Thursday, July 28, 2011

Again With the Omens!

The 1970s were about a lot of things--terrible home decor, mustaches, and of course children who were the spawn of Satan. While "Rosemary's Baby" first warned us of this scourge in 1968, the Satan-child fears reached the zenith with the 1976 documentary "The Omen". There, we learned that evil little kids could really wreck a birthday party with dead nannies and babboon attacks.

Now, putting myself in the shoes of Ambassador Thorne, what would I have done if I discovered my son was actually the spawn of the Devil? In the documentary, Thorne was shot by police before he had a chance to stab the kid to death, which really sucks because they were British police who don't normally carry guns. And not to go off on a tangent, but what's up with that? The only reason not to run from the cops is because they tend to get all shootey on you. I figure with a British cop the only downside of running is that they might throw their fish and chips at you.

But yeah, let's say I'm sitting out on my patio enjoying tea and crumpets and some investigative reporter warns me that my kid is really Satan-spawn, and then just as he's finished telling me this he gets mysteriously vaporized by lightning or eaten to death by crows. I think I'd then turn to my rascally kid and say "okay, Devil-boy, you know what this means. You're cleaning that up!" Then we'd be off to Vegas because he might be good at manipulating a roulette wheel.

See, one thing they never tried with the Damien kid is the idea of negotiating with him. After all, is being the Devil an inborn thing, or learned behavior? I'd like to think it's partly both, and maybe there's some positives that can come from unholy power.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Apes Should Run This Country

There was a period in the late '70s and early '80s--which I refer to as the Dark Ages of culture--when the craze was apes dressed as humans and doing terrific things. There was "BJ and the Bear" (don't make the mistake of Googling that!), about a southern trucker and his "best friend Bear"--Bear being the name of his ape pet who made funny facial expressions and occasionally got BJ out of jams. There was "Every Which Way But Loose" and its sequel, "Any Which Way You Can", where Clint Eastwood played a barefist boxer with a pet orangutan that made funny facial expressions and occasionally got Clint out of jams. Then in the '80s there was "Mister Smith" about an ape that could talk and was somehow President of the United States. This killed the Ape Era.

Now, some might say the Ape Era died a natural death, because there was only so much audiences could take of seeing apes in funny human-like situations. However, keep in mind that the American public is made up of complete morons (case in point--"According to Jim"). So I have a far more sinister theory involving the highest levels of the American Government.

See, the Ape Era crossed a threshhold when they made the show about the Ape President, because it was quickly decided by President Reagan and Tip O'Neil--two notorious crooks who collectively were far less smart than the average ape--that if the American public got used to seeing an ape in the Oval Office--even if it were only in a bad sitcom--then it wouldn't be long before we decided to elect actual apes to Congress and the presidency. Because then there'd be the embarrassing revelation that a herd of apes would hardly do worse running our government than our current leaders.

I ponder this as I think about the fact that we still don't have a debt limit deal, because no one has the guts to touch entitlements or military spending or our sacred mess of a tax code. At least monkeys throwing darts at a bulletin board might have a chance of getting something right once in a while.

In 2012, I'm voting for Mister Jingles.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Classic Biker Films

If movies have taught us nothing else--and they haven't--they have taught us that all the highways of the West are clogged with villainous biker gangs that roam from town to town, terrorizing the uptight older folks and preppies who have nothing to protect them except for a corrupt and incompetent sherriff. Normally you'd think the National Guard would be called out when such insurrectionary groups create mass mayhem, but let's not dwell on that. Instead, let's dwell on what makes an ideal biker film:

1) Must be produced by the esteemed studio "American International Pictures", somewhere between 1966 and 1973.

2) The bikers should look like beatniks, and have chicks in them (bikers refer to their broads as "chicks") who wear a lot of eye liner despite spending their days riding bitch on the back of a hog.

3) Whenever they're riding, or punching, or drinking lots of beer out of cans that are simply labelled "beer", the bikers must have surf music playing. Why surf music? Why not?

4) When anyone gets punched, it will look a lot like bright red paint got smeared everywhere. My theory is that bikers are actually artists who carry their paint with them, and this gets spilled constantly during fights.

5) Within every biker gang is one undercover guy, usually a returning Marine from 'Nam, who infiltrated the gang in order to exact revenge upon the second in command who wronged the undercover guy's woman in some way.

6) Townsfolk never just show up in a mass with their shotguns and unload a torrent of buckshot at the bikers, ending the adventure prematurely. This is because they're hoping the bikers are only passing through and won't hassle anyone. This is a big mistake. Bikers never just "pass through".

7) When anyone on the road in their car or truck is being menaced by the bikers, they never seem to take the easiest step which is smash into them because Bike vs. Large Vehicle = Dead Biker. Instead, they run themselves off the road, and get menaced, perhaps beaten and robbed, and usually some young woman dies in the process, leading her husband to infiltrate the gang and get revenge (see 5, above).

8) There is never a traffic jam on any highway, because that might cause the biker gang to decide it sucks sitting out in the hot sun in heavy leather and sweating and stuff.

9) We never see the biker gang taking their bikes in for emissions inspection, but we must assume that they do at some point since any cop pulling them over and not seeing the emissions approval will run them in.

The glorious era of the biker film, as noted, ended about forty years ago, but there is good reason for a revival. I'm thinking a great indie film called "Bikers Vs. Truckers" that could feature a running battle across the southwest. Such a film could really capture the modern American spirit.

But hey, the studios have better projects to work on, like Transformers 4. May they all rot in hell.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Don't Trust Anyone Named Grover Who Isn't A Muppett

My problem with people who have strong political ideologies is that their rigidness means they have an answer before they even know what the question is. There's something about a person who says "all we need is a government program to fix this" or "no tax increases under any circumstances, ever" that just makes me wonder if they bother to ever approach a matter with an open mind. Sadly, the answer is likely no, and that brings us to Grover Norquist.

Norquist is the head of a group called "Americans for Tax Reform" and they have requested that Republican candidates for office sign a pledge that promises to never vote for a tax increase--and defines "tax increase" to mean not just raised rates but the elimination of any deduction or other calculation that would increase government revenue. (The pledge allows the elimination of a deduction if there is a corresponding rate drop or new deduction to off-set it--the key here is that the government can never act to increase its own net revenue) Hundreds of Republicans serving in Congress today have signed this--thereby signalling to voters that they cannot be trusted to use their personal inclination against higher taxes and instead have to be bound by the pledge. This is idiocy.

Consider for a minute that Congress voted to drop the tax rate to a flat rate of 1%, with the first $100K of everyone's income excluded (if that sounds familiar then congratulations, you remember the early 1900s when the first federal income tax was enacted--it would be overturned by the Supreme Court, later requiring the 16th Amendment to enable federal income taxes). Let's also assume Congress gets rid of Social Security, Medicare, defense spending--pretty much everything it does and reduces the deficit to make up for this huge drop in revenue. Then China decides to attack us via Mexico (like Red Dawn, but with better acting). An emergency session of Congress is called for.

Whoops! Can't raise taxes, these idiots signed a pledge! They owe fealty to a man named Grover! Oh, who could have forseen this calamitous turn of events???

See, it's fine to be in favor of lower tax rates and smaller government--it's a perfectly legitimate political philosophy, and really the only difference between the center left and center right in this country is a matter of degree. And it's perfectly fine for the GOP in this current budget fight to push for less--or even no--tax increases as a matter of principle (whether this is good policy, or even realistic since there's a Democrat in the White House). What is just plain stupid is that anyone would sign a pledge that eliminates judgment and flexibility in any circumstances, or otherwise requires the signer to violate it later.

It's a shame that when Mr. Norquist first presented this pledge to Republicans, they didn't just laugh him out of the room. It has served to do nothing but make the GOP look like rigid ideologues unfit to govern.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bachmann's Husband

During this time of wondering if the 535 fork-and-spoon operators that make up the U.S. Congress are about to destroy what's left of the world economy, there's one question on everyone's mind--is Michele Bachmann's husband gay?

The presidential candidate's husband, Marcus, is particularly controversial because his profession is providing psychological counselling to turn gay people straight. See, gay people apparently have some sort of psychological disorder that makes them sexually desire their own gender, and moreover, this is a terrible thing so Marcus Bachmann had dedicated his working life to help get the gay out of people.

As it happens, Marcus Bachmann also now stands accused of being gay himself, since he's set off people's "gaydar". What is this, you ask? Apparently, people can be deemed gay due to how they walk, talk, and generally carry themselves--which to be fair is about as scientific as Bachmann's anti-gay therapy. Those who cheer this simply because they are offended by Bachmann are not helping matters--do we really want to give credence to this idea that effeminacy has a direct link to homosexuality? I don't really see how the gay acceptance movement gets anywhere by lending weight to mocking stereotypes--even if used against this guy. I imagine some closeted homosexuals around the country seeing this guy being mocked for how he walks and talks are probably cringing.

And moreover, what should it matter if Bachmann is gay? If he actually is a closeted homosexual, then I just feel sorry for him--imagine having to stomp down your inner feelings because you're in an environment where such feelings are considered sinful and deviant, in need of "fixing". And if Bachmann was more a John Wayne type (or Rock Hudson, if you will), would that make his destructive "therapy" any more credible? It's not the hypocrisy that makes such beliefs wrong, it's the beliefs themselves.

As someone who wants to become the most powerful person on earth, Michele Bachmann should be called to task on her and her husband's beliefs regarding a not insignificant number of Americans. But a tactic that seems a little too close to gay-bashing isn't the way to do it.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Heat Wave Solution

With summer temperatures projected to cross the three figure mark this weekend, my building decided Saturday was a good day to close the pool for no reason. Grrr, anger! Though, for years I had lived pool-less, so I should be able to deal. It'd be nice if the Potomac were clean and had a nice beachfront, but the Mayor isnt' taking my calls so we'll have to make do.

Sadly, we often hear of a number of heat-related deaths each summer, generally among the older and more A/C-lacking population. This confuses, flummoxes, and confounds me, particularly because my retirement plan involves a great deal of unexplained poverty and rotten kids who won't get off my lawn and won't drop me off in an air conditioned supermarket with a lawn chair. But wouldn't this be a great project for Boy Scouts, or some other civic group? Locate elderly and sickly people who don't have working air conditioners, and on hot days (anything over 90 degrees at least) drop them off at libraries, shopping malls or major train stations? These places are all kept cool during the hottest part of the day, so it seems a shame to swelter in a hot apartment when there's somewhere safer to be. Plus, they get to socialize! (Except in the library, where they should be reading and not making shrieking noises)

When evening comes and these places close up (except I guess the train stations, which should run pretty late) the Boy Scouts can come scoop up their charges, and drop them off at a nearby bar or Starbucks, one of those late night ones. By the time the management tells them to buy something or get the hell out, the summertime temperatures should have cooled off significantly.

Well, you know where I'll be in retirement.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Worst 20th Century President

Growing up, it was considered common knowledge that John Kennedy was one of our greatest 20th Century presidents, cut short in his prime just before he was able to end segregation and poverty and bring freedom to the world. This is because I was surrounded by hippies who had their heads up their asses--JFK was an overrated fancy-pants who dragged his feet on a civil rights movement that was taking place with or without him (his successor LBJ actually got on board that train), his bungling of Cuba in the Bay of Pigs directly caused the missile crisis the following year, and he got things rolling in Vietnam in a way that destroyed the following two presidencies. I shudder to think what another term might have done with that clown at the helm.

A writer for Foreign Policy Magazine seems to agree, and takes it a step further to say JFK was "the worst" of our 20th Century presidents. This is a harder sell--after all, Woodrow Wilson got us into another unnecessary war, and was our most segregationist president of that century. But my vote still goes to FDR for the following reasons:

1) Picking a war with Japan that could have been avoided. We cut off their oil supplies as a protest against their war in China--keep in mind we didn't have any issues with European powers invading that country (hell, only forty years earlier we were among those invaders). Continuing to work diplomatically with Japan may have emboldened moderates like Prime Minister Konoye, and worked out respective spheres of influence in Asia. Playing hardball at a time when the U.S. was trying to support the British against Hitler was stupid and provocative--it put Tojo in power and forced Japan to choose between economic and military ruin or war with us.

2) Happily handing over to Stalin everything he wanted, including half of Europe, when Stalin was heavily dependent on Allied aid. Since the whole war started over Polish sovereignty, giving all of Poland, plus everything else behind the Iron Curtain, to a dictator who could teach lessons in cruelty to Hitler, made WWII a sort of hollow victory and was the proximate cause of the Cold War. The argument that he "had no choice" sort of rings hollow--Stalin had no choice but to fight Hitler, and the Allies had the upper hand in the alliance.

3) Refusing any help for Jewish refugees from Hitler. FDR did not allow Allied planes to target rail links to the death camps, despite the fact that these targets were in their flight paths on their normal bombing runs, and he refused to allow open immigration of refugees into U.S. territory (or use any diplomatic pressure on the British to take in the refugees). FDR apologists argue that he had to do what he could to win the war, but none of these possible moves would have hampered the war effort in any meaningful way (unless you argue that Nazi bullets used on innocent people meant the bullets couldn't be used against Allied troops). Sadly the Italians while Mussolini was still in power did a better job protecting Jews than FDR did. The only plausible argument for FDR on this score is that he couldn't believe the information he was getting about the fate of the Jews in Europe.

4) Intentionally targetting civilians with firebombing. While in Europe the Americans' bombing efforts were limited to military targets (airfields, rail links, bridges, factories), we used firestorms against the Japanese on their home islands. The firebombings of Tokyo killed far more people than the atomic bombings would, and these weren't "collateral damage"--it was our intention to kill and terrorize the local population so that they would go to the polls and vote against the war. Oh wait, this was a dictatorship and they wouldn't be voting at all? Whoops! I guess we're just killing innocent civilians for the lolz! This actually didn't help us win the war--any more than Hitler's bombings of London and Coventry made the British want to end the war. It just emboldens the population, and kills a lot of noncombatants. We execute war criminals for that sort of thing. Of course, only the winner gets to do that. The only counterargument for the firebombings is that FDR thought at the time that it would cow the Japanese into surrender, and that it would take something more awe-inducing (like the atom bombs) to actually do this. But the firebombings themselves turned out to be pointless mayhem and unjustifiable with the light of history--and it is with that light that we judge past presidents.

5) Civil liberties. Who was our only 20th Century president to round up tens of thousands of American citizens and their families, seize their possessions and homes, and put them in holding camps far into the interior of the country, with no trials, etc.--only because of their race? Yep, that civil libertarian FDR! Any Japanese-American who doesn't hate that guy really needs to read more. And wartime censorship was notorious in a way that would make Michael Moore blush if he weren't a stupid moron.

6) The Counterargument. I won't go into the economic and domestic policy arguments, since there's still a lot of argument as to the effects of these policies, as well as the fact that these policies ran the gamut. Some revisionists argue that his policies prolonged the depression (and caused the "double dip" in 1937, though contractionary monetary policy also takes some blame), others argue it had no real effect (as unemployment was still around 20% at our entry into WWII), and of course those on the left believe he lifted us out of it or at least helped prevent it from getting worse. None of that can be proved--not without an alternate reality where those policies never happened--and it will always depend on your economic standpoint. I'll credit him though with the fact that he took office at a horrible economic time, and tried pretty much everything--and a lot of it did have a good effect (rural electrification, creation of deposit insurance). He was no great civil rights leader for the black population--since his coalition was dependent on segregationist votes--but his presidency wasn't a step back either. So he gets a wash on domestic policy.

FDR apologists will also say that he recognized the threat from Hitler, and did everything possible to get involved in the war despite isolationist sentiment at home. This is true--a different-minded president may have stayed out of it (as I argue Wilson should have in the first war--though in the first war, blame for who was responsible was a lot more muddied than in WWII) until forced into the conflict by Britain's collapse. But once that decision was made, his bunglings made things more destructive and longer than they needed to be, with a worse outcome than we otherwise might have gotten. We did not need to fight Japan--and we did not need to give Russia control of Europe up to the Elbe (at least, without anything in return). We did not need to insist on "unconditional surrender"--a policy that prevented anti-Nazi plotters in the German high command from getting support within the Army to overthrow Hitler and sue for a negotiated peace. We also might have prevented some of the millions of death camp fatalities, and certainly did not need to target enemy civilians in our own attacks. And it's not hard to imagine that another U.S. president could have successfully fought Hitler without making all those mistakes.

With the "Monday morning quarterbacking" of history, it leaves little doubt that FDR did more damage than any other 20th Century president. So why do we have a memorial to this monster?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Debt Ceiling Problems

The debt ceiling fight has been the tea party's big moment in the sun, where their standard bearers in Congress finally have their big chance to prove to the American people that they have absolutely no business being elected to anything ever. After the Democratic President and Republican Speaker spent weeks working closely to craft a deal that at least on its face looked like it would reduce the deficit significantly over the next decade--while not raising actual tax rates or completely gutting entitlement programs--the tea partiers led by their new champion, Eric Cantor (R-Crazy Town), decided this was completely unacceptable because technically getting rid of some tax loopholes would mean more revenue for the government and that simply could not happen. Any monkeying with the tax code to bring in more money is clearly egregious enough to justify letting us hit the debt ceiling (with expenditures that Congress ALREADY authorized, incidentally).

Hitting the debt ceiling doesn't necessarily mean defaulting, but it would require far more immediate and far more drastic cuts or tax hikes--and pretty much every economist not named Sarah Palin thinks this would wreck our economy even further.

I imagine this conversation between a thoughtful Republican voter and a Tea Party member of Congress:

Voter: Hey, I hear you voted to not raise the debt limit. Isn't that going to destroy the financial markets?

Congressman: Nonsense! That's just a bluff by those who want to take the Obama debt deal.

Voter: Wait, what's so bad about that deal? It cuts trillions from the budget, across the board, and didn't have any tax increases. Isn't that sort of why you were elected?

Congressman: We held out so we can be sure of getting a better deal.

Voter: And how are you going to get a better deal? If the government defaults, Republicans will never be elected dogcatcher again, let alone take over Washington. And as it is, we only have one house of Congress. Even if we had both House and Senate, we'd still need Obama's agreement, or else we'd need veto-proof majorities. You are aware of this, right?

Congressman: We are not selling out our principles!

Voter: Your principles aren't worth much if you can't get the budget cuts you were sent to Washington to get. And besides, what principles would be sold out? Deep cuts, no tax hikes...

Congressman: Getting rid of deductions equals a tax hike.

Voter: Actually getting rid of a deduction equals getting rid of a deduction. If I finish paying off my mortgage, does that mean my taxes have gone up since I can no longer take that deduction? And besides, shouldn't we be simplifying the tax code anyway?

Congressman: Not in a way that increases revenue! After all, increasing revenue just makes government spend more.

Voter: Seems like spending more isn't an option, even the Democrats are conceding that now. Why not call them on it?

Congressman: Because I don't trust Obama in anything he does.

Voter: Who says you have to trust him? But that doesn't mean you can't get him to a deal. Hell, he's president for at least another year, and at the rate you're going, you'll guarantee four more years for him. If anything is going to get done, for better or for worse, you'll have to work with him.

Congressman: No we dont'!

Voter: Hey why aren't you wearing pants?

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Lemonade Stand

This debt ceiling debate does nothing to shake my belief that everyone running our government today is completely incapable of running a lemonade stand. In fact, let's imagine for a minute how a lemonade stand would operate, if Congress and the President were operating it.

1) The Democrats would point out that it is imperative that the stand use organic lemons, infused with imported mint, and bottled water, which makes it cost $10 to produce each glass of lemonade. Some of that $10 is also used to launch studies into the future needs for cane sugar and an ice cube maker.

2) The GOP argues that if they sell the lemoade for $10, it will force consumers to go into another neighborhood to buy lemonade, thus raising no revenue. Instead, lemonade should be charged at $2 a glass.

3) The Democrats then say that losing $8 for each glass of lemonade sold would drive them out of business. Numbers, how do they work?

4) The GOP would point out that if they got rid of the bottled water and used hose water, used cheap lemon powder instead of organic lemons, skipped the mint and the ice, they could bring the cost of each glass sold down to $4.

5) The Democrats would point out that $4 is still more than $2, so prices need to go up. And now they're producing some really lousy lemonade.

6) The GOP would say that maybe if they dropped prices to $1.50, they could make up their losses on volume.

7) The Democrats would say that the GOP doesn't support a woman's right to choose, which doesn't really have anything to do with anything. And that losing $2.50 per glass still doesn't work. Perhaps they can stop paying the older kids in the neighborhood to protect the lemonade stand, since it's a safe neighborhood and they haven't needed protection for a while?

8) The GOP would say we definitely need the older kids to protect us! That way we can fight neighborhood bullies in THEIR neighborhoods, so we don't have to fight them in our own. And if we really need to bring costs of lemonade below $4 a glass, how about we not let the kids who work the stand form a union? And maybe stop spending some of our lemonade revenue on donations to far flung neighborhoods that hate us anyway!

9) The Democrats would retort that without the kids' union, they would be subject to sweatshop lemonade stand practices, and the revenue that was sent to other neighborhoods (to help them buy bug spray or whatever) only amounted to a few dollars every summer. Not enough to make a difference!

10) After this bickering takes up the entire summer, the adults shut the whole operation down because clearly no one knows how to play nice.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Forgot the Cell Phone

Having forgotten to bring my cell phone to work today, I feel sort of naked and helpless--what if someone needs to call me and doesn't have my work extension? What if I need to check traffic patterns while I'm on the road? What if I have to wait until I get home to see how hot it is today?

Of course, there was a time before I had a cell phone--a decade ago, as a matter of fact--and I still marvel at how I got by. Meeting someone at the airport? Better establish ahead of time where you're meeting! And if their flight is late, you have to go inside the airport to find out! If you're meeting someone while you're out, you need to use a pay phone. And if you're expecting an important call, you'd better hope they leave a message on your machine at home, which you won't know about until you're back at the end of the day.

And yet, we all seem to have survived those dark days. Not having a cell also meant you had a good excuse for why you couldn't be reached if not near a phone. Not having cells meant rude dinner companions wouldn't be able to take calls while in conversation with you, and if they wanted to be rude they'd have to whip out a book and read it while you're talking to them. Not having cells meant actually having to show up on time for something, since you couldn't just call on the fly to say you'll be late.

Still, I feel naked without the damn thing.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Restaurant Bans Kids, Imbeciles Upset, News At Eleven

The thing I like about selfish stupid morons is that they are completely oblivious as to just how horrible they are. Unfortunately, Congress has rejected my proposal to have such people branded for life, but then that's about what I could expect from that brood.

The latest is a restaurant in Pennsylvania that is instituting a ban on kids under age 6. Makes sense, right? The owner says he'd gotten too many complaints from other diners who were trying to have a nice meal, and uncontrollable toddlers just screeched and screeched. Of course, the selfish stupid moron parents complained, opening their idiot mouths long enough to say "what about loud people at the bar?" and "this is discrimination!" and "food goes in here".

Let's gloss over whether this is a good business decision--some restaurants benefit from allowing young children, such as Dennys or Chuck E Cheese, because the parents don't feel like cooking or they think their four year old can appreciate really awful pizza or scrambled eggs that were prepared by an ex-con. And, screaming kids are sort of part of that atmosphere. The owner in this article clearly wants to appeal to a different crowd--the childless, or those who aren't too cheap to spring for a babysitter and want a calm evening out. (And don't get me started on parents who can't keep their kids in their seats, letting them instead run around the restaurant, tripping up a waitress who then spills hot soup on herself and has to then walk over to the parents and beat them to death with a plate, and the poor cop who has to fill out the awkward police report after that mess)

This is the owner's right. Just like an owner can say "you have to wear shoes in this restaurant, Skeeter". Wanna go out in flip flops? Then go somewhere where they don't care.

And don't compare this to a civil rights struggle. Last I checked, the Freedom Riders weren't doing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in order to secure the right to bring screaming rug rats out with them. Take your shameful comparisons and go hide in a corner for the rest of your empty existence.

Kudos to restaurant owners willing to stand up against self absorbed parents!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Giant Spider On the Loose? Oh, Good.

There are some things I can go without for the rest of my life, if circumstances called for it. Bananas are one of those things--they bruise easily, they add needless filler to banana splits, and they don't fit easily in the fridge the way other fruits do. Now I have another reason to hate the cursed yellow food.

In a German supermarket, a 5-inch Brazilian spider hopped out of a banana crate and decided it was time for a shopping spree. (And you just KNOW if you ended up behind the spider at the checkout line, the damn arachnid would write a check to pay for ten bucks worth of groceries, and use all sorts of expired coupons) The Germans, who until now were on a 66-year spree of acting calm and collected, evacuated the store and bombed it with more chemicals than the Chicago River. They're pretty certain that the damn thing is dead, but no body has been found.

Why, you might ask, can't we just accept this spider as a pet, and allow it to have helpful effects on the local ecology by killing insects? Well, it turns out that this particular spider is "aggressive" and has a venemous bite that causes excruciating pain, paralysis, asphyxiation, and "painful erections that last many hours and can lead to impotence in humans". It is not clear whether the impotence is caused by the venom, or the fact that once you've been bitten by a five inch spider you've lost the ability to find joy or arousal in anything ever.

And now there's a decent chance that this spider is at Oktoberfest, drunk and partying with frat boys and English tourists, just waiting to spread a wave of fear across Europe.

Thanks, Brazil. This is why we can't have nice things.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Tom's Cabin

Having finally gotten around to reading "Uncle Tom's Cabin", I have a bone to pick--not with the book itself, which was well-written and easy to see why it aroused anti-slavery sentiment in the late 1850s--but with the pejorative term "Uncle Tom" that is used today. Calling a black person an "Uncle Tom" is an insult levelled by blacks (and perversely, sometimes by whites) to accuse them of being overly subservient and docile towards "the man". The "man", of course, is a white man (or woman, I suppose) in power. An "Uncle Tom", in other words, is a black man who is ashamed of his race, and always trying to please "master".

The term, of course, comes from the character of Tom in the book, and likely is based on the fact that this particular Tom is always loving and obedient towards his masters--whether they're treating him relatively well, like the Shelbys or St Clairs, or cartoonishly brutal like Simon Legree. Tom also passes up the chance to escape as his fellow slave Eliza did, upon hearing he was about to be "sold south". This, presumably, is where the term "Uncle Tom" got its pejorative meaning.

However, I'd venture to say that the majority of people using the term "Uncle Tom" haven't actually read the book. After all, would this term really apply to a slave who:

1) Only chose to not run away from his original master because he was aware that doing so would have required his master's creditor to sell the entire plantation down south, which would be far more devastating to all the slaves involved?

2) Eloquently explained to one of his "kinder" masters that he appreciated being given his freedom, even though that meant certain poverty and never living as well as he did in the master's house, because it is better to be a free man owning his own body than a well-treated man owned by someone else?

3) Openly defied his brutal master Legree, willingly allowing himself to be beaten to death, rather than reveal where two of the runaway slaves were hiding?

What the book reveals is a noble character who takes his Christian values very seriously, and prizes his honor and loyalty to those around him far more than his own immediate well-being. The book also makes clear that this is a man who has accepted being a slave--as surely most slaves at the time had to, rather than despair over what seemed a hopeless situation--but wanted freedom all along.

Because of this, it seems wrong to use the term "Uncle Tom" (and certainly wrong for white people to use that term, since after all that would mean judging whether someone's "black cred" is sufficient). I'm still okay with calling someone "Bryant Gumbel" though.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Television Habits

My wife often tells people she doesn't watch TV, which sounds all intellectual and such, giving one the impression she looks down on the medium. As it turns out, by this she means only that she doesn't watch broadcast or cable networks as they air their shows--like me, she sees everything via Netflix or other online sources. While this means waiting months for movies or program episodes to become available, this also has the advantage of (a) getting to see everything in immediate succession rather than waiting each week--an activity that I can't believe I put up with for decades--and (b) being able to avoid the mountains of crap that inhabit cable and broadcast networks. This means never having to encounter:

1) Nancy Grace

2) MSNBC talking heads (Olbermann, Maddow, O'Donnell)

3) Fox News talking heads (Beck, Hannity, Ingraham)

4) "According to Jim"

5) The laughably mis-named "Music Television" (MTV) channel

6) Political ads convincing me that everyone running for any office in this country is a stone cold communist or a hateful racist Nazi

7) "Sports" channels that feature three times as much programming dedicated to nerds and has-beens talking about sports compared to actual broadcasting of sporting events

And while most people still subscribe to cable channels and watch broadcast networks, the trend is definitely switching towards online content. TiVos, iTunes and various online delivery systems also are making the tradition of watching a show when a given channel decides to air it sort of obselete. What will this do to the traditional notion of "prime time" programming, or "new fall seasons" or "sweeps weeks"? I have a feeling that a decade or so from now those notions will be antiquated, and little kids--when they're not on my damn lawn!--will gather round to ask me what the old days were like, when you'd rush home to catch the season premiere of "The Simpsons" because if you missed it, you'd have to wait for it to be re-run several weeks later.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Last Night's Film--"Bully"

The last time I'd seen a Larry Clark film it was the disturbing drama "Kids" which confirmed my belief that we'd be better off putting the little buggers to work in salt mines rather than letting them run free in the streets. (Note to self--find out if there are actually such a thing as "salt mines" as I use that term a lot) Last night I saw his more recent effort, 2001's "Bully", which was unfortunately based on a true story.

"Bully" follows two teenage boys who were best friends, by which I mean one of them constantly beats the crap out of the other, rapes the guy's girlfriend (!!!), and undermines him constantly. Marty, the victim, seems to hang out with Bobby, the bully, constantly for no other reason than social inertia--Marty is a nice enough kid, a talented surfer, which counts for something in suburban Florida, and has a girlfriend with her own social network. (Although, like every other adolescent in this film, these are all basically suburban white trash--which, combined with the cast of "Kids" makes me wonder--what sort of people did Larry Clark grow up with?) It seems all they do is screw and do drugs and drive around a lot and okay I'm not really making my case here--that all seems pretty awesome when you're in high school! But on screen these kids seem like pathetic burnouts.

Bobby and Marty also seem to have some homo-erotic thing going on between them, as Bobby forces Marty to dance for tips when they're at some sort of gay men's dance club, and later Bobby is watching gay porn while he's raping (again!) one of Marty's girlfriend's friends. Strangely, Bobby seems to have affection for his friend/victim, as he apologizes and professes his friendship for Marty even after punching him. Their friendship seems more complicated than simple abuse.

Needless to say, Marty's girlfriend Allie decides that Bobby is a poisonous influence in their lives and the best solution here is to kill Bobby. Okay, there are not enough WTFs to express my flabbergasty here. It doesn't seem to occur to Allie, Marty, or their several co-conspirators that there is a much easier way to get Bobby out of their lives. HE'S RAPED TWO OF THE GIRLS IN THIS GROUP! Why not go to the police with this accusation? Sure, one accusation has the risk of not being proved in court, but with corroborating stories--that both have the virtue of being true--as well as adequate physical evidence and the likelihood that this guy has other victims that may come forward, there's an excellent chance of getting this kid convicted. Would that not make a bit more sense than a gang of amateurs, who frankly don't seem competent enough to shoplift, trying to snuff a rotten, unpredictable thug who sadly is a lot smarter than all of them combined? Especially as Florida loves them some death penalty?

Amazingly, they go through with their plan--enlisting the help of a gloriously mulleted hitman, played by Leo Fitzpatrick who was one of the more horrible thugs in "Kids", who is only marginally smarter than the rest of the gang. They also each spend a lot of time telling others that they plan to kill Bobby, which is brilliant. The actual murder is brutal and sloppy--knives and bats, basically--and the attempted coverup is a comedy of errors. All of these morons were convicted, serving various sentences. And this surprises no one.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Casey Anthony Trial Finally Over

The internets exploded yesterday with the news of the acquittal of accused child-murderer Casey Anthony, and I confess to not having followed this story closely because (a) cable news is a cesspool and (b) trial coverage is incredibly boring. In real life, you never get the last minute arrival of a surprise witness (such things as evidence, witnesses, etc. have to be disclosed during discovery), a tearful confession under harsh cross-examination, or a lawyer who gets all heated up and hollers "this whole COURT is out of order!" I'd almost rather watch live coverage of a board meeting for the McDonald's Corporation because then at least there's a chance to find out if they're going to start selling beer at their stores.

From what I glean, there was significant circumstantial evidence indicating that Casey Anthony had a hand in the murder of her kid, such as the dead baby smell in her car trunk, numerous lies told to the authorities, and waiting over a month to report her child missing. However, the jury seemed to find--and not unjustifiably, it would seem--that while this evidence demonstrated both weird behavior and some criminality (such as hampering an investigation), it didn't prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Casey was guilty of murder.

What seems to rankle most people who have followed this trial is the following:

1) Casey was partying like some Shore Trash shortly after her kid disappeared. Tasteless!

2) No one should ever trust anyone with a first name for a last name and vice versa. So keep an eye on new Senator Rand Paul.

3) She named her kid "Caylee" which we all know is supposed to be spelled "Kaley". That alone should be considered child abuse.

So we have what appears pretty clearly to be a horrible person, who hampered a police investigation, perhaps making it impossible to determine who killed the kid. We have a person who also very likely murdered her kid. But prosecutors have to prove their case to a high standard before we can convict anyone of murder, and it's better to maintain that standard even if it means that people like Ms. Anthony can walk free.