Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Hollywood Movie Idea

Everyone complains these days that Hollywood turns out complete crap, and of course everyone is right about that.  Sequels, remakes, films based on previously made works like TV shows and comics--all of this is worthless garbage that is sadly a waste considering the resources that the film industry has at its disposal.  It's true that film is a business, and of course this means that the greasy-haired bottomfeeders at the major studios don't really care if what they make is any good, so long as (a) it's a safe bet to make enough in the U.S. to cover its costs and (b) there are enough explosions and famous faces to appeal to foreign audiences who don't care for American dialogue dubbed into their native languages. 

But every now and again the movie industry puts out something original, and it becomes a hit--a recent example being "Inception"--meaning there may be hope yet.  Allow me to suggest the idea for what could be the greatest film ever made, as well as having the virtue of not being based on any other previously made property.

The working title is "Bikers vs. Truckers" but of course we'd come up with something better, like "Crotchpunch" or "Road to Satan".  (And don't pretend you're too classy to go into a theater with "Cockpunch" on the marquee, because even the Queen of England would don a hoodie to sneak into that one)  The concept--the baddest biker gang in the West faces off against the brotherhood of truckers!  All while the State Police try to intervene.  Here's how it would go:

1) Hank "Blacktar" McCord is a Vietnam Vet turned trucker (this takes place in the Nixon years), who is approached by the mob boss of Denver to whom he owes the money in which he financed his rig.  The mob boss--Don Carmine--tells Hank he can forgive the remaining debt if Hank carries a load from Denver to Vegas, no questions asked, and no looking inside any of the crates--and if he can get it done in 48 hours.

2) Don Carmine also notes that Hank has a young son, and "it'd be a shame if anything were to happen to him."  When Hank asks if the Don is threatening the boy, the Don is offended--he was just remarking what a shame it would be if the kid got hurt!  Why does everyone have to assume nasty things all the time???  So Hank accepts the deal.

3) Meanwhile, a vicious motorcycle gang going by the name the "Dirt Devils" which has nothing to do with the vacuum cleaner company but is just a coincidence, is terrorizing a small roadside diner, particularly the young waitress who is working there, Lurleen.  The Devils end up wrecking the place, incapacitating the counterman and the cook, and are about to harm Lurleen--then they are stopped at the last minute by the head of their gang, a rough man with a mysterious past named Shank.  Shank takes a shining to the fiesty Lurleen, and decides to have her tied up and brought along with the gang when they leave. 

4) One of the female members of the gang, Marylou, is jealous of the attention Shank gives to Lurleen, as Marylou considered herself Shank's "number one girl" and is also secretly carrying Shank's child.  Marylou tells another female gang member, Spitfire, that she plans to have an "accident" happen to Lurleen.  Spitfire--who despite being a gang member is not without sympathy and was souring of the biker gang life--decides to free Lurleen and the two of them escape from the gang, headed down the highway on Spitfire's bike.

5) Spitfire and Lurleen, knowing the rest of the Devils will be after them, hightail it but soon run low on gas and are stuck begging for change at the nearest filling station--where Hank happens to be gassing up for his haul to Vegas.  They convince Hank to give them a ride with him, hoping to elude the gang.

6) Shank and the gang find Spitfire's abandoned bike at the gas station, and roughly interrogate the gas jockey until they find out their quarry escaped in Hank's truck--and they promptly give chase.

7) Hank, meantime, has been on his CB radio (this is the '70s, pre-cell phone) with his trucker brethren--and when they find out he's being hunted down by bikers they decide to take a break from their own hauls to come to the aid of their brother trucker.

8) Meanwhile, the State Police have been tipped off about the fact that Hank is hauling something big for Don Carmine--and they triangulate his CB signals in hope of heading him off at some point in the route.

9) What follows?  Well, nothing more than a running, cross-highway slugfest and shoot-em-up between a biker gang, a trucker gang, and the police, complete with hunting enthusiasts and a carload of college kids on a cross-country trip getting into the mix.  The culmination could be a battle royale in the middle of a small town in the Rockies.

If you tell me you have no interest in seeing a movie like this, you're lying to yourself.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Chicken Madness

Consumer boycotts are one of those things everyone loves so long as the boycotters are on their side.  A decade ago, country music fans--who, surprise, tend conservative--got pissed when the Dixie Chicks insulted President Bush on the eve of the Iraq War while they were touring in Britain, and launched a boycott of the Chicks' music.  I suppose they were largely successful--not that I follow the country music scene closely, but I haven't heard peep about that group since then.  However, this might have also been caused by the fact that the Dixie Chicks' music truly sucked so terribly that it could be used to kill weeds. 

Flash forward to 2012--a fast food chicken chain that I'd only first heard of a couple years ago called Chick-fil-a has also made the news.  Its founder, Dan Cathy, stated in an interview that he's a supporter of "traditional marriage"--which means of course opposing gay marriage.  This shocked me--who would have imagined that a super-Christian type who closes all of his chicken outlets on Sundays to observe the Sabbath would not be supportive of same-sex marriage?  I'm not thrilled with Cathy's public statement on this matter, as I consider any marriage among adults that don't involve shotguns (except as entertainment for the receptions) to be perfectly fine.  Others who share my sentiments, however, are launching a boycott of the chicken chain.

Boycotting of course is anyone's right--and if you dislike the public statements made by a business' owner as well as the donations he's reportedly made to anti-gay marriage groups, it's your right to not do business with him/her.  (And of course, sad attention-succubus Sarah Palin has every right to go on supporting Cathy's business.  Is there really any doubt at this point that Palin is a liberal performance artist doing a sendup of everything wrong with the right wing?  It's like Stephen Colbert but most people don't get the joke)  And just to prove that idiocy isn't confined to the right wing, Chicago Grafter-in-Chief Rahm Emanuel has threatened to block Chick-fil-a from opening stores in his town, arguing that Cathy's values are not "Chicago Values". 

News flash, Rahm--no one ever says "Chicago values" without using quotes, as the city is notorious for corruption, police brutality, crazed hippies, and a murder rate that makes people want to escape to peaceful Detroit.  Saying that someone does not have "Chicago values" is not an insult, you boob!

Plus, we're now crossing the line from private individuals deciding where not to spend their money to the government actually using the power of the state to punish someone for their personal views and public statements.  (Keep in mind that at no point is anyone arguing that the restaurant chain is engaging in discriminatory practices--only that the owner said some noxious things)  If you think that's okay, then consider how this hypothetical sounds--"today, the conservative mayor of Abilene, Texas, has announced that Five Guys Burgers cannot open any stores in his city because the CEO of Five Guys recently spoke out in favor of same sex marriage."  If the First Amendment only protects speech we like, then there's no point to having a First Amendment.  Besides, if you're going to let a hatemongering homophobic anti-semitic nutjob weirdo like Lou Farrakhan do business in your city, and even enlist his help in combatting your city's murder problem, maybe you need a bit of perspective.

As for the private boycott, though, I can understand where the boycotters are coming from--as in the Dixie Chicks case, it's not about causing some change (as would be the case if you boycotted a company because it underpaid its employees, for example) but more about not wanting your money going towards someone you fundamentally disagree with.  To me, this is the Dixie Chicks all over again--I need to eat unhealthy fast-food chicken sandwiches about as much as I need to hear terrible, terribly twangy music that sucks. 

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Omaha Now Belongs to the Spiders

Normally, I'm not one to advocate burning your own home, dousing it with poison, flooding it with chemical water, and then dumping salt over the remains to ensure nothing can ever survive there again.  But this story has me re-thinking my policy and thinking a little more Old Testamenty.  Some dude in Omaha has found his small apartment overrun with brown recluse spiders, having spotted already forty of these horrible death monsters.  As is well known among arachnophobes, the brown recluse has a venemous bite and can hospitalize a grown person (or kill a frail person).  God only invented the brown recluse spider when He decided that inventing bears with chainsaws for arms was too complicated. 

This unfortunate man has taken to lifting his bedskirts and moving his bed from the wall in hopes of avoiding being attacked in his sleep, which is the sort of thing one has to fear when your roommate develops an acute case of stabby psychoticness.  The article does not specify why the man has not moved out or whether he even tried using an exterminator, but I imagine in his place I would have tried one of these things.  Hell, I would have considered flooding the place with big rats, in the hope that the rats develop a taste for spider.  (Don't worry about the leftover rat problem--already figured out!  I'd release a few pumas to hunt the rats once the spiders were gone.  Then a wolf to drive out the pumas.  Hopefully I could learn to live with a puma-eating wolf, but that's at least better than forty-plus venemous spiders)

In the meantime, I guess this poor guy won't be inviting any dates over, unless they're weird punk chicks who are into horrible deadly things crawling all over them.

You Didn't Build That, All By Yourself, Though You Built A Great Deal and Deserve Credit for That

A few months ago, the Obama campaign was giggling with delight over a Mitt Romney speech in which the GOP candidate said "I like being able to fire people" as this demonstrated a callous viciousness about this rotten corporate titan.  Never mind that the context of the quote was Romney's argument that consumers should be able to choose their insurance companies and "fire" them if they don't provide the service we want.  Then, the Obamists got their cackles when Romney said "I'm not concerned about the very poor", buttressing his complete disregard for society's most vulnerable, though again the context of the speech was that Romney's focus was on the middle class, as the "very rich" were not suffering and the "very poor" had adequate safety nets already in place (though those implications are debatable, that context is very different from "ha ha, screw the poor!  I'm not poor, so screw 'em!"). 

So it gets a bit tiresome to see the Obamites getting sore when their own ox is gored--such as the recent onslaught by Romneyites over the President's "you didn't build that!" speech.  Here's the relevant excerpt from the speech Obama gave a couple weeks ago:

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn’t get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet."

Now, the thrust of this is absolutely true--no great or modest success in life is achieved without some help from society, including things provided or enabled by the government.  Infrastructure, widespread public schooling, courts, the police--all these things enable entrepreneurs and professionals to build fortunes and thrive so that Bill Gates and Henry Ford and J. Buford Texaco did not have to spend all their time gathering berries for sustenance and fighting off hordes of pirates and highwaymen. 

However, outside of the fringe sect of extreme Randian John Galt wannabes, I'm unaware of any serious conservative politician or pundit who actually suggests that we don't need any government, or that the successful have done it all on their own.  The only real debate going on is the degree and manner and extent to which government should be involved in business.  Saying we need functioning transportation networks in this country so that businesses can get products to market is one thing, but whether we need high speed rail connecting Las Vegas to Los Angeles or a highway interchange making sure you can cut travel time between Lebanon, PA and Morristown, NJ is another. 

So the tone of the speech--at a time when the economy is still struggling--can certainly strike businessfolks and small government types as a stick in their eye.  When you've struggled and sacrificed and taken major risks to get your business running in the black, and you spend a great deal of your company's time figuring out an ever-complicated tax code, and the weight of government regulations, all while facing weak demand in the market and worrying about whether your company will last another year, you're probably not going to be thrilled to hear the President make the point that you owe it to someone else--even if that's partly true.  Particularly when all the benefits of government (bridges and all) are funded by tax dollars that the businesses pay.

Perhaps instead Obama could have made the point differently--that helping businesses navigate the recession involves not a complete gutting of government spending and pulling government out of the economy completely, but instead accepting the good that government involvement can do.  That better infrastructure and regulation could help rather than hinder businesses--and the speech would have been a signal to the middle that this campaign is better than just a populist attack on the wealthy.  Maybe Obama should strangle the speechwriter who gave Romney an easy line of attack.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

I Have Seen the Future, and It Uses Lots of Bright Pink

It was only four years ago that Sarah Palin, the liberal performance artist portraying herself as a sendup of an empty-headed conservative nutjob, entered the national scene.  Two years after that, Delaware Republicans pushed aside popular former Governor and Congressman Mike Castle to nominate Christine O'Donnell for the Senate, a woman best known for being a lightweight on Bill Maher's old show (which really says something considering his guests were brilliant pundits like Sandra Bernhard and Ben Affleck).  But I think we're about to enter a new chapter for the GOP.  I give you--Mindy Meyer, candidate for New York State Senate! 

Quick facts--Meyer is a 22-year old law student, and an adherent to the Orthodox Jewish faith.  That much is completely normal--a bit ambitious considering her youth, but good for her for jumping in the game early in life.  (At least it's not one of those insufferable Kennedy spawn who bring their whiskey-fueled self-loathing to Washington every two years since 1946).  What stands out are the following:

1) This woman is bright orange.  If Snooki and Scooter from the Muppets had a kid?  It would look exactly like this woman.  Admittedly, that's a plus in my book!  Orange Americans need more than just John Boehner to represent!

2) Her website.  This seizure-inducing mess makes me think she might instead be running for Disco Queen, now that Donna Summer is no longer with us.  Holy sparkles, Batman!

3) Her inspiration--the film "Legally Blonde."  I'm not making this up.  She had many films to choose from with which to inspire her public service.  Legally Blonde.  Let that sink in a minute.

4) "I'm Senator and I Know It".  This nonsensical slogan does not even have the benefit of making any grammatical sense. 

5) This photo.  Holy Jebus the look on that police official's face--the one that says "dear Lord, what has become???"--pretty much covers how a career public servant would look at the Meyer candidacy as a sign of the future.

I for one wish Ms. Meyer well, and hope she makes it to Congress some day.  It's not like they're doing any good as it is, and at least this lady will keep it amusing. 

NE D.C.--Trying to be the Next Detroit

Few things in the news can roast my chickens as much as a story like this one.  A gay couple gets viciously attacked in Northeast Washington, in all likelihood simply because they're gay.  This isn't your garden-variety "marriage is only between a man and a woman" myopia a la Chick-fil-a, or your "gay kisses make baby Jesus cry" nonsense--this is pure, uncut hatred perpetrated by some sick individuals.  This is the sort of thing that makes me wish the story read more like "local thugs beaten to a pulp by victims who turned out to be ex-Green Berets who get the job done . . . their way." 

Street crime needs to become one of those professions that is so definitely likely to get your face bashed in and your arms broken that young toughs are driven to take classes at night school and learn useful things like air conditioner repair.  A good day will be one that features a regular conversation along the lines of:

Thug: Hey, Tough Guy, want to go hit the streets with me and beat up some passerbyes?

Tough Guy: No way, Thug!  My brother did that last night, and now he's speaking through a tube because he didn't realize that a lot of ex-Navy SEALS tend to cut through our neighborhood on their way to and from other ass-kickings.  And I think it's pronounced "passers-by".

Thug: You're right, Tough Guy!  And your grammar correction merely buttresses the point that all this gang banging has made my educational development suffer significantly.  Off to the library!

Tough Guy: Library's closed.  Funding cuts.

Thug: Dammit all to Hell!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Race Race in D.C.

With the recent mayoral scandals in D.C., I have to confess I haven't been following the details very closely.  As a political cynic, the idea of big-city corruption seems more the rule to me than the exception--something about the making of sausages and not wanting to know what goes into it.  So Mayor Vincent Gray may have used illegal campaign tactics and payoffs to beat Adrian Fenty two years ago?  I can't say I spat up my soda upon hearing that.  We've had a raging crackhead racist elected mayor of this city multiple times.  And that guy is still on the City Council.  Clearly, corruption and personal failings aren't big disqualifiers in picking our city's leaders.

What does sort of surprise me is the extent to which D.C. voters still take a person's race into account in choosing a mayor.  This article highlights the fact that large numbers of D.C. voters--white voters as well as black voters--consider it "important" or even "very important" to have a black mayor for the city.  Presumably, the reasoning behind this attitude is because a plurality of the city's residents are black.

Much as I like the idea of the color barrier being broken in American politics--first black Secretary of State in 2001, first black Supreme Court Justice in 1967, first black President in 2009, etc.--there's something unsettling about the idea that because the largest racial group in the city is of one race then that city's mayor should be of that race.  If whites became a plurality in D.C., then should the mayor be white?  If not, then why is this different?  Is it naive to think that it is the individual that matters--that a candidate of any race could lead the city effectively if they're a good politician with good ideas that could serve the city well?

This is why I find it heartening when an electorate can elect someone who represents a small minority of the overall population, such as Louisiana and South Carolina electing Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley as governors respectively, even though Indian-Americans are tiny fractions of those states, or Massachusetts can elect (twice) Deval Patrick, despite the black population of Massachusetts being very small (though Massholes are notoriously stupid and the townies there may have just heard the name and thought he was Irish and used to be that guy who played stickball with Murph and Sully). 

If nearly one in five voters in Boston said it was "very important" that that city's mayor were white, I'd find that disturbing in this day and age.   It'd be nice if D.C.'s voters could get past race as well.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Aurora Shootings

Last week's movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado brought out in Americans the usual stages of grief--shock, reflection, acceptance, and complete stupidity.  After all, what would a senseless shooting of a crowd of movie-goers be without people trying to advance some dubious political agenda?

One congressman suggests the shootings were the fault of ongoing attacks on Judeo-Christian beliefs.  Of course!  Clearly the (accused) killer, James Holmes, was not reading enough of the Bible except for the parts about wiping out neighboring tribes with God's blessing.  ABC news initially linked the killer to the Colorado Tea Party, which is some great journalism there until you realize that there may be more than one James Holmes out there.  Fortunately, the first name "Orenthal" is fairly rare, or else a number of sad sacks sharing the name "O.J. Simpson" would have been vigilanteed back in the '90s.

Let's dispense with some of this stupidity:

1) Whether you favor stricter gun control or not, you shouldn't need a massacre like this to prove your point, unless you didn't realize until now that guns in the wrong hands can result in tragedy.  This was always the issue--how to best prevent weapons from getting in the hands of (sane or otherwise) people with ill intentions?  Pro-gun controllers will say this could have been prevented, as more lethal high-magazine weapons wouldn't have been available, or better background checks might have prevented this guy from getting any weapon.  Anti-gun controllers will say it wouldn't have made a difference, as someone determined enough to get a weapon without any criminal record would have found a way to arm himself, legally or otherwise.  Expect nothing to change on this front.

2) Will movie theaters be expected to search patrons before they enter?  Probably not yet, but if this sort of thing becomes a trend you will see that just as sure as we still remove our shoes at the airport before getting to our flights.  I expect that to prevent approximately zero future massacres though, as potential killers will stick with malls or restaurants until those places also feature pat-downs.  More security theater!

3) Would a theater full of concealed carry permitholders have stopped the shooting sooner?  Color me skeptical on this one--sure, someone might have been able to shoot back, but in a dark, crowded theater it seems more likely that more victims would have been killed in the crossfire.  And I doubt a determined killer would be deterred by the idea that some of his victims were also armed.

4) Even if it turned out that the killer was a member of a Tea Party (or an OWS group, for that matter) should that make any real difference?  Short answer--no.  Long answer--NOOOOOO.  In any broad based group with open membership, you're going to get murderous nuts and it's not as though there's a researched membership list that can be scrubbed from time to time.  And while a lot of Tea Partiers tend to be armed--and favor gun rights--that's a pretty far cry from encouraging indiscriminate slaughter of movie-goers. 

5) Why did the killer do what he did?  I have absolutely no idea, but the nature of the crime suggests he's bonkers.  If that turns out to be the case--such as when Jared Loughner turned out to be motivated by his belief that money is a lie--then the main lesson of this sad chapter is to look out for the warning signs of mental illness before they lead to a horrifying end.

Straw Dogs, or How to Win Friends and Violently Harm People

Everyone knows that hillbillies smell fear, and the fear smell of big-city yuppie carries further than any other.  It is wise to never show fear in the face of hillbillies, and this is the ultimate lesson in both the classic 1971 film "Straw Dogs" and its recent remake.

"Straw Dogs", if you haven't seen it, is a simple story, as old as time itself--effete big-city sophisticate and his comely young wife decide to go all Green Acres by moving to the rural area where the young wife came from before moving to the big city.  The husband is an intellectual type, trying to find peace and quiet where he can work on his writing, and hire some salt-of-the-earth types to repair the roof of the house he'll be staying in.  The rubes (in rural England in the original, in rural Mississippi in the remake--which technically doesn't make them hillbillies, but hicks I suppose) look down on this newcomer and resent the attractive wife--who's actually one of them, dammit, and shouldn't be sassing about with the big city limp-wrist!--prancing about in short skirts like some low-budget Nancy Sinatra!  What starts out as a promising comedy--fish out of water--quickly goes dark when the locals take the cityboy hunting, kill his cat, and repeatedly rape his wife.  Things go about the way one would expect, and then the hicks assault the home to break in and kill the couple, who then have to find their animal instincts from within, and murder them up some working class heroes.  It's the classic case of the 1 percenters taking revenge on the 99 percenters!  Occupy this house?  I think not, hoi polloi!

Anyway, watching this movie made me think--I'm pretty much a cityboy, seeing as I live in a city, and have never killed anything bigger than a bug--and yet despite having visited "the country" on a number of occasions have never encountered any hostility from the natives.  It must be because I am so savvy!  Here's my tips on making sure that local rubes will learn to respect and fear you and not think they can go and rape your wife and try to set you on fire:

1) It's a good idea to first meet them with an arrow wound in your arm.  (Just make sure it's not piercing any key arteries!)  Act like you aren't aware of the wound, and when they say "hey mister, you have an arrow in your arm!" just look nonchalantly like as though it's another nuisance, and say something witty like "goddam someone must have thought I was a moose!  Maw, get me some turniquet tape!"

2) If some rube gives you lip because you mistakenly ordered a Bud Light (always order Bud Heavy!  Bud Light is only on tap so they can smoke out the wimps!), laugh, pat him on the back, and then staple his nearest hand into the bar using a nail gun.  As he's screaming bloody murder yell at him "now LOOK WHAT YOU JUST MADE ME DO!!!"  No one will notice your fancy Italian loafers when you just stapled some guy's hand to the bar.

3) When the locals offer to take you hunting in order to show you up and feel superior to you because you can't hunt as well as they can, tell them that deer hunting is for pussies and you don't get up before 8 AM for anything less than a crocodile.  Then make some comment about the relative smallness of their genitals.

4) If you walk out of the fire-and-brimstone preacher's sermon at church on Sunday, and one of the rubes comes outside to criticize you for it, tell him the reason you had to leave is because any church service that doesn't involve handling snakes is an affront to the vengeful god you believe in.  Then nail the guy's hand to the hood of his car.

5) Don't point out that it's strange that their state flag features the battle flag of a rebel army that killed more American uniformed troops than any other army in history.  The thing about southerners is they can maintain two contradictory beliefs at the same time.

6) When the rubes working on your roof tell you they're taking off early for the day because it's hunting season, shoot one of them in the kneecap with your .357, and then tell them that hunting season's just begun, and they're the prey. 

I realize that most of my advice above boils down to violently dispatching the locals as a way of winning their respect.  However, if it works for Charles Kuralt, it'll work for you, too.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Elevators, Making Strangers Awkward for Over a Century

Is there anything more awkward than riding in an elevator?  I submit that there is not!  There's basically nothing you can do once you get in and press your button, except wait there, facing forward and upwards, avoiding eye contact and making only the most brief of conversations--"good morning" and "have a nice day" being the extent of it.  This is because the elevator ride requires close proximity with complete strangers but for such a brief time that there's no point in getting to know the other riders. 

From time to time you get that fellow rider who wants to take it a step further--they're thinking, "hey, why not make a friend here in the fifteen seconds before one of us has to get off?" and so they'll say something about how it's the last day of the week (as a fellow rider mentioned to me this morning) or the extreme weather we've been facing.  Usually, though, no one tries starting a conversation that cannot possibly be finished in the short duration of the elevator ride, such as "hey do you think today's unemployment numbers will boost Obama's chances of re-election?" or "do you know anything about pulled pork sandwiches?  Because I need to make them this weekend for my inlaws, and we're out of vinegar."

Then of course there's the person who is far to nervous to be talking with strangers, as happened yesterday.  After the perfunctory "hey, just one more day" talk, this fellow rider thanked me after he got off at the lobby, but BEFORE I was able to say "have a nice day".  I spent much of my ride home wondering what I was being thanked for.  Was my response about "TGI Thursday" really thankworthy?  Did I manage to turn around a stranger's rather glum day?

I'd like to think I did!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Islamist Conspiracy to Tweet Junk Shots!

It's one thing for Michele Bachmann to go around saying stupid things that amuse us all.  But every now and then she crosses into vile Palinesque territory, seeking to cravenly exploit fears and hatreds in a manner that only poisons the way many Americans already feel about their Muslim fellow countrymen.  And lately she's become the object of a new firestorm in Congress for McCarthy-style accusations of Islamist infiltration into the organs of the federal government. 

Somehow, Republicans thought it would be hilariously ironic to put Bachmann on the House Intelligence Committee.  Yes, ha ha guys, we get the joke--but Rep. Bachmann clearly didn't.  And now she thinks she's protecting us from the Islamist Brotherhood, particularly the machinations of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's top aide, and KNOWN MUSLIM, Huma Abedin.  Ms. Abedin, we should note, managed to get a security clearance despite her clearly Mohametan-worshipping background.  I agree that crazy things can happen--voters in Minnesota managed to elect a mentally disturbed woman to Congress, several times!

Abedin, I'll note, is also married to Anthony "How's This For An Ironic Last Name?" Weiner, the disgraced former congressman who tweeted a shot of his junk to some young female fan.  I mention this because last I checked, Weiner is still Jewish and a strong Israel supporter.  I'm not aware of any Islamist agents clever enough to fake their way into a marriage with a guy like that but oh man what if this was all just a clever ruse and Abedin was behind the scandal to get Weiner disgraced we're through the looking glass here people!  This is just too fiendish to contemplate, so maybe we should be glad we have a full time idiot like Bachmann on the case.

John McCain, to his credit, stood up for Ms. Abedin and shamed Rep. Bachmann for this "investigation", which is not only the right thing to do but also necessary to help make up for his pick of Sarah Palin for VP four years ago (which goes down as his most embarrassing public act, which says something for a man who was also one of the Keating Five).  I hope more Republicans do so.

Tax Returns? Who cares?

The election season is shaping up to be about as mindless as we've come to expect in recent cycles.  The country is facing a slide into a second recession (while not quite out of the first one) while accepting trillion-dollar deficits as the new normal.  We have a tax code that honest and intelligent citizens cannot ever be sure they're adhering to properly.  We have a health care system that is poised to get more expensive than ever and still leave millions uninsured.  And right now the biggest controversy is whether rich capitalist Mitt Romney will release tax returns for additional years. 

And spare me this crap about "Romney's tax returns indicate how he earned his wealth, and he made his business background a point in this campaign!"  John Kerry in '04 made his Vietnam experience a point in that campaign, and the Swift Boat ads had just as little bearing on whether Kerry had a good plan for the Iraq War as Romney's tax returns do for how he'd handle our economic mess.  This is just more "playing to the cheap seats" and as a swing voter who at least thinks he isn't an idiot, I'm unsold on this line of attack. 

Part of the reason I don't really care about the tax returns is because (a) Romney is a very rich man who made a lot of money over the past ten years; (b) very rich people who make a lot of money spend a great deal of money hiring the best tax professionals to make sure that they're paying the least amount of tax possible but doing so legally; and (c) Romney has had political ambitions at least since 1994 when he ran against noted secretary-killer Ted Kennedy for the U.S. Senate, so the idea of there being something illegal that could be subject to an IRS audit--an audit that is far more likely for a high earner than the average taxpayer--is remote.  The most scandalous thing that could come out of this is that Romney made a hell of a lot of money and paid a very low rate--something we already know from the tax returns he's already released.  And if this outrages you, then you should have a bigger beef with the president who failed to fix our tax code when he had a Democratic Congress for two years.

And more to the point, the shenanigans that allow big earners to pay very low rates on their earnings--by taking it as investment income, for example, rather than ordinary income, as well as a gazillion deductions and exclusions and credits oh my--is really the result of one thing.  Congress has historically loved the idea of social engineering via our tax code--encouraging us to buy homes, invest in things, etc.--and once they get started it creates a mess where rates need to be extra high to cover all the loopholes.  If you don't like it, and you blanch at the idea of Warren Buffet and Mitt Romney paying a smaller percentage of their income in tax than their secretaries do (secretaries that should at least be glad they weren't drowned by Ted Kennedy, who has a tendency to drown his secretaries), then ask your Congressman to simplify the tax structure to get rid of all that.  It's much harder to game a system that treats actual income all the same and has no loopholes.

There are good arguments for both Romney and Obama to be making this year--about how realistically they'll enable the economy to recover and straighten out our books, as well as the proper role for the government in all this.  Sure, that'll also mean negative attacks on the other guy's plan.  But as long as we're fighting over how unfair it seems that very rich men are able to make the system work for them--rather than how realistically to fix the system--we'll end up with a crippled system next year, no matter which boob wins this one.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Amityville Horror!

The Amityville Horror is at heart a story about the perils of real estate, and how families have to sometimes cope with the unexpected.  What do you do when your house unexpectedly tells you to kill everyone in your family?  Answer--make sure you're the one armed with an axe!

The 1979 film featured Margot Kidder (whose actual life would turn out more horrifying than anything in the film) and James Brolin, who has a great meta-moment when he hollers "Mother of God, I'm coming apart!!!" when he peers into the future and realizes he will someday be Mr. Barbra Streisand.  The 2005 version stars Ryan Reynolds and his impossible abs, and both versions are based on the true story--in 1974, teenager Ron "Butch" DeFeo murdered his fambly with a shotgun and a few years later the Lutz fambly moved into the home.  The Lutzes claimed the house was haunted, but later it turned out to be a hoax. 

What makes little sense is that the family in both films stays in the house way longer than they should once it's clear the place is a portal to hell.  This might make sense if they'd just moved there from Detroit, but no such allusion to Detroitism is made in the movies.

Just once though I'd like to see a film accurately portray how people would act in a horror situation.  Something like:

1) The victim is wandering in the dark, and shouts out "this isn't funny, guys!" and then the killer shouts back "okay, I can do some Don Knotts impressions if that's more your speed."

2) There's a point where one victim says to the other, "hey, why don't we call for help with your cell phone?" and the other victim says he's really really short on minutes and doesn't want to waste them.

3) The killer pops out with his chainsaw/machete/axe, and the victims turn out to be Texas Republicans and they casually gun him down because they go nowhere without their .357s.

4) A surprise twist, where it turns out . . .  they were on Earth all along!

5) They find out the house is on an Indian Burial Ground, and are cool with that, but then the Bureau of Indian Affairs repossesses the home as it belongs to the tribe and the victims have to move into a condo.

6) The pre-teen girl is possessed by a demon, but no one notices because she's been a bit of a pill lately anyway.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Obamacare Post

I haven't weighed in on the Affordable Care Act (or "Obamacare") because the arguments both for and against it were so perplexing to me.  Conservatives railing against this "socialist" health care overhaul that seems more like a scheme the Republicans would have come up with and liberals defending a law that seems to (a) subsidize private insurers, (b) provides no actual gaurantee of health care coverage for the millions of uninsured Americans (though it is intended to make it easier for them to be covered) and (c) imposes a penalty on the uninsured can make my head spin.  It's well known that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney signed into law a very similar health care reform when he was governor of Massachusetts, and many aspects of Obamacare were drawn from conservative proposals. 

I gather that if this exact law were pushed five years ago by President Bush, we'd be hearing from the right that this was a "market friendly" solution to the problem of the uninsured, preserving private health plans and working through the private market to expand coverage.  Liberals, I imagine, would have argued against Bushcare, claiming that this is a massive giveaway to "big insurance" and the individual mandate is a big tax on the economically vulnerable uninsured--and that the "subsidies" provided to help the uninsured purchase health insurance through "exchanges" would not be enough to cover such premiums, creating a nasty penalty.  Critics on the left would be calling for a publicly funded coverage scheme, as many did when Obamacare was first debated in Congress.

For what it's worth, I was sort of hoping the Supreme Court would have tossed out Obamacare entirely, so that public pressure would force Congress to replace it with something better.  My problem with Obamacare comes down to this:

1) Increasing government subsidies for health care will cost the federal government a great deal--and far more than they initially projected.  It's not clear where this extra money is going to come from.  We're already running a trillion dollar deficit and no one shows much appetite for raising taxes or curbing other spending--and both of these things would have a contractionary effect on the economy while it's still vulnerable.

2) Increasing subsidies alone without any sort of cost control tends to drive the prices up.  No better example exists than in higher education.  Years of increased government and private subsidies, plus increased access to credit (also enhanced by government action, such as exempting most student lending from bankruptcy) and more consumers in the market have driven tuition costs sky-high.  Why would this not happen in health care?  (Of course, imposing controls as well causes shortages, as the wage and price controls of the 1970s shows). 

3) The individual mandate (or tax, as the Supreme Court considers it) hits those without health insurance, which most commonly will be those without jobs (or those with the lowest-paying jobs) or significant wealth.  I realize the idea is to get healthy young people to pay into the system, but forcing them into private plans that can be quite expensive (with premiums costing hundreds per month just for an individual minimal coverage plan with high deductables).  Considering 1) and 2) above, I'm skeptical that the federal government can or will provide an adequate subsidy for such people to actually purchase coverage.  (After all, if the government subsidy was high enough, why would anyone not purchase the coverage?  Thus making the 'mandate" superfluous)

What would I have preferred?  Despite being right of center on most economic issues, I'd have sided with the left on this one--create a government funded baseline health care plan for anyone who does not opt-out (and chooses their own private health coverage, via employer, or otherwise) so that no one remains uninsured.  How to fund it?  Perhaps with a combination of payroll taxes, taxes on private health plans, premiums on the government plan itself, copays, even some contribution from general revenues--and the quality of coverage will of course depend on how it gets funded.  But that should be where the debate lays.

So while I'm no fan of "Obamacare" in its current form, I can't really get behind the "socialism!" argument, particularly because nothing seems to have been socialized (as, for example, our passenger rail system was in 1971).  But maybe if this thing flops as I think it will eventually--driving up costs, decreasing quality of service and leaving vast numbers uninsured in any meaningful way--Congress will have to reform it.  Let's just hope they don't make things even worse.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Burger for $666?

The big problem with morons is that they tend to believe that the more you spend on something the better it is.  While this is sometimes true--after all, you really need to drive a car you bought used for $200 for a while before you can truly appreciate a thing like brakes and doors that close all the way--there's also a point at which you just can't get something any better.  With burgers, that point is at a relatively low price--I don't think I've ever eaten a burger that cost more than $20 and said "if only they put more expensive ingredients in here, it'd be even tastier!"

Then there's the infamous $666 "Douche Burger", the new exhibit to prove my case that some people just don't deserve to have money.  For your $666, you get a burger with gold leaf (gold tastes delicious, according to no one at all ever), lobster, caviar, foie gras, and champagne steam.  I note that it also comes wrapped in three hundred dollar bills, so the burger really only sets you back $366, but that's still a lot to pay for a burger.

My problem is I just don't see how what's offered will enhance the taste of the burger--you're essentially talking about adding expensive crap to it for the sake of it, but not actually making it taste better.  The ridiculousness of adding actual gold to food aside, let's consider each of these ingredients:

1) Foie gras.  Even if you like the taste of this, wouldn't it get drowned out on the taste of the burger?  I know of no epicures who'd say "foie gras tastes best when slathered on top of meat."  Same goes for the caviar.

2) The beef is Kobe beef, and I guarantee you if it's ground into a patty you can't tell that from any other beef.  And if you think I'm wrong then please stop lying to yourself. 

3) Champagne steam?  Give me a break!  No one on earth will eat a burger and say "I thought it was okay, but what really improved it was the champagne steaming!  Mmm, goodness!"

4) Lobster--there is a time and place for lobster, and that includes eating it on a roll or directly out of the shell.  But everyone knows lobster is really just a bland vessel for melted butter!  Shrimp, squid, clams--those have some severe flavor!  Lobster is just popular because it's expensive (though that's changed this year, lobster lovers!).

The fact is, for something like a burger, there's only so much you can do to make it great, and you simply can't justify the expense beyond that.  It comes down to lean beef, with spices and bits of veggie and bacon in the patty itself, cooked just barely well, and topped with fresh lettuce, tomato, pickle and thick bacon, maybe some high quality cheese, and fresh toasted bun.  That's basically it, and you just can't justify more than $15 for it.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Bad Film Ideas? Or Brilliant? You decide!

What really scratches my strawberries these days is that Hollywood keeps getting rewarded for making absolute pig-poop, as evidenced by the fact that "Ouija" and "Tonka Trucks" have been greenlit after the rousing success of "Battleship".  Oh wait, "Battleship" was a flop?  Who could imagine that Rihanna as a tough talking Navy grunt and that prettyboy from "Friday Night Lights" wouldn't be box office gold???  Who, that is, besides even a slow-witted chimp? 

Some writers think even weak premises can lead to good movies if lightning strikes just right (like discovering that Bruce Willis could be a winning action star or that Johnny Depp can carry a pirate movie).  That may be--something as simple as "bar owner has to endure seeing his ex with a sensitive Euro-trash, gets drunk with his piano player" turned into "Casablanca", and "rich guy dies the way he lived--fabulously!" became "Citizen Kane".  But that just goes to prove that it's all in the "how."

So let me propose winning ideas for the next few board games:

1) Hungry Hungry Hippos.  Sargeant John Havoc leads an elite squad of Army Rangers into central Burundi to track and kill a dangerous warlord.  Instead they land in the midst of a swamp surrounded by--you guessed it!--underfed hippos with a taste for American cuisine!  It's the ultimate Man vs. Nature! 

2) Stratego.  Sir James McVie is a British aristocrat, out to prove his manhood and uphold his family name.  Corporal Rufus Malogg is a grizzled Army officer busted down in rank for doing things "his way."  Together they have to find out how to defeat the French army and save the world from Napoleonic domination.  However, due to some hallucinogenic drugs they accidentally took before the battle, every man they capture may be a simple soldier, a devious spy, a general, or--worse yet--a cartoonish bomb!  Hijinks ensue in this comedy-drama.

3) Slinky, the Movie.  Mankind has fought beasts, aliens, and each other--but mankind was not prepared for its worst foe ever--staircases.  In a world where---okay, this premise is really too stupid.

4) Stretch Armstrong.  Melvin Armstrong is a plucky Chicago cop who always gets his man.  This time, he is on the trail of the Torture Rack Killer.  Unfortunately, he is outwitted by his own prey when he falls into a trap, and then the real torture begins when the Killer puts Armstrong on the rack . . . stretching his arms and legs as far as they can go.  Will Armstrong survive the incredible stretching that his body is put through, or will he rip apart and have all that weird plastic goo come spilling out of him?

5) Go-Bots, the Movie.  Watch as Michael Bay sues the hell out of the makers of Go-Bots the Movie for ripping off his Transformers franchise!  A legal drama up there with "And Justice for All" or "The Verdict."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

New Micro-Apartments in NYC

When I first read about NYC Mayor Bloomberg's promotion of new "micro" apartments for the city--with living space for each rental under 300 square feet--my reaction was "ah, now New Yorkers can finally enjoy living in the city without all that damn living space to get lost in!"  Manhattan is the only place I've seen wealthy people live in very tiny, no-frills apartments--forget about having a pool, parking, or balcony--and consider themselves lucky to have such dwellings.  (The tiny living space theme is apparently worse in other parts of the world, such as Tokyo)

But upon reflection the creation of even smaller apartments seems a good thing.  There are many single individuals who really just need a place to sleep, use a bathroom and kitchenette, and for these folks it makes little sense to pay for more space than necessary.  Ideally, these micro-apartments can be built in large quantities in smaller acreage, at the same time taking many consumers out of the market for the (relatively) larger units.  NYC needs more housing, after all, and increased variety in terms of square footage will better meet the crushing demand.

So why stop at 300 square feet?  Some Tokyo businessfolk would laugh at you needing so much space!  Make the bathtub double as a bed, and just remember to take the pillows and sheets out before you shower in the morning.  You really don't need more than one sink for shaving/toothbrushing as well as for washing dishes.  And if the front door slides to the side rather than opens on a hinge, that's even more space you can save.  Don't forget to think vertical--no reason we need ten foot high ceilings when the average NYer is under 6 feet.  Drop the ceiling a bit, and don't invite any Norwegians over. 

And that's not all!  Most people in NYC spend only about a third of their day in their apartment, being out to work or socialize most of their waking hours.  I'm thinking sublease arrangements--Renter #1 gets the apartment from 8 AM to 4 PM, Renter #2 gets the apartment from 4 PM to 12 AM, etc....and presto, I just created a 100 square foot home that you only need to pay one third of the rent for, dropping the typical New Yorker's housing costs to a level commensurate with Omaha.

You're welcome, Manhattanites!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Summer Heat

On my way to attend a delightful wedding in Baltimore's Federal Hill neighborhood, I lamented the fact that it happened to be on a day that the thermometer was to reach a point closer to 110 than 100, and it being a formal affair I'd be in a suit.  (A light-colored summer suit, to be sure, but when the temperature reaches India-levels, the difference between a summer suit and a winter suit is about the same as the difference between having a cigarette put out on your hand and being jabbed with a safety pin).  Fortunately, my car has AC, though even at full blast it could only make the drive "slightly less uncomfortable".  100-plus degree summers are why they invented Maine!  (And of course, zero-degree winters are why they invented flights away from Maine)

The walk from where I was parked to the ceremony was only 0.6 miles, which on any other day would be pleasant.  On this day, it meant stopping halfway at a deli to cool down with lemonade, and strategically sticking to the shadowed parts of the streets.  More than once I considered breaking into one of the lovely Federal Hill row houses to see if they had cold water available. 

Of course, once I was at the reception--a very nice affair at the Baltimore Museum of Industry--it was nice and cool inside, and my heat-related woes were over until the ride home. 

I sort of can't wait for autumn.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Things for Americans to be Proud of

With Independence Day yesterday--and celebrating it without beer for the first time in decades!--it is a good time to take stock in all the great things about the good ole U.S. of A.  Sure, we have our share of embarrassments, from the Sarah Palins to the Al Sharptons, and our share of horribleness in our history (Trail of Tears, slavery, firebombing enemy civilians).  However, any major and influential world power will have its share of negatives, which is why even the Belgians have their legacy of the Congo to weigh against their great beer and fries.  But let's consider some of the greatness of America:

1) The World Wars.  It is almost like Deus Ex Machina--the German aggressors and their allies romping across Europe and Asia, very nearly pulling off world domination, and then suddenly the full weight of American industrial and military might comes up and boots Hitler off of the Statue of Liberty and impales him on the Washington Monument.  Sure, other major factors were at play (notably the U.S.S.R. in the second one) but American might clearly spelled doom for Berlin.  Both times!

2) The moon landing.  There is something awe inspiring about getting people safely up (and safely back) to a land that is not on Earth for the first time in history.

3)  Religious Freedom.  We have some of the most religious people in the world in this country, and yet it is enshrined in our laws that there will never be a state establishment of religion.  The right to freely practice any religion or no religion at all has enhanced the flourishing of so many beliefs, none of which were forced on anyone by the state (as was so often the case elsewhere).

4) Moderate politics.  It says something that while political rhetoric these days remains so heated, we're basically looking at whether to elect a guy who implemented Obamacare in Massachusetts or a guy who implemented Obamacare nationally.  In many countries a new party in charge really does mean radical change, in the real sense, not the Rachel Maddow and Sean Hannity use of that term.

5) Haven for immigrants.  Not just a benefit for the immigrants themselves, but consider how much these influxes helped America.  Immigrant labor helped build our cities and railroads, run our docks, fill our armies and operate our farms.  The immigrants have also improved our national cuisines (from chop suey to pizza), and made great fortunes starting companies or inventing stuff.  It's hard to think of another country that has been as greatly benefitted by its immigrants as the U.S. has.

6) Creativity.  America has been birthplace to jazz, country-western, soul, and rock-n-roll music, it has produced most of the world's great films, and basically created the concept of the television program.  Not to belittle other countries' artistic contributions (can't really challenge the Dutch painters or the Italian Renaissance) but Americans have batted above their own weight in the creative realm.

7) Sports.  Inventing baseball, basketball, (American) football, and lacrosse?  Pretty solid!

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Last Week's Civic Duty

Last Monday, for the first time, I get called for jury duty--almost two years after moving into the city.  I figure it'd be a quick hello and goodbye, because they generally don't want attorneys in the jury box.  I'm expecting to be dismissed around mid-day, and back at work the next day.

Suffice it to say it didn't work out that way--they called a large group of us into the courtroom, and began whittling down the herd--bringing groups of us into the jury box, knocking out a few and replacing them, and this took a few hours.  They also brought us up one at a time for the defense and prosecution and judge to ask some basic questions--do you recognize the names of certain parties, do you work in law enforcement, etc.--and while it's a well known fact that you can get out of jury duty easily by answering every question with "well, according to the prophecy . . .", I kept it honest.  And when it was over, I found myself sitting on the jury for a criminal trial.

The next several days were spent hearing testimony, reviewing evidence, hearing arguments, and finally deliberating before rendering our verdicts yesterday and being dismissed.  A few observations:

1) You know how when you see presentations, there's always a chance to ask questions?  It takes some getting used to, to hear a lawyer's presentation or some testimony and not be able to ask anything. 

2) Not being able to talk to anyone--even other jurors--about the trial during the trial phase is difficult.  You can only work things over in your own mind, until deliberations.

3) This case--involving charges of assault with deadly weapon and intent to injure--was a difficult one, as I imagine most cases that come to trial would be (otherwise, they'd get pled out earlier).  Defendant was very sympathetic, and there were some varying accounts from witnesses.  Even with everything over, the whole thing still weighs on my mind. 

4) Ultimately, we voted to convict on four of the five counts--the evidence and Defendant's own testimony left no room for reasonable doubt on those charges in accordance with the jury instructions.  But it still feels awful, as I imagine it feels to have to fire someone.