to be super-rich or something? What rich guy ever goes to the dealer and says "get me a LeBaron, and I'm super rich so make sure it's bright red!"?

6) Plots completely lacking in nuance. No coincidence that this is around the time Mel Gibson's star began to rise. Mel Gibson is to complex plots what "Beast With a Gun" is to subtlety.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Public Shaming and Tipping

Tipping is one of those issues that brings up more controversy than almost any other, even while it seems relatively minor. Children starving in Africa, women traded as slaves, insane dictators getting nukes--there's not much room for debate there. (At least, I have yet to see the pro-starvation pro-slavery pro-armageddon contingent on Internet message boards--but then, I haven't checked Home and Garden Online lately) Tipping, though, really brings out the emotions.

In one corner we have the "serving is a grueling job and servers are underpaid below even minimum wage usually and they deserve the tips". And in the other corner we have the "tipping is voluntary so I'm only going to tip if you do something special" contingent. And when the two groups cross, we get a mess like this one.

A bartender in Seattle allegedly was stiffed on her tip by some pompous patron who left a "tip" of another sort at the bottom of the receipt, suggesting the bartendress "lose a few pounds". She retaliated by posting the receipt online, finding the patron on Facebook, and (with the help of her friends) publicly shaming him to the point that the mess got picked up on other websites. Justice served, right? Except then of course it turns out they found the wrong guy, and a different "Andrew Meyer" (wasn't that also the name of the "don't tase me, bro!" guy? Why yes it was!) was subjected to this public humiliation. The barlady admitted to "having bad eyesight" and getting the wrong guy, and also when interviewed she claimed that she'd witnessed the offending patron actually emptying out the tip jar into his pockets which now makes me question her entire story because if a patron was caught committing theft then why not call over the manager and have the jerk arrested?

But even if some rude non-tipper did exist, the publicizing of their signed receipt is just the sort of idiotic overkill that crosses the line from "serves the jerk right" to "invasion of privacy that can easily get the bar sued and the barmaid fired as a result". If someone doesn't tip--and you think it's unjustified, I'm looking at you who take smoke breaks while your customers are anxiously waiting a half hour for their bill--then you don't serve that person again, or subject them to the cold shoulder if you encounter them in the future. Making a bad situation worse for you and your employer isn't the key to successmanship.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

A Different Flavor of Tea

I find it rather amusing when people get indignant about comparisons that are made about the Tea Partiers and the Occupy Wall Streeters (OWSers). Conservatives are quick to argue that Tea Partiers are regular hard working folks who protest peacefully, while OWSers are unbathed nose-ringed unemployables that destroy property and get into fights with the cops. Liberals are quick to argue that OWSers are legitimately aggrieved progressive types, while Tea Partiers are angry racists with unrealistic goals. But let's consider the following:

1) Both groups have their embarrassing fringe elements present at their rallies. Tea Party rallies do feature nuts with signs referring to Hitler and thinking it's a good idea to bring their legally-owned firearms to a peaceful protest because that's totally a good idea. OWS has its share of dreadlocked professional agitators who are ironically part of organizations with the word "Workers" in their title, despite a lack of ever doing anything that can be called "work". But both rallies also feature a large number of regular folks who are pissed enough to come out in big numbers--the nuts alone aren't enough to fill those rallies.

2) The majority of those protesting are angry for good reason. A serious recession that won't quit, a government that spends far more than it takes in, a tax system that is a complete joke, and political parties in charge that really have no sense of how to fix anything wrong. Tea partiers (who tend to be older) are angry about watching their retirement savings and house values disappear, and OWSers are angry about their massive student loan debt and poor job prospects. It's easy to sympathise with all of them.

3) Both Tea Partiers and OWSers don't really have solutions to their problems that will actually fix the problems that they're protesting about. Platforms involving cutting government spending (except on social security, medicare, and defense) and leaving taxes at current levels will not ever see the light of day, let alone help our economy getting moving, and plans to "soak the rich" by taxing "the top 1%" are just as unlikely to fix our economy (and any wholesale loan forgiveness is only going to wreck the financial sector even more, having a nice ripple effect on the economy).

4) Both groups tend to be largely white and middle class. All stupid accusations of racism aside, there's a good reason for this--through history, the most "revolutionary" classes tend not to be the most downtrodden but rather those who had more to lose and felt in danger of losing it. (Think the urban proletariat instead of the peasantry in 1917 Russia, as an example)

5) Both groups are summarily dismissed by the other side of the political spectrum, which focuses only on the nutjobs and the incoherent political demands, rather than the justifiable anger of the regular folks in those masses.

While some of what the Tea Party and the OWSers call for are at odds (one wanting less taxes, the other wanting more taxes, at least for Americans who aren't them), the degree of overlap for these two groups is significant--anger at the elites, anger at the "crony capitalism" of government being in bed with business, and a failure of the financial system--and one wonders what would happen if the two groups ever joined forces. Perhaps it's best for the powers that be if such a thing never were to happen.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Legal Drams!

Having seen the 1982 Paul Newman film "The Verdict" it makes me realize just how far off Hollywood is when it comes to portraying the legal profession. Sure, no movie is going to focus on the endless nuts and bolts--long depositions, hours of research, endless motions that get batted back and forth--and the movie will stick to the more dramatic aspects of contentious litigation. (And of course no one will ever focus on the non-litigation side of legal work, because a lawyer researching and drafting a legal opinion for a client is hideously boring to watch onscreen, even if the lawyer is drunk at the time. I'm looking at you, Kentucky Bar Association!) But sometimes you see something so unbelievably wrong that you can't believe the screenwriters didn't have a lawyer on hand to tell them to fix the scene.

Namely, I'm talking about the part where Newman's character is offered a sizable settlement for his client, and turns it down. Now, maybe ethics rules were vastly different in 1982, but any lawyer today that does not even communicate the fact of a settlement offer to their client is going to be a good candidate for disbarment. And it is clear that Newman never told his client before turning it down, because the client later encounters him and punches him in the nose for this. Hell, if it hadn't been onscreen, I'd have punched him in the nose myself.

What other unrealistic events occur in legal dramas?

1) Surprise witnesses. Lawyers are always required to get permission of the court and notify the opposing lawyer before introducing a witness. While witnesses can often be added mid-trial, this should never be a surprise to the opposing counsel, let alone the judge.

2) Judges telling a lawyer he should accept a settlement offer. A judge doing something like this in their own case is likely to not be a judge much longer.

3) The opposing lawyers are always both really good at what they do. There are really a lot of bad lawyers out there practicing. And while the bar exams and qualifications do test one's knowledge of the basic tenets of the law, they don't test one's ability to apply it or even understand procedure. Unless you're taken in by an experienced mentor, you're going to enter litigation with what you remember in first year Civ Pro.

4) Judges making rulings on issues that are not put forth in a motion by one of the attorneys. The judge is just that, a judge--and not an independent finder of fact. (The jury makes findings of fact, while the judge rules on issues of the law--without going into the distinction the point is that in all instances this has to be in response to one side's motion)

5) Jurors making their own independent investigations of the facts. The worst example of this was in "12 Angry Men" when Hank Fonda even brought a friggin' switchblade to the jurors' chamber. Can you say "mistrial"???

6) Navy prosecutors who can't handle the truth. I'm pretty sure they have excellent truth-handling ability.

The Remaining GOP Field

The news that Sarah Palin is not running for the presidency does not surprise me--after all, the minute she dropped out of the governorship of Alaska without finishing her only term this signalled that she had no real interest in serving in public office. Keeping speculation going as long as reasonably possible was also a smart move, since it got her plenty of attention for a while and this woman thrives on attention. In fact, actually jumping in the ring might have popped her bubble early--once she sank in the polls as Republicans reject her, as they surely would, that would close the chapter on the Palins and her strongest supporters would lose the ability to speculate that she might have won it all. The decision not to run was the best one for her and ultimately the Republican Party.

Now, as I predict, Mitt Romney is going to go ahead and take the nomination, even while a lot of Republicans arent' thrilled with him. For that, there's a good reason and a bad reason for the GOP to reject the former Massachusetts governor--the good reason being that in his heart of hearts Romney is no hard right winger. He is very much the son of his father George, who was an automotive executive and moderate Michigan governor (and one wonders how history may have been different if he'd run better in the '68 primary and beat Nixon), and looks to have the temperament more of the elder President Bush than that of Bush the Younger. While this makes him more "electable", the Tea Party wing doesn't want "electable". They want red meat! Whether or not it is wise for the right to reject him, it's at least a valid reason.

The bad reason of course is his Mormonism. And if the GOP rejects Romney for that then they frankly deserve another four years of the Democrats holding the White House.

Romney has been playing it safe in the race so far, not making big errors as his opponents seem to be, but he is missing some good opportunities to put them away and set himself up for the general election. While he may be wary to have a "reverse-Sister Souljah moment"--that is, when he rejects his own party's extreme to signal his own stance in the political middle, as Bill Clinton did in the '92 Democratic primary by rebuffing Jesse "Where's My Money?" Jackson--he should be able to do this safely now and still not drive away the party's base. Here are some missed opportunities:

1) Shameful moment in the debates. During the most recent GOP debate, a gay soldier serving overseas asked a question to Rick "Why am I here?" Santorum regarding gays serving in the military, and some clown in the audience booed the servicemember. This would have been a prime moment for Romney--as the "grown up" in the race--to simply point out that whatever one thinks of gays serving in the military, no one who is serving this country and putting their life on the line should be booed, and whoever did that ought to be ashamed. That would have been easy points.

2) Easy put-downs of the other candidates. He could just go down the line: "Mr. Cain--I tried Godfather's Pizza. If I were you, I'd take that off your resume. Gov. Perry--Shouldn't you be electrocuting some innocent people right now? Mr. Santorum--Have you tried googling your name right now? Gingrich--if I promise to buy a copy of your book will you just go home? Bachmann--if you say anymore nonsense about vaccinations I will slap you silly. Or in your case, slap you more silly. Ron Paul--the 1890s called and they want their political platform back." Doing that would end the primary in minutes.

That said, I still think Romney's going to take the nomination, because ultimately the GOP wants one thing over all--to get the White House back, and they don't care which horse they have to ride in on.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Sometimes, the stupid, it burns! This time, the issue at hand is a serial rapist attacking women in NYC, and the cops issued a warning to women in the area to not wear skirts as such clothing might give the rapist the idea that he had "easy access". Similar warnings in Toronto have given rise to the recent "slutwalk" movement, where self-styled feminists have taken to marching in drag-queen getup to protest against a cop's warning that dressing in a certain way is likely to provoke a sexual attack. Now, a few points have to be made:

1) The indignation among the protesters seems to amount to "how dare you shame the victim here!" While I'm inclined to disagree with the police statements in both cases, this indignant response is just plain stupidity. NO ONE is blaming the victim here, any more than a policeman reminding you to lock your car doors is blaming you when someone steals your car. The cops believe that certain types of clothing will attract attackers, much the same way wearing flashy jewelry will attract a mugger. So drop the cloak of victimhood, sister!

2) I'm not aware of any evidence that rapists are any more likely to attack a woman based on the way she's dressed. Of course, dressing a certain way will draw attention--desired or otherwise--and women who aren't morons will know that this will draw attention even from men (or gay women) who aren't the intended targets. But unwanted attention is a far cry from a criminal act, and unless the link is really there then the advice from the cops serves only to support the baggy sweatpants industry.

3) That said, I can think of more useful advice in terms of how a person is dressed and rape prevention. If the cops were to say "avoid wearing flip flops or open-toed high heels because then you can't run or defend yourself from an attacker" then this argument is hard to dispute. And really, people shouldn't be going out on the town in flip flops anyway.

4) In sum, the protest against the police statements should be boiled down to a far more reasonable "we get what you're saying, but there's no reason to believe dressing slutty will make you more likely to be raped" rather than "damn you for blaming the victim!"

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rough Choices

While there is no shortage of half-baked solutions for our trouble economy out there, I should add a few to the mix:

1) Identify the bad mortgage loans currently on bank books, and offer a deal to the current holders of the loans--the Federal government will pay off a third of each loan, provided that the borrower pay off a third and the lender writes down the final third. Pros: this helps spread the pain among the three parties, and also enables the bad loans to be done away with freeing up the borrower and lender. This would be the least bad of all existing alternatives, allowing the housing recovery to come a bit sooner and helps out down on their luck borrowers and wobbly lenders. Cons: the government is already running massive deficits and paying off a third of the bad mortgages would still be expensive. This also wouldn't make banks more likely to lend down the road, having taken a loss on these loans. There's also the moral hazard of subsidizing banks and borrowers who took these risks that didn't pay off.

2) Tear down unsold inventory in overbuilt areas. Pro: this clears up the glut in supply, allowing natural market forces to reach a higher price floor. Plus, the unsold empty houses will become health hazards and public nuisances if left idle too long. Better to take them down so housing can recover. Con: this still costs a lot of money, and seems like a waste of otherwise useful housing that could be put on the market for renters or bargain hunters.

3) Create a financial regulatory oversight board to regulate every sort of financial transaction and entity involved in the lending or investing of money. Pros: a single regulatory body with a broad mission can identify predatory practices, frauds, and excessively risky ventures and prevent the industry from repeating the mistakes made in recent decades that culminated in the financial collapse. Cons: one thing our financial industry suffers from is not a lack of regulators. There are currently five different agencies that regulate banks at the federal level, and of course every state has a bank regulator. The problem instead was the fact that so much financial leverage was based on a widely-held assumption that real estate could never crash in a big way. This is why everyone--from government regulators, to lenders, to borrowers, to consumer advocates--favored increased lending in this area. This is always the way with bubbles, and you can't regulate away irrational decisionmaking.

4) Completely replace our current tax code with a simpler code with lower rates, few deductions, etc. Pros: this would reduce inefficient or counterproductive behavior by high earners (taking losses, business expenses) and lower earners (taking out a mortgage when rent is cheaper), also making the tax code easier to follow and enforce, and prevent the perverse result of very rich people paying very low percentages of their income in taxes. Cons: the code is complicated for a reason. Income is defined in many different ways, and deductions and exemptions are in place because certain behavior is to be encouraged (investing in capital, buying municipal bonds, paying for a child's education). As for "fairness", the truly wealthy will be able to find a way to legally shield their income from taxation one way or another, as they have done so even during times of much higher tax rates. It's worth it to them to find a way around the code.

5) Big cuts in spending. Pros: a government spending less means reducing the deficit, which is good for the bond market, decreases our government's own borrowing costs, and better prepares us for emergencies down the road. It also prevents the need to raise taxes, which would stifle any economic recovery. Cons: while some government spending is more "important" than others, there's not much that can be cut that won't have a severe impact on the economy. Infrastructure spending enables the free flow of commerce, farm spending helps keep our agricultural sector strong and stable so we can have abundant cheap food, and defense spending keeps our military better than any other. While entitlement spending is enormous, even modest cuts will mean pain for a lot of individuals as well as a reduction in their consumer spending. Any way you cut it, there's going to be a negative effect on the country with these cuts.

So, not a lot of great choices out there. But unfortunately this can't all be reduced to a bumper sticker.


My general feelings on protests and rallies are that the people involved in them are generally idiots up to no good. There are exceptions of course--notably the protests sweeping the Middle East earlier this year, and the protests that achieved the passage of Civil Rights laws in the '60s. But by and large, protests fall easily into the trap of giving the most visibility to the crazies and ultimately alienating most observers.

A good example is the anti-Vietnam war protests, which rather than bringing an early end to the war instead resulted in getting Nixon elected (twice) and dragging the war on for long past when the protests were over and the college kids went on to having wife-swapping parties and macrame lessons. The anti-Iraq War protests if anything helped Bush get re-elected, and even our Nobel winner-in-chief still has us fighting over there 8 years later. And the Tea Party protests of the past two years are (I believe) ultimately going to result in far greater economic ruin for this country as people like Michele Bachmann get treated as serious contenders for the presidency, lowering the bar for crazy.

In any of the above cases, I think it would have done the protesters some good to better organize their forces into providing a coherent argument and weed out the nuttier among their followers. Having a sign comparing Bush to Hitler or waving the flag of the Viet Cong or telling people that Obama is a slaveowner and taxpayers are slaves just makes anyone watching TV--who might otherwise agree that a war is a bad idea or government is hopelessly bloated--just say "ok, you lost me" and go back to watching Two and a Half Men.

The latest protest-movement-gone-wrong is the parade of hipsters and freaks camping out on Wall Street. In a world beset by serious financial panic--the Euro looking to collapse, the U.S. economy in a slump and a government in serious need of painful cuts--it's understandable to be angry at those who seem to be taking massive profits while the majority are suffering stagnant wages and high unemployment. But how to fix it is no simple matter--if a certain set of policies could fire up the economy with certainty, those policies would have been pursued, by Bush or Obama already. And what the government has already tried--from spending and tax cut stimulus to pumping cash into the economy via the Federal Reserve--hasn't worked. Stripping down executive compensation from highly profitable financial firms might make a few people happy, but for the life of me I can't see how this is going to help regular folks.

I note that a lot of the protesters are debt-ridden college graduates and current students, many that were interviewed owed upwards of six figures on their school loans and had no job prospects. While I certainly sympathize (having carried a high debt load myself when I graduated) I cannot understand the anger being directed at Wall Street--presumably, as the lenders behind these school loans. It is the colleges that consider it acceptable to charge over $40K a year for tuition, the lenders are just enabling you to pay for it on credit. Shouldn't the protest be taking place at the campus?