Friday, September 28, 2012

The Rise of Chaos

I remember being a teenager--often trying to be a good kid, but from time to time having a fit of dumbassery like tossing apple cores at cars from a highway bridge, which fortunately never caused an accident (though I'm sure some BMW drivers got pissed about bits of apple on their windshields).  But I never managed to cross the line of stealing, vandalizing, or worse, violent crimes.  The dumbassery never boiled over, in other words.

That's why it still baffles me to see a story like this one--a bunch of teenaged girls in Philly decide to take and post a video of themselves beating a mentally challenged woman just for fun.  Laughing the whole time, as one would expect from some rapscallions setting off fireworks or cliff-diving into a pond, because of course what could be more charming and carefree than brutally punching and kicking a defenseless woman with diminished capacity?

I suppose we should be thankful that we live in an age where it is very easy to take and post videos, and also that these animals are so incredibly stupid that they chose to record and post the evidence of their crime.  When they end up in prison--and they will, if not now, soon because these are not the hijinks of people with any worth to society--it's a sure bet they're not going to be smart enough to avoid the abuse of the Queen Bee on Cell Block C.  This country is producing dumber and dumber criminals every year.  Yet another sign of civilizational decline.

Hell, I say bring back child labor.  Maybe if these wastes of flesh were spending their after hours working the loom at a textile mill, there wouldn't be enough time left over for beating the handicapped.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Someone Needs to Rent "Death Wish"

I consider myself a moderate on gun control, in that I wish to put only a moderate amount of lead into the torso of some lowlife thug that thinks it is his right to commit violent assault on a law abiding citizen in this fair city of ours.  As far as I'm concerned, prospective muggers should be having a conversation like this before they go out on a mugging spree:

Mugger 1: Hey, sport, what do you say we go hit the streets and attack some citizenry with fisticuffs and whatnot?

Mugger 2: I think not, dear chap!  Recall what happened to our mutual acquaintance, Former Mugger 3, just last evening.  He mistakenly picked a tourist from Texas who was unaware of the District of Columbia's stringent gun laws, and happened to be armed with a rather large blunderbuss, which the tourist used to separate our friend's upper torso from his lower torso. 

Mugger 1: Ah, that's right--perhaps our cunning plans are not so cunning after all!  As I am fond of my body parts all remaining attached, what do you say we go bowling instead?

Now, I'm not one of those gun proponents who thinks every crime can be averted by armed citizens, and of course I'm aware that guns in the hands of idiots usually means a lot of unintentional shootings.  I'm not opposed to ALL restrictions on gun ownership and use--registration, background checks, safe storage, transport and carry and the like.  And meaningful safety courses and tests are fine too--we require it for drivers' licenses after all. 

But D.C.--like a lot of big cities--has some stupidly absolutist restrictions on gun ownership, making legal concealed carry impossible and basically forcing any otherwise law-abiding person to break the law if they want to keep themself safe.  In a city where a bunch of thugs can pistol-whip a man at 8PM right smack in downtown D.C. or thugs hospitalize and possibly permanently disable some guy for his cell phone, it's clear who has free rein in this town.  The police can't possibly be everywhere they need to be, and it makes little sense to keep citizens from having a fighting chance against the urban predators we have to contend with.  Train the prospective gun-owners in proper safety, run the background checks, but for God's sake let them own and carry safely.

That's not to say that every street crime could be prevented if the victim were armed and trained properly--in one of the linked cases above, the victim was likely somewhat intoxicated and therefore wouldn't legally be able to carry a weapon even under liberal concealed carry laws--but there would be many cases where a victim would have a fighting chance.  Just like any predator in the wild, an urban thug is less likely to strike when there's a chance that their prey can do damage--and enough well-publicized incidents of a mugging victim shooting or warning off an attacker would discourage what seems to be an all-too-common occurrence. 

Besides, I'm sure society isn't going to miss a few of these cretins if they should happen to assault the wrong person.  It'd be nice if big city governments would give the rest of us a fighting chance against the predators.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

How the GOP Will React After Romney's Defeat

When Barack Obama wins re-election this November, a lot of news stories will focus on the obvious questions--what will be accomplished in a second term, how will we meet the budget crisis looming, will gridlock be even worse than it already is--and one of them will be the direction the GOP will take after licking its wounds. 

The Republicans will have to face a dire reality--they have been at an electoral disadvantage for presidential elections since the 1980s.  There was a time when the party's dominance in the west and midwest, coupled with competitiveness in the northeast and the gradual shift of the south meant the ability to completely trounce the Democrats every four years.  California went Republican in every presidential election from 1968 to 1988, and New York was actually a swing state.  Today, however, the GOP holds out a futile hope that they MIGHT win New Hampshire, and that's it for anything north of Virginia and east of Ohio.  Alaska is the only state touching the Pacific that the Republicans can win anymore, and most of the Great Lakes states are also out of reach.  This is now a party that can only count on the south, and most of the (sparsely populated) plains and mountain states.  And within all states, the GOP is hopelessly out of the game in urban areas.  It has become a strictly rural party on the presidential level at least.

The reason for this is pretty clear--to win the party's nomination and fire up the base for the general election, a Republican who wants to be president must cater to the party's most zealous wing in a way that the Democrats have not had to do for decades.  Democrats since the time of Clinton have been able to give the cold shoulder to their party's racial activist wing, environmentalist wing, and organized labor wing in a way that the Republicans simply cannot with regard to their anti-illegal-immigrant wing, or Christian wing, anti-tax wing or neoconservative interventionist wing.  Part of the reason for this is self-fulfilling--as the GOP shed many of its moderates since the 1980s (in part due to the rise of the religious right in that party), the Democrats took them in and their own party became less dependent on its left-most supporters.  That, and the string of losses at the presidential level--losing every election from 1968 through 1988 except a close one for Jimmy Carter in 1976, and mostly by landslides--made even the Democratic base more willing to be pragmatic and accept a center-drift by its nominees from 1992 onward.

Can the GOP base become more pragmatic as well?  After all, the only popular majority they won since 1988 was the 2004 election, and that one was very close as well.  However, denial is a powerful thing--many conservatives truly believe that Bill Clinton never would have won in the first place without Ross Perot taking conservative votes away from Bush Sr. (though this is simply not the case), and they note that only Obama in 2008 won an actual majority (rather than a plurality) since that time.  The "closeness" of these elections makes it easier for GOP activists to believe that what they're doing will work, whereas a few landslide losses might have splashed some cold water on this way of thinking.

What is likely is that we'll hear the excuse from the activist base that the Republicans lost--again--because they didn't nominate someone sufficiently conservative to "activate the base" which apparently is all that's needed to win big on the presidential level.  The thought here is that the country leans right, and a "solid conservative" who can "make the case"--like Ronald Reagan!--could awaken this otherwise subdued mass and win the day.  After all, look at the string of Republicans who lost since 1992--Bush Sr., a moderate who raised taxes; Bob Dole, a moderate dealmaker Senator; John McCain, a Teddy Roosevelt-admiring Senator known for crossing the aisle and breaking with the right on many occasions; Mitt Romney, the "Massachusetts Moderate". 

There is something to this, of course--each of those also-rans had moderate credentials, and due to this they had to drift right during their campaigns in a way that made them lose independents.  None of these guys could really afford a "Sister Souljah Moment" where they broke from the party's right wing, as they were already mistrusted by that wing.  In a weird way, a "true" right winger--a politically nimble version of Rick Perry--could win, because such a candidate could afford to tack to the center in the general election.  It's no accident that the one Republican to win in this period was George W Bush--a Texas governor with Christian cred--who ran on his ability to reach across the aisle and be a "compassionate" conservative.  And whatever you think of his presidency, Bush's best-known accomplishments--the prescription drug benefit, No Child Left Behind, the Iraq Invasion, the PATRIOT Act--and to a lesser degree his tax cuts--managed to get bipartisan support, and those first two measures were not exactly red meat for the right wing.

In my ideal world, the coming Romney loss will be a chance for the GOP to begin an adjustment that would enable it to start attracting moderates again and give less weight to its most extreme wing.  It just may take more time in the wilderness for that to happen.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Walk-a-Thon Recap

This past Saturday I walked much farther than I've ever walked in one stretch--26 miles, in my solo Walk-a-Thon to raise money for the National Foundation for Cancer Research.  The route--going through Capitol Hill, Eastern Market, Union Station, Columbia Heights, Friendship Heights, Dupont Circle, Woodley and Cleveland Parks, Georgetown and Downtown D.C.--took a little over 8 hours, and fortunately the weather was terrific for the walk.  A few observations about this:

1) Though I didn't stop for food, I did have to twice stop to get iced tea and Gatorade.  While these drinks each cost about $2, when you're as dry-mouthed as I was when I purchased them, you'd happily pay five times that if that's what they were charging.  Nothing feels quite as good as a beverage after the 20th mile.

2) I often walk a lot--several miles a day most days--but this really pushed some limits.  About halfway through you can feel yourself hit a bit of a wall, and your normal gait turns into a stagger.  Though this was less due to muscles or joints and more to do with the powerful blisters forming on my heels.

3) Speaking of blisters--they still hurt today.  My heels are more blister than non-blister. 

4) I can now say I've walked from my home to Maryland--and without taking the most direct or shortest route to get there.  The route passed through all four quadrants (though stayed on the west of the Anacostia river) and hit a variety of neighborhoods.  It looks like some pleasant brunch places in Adams Morgan and up Connecticut as well.

5) Tourists who think it's a good idea to walk abreast and block the sidewalk are mildly annoying on normal days.  Ten miles into your walk they induce extreme stabbishness.

6) By the final miles of the walk it occurred to me that if someone tried snatching my iPhone I would have had to just let them go. 

7) Next year this might be more fun in a group.  Eight hours is a lot of time to go without talking to anyone.

8) Fortunately, with pledges totalling $52.50 per mile, I managed to raise $1,365.00 from my donors.  Well worth the long trek.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Thoughts

1) If I were a dictator and was privately thinking of retiring, I'd stage one of my usual sham elections and have the numbers work out so that my chosen successor beats me by a few points.  Then international observers will all be like "hey, maybe all those elections where he got 100% of the vote were real, too!"

2) Cars and trucks with bad blind spots should have signs on the back that say "bad blind spot, watch it".

3) City bike lanes should be on the sidewalks instead of the roads.  An accident involving a car and a bike is usually a lot worse than one involving a pedestrian.  Although it should be pointed out that pedestrians don't have the benefit of side view mirrors.

4) Pedestrians should have side view mirrors.  You'd not only be able to spot bicyclists coming behind you, but you'd be able to catch bike gropers more quickly, and toss a stick in their spokes so they can't escape to do more groping.

5) Speaking of bike gropers, I love how people say the alleged groper was "not who you'd expect" because his Facebook page makes it look like he's a normal guy.  Is a perpetrator ever "who you'd expect"?  Like they catch some hunchbacked, googly-eyed monster-ape-person, and then the papers can say "perpetrator pretty much who you'd expect".

6) Why is it that the political correctness that pushed us to say "chairperson" and "layperson" has not changed the word "gunman" to "gunperson"?  You gotta take the good with the bad, persons!

7) They say "the worst day fishing beats the best day at the office."  This is completely stupid.  The worst day fishing involves getting eaten by sharks.  The best day at the office is when your office is a brewery and you spend the whole day testing new batches and need to take a cab home.  Maybe it's just me, but I'd choose that over being eaten by sharks.

The 12th Amendment Sucks!

In the 224 years since we've started electing presidents--ranging from great Americans like Washington and Lincoln to war crinimals like Jackson and FDR--there's a somewhat alarming statistic.  We've had 43 men serve as president (Cleveland gets counted twice in history books which is why they say 44), and in nine cases the president has left office (through death or resignation) mid-way through his term. 

That's a better than 1 in 5 chance that the president you elect will leave office and their VP will take over.  And that doesn't include cases where presidents came close to being removed from office (Andrew Johnson was one Senator's vote away from being removed) or nearly died in office (a few inches away and Ronald Reagan would have died mere months into his first term).  So the choice of a Vice President is one that should be very serious and well-considered--it's an excellent chance that the person picked for VP will be running the Oval Office one day.

And that's when it gets scary.  Say what you will about various incompetent or unscrupulous presidents--the Warren Hardings, the James Buchanans, the JFKs--they were for the most part better than the crop of VPs we've had over the years (some of whom managed to make it to the presidency).  This list includes:

1) John Tyler, who did become president, and the only one not buried with U.S. honors because he happened to become an official in the Confederate government later on.

2) John Breckinridge, who later ran on the Southern Democratic ticket in 1860, then he too became a high ranking official for the Confederacy and had to flee the country after the Civil War.

3) James Calhoun, who didn't live to join the Confederacy but was the sort of father of secession and treason.  Plus, he was a big booster of the disastrous War of 1812.

4) Aaron Burr, another treasonous scoundrel who only escaped prosecution because his conspiracy never got moving.

5) Eldridge Gerry, who brought us gerrymandering.  Thank him for the fact that politicians now can choose their voters and not the other way around.

6) Schuyler Colfax, who was a total jerk.

7) Henry Wallace, who was completely duped by the Communists (though in his defense, he repented in the 1950s).

To be fair, we've also had some great men serve as VP--Jefferson, Teddy Roosevelt, John Adams--but it almost seems they were in that slot by accident.  In fact, Jefferson and Adams both served as VP at a time that the VP was elected separately from the President (as in, not on the same ticket) and as for TR, he was a reluctant choice forced on then-President McKinley. 

The problem is how VPs are chosen.  No presidential candidate (or political party, back when the party's delegates had a say in the selection of the VP) has been able to see the VP selection as simply one of "this person would be a great president".  Rather, the pick goes something like this: "is this person plausible enough as president that the voters won't laugh me out of the room?" and if you're John McCain you don't even ask yourself that question.  If the answer is "yes" then the overriding question is "how will this person scare up a few more votes for me?"  In the old days, it meant nominating a very rich man for VP, so they can help fund the campaign.  These days, it's about appealing to a consituency that the presidential nominee needs--Sarah Palin was intended to help McCain with women, Al Gore was supposed to help Clinton burnish his Southern Moderate cred, Joe Biden was added to give Obama some humor.  The problem is, if we manage to get a great Vice President, it'll be more by accident than by design.  We always vote the top of the ticket, and just hope the bottom half isn't so awful it drags the entire ticket down.

How to fix this state of affairs, considering the high likelihood that a VP becomes a P?  Repeal the 12th Amendment.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Can't Wait to Buy Monica Lewinsky's Book! This is Relevant to my Interests!

Ah, the innocent late-Clinton years, when the economy was still booming and a truly despicable human being sat in the White House and reaped the benefits of a peace dividend and tech boom that he neither caused nor ruined.  When the biggest threat to the political career of the president wasn't a major hurricane or lagging economy, but a young woman named Monica Lewinsky. 

Just in case you're thinking "why bring her up now?  This is about as relevant to 2012 as Blues Traveler", well join the club.  But apparently Ms. Lewinsky has gotten a $12 million book deal which says more about our book-buying public than it does about her.  I can't blame Lewinsky for this--hey, why not cash in? 

I just can't say I agree with the article's author though--why feel sorry for Monica Lewinsky?  She basically is financially set at a young age, unlike the proverbial Bangladeshi rope farmer who would have to work for sixteen thousand years to earn $12 million.  Plus, it's not as though she was just going about her duties as a White House intern--a post you have to be pretty well connected to get, incidentally--and Clinton just went and forced himself on her (he had other victims for that--Monica never claimed anything happened against her will, though I haven't read her book).  You choose to get involved with Bill Clinton, you become notorious. 

Yes, it's true that Monica Lewinsky could direct an Oscar-winning film, develop a cure for cancer, and take over as head of IBM and yet still the only thing she'll be known as is the curvy woman who [insert childish euphamism but we all know what we're talking about] with Clinton.  But in the grand scheme of things, worse things have happened to better people.

Now Owning a Prius

Over the weekend I went out and bought a Prius, with basically one goal in mind--high MPGs.  With a new job starting next week that will require a lot of driving, the prospect of having to stop for gas less than half as often makes it worth it.  So far the car is great--and I have the following tips for any prospective Prius owners:

1) Accept the fact that there is absolutely no way to look cool in a Prius.  The Prius was simply not designed to look cool.  You could even paint flames on the side and attach cattle horns to the front, it's still going to look like you're apologizing to everything else on the road.

2) New car smell is great.  Avoid letting any of your grubby friends bring fast food into the car.  Fast food kills new car smell like nothing else.

3) You might want to put an NRA sticker on your bumper to help balance the fact that you're driving a Prius.

4) Gas mileage is great--around 50 mpg--and you can jack it up from there depending on how you drive (gradual acceleration and braking, etc.).  What makes it even better is there's a readout letting you know how you're doing mpg-wise, so you can adjust.

5) When going at very slow speeds (residential streets, traffic jams) the car uses just the electric motor, so it's whisper quiet like some ninja-car.  This would be a great car to stalk someone with.

6) Don't stalk people in your Prius.  It's illegal, and morally wrong! 

7) The Prius is a hatchback car, and one thing about a hatchback is that unlike a trunk you can't just put all your stinky smelly stuff in the trunk because it'll smell up the inside of the car.  Not that I condone disposing of bodies in other cars, but the Prius would be a terrible car with which to dispose a body.  This is why mobsters don't drive Priuses.

8) Plural for Prius is "Priuses".  Call it a "Priii" and people will think you're an idiot.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

If You Like Having All Your Fingers, Don't Drink At Smith Point

During my nearly twenty years of drinking in bars, I have never been in a genuine altercation with bar staff unless you count the time I was served a terrible excuse for a Murphy's Stout and asked them to switch it with something else and they refused because they were jerks.  But I have seen people ejected from bars on more than one occasion, and can say that the best type of bouncer gets the unwanted patron out with a minimum of violence and fuss.

But every now and again some bar bouncers will have a case like this which somehow results in a customer's finger getting lopped off.  In this case, the patron wasn't some twenty-something dudebro but rather a 50 year old Arlington attorney.  The bar itself--Smith Point in Georgetown--does of course have the dudebro vibe, so there's that.

The story doesn't make clear exactly how the patron's evening went from being served a very strong Red Bull and vodka when he merely ordered a beer to his being ejected in such a way that his finger was sacrificed to the Red Bull gods.  What is clear is that by his own admission, the patron had already had seven beers when he arrived at the bar, and so while the bar "overserved" him he was already pretty heavily served to begin with. 

Also striking to me is that the bar claims to have given him the unholy Red Bull and Vodka drink because they needed him to reach the $30 minimum for credit card purchases.  This is bullhockey--first, McDonalds lets you use a credit card with no minimum purchase.  Is Smith Point a superior establishment compared to McDonalds?  I think not!  McDonalds caters to a higher class of clientele than Smith Point and yes I'm including that homelacking fellow who mutters to himself in the booth near the window.  Second, okay, so you have a $30 minimum for credit cards--how about serving the customer something that is not a total abortion?  Red Bull and Vodka are what you drink before getting into a fistfight with a truck.

I would hope some additional details emerge in this matter--a finger isn't just something you lose in the normal course of being shown to the door.  But whether it's the fault of an overzealous bouncer--and more than a few bouncers really should be in another line of work, such as intimidating debtors for the Mafia--or the patron himself will have to be worked out in the course of the lawsuit.

Monday, September 17, 2012

150 Years Since Antietam

If anything should have turned Americans into hard core pacifists, it should have been the horrible carnage of the Civil War.  Battle after battle where the tactics of lining up to advance across a clearing into the enemy had not kept up with the technology of faster and more accurate firepower, leaving tens of thousands dead or horribly wounded, should have taken all the glamour out of combat.  The fact that merely camping out with thousands of other soldiers under 1860s conditions could also mean likely catching a deadly disease would be just icing on the cake.  It's no wonder that we avoided major wars for almost forty years after that mess, and even then picked a weak enemy like Spain.

Today marks the 150th anniversary of the bloodiest day of that war--the Battle of Antietam, Maryland.  Over 23,000 killed, out of 131,000 engaged--giving a soldier in that battle about a one in six chance of perishing there.  And even after that horrible day, there'd be a few more years of war and a lot more young lives lost.  All pretty much to teach the South a lesson--when the state of South Carolina leads the way, don't follow!

The blood of Antietam was a high price but helped a great deal in ending the war.  General Lee's first advance into the North was checked, and his strength sapped--giving Lincoln enough cred to call it a victory and issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which discouraged a number of foreign governments from providing aid to the Confederacy.  It also meant that winning the war was not just a matter of keeping the states together, but ending slavery.

But what still stands out for me about that battle--as well as the entire war itself--is how easily the expectations of a short, relatively bloodless victory can be dashed when an enemy was underestimated.  And clearly both sides underestimated the other here--Northerners figured the rebels would be put down within months with a swift march on Richmond and the rebel forces would scatter; Southerners figured once the Union's nose was bloodied they'd be allowed to secede without further trouble.  The foolishness of glorifying war without expecting the unexpected is a lesson we should all carry with us--particularly in these days of pundits and politicians calling for strikes on Iran--and the field of Antietam is the best example of this.

Friday, September 14, 2012

No Film is Worth a Riot. Unless It's a Laugh Riot and the Film is Blazing Saddles.

Another day, another round of turmoil in the Middle East over something incredibly stupid and petty.  No, not food shortages or oppressive governments--that was so 2011--we're back to idiocy on a par with "offensive" Danish cartoons.  Yes, the Mideast is exploding over a trailer for a low quality film.

The film--apparently called "The Innocence of Muslims"--has a trailer available that you can watch here.  In case you don't want to waste 13 minutes of your time watching this, it's a poorly dubbed, greenscreened farce that looks like it's going for the humor and edginess of Mel Brooks at his best, while portraying the Prophet Muhammad as a surfer-dude type who is also a crook, fraud, and pedophile.  Obviously, the sort of film intended to piss off Muslims--it's difficult to imagine anyone seeing it and saying "that really opened my eyes and maybe it's time to have a reasonable discussion about one of the world's major religions". 

That said, any mature group of sensible adults who happen to be Muslims would see this, laugh it off for its amateurish patheticness, and say "at least I didn't waste ten bucks plus popcorn on that".  In all likelihood the vast majority of the billion followers of Islam would react just that way if they viewed this.  But then, it only takes a small number of crazed, insecure dillweeds to have such a fragile sense of their own religious identity that some film trailer so silly that it could barely reach into the "offensive" category to riot and loot and murder.  This turmoil has caused a number of deaths already--including U.S. diplomatic personnel in Libya--and is likely to cause more before this blows over.

The makers of this film ought to be ashamed of themselves for creating something so stupid--there's nothing wrong with a film that takes a critical look at any or all religions, but this one seems the equivalent of schoolyard taunting.  But if you're going to take something like this seriously enough to be offended, it seems you do far more good for your cause by denouncing it as crap--and anyone watching it would have to agree--and going on with your life, rather than fulfill the stereotype of easily set-off fanatic who is willing to kill and die over a poor man's "Life of Brian".  

Thursday, September 13, 2012

How to Buy a Car

For the first time in my life, I'm shopping for a new car.  Previously, I've always driven used--ranging from a "gee I hope it doesn't stall on this next turn" 1982 Ford Fairmont to a "well, it sure picked the wrong place to die on I-84 outside of Sturbridge, MA" 1987 Grand Marquis to a "there is a lot of frozen water inside the car" 1987 Oldsmobile.  My current car is actually a great, well-maintained Lexus that I enjoy quite a bit, but with starting a new job and new commute, I've decided I need fuel efficiency more than anything.

(I should note that prior to my current job, I've always been able to walk or take public transportation to work, which I consider far superior to dueling with dangerous insane morons on the highways.  You know how we don't want dangerous, insane morons to go around carrying guns?  Well they're also lethal as they steer thousand pound rolling blocks of steel and glass at over 60 mph)

I've heard the stories about how car dealers can sniff out a cornpone goober of a sucker a mile away, and immediately rip you off by selling undercoating and gonkulators that you don't need.  So here's my guide for how not to look like some rube who just fell off the turnip truck:

1) Kick the tires of a car you're looking at.  It demonstrates that you know what you're doing.

2) Next, open the hood, look at all the wires, and let out an audible whistle (if you can't whistle well, then sigh audibly).  This gives the dealer a sense that you're not totally sold on the car.

3) If they offer free doughnuts at the dealership, take two.  This way, you've gotten breakfast tossed in with your car, for the same price.  It shows them that you understand value.

4) If they ask if you want an added feature, just repeat the added feature out loud while stroking your chin, like so: "extended warranty . . ."  Then say no thanks, you just ate.

5) If you're a woman, say right off the bat that just because you're a woman you deserve respect and won't tolerate any attempts to rip you off.  Dealers immediately realize that you're to be taken seriously and will cut through their normal spiel.

6) The best negotiating tactic is to seem uninterested.  Tell them you just came by to use their bathroom, but hey, while you're at it you might as well see what they have in certified pre-owned stock. 

7) If they try to offer you financing, ask if they can offer you a checking account along with it.  When they act confused, backtrack and say that you realize they're not a bank, it was just a little joke you and your sophisticated car buying friends like to tell when you celebrate a great buy.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Romney's Missed Opportunities

If Mitt Romney loses this November--as I believe is more likely than not--there's going to be a lot of post-mortems on how this happened and whether there was anything he could have done differently.  Conservatives are going to argue that Romney wasn't sufficiently conservative enough and didn't "stand for something" or "attack Obama hard enough" (this comes from laughable characters like Donald Trump and Sarah Palin) but I think they have this wrong.  Romney has been saying everything he could to ally himself with his party's right wing, and his reflexive criticism of Obama has gotten predictable, to the extent that if Obama stopped for a burger on the way home Romney would point out that the burger stop took precedence over attending a funeral for war veterans.

The real failure as I see it was that Romney did not take advantage of opportunities to recapture the political middle.  As a moderate Republican (at least until 2007) whose background is more Michigan and Massachusetts than Texas or Georgia, he was well positioned to do this after he sewed up the GOP primary.  (I'd argue that the primary was basically won once Rick Perry, his last real challenger, dropped out at the beginning of the year--but at the very least Romney had this thing in April).  At that point, the party's right wing was already geared up to vote out Obama and would have backed a houseplant if that were their best chance of doing so.

Around that time, I'd suggested Mitt have a "Sister Souljah" moment, taking some public stance that would be seen as "brave" by breaking with his party's partisans--for example, by unequivocally condemning right wing media star Rush Limbaugh's nasty statements about Sandra Fluke (who Limbaugh made into a martyr-star).  Romney's "rebuke" was lukewarm and weak (something along the lines of "I wouldn't have used such language"), representing a missed opportunity.  Another chance would have been taking a stance to Obama's left on a key social issue--perhaps condemning gay-bashing statements from the fever-swamp portions of the GOP, or prominently endorsing a sensible immigrant reform law like Marco Rubio's "mini-DREAM" act, or favoring increased access to medicinal marijuana. 

The thing about these stances is that none of them are per se inconsistent with an overall message of smaller government and pro-business policies, which is the central message Romney is pushing (and won his primaries with--he was never going to out-gaybash Rick Santorum, even if he slaughtered a gay goat on an altar during one of the debates).  But more importantly, it sends a signal to the very suburban moderate voters that the GOP needs--the signal being, don't worry, this guy is more like the Massachusetts moderate from ten years ago than some tool of his party's right wing.  My own feeling is that Romney is actually more moderate and pragmatic than this campaign has let on, but his fear of a break with his party's base is a problem.

At this point, it's probably too late for Romney to change the game--under two months left and most voters have made up their minds.  But there should be a long-term lesson here for the GOP--a party that cannot occupy the political middle is going to lose every time.

Walk-a-Thon 2012

This year, my fundraiser for the National Foundation for Cancer Research will be a Walk-a-Thon--a one day, 26 mile walk around the District of Columbia.  I have asked donors to pledge on a per-mile basis, and so far have $19 per mile pledged.  Hopefully that number will go up, and hopefully I can make the full 26 miles.

At first, my plan was to use a pedometer (not to be confused with a "pedo-meter", which measures something entirely different and disturbing) as a phone app, but after testing this and seeing how much battery juice it uses I realized it would not last for a full 8-plus hour walk.  So instead I've mapped out the route ahead of time, which goes like this:

1) Starting from my home in SW D.C., walking up Independence Avenue to Pennsylvania Avenue SE, to where it meets Potomac Avenue.

2) Tracking back along Pennsylvania past the Capitol, up to NW to 14th Street.

3) North on 14th, up to Columbia Heights.

4) At Columbia Heights, going west on Calvert to Connecticut Avenue.

5) North on Connecticut, to Military Road, then west on Military to Wisconsin Avenue at the Friendship Heights Metro.

6) Track back along Military to Connecticut, then south on Connecticut to Dupont Circle.

7) At Dupont, west to Georgetown until I hit the University.

8) In Georgetown, take M Street east all the way back across town until it hits Massachusetts Ave.

9) Take Masshole Ave past Union Station, past Stanton Park to Lincoln Park.

10) At Lincoln Park, track back SW on North Carolina Avenue until it hits Pennsylvania Avenue.

11) Take Pennsylvania west to Independence, then west on Indy until I hit home in SW.

It should be a hell of a day-long journey, with time to grab lunch on the route and perhaps meeting some friends along the way.  And if I can raise in pledges as much as $100 per mile, it would mean a decent donation for a charity dedicated to cancer fighting research.

Walk-a-Thon is scheduled for September 22nd!

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pizza Has Now Gone Full Derp. For Shame!

Over the weekend, President Obama was campaigning in Fort Pierce, Florida, and visited a pizza parlor where the owner, Scott Van Nuzer, got so overcome that he bear-hugged Obama and lifted him off the ground. 

This is an absolute outrage.  Pizza, created by a man named "Scott Van Nuzer"?  Unless he had his name legally changed from Nunzio Guiseppe Dell'Italiano Goombetti, he ought to stick to making waffles!  Or whatever the hell the Dutch eat.  Who knows?  I'm too busy eating Goombetti pizza to pay attention.

(In fairness--yes, a non-Italian is technically capable of making excellent pizza.  But only by the same token that a non-Southerner is capable of making excellent BBQ.  It can happen, but there's a food-cred issue that has to be overcome.  Yes, I'm prejudiced.)

But apparently the real outrage was coming from the fact that this guy is an Obama supporter, and now partisans are boycotting his pizza joint and giving him awful reviews on online ratings sites like Yelp.  This will likely cause a backlash-lash among Obamaphiles, who will now make a point of going to eat Van Nuzer's pizza, and so forth.

Yes, America has reached full derp.  We are now at a point where politics controls where we eat.  This is all just too damn stupid and makes me question whether evolution is working, because we might actually be getting dumber as a species. 

How about this?  How about just eating where you like the food, service and ambience, and accepting that the proprietor might have different political opinions than you do?  That maybe even if you don't like the President, it's not a deal-killer that the pizza owner gave him a big bear hug because it's pretty exciting to have the leader of the Free World visit your establishment? 

Then maybe when I tell people I can't stand the Dixie Chicks, they won't assume it's because of their half-baked politics but rather that their music is twangy and boring and overrated, and when I tell people I don't like Mel Gibson films it's not because he's a homophobic anti-Semite but because his characters all have this strange coincidence where he has a dead wife (seriously, it's weird).  And then when I'm eating Ben and Jerrys and Domino's in the same afternoon, people will think it's because the iced cream is pretty good and no other pizza place delivered to my home, rather than me being both a hippie and Christian activist.

But no, we're in full derp season now. 

Ten Years Ago Was the First Anniversary of 9/11

The first nine anniversaries of the 9/11 attacks have come and gone, leaving Americans remembering what they were doing that fateful Tuesday in 2001--I was at work, and walked home to Virginia from D.C.--as well as considering how much has changed since then.  But it's also remarkable how LITTLE has changed since the first anniversary of the attacks--the anniversary being September 11, 2002.  Let's recap:

1) One year after the attacks, we had passed dubious anti-terrorist legislation (USA PATRIOT Act, which you couldn't oppose unless you hate patriotism, comrade), created the Department of Homeland Security, and given the government additional powers to identify and act on terrorist threats.  Government still pretty much has all that power.

2) One year after the attacks, we had invaded Afghanistan to ensure that country would no longer be a safe haven for Al Quaeda.  Today, we still have significant forces there, conducting anti-Taliban operations.

3) In 2002, former NYC Mayor Rudolf Guiliani had been so popular he had even been able to get his annointed GOP successor, Michael Bloomberg, elected to succeed him.  Bloomberg is still there, passing soda rules and banning smoking.  Amazingly, the Democrats have not won a mayoral election in that city since 1989.

4) George W Bush, who was also enormously popular at the first anniversary of 9/11, is out of office and saw his popularity take a nosedive in his second term.  His successor, Barack Obama, has kept Guantanamo Bay open for indefinite suspected terrorist detentions, vastly increased aerial drone strikes at suspected terrorist targets, and kept most of the antiterrorism policies in place.  We have still not suffered a followup attack near the magnitude of the original, and whether these policies are the reason for it or not is still the subject of the same debate we've been having for eleven years.

5) Bill Clinton is still a treacherous scumbag.  This has nothing to do with 9/11, but it holds true eleven years later.

6) September 11, 2002 we were still very slowly recovering from a recession.  Today, we're very slowly recovering from another, albeit more painful, recession.  Like ten years ago, people are starting to see housing as a good thing to put their money into.

7) Iraq in 2002 had nothing to do with the attacks that were launched the previous year.  Today, Iran has still not attacked us, but there's a strong contingent on the right that thinks attacking that country would be a great idea.

The biggest point, though, as noted in 4), is that we've managed eleven years without another big attack.  Whatever the reason for this, we ought to be thankful for this even while mourning the losses from the original September 11th.

Monday, September 10, 2012

How to Create Jobs

Usually, when we pore over the latest depressing jobs numbers in the paper, friends of mine ask me "hey are you eating that last muffin?"  Then, after I let them eat the last muffin, they follow up with "man, how can this country improve on its job growth?"  To which I usually reply with the following--a list of things I'd propose if I were president:

1) Require American Idol to have two competitions each season instead of one, so that the music industry creates twice as many superstars, meaning twice as many entourages, agents, personal groomers, parasitic fambly members, etc.  At one point the band ABBA was the second biggest earner in Sweden after Volvo (a guy running a fish store in Stockholm was number three).  This country could use hundreds of ABBAs!  If American Idol says "who are you to tell us our business" I'd point out that the FCC has a habit of losing people's licenses.  Shame if that were to happen to American Idol's host channels.

2) Make all the major professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL) double in size with expansion teams, or risk losing their antitrust exemptions from Congress and FCC broadcasting rights.  All those extra teams means a lot more jobs for players who otherwise wouldn't make the cut!  And these high earners also have entourages, etc. 

3) Legalize pot, license microbreweries at the federal level for fast tracking, and gambling and hookers as well.  That's got to create some jobs for someone, or at least provide enough vice for out of work Americans.

4) Let Michigan go.  It'd solve a lot of our problems.  Canada thinks they're so great, let's see how great they are with Michigan.

5) A massive public works project to bring enough dirt and rock to Florida to put a mountain range down the middle of that state.  Hear me out, this isn't as crazy as it sounds--the Floridians now have high ground during their hurricane season!  And nice views.  Plus, Kentucky won't miss all that dirt and rock.  They have plenty.

6) Massive highway tunnel connecting Stamford, Connecticut with Newark, New Jersey, so there's an express route connecting I-95 with the New Jersey Turnpike.  We can't tell the New Yorkers or they'd try to find the tunnel and put in an overpriced toll booth.

7) Allow anyone to immigrate and get full citizenship in one month if they have a job lined up in this country.  If they don't have a job we can put them on the Florida Mountain Range project, because something tells me American teenages are too busy skyping on the facebook internet to help out.

8) Tell anyone else who wants to immigrate that they can get immediate full citizenship if they kidnap and exile anyone from a list of Americans we'd rather not still have here.  This list includes: anyone on the FBI Most Wanted list, anyone within two degrees of separation of the Kardashians, and anyone who misuses the term "literally."

Friday, September 7, 2012

Conventions Takeaway

Barack Obama's big speech last night left me a bit underwhelmed, considering oratory is supposedly his strong suit--even Bill Clinton, who I consider the human equivalent of a wet eel and whose speeches always bored me, did a hell of a rousing job and made a much better case for Obama's re-election than the President did.  I can't really think of any part of Obama's speech that stuck with me, and just a few hours after watching the video cannot recall what the central argument for his re-election is.  Are things actually better, with prosperity just around the corner?  Is there a good reason to believe that the budget fights and lack of bipartisan cooperation will improve after his re-election?  Either of these would have been winning themes.  Instead, it felt like a State of the Union address, with a long list of proposals that I can't imagine would ever see the light of day.

Still, we'll see if there's any bump in the polls after the Democratic Convention, or if the heated up campaign season brings any swing in this tight race.  Today's lousy jobs numbers--a meager gain of 96,000, which is lower than the previous month--might give Mitt Romney a boost, but I think voters have their minds made up on the economy.  We're in a recovery, but it's a frustratingly slow and weak one, even more so than the frustratingly tepid recovery after 2001.  Not strong enough to give Obama a Reagan-esque re-election wipeout, or weak enough to enable Romney to defeat him as Clinton beat the elder Bush in 1992.  It's in the middle ground that makes prediction difficult.

Not that this should really reflect much on the president that presides over the recession or recovery--I'm hard pressed to understand how a GOP president would have made the economy better these past four years, or how a President Gore or Kerry would have avoided the big recession.  (Though Bush and his Congresses deserve blame for letting the budget go into deep deficit from 2001-2009 and making it harder to deal with the recession when it did occur, this isn't the same as doing something to make it happen in the first place).  It's not fair, but voters will punish or reward the incumbent based on how the country's doing, no matter whether the incumbent deserves the blame or credit.  This slow recovery makes Obama vulnerable, but not so much that he can't pull off a win.

My other takeaway is that neither candidate--Obama or Romney--is particularly ideological.  And that's a good thing--an ideologue is just a person who has an answer before he knows what the question is.  These are really two relative moderates who have to play to their party bases much like a film would have to toss in a nude scene to appeal to the cheap seats.  Hence Obama railing against "outsourcing" even though he knows full well that any serious policy to punish that practice would be far worse for the economy, and Romney talking as though he'd never agree to a revenue hike when it's pretty clear that he can bend to the wills of the electorate or the needs of the time (see, Massachusetts, Governorship of).  Both parties' attempts to paint the opposing candidate as either Karl Marx or John Galt fall flat when you take a close look at these guys.

Still, heading into November we're left with the twin problems of a weak economy and a budget crisis, both of which seem to require contradictory actions by the government.  I'm not convinced either candidate has figured out exactly what will fix these problems.

I Believe in Music, But Wonder Woman Does Not

As everyone knows, I'm a big fan of music from the early '70s, and one of my all-time favorite songs is 1972's "I Believe in Music" by Mac Davis.  Apparently Davis, a country singer and devout Christian, was upset when the godless heathen band Gallery recorded a version of the song and replaced the lyrics "God loves you when you sing" with "abort more babies and praise Satan".  But whichever recording you listen to, it's still a beautiful song. 

Then comes the wonders of YouTube.  Search under "I believe in music" and you'll see Mac Davis do a nice live version of the song on the Johnny Cash Show, a smooth Perry Como version with just audio, and a far out groovy Sonny and Cher version that for some reason gave me the reaction of wanting to vote for Nixon.  Twice!  Then I came upon this.

Yes, it's Lynda Carter, of "Wonder Woman" fame, belting out a "more '70s than polyester strangling a disco ball" version of the song, and this auditory assault has reached "so bad it's good" territory for me.  Feel free to give it a listen, and add any of the following comments on the YouTube page:

1) "I didn't knew Lynda Carter could sing.  And after hearing that, I still don't."

2) "She says she believes in music, and yet she has tried to destroy it."

3) "Hey, do you remember Lynda Carter's singing career?  Neither do I."

4) "The song starts with the line 'I could sit around making music all day long.'  I don't think it's legal for her to make terrorist threats like that."

And if that version isn't enough for you, there's always Dean Reed's version, in case you wanted to hear it sung by an American who defected to East Germany for some reason.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Do Democrats Hate God AND Israel? Let's Find Out!

I sometimes wonder whether Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Michael Steele will ever get a TV show together, where they can discuss just how piss-poorly they each did as spokemen for their respective parties.  DWS has been doing the thankless job of trying to spin a last-minute DNC platform change regarding the removal (and re-insertion) of references to "God" and to Jerusalem being Israel's capital.  This issue is of course a huge deal to absolutely no one.

There was once a time when a political party's platform actually meant something as far as the direction of that party--the best example was the 1948 civil rights plank that soon-to-be Senator Hubert Humphrey put in the Democrats' platform, leading to a walkout by Southern Democrats and Strom Thurmond's third party race against Harry Truman.  Nowadays, platforms are the usual drivel, as they by no means bind a president or any other office holders.  They just send a signal to the activist base--"this is what we stand for!"--that matters as a brief flash in the pan.  Do you recall any point during Obama's presidency that he said "I have to push this policy because I need to be consistent with our 2008 party platform"? 

And the references in question are just stupid anyway.  So what if a political party--which should be a secular entity anyway, as they're not making religious doctrine but rather trying to determine who we should bomb next and who should pay what in taxes--makes no mention of God in their platform?  Does that suddenly mean the Democrats are godless atheists?  I haven't mentioned "God" in my resume, so I hope employers don't think I despise God.  Because I really don't!

And the reference to Jerusalem?  Talk about symbolic crap anyway.  Last I checked, the Israelis have decided where their capital is.  If a major political party in Spain declared the U.S. capital to be Cleveland instead of Washington D.C., that would matter how?  We're not even talking about where Obama stands on the issue--just the Democrats.  And instead of "Jerusalem or Tel Aviv" the better question is "why is Israel so important to our nation that we have to make it a central part of every election?"  I've got nothing against Israel itself, it just seems weird that the U.S. is so deeply enmeshed in their messes.

The platform "controversy" just illustrates one central point--political conventions as they currently exist are dinosaurs.  Better to modernize them into full entertainment extravaganzas, produced to scare up good ratings and sell your party in a fun, imaginative way.  Platforms, roll call votes, and customary speeches and videos that drone on?  Skip 'em.  I'd rather see a roster of standup comedians and puppet acts.

Death of NFL Team Owner

Longtime NFL team owner Art Modell died yesterday, and while I didn't know much about him what I did know is that he brought the Cleveland Browns to Baltimore, and earned the undying hatred of hard core Cleveland football fans.  This hatred is understandable for two reasons: (1) Cleveland football fans needed their beloved Browns franchise to help them cope with the fact that they live in Cleveland, and (2) Cleveland football fans are slobbering morons. 

As a Washingtonian who can't stand Dan Snyder's racistly-named Redskins, I always liked the fact that Modell brought a team back to Baltimore so we'd have something local to root for.  It's even better that the petty mouthbreathers from the Buckeye state (which has the motto, "Go Buckeye Yourself" on its license plates--keep it classy!) insisted that the name "Browns" stayed in Cleveland, because who the hell wants to keep a name that reminds us of the most depressing of colors?  "Ravens"--the name the franchise took in Baltimore--actually means something.  A raven is a bird, a crafty bird that gets into famous poems.  A "brown" only makes sense if you're talking about hash browns, and what team would name themselves after breakfast food?  I mean, if you have to go there, at least call your team the "doughnuts." 

Eventually, the NFL let Cleveland have a new franchise, again named the Browns, because Clevelanders are too stupid to change the name because of "tradition".  Face it--"tradition" is the excuse people give when they can't come up with a rational reason for something.  No one says "I eat a balanced diet because of tradition" or "I wear a seatbelt because of tradition".  Instead, they'll say "I wear a sombrero whenever I take my drivers test because of tradition" and "I put my beer on the radiator because of tradition."  Likewise, "Browns" is just a dumb name for a stupid team for jerks.

Anyway, Modell moved his team for the same reason any team owner does anything--to make more money.  Within a few years of moving to Baltimore, his Ravens won the Super Bowl, and have had some playoff appearnces since then.  Compare that to his nearby rival, Dan Snyder, who couldn't field a decent Redskin team except eventually by accident.  I'd give Modell high marks on that score alone.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012


On the ever-increasing list of things that frost my cupcakes is the unpleasant trips to the dealership for car servicing.  (Yes, this is a minor annoyance compared to the travails of the Bangladeshi rope farmer, or worse, the Bangladeshi rope farmer trainee.  But if everything has to be compared to that guy, then no one could complain about anything)  Besides waiting to hear about whatever expensive repair you have to undergo, there's the use of the infamous "loaner."

Before you get the loaner, the first thing you learn is that any scratches or damage will be covered by you personally, so you'll be driving it a bit more on edge than you would with your own car.  If I got a small dent or scratch on my car, I'd probably live with it--all that matters is that it drives!  But who knows what a small scratch to a loaner might cost?  Perhaps some ruffian decides to give the paint job a little "key action" and write "da moon rulez number 1" on the side of the car--hilarious as that would look, it could cost a pretty penny.  So I'm never entirely at ease when I have the loaner.

Plus, it requires quickly learning about a totally new car very quickly.  I still need to get home and get to work, of course, and did I mention that the D.C. area's drivers are a conglomeration of incredibly stupid jackholes who all deserve permanent exile to northern Canada where the only things they could slam into are penguins?  (Yes, the zoos in northern Canada have many penguin exhibits.  I know they're native to Antarctica)

Sure, you can spend about five minutes getting the seat and mirrors right and figuring out how to do keyless ignition (which totally sucks, by the way.  What jerk ever said "oh I hate keys so much!  It's so hard to turn a key!  Give me a button anytime!") and some weird gearshift that's completely different from your usual car.  But then, once on the road, you realize you need to use the headlamps, or wipers, or defogger.  Oh, and look, there's barely any gas in it, we may have to put some in--which side is the gas tank on?  Didn't check before getting on the highway!

And of course, acceleration and braking are always just different enough that you're doing a bit of sudden starts and stops, and parking of course is trickier if the loaner is bigger or wider than you're used to.  Driving a loaner sucks, at first.

Then, by the next day, you have the hang of it, and actually sort of like the loaner (dealership loaners are much newer than your usual car, when your usual car is a decade old).  Just in time to find out your car is ready and you have to return it.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Democratic Convention Opens

Just in case the sheer excitement and wondrousness of the GOP Convention last week wasn't enough for you, the Democrats open today in Charlotte--known better as the Monte Carlo of central North Carolina--with their own convention.  The lineup of speakers has what you'd expect--Obama, his wife, Biden (who will probably go un-Biden and leave his ukelele at home), Julian Castro as keynoter (usually goes to an up and comer).  Then there are some others:

1) For some reason gaffe-machine Harry Reid is going to speak, and hopefully he has nothing left to say about how impressed he is with Obama's lack of "negro dialect".  The best thing that could happen for Harry is to fall asleep in middle of his speech, unless of course he is prone to talking in his sleep.

2) Debbie Wasserman-Shultz?  I only would want to watch her in a debate with Michele Bachmann so the discussion could go into full derp.  This is our Congress, my fellow Americans. 

3) Eva Longoria is speaking, which is great because up until now I was thinking the Democrats don't have enough pampered celebrities to turn off middle America.  (Although in another way Longoria "turns on" middle America, if you know what I mean!  I mean she's very attractive)  Unfortunately, I doubt she'll have anything as memorable to say as Clint Eastwood did last week.

4) Sandra Fluke is speaking?  If your claim to fame is being rudely insulted by Rush Limbaugh, then I don't really care to see you speak unless you actually have Limbaugh out there too so you can insult him right back.  If I were advising Fluke I'd suggest bringing out a chair . . .

The theme for a lot of these speakers seems to be the Democrats' claim to a "war on women" being launched by Republicans, focusing on social issues--abortion, contraception, Lilly Ledbetter Act, etc.  This keeps in line with a "base" election, aiming for strong turnout among the Left and widening the gender gap is a big part of that.  While this might work (as a "base" strategy worked for Bush in 2004) it's also likely to produce a narrow margin victory and ensure that the constructive and civil atmosphere of Washington for the past several years will continue for another four. 

The thing is, for the "persuadable" voters who are sour on Obama, the main issue is the economy--the 8.3% unemployment figure (and higher when other measurements, such as underemployment) looms large almost five years after the start of the Recession, and low house prices and high gas prices give the GOP an opening this fall.  If Obama wants to break this wide open--by which I mean match his 2008 performance--he's got to convince those voters of the following: (a) four years ago the economy was in free-fall crisis and people had reason to believe the banks would all collapse; (b) the economy has improved a great deal since then, and while it is still sluggish we're adding jobs steadily; (c) Obama has been open to long-term debt reduction using everything across the board, but the GOP is absolutely unwilling to increase revenue in any way whatsoever and will scuttle any deal that includes that. 

If I were Obama's strategist, that's the drumbeat I'd be hitting, as the Left base is already going to turn out big time, and the GOP (cough cough, Todd Akin, Rick Santorum) are giving the Democratic base all the prodding they need.  Of course, I'm no high paid strategist so my advice and a nickel wouldn't get you a Hershey bar.

Willie Dynamite!

Last night's film was 1974's "Willie Dynamite", which may be the only time viewers will be treated to the spectacle of the titular mean, badass street pimp being portrayed by "Sesame Street" regular Gordon (the bald black guy with the beard).  I have to say that this film was actually pretty terrific.

Willie Dynamite is a top notch pimp, by his own admission and by that of his harem of hookers--he runs his operation out of Manhattan's "finest hotel" that appears to be a Days Inn.  But that's okay, his hookers aren't much to look at either and I found it a bit shocking that the swarms of Shriners and Japanese businessmen keep paying them.  Perhaps they're paying the hookers to leave quietly and not disrupt their Silent Majority Convention?  These hookers clearly are not at the level of Jane Fonda in "Klute", who might be enough to make any man violate his "no time travelling to 1971 to sleep with fictional hookers" rule.  But Willie Dynamite's hookers are all the more impressive because despite their frightening appearance they seem to make him a lot of money. 

During a meeting with his fellow pimps, who are arguing in favor of forming a sort of cartel to back one another up in the face of the police and split up territories around the city in which to do business, Willie Dynamite gives an eloquent defense of free enterprise and capitalism, and for a moment I thought I was still watching last week's Republican Convention.  (If Willie Dynamite just said "I built that!" I might have choked on my soda)  He balks at the deal, so we know he's going to have trouble with the other pimps later.

(Here I should mention that the pimps would have a lot less trouble with the police if they didn't dress like such obvious pimps.  The loud colors, floppy hats and canes, the garish fur--they might as well wear "Arrest Me" signs.  Why not a nice pair of khakis and a golf shirt?)

Then of course Willie ends up getting harassed and run in by some cops, and his money frozen at his bank by the IRS.  Two things--first, we learn in the courtroom that his actual name is "Willie Dynamite", so he either had it legally changed or was born to Mr. and Mrs. Dynamite; and second, do pimps really keep their money in banks?  Do banks have special "pimp" accounts?  On top of his other misfortunes, a hooker version of Norma Rae tries to unionize his ladies!  She even calls herself the "Ralph Nader of hookers" which is interesting because I thought Ralph Nader was the "Ralph Nader of hookers."  I guess this means that this agitator-prostitute plans to become irrelevant in a couple decades, and then run as a third party candidate and put George W Bush in the White House.

Where the film really shines is that unlike other "pimp" films of the era, "Willie Dynamite" does a good job showing the antihero down on his luck and falling apart, and though he gains humanity as the film develops he is also shown as a ruthless and oppressive lout.  Still, if I were the director I would have put in a scene where Willie Dynamite has a conversation with Oscar the Grouch and Big Bird while figuring out what to do with his hookers.