Friday, August 31, 2012

What's in a Flag?

As a six year old kid, I absolutely loved the TV show "Dukes of Hazard".  Of course, as a six year old kid, I was a complete idiot who if left to myself would have subsisted on Fruit Roll-ups and sugary soda and died within a month of sugar-coma. 

But that show did represent something about its era--an era where the First Brother-in-Law hawked "Billy Beer", an affront to suds that I believe led to the microbrew revolution that followed; an era of economic malaise and stagflation; an era where disco actually managed to get worse following its mid-'70s heyday.  This era celebrated the "countryhickification" of American culture.  Trucker films, songs about CB radios, and of course Burt Reynolds were all the rage, and Dukes of Hazard cashed in.

(Full disclosure--John Schneider, the actor who played Bo Duke, is actually a native of my old hometown, Mt. Kisco New York, and for a time was married to the daughter of some friends of my parents.  Am I proud of this connection to the show?  You bet I am!)

The show, for those of you who spent the turn of the '80s watching Masterpiece Theater and tossing Faberge eggs at poor people who did your gardening, was about two moonshine runners named Bo and Luke Duke, who lived at their Uncle Jesse's farm in some hick southern county called Hazard, constantly getting in trouble with the local political boss, Jefferson Davis Hogg, and his lackey sherriff, Roscoe Coltrane.  They also had a scantily clad cousin Daisy and there was something weird going on with her that as a six year old I couldn't quite figure.  Were they really all cousins, or was that just what they told people so they wouldn't suspect the orgies at Uncle Jesse's farm?  Who knows?

Anyway, more important than leggy Miss Daisy for a six year old was the bright red/orange Dodge Charger that them Duke boys drove called the General Lee.  This car basically outran anything the local fuzz could throw at them, leaving Roscoe and his deputies to crash into trees and creeks and bridge abutments, miraculously coming out unharmed (even Roscoe's dog never gets killed in the impact!) but probably costing the impoverished taxpayers of Hazard millions in car repairs.  Because they were southern hicks, it was not abnormal for them to name their car after the general who led a rebellion that caused more deaths to U.S. servicemen than Hitler and Tojo combined.  And the car had a painted-on Confederate battle flag.

So that brings us to today--a rumor that the confederate flag may or may not be removed from toys of the General Lee car!  I have to say that while southerners really need to come to grips with what the Confederacy represents--secession, racial superiority, and rebellion against the U.S., regardless of the actual motivations behind each individual who fought for the South in the Civil War--and drop these symbols.  However, I'm all for keeping the flag on the toy cars, because then little kids playing with them can ask their parents awkward questions about what that flag is and their parents can explain that some people in this country still revere a group of rebels who very nearly destroyed it a hundred and fifty years ago and hilariously these same Americans today consider themselves American patriots. 

Then they can go back to hucking Faberge eggs at poor people.

GOP Convention Takeaways

Catching the political convention coverage this year is a lot different for me than it was in earlier cycles--I remember the first conventions I watched as a kid being the ones in 1988, listening to my parents trash the GOP speakers and be less than thrilled with Mike Dukakis ("Dukakis" is Greek for "meh").  In those days, and going through the mid-2000s, I'd spend several hours each day of the respective convention watching the coverage on TV after school (or work) and going into the late hours to catch the speeches.

These days, I can follow the political coverage on the Internet and view the speeches online, turning what was once six or so hours each night into about an hour in the morning.  My takeaways from the GOP convention this week:

1) A lot of rising Republicans are auditioning for 2016.  Surely they remember that Barack Obama made a name for himself at the otherwise disastrous 2004 Democratic Convention with a well-received speech, and parlayed a very thin political resume into winning his party's nomination four years later.  Politicians completely unknown four years ago--New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez, and Florida Senator Marco Rubio--have set the groundwork for what could be strong candidacies four years from now if Romney loses this November.  Of course, these things can be fleeting--if Romney wins, it'll take more for Republicans to remember these folks in 2020 when the nomination opens up again.

2) I liked Condoleeza Rice's speech generally--particularly the reference to growing up in Jim Crow Alabama and being able to overcome that--and I've always found her likable despite being the pointwoman for many questionable Bush-era policies.  But I notice her speech patterns tend to sound shaky--almost a lacking of confidence.  If she gets the political bug later and runs for something, she may want to invest in a speech coach.

3) I can see why Marco Rubio gets so much buzz--he had in my opinion the best speech of the week.  Even if you disagree with his politics, he's got a winning way of keeping with central themes and big ideas.

4) Clint Eastwood left me just feeling really sad for him.  There's really not much more I can say about his argument with the empty chair.

5) The convention security was right to eject the morons who tossed peanuts at the black CNN camerawoman.  Among the GOP's many problems is not "too many people think we like black folks".  I don't know who those jerks were but that's shameful and mean behavior anywhere.

6) Paul Ryan's activity since his pick for VP--as well as his acceptance speech--has made it clear that the GOP doesn't have another Sarah Palin problem this year.  He's articulate, has a good command of policy, and can convey his ideas in a reasonable manner.  While the Obama team can--and will--still assault the GOP ticket on Ryan's very conservative budget stances, he'll be a much harder target to nail down and is clearly willing to strike back.  The good news is this offers a chance for some substantive debate on how to fix our budget this fall.

7) Romney's speech was pretty good--a lot of pundits complain that it's light on specifics, but I see that as a plus.  It's incredibly boring to hear a laundry list of policies that don't have a prayer of getting passed anyway--and I think an acceptance speech should be about bigger themes anyway.  This speech was simple, hit key points, and re-introduces the candidate to the people.  The debates this fall will be a chance to get the details under scrutiny.

8) The Texas delegation makes themselves easy to spot with all the cowboy hats.  If I were the head of the NY delegation I'd have my team wear hipster fedoras.  We'd be all ironic, like we didn't care about any conventions.

We'll see how the public reacts and whether there's any convention bump in the polls--I suspect there won't be one, or it'll be small--we're at a point where the middle these days is shrinking and the election this year is shaping up to be another "base mobilizer" like 2004 was.  On to the Democratic Convention!

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Pizza Now Squirts. Oh, Good!

Few things flame my broiler as badly as horrible things being done in the creation of "pizza".  I use quote marks around "pizza" for two reasons--first, I love quote "marks" even "where" they don't make "any" sense.  And second, because once you've done something horrible to a pizza, it no longer remains a "pizza" but becomes some monstrosity that is an affront to both God and Satan at the same time, which is admittedly quite a feat.

Here are some of the horrible pizza-destroying things:

1) Add broccoli, tofu, or any other weird-ass hippie thing as a topping.  Just call it a salad, because you can't really ruin a salad.

2) Deep-dishing it.  Chicagoans have a lot going against them--cold winters, political corruption, and a murder rate that makes Iraq look good.  They really don't need to go the extra mile by creating an open-face tomato and cheese pot pie and calling it "pizza".

3) Fruit.  I like fruit, when it's fresh at least.  But fruit should never be anywhere near a pizza.  Like a kosher kitchen, certain things need to remain completely separate.  And pineapple is one of the more popular fruits to ruin a "pizza."  What sort of nut likes pineapple served hot and baked anyway?

Then, notorious pizzology violator "Pizza Hut" decided a while back that making sub-par pizza wasn't enough.  No, the "Hut" decided to stick a big middle finger at the sky and put hamburgers and chicken nuggets on pizza in the Middle East, as though that region didn't have enough problems already, and now is creating the biggest disaster to hit the Malay Peninsula since the British lost Singapore to the Japanese.  Yes, I'm talking about "squirting crust pizza." 

Hey, remember that time you were eating bad pizza with your friends, and one of them said "you know what I'd love right now?  I'd love for this pizza to shoot cheese and sauce out on my face and burn it a bit"?  You don't?  Well maybe that's because you're not a raging Malaysian lunatic, which is apparently the target demographic for this terrible idea. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

RNC Convention Week Begins

This week opens the 2012 Republican Convention, and it looks like a direct hit on Tampa by Hurricane Isaac has been avoided.  Now, it's just a question of whether the convention will be a political disaster rather than hurricanical.  Here's what to expect over the next few days:

1) Crowd pleasing red meat for the crowds, in the form of bombastic speakers like Chris Christie and Marco Rubio.  Various activists in tricorner hats and cowboy hats (you can tell a true activist by how festive their hats are--if anyone shows up in a a Zulu headdress, look out, they're extra activist) will be saying to themselves "why couldn't we have nominated one of these guys instead of Richie McMoneybags?"

2) An attempt to humanize Mitt Romney with speeches from his wife and chauffeur.

3) Pundits and reporters asking stupid questions such as "why isn't Sarah Palin speaking at this?" because it's a genuine mystery why anyone wouldn't want a batshit simpleton to share some homespun homilies with millions of Americans on live television.

4) Romney's actual speech, which will be full of lofty promises and ideals, all of which will be dropped about four minutes after he takes office, should he actually win this thing.

5) The absurdly boring roll call of states.

It's this last one I want to draw your attention to--as you know, they do actually formally nominate the candidates for VP and President at this thing.  If you can sit through it, you'll see each state's delegation in alphabetical order saying something boring about their stupid state (such as "the great state of Nebraska, with its fine yellow corn and terrific football team, and home of Mutual of Omaha insurance . . .") before pledging their votes for the nominee.  What you definitely won't see is any surprises--such as the roll call shifting enough votes to anyone besides Romney to actually deny him the majority that he needs for the nomination.  It's a predictable procedure and seems utterly pointless.  Couldn't they have done this all by mail?

The thing is, this is a reminder of what once was the most important part of the convention.  Decades ago it was actually considered improper for the expected nominee to even attend the convention, let alone give a big acceptance speech.  And unless the nominee was an incumbent president, it was typical to go into the convention with no way of being certain who would get nominated--the concept of binding primaries is relatively recent.  So with all the wheeling and dealing on the convention floor and in back rooms, it would actually be exciting to view the roll call, not knowing how it would turn out.

So in the midst of a string of speeches and overly enthusiastic cheering, we get treated to a pointless bit of tradition that just reminds us of what used to be notable about the entire event.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

It'd Be Nice For Everyone to Take a Chill Pill . . . But Don't Hold Your Breath

While I have plenty of criticisms of Barack Obama's presidency, it seems odd that so many of my fellow critics consider him to be ridiculously left-wing.  Consider the following record, and ask yourself whether it makes sense for the left to be so defensive of the guy and the right to be so scathing:

1) Withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in line with the Bush Administration's timetable, and in fact requested the Iraqi government for an extension; also increased U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan and participated in military action against Libya.  Also helped increase international pressure (via sanctions) on Iran.

2) Significantly increased the use of aerial drone attacks on terror suspects in various foreign countries, with ultimate decisionmaking authority for the strikes resting in the CinC, and continued to detain terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay without trial.

3) Signed a health care plan that was the most "market-friendly" of the options in Congress, modeled after the Massachusetts plan signed by Republican Governor Romney and containing features (such as the individual mandate) that were supported by conservative think tanks as well as major health insurance companies.

4) Signed a number of tax cuts into law, including a payroll tax cut and an extension of the Bush tax cuts.

5) Reduced expenditures for federal government workforce.

On paper, a record like that would be what I would have expected of a right-leaning president--despite some "liberal" moves such as pro-labor union moves such as the auto bailout and ending Clinton's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy for homosexuals in the military.  Campaign rhetoric and promises aside, presidents generally have records that run against the grain of partisan predictability.  It might be the "Only Nixon could go to China" theory, or it could just be that presidents operate within certain constraints. 

So we have a president who has governed--well or poorly, depending on your outlook--relatively in the center, and running against a former Massachusetts governor who governed as a moderate Republican.  From a strictly ideological standpoint, there really shouldn't be much passion excited in favor of or against either Obama or Romney.  (Forget for a minute how "extreme" their relative campaign promises are--anyone who thinks for a minute that an Obama re-election will be a liberal's dream or that a Romney win will mean a Tea Party agenda getting enacted should really buy this bridge I'm selling)  Maybe it'd be nice to sit back and look at the two candidates rationally, in terms of their relative competence and temperament, which will have a lot more to do with how the next four years will go than their "conservatism" or "liberalism".

Just don't expect the partisan hate machines to tell you otherwise.  For them, this might as well be McKinley vs. Bryan.

Party Adjustment Over the Years

Being a political junkie, I get a kick out of maps depicting the electoral college results for past presidential elections.  Going through recent history, we can see some embarrassing blowouts--FDR's 1936 rout of Alf Landon, Richard Nixon's 1972 shellacking of George McGovern, and Ronald Reagan's 1984 defenestration of Walter Mondale stand out specifically.  Such lopsided victories seem very far away from today's electoral vote map--where for the past several elections in a row most states were "off the table" and the real contest comes down to less than a dozen.

Also notable was the strength the GOP used to have in the northeast and west coast--the Republican ticket never lost California with Nixon on either part of the ballot, for example, and Reagan managed to win states like New York and Massachusetts twice.  The only states that liberal Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson won against Eisenhower in both '52 and '56 were located in the deep south.  The geographic and demographic nature of presidential election strategy during the Cold War years was alien to what it is now, where Republicans count on a base in the south, Rockies and plains states and try to cobble a bit more to eke out a close victory, and the Democrats count on the remainder.

Much of this has to do with the changes beginning in the 1960s, where the Democrats' embrace of civil rights helped shift the formerly single-party south (the single-party being the Democratic party) to the GOP, and the rise of "culture war" politics in the 1970s--particularly abortion politics post Roe v. Wade--that solidified the rural and southern states in the Republican camp.  This shift also had the effect of losing the large numbers of secularist urban and suburban voters that used to be Republicans, as well as driving the black vote deep into the Democratic camp (the GOP did fairly well with the black vote prior to this shift).  Thus, California, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania--four big states that once were reliable targets for the Republicans--are regular locks for the Democrats. 

In recent cycles, this new dynamic hasn't necessarily been fatal to the GOP--they've been able to cobble together the states they needed twice since 1992, though just barely--but I expect this to become a bigger problem for them in the next few cycles barring any major change.  The bigger states that the Republicans count on--Texas, Georgia, and Florida--are seeing a growing population of Democrat-leaning immigrants and secularist professionals in their urban areas.  It's not hard to imagine that those states gradually come within reach of the Democrats.  When the GOP has to fight to keep Texas, they're screwed.

That said, you can't really expect nothing to change.  The makeup of the two parties changes as new generations take over, and as politics adjust to new situations.  The Democratic party of the 1950s--a cobbling of big-city ethnics, union members, farmers and southern conservatives as well as northeastern liberals--is a far cry from the party that is re-nominating Barack Obama in a few weeks.  And the GOP that used to not bother trying to win Alabama and could win a majority of the female vote is quite different from the one meeting next week to nominate Mitt Romney.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Another McAssault

I suppose the reason stories about douchebag customers abusing fast food employees always spark my interest is due to my sympathy for fast food workers--having worked that job myself, I can say it is about the very bottom of the employment chain in most of America.  It's not as dangerous as coal mining or truck driving, but it pays less and garners far less respect.  Try imagining this line--"local jerk starts trouble with trucker" and then try picturing the article ending with something other than the local jerk being turned into a human pretzel.  See?  Truck drivers have it made compared to Big Mac vendors.

So it is in that vein that I read this unfortunate article about some fucktard in Knoxville that got into a fight with an assistant manager at a McDonalds over a $1 sundae.  James Wilson, the mouth-breather of a customer, orders lunch--okay, so far so good.  Onward with the wheels of commerce, Mr. Wilson!  But hark, what is this?  His sundae had the chocolate at the bottom, and not at the top!  Everyone knows that screws up the sundae!  As he stated to the jury, "The hot fudge should be on top.  It freezes up when you get fudge on the bottom of it."  Truer words have never been spoken, you fine gourmand.

Clearly now the dessert is ruined, and worse, Wilson is out a cool dollar.  He'll never be able to execute that leveraged buyout of Hewlitt Packard now!  So he complained to the assistant manager, and an argument ensued.  Okay, petty, but unremarkable.  The McManager gives Wilson back his dollar. 

Now, Wilson headed to the exit, and the manager headed towards a side door facing the exit, ostensibly to make sure the irate customer actually left.  According to Wilson, though, the manager "charged" him and called him a racial slur, so he had no choice but hit him in the face.  The jury didn't buy Wilson's self-defense argument, considering he's twice the size of the manager.  I should note that the assault here was a misdemeanor, but Wilson, the defendant, apparently moved to get this a jury trial in criminal court.

Ice cream sundae--$1, fully refunded.  Striking a low-wage McPeon--a $1,050 fine.  Looking like an idiot in court--priceless.

Todd Akin Is the Legitimate Nominee

The politics of abortion is one of those areas where the combination of emotions and absolute disagreement on one fundamental matter--when personhood actually begins--causes both sides to talk past one another and arguments result in merely preaching to one's own choir.  There's no point in discussing a woman's right to do what she wants with her body with someone who believes that what she wants to do amounts to killing a child, and there's no point in discussing the rights of a fetus with someone who believes that fetus isn't a "life" yet. 

While this is true of the two sides generally, there's also a great deal of gray area that many Americans fall into--a lot of self-identified "pro-lifers" are fine with some restrictions on abortion, and not others, and likewise a number of "pro-choicers" that come down about the same.  This is why restrictions on "late term" abortions are more widely popular than a complete ban on abortions, or why some voters are fine with abortion but favor parental notification laws.  The gray area is where most policy fights have taken place since Roe v. Wade.  And that brings us to the infamous "rape exception."

It is common to hear from pro-life politicians that they are opposed to abortion except in the case of rape, incest, or a threat to the life of the mother.  (Why "incest" is called out I'm not sure--after all, if the incest wasn't a result of a rape, are we okay with the abortion simply because the conception itself was icky?  Couldn't we also include an exception for "creepy couples"?)  The rape exception is justified in that if the mother was raped then she didn't have any choice in getting pregnant so it would be particularly cruel to require her to carry the child to term. 

In the more fundamental pro-life view, though, rape should not provide an exception--only the risk of the birth to the mother should justify an abortion.  The thinking goes like this--awful as the rape was, and as traumatic to the mother as it would be to give birth to the child resulting from the crime, it does not justify killing the child due to the circumstances of its conception.  It is this more extreme pro-life point of view that prompted Missouri Rep. Todd Akin's comments about "legitimate rapes."

There's a lot wrong with Akin's comments--that "legitimate" rapes usually don't cause pregnancy because the woman's body has natural excretions that kill the sperm during the trauma of the rape, and that therefore "rape pregnancies" are not the common problem the media makes them out to be.  First, the term "legitimate" raises the question of what "illegitimate" rapes are.  Is Akin suggesting that women wanting abortions will fake a rape claim in order to get the exception if abortions are made illegal?  If so, it does shed light on a problem with the "rape exception" itself, as well as a general abortion ban--in that case, the government finds itself in the messy situation of challenging rape claims prior to allowing abortions.  Considering how well government does everything else, do we really want to go there?

But giving Akin the benefit of the doubt, he may have meant to distinguish "forcible" rapes--presumably those with physical struggles--from nonviolent rapes (statutory rape, Polanski rape, rapes involving druggings) where the woman's body will not automatically come up with excretions that kill the sperm.  At least, let's consider that this is what was going on in Akin's head when he gave this interview.

I'm no doctor, but this is the first time I have ever heard of this theory about the female body having a natural defense against rape pregnancies.  Perhaps I will be surprised by a number of medical experts coming out to back up Todd Akin's theory--but I highly doubt it.  More likely this guy is a bit crazy and more than a little insensitive towards rape victims.

The Republicans of course have (with a few exceptions) roundly denounced Rep. Akin, in part because he is currently their nominee for the U.S. Senate who was a favorite to win the seat until this mess--the Republicans have a decent chance to gaining a majority of the seats in the Senate this year--and in part because it takes the GOP off of its key message (that the economy sucks thanks to Obama).  So far, Akin's resisted the calls for him to drop out and let them pick another candidate.

And he shouldn't drop out.  While his comments were both ludicrous and offensive, and his stance on abortion (and other issues) extreme even for a pro-lifer, he did win his party's primary fair and square.  They knew what sort of person he was--none of this is really a revelation--and nominated him anyway.  He didn't suddenly admit to a crime or anything--so the only reason for him to drop out is because he might hurt his party in this year's elections.  They can't really say they didn't know what they were getting.

Well, that's the party that the GOP has become--maybe Republican voters need to think a bit more when they nominate their candidates. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

A $315 Shoe You Can Kick Yourself With

You know what really shaves my ice?  Many things, apparently, but the latest bit o' outrage is over a new sneaker that will cost $315 a pair. 

It's not the cost itself that gets me--after all, Nike is recognizing a market in incredibly stupid people who think buying a LeBron James endorsed product will somehow make them something better than the incredibly inadequate athletes they already are.  Here's some news--LeBron James can probably slam dunk you any day of the week barefoot and playing on a court of broken glass.  Basketball shoes make a difference up to a point, and that point is crossed long before you reach three hundred dollars.  It's one of the laws of the universe--if you're paying that much for basketball shoes, you should do the world a favor and stand in front of the microwave until you've ensured the world of the future that they will not have to suffer your offspring. 

No, what does it for me is at the end of the article--Nike explaining that the high cost of the shoe is due to having to pass on to the consumer the high costs of the materials that go into making the shoe--like cotton.

Yes, cotton is that elusive, hard to harvest product that only grows on the north side of certain Alpine valleys in the shade of edelweiss, blooming once a century and therefore only available to the extremely rich.  I have heard legends of this "cotton" you speak of!  Clearly, Nike cannot make a shoe that uses endangered "cotton" for less than $300, otherwise they might have to cut the average daily pay of their overseas factory workers from three stalks of bamboo to two. 

Nike, go on ripping off the incredibly stupid--someone's got to do it, and those people aren't going to impoverish themselves--just don't add insult to it by claiming the cotton costs have bumped up the price.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Big Move

This past weekend was the much-anticipated move into a larger apartment in our same building.  After months of waiting, and many last-minute shenanigans, everything finally came off and we're now in the new place.  This will mean a bigger space for entertaining, a guest room for overnight visitors, and a better laid out kitchen for some serious chefery.

Some observations about the great moving process that so many of us go through on a frequent basis:

1) Moving is where friendships are key.  Five of our friends came by to help, and another friend loaned us two dolleys, and this made the process far more painless than it could have been.  The entire move took about two hours, and we had plenty of time for pizza for lunch.

2) There's always going to be last minute crap to throw you off your game.  For us, it was finding out Friday evening--when picking up the keys to the new place--that they needed the first month's rent right away, in the form of a money order.  You know who does NOT carry around random money orders already made out to the payee?  This guy!  Fortunately they were willing to give us the keys so long as I got them the money order the next morning, which meant hitting my bank promptly at 9.

3) Gatorade was truly invented for moves.

4) When cleaning up the old apartment, it is shocking and quite frightening how much dust accumulates after three years.  We swept and vacuumed on a weekly basis, and still I managed to sweep up enough dust to drive a fambly of Okies out west on a Model T.  (Too soon?) 

5) Moving is a great way to remember how many muscles you have, because every one of them is going to be sore for the next few days.

Now Whiny Entitledness is a Virtue?

We generally have a stereotype about the "millenial" generation--that is, those born between 1980 and 2000--in that they're for the most part stupid, entitled, and one hundred percent useless and horrible.  This is overly sweeping, of course, because those ranks obviously include smart, hard-working and decent folk who unfortunately get tarred with the same brush.  As a Generation X-er, I remember bristling at the whininess of the slacker-grunge folks back in the '90s who made us all look like cynical douchebags, and I'm sure Baby Boomers didn't much like being lumped in with the self-righteous hippies who ruined Democratic conventions and made hygiene uncool.  So I'd like to think that the Millenials are being unfairly categorized by the worst among them.

And then comes this idiotic article, written by a 30 year old writer who somehow was given page space by the Washington Post.  To sum it up--yes, Millenials feel entitled to their "dream" jobs (which the writer seems to define as any job that doesn't really pay or have much demand in the market, such as working for a nonprofit cause, or being a career counsellor) and want to be given as much respect for their opinions as those who have more experience than them.  However, this is a good thing, because this means employers will have to start making positive changes to the workplace, like adding worker benefits and praising the opinions of newer employees!  The Millenials, at least the demanding, entitled ones, are latter-day Rosa Parkses, by taking a stand that will improve society.

Or, maybe they'll make employers consider the cost-benefit tradeoff and decide between hiring (a) someone just out of school who majored in crap because it's what interested in them, with no key skills, and who expects extra benefits and being able to leave the office early and get credit for their ideas that they just came up with after two weeks on the job, or (b) some high-skilled immigrant from India who's actually happy to have the job and put in what it takes to keep it.  Tough call! 

The article also praises kids who move back in with their parents so that they can take the lower-paying "fulfilling" job that barely covers their student loan payments.  I can certainly understand doing this when you have to--student loan payments are a serious burden and getting worse--and the tuition cartel is a major hindrance on the current workforce.  And it's great if parents are there to help out their kids this way.  But the example in the article--of the girl who turned down higher paying jobs in this situation, despite her mother suggesting she take those opportunities so she could move out finally--only shows that the mother is a doormat who doesn't know how to tell her kid "here's your first rent invoice for using our basement.  And I only take cash, not job satisfaction."

Millenials do have some tough challenges facing them--entering a very tight job market and in many cases with severe debts for educations that are of increasingly questionable value--but rather than "embrace your unjustified sense of entitlement" I'd suggest "make some smart decisions so your life and career won't have to be harder than necessary."  Such as "be careful with debt" and "live cheap at first" and "pick a job more for the skills you'll gain than for how happy it makes you right now" and "make yourself valuable".

But hey, I'm not a 30 year old writer for the Post.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Airlines--Now Totally Safe From All the Molestations

Apparently the airlines haven't made themselves unpopular enough with long layovers, rising ticket prices, and nickel-and-diming us for things like ordering soda and carrying on an extra bag.  They're now imposing a gloriously stupid policy of not allowing adult men to sit with unaccompanied minors.  Both Quantas and Virgin have recently required adult males to switch seats with women so that they wouldn't be sitting with young children that are flying alone.

It's hard to decide whether this policy is stupid or assinine, so now I have to invent a new word for it which we shall call "stupinine".  Feel free to use it, I claim no copyright.  Here's why the policy is stupinine:

1) The policy is meant to allay the concerns of parents who send their kids on flights alone and who dont' want these kids sitting with strange men, because molestation obviously.  So these parents care so much about their kids that they're willing to make these requests, but not enough to oh I don't know NOT LET YOUR LITTLE MONSTERS FLY ALONE???  Sorry but you just failed the parenting Olympics, your booby prize is decades of therapy for your kid.

2) I'm not a child molester (and never thought I'd have to actually write that but this is the society we live in) but I cannot imagine a worse place to try and molest a strange kid.  Once you're in the air, it's not like there's anywhere to escape, and you have hundreds of people around in an enclosed space.  If there's one place I'd feel like my kid couldn't get molested, it'd be an airplane at 40,000 feet.

3) Last I checked, women are just as capable of molesting kids as men.  Is it somehow less traumatizing to be molested by a woman?

4) If the airlines are just trying to adhere to the irrational fears of the parents who send their kids on the flight alone, then consider how this would sound: "Excuse me sir, but would you mind changing your seat with a white person?  The parents of the kids sitting next to you aren't comfortable with their precious snowflakes sitting next to a black man."  If you're okay with that, then at least you're being consistent, Hitler.

5) I'll admit though, that if this happened to me and the airline did it discretely and moved me to a nice window seat and gave me free stuff (cookies, beer) I'd probably be happy not to have to sit next to someone else's unaccompanied monsters.  But there's still something disturbing about this natural assumption that strange men are just looking for an excuse to molest random kids.  How is it any different from an assumption that black people are just looking to mug you?

Cowboys Sued For Ass-Burn

Every now and again, we hear about how Americans are stupid jerks.  I think this is generally unfair, as we're talking about a country of over 300 million people that has produced more than its share of smart, hard-working and honorable people.  Plus, you can't seriously tell me that France, Greece, Russia or Mali--to name just a few--don't have a lot of stupid douchebags as well.  It's just that Mali doesn't have a reality TV show that anyone watches, so we don't get exposed to their dumbassery on a daily basis.  (I don't mean to single out Mali, it's just when you make fun of Uruguay you get a lot of angry, poorly written letters.)

But then, it seems there are some Americans who can't help but represent us poorly.  Let's take this stupid idiot who literally burned her ass on a bench outside the Dallas Cowboys' stadium two summers ago.  We have a 100-plus degree day (typical for Texas) and a black marble bench outside the stadium.  Natually, the bench is hot enough to fry an egg on, so Genius McMensa here decides to sit on it and suffered third-degree burns that required skin grafts. 

Now, this is a mistake that anyone can make--even on a hot day, you may not realize how hot a surface is that you're about to sit on, and most of us don't test the surface with our hand to make sure it's not extremely hot.  If that were the end of the story, I'd feel sympathy for this woman because ass-grafts can't be a pleasant experience.

The problem is, she's now suing the Dallas Cowboys (a team I have no loyalty to, as a Baltimore Ravens fan) for unspecified damages on the theory that the organization was negligent in not posting a warning that the bench could get very hot in the Texas summer sun. 

It is possible for the organization to have made the bench out of a less heat-conductive surface, such as white-painted wood.  It is also possible for the organization to have posted a sign saying "Warning--This Bench Can Get Very Hot in the Sun and You Might Burn Your Ass On It."  But at what point do we want to free all possible plaintiffs from the responsibility to use common sense?  If we live in a world where you have to post signs for every possible situation, then imagine the signs we're going to start seeing everywhere, in large print, in multiple languages, including Braille:

"Warning: Bench Is Made of Wood, You Can Get Ass-Splinters"

"Warning: Straw Might Poke Your Eye Out if You Don't Watch It"

"Warning: If You Walk Into This Wall Because You're Not Looking, You'll Hurt Your Nose"

"Warning: Subway Cars Are Heavy and Have Sharp Wheels"

Perhaps this is the end of black marble benches outdoors, or the beginning of millions of warning signs preparing us for every conceivable danger that we may bring upon ourselves with our carelessness.  What it definitely is NOT is the era where we take some responsibility for our own safety.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is "Crazed Shootings" Going to be the "Trucker Hat" for 2012?

There are a lot of organizations out there whose politics I oppose, and in some cases even despite.  I have no love for MADD, PETA, MoveOn, or the Club for Growth, even where there are times I'll agree with a stance or two taken by each of these groups.  But I can't imagine ever getting it into my head that people need to die for being a part of those organizations.  Once you've crossed that line, you're in batshit psycho territory, and would do the world a lot of good if you sought help for your condition.  They're doing great things with mental health treatment these days.

Case in point--a political organization called the "Family Research Council" which opposed rights for gay couples among other things, and played host yesterday to a shooting of its security guard, one Leonardo Johnson.  Johnson was shot in the arm while wrestling a handgun from the shooter, one Floyd Lee Corkins.

Full disclosure--as a teenager I worked summer shifts as an unarmed security guard, and it absolutely rocked.  Especially the late shift, where there was no one around, and you could read, watch TV, and listen to the radio for 8 hours, and never had to deal with intruders because if there was anything worth stealing they'd put an armed guard on it.  I think I was just there for insurance purposes.  The pay stunk, though.  So kids, stay in school!

Anyway, the shooting is apparently politically motivated.  How do I jump to this conclusion?  Well, Corkins said "I don't like your politics" before whipping out his gun.  Apparently he learned his debating skills at the David Berkowitz School for Advanced Argument, though fortunately the guard survived with just an injury to his arm.  After all, what better rejoinder is there to a political stance you disagree with than to shoot some guy who is likely paid very little by the hour to keep vendors from getting to the elevators?

News flash, Corkins--much as many of us don't like what the FRC is doing, you've just earned this week's YOU'RE NOT HELPING award.  Way to go, dumbass.


The Washington political scene became shocked this week to learn of a new development that will have long term ramifications for the presidency.  It turns out, the White House has been brewing its own beer on-site!

It was only in the late 1970s that home-brewing was made legal, as this country is unfortunately still packed with emotionally disturbed individuals that will stop at nothing to force our good people to brew and distill in the dead of night (hence the term, "moonshiners").  Neo-prohibitionism is a real thing--consider that when Mothers Against Drunk Driving first showed up at Capitol Hill to get laws passed so that we could send youngsters off to war and try them as adults but not let them buy a beer, the MADD-hatters weren't laughed out of the city as they richly deserved.  To this day, there are still such a thing as "dry" counties--in fact, Jack Daniels whiskey is produced in a dry county, so you can visit their distilleries but not purchase anything on site. 

Are you outraged by this?  Because your grits should be fully grilled by now.  It is your right as an American to decide to not drink, but that right means nothing at all if the decision not to drink has been forced on you by the government.

Progress, though, has been steady, as thousands of microbreweries and distilleries and wineries have opened over the past few decades and home-brewing has emerged as a terrific way to mask one's substance abuse problems.  And it's great to hear that the president is into home brewing himself.

A bit of political advice for this election year?  Get behind wholesale deregulation of the alcohol industry to make it cheaper and easier to make and sell booze.  No American should ever have to say "if only we were as enlightened as the Germans". 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

To Scoot or Not to Scoot

Another day, another feature of D.C. government that curdles my milk.  I just discovered that in D.C., all scooters must be registered and treated as motorcycles--requiring registration, special licensing, and presumably a ban on sidewalk parking.  My friends, this is the worst piece of news about our fair city since the day I learned that Federal Triangle was neither federal nor a triangle.  Outrage!

I'm not an actual scooter owner myself, but I'm strongly supportive of the notion of more people using scooters so they're not taking up extra space in cars, both in the roads and parking spaces.  Scooters also give the town a more whimsical, European vibe, as one expects to see young women in flowing scarves and sundresses and young men in slacks and loafers zipping along on their way to the cafe to grouse about the decline of the Eurozone.  (I assume this is all that Europeans do, now that they got tired of major wars).  Motorcycles, on the other hand, cannot be parked on sidewalks, and they require a certain badassery that most D.C. residents just will never have. 

But making scooterers go through all the downsides of motorcycle ownership (registration, parking rules, road testing) without the cool parts (biker jackets, that "just out of a bar brawl" look) destroys the scooter incentives.  Then where are we?  Just a city full of car drivers, clogging our streets and having the worst traffic in the country.  (I know sometimes we're beaten out on those rankings, but I've driven in rush hour traffic in the L.A. area and marvelled at how much better that was than the D.C. area.  We have a horrible combination of dumbassery and aggressiveness and poor road planning that makes it a special bit of hell)

Fortunately, it looks like some change is on the way.  Bring on the scooter revolution, people!

Wednesday Ponderables

1) At some point during the height of the Second World War, did anyone ask the admissions office of the Vienna College of Art the question on all of our minds: "Were his paintings really so bad you couldn't accept him???"

2) Did the creators of the University of Maryland University College decide it wasn't clear enough whether their institution was a place for higher education?  Could they have thrown in a few more references to "college" in their title?

3) How can anyone believe that the Great Wall of China can be seen from outer space with the naked eye?  It may be thousands of miles long, but it's no wider than a highway.  If you can see the Great Wall from any point in space you should also be able to see the New Jersey Turnpike.

4) It seems in war films the guy with a girl back home that he's planning to marry will be the first to be killed tragically, and the sullen guy with a death wish will save the day and survive to the end.  If I ever get drafted into the army I'm going to get real sullen real fast.  And make sure I'm teamed up with a young, engaged guy who'll have to take a bullet for me.  Sorry, I don't make the rules!

5) Teaching people to write in cursive in the 1980s--a time when typewriters had been around a while and computers were becoming big--was a sad waste of time and those hours are ones I'll never get back.  Damn teachers unions with their handwriting specialists.

6) It still makes no sense to me that at restaurants we ask the waiters for "the check" when we want them to bring us the invoice.  They've certainly never brought a bank check to me, though I'd appreciate their sense of humor if they did that just once.

7) It saddens me that there is such a thing as an Indiana Board of Tourism because it implies that there are people who have no choice but to take their vacation in Indiana.  (I automatically rule out the possibility of a tourist who chooses Indiana over anywhere else.  Except maybe Michigan.  Which is also sad.)

8)  If there were just one political pundit who was truly all over the map on every issue--favors abortion, but only in the second trimester, wants the death penalty, but only for rape and not murder, wants to nationalize the airlines but not trains, is anti-war except in leap years--I'd definitely tune in to him or her.  It's tiring to see the same predictable "red team vs. blue team" snorefests.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

I Don't Always Beat Children, But When I Do I Use Dorito Bags Full of Glass.

I'm not an expert on child-rearing, as my solutions to misbehaving kids basically come down to "you want to watch TV?  I don't think they can hook up a TV in the salt mines" and "here's a belt, go hit yourself with it because I'm too tired to discipline you".  And as they say, all theories on disciplining kids go right out the window the minute you see that the little hellions are microwaving the houseplants.  But I think I can say pretty safely that this lady is worse than me. 

We all know the story--your five year old kid is playing videogames instead of cleaning out the hay loft like any good Depression-era child, so you have to do something about it.  After all, video games rot the mind!  Specially that Pac-Man and his race of Pac-Men, and the sexually suggestive Pac-Girl with her bow and eyeliner.  Okay, the obvious solution here is to hit your kid with something, because when you're beating a five year old you can't harm your bare hands.  So you go to the usual place to find something to hit your kid with.  Such as the garbage.

So this mother-of-the-year candidate goes to the garbage, ostensibly to grab a Dorito bag to hit her son with, because hey why not?  Doesn't Emily Post's Guide to Etiquette For Fancy Types have a chapter on which Dorito bag to use to whip your kid with?

As it turns out, the bag used to hit the kid turned out to be full of broken glass.  Whoops!  You just smacked a kid with a bag-o-glass!  That'll show up on the therapy bills down the road!

Fortunately, the mother was taken into custody, and hopefully she'll either get some counselling to learn that bags of glass aren't proper child-rearing tools, or otherwise the kid will stand a better chance at life by being raised by wild squirrels or something.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Red Dawn? More Like Red Dumb!

Someone must have complained that Hollywood films haven't lately featured enough xenophobic flagwaving to mix into their usual cocktail of pants-wettingly retarded storylines, because the upcoming re-make of "Red Dawn" has clearly answered the call.  To call the idea behind this film stupid would be an insult to the guy who poked his eye out trying to eat with a fork with his eyes closed.  There is absolutely everything wrong with this film and its very existence makes me think it's about to invent time-travel so I can go back in time and strangle the guy who invented moving pictures just so that something like this can never exist.  (Sorry, "Godfather" and "Casablanca", the baby has to go out with the bathwater on this one)

Why is the re-make of "Red Dawn" so aboslutely horrible that I wish this film could catch Ebola and die a painful flesh-eating death?  Let me count the ways:

1) The original moronic film featured the Soviets and their Cuban buddies invading our country via Colorado which means the enemy somehow got through Texas without getting shot by hillbillies.  Difficult to believe, but okay--I also enjoyed "Face/Off" so not a dealbreaker.  The re-make had some complications, though--Russia today isn't really our enemy and that country is already being defeated by vodka, so we need a new enemy.  Hey, China's pretty big, and powerful!  Let's pretend they decide to invade because we're not paying our Treasury bills that we owe them!  But wait, the studio behind this mess is so craven and moneysucking that they don't want to risk offending Chinese audiences, so that won't work.  Hey, I know!  Let's get somehow invaded by a tiny country that is so poor they have pioneered cuisine based on bark and grass.  North Korea!

2) Eek, the U.S. just done got invaded!  This, despite our nuclear arsenal, massive and well-stocked military, and geographic distance from any real foes until Canada gets pissed that we keep winning the Stanley Cup.  What can possibly save us from this tiny, starving, bark-eating army of invaders?  Oh I know, a bunch of high school kids!

3) Ok, actually the idea of North Korea's wretched army getting bested by American high schoolers--who, let's face it, have plenty of experience with firearms--is sort of believable. 

I guess I can't get past the idea of North Korea invading us.  How does that country--with China bordering its north and South Korea bordering its south--even get out of its geographic vise in order to strike at the U.S.?  Did they have a superb navy that we just didn't notice?  Here are some less stupid scenarios that I could think up:

1) We get invaded by the British.  It turns out that the Treaty of Ghent--which ended the War of 1812--was not properly signed, so it's back on, baby!  The Royal Navy steams up the Potomac, strikes the White House, and the Canadians invade via Detroit which no one notices because it's Detroit.

2) We get invaded by India.  An international incident is touched off by the fact that New Delhi just caught on that the "Simpsons" was making fun of their accents with the Apu character, so they retaliate first by having all their tech support people give us the wrong instructions and screw up our power grid.  Then they use the super-powerful North Korean navy that I just heard about to invade via the Pacific. 

3) The Japanese, Chinese and Indians all go to war with the United States, because power balance or something.  Sadly, this incredibly stupid scenario is the actual plot of Tom Clancy's "Sum of All Fears."

The Paul Ryan Pick

In today's Political Corner, the big buzz is the only bit of substantive news in the 2012 presidential campaign since Rick Perry imploded and therefore left only Mitt Romney to get the GOP nomination.  This news, of course, is the announcement of Romney's pick for Vice President, a young congressman from Wisconsin with two first names--Paul Ryan. 

Ryan is best known in Washington circles for the notorious Ryan Plan for tackling the federal budget deficit with significant cuts and restructurings in spending programs and entitlements.  If you're on the Right, you probably love the guy--unlike a lot of generic calls for "spending cuts", Ryan has proposed actual specific and politically risky medicine for our unsustainable deficits.  If you're on the Left, you probably can't stand him--the Ryan Plan calls for some very deep cuts with no tax increases. 

Personally, I have no qualms with the pick of Paul Ryan--the only thing that should really matter in selecting a VP is whether that person is capable of serving as president if necessary.  In U.S. history, we've had 43 presidents so far and nine times the VP has had to take the top spot due to the death or resignation of the president--a better than 20% chance.  From what I know about Ryan--which admittedly isn't much at this stage, though more will be known as the campaign goes on--he doesn't appear to be stupid or crazy or corrupt. 

However, in terms of political strategy, I'm not seeing how this helps Romney against Obama.  Consider each plausible reason why Romney would make this pick from a political strategy standpoint:

1) This fires up the GOP base by picking a man respected and admired by conservatives and Tea Partiers.  However, those groups are as fired up as they can be, as defeating Obama is more important to them than anything this fall.  Nominating an inanimate carbon rod would make them no less likely to mobilize to the polls in November.

2) Ryan is a popular congressman from a swing district in Wisconsin, and Wisconsin is a swing state.  However, a VP nomination has not helped a ticket carry the swing state in a long time--just ask President Kerry how John Edwards helped him in North Carolina.  The last time a VP made a difference in carrying their state for their ticket was LBJ in 1960, though at that time Texas was in the grip of Landslide Lyndon's corrupt machine. 

3) Picking Ryan helps Romney stake out a stark ideological contrast between Ryan's version of deficit reduction (deep spending cuts and keeping taxes low) and Obama's version (raising taxes in the rich with much smaller spending cuts).  However, does this contrast need to be made?  If Romney didn't already tell everyone that he's backing Ryan's plan, Obama's campaign has been doing that for them. 

The areas where Romney's weakest--where the GOP in general has been weakest--is among Hispanics, women and young professionals.  Moving the needle a few ticks with any of these groups would give him an edge against Obama, and picking a VP who can appeal directly to these groups would signal a strategic move in that direction.  But picking Paul Ryan indicates that for Romney's campaign this will be an election about mobilizing the base and putting up a stark constrast between the two choices voters will have this fall.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Google? More Like Racist Search Engine!

If you're like me, you probably don't need to look very hard to find something to be outraged about.  There's a massive film industry with an incredible depth of talent and capital that squanders all of this repeatedly by making crap like the G.I. Joe movies.  There's the presidential contest between a man who seems to think nothing unpleasant should ever happen in the economy, and the man who seems completely beholden to the most insane wing of his party.  And then there's the fact that people will find racism in everything if they look hard enough. 

This week's case in point is a Google home page image featuring a dark-skinned runner on a racetrack.  Wait, that's not the racist part!  The race track, you see, is reddish with dark spots and white track lines, and green grass outside of that.  This track, in fact, resembles a watermelon, and the runner looks like he could be black.  Many racist stereotypes exist about black people loving watermelon.  Clearly, Google is, unwittingly or not, perpetuating these awful stereotypes and they should feel bad.

Now, I'll admit that as a frequent Google user I saw this very image at least a dozen times and didn't make the "black runner, running on watermelon" connection until I read an article about the controversy.  Then again, I'm too busy being outraged about other things, so this missed my attention.  But it's clear to me that the only way to solve this problem is to force Google to change its name to KKKoogle, because they are basically as bad as the Klan now what with their extreme race hatred.

In Google's defense, the runner isn't obviously black--the hair, for example, is more likely to be a pompadour than an afro because it is not 1972 so my first guess is that this runner is Indian or Hispanic.  Now, Indians and Hispanics probably love watermelon too--after all, who doesn't?  It's delicious!  In fact the whole "blacks loving watermelon" stereotype is pretty absurd anyway, considering how universal watermelon-love is.  It'd be like saying "Italians love pizza."  We do, but we're not alone in that!  All this controversy has done is remind people that such a stereotype exists.

But more importantly, is this really the modern front in the wars against racial hatred?  Are we that fragile a society that this image that could be either (a) simple and harmless or (b) a sinister and completely ridiculous racist plot by a nefarious artist working for Google has to be the latter?

Looks like it.

Friday the 13th--Killing Made Easy!

I don't think I could ever be a serial killer, as I prefer to use my stalking and stabbing talents for good instead of evil, but the original film "Friday the 13th" provides what appears to be a deceptively easy guide for getting the job done.  Watching this film--released in 1980, when people were so full of Carter-era malaise that able-bodied young adults had to work at a slum of a camp just to make ends meet--makes you think that even SPOILER ALERT! a slightly built middle aged woman could successfully murder seven able-bodied young men and women in one night using basic campsite implements. 

The story is the usual American dream--woman works as a cook at a summer camp, her son drowns because he's an idiot and the counselors are basically too busy having sex to do the jobs that they're barely paid to do, and the woman goes crazy and hears voices telling her to kill all counselors because this makes sense.  You can even hear her saying to herself "kill them, Mommy!" rather than "hey maybe this isn't the most healthy coping mechanism, Mommy!" as she stalks her final victim.  The fact that the killer looks a bit like Helen Reddy also makes her able to get the jump on unsuspecting idiots.

Now, why do I refer to all these murder victims as idiots?  Let's start with the fact that the camp has an arsenal that would make Charlton Heston proud, and yet once it becomes clear there's some murderin' afoot, that's not the first place the victims go to arm themselves to a tee and go all Republican all over the place.  The killer, meanwhile, uses arrows, a machete, and an axe to calmly dispatch each counselor, one by one.  (Somehow, Helen Reddy must have gotten Green Beret training, because this film clearly inspired the Rambo "First Blood" film that came out two years later). 

Also, the woefully unarmed counselors manage the split up constantly, giving the killer a chance to isolate and gruesomely murder each of them one by one.  When the twist develops and you see the killer is just Helen Reddy, it makes you wonder why none of the victims (until the last one, of course) tries to even fight her when they see her.  Yes, if you're being impaled with an arrow from under the bed you're laying on you don't have a chance--but many of the victims see the killer and just stand there screaming.  Hey, if you're going to get chased through the woods by a woman with a machete, huck a rock at her!  Make it sporting.  Helen Reddy is woman, hear her roar, as the rock clocks her crazy-train skull!

The film of course spawned about a hundred sequels, each of which is worse than the last, lacking suspense or even the humor they were going for--and based on the idea that the "dead son" isn't really dead and is now out avenging Helen Reddy's death which then means the entire premise is based on a misunderstanding of "Three's Company"-level proportions.  But there's another issue easily overlooked here.

Helen Reddy has been murdering counsellors twenty years after her son's death (or presumed death, according to the sequels).  Did it not occur to her that any summer camp in New Jersey would need liability insurance, and she could have sued them for wrongful death and lived a very happy life, maybe even having another son who knows better than to go in a lake when he can't swim?  Then the movie could have been called "Friday the 13th--Living Large!"

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Christianity and Homosexuality

Christianity is often held up as a reason to take various political positions in this country, in part because it emboldens the "pros" by believing God is on their side, and in part because it makes the "cons" take the uncomfortable position of criticizing God.  After all, if God opposes stem cell research, then who are you to question that, Professor McSciency? 

The problem with this of course is that the Bible--the operating manual for Christianity--leaves a lot of room for interpretation.  Reading the Old and New Testament, it's very hard to imagine they're both talking about the same God.  I can sum up the OT--God creates mankind, mankind keeps pissing off God, God keeps punishing mankind.  At some point he made the Israelites the Chosen People, gave them specific rules to follow--more on that in a bit--and ordered them to slaughter anyone in their way (He helped out from time to time with that).  Then in the New Testament, God sent his Son to save mankind by letting mankind brutally murder him for no good reason.  The Son was also God, which is why there's not two Gods, though it seems in the NT that they're two different beings so it's not entirely clear how that works.  Before getting murdered and resurrecting, the Son taught mankind a lot about love and forgiveness and charity and peace. 

Now, the OT did in fact have a lot of strict laws--laws about not eating certain animals, or wearing certain types of clothing, or leaving your hair uncovered, for example.  One of these laws, importantly for today's political debate, is a strict ban on homosexual acts--calling them "abominations" which is pretty severe.  In the context of all of the OT rules about sex, though, it's pretty clear why the "gay ban" is in there--the Israelites were a small desert tribe surrounded by enemies and following a religion at the time that did not take in converts.  It was quite likely that the tribe was one unfortunate battle or bad plague away from being wiped out completely, so the rules God needs to come up with would favor requiring that the only sexual activity be used for procreation.  Multiplying is crucial in that sense.  This explains why even heterosexual sodomy is forbidden, and widows who could still bear children were encouraged to re-marry.  It also explains the food laws--many pork and shellfish products at the time were unsafe and God wouldn't want his tribe dying out from that.  So it sort of follows that man laying with man or woman laying with woman would decrease the procreation activity.

Of course, Jesus in the NT doesn't mention homosexual activity, and does in fact tell His followers that they wouldn't have to follow most of the old laws (which is why Christians today don't keep kosher and aren't required to get circumcisions or get bar mitzvahs).  And this makes sense--Christianity is a religion all about converts, and far greater numbers to work with.  It also follows that Christianity would not require any stance on homosexuality--although the one most consistent with Christ would be one of understanding.

That said, if someone wants to oppose homosexuality--considering it "wrong" or "unnatural", whether an innate tendency or simply a lifestyle choice like drug use--they're free to make their arguments.  But they should really leave Christianity out of it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Harry Reid, Still a Moron

Let's get this out of the way--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a douchebag.  While he should be wallowing in shame over having any part in a deliberative body that has produced a grand total of zero budgets in the past four years and has become a laughingstock even by Washington standards, he still finds time to turn the stupidity of the "Romney Tax Returns" issue up to 11. 

In case you're not following this issue--in which case I envy you because your brain is spared some severe political derp right now--Mitt Romney has released tax returns for 2011, but not for prior years, and his opponents are now calling on him to release 10 years of previous returns.  Romney has so far refused to do so, leading to speculation about what could be in those prior returns that he doesn't want to release.

Some suggest that the returns would show that he's paying a very low tax rate despite having huge earnings--though unless he did something illegal, which is up to the IRS to determine when he gets his audits and isn't likely anyway because this is why rich people hire high priced tax professionals to go over their returns, then this isn't a story.  Rich people pay professionals to keep their tax burdens as low as legally possible?  Color me shocked!  If anything, this is an argument for completely gutting and reforming the tax system, which is something I have not seen Obama propose.  And if you think little "fixes" like the "Buffet Rule" are going to do any good, then please forgive my laughing at you.

More likely, in my opinion, is the returns indicate charitable donations to liberal causes over the years that would fly in the face of Romney's current stances on a number of issues.  (Maybe a sizable donation to Planned Parenthood?)  It's hard to figure in a vacuum--and for the sake of transparency and dropping this issue, Romney really should go ahead and release the returns.  It may not be legally required for him to do so when running for president, but there are certain things candidates are expected to do for better informing the public--a candidate who refused to give interviews, for example, would be doing the electorate a disservice.

That said, it's understandable for the Obama camp to push for Romney to release more returns--it helps take the Republican off-message and obviously the longer they go unreleased the more people can speculate about what's in them.  But then Harry "I can dress myself!" Reid steps in and goes full retard.

Reid went and made the claim that Romney actually paid no taxes at all for 10 years, saying that he had a source from Romney's old company.  (Not sure why someone involved in Romney's company would know about his personal tax returns, but that's another matter)  When pressed on this audacious claim, Reid doubled down on stupid: “I don't think the burden should be on me,” he said. “The burden should be on him. He's the one I've alleged has not paid any taxes.”

Roll this in your head a bit--"The burden should be on him.  He's the one I've alleged has not paid any taxes."

So you see, because someone alleges something without any evidence, the burden on the accused is to refute it.  Frank Sinatra obviously was the second shooter in the Kennedy assassination!  If he wasn't, then let him prove that! 

Harry Reid has just demonstrated that he is not qualified to sit on a jury, let alone the most powerful deliberative body in the country. 

Harry Reid, you've just earned the "You're Not Helping" award for the month of August.

General Election Shapeup

For purposes of this year's presidential election, I normally argue that the only number to really pay attention to is the national popular vote--generally, the electoral college will follow it.  Since the two major parties formed up in 1856, there have only been three elections (1876, 1888, and 2000) where the popular vote didn't determine how the electoral college would go.  That said, the Obama and Romney campaigns obviously have to concentrate their resources on the "close" states.

Here is a handy tool for your calculations.  While polls have shown relatively close margins in over a dozen states, I'll predict that for most of those they're going to fall out of contention in the coming months.  Start by clicking the map to "2008", where Obama won last time, and let's work from there:

1) Obama will not be winning any of Nebraska's electoral votes, or Indiana or North Carolina.  He got these last time.

2) Romney will not pick up any of the "blue" states in the Northeast--New Hampshire and Pennsylvania will stay blue this year.

3) The questionable states at this point will be: Nevada, Colorado, Florida, Virginia and Ohio--all of which went for Obama last time.

4) Romney will do better in Florida and Virginia than the other three.  If he wins Ohio, he'll win the others, and the election.  If he loses Ohio, but wins Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and Florida, he will lose.  I don't see him losing Ohio but picking up any other "blue" states.

What stands out about this is the closeness of the electoral vote count--gone are the days when the winner handily blows out the loser.  In Bill Clinton's victories, for example, he had a number of southern states to pad his lead, and in the Republican victories before that it was normal for the winner to take California, most of the midwest and even a number of northeastern states.  (This of course reflected a time when conservative Democrats and liberal Republicans existed in enough numbers to make a lot more states competitive). 

The unfortunate takeaway?  Not just the fact that the candidate who wins this is going to have about half the country bitterly opposed to him and his policies--at a time when compromise will be necessary to figure out how to stimulate the economy, reduce the deficit and determine the American role in the world.  But also this means ideology is far more determined by geography than any time in recent history. 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

National Mall "Improvements"

Surely I can't be the only D.C. resident who looks forward to an end to the reconstruction of the National Mall.  My frequent jaunts across "the nation's front yard"--which, much like any front yard, has far too many damn teenagers cutting across it!--have meant several months of unsightly chain link fences and giant piles of dirt.  As far as I can tell, the "upgraded" Mall is going to still look like, well, a field, but something something drainage something something environment.  Major yawns here, people!

Related to this is the renovations of the Mall's reflecting pool, which apparently is going to cost $34 million, in order to make the water in the pool circulate so it isn't a stagnant smelly mess packed with seagull guano.  Can I think of better ways to spend $34 million?  You bet I can!  Dump chlorine in the damn thing, let people wade in it, and hire some security guards for $10 an hour to chase off any hippies who try to use it for a toilet.  Problem solved, National Parks Service!

Of course, my very cheap option involves letting the whole space go back to nature.  Let the reflecting pool become a pond, and the rest of the Mall can be a mix of untamed pasture (maybe with some National Goats to feed on it, again chasing away hippies) and the trees may multiply and create a neat forested space.  How majestic to see the Washington Monument poking out from above the treetops!

"But wait!" you cry, "if the National Mall goes to nature, how will we see things like big protest rallies and similar gatherings?"  You say this like it's a bug, not a feature!  So Lou "I Cover Up My Crazy With Bigotry" Farrakhan and the Promise Keepers (whatever happened to them anyway?) have to find a smaller park to rally in.  Hell, that's better for them anyway--it'll look better attended if they have a smaller space to meet.

Sure, there might be a few kite festivals and hackeysack tournaments cancelled, and creepy guys with guitars will have to find another place to try and pick up fast women.  But that's a small price to pay for building the Nation's Untended Back Yard.

Monday, August 6, 2012

67 Years of No Atomic Bombings

Completing today's trifecta of depressing posts, I may as well note that today marks the 67th anniversary of the dropping of the atom bomb on Hiroshima by American forces.  A few days later, America would drop a second atom bomb on Nagasaki, as though to tell the Japanese that they would run out of cities long before we'd run out of bombs.  Their emperor surrendered shortly after that, and the most destructive war in history finally came to a close. 

The decision to use the atomic weapon is controversial today (though rather popular at the time among Americans.  Among Japanese, I assume it wasn't popular at all).  The main reasons for using this unconventional weapon boil down to:

1) Dropping the bomb killed a great number of mostly innocent civilians--several tens of thousands--however, this was the necessary shock effect to end the war.  The alternative would have been an invasion of Japan, with casualty counts among American troops and Japanese civilians being far greater.  Dropping the bomb, in a way, was more humane.

2) The hell with Japan because screw those guys.  They started the war with us, and war is hell.  They invited every bit of destruction we brought on them.

3) We had another reason for using the atomic weapons in this manner.  Demonstrating to the world what the wartime use of these weapons would mean gave a strong signal to our future enemies, namely the Soviets.  The sacrifice of tens of thousands of Japanese--who totally had it coming, see 2) above--had the result that for the 67 years since 1945, no two major powers would get into a full scale total war with one another.  The knowledge that a weapon that could be dropped from a single plane (or later sent by a single rocket) and destroy an enemy city surely had something to do with this.

On the other hand, each of these reasons could be countered:

1) At that point in the war, Japan's navy was almost entirely at the bottom of the ocean, their air force was a hollow shell of what it used to be, and their ability to continue the war in any meaningful way was severely limited.  (Islands can't pose much threat without planes or ships, and Japan lacked the natural resources to rebuild without imports of materials from abroad).  If we did have to invade, the die-hard remnants of the Japanese Army on the home islands may have put up a suicidal last stand, but it would have fallen apart before any serious American casualties would have stacked up.

2) Japan may have started the war, but vengeance shouldn't be a war aim.  And how far should retaliation go?   Deliberately killing large numbers of civilians is beyond the norms of a civilized country.  It's one of the things that separates us from our more craven enemies.  We shouldn't be stooping to this sort of revenge.

3) If we really wanted to scare the Soviets we should have nuked Berlin after that city surrendered.  Then they would have seen that (a) we could wipe out a city much closer to them and (b) we are just crazy enough to nuke a city in a country that is no longer at war.

I won't second-guess President Truman's decision to use the atomic bombs here--hindsight being 20/20 and all, plus the fact that even today the points above are still up for lively debate--and he had to make a tough decision with the best knowledge he had at the time.  We can be glad though that despite the horrifying example of destroying those two cities, Japan became a peaceful economic power afterwards, and no country has ever used this sort of weapon again.

Another Senseless Shooting

Over the weekend a crazed gunman shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, killing six people before himself getting gunned down by the police.  Obviously this is tragic news--adding Sikhs to the long list of religious groups that sought refuge for free religious worship in America only to learn that we can produce hateful crazies just like any other part of the world.  Unless some new evidence turns up--which is possible, considering the investigation is ongoing--it'll be hard to be certain what exactly motivated the killer.  This also raises a few other questions:

1) Why did the killer target Sikhs?  Was he even aware they were Sikhs, or was he just looking for any large group of dark-skinned people to shoot?

2) Was this killer actually mentally ill--clearly the attack itself was senseless, but was this guy actually suffering serious psychosis that might have been spotted and prevented earlier on?

3) How long before some conservative politician makes a dumb speech about how if all those Sikhs had concealed carry permits they might have been able to gun down the killer before he could do much damage?  Rather than, say, speaking out against those who use inflammatory language about Muslims (who the killer might have mistakenly taken the Sikhs for) and foreign-borns?

4) How long before some liberal politician makes a tenuous connection between this killer and a local Tea Party movement?  Because of course the Tea Parties have membership rolls and must carefully screen who joins their esteemed organization, so any crazy bigot in their ranks must be welcome.

5) How long before the government decides to expand TSA authority to set up security checkpoints for every public place where more than a dozen people gather?  It seems crazy now, but there was a time when you could get on a plane without any sort of screening.

Hopefully something like this can bring out the best in Americans, and not the worst.

Damned Gangs

Sometimes, you read about a story in the paper that's awful enough to fry your frites and make you lose faith in humanity.  Then, you remember that basically the story of humanity is one of countless horrors interspersed with acts of decency and kindness.  Any alien force judging humankind would understandably be torn between sparing us and zapping us into a fine stew.

One example of the sort of thing that could make you want to give up faith in humanity is this story about a gang-related torture and murder of a 15 year old kid in Montgomery County, Maryland.  The killers--who were all convicted of first degree murder--are facing life in prison.  Sadly, life in the gang-controlled prisons is really not the deterrent it should be.  And ever since Maryland outlawed the Iron Maiden, the Spike Chair, and the Tarantula Cage--thank you very much, liberal State Court of Appeals!--the most suitable forms of justice are not available. 

If this were some sort of cool movie, the gang members would be intercepted on their way to prison by an avenging former cop who had to leave the force because he played by his own rules, then chained together by the necks and dragged at slow speed along the highway behind his car until they dropped from exhaustion and eventually became one with the blacktop.  Sadly, there's likely to be no real justice for the murderers.  One can only hope that they never see freedom again.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Friday Thoughts

1) I have about the same feelings about three different types of wings.  That is, that wings are good, but not great.  The three types of wings I'm referring to are the '70s rock band "Wings", the '90s TV show "Wings", and the longtime pub food staple, buffalo-style wings.  I can't get excited about any of these "wings", but they're okay.

2) Whenever someone disagrees with me on a political issue, I mistakenly assume that they're crazy until I hear what they have to say for themselves.  Then I realize they're actually just stupid.

3) I can usually avoid letting another car cut in front of me in traffic so long as I avoid eye contact.  Because once they're looking pleadingly in my eyes, I just can't bear to say "screw you, wait your turn!"  A lot of the world's troubles can be avoided if there's more eye contact.

4) I suppose if you disagree with me that the world's troubles can be avoided with more eye contact, it might not be because you're crazy or stupid.  It might be because you are wall-eyed.

5) The only reason that "Skeet Archery"--whereby the archer tries to pierce an arrow through a thrown football--is not an Olympic event is because no one has tried to make this happen yet.  I'm convinced it will be a big thing in my lifetime.  If not, I doubt anyone will dig up this post and hold it in my face at my deathbed.  (If someone does do that, then I need new friends).

6) Why is it that women and gay men try to convince straight men that certain female celebrities are attractive when no straight man seems to agree?  You really never see the equivalent, where straight men and lesbians try to convince women that certain guys are absolutely great looking and they should appreciate it.

7) The ratio of people who say that they like jazz music to the people who actually listen to jazz music is about the same as the ratio of people who say they've spoken truth to power to the people who actually have spoken truth to power.

Race-Baiting Alive and Well!

As a proud D.C. resident, it griddles my pancakes from time to time when I see what is little more than blatant racist douchitude get a platform in the otherwise respectable Washington Post.  What I'm talking about specifically is where thoughtful concern about the economics of "gentrification" gives way to what is blatant race-hatred that would fit in better with David Duke's line of thinking. 

Let's take this article as a case in point.  The writer actually says he doesn't know what's worse--the time when D.C. had so many murders it was nicknamed "Dodge City" or the fact that there is now a hipster bar on U Street that holds the same name.  Hmm, let me think--many, many indiscriminate murders or a hipster bar?  Tough call!  While I'm pondering that, I'll try and decide what's worse--a restaurant that offers "artisinal cheese" or an epidemic of rapes and mutilations?  It's like they're both equally bad!

The rest of the article adds bigotry to its stew of stupid--it laments that the white invaders are now appropriating the black culture of the city.  Oh, horrors!  I know how offended I feel when non-Italians open up pizza joints.  Let's go burn down a Dominos!  It was founded by an Irishman!  (In fairness, I won't try selling corned beef in cabbage.  We're good then?)

Consider how the article would read if you simply reversed the races.  "Does it matter that the owners of the new establishments aren't white?  Maybe."  Does it matter that the writer of this piece just penned unapologetic bigotry?  Maybe!

Now, the main point the author is trying to make--that the new joints opening up in the "hip" areas lack a lot of the city's old authenticity--is a fair one, even while overused.  Even the hipsters that the author mocks would be the first to say they'd prefer the city when it was more "real", which I suppose means back when you could find a stabbing when you needed one.  But the resentment regarding the race of the "interlopers" adds ugliness to an otherwise unremarkable piece.  The racial mix of this city--as well as many others--should be a benefit of living here.

It's fine to discuss the unintended consequences of rich folks (white or otherwise) moving into a neighborhood.  While the increased tax base and lower crime rate associated with rich newcomers is a plus, the higher rents and higher prices at the shops that cater to them can put the squeeze on the poorer residents.  But this sense of a city losing its "authetic" nature because of racial influx sounds just as ugly coming from a black writer in 2012 as it did from white writers fifty years ago. 

Another Lousy Jobs Report

If you'd asked me a year ago I would have predicted that by mid-2012 Barack Obama's re-election would have been assured, with the only question being whether he would win by a comfortable margin or a complete blowout.  That's because the Great Recession--which began at the very end of 2007 and hit its nadir in 2009--should have ended by now so that 2012 would be a year of solid job growth and an unemployment number dropping steadily through the year.

For various reasons--and the politically-charged reasons being debatable--that just has not happened.  Unemployment is still above 8% more than four years after the recession began, and job growth is barely keeping pace with inflation.  Of course, those numbers aren't so bad as to guarantee Obama's defeat (say, monthly job losses and unemployment above 9% might have done that) but they certainly keep Mitt Romney in striking distance.  Which is amazing, considering Romney's weaknesses as a candidate and demographic advantages for the Democrats.

This is all distressing to me--not the possible outcome of the election; whichever of these guys wins they're not likely to get anything substantial accomplished due to the closely divided nature of Congress--my concern is more about what longlasting effects this economic mess is having on the country.  The long-term unemployed are atrophying, as they fail to gain experience, skills and of course the money that would enable them to contribute more fully to society down the road.  Economic stagnation is also the principal cause of these massive trillion-dollar deficits that now have our national debt reaching 3/4 of our total GDP--all of which has to be paid off by future taxpayers who now appear less able to shoulder the burden each year.  A weak American economy also affects Asia, the Eurozone and South America--along with the rest of the world--and the cycle builds on itself.  A collapse in America usually means replacing one political party with another, but a collapse in fascist China could have far more devastating effects.

The presidential campaign seems to be boiling down to who Americans (or let's face it--Ohioans, Floridians and Virginians) are more put off by--a rich guy who made a fortune legally but in ways that seem unsavory to those who don't understand economics and the unpleasant decisions thereby required, or a sitting president who might secretly want to nationalize every industry to fit some Fabian socialist model.  What would be more refreshing would be a debate about the following:

1) Taxes.  If there's one person in the country who thinks our federal taxation system is just fine the way it is, I'd be interested in meeting him or her.  The question though is how to fix it--make it more progressive?  Make it more simplified?  What benefits--which deductions, credits, exclusions, different tax treatments for various sources of income--are we willing to give up for the sake of fixing the system?  And how much more revenue should we realistically expect from our tax system?  Or should we not be trying to tax anyone more at this point while the economy is still weak?

2) Spending.  Cuts to spending will be necessary at some point--but should this be put off until the economy is stronger?  Or, counterintuitively, would deficit reduction itself improve the economy by strengthening the bond market or diminishing future uncertainty?  Arguably it is the fear of unknown future austerity measures that is preventing a lot of private spending and hiring and investment.  Is there any truth to this idea?  Also, if there are to be spending cuts now, where best to make them?

3) Regulatory Reform.  While tax rates affect businesses and individuals, this of course only really matters to businesses and individuals that aren't running at a loss.  Regulations though (as well as legal liability) matters whether you're in the red or in the black, and can further hamper risk taking.  Is there room for easing regulatory burdens in a way that doesnt' cause more societal harm?  What reforms should be on the table?

4) Stimulus.  Is there any appetite for a further round of stimulus, and what form should it take?  We've tried a mix of spending increases and tax cuts, with mixed and debatable results, in 2008 and 2009.  What would be different this time, and can it pass?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Sarah Palin, The Baseball That Gave Up Luxury For America or Something

With just weeks left before Mitt Romney has to announce who his pick for Vice President will be, pundits are rending their garments and beseeching the winds over whether he'll go with "safe and conservative" candidates like Ohio Senator Rob Portman or Minnesota Governor Tim "I'm Not Chris Collinsworth" Pawlenty, or "exciting game changer" like New Mexico Governor Susanna Martinez or Florida Senator Marco Rubio.  One thing that every non-insane person agrees on is that Romney does not want to pick "another Sarah Palin".

Dick Cheney, the person who held the Vice President slot prior to Joe "Are You Done With That Soda?" Biden, recently mused in an interview what everyone else already thinks, which was that John McCain's picking of Sarah Palin in 2008 was a "mistake."  Because maturity and a thick skin are not Palin's strong suits, she sniped back at Cheney.  Let's consider some of her response:

“Seeing as how Dick — excuse me, Vice President Cheney — never misfires, then evidently he’s quite convinced that what he had evidently read about me by the lamestream media, having been written, what I believe is a false narrative over the last four years,” Palin said Tuesday night on Fox News. “Evidently Dick Cheney believed that stuff, and that’s a shame.”

Ok, "lamestream" media?  Lady, get some new jokes!  Serious groaner, there.

But also, Cheney's point was that Palin had only been Governor of Alaska for a year and a half at the time she was nominated (thus blunting McCain's argument against Obama that "experience matters").  How exactly is that a "false narrative" created by the "lamestream media"?  Is there some alternative media that measured her time as Governor in dog years?

Of course, Cheney doesn't need to respond to Palins' childlike barbs--in which she suggests she made a "tough choice" by going in the national spotlight (a spotlight she doesn't seem to have shied away from since retiring from public life mid-way through her only term as Alaska Governor), and that she could have lived the "luxurious life" in Alaska (Alaska--full of rich people luxuriating!), and some comparison of herself to a baseball which I won't even touch because that's just too easy.  Her comments sort of proved what an embarrassment and mistake she was for the McCain campaign.

I think 2008 was a year with many headwinds facing the Republicans--an unpopular incumbent, wars that would not end, growing deficits and a financial crisis amid a major recession--but there's really no doubt that Sarah Palin was the nail in the coffin of any chance McCain had of winning the White House.  But if Romney is crazy enough to pick another disaster like that, at least it will provide plenty of entertainment for the next several years.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Pick-up Artist Completely Runs Out of Ideas

I wouldn't call myself an expert pickup artist when it comes to the ladies, but despite my lack of mad "skillz" I can take comfort in the fact that during my single years I have never once (a) had a drink thrown on me (and asking the lady to pour beer on me because it's hot out doesn't count); (b) forcibly grabbed the target of my affections; or (c) had to settle for urinating on the woman's leg after being rejected.  Which is more than I can say for this guy. 

The thought process here is staggering--Timothy here spots a comely lass of potential possibility, he turns on the charm, he approaches her.  He boldly puts his arm around her--a bit aggressive, but for some guys this works.  Here, though, it doesn't--the woman turns around and says "um, really?" (which beats a knee to the groin any day) and that deflates his ego enough that he takes his arm off of her.  Ah, rejection. 

What to do, what to do?  Some guys swallow their pride and move on, hitting on the girl next to her; some guys pathetically keep trying with follow-up lines.  But Timothy here, he's not your average guy.  Nope, he decides to whip it out and pee on this woman's leg.  It's as though he considered every possible thing that he could do after this woman declined his advances, and all he could come up with was using her as a urinal.

I can picture the conversation at the jail house afterwards:

"I'm in for armed robbery.  What are you in for?"

"Some chick didn't like me putting my arm around her at a bar so I peed on her leg.  I'm satisfied I made the right decision."

"Okay, don't take this the wrong way but I'm taking the top bunk."