Jaw-Dropping Clickbait

WillieEver since content aggregators on the web began delivering links to original news reported and written by professional outlets for free, journalists and publishers have wrung their hands over the dim future of traditional newspapers. Subscribers have cancelled out, local newspapers have contracted or folded up, weekly news magazines are relics. Everyone expects to read news on the web for free, and despite the obvious problem that absent some form of payment quality content cannot be developed, the readers have largely rejected every attempt to extract money from them. Thank god for clickbait.

“Clickbait” is the perfect term for those ubiquitous ads masquerading as must-read-right-now shocking revelations about celebrities, medications, dogs and cats, secret government programs, little-known looming disasters, anything. A typical clickbait come-on might look like this: “15 things you didn’t know about Elton John’s urologist! #7 will freak you out!”

Because so many news aggregators and fluff peddlers like Yahoo, Gawker, Daily Caller, TMZ and even serious outlets like Fortune rely on by-the-click-fees paid by the advertisers behind clickbait, they are practically impossible to ignore. For awhile, the common clickbait seduction centered around the “one weird trick” phenomenon. “65 year-old shlub loses 25 lbs in 3 days using this one weird trick! Woman buys groceries for 27 cents a week using this one weird trick! Pay off your mortgage in 60 days using this one weird trick!” Eventually, the “one weird trick” trope ran its course and was largely withdrawn from the headline writer’s arsenal.

Lately I’ve noticed that “jaw dropping” has become the tease line on much clickbait. Apparently the thought is that resistance is futile when the subject matter is so astounding that all you can do is stare at it like a slack-jawed nitwit. In reality, based on the several times I checked, most of the material linked to from clickbait is run-of-the-mill stuff, neither shocking nor even obscure. But like the “wet paint” sign that compels people to touch the shiny object, clickbait must work. After all, how can you resist finding out what Marcia Brady looks like now?

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Above the Fold: RIP Prince

The multi-talented Prince who died this week at the untimely age of 57 received the ultimate honor in death: an above-the-fold obituary with a photograph on the front page of the New York Times. I was a bit surprised, not because he doesn’t deserve it, but because David Bowie, who was at least if not a more influential artist than Prince, got a front page obit below the fold. I suppose the placement decision is a combination of the importance of competing news on the day of publication, how close to the deadline the subject succumbed, and the whim of the editors.

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A few years ago I wrote a blog with dozens of predictions of “above the fold” candidates; I had Bowie penciled in as a long-shot – I guess I was right. Then again, I didn’t have Prince on my list – but maybe I thought he was immortal.

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Architect’s Rendition: A New Screenplay by Herb Schultz

NEW YORK, NY, USA - JUNE 9: Aerial view of Flat Iron building, b

EXT. FLATIRON BUILDING – NIGHT
Gerald and Wren look up at the building.

WREN
I just love the detail.

GERALD
Yeah. Daniel Burnham went a little overboard on the dentils and pilasters and those things at the top that look like cartouche. Pretty much the opposite of what my firm designs. Still, it’s a marvelous structure.
(beat)
It’s like a mighty plow in one of those Depression-Era WPA murals, furrowing Manhattan into Broadway and Fifth Avenue.

WREN
I never thought of it that way.

GERALD
It’s more apparent from my office. Would you like to take a look?

WREN
Love to.

Architect’s Rendition Synopsis

“Determined to marry his mistress, an architect enlists three associates in a complex scheme to murder his wife, and each other.”

Set in Manhattan in the early 2000s, the action opens with a series of shots of some of New York City’s finest architectural gems: Guggenheim Museum, Seagram Building, Lever House, Whitney Museum, TWA terminal, Standard Hotel, New Museum, Hearst Building, IAC Building, Plaza Hotel, The Oculus, Chrysler Building, The United Nations Building. The final shot is of the Flatiron Building illuminated at dusk in the manner of Edward Steichen’s famous photograph. From there the action moves across Madison Square Park toward an office high-rise a couple blocks away inside which forty-something Gerald Pfalzgraf works at his desk. Gerald is the handsome, well-dressed proprietor of a high-end boutique architecture firm catering to wealthy clients in the market for sleek homes with bold lines.

Disgusted after discovering one of the architects in his high-end boutique firm in Manhattan has downloaded illegal pornography, Gerald walks the street in contemplation of how he might exploit his compromised employee, Oscar. Gerald happens upon a domestic argument and witnesses a physical altercation between a young woman, Wren and her brutish ex-boyfriend, Sinisa. Smitten with Wren from the moment she took a shot to the jaw, Gerald follows Wren at a distance until she ducks into the bar where she works. Gerald resolves to find out more about her.

With time, Gerald, a handsome man in his mid-forties develops a romantic relationship with Wren, a real beauty half his age with smooth alabaster skin and shoulder-length golden hair. Gerald knows Wren is the one for him, but his pursuit of happiness is impeded by a rocky 20-year marriage to a wealthy, manipulative woman, Morcilla. She rarely passes up an opportunity to remind Gerald that it is her largesse and influence that helped him build and grow his architecture firm, Pfalzgraf Associates. And of late, Morcilla has signaled a growing disinterest in offering further support for her husband and his business interests. If only Gerald could move Morcilla aside and confiscate her wealth.

At the bank to secure financing for office expansion, Gerald spots Tom, an old school chum whose highway construction firm is in financial trouble. Gerald recalls that Tom had been a sharpshooter in the Army. He offers to help Tom who mistakenly presumes Pfalzgraf Associates requires some form of construction service.

Wren informs Gerald that Sinisa has stepped up his abusive harassment, convincing Gerald that the ex-boyfriend poses one more impediment to his happiness. After he concludes Sinisa must also be moved aside, Gerald architects a complex enterprise of mayhem. Guided by Machiavelli, his childhood hero, Gerald wields the tools of deception, manipulation and opportunism; he knows that men who seek to deceive will always find someone who will allow himself to be deceived.

Gerald coerces sharpshooter Tom to shoot Morcilla from afar in what would appear to be a random act of violence in the manner of the famous DC sniper. Holding the threat of incarceration over Oscar’s head, Gerald manipulates his employee to push Tom into the path of an oncoming subway train. Under the guise of a fixer for a client, Gerald meets Sinisa at a casino where he hires him to kill Oscar and stage it to look like suicide. In the briefcase containing Sinisa’s payoff, Gerald includes a complimentary bag of cocaine laced with poisonous ricin, knowing Sinisa cannot resist snorting the contents post haste. Within hours of dispatching Oscar, a choking Sinisa stumbles from his apartment to seek medical attention. Instead, he tumbles down a flight of stairs, suffering a mortal blow to the head at the bottom.

While convening with a big-time client far from Manhattan, Gerald learns that Morcilla has been killed, and that a deranged hillbilly has taken credit for shooting her. This unexpected turn of events is more than Gerald could hope for. By the time Gerald returns home, his plan has been flawlessly executed. But when Wren finds a casino chip in Gerald’s suit pocket, she begins to suspect Gerald may be connected to the sudden deaths of both his wife and Wren’s tormentor. Gerald convinces Wren he knows nothing.

Gerald and Wren get married. After a long honeymoon they return to Manhattan to take up residence in the luxury Fifth Avenue apartment formerly occupied by Gerald and Morcilla. All is well – until the district attorney informs Gerald that the hillbilly who confessed to the killing has recanted. And with new evidence in hand they intend to re-open the investigation of the sniper shooting. Where it may lead, nobody knows.

As his new, young wife admires the view of Central Park from the balcony, Gerald drinks a cocktail and considers his next move.

Read the screenplay.

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NC Rednecks Legislate Doody Time

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Strangely, this is still legal in North Carolina

The State of North Carolina has taken a serious beating in the past week or so following the signing of a Neanderthal law that prohibits localities to enact their own anti-discrimination laws, as well as makes it a crime to enter a bathroom if the gender on your birth certificate does not match the male or female icon on the door. North Carolina is a fairly diverse state with pockets of forward-thinking Americans in places like Charlotte, Chapel Hill, and the Research Triangle Park area that are surrounded by inbred relatives of the Clampetts and Bodines. Following the path taken by such enlightened states as Indiana and Mississippi, the timid governor of NC, Pat McCrory inked House Bill 2 under pressure not to appear too focused on actual problems facing his state.

Reaction from businesses was swift. PayPal announced a moratorium on building out a facility in Charlotte that would have employed hundreds. Deutsche Bank said it will halt plans to add 250 jobs in North Carolina because of the law. The NBA may relocate their 2017 All Star Game. Already the smell of political fear is wafting in the air, as McCrory tries to make the case he wants some softening of the terms. But much damage has already been done. And NC’s reputation has fallen behind those of Georgia and Louisiana whose governors quashed attempts to enact similarly foolish bans.

But I ask all men out there on the highways and byways of North Carolina. If any of the people below who were born male entered the Men’s Room, what would you do?

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Gwyneth Paltrow Adds to the Celebrity Cookbook Glut

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Frequent readers know that we at Major Terata loathe the celebrity recipe book segment (just read our motto). These fatuous and largely derivative products crowd out limited space in bookstores that could be better stocked with works by struggling authors. After all, who really needs yet another goddamned cookbook – especially one that includes recipes for such exotic dishes as breakfast crepes, avocado toast, chicken piccata, and fried egg sandwich (honest to god, see page 9 of Gwyneth Paltrow’s new book, “It’s All Easy: Delicious Weekday Recipes for the Super-Busy Home Cook”).

Gwyneth explains her motivations: “When I sat down to start this book, I had been polling my friends and colleagues on what sort of cookbook they were looking for. These friends all seemed to have a common culinary yearning. They wanted a collection of recipes that they could prepare easily.” I would say her friends all seemed to have a common malady as well – an extreme lack of curiosity in trying to locate one of the 10,000 cookbooks already published that offer easy recipes.

Naturally, Gwyneth doesn’t undertake such a challenging project alone; she collaborates with Thea Baumann who no doubt was assigned the grunty work of conjuring up the details of the recipes. For that, she gets her name on the cover in type that is about one-tenth the size of Gwyneth’s name.

A reviewer on Amazon wrote, “I noticed that by page 24, there were 8 photos of Gwyneth; by page 56, there were 15, by page 91, there were 21 and all in all, there are about 40 of her in this cookbook if you count the front cover. If this were really about food, why does it appear more to be a lifestyle photo-essay about Gwyneth Paltrow, her home, her kids, her tastes and her aesthetics?”

The answer: it’s a vanity project for the rich and famous. The reviewer goes on, revealing her true genius: “Maybe that’s why many of us will buy her latest book – to see and emulate her style.”

End Note: Fuck You Mozilla!

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If it’s not allowing zombie scripts to run amok, chewing up your computer’s cycles, then Mozilla’s Firefox succumbs to faulty plug-in containers that crash the feeble browser. Give me back my Netscape!

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Norman Agonistes

Norman96Thirty years ago this week at Augusta National Golf Club, Jack Nicklaus pulled off an improbable upset over several top professional golfers to win his sixth Masters tournament and his record 18th major tournament at the “advanced” age of 46. Written off at the time as being over-the-hill, Nicklaus was viewed as one of the several emeritus Masters winners who are allowed to play in the tournament by virtue of a lifelong exemption. It wasn’t until the 9th hole on the last day of the tournament when Nicklaus started to bomb birdie putts on his way to a back nine of 30 that the gallery and whispering commentators took notice of the Golden Bear’s surge. This week the Golf Channel broadcast a nice, succinct reflection on what might be the most exciting and famous professional golf contests of all time.

For those who know a little about golf, it is understood that players compete against each other, but unlike in other sports, they have no direct influence on the performance of those challenging for the title. Nicklaus’s victory obviously depended on his superb play, but equally important was the faltering of top players who had been in much better contention: Seve Ballesteros, Tom Kite, and especially Greg Norman.

While focusing on Nicklaus’s unlikely march to the Green Jacket, the Golf Channel feature called ’86 served to remind viewers once again of Norman’s cruel fate in golf’s major tournaments. In this particular episode, Norman was just as amazing as Nicklaus coming down the stretch.

After apparently falling out of contention with a double bogey on 10, Norman made a remarkable string of birdies at 14, 15 and 16. And on 17, Norman managed to thread the ball through two closely situated pine trees to within 8 feet. He sunk the putt and was now suddenly tied with Nicklaus who had already finished and was nervously sweating it out in Jones Cabin. Norman struck a perfect drive on 18 – all he had to do was land the ball on the green. A birdie would bring a win, a two-putt would tie. Instead, Norman flew the ball into the gallery in what had to be, pound for pound, the worst shot of the tournament. He flopped the ball close, but failed to make the par, leaving Jack Nicklaus to stroll out of the cabin to pick up his sixth Green Jacket.

Painful, but that’s Norman’s M.O. Whether through untimely gaffes or cruel run-ins with Madame Fate, Norman has managed to lose so many major tournaments that rightfully belonged to him. Eight times the man has come in second in a Major tournament. Here is a summary of some of the more painful exhibitions.

Masters 1996

In what is considered by many to be the biggest collapse in the history of golf, Greg Norman blew a 54-hole lead of five strokes ahead of the next contender, Nick Faldo. Norman started the final round at 13 under par and was considered by everyone to be on his way to redemption after failures in 1986 and 1987 (see below). Instead, the wheels fell off Norman’s game. He posted a horrifying 79 to Faldo’s spotless 67. Norman hooked tee shots, lipped out putts, threw shots into the water – he almost missed coming in second, for god’s sake. Norman’s golf-pro buddy Nick Price was quoted as saying, “I can’t stand to watch” as he headed for his car. That was an understatement. It was like watching a train wreck – painful and fascinating at the same time.

Masters 1987

Exactly one year after throwing away a chance to snatch a Green Jacket from Jack Nicklaus by pushing the ball into the gallery on the 72nd hole of the contest, Norman suffered another mortal stab to the heart. Norman could have won outright on the 72nd hole had he made a 20 foot birdie putt, but that didn’t come to pass, forcing a three-way tie and a sudden death playoff with Seve Ballesteros and Larry Mize. After the first hole of sudden death, Ballesteros was out, leaving just Norman and the underdog Mize to duke it out. On the second hole, Norman watched as Mize hit his approach shot well right of the green. In response Norman hit a conservative shot that landed on the fringe, well within range for a two putt par. The 110 foot shot Mize faced was ominous – just keeping his pitch shot on the sloping green would be a challenge. But we’re talking about Greg Norman, and his eerie aura that seems to draw in misfortune. Sure enough, Mize holed out to deny Norman the Green Jacket he never got to put on in his career.

1984 U.S. Open

Once again, we go to the final hole of regulation in a Major tournament. Norman is tied for the lead, this time with now-disgraced Fuzzy Zoeller who is playing behind him in the final two-some. And once again, Norman flies his approach shot off course into the grandstand. He gets a free drop but the ball takes up a dicey lie in Winged Foot’s notorious rough. Norman skulls the ball across the green leaving him a lengthy 40 footer for par – which he makes! – forcing a tie with Zoeller. Under U.S. Open rules, the two must play an entire 18 hole round the next day to choose a winner – and Zoeller cleans Norman’s clock by eight effing strokes. Imagine if Norman for once could just stick the ball close when it mattered.

1989 British Open

At Royal Troon, Norman started the final round seven shots behind leader Wayne Grady, and proceeded to shoot a course-record 64 to get into a tie with Grady and Mark Calcavecchia. The rules this time called for a four-hole playoff – best score wins (if still tied, they start sudden death.) After the first three holes of playoff, Calcavecchia had carded two pars and a birdie; Norman had two birdies and a par. That means that after 20 holes of golf that day, Norman was 10 under. Then we come to the final hole of the playoff– and guess what? Norman hits out of a bunker, over the green, and out of bounds. Out of the running, Norman picked up and carded a DNF.

1986 PGA Championship

Heartache once more for poor Greg Norman, this time at Inverness Club in Ohio. Norman started the final round with a four shot lead and kept it up through the first nine holes, then trouble. A double bogey at 11 and a bogey at 14 and Norman was tied with Bob Tway. The two co-leaders remained tied until the final hole when Norman hit an approach shot to 25 feet just off the green, and Tway plopped his shot into a green-side bunker. Advantage Norman? Have you not been paying attention? Once more, the Satanic ripples that surround Norman on final holes of Major tournaments increased in strength. Tway holed his bunker shot for a birdie, putting pressure on Norman to make his putt from the fringe. He didn’t. (Sidebar: Norman led all four majors in 1986 after the third round, but won only the British Open. )

1993 PGA Championship

Back again at Inverness, Norman was the leader coming into the final round just a stroke ahead of Paul Azinger. Azinger got hot though and shot a course record 30 on the back nine to tie Norman at the end of regulation play – familiar territory for Greg. Off to appropriately-named sudden death. Norman and Azinger tied the first hole, but on the second hole Norman needed to make a four foot putt to extend the contest. He lipped it out, of course, by order of Satan himself.

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This Week in Unintended Consequences

manintreeNo word modifies “consequences” quite like “unintended.” When a strategy is comprehensive and the associated plan is executed well, people talk about results and outcomes. If people are talking about consequences, then they’re probably unintended.

Government Proves Apple is Mortal

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After the heinous terrorist attack in San Bernardino last December perpetrated by deluded jihadis Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik, the FBI came into possession of an Apple iPhone that had been issued to Farook, an employee of San Bernadino County. The FBI had good reason to believe valuable information useful for tracking co-conspirators and unraveling future plots might reside on the iPhone. As Apple had devised a supposedly foolproof security feature defending access to the iPhone, the FBI sought Apple’s assistance in cracking open the phone, fearing the stored data might be permanently lost if a clumsy attempt to unlock the phone backfired.

Apple has long touted both its commitment to privacy and its prowess in encryption technology, and in the spirit of preserving its brand image, refused to help the FBI. Apple execs believed that by helping the FBI crack into an iPhone, they would tarnish their reputation as a strident advocate for personal privacy, and raise skepticism among their loyal customers – no matter that data on the iPhone in question could very likely thwart a future attack. To many Americans sick and tired of mindless jihadi outrages, Apple’s position seemed obtuse but still within the realm of being defensible. After all, intelligence agencies of the U.S. government have had a colored history of toying with peoples’ privacy and lying about the depth of their intrusions – just ask Martin Luther King, Jr.

Finally, without the assistance of Apple the FBI managed to crack into Farook’s iPhone. Suddenly, Apple execs were keenly interested to know how such a thing could have been accomplished. The vaunted Apple security regimen had fallen to the hacking of mere second-class technicians.

Apple requested the FBI share the hack with them – but don’t be surprised if the FBI says, in diplomatic euphemisms of course, “fuck you.” After all, now that the FBI knows how to get into an iPhone, it’s not about to give Apple clues on how to close the backdoor. If another wacko jihadist were to commit a terrorist act tomorrow and left behind an iPhone, the FBI will be poised to use the hack to peer inside.

The unintended consequence
: Apple’s hifalutin attempt to preserve its image as a protector of privacy and an innovator in cryptology forced an FBI known for bumbling to go another route, and in doing so proved Apple was far less a protector and innovator than people had given them credit for.

Oklahomans Frack Themselves

In many corners of the United States – North Dakota, Pennsylvania and Oklahoma in particular – hydraulic fracturing (aka. fracking) has been lauded as nothing less than a salvation handed down by God: a boon for jobs and a technologically advanced way to extract domestic oil and gas, thus allowing Americans, after 40 years, to finally shove a derrick up OPEC’s ass.

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The unintended consequence: Oklahoma now rivals California as the earthquake capital of North America. According to findings in a U.S. Geological Survey report, “Along with the economic boom from oil and gas exploration, Oklahoma has experienced a rising number of earthquakes. In an average year, Oklahoma has historically had fewer than two quakes of magnitude 3 or greater — roughly the level at which a tremor can be felt. But last year, Oklahoma recorded 907 quakes at magnitude 3 and above.” As Jerry Lee Lewis once said, there’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on!

It should be fun to watch Oklahoma’s Cro-Magnon Senator James Inhofe who calls global climate change a hoax twist himself into a pretzel when begging for Federal aid to repair human-caused damage to Mother Nature.

Trump Accidentally Exposes the Anti-Abortionists

Anti-abortion groups have always maintained that life begins at conception, and that a divided cell is logically a human being deserving of all rights guaranteed in the Constitution – including the right not to be killed. Naturally, that would mean abortion equals murder. Since Roe v Wade legalized abortion in the early 1970s, the anti groups have pushed to criminalize abortion – but surprisingly, they’ve largely skirted the obvious question of who should be punished and what that punishment should be. When pressed, they’ll say the person performing the abortion is the culprit. And that would make sense. But the pregnant woman? She’s just a clueless victim of the “system,” incapable of understanding the motivations which have driven her to pursue abortion. Her victimhood alone exonerates her.

Enter Donald Trump. In an interview on MSNBC the other day, Trump accidentally broke from anti-abortion dogma and suggested the woman seeking an abortion (which would be illegal under a Trump regime) should bear some responsibility, and endure some form of punishment. Later, Trump’s team revised their boss’s statement by a full 180 degrees, but the damage was done.

The unintended consequence: The leading presidential candidate for the Republican nomination – a position that for decades has included obeisance to the anti-abortion league – floated an opinion at serious odds with the established trope. And in doing so, he drew unwanted attention to the quandary the anti-abortion groups have faced from the beginning – to wit, the impracticality of their positions should Roe v Wade ever go down in flames.

Try as he Might, Obama Just Can’t Kill Jobs

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Despite Obama’s attempts to kill jobs through stifling regulations and cockamamie government programs, the economy just won’t listen. Conservatives have been predicting since 2008 that everything Obama touches will turn to shit. Every action he takes is preceded by the words “job killing.” Job killing taxes, job killing regulations, job-killing Obamacare.

The unintended consequence
: The 215,000 jump in payrolls in March reported by the Labor Department on Friday capped the best two-year period for hiring since the late 1990s, while the proportion of Americans in the labor force hit a two-year high.

Taylor Swift Falls Flat

In a new ad for Apple Music, Taylor Swift is shown rapping while running hands-free on a treadmill. The camera pulls back to show a full body shot of the Grammy-winning singer in full stride. Then… she falls flat on her face onto the conveyor belt and is swiftly kicked off the machine. CUT!

The unintended consequence: Apple uses the “funny” fail footage, and the ad becomes a social media sensation – viewed more than seven million times on YouTube.

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RIP George Kennedy

georgekennedycoolhandlukeBurly George Kennedy, winner of the 1968 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in the always-fresh “Cool Hand Luke,” died the other day at age 91. Kennedy was one of those rare supporting character actors whose both face and name were instantly recognizable, even when not accompanying each other. If you caught a snippet of “The Dirty Dozen” or “The Eiger Sanction” when Kennedy was on screen, you instantly recognized the face and recalled the man’s name.

Kennedy started in motion pictures in 1960 with an uncredited part in “Spartacus” and soon began to bang out three, four, sometimes five movies a year. And many were damn entertaining: “Charade” with Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn and James Coburn; “Thunderbolt and Lightfoot” with Clint Eastwood and Jeff Bridges; and of course, “Cool Hand Luke” opposite Paul Newman. His portrayal of Dragline, a prisoner on a chain gang in the deep South served as the encouraging force behind Newman’s character Luke who has a powerful wanderlust and inventive capacity for escaping incarceration. That same year he put his heart and soul into the Dragline character (winning an Oscar), the indefatigable Kennedy performed in three other films.

It’s probably safe to say George Kennedy’s career moved in a new direction after he starred in the first of many disaster films to hit the cinemas in the 1970s: “Airport.” (Sidebar: Kennedy also appeared in the ridiculous “Earthquake” – although no more ridiculous than 2015′s “San Andreas.”) Despite its many flaws, “Airport” was a decent nail-biter, and it established the disaster genre. And “Airport” went on to become a franchise in its own right. Kennedy played rough-hewn Joe Patroni in every incarnation of the “Airport” saga, starting in the original 1970 film as a ballsy supervisor of runway maintenance workers. By the time the final episode, “The Concorde – Airport ’79”, screened, Patroni had been promoted to pilot of the supersonic Concorde. Whoever steered Joe Patroni’s career should be in the Mentor Hall of Fame.

Eventually, the disaster movie industry ran its course and jumped the shark – probably no more egregiously than in “Airport ‘79” when the Concorde is being chased by fighter jets. Patroni executes a barrel roll (!) to evade missile fire, and then steers the sleek aircraft into a backflip. The best part: Patroni actually rolls down the window in the cockpit (is that even possible, and what’s it like to hang your arm out the window going a few hundred MPH?) and fires a flare to confuse heat seeking missiles. Forget that the engines of a Concorde flying at Mach 1 are probably 1,000 times hotter than a flare – the heat seekers leave the scene to chase the decoy.

Watch the foolishness in all its glory.

The Zucker brothers took comedic inspiration from the progressively outlandish “Airport” franchise and produced the popular and hilarious spoof, “Airplane.” “Airplane” revived careers for many of George Kennedy’s peers: Lloyd Bridges, Leslie Nielsen, Robert Stack and Peter Graves. Each of these fine film actors found new careers playing parodies of themselves – and Kennedy soon followed suit in “The Naked Gun” series as Capt. Ed Hocken. The last episode, “Naked Gun 33⅓: The Final Insult” came out twenty years ago, and after that George Kennedy finally began to slow down – although he continued to act in film and TV off and on right up to 2014.

I remember watching “Cool Hand Luke” in high-school – sort of a holiday treat for us overworked prep boys – and absolutely loving the car-wash scene featuring the whole chain gang. The maniacally horny Dragline is the best – slobbering over himself while the buxom blonde gets soaked in suds.

Enjoy it again. RIP George Kennedy.

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The Logic Behind the Trexit

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You’ve heard of the Grexit: Greece’s exit from the EuroZone.

You’ve read about the Brexit: Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Now, allow Major Terata to introduce the Trexit: Trump’s exit from the GOP presidential nominating race.

Last summer, I predicted Trump would not be in the race by the following summer. His staying-power and primary contest successes since then would seem to dash that prediction, but I’m sticking to it. And here’s why.

First, Trump’s entry into the contest along with more than a dozen others was purely a ploy to elevate his brand, and draw renewed attention to his name – which is, after all, his core business. No longer a real-estate developer, Donald Trump draws almost all his income from licensing the Trump name to practically any commodity that its producer wants to associate with luxury. (My personal feeling is that the “Trump” name implies obnoxious garishness more so than the beautiful trappings of an elite life-style, but I’m probably not the target audience for stuff plastered with his logo.) And as any brand manager can tell you, preservation of the brand is paramount. Products come and go, but a brand must endure for the company to survive over the long term. That means careful stewardship to maintain its meaning, protect it from being tarnished, and keep it vital.

More than once, Trump publicly floated the idea of running for office – governor of New York in 2006 and 2014, and president on the Reform Party ticket in 2000 – and although he never jumped in, he timed the activity to coincide with projects (books, reality TV) designed to buff the Trump brand. Most likely, Trump examined the dozen or so misfits who had tossed their hats into the GOP ring last summer and concluded he could dominate the scene for a while, and polish up the “Trump” brand in the process. I suspect he presumed that the establishment Republicans would lavish huge sums on preferred candidates (which they did), and someone like Jeb Bush or Scott Walker would ascend. Trump would then declare that the party was a fucking mess undeserving of his brilliance, and drop out.

Consider his almost-candidacy for president in 2000 on the Reform Party ticket. Even though Trump boasted, “if I ran and spent a lot of money I could actually win, I could beat that Democrat-Republican apparatus,” he eventually shit-canned the idea, complaining, “the Reform Party is a total mess! You have Buchanan, a right winger, and you have Fulani, a Communist, and they have merged…. I don’t know what you have!” In 2014, in advance of the governor’s race in New York, Trump pulled away, again slamming the party. “I have clearly stated that if the New York State Republican Party is able to unify, I would run for Governor and win. They can’t unify – SAD!”

So, I conclude that Trump would have done the same thing this time – use the media coverage of his vanity campaign to buff the “Trump” brand, then when others pulled ahead, he would drop out in a huff, blaming the establishment idiots for not appreciating him.

But in a bizarre twist, Trump has maintained his lead and vaulted into position to take the nomination. No matter what asinine things the man says, no matter how vaporous his “policies” are, a certain non-negligible slice of the electorate loves his shtick and continues to propel him and his ego.

Still, I predict he will drop out – for the simple reason that he doesn’t actually want to be the President of the United States. It’s too hard and involves way too many responsibilities for Donald Trump to divert from his country-club life-style. Put aside the bluster. Can you really see Trump running stultifying cabinet meetings, and parrying with moronic congressmen, and simultaneously balancing 100 foreign policy disasters, and facing realities that he ignored on the campaign trail – like actually building a wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean? No, Donald Trump just wants to prove he could be president, not actually take the job.

So how does he get out? Of course, he’ll rely on the old tried-and-true method of trashing the party for incompetence. And the GOP will hand him this excuse on a silver platter in a month or so when talk ratchets up about overturning the primary results at the convention. The establishment hates Trump so badly that, if necessary, they’ll go nuclear at the convention and force delegates to switch.

But Trump will also pull a Howard Stern and claim that the demand to see his detailed tax returns is a deal-killer. Howard Stern once ran for Governor of New York but dropped out when forced to expose details of his wealth. Trump will do likewise. He’ll deny wrong-doing, or shiftiness. Rather, Donald Trump will maintain that publishing his tax documents for all to see would be to reveal business trade secrets and give competition an unfair advantage. His genius-level business acumen would be compromised, and Trump, Inc. can’t allow that.

Hey, Trump would have won. He would have made America great again. But they just wouldn’t let him do it.

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For Best Film … the Dictionary, Please

dictionaryEight films have been nominated for Best Picture at this year’s 88th Academy Awards. A top contender to take the Oscar this coming Sunday is The Revenant, an adventure tale that takes place in the badlands of the Dakotas in 1823. Great film, but I wonder how many people who first saw trailers and advertisements for it knew what the hell a “revenant” is.

Screenwriting guidebooks often encourage writers to give their scripts a title that is both catchy and indicative of the movie’s overall mood or theme. According to the experts, the title together with a pithy, descriptive tag line should convey at first glance what the movie is about. One movie held up as a good example has the following log line: “When a blonde sorority queen is dumped by her boyfriend, she decides to follow him to law school to get him back and, once there, learns she has more legal savvy than she ever imagined.” The title: “Legally Blonde.” I suppose these titles also meet the good title standard: “Cowboys and Aliens,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Titanic.”

On the other hand, it could be argued that many of the best films ever made have titles that provide no clue whatsoever as to the plot, theme, genre, or anything else: “Dr. Strangelove,” “A Clockwork Orange,” “The Hurt Locker,” “Zero Dark Thirty,” “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” “The Cider House Rules.” And if you hadn’t read the book would you know what these movies were about: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “A Streetcar Named Desire,” “To Kill a Mockingbird”? If you had never heard of Erin Brockovich, what would you think the movie “Erin Brockovich” was about?

What I’m most often curious about when it comes to movie titles is why filmmakers would choose words that are rarely, if ever, heard or spoken, and whose definitions are widely unknown. Consider these (answers at bottom):

1) Road to Perdition – A 1930s mob thriller starring Tom Hanks, Paul Newman and Daniel Craig.
Perdition is:
a. Another name for purgatory
b. A state of eternal damnation where a sinful and impenitent person passes after death
c. A fictional town in Illinois
d. Forgiveness for committing a heinous act

2) The Revenant – Nominated for Oscar gold this year, starring Leonardo DeCaprio.
A Revenant is:
a. A holy man
b. A clairvoyant person
c. A man bent on revenge
d. A person who has returned, possibly from the dead.

3) Synecdoche, New York – The oft confusing film starring Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a theatre director who struggles with his work, and women, as he creates a life-size replica of New York City inside a warehouse as part of his new play
Synecdoche is:
a. A literary device in which a part of something represents the whole
b. A misspelling of Schenectady, NY
c. The name of a fictitious playhouse
d. A word used to describe another thing is closely linked to that particular thing

4) Krampus – The tag line would give it away, so perhaps the odd name doesn’t matter.
Krampus is:
a. A mythical creature from the depths of the ocean
b. A disease caught by passing contact with a zombie
c. A horned figure who punishes bad children on Christmas
d. The name of the creepy neighbor who torments the lead character

5) Harbinger Down – A low-budget movie.
Harbinger is:
a. The name of a boat in the movie
b. A person or thing that announces or signals the approach of another
c. Someone who overeats when depressed
d. A weather phenomenon that causes rapid lowering of temperature in a narrow column of the atmosphere

6) Bartleby the Scrivener – Low budget movie based on the Herman Melville story, later remade and titled simply “Bartleby,” presumably because too few people know what a scrivener is.
A scrivener is:
a. A professional or public copyist
b. A carver of whale bone
c. A miser
d. A hoarder of tiny objects

7) Koyaanisqatsi – A 1982 experimental film with music by Philip Glass.
Koyaanisqatsi is:
a. A revered demi-god of the Hopi Indians
b. A Hopi Indian word for “life out of balance”
c. A lost city in the American Southwest
d. A disease that almost wiped out the Hopi Indian tribe

Cruz Fires His Geppetto

bullshit

Ted Cruz has taken a beating from Donald Trump for his alleged prevarications on the campaign trail. In a recent televised debate Trump called Cruz “the single biggest liar,” and he continues to broadcast the message that Cruz can’t be trusted (despite the tagline “TrusTed” that Cruz humps with him to every appearance.)

Such angry mudslinging should be expected in today’s political environment, and I suppose many observers would consider calling an opponent a “liar” as just another sound-bite ginned up for repurpose by the cable news outlets.

In the case of Cruz, though, I’m afraid Trump is on to something. In the whirlwind that is a modern presidential campaign, anyone can make a mistake and claim something is true when it’s not. But for Cruz and team, battering opponents with falsehoods seems to be the policy. Cruz’s campaign sent emails out in Iowa falsely claiming Ben Carson was dropping out, and that rather than waste a ballot on the good doctor, voters should instead vote for Cruz. And again in South Carolina, Cruz’s apparatchiks tried to influence voters by claiming Trump was polling worse than expected; Trump went on to win all the delegates there. Each time Cruz is caught, he pleads ignorance and apologizes after the damage has been done. And people move on.

But Cruz may finally have run into a brick wall. The other day, Cruz’s communication director, Rick Tyler, pimped a “report” posted by some asshole blogger at “The RightScoop” that claimed rival Marco Rubio made a derogatory comment about the bible. Right in front of Cruz’s clergyman father! A video tape of Rubio supposedly caught him opining that there are not many answers to be found in the bible.

Of course, the “report” was bullshit. In fact, Rubio said that all the answer could be found in the bible. Anyone who would think holy-man Rubio would say otherwise is deluded.

But Cruz’s team led by marionette-master Tyler is so primed to slime the competition with lies that they mindlessly latched onto something that should have been obviously false. Rather than exhibit a hint of dubiousness, Tyler leapt upon the “report” as proof of Rubio’s evil core and evidence that he’s unqualified to suck votes from Evangelicals.

Only someone predisposed to lie over and over would attack using a garbled video with an impossible premise.

Cruz fired Tyler – what else could he do? – but the episode served as prima facie evidence that Cruz is the biggest liar, just as Trump said.

Answers
1b, 2d, 3a, 4c, 5a&b, 6a, 7b

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Opioid Induced Constipation – the Invisible Killer

ibs-c-With regularity the pharmaceutical industry pumps out one after the other miracle drug to address a problem no one knew they had. A-Fib, psoriatic arthritis (Phil Mickelson disease), dry eye syndrome – big pharma has taken notice. And now through an ad aired during the Superbowl, the world learned that AstraZeneca, the London-based multi-national, has taken on the mission to vanquish OIC: opioid induced constipation. The miracle drug this time is called MOVANTIK – a name presumably derived from “movement,” as in bowels. Apparently, many people who take opioids like OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet for chronic pain suffer when the drugs interfere with their ability to take a shit.

The ad for MOVANTIK has also taken some shit from critics who believe the existence of the drug will lull people into believing long-term opioid usage is a normal activity. Gov. Peter Shumlin of Vermont is one such critic. His state is overrun by opioid addicts, and he’s not happy with the cheeky ad. Shumlin railed against “advertising a drug to help people take even more opiates during the most watched sporting event of the year.”

The ad in question is actually more gross than provocative of drug abuse. It features an actor who plays a shit-clogged opioid user who is surrounded by people who are content in their ability to move their bowels. The actor, sitting in a diner and struggling with a balky sugar shaker, takes note of a dude exiting the men’s room, hiking his pants and sporting the satisfied grin of one who has just pinched off a substantial loaf. He later encounters a woman with a piece of toilet paper hanging off her shoe. She tosses him a sly smile, as though she knows he’s constipated and he wishes he could drop a deuce like she just did. She almost takes delight in his jealousy. Hell, the guy’s even envious of a dog, for god’s sake.

So here we have a new drug to deal with the effects of another class of drugs. But what about the side-effects of MOVANTIK? Those who take MOVANTIK to overcome the side effects of opioid use may suffer from hyperhidrosis, chills, diarrhea, abdominal pain, anxiety, irritability, and yawning (?). Which pharmaceutical company will be first to develop a drug to offset the effects of MOVANTIK? How long before a person who injures his back shoveling snow will be on a regimen of Vicodin for the pain, MOVANTIK for the constipation caused by Vicodin, an anti-sweat drug for hyperhidrosis caused by MOVANTIK, another drug to deal with skin irritation caused by the anti-sweat drug, and on and on.

Better to just hire someone to shovel the walk.

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Scalia Ducks Out

justice-scalia-lifelong-hunterDuring a hunting expedition in Texas this week Antonin Scalia croaked at age 79, leaving a big hole in the Supreme Court. Depending on your point of view, Scalia was either a beacon of judicial brilliance or a piece of work. Undoubtedly the man was talented and scholarly; he was confirmed by the Senate 98-0 in the pre-Bork era. He also fancied himself an “originalist,” approaching Constitutional questions as though he were riding a carriage and wearing a tri-corn hat.

The voluble, acerbic, toad-like Scalia often teamed with his mute doppelganger, Clarence Thomas to issue concurrences and dissents that often seemed to be on the wrong side of the popular zeitgeist. But I guess that’s what can happen when you take a hardline, literal interpretation of the original intent of the Constitution – a great document that has served the country well, but was written in consideration of the state of things as they existed more than 225 years ago. Trying to read the minds of the original framers on subjects like same-sex marriage, television commercials, international air travel, cloning, internet communications and virtual currency might be an interesting parlor game, but it doesn’t help advance things in the current era.

Other times, Scalia seemed to abandon the constitutional rigor so as to affirm a position to comport with his prejudices. He would strike down same-sex marriage even though the definition of marriage is clearly a right left to the states in the Constitution – and the Constitution in its “full faith and credit clause” requires states to recognize marriages granted in the other states.

His position in Bush v. Gore clearly indicated his naked desire to see Bush become the next president. In that notorious decision, the majority on the court put a stop to Florida state’s vote-counting process before the deadline for completion had passed. Scalia declared, “The counting of votes that are of questionable legality does in my view threaten irreparable harm to petitioner Bush.” In essence, it was better in Scalia’s mind to interfere with the state of Florida’s constitutionally protected process and to force them to stop counting votes early rather than continue for another three days because some of the votes might not have been cast properly. How this “harms” petitioner Bush, other than keeping him from becoming president, is a mystery.

And in Citizens United v. FEC (2010), in which Scalia was in the majority, the Supreme Court took on the narrow question of whether an organization can air a political hatchet piece right before an election, and blew it up into a sweeping declaration that campaign contributions should essentially have no limits. The case was not about campaign contributions, but the Court took the opportunity to strike down laws going back a century. Doesn’t seem too constitutionally sound, given the deference the founders placed on the voice of the people – the Legislature.

Ever since the rejection of the patchy-bearded Robert Bork in 1987, the nomination and confirmation of Supreme Court justices have been overly fraught with partisan politics. Knowing that a justice will likely sit on the court for decades – well past those who did the nominating and confirming have moved on – the decision whether to seat the person has generated gladiatorial-like conflict between the sides. This is especially true when the President and Senate are from competing parties, as is the case today.

The Republicans in the Senate are laying down the gauntlet in front of Obama: don’t bother nominating a replacement for Scalia. They believe that right belongs solely to the next president – again an extra-Constitutional idea dreamed up by partisan hacks. Such obstruction would leave a vacancy on the court for at least a year, resulting no doubt in numerous unsatisfying 4-4 split decisions. The whole charade in outrageous, but refusing to hold hearings and grant a vote would be an apt capstone to the Republican’s eight-year theater of hatred for Obama.

Here’s the salient question: Would the Senate Republicans take this stance if Mitt Romney were president?

I think you know the answer, which is why the Senators in question deserve all the opprobrium they’ll receive for the rest of the year.

In the “be careful what you ask for” category, it is quite possible that the Republicans could engineer the following scenarios:

  • Obama nominates someone of intense interest to a segment of the population the Republicans need to win (eg. Asian, Hispanic, woman) – and by obstructing the person they alienate a critical constituency and lose in November.
  • Key cases of interest to conservatives in 2016 that would normally be decided in their favor by a 5-4 majority will fall to a 4-4 tie.
  • Clarence Thomas dies, leaving just seven justices who will vote 4-3 in favor of stuff the conservatives despise.
  • Either Sanders or Clinton win in November and nominate someone more loathsome to conservatives than Obama would have put forward.
  • A Republican wins the presidency, but the Democrats take back the Senate and return the favor.

Should be fun to watch the media hump the story. So much fun in fact that Americans will forget all about less-important concerns like the nuclear-nutballs in North Korea.

If we get hit, it will be our own fucking fault.

Rubio: Boy Blunder

rube

Toeing the line, Senator Marco Rubio jumped on board to deny appointment of any replacement for Scalia. According to the youngster, “I do not believe the president should appoint someone. And it’s not unprecedented. In fact, it has been over 80 years since a lame-duck president has appointed a Supreme Court justice.”

First of all, Obama isn’t a lame-duck until after the election in November. And he doesn’t appoint people, he nominates them. Secondly, in 1988 the Senate confirmed Anthony Kennedy in Reagan’s last year in office.

And as far as I can tell, not having a calculator handy, 1988 was not 80 years ago.

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O Christie, Where Art Thou?

christie1Portly Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey and hopelessly deluded presidential candidate, bashed Marco Rubio at the recent Republican debate for being inexperienced and overly scripted. To drive the point home and pimp his own cred in the process, Christie claimed the executive nature of being a governor was better preparation to be president than being a first-termer senator.

“Every morning when a United States senator wakes up, they think about what kind of speech can I give or what kind of bill can I drop? Every morning, when I wake up, I think about what kind of problem do I need to solve for the people who actually elected me?” Christie went on to bloviate, “When you’re president of the United States, when you’re a governor of a state, the memorized 30-second speech where you talk about how great America is at the end of it doesn’t solve one problem for one person. They expect you to plow the snow. They expect you to get the schools open. And when the worst natural disaster in your state’s history hits you, they expect you to rebuild their state, which is what I’ve done.”

(Sidebar: Christie said, referring to senators, “… what kind of bill can I drop?” If only Rubio had countered Christie, referring to the bloated, sometimes-governor with “… what kind of deuce can I drop?” he might be leading the pack by 20 points.)

The funny thing though is that in 2015 Christie spent fully 191 days out of the state he purportedly runs pursuing the quixotic party nomination. Poor Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno has had to run the state in Christie’s absence for more than half the year. If you count day trips out of the state, Christie was gone all or part of more than 250 freaking days. Christie’s admonition to Rubio kinda rings hollow: how important is a governor’s job if the guy can phone it in half the time and it doesn’t matter?

Unless the state is suffering – which certainly seems to be the case in New Jersey – while he spends all his time traveling back and forth between Iowa and New Hampshire. Nine times since Christie took the reins New Jersey’s credit rating has been downgraded. He still presides over some of the highest property taxes in the country, and he squandered money needed to improve rail transit under the Hudson River so he could perpetuate a ridiculously low gas tax. And even when he’s in town shit happens – just ask the poor slobs in Fort Lee, NJ who got to sit in calcified traffic while Christie aides closed lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge. (And in the minds here at Major Terata, Christie knew at least a little about it in real time.)

My personal feeling is that Christie is correct: politicians who have a full time job to represent constituents at any level should not spend inordinate amounts of time campaigning for another position – especially if, like Christie, they’re sucking wind at the back of the pack with no chance of winning. And it’s particularly galling when the politician campaigns for higher office while running for re-election for his current position (ala. Joe Lieberman in 2000) – shouldn’t be allowed.

If Christie wants to snipe at Rubio, he should follow the lead of the media and drill in on something of substance – like Rubio’s terrible haircut.

Who’s the Victim Here?

witness1

It was reported today that a Chicago police officer, Robert Rialmo sued the estate of Quintonio LeGrier for $10 million for actions that caused the officer “extreme emotional trauma.” Rialmo has to sue the estate because LeGrier is dead; he’s dead because Rialmo shot him (and an innocent by-stander.) Rialmo claims he fired in self-defense when LeGrier came at him with a baseball bat, but no one is around to bear witness to the encounter – mainly because they’re dead.

Maybe LeGrier posed an actual threat, and therefore Rialmo was justified in firing (although his aim is clearly suspect). Still, why the lawsuit? At best, the cop did his job. Why should he become a lotto winner in the process.

The episode reminded me of an even more bizarre lawsuit that happened in 1987 after a war protester named Brian Wilson was run over by a train hauling arms to the California Naval Weapons Station in Concord. Wilson and others sat on the tracks in a defiant effort to interfere with the shipment – a tactic commonly deployed with success. (Just ask that dude in China who stood in front of a tank outside Tiananmen Square.) However, this time the crew proceeded directly through the protesters phalanx and severed both of Wilson’s legs. Documents revealed later that the crew had been told not to stop.

A sad incident indeed. And as if Wilson hadn’t suffered enough, he was stung by a lawsuit by none other than the train crew demanding punitive damages for the “humiliation, mental anguish, and physical stress” they suffered as a result of the incident.

Luckily, the suit was dismissed, but goddamn, on this one those train crew “victims” got a sac the size of a cantaloupe.

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Iowans – Step to the Rear

corndog
Change the nominating process, keep candidates from deep-throating corn-dogs

Once again, a couple hundred thousand mostly white, mostly conservative, mostly religious caucus-goers in tiny, rural Iowa cast votes and steered the 2016 election all out of proportion with their place in the United States – which most of the time is in a backwater corner of the nation. And let’s not forget that the Iowans are also angry. The New York Times interviewed 71 year old Esther Toney who exclaimed, “Oh, I’m very angry. I’m extremely angry. We’ve got politicians that are just there for their own gain. They should be thinking about how they can make our lives better. And they don’t.” She went on to seethe, “They vote on things to support their PACs or whoever gave them money.” Given that Iowans benefit tremendously from government boondoggles like undeserved farm subsidies and the ridiculous ethanol mandate (because of the very things she excoriates) Esther’s anger seems a bit misplaced. But hey, being the first state to vote – every fucking election cycle – is a cross the Iowans must bear to save another state from having their issues heard and attended to by every presidential wannabee.

People have groused forever about the inanity and unfairness of giving Iowa and another bush-league state, New Hampshire the first votes. No point in rehashing all that here. How about a recommendation for change?

Why not create five partitions of the country made up of the 50 states, DC, Puerto Rico, and the four U.S. Territories – each partition roughly equal in population, and made up of a mix of states in different geographic regions. We’d have five primaries that would take place on the first Tuesdays of February through June. And every four years, a different partition of states and territories would go first – rotating around until every one got a shot at being first.

An example of a partition might consist of Texas (big, South), Pennsylvania (big, mid-Atlantic), Tennessee (medium, Appalachian), North Dakota (small, mid-west), New Mexico (medium, Southwest), Maine (small, New England), Kansas (small, Heartland), Minnesota (medium, Great Lakes), Colorado (medium, Rockies), Alaska (small, out there), and Guam (small, territory). That’s ten states and a territory with a combined population of about 66 million, or one-fifth of the U.S. population. People in these states would vote first in 2020, second in 2024, etc. until they voted first again in 2040.

Candidates would be forced to address a variety of national and local issues. And they wouldn’t have to pander so much to corn-belt cretins. Just the thought of eating something besides corn-dogs washed down with a pint of ethanol has got to be appealing. Furthermore, decent candidates of more than one-dimension could survive longer.

I know this type of sensible set-up would never happen because the parties are too timid to offend the tiny front-loaded states. And deep down, the circus that accompanies the run up to the Iowa caucuses drives a shit-load of money into advertising, polling and campaign coffers.

Besides, everyone knows Iowans have tremendous clairvoyance when it comes to choosing the party’s eventual nominees, like such presidential timber as Dick Gephardt, Tom Harkin, Bob Dole, Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.

Ominous Prediction from the Groundhog

cruzhog

Yesterday – Groundhog Day – Punxatauney Phil made a stunning prediction: next year, with President Cruz in office, we’ll see six more years of nuclear winter.

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Sam Palmisano: Dark Lord of Wealth Destruction

samA couple years before he left IBM in 2012 to ponder the many ways he might spend his $100M+ retirement compensation package, Chairman and CEO Sam Palmisano laid down a bold prediction (guarantee, actually, ala. Joe Namath before Super Bowl III): that by 2015, IBM would generate earnings per share (EPS) of $20. Palmisano was confident. After all, he had made a similar prediction in 2005 that EPS in 2010 would be $10 – and through decent earnings growth and a dash of financial engineering, the company achieved the goal.

So how did IBM do in the years 2010 to 2015? Here’s a hint: late in 2014, current IBM CEO Ginni Rometty ditched the $20 goal – after concluding that it was mathematically impossible to achieve. Sort of like being behind by five touchdowns at the two minute warning: you just walk off the field and contemplate the next game – or perhaps consider taking up a new sport altogether.

IBM’s EPS for 2015 is expected to come in at $14.75, missing the once-sacrosanct goal by more than 25 percent. Funny, though. While IBM was pilloried for abandoning the goal, I suspect most companies would kill for an EPS this high. Hewlett Packard delivers less than $3, Boeing is about $7.50, even the vaunted Apple hovers in the $3 range. And Facebook, darling of Wall Street? The analyst consensus on EPS for fourth quarter 2015 is 50 – cents, that is.

The theory goes that investors love high EPS, as it shows the company is delivering value to the shareholders. And therefore, high EPS will lead to increased stock price. So how has IBM stock done since 2010? Not so well. The price actually trades lower today – $122 – than it did five years ago when the mandate to make $20 EPS (known as “Roadmap to 2015”) was first articulated. Does this somehow suggest earnings per share doesn’t mean as much to investors as some think? I would say “yes.”

ibm
IBM stock price over the past 5 years

As a ratio, EPS takes earnings and divides by the number of shares outstanding. EPS goes up when earnings go up, number of shares goes down, or a combination of both. Clearly, everyone loves rising earnings (unless you’re a short seller). Not so clear is whether everyone, or even most people, loves to see the number of shares outstanding go down. That’s because the method by which the number of shares is reduced is for the company itself to buy its own stock back from investors – a tactic that diverts capital away from other worthy endeavors like investing in new products and technologies, opening new plants and stores, running marketing campaigns, hiring new employees, etc.

CEOs (who personally benefit greatly when stock prices rise) will argue that buying back shares sends a message that the company is bullish on itself. Plus, overall dividend expense can be reduced. They’ll suggest that the best use of money they can think of is to repurchase shares. Investors are expected to agree which drives demand for the stock and should boost the price. However, many investors smell a different story: that the buy-backs are in reality done to engineer a better EPS. The story is especially odorous if a company, like IBM, shows ever-rising EPS without improving earnings. It’s all about the denominator – and that’s not a sign of strength for most investors.

So what were the results of IBM’s stock-buying spree since the “Roadmap to 2015” was unfolded? According to published annual reports, IBM bought back about 335 million shares since 2010, spending $74.3 billion. A good chunk of the $74.3 billion was borrowed. And no doubt many people lost their jobs in layoffs so that share buybacks could happen.

Today those 335 million shares are worth $41 billion – $30 billion less than what IBM paid for them. Thanks to Palmisano’s blurry vision, IBM went through years of warped decision-making in a futile attempt to make a number few people care that much about. And in the process, the company got taken to cleaners. If there were such a thing as “squanders per share,” IBM’s SPS would be about $33. Now that’s what you might call “Roadkill to 2015.”

Now That’s Rich

CZSh4esXEAYLGtX.jpg-large

“National Review,” a magazine for conservatives, recently came out strong against Donald Trump. Essentially their claim is that he’s unmoored, petulant, and most egregiously, not conservative. In the editorial hit-job of January 21, the magazine noted with disdain, “His obsession is with ‘winning,’ regardless of the means — a spirit that is anathema to the ordered liberty that conservatives hold dear and that depends for its preservation on limits on government power.”

Taking issue with winning regardless of the means? Now that’s rich. This from a group that:

  • Promotes “voter registration” hurdles to ostensibly prevent fraud, when in fact it’s all about keeping legitimate voters from casting ballots for Democrats.
  • Cheered a conservative Supreme Court in Bush v Gore that shut down the recount process three days before the legal deadline, handing the victory to President-Select Bush.
  • Sees no issue with cronyism, as long as they win. Example: being comfortable with the Florida Secretary of State, who is in charge of certifying election results, also being George Bush’s election chairman in that state.
  • Supports naked gerrymandering such that, for example, in Pennsylvania , Democrats cast 50.5 percent of the votes for Congress in 2012 and wound up with 28 percent of the seats.

gerry

That “National Review” – almost as funny as Adam Sandler.

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This Week in Depravity

Screen Shot 2015-08-14 at 11.52.32.pngVirtually every day of the week some atrocity is committed by Islamic fanatics somewhere in the world. (See the table at the bottom of the blog for a summary of the past 30 days.) The mindless death and destruction is insidious, yet sadly routine. Because it happens with such regularity, many who are far from the action exhibit a certain ennui.

Sometimes, however, the sheer depth of depravity of the perpetrators demands attention, and calls into question a culture that could form and develop such cretins. Here are the headlines for this week in depravity:

Afghan Woman’s Nose Is Cut Off by Her Husband
Defiling the face of one’s wife is unfortunately not an uncommon crime committed by angry or jealous husbands in and around Afghanistan and Pakistan. Countless stories abound of aggrieved men splashing acid onto women’s faces, or slashing the flesh so as to disfigure their “loved one,” thus turning her into the village freak. It happened again this week after a sub-human named Muhammad Khan and his wife Reza Gul got into an argument. Choosing violence over marriage counseling, Khan sliced off his wife’s nose. After the assault, Khan and his brother whisked Gul off with the intention of killing her, but family members interceded. Although Gul made it to the hospital before bleeding out, her severed nose was too damaged to be reattached.

By the way, the argument started when Khan, 25, informed his duly-shocked wife that he had taken his uncle’s 7-year-old daughter as his fiancée, with the intention of making her his second wife this year.

Boy Accused of Blasphemy Cuts off his own Hand
During a religious celebration, a cleric named Shabbir Ahmed posed a question to the congregation: “Who among you is a follower of Muhammad?” Everyone (naturally) raised their hands. Ahmed asked another probing question: “Who among you doesn’t believe in the teachings of the Holy Prophet? Raise your hands!”

A 15-year old boy raised his hand – and when he noticed his was the only hand up, he belated realized he had misheard the question. After all, the cleric had followed a positive question with a confusing negative. Rather than perhaps giving the boy a chance to answer again, this literal blockhead began calling out the boy as a “blasphemer” – a tough accusation in a country like Pakistan where freedom of thought is not looked upon kindly.

The boy subsequently went to his family’s barn, turned on some kind of power tool, and sliced off his own right hand – which he then took to the cleric to demonstrate his profound sorrow for being a blasphemer (even though he must have known he was certainly not.)

Thankfully, the police arrested the cleric. The local police chief noted, “Such illiterate imams of mosques should not be allowed to deliver speeches.” Unfortunately, his opinion seems to be in the minority.

The boy’s father, although saddened by his son’s action (and the expense that would accrue from his new handless state), said, “My only solace is that he did it for the Prophet.”

Man Hurled Off a Building Because He was Gay
The headline says it all: depraved self-appointed arbiters of acceptable behavior who decide proper punishments – no doubt drawn from medieval texts – tossed a human being off a tall building for the crime of being gay. (Although judging from past stories of horrific punishments, it is just as likely as not that the executioners were mistaken about the man’s orientation.)

This story reminded me of another report from September in which U.S. military personnel revealed how they could hear Afghan police officers sexually abusing boys they had brought to the base – and were ordered to ignore it.

According to the New York Times , “Rampant sexual abuse of children has long been a problem in Afghanistan, particularly among armed commanders who dominate much of the rural landscape and can bully the population. The practice is called bacha bazi, literally ‘boy play.’” No doubt, these depraved hypocrites prey upon young boys because they are so incompetent when it comes to interacting with women. Strange, though – I haven’t read any reports of Afghan commanders getting the boot off of a building.

Depraved Attacks of the Past 30 Days (Yes – 30 days)

Source: The Religion of Peace
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My Bowie Story

Junior Prom -  Schreiber 2009I became a David Bowie fan – as I suspect many people my age did – following the release of “Space Oddity” in 1973. Re-release actually. Unbeknownst to many at the time, Bowie had first released the song in 1969, and by 1973 had had a professional musical career in the UK for several years. But to teenagers in 1973, David Bowie was new on the scene. (In fact, David Bowie continued through his life to be new on the scene every couple of years, morphing his persona and changing his musical style in an apparent effort to avoid triteness and predictability.)

Drawn to Bowie’s words and music, I plunged into learning more about the musician, reading stories in Circus and Creem magazines which at the time covered him the way media today covers Miley Cyrus – as a somewhat provocative freak show. Was he gay? What was with the bizarre wardrobe? Why was one of his pupils dilated?

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I quickly accumulated all his albums available up through 1973: “Space Oddity” (which was a rerelease of “Man of Words/Man of Music”), “Man Who Sold the World,” “Hunky Dory,” “The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars,” “Aladdin Sane,” and “Pinups.” I copied all of them onto 8-track tapes for my car. And I tried to get a Bowie-like haircut which made me look like a human toilet brush. Then in the summer of 1974, I caught an ad in the local newspaper for a Bowie concert at the Cleveland Public Auditorium; I recall the price of a ticket was $8. I resolved to see Bowie live.

I bought four tickets for myself and three buddies (all under 16 years old) which in those days required a check to be sent via U.S. Mail to some promoter who may or may not really exist. I didn’t have a bank account, so I had to ask my mother to write the check, which naturally begged inquisition. “You’re going to Cleveland? By yourself? With those hooligans? Who’s going to drive you? You’re driving yourself!? Where are you going to stay?” At that point my father intervened and reserved a room for us gentle boys at a Holiday Inn (I think) on Euclid Avenue near the Public Auditorium.

On the morning of the concert I headed west on Interstate 90 in the family Pontiac LeMans with my three droogs – at one point passing three Corvettes in a row – on route to the Holiday Inn. Fearful of becoming woefully lost I exited at the first opportunity onto Euclid Avenue – just a mere 204 blocks from my destination. No one told me Euclid Avenue is one of the longest streets in America.

We arrived at the hotel just after lunchtime, grubby luggage in hand. Imagine: checking into a hotel with no ID and no credit card. I just referred to my father’s reservation number and they gave us a room. We fucked around for a while, smoking some weed and strolling the hard-bitten streets of downtown Cleveland. I tried to buy a six-pack and was rebuffed. Believe it or not, one of the younger dudes in the party was successful at another package store (his hair was dark, he had bad teeth, the drinking age in Ohio was only 18 at the time . . . OK, fuck it, I was a loser.)

Later, we took in a swim at the Holiday Inn’s indoor pool where we encountered the only other occupants: a young boy about 3 years old and his nanny. The boy, who spoke with a British accent, implored us to play games with him in the pool. My friends and I took turns goading him off the diving board and playing catch, while the nanny looked on gratefully. One of us would do a funny dive off the board, and the kid, who wore a life jacket, would proceed to imitate it, declaring “I can do that.” It came out “Ockendoo thah.”

Finally, concert time. The four boys from cosmopolitan northwestern Pennsylvania strutted down 6th Street to the Public Auditorium. Although we had tickets for assigned seats, it became clear immediately that the floor was open to whomever had the guts to invade it. The air was thick with marijuana smoke. Most of the fans were dressed in appropriate Ziggy Stardust regalia: satin pants, flaxen hairdo’s, orbs painted on foreheads. Security guards stood on the periphery, cotton stuffed in their ears, planning to do nothing fascist unless something akin to a nuclear war broke out. The lights dimmed, the curtain rose and…

I don’t remember what song kicked off the session. I do remember getting separated from the others as I lurched to get closer to the stage. Many of the songs performed were from an album I had not yet heard: “Diamond Dogs.” Bowie was once again shedding a past skin and moving on. Unlike the glittery masses in the audience, heavily made up like oh-so 1972, Bowie was stylishly dressed in an off-white suit. His hair was bright orange, but cut in a style more like James Brown than Aladdin Sane.

Of course, he performed “Space Oddity” – from a crane that hoisted him out above the delirious fans in the orchestra section. I’m sure the band played “Sweet Thing” and “1984” and probably “Panic in Detroit” and “Suffragette City.” Like the puerile child I was at the time, I wanted more of what I was familiar with, but that’s not what you get with Bowie. Still, an unforgettable performance. The evening at the Public Auditorium flew by in a blur – partially lubricated by dope, mostly by the charisma that Bowie exuded.

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He may have finished with “Rebel, Rebel,” but it’s also possible he performed the classic wrap-up “Rock n Roll Suicide” with its plea to the audience to “gimme your hands cause you’re wonderful.” No matter. It was the best show I had seen to that moment, not to be outdone until perhaps a performance by Roxy Music in Pittsburgh. Or maybe by Todd Rundgren in Poughkeepsie, of all places.

Back at the Holiday Inn, we found the place to be overrun by groupies and hanger’s-on. It occurred to the boys and me that perhaps David Bowie himself may be staying in the same hotel with us. There was so much activity taking place in the lobby that the hotel bar was completely empty – even the bartender was AWOL. One of my buddies boldly reached over the bar and snatched the first bottle within his grasp – a nearly-full fifth of sweet vermouth. We busted his balls for failing to steal whiskey or vodka. Needless to say, however, later in our room we drank up all that shitty vermouth straight.

Anyway, as the crowds built in the lobby of the Holiday Inn, we became thoroughly convinced that David Bowie and his band would imminently walk through the doors and begin signing autographs or perform some such fan-stroking activity that our delusional minds imagined possible. Suddenly a bevy of gorgeous groupies in platform shoes, short furry jackets, and shorter mini-skirts bolted down a hallway – followed by every fanatic (including the boys from Pennsylvania). And in that moment, David Bowie most certainly entered the hotel through a side door usually reserved for produce deliveries. We never saw him, although we hung out in the lobby for another thirty minutes in futility.

The next morning after I checked out, the nanny from the pool came by to thank us for showing her charge a wonderful time. It seems the little boy had become weary of the traveling routine, following his famous father from city to city while he entertained the legions of glam-rock fans who adored him – but the four boys from northwestern Pennsylvania had made this trip to Cleveland just a bit brighter.

On the drive back from Cleveland, someone challenged me to get the car up to 90 miles an hour. I vividly recall retorting, “Ockendoo thah.”

Truly Unfortunate Timing

On the very fucking day David Bowie died, the New York Times ran a small piece that opened: “It’s a good time to be David Bowie.”

Damn.

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Curious Non-Lethal Job Killing

killerWhether it’s the EPA, taxes, worker pay or (horrors!) Obamacare, the adjective associated with the looming disaster is always the same: Job-Killing. The unanimity of anti-Obama politicians in the use of “job killing” may have originated with John McCain in 2008 as he was preparing to contest Obama for the presidency. In a leaked McCain campaign memo , the team urged McCain and his acolytes to portray Obama as a “job killing machine.” Clearly, the idea took root.

  • Mitch McConnell (June 2012): “The biggest threat to farmers in Kentucky and across America are this administration’s job-killing regulations”
  • John Boehner (July 2010): “I hope President Obama will reconsider his support for these job-killing tax hikes.”
  • Richard Hudson (October 2015): Congressman from NC on ozone regulations, “Shame on President Obama for trying to put folks in our community out of work with this job-killing regulation.”
  • Mike Huckabee (August 2015): ”Obama’s job-killing EPA rule is a handout to Chinese businesses, Arab oil sheiks, Russian energy despots, and Washington insiders completely detached from reality.”
  • Newt Gingrich (November 2009): “We now have proof that the Obama administration’s job-killing policies are hurting America.
  • Marco Rubio: On Obamacare, “It is a job-killing disaster filled with new spending, taxes and mandates that are increasing the cost of care, stifling innovation, and busting the budget.”
  • Twinkle Cavanaugh (December 2015): President of Alabama Public Service Commission, “We will continue to fight Obama and his out of control, job killing EPA.”
  • Sarah Palin (November 2010): “43 days til job-killing tax hikes slam 70% of job-creators.
  • Jeb Bush (June 2015): On Obamacare, “This fatally-flawed law imposes job-killing mandate.”
  • James Inhofe (January 2014): “The President likes to proclaim he supports an all-of-the-above energy strategy when he tours the country, yet when he returns to Washington he hides behind his Environmental Protection Agency that is implementing costly, job-killing regulations.”
  • Rick Perry (June 2015): “President Obama’s overtime-pay mandate is filled with job-killing incentives that will drastically increase the cost of hiring new workers.”

Uncannily consistent on placing the administration in the same circle with ISIS in their fixation on killing, yet the Cassandras seem to have peered into a cracked crystal ball. Reports out today paint a fairy upbeat story on jobs and their creation.

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In fact, the job killing actions have had little deleterious effect for years. The job report from October notes, “businesses have now added 13.5 million jobs over 68 straight months, extending the longest streak on record.”

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Imagine how great things would be if the government stopped trying to kill jobs.

Did she say “Boy Crowder”?

In my novel “Architect’s Rendition” published in 2009 I introduced an imbecilic minor character named Boy Crowder who unintentionally distracts law enforcement away from a murderous sniper by committing a copycat shooting the next day.

From the novel:

“No law enforcement official in New York or New Jersey for a moment suspected Tom Stull was the ‘crazed’ sniper who killed two people and shot up a bunch of vehicles along I80, for the simple reason that a nineteen-year-old hick named Beauregard “Boy”
Crowder – the copycat sniper who shot out the tires of a bus transporting elderly ladies to Atlantic City the day after Morcilla was killed – was caught and subsequently took credit for all the mayhem. People who knew Boy Crowder thought of him as something of a nitwit and questioned whether he had the skills necessary to shoot targets so precisely as they moved along at highway speeds. But the New Jersey State Police, having failed to stop a second round of shooting in as many days were eager to perp-walk the fool and close the case.”

Earlier this week as I prepared dinner, I listened to NPR’s Kelly McEvers interview actor Walton Goggins, one member of the ensemble cast in Quentin Tarrantino’s new movie, “The Hateful Eight.” Goggins talked bit about his character, Chris Mannix, the new sheriff of Red Rock, then discussed how his southern accent affected his ability to get roles. He bemoaned the fact that his hick accent boxed him into roles as racists and stupid people, concluding “eventually over time, you know, you hope that you earn the right through your work to actually be able to articulate a point of view about where you come from, and that’s been my journey.”

Evers segued into Goggins’s work before “The Hateful Eight,” noting “that journey has included playing the character Shane Vendrell, the corrupt cop from the FX show “The Shield,” a slave owner in “Django Unchained” and perhaps the most complicated of his bad Southerner roles, Boyd Crowder from another FX show, “Justified.”” (“Justified” premiered in March 2010.)

Did she just say “Boy Crowder?” I had to put down the knife and concentrate. Further conversation confirmed the character’s name is Boyd not Boy – but still…. Coincidence?

Could the writers of “Justified” have read “Architect’s Rendition” and found my character’s name irresistibly southern-fried hick?

Nah.

(Sidebar: If you see “The Hateful Eight,” ask yourself why the bounty hunter John Ruth never once states the reason why his charge, Daisy Domergue, has a $10,000 price on her head (this is 1870s, so really big money). If he ever once mentioned what she was notorious for the movie would end there, for all the subsequent intrigue and mayhem would be unnecessary. Unless he doesn’t know – which seems highly unlikely given the breadth of his experience bringing in wanted men. Nevertheless, an extremely entertaining film.)

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George Lucas: Jedi Master Baiter

lucassaberDirector George Lucas ignited a minor kerfuffle the other day during an interview with Charlie Rose, implying that the Disney suits who bought out his Lucasfilm company for $4 billion in 2012 – thereby securing the rights to the “Star Wars” properties – had proven to be poor stewards of the movie franchise’s legacy. Calling the movies “my kids,” Lucas made the provocative claim that he “sold them to the white slavers that take these things,” apparently mistaking the company to whom he voluntarily sold his business for Barbary pirates.

Lucas had a treatment for the next installment of the franchise and was working with a screenwriter, but Disney had other ideas. “They wanted to do a retro movie. I don’t like that,” Lucas whined. “They weren’t that keen to have me involved anyway, but if I get in there, I’m just going to cause trouble, because they’re not going to do what I want them to do. And I don’t have the control to do that anymore.” No shit, George – you sold the company. What did you expect – that they would defer to you to ruin three more episodes?

Besides, Lucas is deluded. In the interview he boldly claimed, “Every movie, I work very hard to make them completely different, with different planets, with different spaceships, make it new.” But nothing could be further from the truth. For example, in the first “Star Wars” movie (aka. Episode IV aka. “A New Hope”), the heroes must destroy a gargantuan “death star” by miraculously firing a missile down a hole to exploit an overlooked design flaw. Two episodes later (“Return of the Jedi”), the heroes must destroy a gargantuan “death star” by miraculously firing a missile down a hole to exploit another overlooked design flaw. Now that’s different!

And doesn’t every Lucas-run episode except “The Empire Strikes Back” take place at some point on the same planet, Tatooine? C’mon, George. Why no action on Ur-Anus?

But the most galling piece of Lucas’s Jedi Master Baiting is his insinuation that the three prequel episodes that followed in the wake of “Return of the Jedi” were works of art when in fact they were phenomenally awful. The stories (especially “The Phantom Menace”) were convoluted and uninteresting, the “acting” was wooden, newly introduced characters such as the microcephalic Jar Jar Binks were grating, and the action relied too heavily on CGI chicanery. If Disney had left the franchise in Lucas’s hands post-buyout, no doubt the result would have been a mishmash of forgettable dueling computer generated action figures destined to become toys on the shelves just in time for Christmas.

Presumably, Lucas and/or his handlers decided his tantrum on TV made him look like an ungrateful douchebag (or maybe there’s an anti-defamation clause in the bill of sale to Disney) for he promptly issued a clarification. “I rarely go out with statements to clarify my feelings but I feel it is important to make it clear that I am thrilled that Disney has the franchise and is moving it in such exciting directions in film, television and the parks.” Wow, even the parks, George?

As Yoda hath said, “Fear is the path to the dark side…fear leads to anger…anger leads to hate…hate leads to whining … whining leads to treacly apologies.. . and that’s a fucking dark side.”

(For a blow by blow teardown of the myriad flaws of “The Phantom Menace,” watch Cinemasins. below.)

Whither Keystone XL?

What happened to the daily clamor calling for the approval to construct the Keystone XL pipeline?

In September of 2013, House Republican Conference Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers said “The President’s refusal to approve the Keystone XL pipeline is hurting American families. It means 830,000 barrels per day of North American oil that won’t be transported.” She went on to note, connecting the lack of a pipeline to high gas prices, “Just days ago, we passed the bitter milestone of 1,000 days where gas prices have hovered around $3 per gallon.”

Many in Congress have taken pro stances on approving and building the pipeline across America which would transport heavy petroleum products from Canada to the Gulf Coast, where it will be refined and sent . . . somewhere in the world.

A sampling of the fervor that began in earnest in 2013:

Rep. Lee Terry (March 2013), forgetting Canada is a foreign country: “It will create thousands of American jobs and secure more domestic energy production, reducing our dependence on foreign oil. It’s time to build.”

Rep. Leonard Lance (November 2014), forgetting the oil is produced in Canada: “American-made energy production is one of the brightest spots in today’s less than bright U.S. economy. As innovation leads to even greater production, we must act to bring this increased American-made energy production to American consumers and businesses.”

Rep. Kevin Cramer (January 2015), spinning the message now that oil prices are dropping: “The ongoing drop in oil prices is a clear demonstration of how vulnerable we still are to geopolitical events outside of our control. Keystone XL represents an opportunity for the United States to take more control of the oil market and become more of a price maker rather than the price taker, stabilizing prices at an appropriate level so we are less susceptible to what the nations of OPEC want the price to be.”

Rep. McMorris Rodgers (January 2015), who apparently didn’t get the same memo Cramer got: “People are struggling to find high-quality jobs, they are watching energy prices rise at home. The Keystone XL Pipeline Act is the solution America needs.”

And then there’s Yahoo Finance columnist Rick Newman who the pro-Keystone team relied on for his Oracular insight to make their case. He declared in July 2014: “Gas prices will probably never go back below $3.00 a gallon; $3.50 might be normal and we’re even used to $4.00.” Six months later, a gallon went for about $2.

(Sidebar: According to Rick’s website , his goal is “to distill meaning from a torrent of information and help people differentiate news that matters from news that doesn’t matter, fake news and not-news.” I wonder if it’s possible to distill meaning from bullshit predictions, and if so, what does it smell like?)

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Graph shows why there’s radio silence on Keystone XL.

I filled my tank in Pennsylvania during the height of this year’s holiday travel season for $1.95 a gallon. That’s what happens when oil falls below $35 a barrel.

You know what also happens when oil falls below $35 a barrel? Strident talk about building Keystone XL vanishes.

The reality is that for Keystone XL to make sense, oil prices must be above $60 a barrel ($95 if you believe the Carbon Tracker Initiative ). It has nothing to do with American jobs, energy independence or any of the other reasons tossed about. It all boils down to simple economics like everything ultimately does.

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Hollywood 2015: Franchises and Dreck

dreckDecember is the month that Hollywood releases its best material in the hopes you’ll forget all about the dreck they foisted on you the other eleven months of the year. Winners like “The Big Short,” “Carol,” and “The Room” showed up late in the year where the studios like to stack the best for last. Prior to the holiday season – and especially in the summer – the movie choices devolve predominantly into two categories: derivative franchise movies (sequels upon sequels to one-time decent fare), and the embarrassingly awful.

In the franchise category for 2016, Hollywood mined the vein deeply:

  • “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (number seven in a series that first appeared in 1977)
  • “Creed” (The start of “Rocky” all over again)
  • “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” (Descended from 1960s TV and now in its fifth installment)
  • “Spectre” (24th James Bond movie in the franchise that began 53 bloody years ago)

The material that filled the embarrassingly awful category included much do-do:

  • “Mortdecai” (A misfire of a spoof that wastes the talent of Johnny Depp and Gwyneth Paltrow)
  • “Point Break” (Unmoored remake of the Keanu Reeves/Patrick Swayze action film of 1991)
  • “Ted 2” (Stretching the shtick one too many times, as the novelty of a vulgar toy bear has worn off)
  • “Pan” (A lumbering, soulless prequel to the oft-retold Peter Pan saga – aptly named as a suggestion to the critics)
  • “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2” (Lame sequel that garnered 8% on Rotten Tomatoes. As one critic noted, “all the humor involves his bumping into things and falling over because he’s fat.”)

By the way, there’s nothing to preclude a movie from being in both categories:

  • “Terminator Genesis” (feeble heir to the Schwarzenegger oeuvre started in 1984)
  • “Fantastic Four” (10% on Rotten Tomatoes – “Dull and downbeat”)

Of course, no year would be complete without a piece of dog-shit from Adam Sandler, and 2016 did not disappoint. Not one but two Sandler movies made a number of “worst movie” lists: “Pixels” and “The Ridiculous Six.” I simply cannot fathom how Hollywood continues to justify producing toxic waste with this untalented hack. Does he have pictures of Columbia studio execs blowing a donkey? How many worthy films are sitting on the shelf today so that Hollywood can make room for Adam Sandler’s experiments in retardation?

“Pixels” is the story of aliens who attack the planet after imagining 1980s video games as a bona fide threat from Earth. Sandler plays some asshole who was a video game whiz as a kid and is therefore duly called upon by the president to launch a counter-assault on the aliens. It garnished a stinky 17% on Rotten Tomatoes.

And of course, we can’t forget Sandler’s first project in collaboration with Netflix: 2015’s “The Ridiculous Six.” I wrote a blog in October 2014 calling attention to a four-picture deal Netflix cut with Sandler – and questioning the sanity and likely fiduciary malfeasance of the company. And now we see the fruits of Netflix’s investment: a typically offensive and unfunny Sandler product that has to date earned a spectacular 0% on Rotten Tomatoes.

When filming for “The Ridiculous Six” was underway, a brouhaha broke out among the several Native American extras after they caught a glimpse (and a whiff) of Sandler’s racist script. A dozen extras walked off the set – call them “The Offended Twelve.”

Here’s a sample from Sandler’s brilliant screenplay that illustrates the level of sophistication:

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Sandler’s next project with Netflix is called “The Do Over” and will unfortunately come out in 2016. The premise: two down-on-their-luck guys decide to fake their own deaths and start over with new identities, only to find the people they’re pretending to be are in even deeper trouble. Can’t you see it already? Sandler ranting like an angry lunatic in the hopes of seeming funny, telling half-wit jokes and releasing intestinal gas? Stop this man before he can destroy any more celluloid!

Speaking of bad movies: Clowns and Nazis, anyone?

I read the other day that one of the worst movies ever made will continue to be locked in a box, never having been publicly screened – a 1972 opus starring and directed by Jerry Lewis called “The Day the Clown Cried.” The gist of the story is that a circus clown in Nazi Germany is imprisoned for mocking Der Fuhrer, winds up in Auschwitz where he is employed to entertain the kids and keep them calm before they meet their untimely deaths. Kind of like the pied piper of Hamelin, the clown leads them into the gas chamber. Eventually feeling tremendous remorse, and no hope for himself, the clown decides to stay in the chamber with the children and cheers the kids until the gas descends upon them all. And they all lived happily ever – oh, wait.

Apparently, Jerry Lewis believed the film would stretch him artistically and that the subject matter would be impossible for the Academy to ignore. Production money ran out early and Jerry had to step in with his own cash to complete the project. In the end, Jerry said, “You will never see it. No one will ever see it, because I am embarrassed at the poor work.”

Still, sometimes bad movies can be “good” in a sense, perhaps exhibiting a technique that with time comes to be appreciated rather than vilified. I read the script and it really blows, but perhaps Jerry pulled it together on the set – remember, the man was a natural born clown.

In August, the Library of Congress acquired the only known print of the movie, but is going to sit on it for at least 10 years. After more than 40 years, I call for the release of “The Day the Clown Cried.” Stop denying the millions of Jerry Lewis fans (and all of France) the opportunity to judge for themselves.

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Thad Cockroach – King of Pork

Thad-Cochran-King-of-Pork_Web-HeaderThey don’t call Senator Thad Cochran of Mississippi the “King of Pork” for nothing. According to the Mississippi Conservative Daily, in the year before Congressional budget earmarks were banned in 2010, “Cochran sponsored or co-sponsored 243 earmarks for nearly half a billion dollars, ranking him first out of 100 Senators. The year before, he sponsored 259 earmarks for more than $1.2 billion, including the single largest earmark in history, a $439 million project to restore the barrier islands off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, after taxpayers had already provided $80 billion in Katrina relief.”

That Cochran is a Republican may surprise some given his party is stridently vocal in pushing for “fiscal responsibility,” but not me. Doling out goodies to the locals has been a time-tested strategy for winning votes and perpetuating one’s longevity in Congress; makes no difference the party or ideological affinity. Talk is cheap – Congressional bullshit isn’t.

This past week Senator Cockroach pulled off another Santa Claus coup: securing $640 million funding for building a brand new cutter for the Coast Guard which they’ve said publicly they do not need. (Sidebar: if the estimate is $640 million today, you can be fairly certain the final bill will top $900 million by the time the unwanted cutter is christened.) According to a Coast Guard spokesman, “If we are funded for it and Congress says you are going to have a ninth cutter, I guess that is how it goes, but we are good with eight.” A flak for the King of Pork, his nose growing as he uttered the words, said, “Is this wasteful and unnecessary spending? No.” Maybe he missed the Office of Management & Budget memo which specifically called the ship “an unnecessary acquisition.” (Read the memo here. )

Susan Collins from Maine, another Republican Senator, similarly passed out the pork in this week’s approved budget, ensuring that a cool billion was inserted for another destroyer that the Navy didn’t ask for. The thing I find bizarre is that both these unwanted and unnecessary vessels will be fabricated in the very states the Senators represent – truly an amazing coincidence.

Cochran and Collins come from states that for years have consistently sucked out more federal tax dollars than their citizens pay in. Last year, Mississippi received almost $2 for every dollar paid in; Maine got $1.53 for every dollar. As it turns out, the biggest net beneficiaries of federal tax dollar allocations are mostly states that trend Republican; states whose populace and Congressional representatives rail most stridently against government spending. On the flip side, Democratic-leaning states like New York, New Jersey and California receive far less than their citizens pay in. New Yorkers get back 58 cents for a dollar, New Jersey gets 42 cents, California, 67 cents.

Exhibiting classic gall, the loudest critics of redistributing wealth are those who benefit most from it.

Here’s a suggestion: Force the Navy to buy $500 million worth of Trojan extra-ribbed condoms (made by New Jersey’s own Dwight & Church Co.)

Adventures in Eating
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Not so long ago, Wall Street was gushing over Chipotle Mexican Grill for its sterling execution in the so-called “fast casual” restaurant category. Gen-x’ers and Millennials were said to vastly favor the supposedly fresh ingredients and fair-trade practices over the greasy fare at joints like McDonalds and Burger King. The company has opened hundreds of outlets all over the country, and since going public at $45 a share in 2007, Chipotle stock has traded as high as $742. Until recently, that is. In the past six months, Chipotle stock has lost $250 a share. I guess that’s what happens when you continually poison your customers.

  • In October, Chipotle closed 43 restaurants in the Pacific Northwest after several patrons were sickened by an e. coli outbreak. There have also been outbreaks in California, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.
  • After 136 Boston College students fell ill from norovirus contracted at a Chipotle in early December, the fast casual pioneer temporarily closed the restaurant.
  • On December 21, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notified Chipotle that they were investigating five cases of E. coli in Kansas, Oklahoma and North Dakota. These individuals ate at two Chipotle locations between November 14 and November 23.

This last notice came directly from Chipotle Mexican Grill’s website devoted to supplying the latest poop on Chipotle eating disasters. I especially like their Frequently Asked Questions section. One example:

Q: I got sick the last time I ate your food. What should I do?
A: Anytime you are sick or experiencing unusual symptoms, you should visit your doctor.

Or if Chipotle’s website doesn’t entertain you enough, you can try out Barfblog for more in-depth perspective.

Strangely, the solution to the problems of Chipotle Mexican Grill is right in their name. Just rearrange the letters:

X Milling the E Coli Crap

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On Broadway: China Dull

Picture1After suffering through 100 minutes of David Mamet’s latest bomb, “China Doll” starring Al Pacino through January 31st (if it makes it that far), I’ve concluded Mamet is washed up as a playwright. Maybe he was born a hack writer who rented his soul to the Devil thirty years ago to be able to pen such gems as “American Buffalo,” “Speed the Plow,” and “Glengarry Glen Ross,” and the lease has now run out and he’s doomed to produce confusing and stultifying material for the rest of his life.

Not that it makes any difference to the audience who has filled the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater since the delayed opening of “China Doll” in November. Broadway has long recognized the gravitational attraction to high-priced tickets when a known celebrity is cast in a play or musical. It’s common to see morbidly worn-out productions kept alive by shuffling in new leads every 3 to 6 months.

At 75, Al Pacino is a legend, and there are no doubt millions of fans of “The Godfather” and “Scent of a Woman” who would love to see the Oscar-winning actor live and in person on stage. And Mamet is one of the heavyweights in American playwriting. So, I’m certain the producers of “China Doll” had no hesitations when Al signed on. Not even after he couldn’t learn his lines and needs a teleprompter. Or after they realized Mamet’s script was a boring, meandering mess that he refused to change until the end.

I went to see Mamet’s last play, “The Anarchist” in 2012 which starred Broadway superstar Patti Lupone and movie great Debra Winger, and I came away disappointed – shaking my head at the stilted dialog, confusing plot establishment, and unsatisfying ending. Moreover, I was let down by a writer whose work on stage and screen I admired and enjoyed. Still, when I saw that Mamet had written a new play starring Pacino, I fell for it like thousands of other fans. As it got closer to the opening of previews, I began to sense trouble from news reports of issues between Pacino and director Pam MacKinnon. Then there was the ominous postponement – rarely a good sign. I refused to read any reviews at that point, not wanting to spoil the anticipation.

The curtain opened, Al got a rousing applause just for being on the stage, and then Act I began in which Al explains to his young man-servant for a good 20 minutes the finer points of private aircraft tax law. Over and over we hear about the revised tail numbers and the strategy of keeping a private jet out of the U.S. for six months to avoid taxes. I could feel the audience squirm – like me, they wanted to adore the show, but it was already off to a rocky start.

Pacino plays Mickey Ross, a super-wealthy player in business and politics who is engaged to a saucy woman less than half his age – or at least we assume she’s saucy, since we never see or hear from her. It’s a two man play where only Mickey and his servant, Carson occupy the stage. In a most annoying and lazy theatrical device, Mamet has poor Pacino speak to a host of unseen characters over his cell phone. The fucker is constantly on the phone, repeating what the other side says so the audience can follow. “The stove is on? Why is the stove on? You want me to bake a cake? Ok, I’ll bake a cake? It’s for mom? Great. She’s coming over at 6? OK, I’ll be ready.” Brutal. (Sidebar: I read numerous reports later that Pacino speaks to the other characters over a blue-tooth earpiece which is also used to feed him lines when he forgets them!)

alphone

As the play meanders along, we come to understand that there’s some bad blood between Mickey and the governor of some unnamed state. Somehow, the governor pulls a bunch of unlikely strings to fuck over Mickey, including getting his plane to touch down in the U.S. on its way to Canada, thus causing Mickey to incur a $5 million tax bill. Act I ends with Mickey planning revenge.

But when Act II starts, Mickey has already decided to be nice and let things go; after all, he’s an old dude in the winter of life. I had been expecting classic Mamet rage and fury, but it didn’t come. Instead, like God to Job, Mamet dumps a bunch of problems on Mickey. In the course of just 40 more minutes, Mickey faces felony charges for bribery, loses his passport, sees his fiancé deported, and watches the docile and taciturn Carson turn evil. I heard several in the audience mutter various versions of “what the fuck” when Carson made a threat that comes out of left field and is completely unsupported by the narrative of the play to that point.

I read that many patrons regularly walk out of the show at intermission; some even demanding their money back. In fact, the evening I saw the show, three people next to me never returned – which was good for me. The seats in the mezzanine at Schoenfeld Theater make coach on Delta feel like NetJets.

I finally perused the notices after the show, and to no surprise, “China Doll” was savaged.

New York Times: “it creeps, hunched and sluggish, instead of rushing forward.”
Hollywood Reporter: “A smug but pointless exercise stretched over two hours.”
New York Daily News: “David Mamet said his new play would be ‘better than oral sex.’ “China Doll” is not even better than oral surgery.”
LA Times: “If eavesdropping on a switchboard is your idea of drama, then “China Doll” is the play of your dreams.”

All in all, I place the blame for this turkey squarely on Mamet. Pacino gives it a good show day after day, week after week. He is ultimately not the problem. The failure stems from Mamet’s broken deal with the Devil which returned him to rank mediocrity. Too bad.

Justice Department

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Martin Shkreli – douche-bag pharmaceutical CEO and sufferer of the rare, hideous disease of the soul, shkrelitis – was arrested today for fraud.

While he’s locked up, I hope the warden charges him $1,000 for an aspirin.

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