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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Holly Came From Miami F-L-A

hollyHolly Woodlawn, a transgender woman once known as Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl who came to New York City in the gritty 1960s by way of the Catskills and Miami Beach, died from cancer last Sunday at age 69. After working as a clerk and later as a model at Sak’s Fifth Avenue, Holly fell into the Warhol Factory crowd and was soon chosen to act (or just be) in the cult classic “Trash” alongside Warhol-favorite, Joe Dallesandro.

Holly’s a natural; here’s a clip from “Trash” to enjoy.

She also appeared in “Women in Revolt,” but as neither this nor “Trash” has ever appealed to a broad audience, Holly Woodlawn may be most notable for being among the inspirations for Lou Reed’s seminal song, “Walk on the Wild Side.” Along with Candy Darling (“Candy came from out on the island; in the backroom she was everybody’s darling”) and Jackie Curtis (“Jackie is just speeding away; thought she was James Dean for a day”), Holly Woodlawn was immortalized in the catchy tune.


Holly came from Miami F.L.A.
Hitch-hiked her way across the U.S.A.
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she.

When I read of Holly Woodlawn’s death, it occurred to me that almost fifty years later, the freakish denizens of Warhol’s Factory had almost become normal by the standards in place today. Green hair, wild tattoos, extreme piercings, selfies clips of sex acts, cross-dressing – all commonplace on college campuses across the country. Many of those who orbited Warhol have been the subjects of probing documentaries, or written into serious, historical-fiction films. None more so than Andy Warhol himself who has been played by actors in at least seven films. Can you match the actors with the films? Answers at the bottom.

warholfilms

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answers

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Martin Shkreli: Smug Face of Wanton Greed

DaraprimTo label Martin Shkreli a douche-bag would be an affront – to douche-bags. Shkreli is the supposed wunderkind who founded the drug company Turing Pharmaceuticals earlier this year with a business model for buying up rights to older, specialty medicines and jacking up the prices. Instead of focusing on developing new drugs to tackle challenging health issues, Shkreli would rather behave like a lowlife patent troll, acquiring rights to mature, narrow-use, obscure pharmaceuticals and exploiting the tiny population of sufferers who depend on the drugs.

Despite what their website claims (“We are dedicated to helping patients, who often have no effective treatment options, by developing and commercializing innovative treatments”), Turing is on the hunt to scoop up niche drugs and exploit the sick and dying who depend on them. It’s more about “commercializing” than “developing.” (Sidebar: I wonder if mathematician Alan Turing is flipping in his grave for having his name attached to a near-criminal enterprise?)

In one outrageous move, after paying for the rights to Daraprim (a drug for treating toxoplasmosis that’s been on the market since 1953) Shkreli increased the price to $750 per pill from $13.50 – because he can. The number of people dependent on Daraprim is so small that no other company has ever come forward to develop a generic. Shkreli claims he raised the price to generate revenue with which to fund new research, essentially extorting R&D from a small portion of the population unlucky enough to suffer from a rare disease.

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The smug face of wanton greed (and sufferer of the hideous disease of the soul, shkrelitis)

Justifiably, Shkreli took hits from a multitude of patient advocates, politicians and pharma execs. After mumbling a bit about dialing back a bit on the avarice, Shkreli came back more defiant than ever, musing that he should have raised the price even more. Claiming it’s his duty to maximize the flow of money into the pockets of shareholders, Shkreli gave the world a lesson in economics: “No one wants to say it, no one’s proud of it, but this is a capitalist society, capitalist system and capitalist rules.” This, of course, is bullshit. $750 per pill is way more than the market can bear, and therefore the only way for Turing to sell the inflated product is for taxpayer-funded (socialist) programs like Medicaid and Medicare to step in and subsidize the sale.

If, god forbid, Martin Shkreli is ever hit by a bus, I sincerely hope the capitalistic ambulance company charges him a million dollars to drive him to the hospital – in advance.

What the L?

Almost 50 years ago, the Green Bay Packers of the NFL vanquished the Kansas City Chiefs of the less-prestigious AFL in what became known as the Super Bowl. In 1971, the NFL chose to mark the fifth championship event with a Roman numeral V – placing the biggest football game of the year in the same exclusive club as cornerstones, movie copyrights, and Cartier watches. I remember learning in grade school how to render Arabic numerals into Romans and vice versa, but doing even simple arithmetic with the clunky assembly of I’s, V’s, X’s, L’s, C’s, D’s and M’s was nigh impossible, hence their isolation for use as a pompous stand-in for numbers the whole world has come to embrace.

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I wonder if children today still have to learn Roman numerals. I suspect not, because after 49 Super Bowls adorned with such lofty appellations as XIV, XXVII, and XLIV, the NFL is ditching the Roman numeral fad this year and going back to Arabic. They must know that the bulk of today’s football fans would scratch their collective heads in confusion at advertisements for a Super Bowl L. Furthermore, appending just a single character seems to diminish the whole affair – it’s certainly not a powerful way to celebrate the golden anniversary of that first match-up in 1966. I suppose the NFL could have bent the rules and called it Super Bowl XXXXX – but then they might have infringed the copyright of a porno flick.

So for now, get ready for near-nonstop promotion of Super Bowl 50 and enjoy the clarity until 2017 when the NFL returns with Super Bowl LI (still weird, though).

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Pfuck Pfizer

Pfizer handoutPfizer, the $207 billion pharmaceutical firm responsible for everything from Advil to Viagra to Zoloft with hundreds of wonder drugs in between, announced its intention to merge with Allergan, another behemoth in the industry. Allergan, which started in 1948 in Los Angeles as a supplier of eye care products and came to own the multi-billion dollar Botox business in 1991 when it acquired Oculinum, is today based in Dublin, Ireland. Pfizer’s drug-induced hard-on for merging with Allergan has less to do with the luck of the Irish, and everything to do with bagging a nice, low corporate income tax rate. Last year, Pfizer posted revenues of $49.6 billion and paid an effective tax rate of 25.5%. The top rate in Ireland is 12.5%.

(Side note: Although the merger has been portrayed as a $160 billion deal, implying that one side is paying that sum to buy out the other, in reality the process involves a mundane paper-process of exchanging old stock shares for new ones.)

In order to reap the tax benefit, Pfizer must do a tax inversion and turn Irish. To do that, the smaller Allergan will, as a formality, acquire giant Pfizer in what is called a reverse merger. Once that happens, the combined company will rename itself . . . Pfizer. Nothing else much will change – except the amount of tax it pays to the U.S. Government. It will keep its stock symbol on the NYSE where it is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and maintain its headquarters building in New York City. Best of all, Pfizer will continue to enjoy all the benefits of doing business in America while stiffing the government that protects its interest here and abroad. The whole thing stinks of a greedy scam, but as observers note, it’s perfectly legal. Why shouldn’t Pfizer take advantage of a loophole in the law that lets it reduce its tax burden by billions? Why should CEO Ian Read be satisfied with his paltry $23 million pay package when he could be pocketing 30 mil plus? Why should Pfizer shareholders accept almost $7 billion in dividends when that number could easily jump by billions funded from tax savings?

Valid questions all. But not as valid as this one: Why should Pfizer continue to benefit from American protections? If the Pfizer/Allergan deal goes through it’s only fair that they forgo things they no longer have to pay for. Some ideas:

No more U.S. patent protection for Pfizer. The U.S. Government is the world’s leader when it comes to protecting the inventions of companies for up to 17 years from being copied and sold in competition with the originator. The Patent Office and the U.S. courts that take legal challenges run on taxpayer money. Pfizer wants to be Irish? Let them appeal to the Irish government for redress when someone mixes up a generic version of Eliquis, or Lyrica, or Celebrex, or Chantix.

Quit allowing Pfizer to advertise on TV. Other than New Zealand, the U.S. is the only country that allows pharmaceutical companies to directly advertise their products to consumers. That’s why the names Eliquis, Lyrica, Celebrex and Chantix sound so familiar – they’re ceaselessly hawked on TV. Because the government bends over backward to accommodate the pharma lobby, Pfizer is allowed to deploy the sinister tactic of hypnotizing people into asking their doctors “if Eliquis is right for you.” No better time than the present to clamp down on Pfizer’s televised assaults.

Unshackle Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices from Pfizer. Today, by law, the U.S. Government cannot negotiate lower prices for drugs from the pharmaceutical companies. Clearly a sop to the drug makers, this provision means the taxpayers spend about $16 billion more for drugs than they would otherwise have to. With Pfizer looking to shirk its tax duty, there’s really no point in keeping this ridiculous provision in place. Time to play hardball with Pfizer and squeeze some savings out of their fat asses.

Stop Federal agencies from endorsing Pfizer’s products. Last year, under relentless pressure from Pfizer, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommended the use of Pfizer’s Prevnar by people older than 65. (You know Prevnar – it’s a pneumonia vaccine that appears in TV ads every 15 minutes.) But given Pfizer’s disdain for support of the U.S. Government, it’s unseemly that an august body like the CDC should loan their name to a traitorous company.

Delist Pfizer from the NYSE. Being listed on the New York Stock Exchange brings companies enormous power and cache’. Pfizer deserves to derive neither. Let them take up residence on the Irish Stock Exchange with noted companies Glanbia, Fyffes, Smurfit Kappa Group, and Paddy Power.

WARNING: Call your doctor if the thought of Pfizer shamelessly avoiding taxes causes unexpected bleeding or bleeding that lasts a long time, such as unusual bleeding from the gums, nosebleeds that happen often, or menstrual or vaginal bleeding that is heavier than normal; bleeding that is severe or you cannot control; red, pink, or brown urine; red or black stools (looks like tar); coughing up or vomiting blood or vomit that looks like coffee grounds; unexpected pain, swelling, or joint pain; headaches, or feeling dizzy or weak or just extremely pissed off.

End Note: If it’s any consolation . . .

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Robert L. Dear, Jr.

He murdered three people, but at least he’s pro-life.

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Trump: The Art of the Eel

eelThat Donald Trump is one slippery dude. Perfecting “the art of the eel,” Trump is the only presidential candidate who, as a matter of policy, deflects controversy by ginning up new, replacement controversy. No sooner are the pundits and talking heads debating one Trump outrage when the candidate offers up a new outrage – and like kittens chasing shiny objects, the pundits move on.

A few weeks ago, as the world was waking up to the years-long Syrian refugee crisis, Trump declared, “Our President wants to take in 250,000 from Syria. Think of it, 250,000 people. And we all have heart, and we all want people taken care of and all of that, but with the problems our country has, to take in 250,000 people — some of whom are going to have problems, big problems — is just insane.” I’m sure many Americans would agree that importing a quarter-million refugees is insane, but the reality is that Obama is actually calling for the ingestion of about 10,000. Now, there are those who think any number of refugees larger than zero is insane, but Trump’s claim struck many as a hyperbolic lie.

Having established a doomsday scenario in the minds of his followers, even as fact-checkers were gearing up to debunk the claim, Trump moved on to tell George Stephanopoulis, “I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.” Newswatchers on September 11, 2001 were treated to clips of a few scummy Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip celebrating the calamity, but never was there a report of mass celebration in New Jersey, or anywhere else in America. Numerous political leaders and news reporters pounced on Trump for blatantly lying – or at best, misremembering
events on a grand scale. Still, a few Trump supporters called attention to a Washington Post article written by Serge Kovaleski a week after the 9/11 attacks which reported, “In Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.” Now, the activity described is sordid, but it’s also far from the “thousands” personally seen celebrating by Trump. But the Washington Post story did provide a fig-leaf of cover for slippery Donald.

Then Kovaleski came out with his own statement which threw cold water on Trump. “I certainly do not remember anyone saying that thousands or even hundreds of people were celebrating. That was not the case, as best as I can remember.” Uh oh. Time to deploy “the art of the eel.” Trump made a widely-watched speech in which he took Kovaleski to task for having a suspect memory. “Now the poor guy — you ought to see the guy: ‘Uhh I don’t know what I said. I don’t remember.’ He’s going, ‘I don’t remember. Maybe that’s what I said.’” As Trump impeached Kovaleski’s memory he also flailed around in an apparent derogatory imitation of the reporter’s physical disability called arthrogryposis which can cause jerky motions.

Of course, this mockery served to steer conversation away from Trump’s spurious claims of thousands of Muslims dancing in the streets of New Jersey on September 11. All of a sudden, like clockwork, the punditry was debating whether Trump should apologize for the flailing, having completely forgotten the prior controversy.

For his part, Trump has already laid down the foundation of the next controversy. In addition to denying any mockery had taken place – hey, Trump never even laid eyes on the disabled reporter! (despite having said “you ought to see the guy”) – the master of “the art of the eel” demanded an apology from the New York Times for coming to Kovaleski’s defense (he now works for the Grey Lady). Turning lemons into lemonade, Trump magnanimously stated, “I have tremendous respect for people who are physically challenged and have spent tens of millions of dollars throughout buildings all over the world on making them handicapped accessible and ADA (Americans Disability Act) compliant.”

Oh, so wonderfully slippery, that damn eel.

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O’Reilly Makes a Killing on “Killing”

Yeller newAs Black Friday encroaches, along with the associated buyer insanity, one can only imagine how many copies of Bill O’Reilly’s “Killing Reagan” will get scooped up as stocking stuffers for lazy aficionados of snackable history books. O’Reilly and his co-author supplicant Martin Dugard have somehow cornered the remarkably large market of readers who hunger for superficial, derivative coverage of the deaths of famous people – material that has been handled infinitely better and with greater depth by numerous authors holding actual historian credentials. Essentially, O’Reilly’s books are puffed-out Wikipedia pieces. (Regarding the attempted assassination of Reagan, “Rawhide Down” by Del Quentin Wilbur is the better book to spend your money on.)

To get a leg up over his betters, O’Reilly presumes in all of his killing books to offer an exclusive, unknown tidbit of history that justifies the purchase of his stuff. In “Killing Reagan” the tidbit is a supposedly-unknown 1987 memo written by James Cannon to incoming Reagan Chief of Staff Howard Baker raising concerns about Reagan’s fitness for office. Unfortunately for O’Reilly this thread of Reagonology was well-reported decades ago, so Bill’s claim of exclusivity is blatantly bogus (but who among his lazy readers would ever know or care?) In fact, a solid book published more than a quarter century ago in 1988 by Jane Mayer and Doyle McManus called “Landslide: The Unmaking of the President 1984-1988” exposed the Cannon-memo tidbit that O’Reilly today claims as his own “exclusive” revelation. Read here for the indicting details.

In “Killing Reagan” O’Reilly and Dugard make the alarming leap of logic that Reagan’s gunshot wound in 1981 caused devastating damage that led to the decline in president’s decision-making faculties several years later. Although this is a spurious, unsubstantiated claim, in O’Reilly’s world Reagan’s subsequent loss of mental faculties essentially “killed” him. Perhaps O’Reilly and Dugard can team up for the next installment: “Killing Scholarship.”

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Here is my take from early 2013 on the head-scratching phenomenon of the O’Reilly “killing” oeuvre.

Bill O’Reilly has made a killing on “Killing.” Rectifying a massive void in the documentation of our country’s colorful history, O’Reilly has penned (with help, of course) two best-selling books about the heretofore obscure assassinations of Presidents Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. So obscure in fact that O’Reilly is compelled to inform the reader of “Killing Lincoln” that “the story you are about to read is true and truly shocking.” Thanks to O’Reilly’s diligent efforts and dogged commitment, we now know how, and even more importantly, by whose hand each lesser-known president met his untimely fate.

Given O’Reilly’s massive TV following of sycophants, it’s no wonder that publisher Henry Holt & Co. would bankroll the rightwing pundit to author “Killing Lincoln” and “Killing Kennedy.” Both books have spent lengthy periods atop the New York Times bestseller list earning millions for both author and publisher. Forget the fact that the books contain numerous factual errors – so many so that for awhile the National Park Service (which runs a rarely-visited site called Ford’s Theater where O’Reilly discovered Lincoln was shot) refused to sell the book there. It seems O’Reilly claimed Lincoln met another obscure character of the time, a Ulysses Grant, in the Oval Office even though there was no such office until 1909, well after the killing of Lincoln is thought to have occurred.

Anyway, I saw an ad in the paper this morning announcing the September 2013 release of another O’Reilly genre book: “Killing Jesus.” Again, the pundit (along with sub-author Martin Dugard) takes on a challenge to shed light on a poorly understood and little-documented event in history. I sincerely hope Bill doesn’t report any more faulty scenes like one where this Jesus fellow breaks matso with an apostle in the Oval Office.

Knowing that the appetite for more “Killing XYZ” books will persist unabated for years, I have some suggestions that should last til the end of the decade.

“Killing Abel” – O’Reilly travels throughout modern-day Iraq in search of the site of the Garden of Eden looking for clues to the world’s first killing. When he finds a cache of WMDs instead, he puts the book on hold and goes on TV to call for another impeachment of Bill Clinton.

“Killing Paul McCartney”
– Mining for details on an obscure rock band called “The Beatles,” of which McCartney was possibly a founding member, O’Reilly reports on who killed Paul, and the assassin’s motiva– Wait, what? OK, I guess Paul isn’t dead.

“Killing John Lennon” – That’s better.

“Killing Old Yeller”
– In this weepy recollection of a folk tale based loosely on the true story of the assassination of a rabid deer named “Bambi’s Mom,” O’Reilly dives deep into the details of what drove a boy to kill the family’s beloved yellow dog, and in the process discovers what really happened between Chuck Connors and Dorothy McGuire while Fess Parker was away for a month hunting with the guys.

“Killing Pope John Paul”
– Now that his co-author Martin Dugard is beginning to whine about getting paid minimum wage for turning O’Reilly’s hallucinations into best-selling books, Bill brings in a new co-author – Francis Ford Coppola – and the two tell the story of a clueless pope who mistakes Lysol for Pinot Grigio and succumbs while his randy cardinals on the floor below exchange their red capes for black hoods to rehearse a scene from Stanley Kubrick’s soon-to-be produced film, “Eyes Wide Shut.”

“Killing Christmas” – O’Reilly departs from his usual format of writing about obscure figures that no historian deems worthy to cover, and pens a book about a topic that is near and dear to every Christian around the world who shits his pants whenever a Krispie Kreme employee says “Happy Holidays.” A fatal victim of an insidious war upon itself by un-Godly forces, Christmas finally succumbs to the twin forces of Hanukah and Kwanza which connive together in the Oval Office to devise their lethal affront.

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NYS Vampires Go After Daily Fantasy Sports

fanduel1The Attorney General of New York, Eric Schneiderman has come out strong against DraftKings and FanDuel, two operators of internet-based daily fantasy sports (DFS) games. In a letter to Nigel Eccles, CEO of FanDuel, the NYS AG called out the company for running an illegal gambling enterprise – “gambling” defined as when a person “stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence.” Damn, that sounds like it should include the buying and selling of stock options and commodity futures – an industry that practically props up New York State.

Without a hint of irony, the letter continues by claiming FanDuel’s contests are not victimless because “daily fantasy sports create the same public health and economic concerns as other forms of gambling, like addiction.” This from a state that runs daily lotteries, peddles scratch-off games to fixed-income seniors, produces non-stop Keno games every five minutes, participates in nationwide Powerball and Mega Millions games, operates several racetracks, and greenlighted a bunch of new casinos. Perhaps the most galling part of the letter chastises FanDuel for representing the game as an easy path to riches, taking them to task for running ads that say, “anyone can play, anyone can succeed.” Is this any more egregious than NYS hawking lottery tickets with slogans like “All you need is a dollar and a dream”?

Oddly, the AG tries to draw a serious distinction between daily fantasy sports and traditional fantasy sports, holding up the latter as a totally acceptable form of entertainment because the participants compete over a long season and play for “bragging rights.” That seems to me like a distinction without a difference. I suspect “traditional” fantasy sports get a pass from the AG because New York can’t figure a way to tax the shit out of it, so the State must default to a position of benign neglect.

The New York Times published an anti-DFS editorial this week that accidentally made a case against themselves. First, the Times says “fantasy sports games are forms of gambling, not games of skill,” then they note a few sentences later that “the top 1 percent of DraftKings’ winning bettors receive the vast majority of the winnings.” If DFS is truly a game of chance and not skill, why aren’t the winnings spread more evenly across all players, like payouts from slot machines?

The real story is that New York State is irritated that it was caught flat-footed and hadn’t anticipated the success of DFS providers, thus delaying the State’s infiltration of the industry to take a big cut of their revenues. That will happen soon enough, though, and all will be forgiven. Let’s face it, internet-based fantasy gaming – like the oft-vilified Uber, Lyft, and AirBnB – is here to stay. Fans like it; hell, the National Football League and the NFL Players Association are in bed with DraftKings and FanDuel. And in July it was reported that DraftKings raised $300 million in funding, much of that from Fox Sports.

No, too much is at stake to allow these companies to disappear. Besides, New York State doesn’t want DraftKings, FanDuel and their ilk to go away. Like an organized crime syndicate, the State just wants the companies to get a license, agree to some regulation, and start disgorging money. Will it all work out in the end?

Well, as New York State is wont to remind viewers every day: “Hey, You Never Know.”

RIP Carol Doda

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Immortalized in Tom Wolfe’s novel, “The Pump House Gang,” Carol Doda was perhaps the first superstar topless dancer who paved the way starting in 1964 for innumerable buxom acolytes who through their mastery of tittie-tassel-twirling and thigh-gripping-pole-vaulting animated the low-slung, windowless strip clubs of rural and exurban America into must-go havens for randy college freshmen, doomed grooms, and repressed masturbatory perverts.

Ms. Doda, who sported a silly-putty-injected 44DD bosom which was said to have been insured for $1.5 million, died the other day at 78.

The way Wolfe told it, Carol Doda was dancing topless at the Condor Club in San Francisco at the same time the Republican National Convention was going on; Conservative Republican delegates barnstorming for Barry Goldwater in the afternoon couldn’t wait to hightail it to the Condor Club in North Beach in the evening to watch those 44DD’s heave and sway. No way could the Red Menace compete with that.

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Analysts: The Captain Hindsights of Wall Street

captain-hindsight-flyingCould there be anything more irritating while you’re hemorrhaging money than to be lectured ex post facto on the “obvious-to-everyone-but-you” trends and directions of stock prices by hyper-insulated, highly-compensated financial experts? Like Captain Hindsight of “South Park” fame who zooms in to tell victims of tragedy about all the things that could have been done to save them, the analysts from esteemed houses of finance like Merrill Lynch, Morgan Stanley, Deutsche Bank and Cantor Fitzgerald have the rare quality of predicting the future mere moments after it’s already happened.

Time and again, analysts who cover publicly traded companies critique strategies, question decisions, scold or exalt executive leaders, dissect competitive threats and – finally – issue forecasts for a variety of valuable statistics like revenues, earnings, free cash flow, and, most-importantly, the long-range future price of a share of stock. That they can do this separates them from the mere mortals who slave away in pedestrian jobs at those same companies they cover. How they do this is the basis for their enormous compensation, and for the cloying deference they receive from investors.

Why they aren’t vilified more for their rank charlatanism is beyond me.

After grinding through a company’s quarterly reports, SEC filings, and public pronouncements (and maybe some insider poop), these analysts conjure up all sorts of rationale for establishing a stock price forecast and a recommendation on whether to buy, hold or sell. Tough stuff . . . the funny thing, though, is that fairly often the analyst will adjust a share price forecast just moments after the stock has already made a significant move – that is, after investors have observed the move for themselves, and cannot take advantage of the analyst’s “foresight.”

Consider a couple analysts who cover IBM: Wamsi Mohan of Merrill Lynch, and Sherri Scribner of Deutsche Bank. Each covers IBM and writes regularly about the company’s financials. Mohan is ranked #1310 and Scribner is ranked #2,483 out of 3,858 analysts by TipRanks – which raises the question: does the world really need 3,858 analysts?

Anyway, IBM stock recently slipped yet again from about $150 to $140 a share in a single day, and the analysts’ sharp knives were out for blood (the stock is now at $135). Marketwatch published a story on October 20 – the same day the stock lost 6 percent overnight – titled “IBM is shrinking, and the future looks ugly” in which the prescient Sherri Scribner announced new, lowered stock price futures. According to Marketwatch, Scribner “lowered her price on IBM’s stock to $150 from $160 and reiterated a hold rating, citing currency headwinds that she expects will pressure IBM’s growth in fiscal-year 2016.” Wow – the stock tanked to $140, dribbled further to $135, and “Carnak” Scribner readied everyone to hold on for a wild ride down to $150.

Check out the recent history of prognostication from Mohan and Scribner below.

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This is not an indictment of Scribner and Mohan in particular, but rather an illustration of the fanciful world in which financial analysts ply their trade. A world – not unlike those inhabited by political pundits – where every prediction is somehow contorted to match reality. A place to avoid if you’re serious about investing to make money.

RIP Gunnar Hansen

The man who played the sinister Leatherface with grace and aplomb in Tobe Hooper’s seminal “Texas Chain Saw Massacre” died the other day at 68. Gunnar Hansen got the job because he fit the director’s vision of a big, imposing figure who could effortlessly wield a chain saw and hoist a panicked girl onto a meat-hook with authority.

More interested in screenwriting than acting, and concerned about being typecast as the maniac killer in horror movies, Hansen nonetheless took additional roles in the same genre as Leatherface – perhaps an indication of the difficulty of making a career out of writing movie scripts.

It’s been told that the Leatherface character was inspired by real-life psycho Ed Gein who murdered women and robbed graves in rural Wisconsin, collected female body parts, and fashioned wearable items from human skin. But whereas Gein was a wisp of a man who operated quietly out of sight, Hansen’s Leatherface was a hulking monster who brandished a noisy chain saw – perhaps one of the most feared weapons for its power to sever limbs without pity.

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I re-watched the movie in the past year and was struck by how tame it seems now compared to the highly-convincing special effects of today’s horror film industry. And in this light, it’s more evident that most of the shock and fear imposed on the audience was due to Hansen’s relentless and pitiless pursuit of the teenagers who stumbled upon his lair. Truly a classic character who ranks right up there with Freddie Kruger, “Halloween’s” Michael Myers, Pinhead, and Jason Voorhees of the “Friday the 13th” franchise.

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Ahmad Chalabi Dies; Takes New Job as Concierge in Hell

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“Dickhead” Ahmad Chalabi gets you the best seats to Hell’s top show, “Cirque du Saddam”

No one can take greater credit for conning the United States into invading Iraq than Ahmad Chalabi, the scoundrel who twisted data, recruited expert liars and made up horror stories tailored to fit the prejudices of a cabal of influential neo-conservatives bent on toppling Saddam Hussein by whatever means and for whatever rationale. And after America made a hash of the Middle East at the cost of thousands of lives and a trillion dollars, Chalabi tried to become the leader of the riven country by shamelessly capitalizing on the chaos.

Chalabi died the other day at 71, and although this is welcome news, it’s too bad he croaked from heart failure instead of stepping on an IED. Chalabi’s mischief goes back at least a couple decades when he was instrumental in marshalling a bunch of chicken-hawk douche-bags (Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, Dick Cheney, Douglas Feith aka. “the stupidest fucking guy on the face of the planet” according to General Tommy Franks) into escorting the Iraq Liberation Act through Congress in 1998. That act made it the declared policy of the U.S. to topple Saddam; no wonder the Bush Administration gleefully jumped on the 9/11 attacks to go after him. Bush’s cabinet and his close advisors had already laid the groundwork well in advance, just waiting for a whiff of a reason to go into the Iraq cauldron.

After conflating 9/11 and Saddam Hussein, those who wanted to exact revenge for the dictator’s bad behavior in the early 1990s needed some rationale for a full-scale invasion and regime-change coup. Enter the smarmy Chalabi. He offered what the neo-cons badly wanted: “evidence” that Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction developed from a vast network of nuclear, chemical and biological programs. Forget that the testimony from Chalabi’s “expert” Iraqi National Congress witnesses were completely non-credible, and worse, on the CIA payroll – the fanciful tales they wove salved the pliable minds of the neo-cons like an opioid.

Most memorable from that sordid affair was the spectacle of Secretary of State Colin Powell at the United Nations presenting the evidence for going to war – all of it based on bullshit stories gleaned from Chalabi’s stable of prevaricators. The most famous of them all was Rafid Ahmed Alwan al-Janabil, the brother of a Chalabi aide, and a guy who earned the codename “Curveball” from the CIA. Despite a moniker that would suggest untrustworthiness, the leadership of the most powerful country in the world took his story to the bank. Powell held up a vial of baby powder and showed a picture of a falafel truck – and the U.S. invaded Iraq.

According to the New York Times , “In 2010, after a disputed parliamentary election that threatened to end the reign of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, Mr. Chalabi led an effort to purge Sunni politicians from positions of authority. By doing so, he helped Mr. Maliki consolidate power and alienated Sunnis — two factors that set the stage for the renaissance of the Sunni insurgency that later metastasized into the Islamic State.” So, again, thank you Ahmad Chalabi. Enjoy Hell, you fucker.

(Side note: Lest you think the blog is unfairly harsh to the men who advised George W. Bush, consider the observations of his father, George H. W. Bush. In a forthcoming biography of the 41st president, “Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush” by Jon Meacham, the elder Bush has some tart words for Cheney and his evil mentor, Donald Rumsfeld. On Rumsfeld: “I think he served the president badly. I don’t like what he did, and I think it hurt the president having his iron-ass view of everything. I’ve never been that close to him anyway. There’s a lack of humility, a lack of seeing what the other guy thinks. He’s more kick ass and take names, take numbers. I think he paid a price for that. Rumsfeld was an arrogant fellow and self-assured, swagger.” As for Mr. Five Deferments Dick Cheney, G.H.W Bush says he built “his own empire” and asserted too much “hard-line” influence within GWB’s White House in pushing for the use of force around the world.)

A couple weeks ago, a strange thread trended on Twitter: “If you could go back and kill Hitler as a baby, would you do it?” I wonder if a similar meme would get traction if “Hitler” were substituted with “Chalabi”? Maybe so, if enough mothers and brothers and friends of dead and maimed Iraqi War veterans knew Chalabi was directly responsible for their devastation.

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Debate Exposes Over-Rehearsed Automatons

Seals1As I dressed for a night of drinking and gambling at the MGM Grand Casino, anticipating an exciting evening of currency depletion, I caught the beginning of the Republican Presidential debate on CNBC. No fan of these spectacles, I was about to switch the channel when I heard the opening question which was lobbed at each of the candidates by moderator Carl Quintanilla: “What’s your biggest weakness?” Anticipating equivocation and bloviation, the moderator added, “So in 30 seconds, without telling us that you try too hard or that you’re a perfectionist, what is your biggest weakness and what are you doing to address it?”

(Now, it’s anyone’s guess how such an inane question made it onto the docket when just two hours had been allotted for the entire “debate” in which no less than 10 people participated. But these shows have long been nothing more than mere entertainment where serious topics must not be raised lest the viewing audience switch to the channel that broadcasts burning logs in a fireplace.)

The serial responses from the suited candidates standing behind the podia offered irrefutable proof that each is an over-rehearsed automaton, morphed by consultants and handlers from presumably sentient humans into trained seals who know when to bark for fish snacks.

Kicking it off was John Kasich who clearly did not hear and/or understand the question. Or maybe he just didn’t give a shit. Remember – the question was “what’s your biggest weakness?” Here’s how the man from Ohio replied: “Good question, but I want to tell you, my great concern is that we are on the verge, perhaps, of picking someone who cannot do this job.” He blabbed on, calling out unnamed competitors who “talk about deporting 10 or 11 people here from this country out of this country, splitting families.” Shit. Deporting 10 or 11 people? And here I thought it was millions. I guess Kasich’s weakness is an inability to comprehend really big numbers.

Next up was the pious Mike Huckabee, who immediately defied the admonition of the moderator not to cite a strength disguised as a weakness. “If I have a weakness, it’s that I try to live by the rules. I try to live by the rules, no matter what they are, and I was brought up that way as a kid. Play by the rules.” I love his opening: “If” – IF!? – “I have a weakness.” What a pompous blob of cellulite. And what rules is he fucking talking about?

Silver-spooner Jeb Bush: “I can’t fake anger.” As the moderator in the beginning also asked the candidates to explain what they’re doing to address their weakness, presumably Jeb is working on doing a better job of faking anger.

Marco Rubio has been accused of being the anodyne candidate, and he didn’t disappoint. The young Cuban-American said, “I would begin by saying that I’m not sure it’s a weakness, but I do believe that I share a sense of optimism for America’s future.” Sharing a sense of optimism? No, little Marco, that’s not a weakness. Jerking off to scat porn is a weakness. Patronizing the guy who gives you such bad haircuts is a weakness. Sharing a sense of optimism doesn’t rise to the level of weakness.

Unpersuasively, Donald Trump called himself out as follows: “I think maybe my greatest weakness is that I trust people too much. I’m too trusting.” Maybe that’s true; who knows. Trump inadvertently revealed another weakness, though, which seems much more believable. “If they let me down, I never forgive.” Easy to visualize such vindictive behavior from Trump. Perhaps sensing he gave away too much info, he quickly added, “I don’t know if you would call that a weakness.” So why bring it up? Or is candor his real weakness?

Carly Fiorina, the well-practiced public speaker charmed the audience when she said, “Well, gee, after the last debate, I was told that I didn’t smile enough.” But no sooner had she behaved like a human, she reverted to full-on circus-seal wonk mode. “75 percent of the American people think the federal government is corrupt. And this big powerful, corrupt bureaucracy works now only for the big, the powerful, the wealthy and the well-connected.” And who would know better about how the wealthy and the well-connected benefit than Carly Fiorina.

Smarmy Ted Cruz (who reminds me of Joseph McCarthy with his greasy hair and dark eyes) followed Fiorina, and he also tried the self-deprecating approach. “I’m too agreeable, easy going.” But no longer a human being, the over-rehearsed Cruz felt obligated to restate: “You know, I think my biggest weakness is exactly the opposite. I’m a fighter. I am passionate about what I believe. I’ve been passionate my whole life about the Constitution.” Being passionate is a weakness? Only on planet Cruz.

Wearing invisible blinkers, portly Chris Christie exclaimed, “I don’t see a lot of weakness on this stage, quite frankly. Where I see the weakness is in those three people that are left on the Democratic stage.” Clearly his handlers have counseled Christie to seem more statesmanlike, and refrain from attacking fellow Reps. “You know, I see a socialist, an isolationist and a pessimist. And for the sake of me, I can’t figure out which one is which.” A few seconds later, he says emphatically, “I know who the pessimist is. It’s Hillary Clinton.” And given Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist, what’s Christie’s problem? Is his weakness the inability to comprehend the process of elimination?

And finally, nutcase Rand Paul got to list his weakness – but it was couched in an enigma. He started off by pontificating, “You know, I left my medical practice and ran for office because I was concerned about an $18 trillion debt. We borrow a million dollars a minute. Now, on the floor of the Congress, the Washington establishment from both parties puts forward a bill that will explode the deficit.” The audience breathlessly awaited a Rand Paul weakness, and he finally delivered. Referring to the bill, he pronounced, “I will spend every ounce of energy to stop it. I will begin tomorrow to filibuster it.” And if throwing sand into the gears of government on a Quixotic adventure isn’t a weakness, I don’t know what is.

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The Weills: Petty Plutocrats Practice Penury

weillJoan Weill has a soft spot in her heart for tiny Paul Smith’s College nestled in the Adirondack Mountains where she and her billionaire husband Sanford often go for R&R. Although Paul Smith’s College is the only private institute of higher learning in the Adirondack Park that grants four-year degrees, it has suffered financially of late, hampered by a lackluster endowment fund. Tuition is high, financial aid is limited, and, let’s face it – the place is pretty damn remote. Still, the college offers a quality education, and is considered a valuable asset for upstate New York.

Apparently, Joan Weill believes the college deserves to prosper, and as lack of money is the only thing standing between success and looming mediocrity, Joan is in a good position to intercede. And she has. Thanks to the enormous wealth that oozes from the pockets of Sanford, who is said by Forbes to be worth $1.01 billion, the couple has donated $10 million to the college and raised nearly $30 million from other donors. (Sidebar: Sanford Weill engineered the agglomeration of Citigroup and Travelers Insurance, and successfully agitated for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall law which freed banks to go bat-shit insane with other peoples’ money. In honor of his toxic legacy, Time named him one of the “25 People to Blame for the Financial Crisis.”)

Those who administer Paul Smith’s College have been extremely grateful for the Weill largesse which was used to build a new library (known as Joan Weill Adirondack Library) and a student center (yeah, it’s called the Joan Weill Student Center.)

Joan Weill is so smitten with Paul Smith’s College that she recently offered to pony up another $20 million – money that could seriously change the game for the institution. One itsy-bitsy catch: change the name to Joan Weill-Paul Smith’s College. (Clearly the woman has a fairly virulent strain of narcissism going on.) The College administrators were so hot for the cash infusion, they were practically running to Staples to print up new business cards; that is, until some party-pooper reminded them that when the college was created in 1937 with a bequest from Phelps Smith, the benefactor required that it “be forever known” as Paul Smith’s College of Arts and Sciences, in honor of his father. Uh oh.

The issue went to court and on October 7 Judge John Ellis denied the request to skirt the covenant so as to change the name. NY State law allows the rules attached to a charitable contribution to be tossed aside only when complying with them has become impossible. Judge Ellis concluded the College was not in imminent danger of folding up, so it was not impossible to comply. Hence, no name change allowed.

Okay, sounds pretty cut and dried. Maybe instead the school could do a ribbon-cutting on the Joan Weill Parking Garage, and the Joan Weill Theater of the Absurd.

But today we learned that “philanthropists” Joan and Sanford Weill were more concerned about fishing for adoration and proliferating their names all over the bucolic campus than they were about building a lasting institution. Following the court ruling, the couple decided not to donate the money after all.

But with $20 million burning a hole in her purse, don’t be shocked to find the name “Joan Weill” plastered on some other revered institution. Say the Adirondack Park itself?

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Hollywood’s Age Gap Trope

16Leslie-obit-SUB-master675-v2When I read the New York Times obituary for Joan Leslie, screen actress from the good old days who died the other day at 90, I couldn’t help recalling the long-time Hollywood trope of romantically pairing young women with older men. The caption on the above photo accompanying the obit: “Joan Leslie, at 18, dancing with Fred Astaire in ‘The Sky’s the Limit,’ in 1943.” Unmentioned was that Fred at the time was 44 years old.

The obit goes on to note, “Before she was out of her teens she had become known for film roles including Velma, the young disabled woman with whom Humphrey Bogart falls in love in “High Sierra” (1941); Gracie, the love interest of Gary Cooper in “Sergeant York” (1941), a role she landed on her 16th birthday; and Mary, the bride of George M. Cohan (played by James Cagney) in “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” released in 1942.” At the time when Leslie was cast as the romantic partner at the age of just 16, Bogart was 42, Gary Cooper was 40, and Cagney was 43. And before she was 20, Leslie starred as the love interest of Henry Fonda (38) and Ronald Reagan (32).

Other films of the era that paired romantic leads with a wide age gap include “North by Northwest” (Cary Grant (55) and Eva Marie Saint (35)), “Rear Window” (James Stewart (46) and Grace Kelly (25)), “To Have and Have Not” (Humphrey Bogart (45) and Lauren Bacall (20)), “Gone With the Wind” (Clark Gable (38) and Vivien Leigh (26)), and “Casablanca” (Humphrey Bogart (43) and Ingrid Bergman (27)).

That was decades ago and yet the conceit continues to this day. Hollywood prefers to mismatch the romantic leads age-wise, I believe, so as to enhance the perception of male star’s virility, and to stoke envy in the hearts of the audience.

More recent examples include:

“Six Days and Seven Nights” (1998), a comedy in which a young Anne Heche (29) suffers the company of grizzly Harrison Ford (56), a pilot of a small plane that crash lands on an uninhabited island, but comes around to digging his craggy ass.

“A Perfect Murder” (1998), a thriller in which Michael Douglas (54) concocts an elaborate plot to kill his unfaithful wife, Gwyneth Paltrow (36).

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“In the Line of Fire” (1993), in which secret service agents Clint Eastwood (63) and Renee Russo (39) team up to find a would-be assassin, and hook up while on the presidential trail.

“The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” (2011), the Scandinavian psycho-sexual thriller in which reporter Daniel Craig (43) investigates a murder (and some kinky maneuvers) with the help of punky computer hacker Rooney Mara (26).

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I’m sure you can conjure up dozens more, as such casting is so common.

An now consider “Sunset Blvd,” Billy Wilder’s 1950 classic about an over-the-hill actress from the silent era who seeks to resurrect her career with the help of a young screenwriter. Gloria Swanson (51 at the time) plays Norma Desmond who is in her 50s; William Holden (32) plays the struggling Joe Gillis who is supposed to be in his 20s. The movie depicts the ruthlessness of a Hollywood that discards actors who have aged beyond a certain sweet-spot – probably 29 years old, when it comes to women. Gloria Swanson, who actually made her bones in silent films starting in 1914, is excellent as the forgotten star holed up like a hermit in her decrepit mansion. Unlike most films that use the age gap to manipulate the audience, “Sunset Blvd” takes the dilemma faced by middle-aged actresses head-on. And it doesn’t end well for anyone.

Although it’s no longer the case that actresses in their 50s and beyond can’t get good parts (e.g. Meryl Streep, Diane Keaton, Julianne Moore, Jodie Foster, Sigorney Weaver, Helen Mirren), I believe the quantity of scripts written with a strong, middle-aged leading female character in mind is fundamentally limited. Russell Crowe disagrees, blaming middle-aged actresses who won’t acknowledge they are no longer spring chickens. But as the article notes, Crowe “makes no mention of the endless parade of films with creaking, ageing leading men playing opposite fresh-faced love-interests.”

The lead character in my screenplay, “Double Blind Test,” is Tracy Shepard, a take-charge, professional 40-something mediator who is conned by identical twin businessmen who sought her help to resolve a dispute. Tracy later meets another woman in a suspiciously similar circumstance, and the two team up to take down the con artists. Read the screenplay and enjoy the delicious plate of revenge served up by Ms. Shepard.

As Predicted Here

On September 22, I commented in this blog on Volkswagen’s emissions work-around scandal, asking rhetorically: “how many drivers of affected Volkswagens and Audis will ignore the recalls so as to retain the increased performance.”

Now, a month later in the New York Times comes this article which reports, “the automaker faces another hurdle: persuading owners to make the repair at all. That’s because the software that allowed Volkswagen to fool federal emissions tests also lowered the car’s performance and fuel economy while the device was turned on. So for owners, the prospect of having a car’s emissions cleaned up, only to have the car perform worse — whatever the pollution — is not sitting well.”

In a word, duh.

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The NIMBY Defunders of the Freedom Caucus

BonerwhackThe so-called Freedom Caucus – a group made up of about 40 Republican congressmen – has of late wielded power all out of proportion with its numbers in the House of Representatives. With fewer than ten percent of the chamber, these 40 men (and a couple women) have forced the resignation of the Speaker, John Boehner, put the fear of god in their Majority Leader, Kevin McCarthy, and tarred the once-beatified conservative standard bearer Paul Ryan as being too far left to be Boehner’s replacement.

In addition to playing spoiler in the odyssey to find someone to take over the Speaker’s gavel, the Freedom Caucus has demanded radical budgetary surgery, and in anticipation of not getting it, has gleefully agitated for a government shutdown and default on the national debt. And the stridency doesn’t stop with financial issues. They also call for abrogation of treaties, mass deportations, eliminating regulations, and lots of anti-government actions in the spirit of seeing government as the problem, not the solution.

Fair enough. Until you peer behind the curtain and see what these anti-government politicians do when few people are watching. It seems defunding only applies to other people’s programs. When it comes to goring a local sacred cow, the Freedom Caucusers cry out “Not in My Backyard!”

Take Mark Sanford of South Carolina – the guy who called for Bill Clinton to resign over a sex scandal, but could not do the same when his affair with an Argentinian woman was revealed. Now that he’s back in Congress after sullying the Governor’s office, Sanford talks tough on cutting spending and waste. But following the recent flooding of biblical proportions in his home state, Sanford urged his constituents to go seek out relief offered by none other than FEMA and the Small Business Administration – two “big government” entities that you’d think a purist like Sanford would be trying to shut down, or at least defund into uselessness. Also, Sanford has come out strongly against offshore drilling , which seems an unlikely position for a pro-business guy who bows at the feet of capitalism. But we’re talking about drilling off the coast of South Carolina, so it’s different.

Gary Palmer of Alabama is a Freedom Caucuser. He’s mad about Planned Parenthood, the EPA, Iran, Obama, and just about everything on the far right side of the menu. Defunding things is his call to action – both to nullify shit he doesn’t agree with, as well as to cut spending. Funny though, when it comes to spending in his district, Gary boy is a regular Santa Claus. Thanks to his help, Verbena Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department will receive a grant for $69,715; Indian Ford Fire District gets $70,858; Straight Mountain Volunteer Fire and Rescue gets $60,567; and the list goes on and on. And where does the money come from? The Department of Homeland Security, another “big government” tit that would seem to be a Palmer bête noir.

New Jersey’s Scott Garrett holds the lofty title of Chairman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Capital Markets and Government-Sponsored Enterprises, and as such has taken a keen interest in the Federal Reserve Board. He doesn’t like the way they do bidness. Scott also is not fond of Dodd-Frank which came about in response to a near-meltdown of the financial system in 2008 (but that was like 100 years ago, so who needs it now?) According to his website, “As a senior member of the House Budget Committee, Congressman Garrett is on the frontline of House Republican efforts to rein in runaway government spending and shrink our country’s ballooning national debt.”

Coincidentally, Garrett introduced an amendment to a 2016 bill that would add nearly $17 million to the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Safety and Operations Account to protect the safety of passenger and freight railroads. Sounds OK, especially given the volume of rail traffic in NJ – but what about our country’s ballooning national debt? I guess Scott Garrett repealed addition in the Garden State.

Rod Blum said this recently about a Highway Trust Fund bill that would cost $8 billion: “This is typical of our federal government: spend the money now and pay for it 20 years from now. We need to make the tough decisions today and stop using accounting tricks to pass on the credit card bill to our children and grandchildren instead.” Tough talk, but not unexpected from a Freedom Caucus guy who is also a member of the Budget and Oversight & Government Reform Committees.

But Blum also represents the people of the 1st district of Iowa, which includes Cedar Rapids – a place that has seen its share of flooding. I suppose then that it comes as no surprise that Blum puts aside his animus toward spending when it funnels to his voting public. Bragging a bit, Rod the Blum says, “I have been fighting since the Floods of 2008 to get these protection measures approved by Congress and signed into law by the President, as well as delivering more than $4 billion in disaster assistance to help Iowa rebuild.” Stated another way: Highways –bad; Flood protection – good.

Because he represents West Virginia, Alex Mooney is obligated to hate the EPA and must take extreme umbrage against the “war on coal.” Mooney said, “As a freshman member of the House Budget Committee, I worked to deliver on West Virginia priorities, balance the federal budget and reduce the size and scope of an overreaching federal government.” Pretty bold claims coming from a dude who’s been in office for less than two years. Anyway, his actual contribution to the House budget: three amendments calling for de-funding new stream buffer regulations, de-funding new Environmental Protection Agency ozone standard regulations and de-funding the Legal Services Corporation. (This “accomplishment” is cited about a dozen times on his website.)

The man is a defunder! Except, of course, when the needs of his constituents come a-callin’. In a press release , “Congressman Alex X. Mooney applauded the announcement that the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) will increase funding for High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas (HIDTA) by $13.4 million as part of a new Heroin Response Strategy.” And why might he applaud what would appear to meet his definition of “overreaching federal government”? West Virginia has a heroin problem, you see. Yeah, sure, other states have problems too, but this is West Virginia and defunding stops at the border.

It should be noted that the items called for by these Freedom Caucus wieners are not bad things. They are legitimate attempts to deal with and solve real problems. But how irritating to witness the hypocritical posture these and others with them assume when the cameras are rolling, and the pitchfork-wielding public gathers to chomp on red meat.

Endnote: A Wonderful Word

Vergangenheitsbewältigung – It means coming to terms with the past.

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This Week in Irresponsible Gun Ownership

imagesgunGun ownership in the United States has long ago morphed into a religion, impervious to facts and statistics. No sense trying to fight it anymore. The NRA has become akin to such outliers as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Scientology crowd: a collection of zealots who defy logical extinction by grasping to a pole of certitude in their righteousness, turning to the Constitution, like all religions must, for cover.

Those who seek to thwart the NRA – gun control advocates who want to impose restrictions – are fooling themselves. If after the slaughter of 20 pre-schoolers – nothing changed; if after the shooting of a member of Congress – nothing changed; and hypothetically, if the mass murder by a crazed gunman of the top leadership of the NRA were to occur – and nothing changed …. Then it’s time to move on to another strategy.

We know that even the strongest of organized religions must sometimes succumb to the misdeeds of its flock. The Catholic Church, for example, is a powerful entity – yet in the face of sexual abuse by clergy, they’ve had to pony up more than a few Lira to atone for the evils of a few miscreants in their hierarchy.

Ownership and purchase restrictions on guns have been only marginally effective, and are essentially limited in scope due to court decisions favoring loose oversight. Still, guns are inherently dangerous tools. And should the owner of such tools mismanage them, it makes sense that they pay a hefty price for the consequences of their mismanagement. No trespassing on the Second Amendment required – just a little personal responsibility for one’s actions. What self-respecting conservative gun owner could be against that?

And now, this week in irresponsible gun ownership.

Ohio: Boy, 11, Picks Up Gun and Kills His Brother, 12 – October 6 Link

An 11-year-old boy killed his 12-year-old brother in eastern Ohio, where the man they were with had gone target shooting with a friend, Sheriff Dale Williams of Carroll County said Tuesday. The shooting occurred while the boys, from Moore, S.C., were visiting rural Lee Township, about 50 miles west of Pittsburgh. The sheriff said three loaded weapons were on a picnic table Friday afternoon when the younger boy picked one up and it fired. The older boy was struck in the head and died at the scene. Sheriff Williams said no one was charged. (Sidebar: What about the gun owner?)

Boy, 11, Accused of Killing 8-Year-Old Neighbor With Shotgun – October 5 Link

An 11-year-old boy has been charged with murder after he killed his 8-year-old neighbor, police said, and witnesses say it was because the girl wouldn’t let him see her puppy. Deputies were called to the neighborhood in White Pine, about 40 miles east of Knoxville, on Saturday night. The boy shot the girl from inside his home with his father’s 12-gauge shotgun, said Jefferson County Sheriff Bud McCoig. Latasha Dyer told WATE-TV her daughter was playing outside when the next-door neighbor asked to see the puppy. McKayla told the boy “no,” and he shot her, Dyer said. A neighbor, Misty Edwards, said her niece was playing with the girl and saw what happened.

The sheriff would not discuss the motive with local media, and the sheriff’s office did not immediately return messages from The Associated Press. The shooting happened in a neighborhood where all the kids knew each other and played together, McCoig said. The two children went to the same school, where McKayla was in second grade and the boy in fifth grade. Dyer said the boy had bullied her daughter before, when they first moved to the neighborhood. “He was making fun of her, calling her names, just being mean to her,” she said. “I had to go the principal about him and he quit for a while, and then all of a sudden yesterday he shot her.” The boy was scheduled to appear in court on Monday on a charge of first-degree murder. (Sidebar: What about the gun owner?) The hearing was closed because he is a juvenile, and authorities have not released his identity to the public.

Oregon Shooting at Umpqua College Kills 10, Sheriff Says – October 1 Link

A 26-year-old man opened fire on a community college campus here in a rampage that left 10 people dead and seven wounded and turned this rural stretch of southern Oregon into the latest American locale ravaged by a mass shooting. Students described scenes of carnage concentrated in a public speaking class that was underway in a college humanities building, and people fleeing in panic from classrooms as they heard shots nearby. The college, Umpqua Community College, went into lockdown, and the gunman died in an exchange of gunfire with police officers who responded, law enforcement officials said.

With anxious parents waiting at a fairground near the campus and the police going from classroom to classroom, the authorities’ reports of the death toll varied throughout the day. At a 5 p.m. news conference, John Hanlin, the sheriff of Douglas County, said that he believed there were 10 dead, calling the toll the “best, most accurate information we have at this time.” He declined to say whether the gunman was included in the death toll.

Law enforcement officials have said they recovered 14 firearms and spare ammunition magazines that were purchased legally either by Mr. Harper-Mercer, 26, or an unnamed relative. (Sidebar: The relative is the killer’s mother – will she take any legal heat?) Mr. Harper-Mercer had six guns with him when he entered a classroom building on Thursday and started firing on a writing class in which he was enrolled; the rest were found in the second-floor apartment he shared with his mother.

Hunter Packing Away Gun Accidentally Shoots, Kills Friend – October 5 Link

Authorities in Nevada say a hunter accidentally killed his friend when a gun he was packing into a car fired. Elko County Undersheriff Clair Morris says 48-year-old Stephen James Foley of Carson City died Friday at the scene about 20 miles south of Jackpot. Four friends on an elk hunting excursion were putting their gear in a vehicle to head back to camp. Morris says a 49-year-old friend of Foley’s was putting away a rifle when it discharged and a round went through a door, hitting Foley in the chest.

Morris says the hunting party tried to give Foley first aid after calling for help, but he succumbed to his injuries. Authorities say deputies arrived about 20 minutes after the 911 call. Detectives have ruled the shooting an accident.

3rd-grader playing with gun shoots child at Georgia school – August 25 Link

Officials in Georgia say an elementary school student suffered minor injuries after being accidentally shot by a third-grade classmate playing with a gun. The shooting happened Tuesday morning at Hornsby Elementary School in Augusta. Richmond County School Board spokesman Kaden Jacobs says a student brought the weapon to school and was “playing with the gun inside a desk.” She says it discharged accidentally.

School officials said at a news conference the bullet grazed a girl in the third-grade class. Superintendent Angela Pringle said the girl was home resting after being treated at a hospital. Police said the boy who brought the .380-caliber handgun to school was questioned and released to his parents. No decisions on charges had been made. (Sidebar: What about the … oh, fuck it)

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