Hey! You! Get Off of My ‘Do’

Donald-Trump-Bad-Hair-Photo-1-1The Breck-encrusted squirrel that rides atop Donald Trump’s head has long been the subject of much derision and the source of great mirth for late-night television comics. A favorite from Craig Ferguson: “Donald Trump showed his birth certificate to reporters. Who cares about his birth certificate? I want to know if that thing on his head has had its vaccinations.” And whenever I see the game-show scene featuring Billy Crystal from “Mr. Saturday Night,” I can’t help but think of Trump’s “fuckin’ hair.”

But this blog is not another derivative swipe at the world’s wackiest comb-over. Rather, it’s to make a case that Trump’s refusal to back down in the face of relentless opprobrium speaks volumes about his approach to life, business and politics. No doubt he could easily afford to tame the toup’ and sport something bearing a more human-like appearance. Consider Andre Agassi. As time took its toll on the star tennis player’s pate, he gracefully surrendered the mullet to reality and wound up looking quite a bit less ridiculous in the process.

Ag2

But that isn’t Donald’s nature. The more people pile on with the snide “pelt” jokes and “carpet sample” cracks, the more Trump augers in. Even though it must take at least a half dozen stylists several hours to tease up enough hair from his back and asshole to cover his head, he presses on. Like Gene Shalit’s pubic moustache, Norman Lear’s porkpie hat, Angus Young’s silly schoolboy uniform, Bono’s sunglasses and Stevie Van Zandt’s kerchief, Trump’s hair has become an integral part of his persona, for better or worse. Don’t expect him to ever change.

learetal

And in that way, should Donald Trump make it all the way to the top, the world would see what America would have been like had Dick Cheney been president. No amount of facts, logic, and expert persuasion could change Mr. Five Deferment’s mind – and it would be the same with Trump. Screw anyone who might make an attempt to bring reality into the equation. “You say it’s impossible to deport 11 million people from the United States and inconceivably expensive to build a wall from South Padre Island, TX to Chula Vista, CA? You’re Fired!”

And for that alone it would be fun to watch Trump prevail – provided you’re witnessing the debacle from another planet.

De Blasio and Bratton: Defenders of the Faith

More insidious than ISIS. More disgusting than cockroaches. More destructive than Godzilla. More dangerous than the third rail.

Mayor Bill de Blasio and his Police Commissioner Bill Bratton have trained their steely eyes on vanquishing the biggest threat to New York City to emerge since Anderson Cooper took over for Dick Clark on New Year’s Eve: Los Desnudas de Tiempo Cuadrado!

As if full-sized Elmo’s and Betty Boop’s weren’t bad enough, tranquil and venerated Times Square (the Crossroads of the World, for god’s sake!) has been overrun by nude women (well, g-strings and painted boobs, but still…) posing and panhandling. What’s next for Times Square? Giant billboards of men and girls wearing slinky underwear in sexually suggestive poses? Oh, wait.

150822-1439-urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-150822-99-02385

De Blasio and Bratton have no other mission than to stop the madness, and recently revealed their master plan: tear up the pedestrian promenade of Times Square and return Broadway to the rightful owners: taxi cabs and massive double-decker tour buses.
But the Puritans had better watch out. Because when the editorial pages of two diametrically opposed newspapers make the same argument against you – slow down.

The Wall Street Journal wrote over the weekend, “If there are no pedestrians, there will be no one to harass. By Mr. de Blasio’s logic, he could end homelessness by removing parks, benches , subway grates, doorways and the sidewalks where transients build their encampments.”

Likewise, the New York Times observed, “On Thursday, Mr. de Blasio suggested one solution: eliminating some of Times Square’s pedestrian plazas, apparently on the theory that if you can get tourists to go away, you reduce the topless-woman threat.”

Bratton and de Blasio should give up the crusade and head to Coney Island instead like the freaks they are: two dicks and a pair of boobs.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Hooking Up: Tinder vs. ISIS

isistinderIn a recent Vanity Fair article titled Tinder and the Dawn of the “Dating Apocalypse” , reporter Nancy Jo Sales quotes a research scientist at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction thus: “There have been two major transitions” in heterosexual mating “in the last four million years. The first was around 10,000 to 15,000 years ago, in the agricultural revolution, when we became less migratory and more settled,” leading to the establishment of marriage as a cultural contract. “And the second major transition is with the rise of the Internet.” Sales goes on to lay out a fairly dim view of the state of dating today in which the sweet spot of virility and fecundity (20-somethings) seeks out their mates not via direct face-to-face interaction the way it was done in the good ole days of, say 10 long years ago, but rather through the popular if not impersonal app Tinder.

Essentially, people who rely on Tinder post some basic stuff about themselves – the profile photo being by far the most important element in the decision-making process – and itemize the characteristics of those whom they seek. Because the app knows where its users are, Tinder can supply photos of potential mates who are currently within the required striking range of the hunters (500 feet… 2 miles… all depends on the level of desperation.)

Tinder users can decide quite quickly based on the profile photo whether they have interest in pursuing something further – if yes, they swipe the picture to the right; if not, it’s a swift swipe to the left. The person being vetted knows nothing unless they also swipe right on the picture of a person who swiped right on them as well. No humiliation and bad feelings. And that’s a good thing. But as the article progresses it becomes clear that there is a sad hollowness about the whole thing. Sales chats up some Wall Street douchebags who explain the Tinder phenomenon this way: “It’s instant gratification and a validation of your own attractiveness by just, like, swiping your thumb on an app. You see some pretty girl and you swipe and it’s, like, oh, she thinks you’re attractive too, so it’s really addicting, and you just find yourself mindlessly doing it. Sex has become so easy. I can go on my phone right now and no doubt I can find someone I can have sex with this evening, probably before midnight.”

Overall, the Vanity Fair piece is unfavorable in its assessment of the ways and means of hooking up in the 21st Century, and Tinder, as the most widely-used method for it, takes a hit in the process. Curiously, Tinder went on a rampage in response to the story, going out to Twitter of all places to denounce the story. Maybe the barrage of Tweets was the result of a Tinder social media team gone bonkers, or a pre-planned counter-strike by “savvy” marketing dweebs, but most of the outside world’s reaction to the Twitter overload from Tinder was expectedly negative. Vox captured the zeitgeist as well as anyone. Vox said the article, “portrayed Tinder users as often shallow, sex-obsessed jerks,” and that’s an easy call.

But forget about Tinder. What about ISIS? Hell, imagine you’re in charge of helping thousands of smelly, unwashed, ignorant, hirsute, poverty-stricken bastards get laid. Do you think a greasy, strung-out terrorist can find a mate through an app like Tinder which places nearly 100 percent emphasis on looks? No chance. Hence: ISIS Matchmaking Service and Beheading Solutions. ®

Calling all repressed Muslim men around the world who can’t get laid like normal dudes!!

A scathing New York Times expose details the utter depravity of the ISIS clan. These wasted fuckers are beyond repair and deserving of annihilation; losers who are taught that raping an “infidel” is not a sin, and in fact brings them closer to God.

Feast your eyes on this sadistic bullshit: “In the moments before he raped the 12-year-old girl, the Islamic State fighter took the time to explain that what he was about to do was not a sin. Because the preteen girl practiced a religion other than Islam, the Quran not only gave him the right to rape her — it condoned and encouraged it, he insisted. He bound her hands and gagged her. Then he knelt beside the bed and prostrated himself in prayer before getting on top of her. When it was over, he knelt to pray again, bookending the rape with acts of religious devotion. “I kept telling him it hurts — please stop,” said the girl, whose body is so small an adult could circle her waist with two hands. “He told me that according to Islam he is allowed to rape an unbeliever. He said that by raping me, he is drawing closer to God.”

Could any of these eunuchs make time on Tinder?

Amazingly, these criminals extract permission for their depravity from the Koran. “There is a great deal of scripture that sanctions slavery,” said Cole Bunzel, a scholar of Islamic theology at Princeton University and the author of a research paper published by the Brookings Institution on the ideology of the Islamic State. “You can argue that it is no longer relevant and has fallen into abeyance. ISIS would argue that these institutions need to be revived, because that is what the Prophet and his companions did.”
Returning to the Kinsey guy: “There have been two major transitions” in heterosexual mating “in the last four million years.”

Apparently ISIS would like to reset the bar to 5 million years ago.

No doubt in my mind the vast majority of Islamists from around the globe rushing to the Middle East to join the jihad are really nothing more than perverted, sexually-frustrated wimps looking to achieve sexual release they could not attain under normal, modern-era standards.

And for that, they all must go to hell.

End Note: Fuck You Again, Microsoft

Any fundamental comp sci course on operating systems delivered since the mid-60s will inform you that the OS is responsible for whatever executes on the hardware system. A user tries to access protected memory? Blocked. A program tries to spawn an unauthorized routine? Aborted. This is basic shit, going back light-years.

script

Still, we must suffer the pain of pre-1990s laptop performance because Microsoft Windows can’t seem to intervene when some rogue script runs awry and becomes “unresponsive.” This tends to happen whenever you visit a webpage – so luckily it’s a rare occurrence.

Jesus, Microsoft! Don’t ask me if I want to wait for https://grindmyclitand.slipmesomepork.youfrottagelover.com to come back to life. Just kill the motherfucker!

What am I paying you for?

Posted in Business, Politics, Religion | Tagged , , | Comments Off

Jeb Bush Falls into the Rabbit Hole

jebhat1In a foreign policy speech delivered at the Reagan Presidential Library the other day, former governor and current hack Jeb Bush sought to blame Islamic-driven violence in Iraq and Syria on none other than Hillary Clinton. By virtue of her being the Secretary of State under Obama during a period of troop draw-down in Iraq, she is now the primary cause of anarchy in the region.

Before moving on, recall that Jeb Bush went through pendulum swings of opinions when asked about the disastrous war that his brother started in 2003. He first said, knowing what we know now, he would still have gone to war – which seems ridiculous. Clearly he answered this way so as not to shit upon his brother’s ill-conceived adventure. Then when his statement kicked up a bunch of incredulous dust, he claimed to have misheard the question, interpreting it as “would you have gone in knowing what we knew then. ” Of course, this only caused people to re-ask the question with emphasis on the word “now.” In response, he called it a hypothetical question unworthy of an answer. Later he said that to answer the question would be an insult to the American troops who fought in the war (?). He continued to hide behind the notion that he would not answer hypotheticals, until finally caving in and saying he wouldn’t have gone in knowing what we know today. As is often the case, Jon Stewart summarized better than any real news source the lunacy of it all.

Anyway, Jeb is clearly planting seeds of ideas that the morass in Iraq and Syria caused by U.S. troop withdrawal is somehow the fault of Hillary Clinton. He said, “Rushing away from danger can be every bit as unwise as rushing into danger, and the costs have been grievous.” And who could disagree with that? But did the Bush-ites conveniently forget that it was Brother W who initiated the whole drawdown to begin with?

George W. Bush in 2008 as president signed the “Agreement Between the United States of America and the Republic of Iraq On the Withdrawal of United States Forces from Iraq and the Organization of Their Activities during Their Temporary Presence in Iraq” which called for U.S. combat forces to withdraw from Iraqi cities by June 30, 2009, (5 months into Obama’s first term) and for all U.S. combat forces to be completely out of Iraq by December 31, 2011. Read the agreement in all its bureaucratic glory.

Still, as most American’s have the inquisitiveness and attention span of an earthworm, I’m sure the bulk of the population thinks Obama pulled all the troops out of Iraq and sent them to Kenya for radical socialist brainwashing. And with that, Jeb will probably prevail in the prevarication.

You Don’t Bring Me Flowers Anymore

tanktulip

Everyone in the world knows that the Russians or their proxies in Eastern Ukraine shot down Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 a little more than a year ago. The Boeing 777 was bound for Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, from Amsterdam with 283 passengers, including three infants, and 15 crew members. At the time, Russia’s president Vladimir Poontang blamed the Ukrainian government for creating the conditions for insurgency in eastern Ukraine, as if that was supposed to exonerate the annihilation of hundreds of innocent people.

As Flight 17 began in the Netherlands and carried mostly Dutch citizens aboard, the Dutch government took the lead on the investigation. And just the other day it was reported that pieces of a Russian-made missile were intermixed with wreckage from the plane. The fact that Russian separatists holing up in Ukraine had shot down at least a dozen military aircraft in the same airspace in the time leading up to the downing of the commercial jet liner only adds to the ironclad case.

Still, Russia is taking umbrage, and just this past Monday announced that agricultural officials would start inspecting with great rigor imports of Dutch tulips and other flowers into Russia. Talk about petty assholes. Presumably the inspectors will find Dutch foo-foo dust, thus ordering all shipments to be distilled into some form of alcoholic beverage. And if that doesn’t stop the men from the land of windmills, will the Ruskie’s outlaw wooden shoes?

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , | Comments Off

M&A (Mergers and Avarice) in the Airline Industry

AA stitchUpon Federal Trade Commission approval of the merger of American Airline and USAir in November 2013, the new company along with just three others – Delta, United and Southwest – accounted for about 80 percent of all domestic US travel. Not surprisingly, the oligopoly that has emerged in the past several years has been very bad for travelers who are routinely treated like chattel. The shabby tactics deployed by the airlines that are well-known and executed with total insouciance include crazy-high fees for routine schedule changes, bait-and-switches on seat upgrades that don’t deliver what’s promised, baggage fees that increase exponentially with each additional checked item, and continuation of fuel surcharge levies despite plummeting oil prices.

It’s hard to think of another industry that treats its customers so poorly – and yet attracts no competitor to break out against the crowd to gain share by providing a better experience, as economics 101 would predict.

But this is nothing new. Business and pleasure travelers of all stripes have long bemoaned this airline industry-wide bullshit, and the press has made a sport of beating up on the major airlines. Last month the New York Times wrote an article about how the airlines have “wink-wink” colluded to keep prices high and to stifle customers’ capability to compare fares. A study by the Travel Technology Association reported that despite a decline in jet fuel prices of 24 percent and a drop in nonfuel operating costs of just under 3 percent in 2014, the average fare per mile increased 0.5 percent during that period.

Yes, the airlines’ oligopoly has spawned all sorts of documented annoyance, but one irritating aspect has gone largely unreported: the merger which really isn’t.

More than two years ago in February 2013 the boards of both American Airlines and USAir voted unanimously to merge in a deal valued at $11 billion. Despite initial revulsion for the deal from the FTC, the commission, under pressure ultimately approved the deal in November of that same year.

And in the 20 months since, outside of the legally-mandated financial paperwork there exists goddamned little evidence that these companies actually merged. According to The Washington Post “The two airlines continue to operate separately, with their own crews, their own rules and their own Web sites. In fact, this corporate combination won’t be fully complete until 2016.” It seems clear, given the low-priority placed on completing the merger in a timely manner, that the two companies got together not to form a better airline, but to cut costs and eliminate competition.

From the point of view of the customer, American and USAir might as well be wholly independent entities. In fact it’s actually worse because flyers are forced to endure various “integrated” processes, but when it comes time to resolve issues the airlines are unable to cooperate with each other, making every problem one of disentanglement.

I recently had to cancel a non-refundable ticket that I booked on USAir and upgraded using American mileage points. Why did I use American points? Because the two companies, in their effort to merge, comingled all the points and essentially eliminated the USAir program. As the ticket was issued by USAir, I called the number on the itinerary to restore my mileage points back into my account. The USAir people could not accommodate my request, and told me to contact AA, acting as though AA is a separate company – because it might as well be! Twenty minutes into a call with AA led to the conclusion of the agent that USAir personnel would have to complete the transaction after all. AA handed me off to USAir – even though the two entities have had nearly three fucking years to plan their merger – and after 40 minutes on hold, some USAir flunky came on and asked me the reason for my call. Like Sisyphus, I began the whole process again the following day and again spent nearly an hour to get 30,000 miles restored to my account.

Epilog: I got it done (I think) after forking over a $300 fee (penny a point) to put the miles back. Yes, another shabby airline tactic – presumably required to cover the tremendous costs incurred to have an agent click the mouse and press the “enter” key.

Fuck you, AA. And by broad extension, you too USAir.

This Week in Hall of Shame

Walt Palmer – Big Game Poacher

walt-palmer-kills-cecil-the-lion-lead
Walt Palmer poses with dead lion before pulling the wings off flies

Minnesota dentist Walt Palmer paid 54 grand for the privilege of shooting and killing an adult male lion named Cecil, a beloved denizen of Hwange National Park in western Zimbabwe. Walt and his illustrious guide slapped some dead meat on their off-road vehicle to lure Cecil out from his protected zone. Sure-shot Palmer nailed Cecil with a crossbow – because he’s a purist, don’t you know – only to wound the creature. It took big game poacher Palmer another two days to track the wounded animal and finish him off with a gun. Palmer and crew then chopped off Cecil’s head for the trophy.

Thankfully, this subhuman asshole has seen his dental business crater and is the target of a criminal investigation. Sad sidebar: Cecil was the father of several cubs who will likely be killed by other male lions as they step up to replace him as the king of the jungle.

Owners of the AZG Mall in China

Gruesome footage emerged of a Chinese shopper and her two year-old son ascending an escalator in an “upscale” mall in Jingzhou, stepping onto the floor and falling through a loose panel. The woman manages to push her son to safety before being gobbled up by the mechanism that runs the escalator.

The outrage from the Chinese populace was strident. But when it was revealed that the mall staff knew there was a problem and didn’t do a goddamned thing about it, the revulsion justifiably spiked.

Truly worthy of hall of shame induction.

The Eloquent Mike Huckabee

Grits and gravy addict Mike Huckabee has a way with words. Regarding the Iran nuclear deal, Sir Fuckabee exclaimed, “This president’s foreign policy is the most feckless in American history. It is so naive that he would trust the Iranians. By doing so, he will take the Israelis and march them to the door of the oven.”

Given the provocative speaker is the corpulent Huckabee, one might be forgiven if they thought he was referring to a wood-fired pizza oven packed with calzones. Sadly, though, Mike made a shameful connection between an honest attempt to curtail the nuclear ambitions of a dodgy regime and the annihilation of the Jews during the Holocaust.

And the bastard has the audacity to present himself as a presidential candidate.

Posted in Business | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Uber Uber Alles

UBER privacy

Some lovely vacation, summer doldrums and focus on completing a screenplay has kept me away from the blog scene for over a month. I’ve had numerous topics to bloviate about but simply no time, and in fact, no motivation. But as I’ve often said, when you don’t feel like writing, write.

Uber Uber Alles

Ridesharing company Uber has been prominent in the news lately, duking it out with taxi drivers and their political allies most visibly in Paris and New York City. The city governments despise Uber for competing on a non-level playing field where they avoid arcane rules that medallion taxi drivers must adhere to. And New York has taken issue with Uber’s strong arm efforts to deploy tens of thousands of additional vehicles onto already clogged streets. Unlike most large companies that strive to maintain a respected brand image by avoiding flat-out rude behavior, Uber’s leaders act like undisciplined children. (At $50 billion, Uber is valued at twice the market cap of Hilton and seven times that of Hertz, but acts more like an auto body shop.)

To poke a stick in the eye of the mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, Uber added a cheeky “de Blasio” button to its ubiquitous ride-hailing app which tells the user how shitty the wait time would be if Mayor Bill got his way and capped the number of Uber cars allowed on the streets. Of course, there are legions of happy, satisfied Uber riders and drivers who extol the virtues of the service, noting that such pairing services in the so-called “gig economy” are the way of the future – and to fight it is to shovel sand against the tide.

But for all the back and forth about the pitfalls and the promises of Uber, very little is discussed about what might be the biggest issue with them: their rampant collection of data that will be used in ways that many riders and drivers might find alarming. Uber knows where you are when you hail a ride and where you go. And how often you go to a doctor’s office, or a cancer treatment center, or a bar, or an apartment that might house your mistress. And when. And maybe how long you stayed. And where you go after that. Drivers can also rate the riders and make note of unsavory behavior.

Now Uber would say that they use ride data to continually improve the experience, and that’s likely true. But they clearly intend to make real revenue from pitching ads and selling rider profile information (either bulk or individual). After all, there really isn’t a path to hyper-growth in revenue by simply skimming a few bucks from every ride arranged through the app.

For example, if Uber knows you often hail a ride to the Standard Hotel a few hours after hailing a ride to Dirty French, they may channel an offer for a discount off your first Bellini. And you might appreciate the gesture. But how will you feel receiving ads for adult diapers because you hailed a few rides to a urologist? Or when your boss approaches you about your “problem” after a hacker has stolen Uber data that shows you hail a ride to AA three times a week? And I can only imagine the uproar when lawyers and law enforcement agents start demanding Uber data on defendants’ whereabouts at such-and-such a date and time.

Will Uber’s valuation remain a stratospheric $50 billion after that? Will their cocksure executives still bully their detractors when the business model shits the bed?

Amy

MV5BMTQ1MzE4MTE3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTcyNDM3NTE@._V1_SX214_AL_

I saw the recently released documentary “Amy” about the life and death of Amy Winehouse, and I came out melancholy even though the sad story and its tragic ending are fairly well-known. With favorable access to people close to Amy (her father and mother, childhood girlfriends, fellow musicians and music industry players, and her loser boyfriend, as well as footage from home movies) the documentarian Asif Kapadia has woven a comprehensive take on Winehouse’s musical rise and tragic fall to drugs and alcohol, sprinkled with snapshots of her formative years. In the telling of the story, Kapadia presents unflattering portrayals of Mitch Winehouse, Amy’s avaricious and self-absorbed father, Blake Fielder, her vain and destructive boyfriend, the relentless, hounding Paparazzi who bathe the celebrity with a strobe-light effect wherever she appears, and the comedians who traffic in insensitive jokes about her drug addiction. Jay Leno in particular comes off as a douche-bag; after fawning over her performance on his TV show he’s later seen riffing in his monologue about her “cooking crack and black tar heroin.”

Maybe because the movie is about a fast-rising, highly-talented singer, the musicians who mentor and support Amy Winehouse are universally sympathetic characters. Yasiin Bey in particular evokes his appreciation of her talent, admitting that he allowed Amy, during a bleak period of addiction, to stay with him in his Miami apartment simply because her work “moves me.” Musical personalities Mark Ronson, Tony Bennett and Sam Beste are all set in relief against the friends and family who largely want to leech off her success.

Perhaps as painful as the footage of the authorities carrying Amy out of her flat in a body bag, is the footage of her concert in Belgrade when she stepped onto the stage in a drunken stupor and received the boos and catcalls of ten thousand patrons.

It’s a huge letdown from the film’s opening segment when Amy, who is about 14 years old, is shown on a home movie singing “Happy Birthday” to her friend in a style that would make Ella Fitzgerald envious. Right from the start Kapadia establishes the premise that Amy Winehouse had a special talent – one that peaked with five Grammy awards in 2008, including “Record of the Year” announced by Tony Bennett. The look of shock on Amy Winehouse’s face is captivating – too bad the movie couldn’t have ended there.

(Sidebar: The same day I caught “Amy” at the Sunshine Cinema in the Lower East Side, I managed to fit in a screening of Billy Wilder’s Oscar-winning film “Double Indemnity” starring Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck and Edward G. Robinson. Nothing like watching a classic, shimmering black and white film noir on the big screen. One great line in a movie full of them: “I killed him for money – and a woman – and I didn’t get the money and I didn’t get the woman.”)

RIP: Alex Rocco

Despite the participation of some of the biggest names in Hollywood (Al Pacino, James Caan, Marlon Brando, Robert Duval, Diane Keaton), many of the more memorable performances in “The Godfather” were done by actors who barely made a dent elsewhere in movies. Outside of “The Godfather,” where else have you seen John Marley (Jack Woltz, who woke up with a severed horse’s head in his bed), Richard Conte (Emilio Barzini, mob boss and Corleone nemesis), Al Lettieri (Virgil Sollazo in a brief but delicious performance), Gianni Russo (Carlo Rizzi, wife-beating turncoat), and Alex Rocco (Moe Greene, Las Vegas casino mogul.)

20ROCCO-obit-master675

Rocco died the other day at age 79 in Studio City. Although he had an acting career that paid the bills playing heavies and clueless fathers, he will always and forever be Moe Greene. As we learn from a lecture that Hyman Roth gives Michael Corleone in “The Godfather Part II” Moe Greene was an icon – and it’s evident that Francis Coppola and Mario Puzo fashioned him after real-life Jewish mobster Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. “There was this kid I grew up with; he was younger than me. Sorta looked up to me, you know. We did our first work together, worked our way out of the street. Things were good, we made the most of it. During Prohibition, we ran molasses into Canada… made a fortune, your father, too. As much as anyone, I loved him and trusted him. Later on he had an idea to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI’s on the way to the West Coast. That kid’s name was Moe Greene, and the city he invented was Las Vegas.”

When Rocco was being considered for the part of Moe Greene, he appealed to Director Coppola about his concerns over incompatible ethnicity with his character. “I’m Italian. I wouldn’t know how to play a Jew.” Coppola showed Rocco some hand gestures that could differentiate the two ethnic groups. Rocco called it the “greatest piece of direction I ever got.” And you can see it right there on the screen the way Moe puts his hands together as he repudiates Michael Corleone’s moves to buy him out: “You goddamn guineas you really make me laugh. I do you a favor and take Freddie in when you’re having a bad time, and now you’re gonna try and push me out!” Great stuff.

Posted in Business, Movies, Music, Obits | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Mathematicians on Film

John_Nash_by_rook_over_hereJohn Forbes Nash died the other day along with his wife in a tragic traffic accident on the highways of New Jersey after returning to the U.S. from Norway where he accepted the Abel Prize for outstanding scientific work in the field of mathematics. Nash added the Abel Prize to the prestigious Nobel Prize in Economics awarded to him in 1994.

A bona fide prodigy, Nash earned his PhD by the age of 22, and made his mark in the subject of non-cooperative game theory which represents the real world more accurately than zero-sum game theory. His work was instrumental in advancing models in economics, biology, sociology and logistics. Nash also took on and conquered some truly vexing pure math problems including Hilbert’s 19th Problem on elliptical partial differential equations, and developing breakthroughs in real algebraic manifolds and singularity theory. Hell, he even proved that every abstract Riemannian manifold can be isometrically realized as a sub-manifold of Euclidean space.

But it’s not for these reasons that John Nash became a somewhat household name and merited a front-page obituary in the New York Times. Rather it was his tortured life following the manifestations of schizophrenia in the late 1950s that gave his story color and depth. After Sylvia Nasar’s biography “A Beautiful Mind” was turned into an Oscar-winning movie directed by Ron Howard and starring A-lister Russell Crowe that John Nash rose out of obscurity. That’s how it often works: influential people in the arts and sciences live and die in obscurity unless and until they are resurrected in a feature-length film. That’s not to say Hollywood product accurately represents the subjects they take on, but popular films undoubtedly have the power to undo obscurity. For instance, how widely recognizable would be Antonio Salieri, Charlie Wilson, Billy Beane, Jim Lovell, Erin Brockovich, Charles Van Doren and Alan Turing if not for “Amadeus,” “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Moneyball,” “Apollo 13,” “Erin Brockovich,” “Quiz Show” and “The Imitation Game” ?

And speaking of “The Imitation Game,” here is further proof that mathematicians can make compelling subjects when their lives contain suitable virtuosity, tragedy and redemption. I previously wrote a blog suggesting a movie featuring Evariste Galois, a rebellious child prodigy who was accepted to university at the ripe old age of 10, and went on to advance the study of group theory before dying in a duel at the age of 21. I also saw that a film featuring Srinivasa Ramanujan is in the works from a script adapted from Robert Kanigel’s book “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” Filming began last summer at Trinity College in Cambridge.

ramanujan

Ramanujan was in many ways the Indian “Will Hunting” – a young man with virtually no training in pure math who developed in relative isolation a remarkable body of work that served to advance the areas of math analysis and number theory. And of course the story wouldn’t be movie-worthy had it not been for the introduction into Ramanujan’s life of the British mathematician G. H. Hardy who “discovered” the young genius and cultivated a long-running relationship. (Sidebar: Jeremy Irons is set to play Hardy, which could possibly turn the film into the story of Hardy-the-hero and his “white man’s burden.”)

What other mathematicians might make the grade to be featured in a film? My nomination: Lady Ada Lovelace, daughter of Lord Byron, collaborator with the influential inventor Charles Babbage, and perhaps the author of the very first machine program. She’s an unlikely hero whose life story subsequent to her abandonment by Byron was turbulent and fruitful, and in the hands of the right screenwriter could drag her from obscurity to appropriate recognition.

lovelace

Candidates to play Lady Lovelace: Uma Thurman, Rosamund Pike, Jessica Chastain, Naomi Watts. Michelle Williams, Natalie Portman.

John McCain: Warmonger, Idiot or Both?

mccain_shining

In a refreshing display of candor, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called out the lameness of the Iraqi army which was routed by ISIS in Ramadi: The Iraqis “were not outnumbered. In fact, they vastly outnumbered the opposing force and yet they failed to fight and withdrew from the site. That says to me and, I think, to most of us, that we have an issue with the will of the Iraqis to fight ISIL and defend themselves.”

In other words, despite a decade of in-depth involvement by Americans in Iraq and billions spent on equipment and training, the Iraqi army is still unprepared to fight, and probably disinterested in taking over from the Americans. And why should they, as long as the U.S. is around to carry the load and shovel the shit for them. To me, the last thing America should do is further the notion in the Iraqi mind that we will always be there to wipe their asses for them.

But as Carter was excoriating the Iraqi army even as he extolled the success of American-led bombing sorties, nutcase John McCain was calling for direct intervention. He wants to see American troops side-by-side with Iraqi forces on the battlefield to call in specific locations for bombing. Imagine yourself placed in that unenviable position: entrusting your own safety and security in “cooperation” with a bunch of nitwits who simply don’t give a damn.

Mind-boggling.

Posted in mathematics, Movies, Politics | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Newly Discovered Mixology Tips From the New York Times

The ShiningIn a daring and riveting article published this week in the New York Times titled “Tonic Makes New Friends,” Robert Simonson plumbs the depths to bring readers details on previously undiscovered cocktails.

Apparently, drinkers have been using tonic almost exclusively as a mixer with gin, when in fact it seemingly goes with lots of other spirits. As with all intrepid reporting, Simonson reaches out far and wide to locate elusive experts and manages to compel them to reveal their long-guarded secrets. The result is a piece of investigative journalism that reveals the tricky and non-intuitive processes by which four previously unimaginable cocktails may be concocted. Prepare to be shocked and amazed.

Tequila and Tonic

Ingredients
• Lime wedge (one sixth of a lime)
• 2 ounces tequila, preferably Partida reposado
• 4 ounces tonic water, preferably Canada Dry or Schweppes
Preparation
1. Fill a highball glass with ice. Squeeze the lime over the ice and drop into glass. Add tequila and top with tonic. Stir briefly.

Rum and Tonic

Ingredients
• Lime wedge (one sixth of a lime)
• 2 ounces rum
• 4 ounces tonic water
Preparation
1. Fill a highball glass with ice. Squeeze the lime over the ice and drop in. Add rum and top with tonic. Stir briefly.

White Port and Tonic

Ingredients
• 1 ½ ounces white port
• 3 ounces tonic water
• Wedge of lime or lemon
Preparation
1. Fill a tumbler with ice. Add white port and top with tonic. Stir briefly. Depending on your taste, squeeze a wedge of either lime or lemon over the drink and drop into the glass.

Calvados and Tonic

Ingredients
• 2 ounces Calvados
• 4 ounces chilled tonic water
Preparation
1. Pour Calvados into a chilled highball glass. Top with tonic water. Do not garnish.

Startling stuff indeed. The only question: where are the preparation steps for a Tonic and Tonic?

End Note: Once again – Fuck you Microsoft!

Turn on a smart phone and get working in about 15 seconds; turn on a Windows-based laptop and enjoy breakfast (and possibly lunch) while awaiting the completion of 20,000+ updates.

IMG_0345

Posted in Drinking | Tagged , , | Comments Off

The Craven Politics Killing Amtrak

ss-150513-amtrak-crash-mn-12_f84fe232e0d9316bef1a746f9aee1d68.nbcnews-ux-720-440In a display of extremely bad timing, the House Appropriations Committee voted to cut funding to the Federal Railroad Administration the day after a fatal Amtrak crash took the lives of seven passengers just north of Philadelphia’s stately 30th Street Station. As was the case in an accident last year involving a New York Metro North commuter train, the Amtrak engineer was speeding excessively prior to entering a sharp curve. Both times the trains derailed with catastrophic consequences. And both incidents prompted debate about the spotty use of proven technology that can automatically slow down trains high-balling above the speed limit as they approach curves and crossings. The stretch of track out of Philly – the site of an even deadlier derailment decades ago – still is not augmented by the technology.

The Appropriations Committee – made up of 30 Republicans and 21 Democrats – authorized funding of $1.365 billion: $850 million for capital grants, $226 million for rail safety and research (flat from 2015), and $289 million for operations to allow “continuing service for all current routes.” The vote which sliced $262 million out of the FRA’s 2015 budget of about $1.7 billion (down 15 percent) came on a party-line vote of 30 to 21.

Looking at the profit/loss figures for Amtrak’s 46 routes, it’s easy to see why so many Congressmen who think government should run like a business loathe the system: in 2014 all but four lost money. The two lines on the Northeast Corridor (Acela and Northeast Regional) combine for a profit of about $485 million, which is nowhere near enough to offset the big losers, most of which consist of so-called “long distance” trains. These include the Empire Builder (-$53M), California Zephyr (-$62M), Southwest Chief (-$61M), Sunset Limited (-$37M) and the Texas Eagle (-$31M).

amtrak_western_routes

Perusing the map above, it’s clear to see that by and large long distance routes transport passengers through the Western and so-called “Heartland” states – several of which are represented by many of the Republicans on the Appropriations Committee who harbor obvious disdain for passenger rail: Kay Granger, Texas; Michael K. Simpson, Idaho; John Abney Culberson, Texas; John R. Carter, Texas; Tom Cole, Oklahoma; Kevin Yoder, Kansas; Steve Womack, Arkansas; Jeff Fortenberry, Nebraska; Mark Amodei, Nevada; Chris Stewart, Utah; David Young, Iowa.

I am a proponent of passenger rail in the places where is makes the most sense: in between large metropolitan regions where passenger volumes are high and alternative transportation options (auto, air) are inadequate, inconvenient or overcrowded. The success of the Northeast Corridor proves that the demand at profitable prices is achievable and sustainable in this country dominated by cars and jets. (I also support high-speed rail in principle, but am resigned to the reality that due to historic density and structural impediments around the big, old cities of the Northeast, it can never happen there.)

Similar thinking leads to the conclusion that loser routes that snake thousands of miles through desolate areas such as North Dakota, Idaho and Montana should be shit-canned altogether, taking financial stress out of the national system. Losses per passenger-mile on these routes are astronomical. On the Auto-Train which runs 1,710 miles between Washington, DC and Orlando, Florida, Amtrak loses about $240 on each passenger. For certain a good case could be made to eliminate this anachronism.

Which brings me back to the Appropriations Committee. While chopping big dollars out of next year’s budget, they committed to “continuing service for all current routes.” Why? It’s painfully obvious that the Amtrak system is woefully out of balance with a couple routes subsidizing the remainder of the line-up. If the Congressmen who oversee budgets for Amtrak think it’s a fiscal rathole, why not cut the services that make no sense? Could it be that the bulk of the loss comes from routes running through their own states? Could it be that should they take the logical and proper step by banishing the Heartland Flyer for example, that a bunch of voters in the Heartland would raise holy hell?

After all, can we really expect the likes of Jeff Fortenberry of Nebraska to summon the courage to tell Farmer McGee that he’ll have to take Greyhound the next time he wants to visit cousins in Holdredge? Be serious.

Better to delay deployment of railroad safety features that only benefit millions in the Northeast than to cut the lifeline to county fairs and cattle auctions for hundreds.

Christie’s Cracks a Benchmark

Reported in the New York Times on May 13, “On Wednesday, Christie’s said it sold $658.5 million worth of work at its postwar and contemporary art auction, added to the $705.9 million for 20th-century works auctioned off on Monday.”

Coincidentally, the combined take on those two auctions was $1.365 billion – exactly the same as the entire 2016 budget for the Federal Railroad Administration. Art imitates life?

Posted in Business, Politics | Tagged | Comments Off

Big Ticket Redux

03TICKET-master675-v2A column runs every Sunday in the New York Times Real Estate section called “Big Ticket” which highlights the previous week’s highest price residential real estate transaction. More often than not, it seems the most expensive properties moving lately are condos in One57 – a 90 story building designed by Pritzker-Prize winning architect Christian De Portzamparc situated at 157 West 57th Street in Manhattan, which according to the website “redefines luxury living in New York City, rising above it all.”

In reality, it’s a place where billionaires, foreign and domestic, can anonymously park millions at low tax rates that were granted by New York City to the developers, Extell Development Company. In fact, according to The Real Deal, an outlet covering the NY real estate scene, the residents of One57 are getting a whopping 94 percent discount off the normally-applied taxes for such properties. Rising above it all, indeed.

Anyway, the point of this blog is not to harp on income inequality, or berate indefensible favoritism toward minorities (i.e. billionaires), but rather to express pity for poor Vivian Marino who has to bang out insipid copy each week for “Big Ticket.” Seriously, how do you write exciting, scintillating and original copy describing every other week the sale of the same damn thing (albeit obscenely expensive)?

Give “Big Ticket” writer Marino credit for mining Roget’s Thesaurus for new and different adjectives: the building is “sky-piercing,” “vitreous,” “blue-glass,” glassy blue,” and a “glass-sheathed Midtown statement-maker” ; the vistas are “nonpareil,” “panoramic,” and “unparalleled”; the buyers are “demigods.”

This exercise in repetition is destined to go on for several more months until all the condos are sold, and then for a few years after when the demigods are through flipping their tax-payer subsidized investments.

Feast your eyes on a sampling from the past six months.

May 3 – A sprawling aerie on the 53rd floor of One57, the sky-piercing condominium that has attracted demigods of international business and finance, sold to a mystery buyer, one seemingly versed in the teachings of a much higher power, for $30,683,372.50 and was the most expensive closed sale of the week, according to city records.
The monthly charges for the 5,475-square-foot sponsor unit, No. 53B, which was combined early on with 53C for a total of five bedrooms and five and a half bathrooms, are $10,408.

April 17 – The “Winter Garden” duplex penthouse at One57, Extell Development’s vitreous skyscraper, which has attracted a bevy of billionaire buyers since sales began in 2011, sold for $91,541,053 to a group led by the hedge fund mogul William A. Ackman. It was the second highest price ever paid for a single residence in New York City and the most expensive closed sale of the week, according to city records.

April 10- A full-floor aerie near the apex of the Extell Development Company’s blue-glass bastion of billionaires, One57, which offers nonpareil park, water and cityscape vistas, sold for $47,367,491.39 and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records.

March 6 – A three-bedroom three-and-a-half-bath apartment on the 65th floor of One57, the glassy-blue skyscraper where the priciest transaction for a single residence in New York City recently took place, sold for $29,329,100 and was the most expensive closed sale of the week, according to city records.

February 13 – A floor-through aerie near the pinnacle of One57, the blue-glass 90-story skyscraper designed by Atelier Christian de Portzamparc, with stunning park, water and cityscape vistas, sold for $47,366,989.64 to a buyer used to being “very high above the clouds” and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records.
Monthly carrying costs for the 6,236-square-foot apartment at 157 West 57th Street, No. 86, are $12,530 and include a tax abatement obtained by the sponsor, the Extell Development Company.

January 23 – A duplex penthouse at the pinnacle of One57, the vitreous skyscraper with nonpareil vistas of Central Park, the Hudson and East Rivers and almost every landmark on the horizon, sold for $100,471,452.77 to a mystery buyer, shattering the record for the highest price ever paid for a single residence in New York City, and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records.

January 2 – A full-floor apartment on the 84th floor of the glass-sheathed One57 tower, with panoramic water, park and city vistas, sold for $52,952,500 and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records.
Monthly carrying costs for the residence, No. 84, which has 6,240 square feet of space that includes four bedrooms, a sitting room and five and a half baths, are $12,375. The original asking price was $45.5 million.

December 12 – Another full-floor residence at One57, the 90-story Midtown tower from the Extell Development Company that promises unparalleled vistas of Central Park, the Hudson and East Rivers, and nearly every New York City landmark on the horizon, traded at $55,498,125 and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records.

November 28
– The allure of an entire floor with bird’s-eye views near the top of One57, the Extell Development Company’s glass-sheathed Midtown statement-maker at 157 West 57th Street, continued to persuade buyers to invest upward of $50 million in personal aeries there, as No. 80 traded for $52,952,500 and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records.

October 17 - A glass-sheathed three-bedroom condominium with vistas in four directions, including 60 feet of direct views of Central Park, One 57, the Extell Development Company’s 90-story Midtown tower at 157 West 57th Street, sold for $34 million and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records. The listing price was $36 million. The residence, No. 58A, holds the distinction of being the first apartment in the 94-unit skyscraper to be flipped.

Posted in architecture, Business | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Delusion 2016

deluded Republicans seeking election to the Presidency in 2016 may soon outnumber the condiment varieties offered by Heinz. And although several are clearly unelectable (Bobby Jindal, Rand Paul, Rick Santorum), two in particular strike me as completely bat-shit delusional: Carly Fiorina and George “Wacky” Pataki.

Pataki played the role of New York State’s governor for three terms after unseating the once-formidable and insufferable Mario Cuomo, so on first inspection his candidacy might not seem far-fetched. But those who watched him in inaction know he is barely qualified to return to his past role as mayor of the metropolis of Peekskill (population 24,000 – less than Greenwich Village). The man has no vision and is a somnolent and uninspiring speaker; he makes Mr. Rogers seem like T. D Jakes. And he practically phoned in his third term.

In 1994 I went to a county fair in Upstate New York on a steaming hot August afternoon. Dust and bits of hay swirled about, and the smell of pig shit and funnel cakes wafted in the air. In this stifling venue, I saw two men in dark suits walking together under the blazing sun: Senator Al D’Amato and his protégé George Pataki stumping for votes. I thought to myself – there’s a man who doesn’t have the god-given sense to dress appropriately for a county fair in August.

Although Pataki’s minimalistic website touts his record over the 12 years from 1995 to 2007, most of the stats he takes credit for were the result of macro-effects taking place all across the country. For example, job growth in New York rose steadily in the Clinton-era 1990s, dipped in 2001 followed by a sharp drop after 9/11, and then in the next five years haltingly rose back to where it was on that fateful September morning. The headline on the graph: “Governor George Pataki rebuilt the New York State Economy, not once, but twice.” Fucking laughable.

(Sidebar: None of the statistics cite a reference, and some graphs don’t even label the axes making it hard to determine what is being presented as evidence of the Wacky Pataki Miracle. For instance, Pataki claims crime was reduced from 900,000 to 500,000 on his watch – but for all we know it’s a measure of plummeting jaywalking offenses.)

Here is a recent quote from Pataki that captures the man’s lack of qualification: “I was governor on September 11th, and I saw the consequences of government thinking that because this radical Islam was thousands of thousands of miles overseas, it didn’t pose a threat to us. It obviously did. We cannot sit back and simply say they are over there. They want to attack us here and I believe we have to go in, destroy as many of them as we can, as quickly as we can, destroy their recruiting centers and training facilities and then get out.”

Go in quickly and then get out? Has he been hanging out with Rip Van Winkle in Sleepy Hollow this millennium? Deluded.

But not nearly as deluded as former HP CEO Carly Fiorina who has absolutely no business getting anywhere near politics after failing miserably in her quest to unseat Senator Barbara Boxer despite personally dumping $7M+ of her own cash into the campaign. As a warm-up to playing politician, she became an adviser on business affairs to John McCain in 2008. Unfortunately her record as head at HP was so disastrous that her credibility was threadbare. She pressed hard over the objections of Walter Hewlett (son of HP co-founder William) to acquire PC maker Compaq just in time to witness the beginning of the decline of the PC market. She also pressed hard to acquire consulting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers for $14 billion, but was forced to back off in the face of strident shareholder opposition. IBM went on to pick up PwC for $4 billion – a mere $10 billion less than the offer from Carly the Clairvoyant.

I’m always fascinated by the outsized egos of CEOs who believe by virtue of their tremendous business acumen they should not be expected to first make a stop to a lesser elected office on their way to the presidency (Steve Forbes, Ross Perot, Donald Trump, Herman Cain). Why piddle around with being a Senator or Congressman for a few years?

Fiorina is yet another arrogant CEO who thinks of the country as America, Inc. – an entity that can be better run with spreadsheets and time-motion studies. In a word: deluded.

Mike Huckabee Locks up the Lard-Ass Vote

gravy

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll reported that 57 percent of Republican primary voters said they could not see themselves supporting Chris Christie in 2016, the second highest negative among the dozen or so potential candidates. And if Christie does decide to bag it – especially as the George Washington Bridge scandal unfolds with indictments – the obvious winner is Mike Huckabee. With the portly Christie out of the way, blimpy Huckabee is in prime position to gobble up the male lard-ass vote (which must certainly account for 40 percent of the voting population).

And what a two-ton ticket it would be if Huckabee chose Christie as his vice-president. The optics on that would be memorable. How long before stories surface comparing Huckabee/Christie to President William H. Taft (354 lbs) who got stuck in a White House bathtub? How rich to ogle photos of the pair wedged in tight in the Rose Garden Jacuzzi?

By the way, starting in 2003 after getting grim diagnoses from his doctor about his obesity, Huckabee lost 100 pounds and wrote a book about his odyssey called “Quit Digging Your Grave with a Knife and Fork.” A dozen years later, the old Huck is back and bigger than ever. A poster child for seesaw dieting. His latest book? “God, Guns, Grits and Gravy.”

Now that’s more like it.

Posted in Politics | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Just Enough Rope

oeC55There was a time once when members of certain lofty professions received unalloyed respect from the people they served: surgeons, police officers, clergy, airline pilots. The common element among these leaders was their role in protecting peoples’ lives (or souls) thus generating in them an extreme level of trust.

Ill patients rarely questioned the advice and counsel of their physicians, abiding by the adage to “follow doctor’s orders.” Malpractice lawsuits were virtually unheard of, even when a patient succumbed under the knife. Children were admonished to obey cops; Catholic kids were made to revere priests and in some cases pushed to enter the priesthood themselves. Fifty years ago, an altar boy molested by a parish priest would be predisposed by systematically applied guilt to keep such a violation to himself. And aware that tattling on the priest would be met by disbelieving parents’ wrath for accusing a Vicar of Christ, the victim would likely repress the whole sordid affair until entering therapy at the age of 40.

Today, skepticism about incompetence, avarice and toadyism has changed the conversation. Now people demand second and third opinions about their maladies, as doctors tuck into a defensive posture while contemplating six-figure malpractice insurance premiums. The reputation of police officers as protectors and defenders of the law is seriously tattered. And I can’t imagine parents today allowing their young children to spend even five unsupervised minutes with Father Feely.

A lot has changed, but not so much when it comes to airline pilots. For certain in an age of deregulation and profit-maximization, air passengers no longer perceive pilots as steely-eyed missile-men capable of pulling a 747 out of a dead-fall spin 10 seconds before cratering (Denzel Washington aside), but the system continues to offer wide latitude to pilots as though they possess supernatural powers. Why?

Pilots on commercial flights are given almost complete carte blanche to fly the plane the way they see fit, and to override virtually every automated safety feature. They are empowered to shut off engines, dump fuel, neuter the auto-pilot, lock and unlock doors, and turn off every communication system.

One of the first actions the 9/11 hijackers took after slitting the throats of crew members was to shut off tracking beacons, rendering the planes nearly invisible to air traffic controllers. The pilot of Malaysia Airlines 370 decided to go off course and fly until the fuel ran out, and no one could stop him – and that plane is a ghost a year later. A depressed co-pilot on Germanwings locked the pilot out of the cockpit and exploited a post-9/11 “safety” feature to keep him out despite his having the secret code to re-enter. The pilot of Asiana Airlines 214 chose an inappropriate autopilot mode which disengaged an autothrottle mechanism that controlled airspeed, causing the plane to land well short of the runway at San Francisco Airport, and killing three people. And in a dramatically captured dash-cam video, TransAsia Airlines 235 plunged sideways across a highway and into Taiwan’s Keelung River, killing 43. During the investigation the crew reported an engine flameout but the flight data recorder showed that one of the engines had in fact been moved into idle mode accidentally by one of the pilots.

In each case, a pilot was free to use discretion (or make a blunder) and precipitated actions which caused death and destruction.

It seems that every new airline safety feature advancement that relies on computer-driven analysis and split-second execution is installed with a kill-switch in deference to the pilot.

And then the other day it was reported that an official Serbian jet carrying the country’s president and several aides to a meeting in Rome plummeted more than 5,000 feet in a minute until the pilot wrestled back control of the aircraft. Apparently one of the three engines abruptly stopped working. Only a few days later was the coverage expanded to include how such a breakdown occurred: “An investigation into the sudden plunge of the Serbian president’s plane has shown that it was because the co-pilot spilled coffee on the instruments panel, aviation authorities said Tuesday. The investigation results show that the co-pilot accidentally activated the emergency slat extension when trying to clean the coffee from the panel. That reportedly caused the plane to dive and the brief shutdown of one of the engines.”

Amazing.

It’s well past the time the industry stopped treating airline pilots like infallible beings from another dimension, and reined in their abilities to fuck with sound technology.

RIP Betty Willis

Have you ever seen this sign?

Welcome_to_fabulous_las_vegas_sign

Thank Betty Willis who died the other day in Overton, NV at age 91. Betty was the designer of one of the most famous signs on earth – the garish neon behemoth welcoming drivers to “Fabulous Las Vegas” (even though the sign is situated about four miles from the line demarcating the city limits.) Installed in 1959, the sign captured the googie design ethos of the era: an amoeba shape adorned by a stylized star. And although the “Fabulous” sign has been rendered on millions of souvenirs and tee-shirts, Betty saw nothing in the form of royalties as she failed to copyright the logo.

Amazingly, a proposal in 1993 was made to demolish the sign. Instead, public outcry halted the effort and in 2009 the sign was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. Take that, heathens!

It’s hard to believe there was a moment when the sign came close to falling to the wrecking ball, as just about everyone can identify it for what it is. Question though . . . what’s on the other side?

Answer

“Drive Carefully. Come Back Soon.”

Posted in Art, Business, Obits | Tagged | Comments Off

Exodus: Movement of the Water

1Oroville-Reservoir-early-January-2014-Courtesty-CA-Dept-of-Water-ResourcesNews from California and the American Southwest tells of rapidly increasing angst there over the apparent long-term absence of water since serious drought visited the region four years ago. Snow cover in the Sierra Mountains, the source for much of the potable and irrigation water for tens of millions of people and thousands of farms growing more than $50 billion worth of produce, sits at about 6% of normal. Scores of climate scientists agree that the situation is becoming chronic and dire, and for good reason. Most climate models reveal a movement of water away from the American Southwest to the Northeast where mountains of snow have fallen, and rainfall has increased dramatically. Alterations in the flow of the jet stream forced by powerful high pressure systems, themselves amped up by general warming have caused water to skirt around the Southwest and travel further into the interior United States.

Acknowledging the reality on the ground – despite cranky noise from climate change deniers – leaders in California are turning to more forceful (but not really drastic) measures like enforced conservation, water usage pricing and desalination. The latter approach is fraught with peril because it is extraordinarily expensive – both to build and operate – and requires enormous energy (mostly generated by carbon-based fuels) which is part of the reason why California is suffering to begin with.

My guess is that the efforts will have marginal effect. First, powerful forces will work successfully to shirk calls for conservation: big agriculture, celebrated golf courses, rich bastards living in gated communities in Palm Desert surrounded by acres of lush lawns more at home in Kentucky. Second, desalination sufficient to meet the needs of the multiple millions of thirsty souls would overtake a great deal of prime real estate and defile precious Pacific Ocean habitat (after all, when you’re done desalinating sea water, where do you deposit your millions of gallon of briny poison?)

Knowing that the United States is not going to let such metro areas as Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego and Las Vegas go back to being whistle stops, might we see calls for a movement of the water back to where it should have been in the first place? Might the hefty numbers of Congressional representatives of California and Texas stake a claim on the Great Lakes, for example, home of the largest fresh-water repository on planet Earth? If millions of barrels of oil can be routinely transported via fat pipes from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, might it not be possible to construct some type of aqueduct that would bring copious amounts of fresh agua across the once-fruited plain?

Governors and Congressmen of the states bordering the Great Lakes, as well as the Canadian government would unite against such a play. There are existing laws on the books preventing diversion of Great Lakes water, but so what? If the alternative is widespread humanitarian disaster inside our borders, do you think a water-grab couldn’t happen? (Canada would object, so America would have to annex them.)

I truly think the population on the West Coast and Texas are whistling past the graveyard, hoping that the drought ends next year – but the smart money is on widespread devastation. And the whole country will be expected to pitch in.

GM Slimes Out of Their Obligation

Sadly, “New” General Motors has managed to manipulate bankruptcy laws to nullify a vast swath of lawsuits stemming from injuries and deaths caused by faulty ignition switches. Switches that GM engineers and surely some executives knew were faulty and could cause moving vehicles to suddenly and without warning shut down completely, rendering airbags inoperable.

article-2653639-1E9ED3A300000578-790_634x363

I understand that U.S. bankruptcy laws exist because in general society benefits more when companies are allowed to restructure and survive than when they cease to exist – either way, creditors get fucked, but when allowed to restructure, jobs are saved, communities are less-devastated and the economy moves on. Still, it is patently unfair when companies can abuse the laws to abrogate contracts, lay off workers, shaft suppliers, and walk away unscathed to re-enter competitive arena with no baggage.

Even though GM’s audacious behavior is the proximate cause of at least 84 deaths, a federal judge the other day in Manhattan absolved “new” GM of the sins of “old” GM. Given that the offending behavior occurred before the cleansing nature of bankruptcy, “new” GM could not be held accountable for any damages caused by their evil twin. Experts say the amount of claims swept off the table by this ruling hover between $7 and $10 billion. Not only did GM extort money from taxpayers to help them weather tough times completely of their own making, and in doing so benefit from an unlevel playing field when competing with Ford who took no money and had to continue to pay its debts, but this arrogant “new” GM has just thumbed its nose at thousands who suffered death, injury and property damage.

There were many things Mitt Romney espoused that I disagreed with, but denying a bailout to GM was not one of them. Unlike the financial firms whose demise could have damaged the country and the world for decades, the loss of GM was not that serious. Making up 18 percent of the auto market, the loss of production from GM would have easily been made up by Ford, Toyota, Honda, Nissan, and the dozens of other car companies around the globe. Most suppliers and workers would have found opportunities in the industry. It was not that important to save GM.

But now that we have, the repayment from GM to the people it injured is not one of remorse and recompense for dastardly deeds, but a rank manipulation of the very laws that allowed them to live another day.

Shame on “new” GM.

Posted in Business, Politics | Tagged , | Comments Off

The Financial Folly of the Death Penalty

garbage tsar
A $12M garbage bill comes due.

The trial of the Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev should serve as Exhibit A in the venture to eliminate the death penalty from the books – not because Tsarnaev might possibly be innocent or that he’s somehow the victim of racially-based impropriety – but because the whole sordid affair is a massive waste of time and money. Although Tsarnaev pleaded not guilty, his court appointed lawyer, Judy Clarke in her opening statement affirmed the opposite. “We take no issue with the facts from the ground that week,” adding decisively like an old iron filing cabinet slamming shut, “It was him.” And like any good lawyer she anticipates the next question and poses it herself, “So why are we here?”

Good question. Over the course of the next 30 days or so, the prosecution was compelled to put on an exhaustive case to convince the jury that the defendant did what his lawyer had conceded in the first couple of hours, and that his heinous and callous actions deserved the death penalty. It was the death penalty element – which the prosecution sought – that dragged a slam-dunk case on for the better part of a month.

Meanwhile, Attorney Clark and her colleagues on the Defense team worked diligently at tax-payer expense to develop a narrative that Dzhokhar was under the spell of his evil (and conveniently dead) older brother Tamerlan, and therefore should be spared capital punishment. It’s an interesting approach but given the facts, seems futile. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev may not be as evil as his asshole brother, but there’s no way he was the clueless moron that the defense wants everyone to believe.

Given that the court-appointed counsel each receives in the neighborhood of $150 an hour, the cost to the taxpayer to simultaneously fight for and against the death penalty for little Dzhokhar has to run into the millions. Add to that the mandatory appeals that would follow a decision to apply capital punishment, and the expense multiplies all out of proportion.

But you can’t blame the prosecution for pursuing the death penalty. As long as capital punishment remains on the books, horrific cases like the Boston Marathon Bombing call for it to be meted out.

Which raises an interesting question: why among all the crimes and all the punishments is capital punishment the only one that 1) prosecutors get to decide whether to pursue, and 2) juries must decide whether or not to apply? If a defendant is charged with armed robbery, the prosecution doesn’t declare ahead of time that they plan to go for the maximum penalty or something more benign. And if that defendant is found guilty, the jury doesn’t decide the punishment, the judge does.

Consider the O.J. Simpson trial in which the disgraced former pro football player and Hertz shill was charged with a heinous double murder. That charge certainly seemed severe enough to justify the death penalty as it was understood in California, yet the prosecution declared right up front that they would not pursue it. Clearly the strategy was to avoid the possibility of losing the case to a squeamish jury uncomfortable with killing the Juice. But allowing the prosecution to pick and choose, and saddling the jury with the heavy burden of deciding whether to put a person to death taints the whole process.

Better to shitcan the death penalty altogether. Life alone in a cramped cinderblock cell with a four inch wide window overlooking more cinderblocks should be sufficient for the likes of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.

Forget Rand Paul. Check out Paul Rand.

PaulRand

Long before Rand Paul followed in his father’s footsteps to infect American political discourse, Paul Rand was rethinking and reshaping graphic design in ways that many Americans now take for granted. Starting in the 1930s, Rand worked on magazine covers and later became a real-life Mad Man, taking a position as art director for a Madison Avenue ad firm. For the next few decades, Rand produced some of the most iconic and durable corporate logos. Any of these look familiar?

paul-rand-logos1

He also produced an enormous body of work consisting of magazine and book covers, movie posters and product packaging. Among Rand’s clients was Steve Jobs when Jobs was launching his company, NeXT. Jobs called Rand, “The greatest living graphic designer.”

Paul Rand was quoted as saying, “Everything is Design. Everything!” – and that’s the tagline for a new exhibition of his works at the Museum of the City of New York at 1220 Fifth Avenue. The show runs until July 19 and you should make arrangements to check it out if you’re near the city.

Posted in Art, Business, Politics | Tagged , | Comments Off

The Reassuring Voice of the Savage Wiener

savage penisMichael “Savage” Wiener can be found bloviating daily on a number of AM radio stations, exclusive bastion of right-wing conservative thought. Although he reaches an audience of respectable size, Savage is a second-stringer; he isn’t syndicated to the extent that Rush Limbaugh is, he doesn’t have a TV show like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly, he doesn’t even appear as guest wack-o on Fox. And this is for a good reason: Savage is out of his mind.

The sole purpose that Savage and his ilk (including Mark Levin, Michelle Malkin, Mike Gallagher, Laura Ingraham, John Batchelor) serve is to reassure each and every day their paranoid, narrow-minded audience that they are not alone in their world-view. The foundational principle is that all the problems faced by humanity are the fault of Obama (he hates America, y’know.) If Obama cured cancer Savage and the rest would vilify him as a job-killer for putting oncologists out of business.

Every so often, when searching AM radio for an update on the traffic in the New York metropolitan area I stumble upon the Savage Weiner and suffer the momentary displeasure of hearing Savage’s ignorant hatred ooze from my car’s speakers. Last summer, when the issue of the minute was the arrival of children from Central and South America at the U.S. border whose parents believed incorrectly that they would be granted asylum, I caught a Savage rant in which he excoriated Obama for creating the situation (nevermind that the law that was the basis for the crisis – the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 – was signed by Bush.) Savage also took a mean swipe at El Salvador and Guatemala for having so broken a society that families would rather transport their kids hundreds or thousands of miles to a foreign land than to risk losing them to violence. Not one to look at problems from more than one side, it never apparently occurred to Savage that much of the violence driving the children to America is fomented by gangs seeking to dominate an illegal drug trade made viable by the habits of American consumers.

Anyway, earlier this week I once again inadvertently encountered the musings of Mr. Weiner, and his virulent animus toward El Salvador and Guatemala appears unabated. After extolling the genius of J.S. Bach, here is what he said (note: the “garbage” he mentions refers to the immigrants to our South; emphasis mine):

“I start to shudder at the greatness of the human mind. And to think of the garbage that Obama’s flooding America with. I just shudder to think about what this country is going to look like in 50 years. Don’t tell me there’s another little Bach hidden in the group he’s bringing in. Don’t tell me there’s another little Einstein. Please don’t give me that rubbish and foolishness. They don’t come from the same tradition. Just look at history and you’ll see I’m right. Show me the literature of Guatemala. Show me the literature of El Salvador. Show me the musical tradition of El Salvador and Guatemala and tell me it’s going to produce the same results as that which Europe gave this nation.”

(A transcript of the monologue is available here starting around minute 50.)

The dissertation is shopworn and tedious: that the culture and arts from regions of the world other than Europe don’t measure up – and as such serve as proof that peoples not from Europe (and by extension, America) are inferior. It’s sad this sort of shit remains popular on the airwaves.

But does the Savage Weiner have a point? Is there nothing of literary or musical value that has come out of the tiny countries of El Salvador and Guatemala (two of several nations I might add that were overrun and destroyed culturally by avaricious European conquistadors centuries ago)? Perhaps if Miguel Ángel Asturias were still alive he could offer an enlightened response to Savage. Well before Michael “Savage” Weiner was writing such drivel as “Stop the Coming Civil War” and “Liberalism is a Mental Disorder”, Asturias (below), a Guatemalan author, playwright, poet and journalist had published numerous influential works, the body of which earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1967.

circum

Just Admit It!

business
Has it really come to this?

The debacle of the new “religious freedom” law in Indiana has once again shed light on breath-taking hypocrisy. Why can’t the authors and supporters of laws just admit the obvious?

Claim: Religious freedom laws will protect poor, beleaguered business people from litigation if they refuse to deliver goods and services to others whose activities offend them.
Reality: The law exists just to irritate gays and Lesbians looking to get married.

Claim: Voter ID laws help prevent rampant fraud at the polls.
Reality: The laws help impede Democrats from voting.

Claim: Laws requiring hospital-level conditions at abortion clinics make the procedures safer.
Reality: The laws are prohibitively expensive so that the clinics are forced to shutter their doors instead.

Claim: Stand Your Ground laws give innocent people the right to protect themselves with arms against attackers wherever they may be.
Reality: The law protects guns – shut the fuck up.

Posted in Politics, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Comments Off

This Week in Insanity

insaneCraziness presents itself in manifest ways every day, so for most people the parade of insanity marching by blends quietly into the background noise of life’s routines. Then again, sometimes the extent of sheer shock and folly rises to a level that cannot be ignored. This week has seen its share of true insanity.

Crash and Burn

A pilot for Lufthansa subsidiary Germanwings apparently suffering from some undisclosed illness locked the cabin door of his Airbus 320 while the captain stepped out to relieve himself. The pilot, Andreas Lubitz, then proceeded to program in a landing sequence that would take the jet from cruising altitude to 96 feet, setting it on a collision course for the French Alps. Post 9/11, after Al Qaeda terrorists gained easy access to the cockpit, all commercial airlines installed more rigorous locking systems on the doors leading to the controls. One such locking setting makes it impossible for anyone outside the cockpit to enter – even with the secret access code. I suppose this is designed to thwart terrorists from forcing someone under threat of decapitation outside the cockpit who may know the code from opening the door. But like all systems designed by humans, unintended consequences are inevitably built in.

Maybe a ground-based system could be devised to overtake a plane in distress, much the way drone pilots maneuver pilot-less planes. But again, unintended consequences abound – most prominently in the form of hackers.

Although frightening, any time a person climbs aboard a transportation vehicle – plane, train, taxi, cruise ship, amusement park ride – they commit their lives to the operator. The same can be said for most any service: restaurants where a sociopath could introduce a poison, doctors who could purposely botch an operation.

Damn – what to do?

John Bolton: Desk-bound Warrior

Put simply – John Bolton is an asshole. Has been for a long time. Now he’s certifiably insane. In an op-ed piece in yesterday’s New York Times Bolton expresses his views on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program. As expected, he starts out blaming Obama for all the ills in the region, then goes on to explain the basics: Iran is making a bomb; Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt will be forced to do so as well; Israel’s possession of nukes is OK because they won’t use them.

After the history lesson, Professor Bolton gets to the heart of the solution: Bomb Iran. He points out the successful whack-job Israel did on the nuclear facilities in Iraq (1981) and Syria (2007) – two regimes with weak air defenses – and concludes that a raid on Iran’s well-protected sites in Natanz, Fordow, Arak and Isfahan would be fundamentally easy. He says, “The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary.” Once again, we must suffer a pompous chicken-hawk who dodged serving his country militarily when he had the chance calling for the U.S. to engage in a very dangerous campaign. Unlike Syria, Iran is well-prepared to take defensive and offensive action in the face of a hostile air raid – just as the U.S. and Israel would do if so attacked. On the upside, there’s only perhaps 1 or 2 thousand ways things could go wrong.

boltonbomb
John “Slim” Bolton rides Little Boy into Tehran.

And adding proof of his insanity, Bolton foolishly asserts about the bombing campaign, “Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

Yeah – I can already see the Iranians throwing flowers and greeting the Americans as liberators.

Influenced by ISIS, or psychosis?

Earlier this week in Ohio a mother killed her three-month old daughter in what has been blamed on postpartum psychosis. That the woman, Deasia Watkins, decapitated the child with a 10 inch kitchen knife makes the whole thing more horrifying. According to reports, doctors declared the mother unsafe around the baby unless she took prescribed medication – which I would have interpreted as “keep the mother far away from the baby at all costs.”

Clearly, the overwhelming number of post-partum depression cases do not result in the mother harming her child, so blanket measures to separate the children make no sense. But as it would appear in this case, drastic measures were called for but not taken.

The Newest “Right to Discriminate” Law

If I strolled into a bakery, or a tailor, or a hardware store and the proprietor told me he wouldn’t serve me because of my height or weight or even the color of my skin, I’d tell him to go fuck himself as I walked out the door. I wouldn’t feel it necessary to file a lawsuit or agitate to make such behavior illegal. Withholding my patronage plus a bit of internet-based scorn would be satisfying enough.

Others feel differently – particularly these days betrothed Gays and Lesbians seeking wedding services such as cakes and photography who have been refused by store owners for whom the concept of same-sex marriage is revolting or as they would say, contrary to their religious beliefs. Some of those denied services have turned to litigation. Again, that wouldn’t be my strategy – why exert the effort to force ignorant people to do your bidding? Furthermore, store proprietors have innumerable ways to make you wish you had gone somewhere else. Do you really want to eat a cake from someone who was forced against his will to bake it? Do you really think those precious wedding photos will be sharp and well-composed? Or that the photographer won’t be taking a dump during that critical moment when the bride and groom shove cake in each other’s faces?

Nonetheless, because the possibility of litigation looms, some states have enacted legislation to hold the service-deniers harmless for their narrow-minded actions. And as is so often the case, the backlash is strident.

Arizona took a shot at passing such laws, but when the NFL threatened to move the Superbowl out of Phoenix, the Governor vetoed the bill. The vast majority of businesses (and probably not a few who like to deny service to sodomites) breathed a sigh of relief that bigtime boycotts would not materialize.

Not one to learn anything is Governor Mike Pence who signed such a “right to discriminate” law in Indiana. The reaction from businesses was swift. Salesforce.com led the way, stating “Today we are canceling all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.” Yelp and the NCAA also made veiled threats to avoid the Hoosier State.

CBB7BK6UgAAFfXc
Surrounded by people holier than you, Pence signs pro-bigot bill into law. (Can we now refuse to serve those women for wearing head veils? How about those dudes in dresses?)

I suspect some of these companies are coming out against the law because it’s better for business than to turn a blind eye. Still, Pence and his fellow bigots in the Legislature had to see this coming, but went insane anyway. How long before bystander businesses in Indiana getting creamed by boycotts call for repeal? And will that only harden the crazies? And how long before we hear of some wacko refusing a serious service like first aid or medicine using the “religious freedom” law as the basis?

Dumb & Gabbana

The fashion company Dolce & Gabbana counts numerous celebrities as clients: Madonna, Lady Gaga, Johnny Depp, Channing Tatum and Scarlett Johansson among others. D&G trolls among the Hollywood and music-scene crowds, most of whom can be counted on to be left of Nancy Pelosi. So what the hell were these two gabagools thinking when they weighed in on the provenance of Elton John’s kids who were born through in-vitro fertilization?

“I call children of chemistry, synthetic children. Rented uterus, semen chosen from a catalog,” opined Dr. Dolce.

In a word: insane.

When Elton John (no slouch when it comes to the heft of one’s fan base) pushed back, Gabbana called him a “fascist.”

Talk about boycott. If the swells who give the fashion industry its cache decide en masse to stop wearing your shit, where do you go? Will we have to shop for D&G in the A&P?

Dolce-and-Gabbana-Perfume-For-Babies
No synthetic children were used in this ad.

Posted in Business, Entertainment, Fashion, Politics | Tagged , , , , | Comments Off

Love Letters Straight From the Heart

47letter

Forty-seven U.S. Senators – all Republicans – recently signed an open letter to leaders of Iran explaining how American government works. Clearly meant as nothing more than a public service, the letter, prepared by Senator Tom Cotton who has been in office for almost three whole months, has stoked some harsh partisan reaction from the Democrats in Congress and the White House. VP and former long-time Senator Joe Biden fumed that the letter is “beneath the dignity of an institution I revere.” Obama himself – droll character that he is – stated, “I think it’s somewhat ironic to see some members for Congress wanting to make common cause with the hard-liners in Iran. It’s an unusual coalition,”

And Harry Reid – who lately looks an awful lot like Dr. Strangelove with the blacked out eye-wear – remarked, “It’s unprecedented for one political party to directly intervene in an international negotiation with the sole goal of embarrassing the president.”

Alas, poor Harry, such letters from the Senate to foreign governments are far from “unprecedented.” Consider these thoughtful missives sent by our illustrious solons to leaders of the far-inferior countries that occupy planet Earth.

An Open Letter to North Korea
47korea

An Open Letter to the Maldives (signed 47 times by Senator Inhofe)
47maldive

An Open Letter to Russia
47russia

An Open Letter to Cuba (signed in crayon by Senator Marco Rubio)
47cuba

An Open Letter to Italy
47italy

RIP Ernie Hemmings

hemmings-motor-news

What red-blooded, all-American adolescent boy in the 1970s didn’t lust after an automobile that could simultaneously secure the attention of the most desired girl in high-school, distinguish its owner from his loser peers, and cure acne? If the young man was a fan of Golden Earring (“Radar Love”) or Blue Oyster Cult (“Dominance and Submission”) he might then desire a sky-blue GTO with an elegantly broad spoiler wing and a 455 HO engine. If he fancied himself a future prince of the world, then maybe a Maserati Mistral or a Lotus Esprit would salve the urge. An artsy fellow? Perhaps an early 1960s Avanti would do the trick.

Unfortunately around that time, most of the world’s automobile makers were spewing out dreck in the form of Chrysler K-cars and Dodge Omni’s. Although little inspiration could be found motoring about the highways and by-ways of America, there was always Hemming’s Motor News to stir the imagination. Hemming’s, a thick monthly magazine full of classified ads for any and every car ever conceived was the collector’s bible. Out of my price range when I was a teenager, I used to thumb through each edition to ogle some of the most voluptuous and exotic cars on the market, thinking to myself, “one day, after I write that best-selling novel, I’m gonna own that XKE.”

The founder of Hemming’s Motor News , Ernie Hemmings died the other day at age 88, 61 years after first publishing the hefty catalog. The heir to his father’s auto parts store, Ernie started the magazine to broker parts between hobbyists. It eventually became in Ernie’s words, “the world’s largest antique, classic, vintage, muscle, street rod and special interest auto marketplace.”

RIP Ernie Hemmings.

Posted in Obits, Politics | Tagged , , | Comments Off

People Do the Darnedest Things

link1Some people strive so hard to establish and maintain a certain persona for themselves or the countries they lead, only to do the darnedest things that nullify it all.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton has wanted to be the President of the United States for at least as long as her husband occupied the office. She meticulously crafted a plan for her journey to the top spot by expanding her scope as First Lady, moving to New York to become a U.S. Senator, running and losing against Obama, taking as a consolation prize a significant cabinet position as Secretary of State, and finally bailing back into private life to make some speeches and put the arm on would-be donors. Clearly she is gearing up for 2016.

Her experiences dating from the 1980s in Arkansas and the 1990s in Washington illustrated the depths that some cohort will descend to express their hatred of all things Clinton: Whitewater pseudo-scandal, Vince Foster suicide (or did Bill have him murdered?), Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky bullshit, Benghazi mania, et.al. As a result, many people (and not just the Clinton-haters) are uneasy about Hillary Clinton. All it would take to shake up her inevitability is the appearance (real or inflated) of some sleazy dealings. But in 2015, Hillary is fully aware of that.

So what does Hillary do? Hands a mallet to her detractors with which to beat her silly in the form of an off-the-books email set-up by which her correspondence as Secretary of State was not archived as the law requires. Just what the opposition ordered.

North Korea

Predictable in their unpredictability, North Korea’s leaders do the darnedest things. While running a backward feudal empire that also wields nuclear weapons, the North’s Kim dynasty pontificates often about the wonders all will enjoy once the Korean peninsula is reunified. Although it’s difficult to imagine how that would work out, reunification of the rich South and the deprived North could bring about benefits like those derived after East and West Germany reunited. A statement from the North last summer read, “The north and the south should specify the reunification proposals by way of federation and confederation and make efforts to realize them and thus actively promote co-existence, co-prosperity and common interests.”

Last week in Seoul, as U.S. Ambassador to South Korea, Mark Lippert dined at a large breakfast gathering before delivering a speech at the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation, a known psychopath emerged from the crowd and sliced the Ambassador’s face and arm with a ten-inch knife. While being subdued, the attacker, Kim Ki-jong denounced the U.S. for interfering with reconciliation efforts. Maybe that’s true, but making the point at a meeting where achieving reconciliation is the topic of the day seems off-key. The world was outraged at the blatant violence.

So what does North Korea do? Applauds the act as “the knife attack of justice.” That’s right, Kim Jong-un – reinforce for the rest of the world that your country should be reunited with the Pacific Ocean instead.

Mitch “The Turtle” McConnell

For years, the Senate Minority Leader has wanted to be the Senate Majority Leader, and thanks to a Republican blowout in 2014 he got his wish. No longer consigned to the back of the bus, able only to gin up filibusters all day long, The Turtle finally got to be the adult in the chamber. Republicans under his leadership would restore order and impel progress, and in doing so, cement a long period of GOP domination in Congress.

So what does Mitch do? Calls on all state governors to defy the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, appearing to be less of a leader and more of a shill for the shrinking coal industry in his home state of Kentucky. Mitch McConnell – Senate Majority Leader or Boonville town councilman?

Saudi Arabia

Remember when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990, and fearing the Iraqis would soon roll into Saudi Arabia, King Fahd came running to America for protection? Operation Desert Shield was the result and thanks to the commitment of military leadership from the U.S. worth billions, the rich and coddled Saudis lived another day to sell us oil. Then came September 11, 2001 when 19 fanatic hijackers – 15 of whom were Saudi citizen – crashed four commercial planes and murdered thousands. Even during this period of immense tragedy following the world’s worst terrorist conspiracy, the Saudis were able to call upon the friendship of the Bush Administration to allow a couple dozen members of Bin Laden’s family to fly out of the U.S. at a time when every American citizen was grounded.

And today, the Saudis continue to rely on the U.S. for protection against perceived enemies in places like Iran and Yemen. For decades, Americans have been good friends to Saudi Arabia.

Bush-Saudi-Arabia-e1420834906898

So what does Saudi Arabia do? Bestows one of their highest awards – the King Faisal International Prize – on a despicable anti-American lecturer who says that “the Jews” control America, apostates can be killed, the United States is the world’s “biggest terrorist” and that the 9/11 attacks were an “inside job” by President George W. Bush. (The same President seen above holding hands with his best bud Saudi Prince Abdullah?) Memo to Saudis: calm down and take a long hot shower in some light crude. And you’d better get used to it. . . before you know it, that’s all it’ll be good for.


Watch nut-job Zakir Naik blame the U.S. for 9/11

Chris Christie

Former Federal Prosecutor and current Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie likes to portray himself as a tough cookie (except when he’s fawning over Bruce Springsteen like a pre-pubescent girl infatuated with Leif Garrett). He’s fought against “pork-barrel projects” like the tunnel under the Hudson River that would have brought interstate rail commuting into the 21st century. He’s played a brilliant bait-and-switch on the public unions In which he got them to pay more in return for increased government contribution into the pension fund – a promise he brazenly broke. And just the other day on March 5 Christie proposed a $44 million cut in the snow removal budget for the state, which happened to coincide with a major winter storm
causing NJ Transit to suspend service on the western end of its busiest rail line.

Hell, Christie is a waddling, talking icon of fiscal fortitude when it comes to getting the best deal for New Jerseyans – and for burnishing his image on the national stage.

So what does Chris do? He shoves aside his attorney general who is negotiating a multi-billion dollar payment from Exxon to atone for contaminating more than 1,500 acres of NJ public land, and instead personally settles with Exxon for a mere $250 million (less than 3 days of profit for the oil behemoth.) Would he have been so generous had the settlement been transacted in donuts?

chris-christie-donut

———————————

“Under the Dome”

Whenever you get the disturbing feeling that China will overtake the U.S. as the preeminent economic power in the world, consider the toll their master plan is taking on the populace there. China is driving growth and development through the wanton burning of dirty fossil fuels that have made most of their major cities nigh uninhabitable. I’ve spoken to numerous people who have visited such places as Wuhan, Shenzhen, Beijing, Baoding, Handan – and all have come back astonished at the level of soot and gunk in the air.

Now, causing angst among the Chinese government is Chai Jing’s compelling documentary of China’s dangerous air pollution, “Under the Dome” which is available for viewing online. Check it out below (unless you live in China where the paranoid government has blocked access.)

Posted in Movies, Politics | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off

The Art of Destroying Art

v0_full

“Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”
George Bernard Shaw.

Undeterred by opposition and strident in their belief that God wants them to commit wanton and mindless mass murder, the lunatics who comprise ISIS have used their unfettered access to the lawless region in Syria and Iraq to run roughshod over a populace they presumably seek to govern in a would-be Caliphate. ISIS has shown they are competent in sawing off heads and immolating live human beings, but they possess no capability to deliver services and protect their “citizens” – and never will. Even the Taliban in Afghanistan ran a number of valuable civil programs, but ISIS is so far off the reservation they have no future. If their actions were not so ugly and heinous, the concept of ISIS running Mayberry let alone an enclave of millions would be hilarious. Unable to produce necessary commodities, engage in global commerce, and sign treaties, the only way ISIS could accomplish anything but mayhem is if the entire world set the way-back machine to 700 AD and re-entered the Dark Ages – which is what I suspect is the quixotic goal of ISIS.

I’m confident that ISIS will eventually cross a line that will draw in an overwhelming obliterating force made up of most regional countries as well as Western forces, but in the meantime, ISIS continues to demonstrate their complete disregard for humanity.

Since taking over Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, ISIS has ensured that life there resembles a season in hell. And just the other day they posted a video of their apelike rank and file pounding and smashing rare and important artworks stored and exhibited in the Mosul Museum and the Nirgal Gate. Showing complete disregard for their own history and heritage, ISIS has destroyed ancient relics that go back 2,800 years in some cases. As usual, the reasoning is that the artifacts on display pre-date the Prophet and are therefore un-Islamic, and that the figures are nothing more than idols that infidels once worshipped.

I recall when the Taliban in May 2001 – in a harbinger of more destruction to come a few months later on September 11 – blew up monumental ancient statues of Buddha under the logic that objects of living beings were forbidden by the Koran. The Buddhas of Bamiyan were unfortunately situated on Afghanistan soil under the thumb of fanatics, and despite efforts to dissuade the Taliban to reconsider they proceeded to inflict mortal damage. Museums from around the world had offered to spend millions to move the huge statues, but the Taliban leaders refused. In fact, they castigated the West for willingness to spend money on preserving statues but not to help poor Afghans, as if the pitiful conditions of the country were the fault of anyone but the Taliban. The mentality is clear – destruction and demolition are the path to purity (plus it’s easier to break stuff than to build stuff.)

The amazing thing is that these ancient artifacts that ISIS and their ilk have destroyed in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and elsewhere survived centuries of warfare and turmoil – largely because even the most evil of marauding invaders recognized their importance. And therein lies a fundamental difference between oppressive regimes of the past that found it possible to rule for centuries, and the visionless ISIS that must peter out by the end of the decade.

I said earlier that I was confident ISIS would be obliterated. They offer no sustainable proposition to the people they subjugate, so to stay relevant and sustain the ability to continue terror by recruiting soft-headed jihadists, ISIS must ratchet up the perversion. And although the countermeasures from the better equipped opponents hasn’t succeeded as yet, ISIS will make a step that truly threatens the region (and maybe the world) at which point existential instinct will force a conclusion once and for all. Cut off from access to ransom money, oil, food, weapons, and recruits, ISIS will crumble. And because they created nothing to be left behind, ISIS will cease to exist – even as a memory.


Watch Insane Sociopaths in Syria (ISIS) demonstrate their vision for the future.

RIP: Leonard Nimoy

Leonard-Nimoy-leonard-nimoy-9484503-800-600
Leonard Nimoy suffers for his art

Forever to be known as Mr. Spock for his three-year stint portraying the half-Human/half-Vulcan Science Officer on TV’s Star Trek (and his coaxed reprisals of the role in a half-dozen motion pictures in the film franchise), Leonard Nimoy succumbed to lung disease the other day at age 83.

Despite the title of his 1975 autobiography – “I Am Not Spock” – Nimoy actually acknowledged the positive impact the role had on his life, and after many people who probably didn’t read the book took offense to what they perceived as Nimoy’s ungratefulness at having risen to stardom thanks to being Mr. Spock, Nimoy’s next autobiography was titled, “I Am Spock.”

No doubt much will be written and broadcast in the coming days about the exotic-looking Nimoy, so there is little to compel this blog to dive deep. But at least one instance of Nimoy cheese must be highlighted as a service to readers who never had the opportunity to view it and cringe: “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins.”

Posted in Art, Obits | Tagged , | Comments Off

In Defense of A-Rod

arod likeExiled New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez is about to rejoin his team after serving a 162 game suspension in 2014 for taking banned performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) in what became known as the Biogenesis Scandal named after the now-defunct “rejuvenation” clinic. And if you thought fans and foes alike reviled Rodriguez at the time of his ignoble banishment from the game, the hyperventilated vitriol today has only sharpened as the man once known as A-Rod – but now ridiculed as A-Fraud and A-Roid –arrived this week for Yankee spring training in Tampa. Even the fact that he arrived a couple days early was taken as a sign not of eagerness to get back in shape or of atonement in some small way, but as an insult to the team.

You’d think Joseph Mengele had risen from the dead and come to Florida to run Nazi medical experiments on the eager children begging for autographs by the fence.

New York newspapers, especially The Post have ridden Rodriguez for years, amping up the shrieking headlines when he copped to using PEDs after denying it for years, and when he refused to take Major League Baseball’s original 211 game suspension lying down.

Post

But there was a time when Alex Rodriguez was revered for his awesome talent at the plate and in the field – a time when MLB was reaping huge financial rewards by putting big hitters on a pedestal and hyping home-run competitions, all the while turning a blind eye to endemic substance use.

Steiner-Sports-Alex-Rodriguez-YAY-ROD-11-2-2009-Daily-News-Cover-Photograph-L13138099
Proof that New York press at one time didn’t completely despise Alex Rodriguez

Yes, in 2003 MLB with the permission of the players conducted a drug “survey” the results of which they promised would remain anonymous. Further, they promised to apply no penalties or punishments on anyone found using. Nevertheless, the names of more than 100 players found to be using steroids were made public anyway, and the spotlight turned on a handful of marquee players, including Rodriguez. He admitted using steroids solely in the period from 2001to 2003 – and had things stayed that way, perhaps his legacy would be different.

But in early 2013 new evidence emerged that Rodriguez was still juicing. Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig threw the book at him – I presume to make an example of A-Rod, or perhaps to make up for being unable to nail him for his 2001-2003 transgressions. (Side note: in his injury-shortened 2013 season, Rodriguez surpassed records held by such baseball lightweights as Stan Musial (career RBIs) and Lou Gehrig (most grand slams)).

Yet now, because he had the audacity to complain about the quality of the physical training he received, fight the terms of the lengthy suspension, continue to play for (and embarrass) the Yankees while he appealed his suspension, and file a lawsuit against the club – everyone in hometown New York hates his ass.

And so now – with much trepidation as I expect blowback from partisans who will stridently disagree with me on every point – here is my defense of Alex Rodriguez. This is not meant to exonerate him from all his foibles, but the vilification seems to be all out of proportion with his transgressions.

  • Whatever Rodriguez did up to 2003 was not a violation of MLB rules. Only because private medical data was made public did Rodriguez come under fire. Failure to protect the privacy of the data – as promised by MLB to the players who voluntarily participated – is the bigger violation.
  • By hyping big hitting and cheerleading home run competitions, MLB made heroes out of the likes of juicers Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, Raphael Palmiero and Rodriguez among others. So as home run records fell and players bulked out, MLB looked aside and minted money. It’s similar to the NFL which glorifies hard hitting sacks and tackles, then goes blank on the subject of brain injuries. Bottom-line: MLB management incentivized the phenomenon they now disdain.
  • Although New Yorkers pride themselves in their savvy cynicism, when it comes to the Yankees many seem to forget that Major League Baseball is a business, and players like Rodriguez are really nothing more than unionized employees with contracts. When Merrill-Lynch shit the bed in 2008 during the financial crisis, CEO John Thain came under withering criticism for his mismanagement and overblown compensation, but no one for a moment ever thought he would seriously consider giving a dime back of his $83 million package. Some may have called for clawbacks to be imposed, but no one in their wildest imagination expected Thain to voluntarily remunerate Merrill and the taxpayers who bailed them out. No one even asked.

    So why would anyone expect A-Rod to voluntarily walk away from his contracted millions? Who among the fans would do the same? Yankees management saw fit to negotiate and sign the lucrative contract – and to my knowledge, Luca Brasi wasn’t holding a gun to their heads. When the cost of the new Yankee stadium ballooned to twice the original estimate, sticking taxpayers with hundreds of millions of dollars in additional burden, did Yankee management voluntarily step outside the contract and cover the overage? No chance. Business is business – don’t blame A-Rod for claiming what is legally his.
  • By vilifying A-Rod and others for using PEDs, people seem to be implying that all you have to do to be a major league star is to shoot some steroids into your ass 3 times a week. That all it takes to hit 60+ home runs a year is to build up your muscles. Clearly, it would seem PEDs offer an advantage (and it is probably also true that they are detrimental sometimes as well), but to credit all of Rodriguez’s accomplishments to steroids is ridiculous.
  • And speaking of performance enhancing drugs, where should the line be drawn. Steroids, yes. How about Prozac and Xanax that some athletes take to overcome anxiety of performing in big venues? And what about Marcaine, an injectable pain-killer administered to Boston pitcher Curt Schilling to help him manage with a dodgy ankle? Hell, the mortally-wounded Schilling (and his bloody sock) was held up as an icon for beating the Yankees in game 6 of the 2004 ALCS, and no one so much as mentioned the pain-killer as a form of performance enhancer, even though he would have been debilitated without it. Why the double-standard?
  • Why the double standard? Perhaps because PEDs are seen as cheating; i.e. a foreign intrusion sullying the integrity of the game. Players who have broken long-standing hitting records are reviled for taking honors away from the giants of the game: Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Hank Aaron, Willy Mays. So much so that guys like McGuire and Sosa are forever tarred with an asterisk next to their names in record books. But in fact MLB has occasionally tinkered with the parameters of the game with the objective of making it more exciting to the fans (i.e. produce more big-time hitting.) They’ve lowered the height of the pitcher’s mound, designed stadiums with shorter distances from home plate to the fence, maybe even looked askance as manufacturers supposedly “juiced” balls. MLB loves its history, except when historical remnants stifle profiteering.
  • The greedy Yankees front office is just pissed that they may have to pay off a $6 million award to Rodriguez if and when he hits just six more home runs and ties Willy Mays’s count of 660. Could they be ginning up fan anger to save the money? Who knows.

Filed under WTF!

From The New York Times on Feb 24th (emphasis mine): “The city is seeking to waive a rule that requires parents to sign a consent form before the ritual, which involves the circumciser using his mouth to suck blood away from the incision on a boy’s penis. (The) controversial circumcision ritual that has been linked to herpes infections in infants.”

Posted in Sports | Tagged | Comments Off

Dread Scott

DreadScottOther than twisted pundits and greedy political consultants, who among us wouldn’t like to go back to the days before the primary system took hold and presidential candidates didn’t start campaigning until a few months before the election? The current process is like a bad version of the serialized TV show “Lost” in which characters come and go, and plot wanders, yet viewers heavily invested in the drama tune in season after season awaiting the final denouement – only to find disappointment before moving on to the next election cycle. Entertainment Weekly said this about “Lost” which seems eminently applicable to the quadrennial hunt for the next U.S. president: “The appeal narrows as seasons progress and the mythology becomes more complex, culminating in a still-debated finale that is deeply meaningful to some and dissatisfying poppycock to others.”

So after suffering fools just a few years ago such as Herman Cain, Donald Trump, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachman – only to see the obviously “safe” candidate Mitt Romney get the nomination in the end as expected – we’re about to witness another, more-disturbing freak show featuring presidential wannabees both new and old.

The serious candidates include Chris Christie, Jeb Bush and maybe Marco Rubio who are vastly outnumbered by the long-shot freaks who include Rand Paul, Ted Cruz, Rick “Oops” Perry, Ben Carson, George “Wacky” Pataki, the delusional Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Mike Fuckabee, Sarah Palin, and of course, (for what’s a freak show without anencephalic pinheads?) Trump and Santorum.

Somewhere in the middle lurks Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

On first inspection he seems to fit more closely in the freaks segment, but alas the punditocracy has elevated him to true-contender status right next to establishment Jeb. The basis for that appears to be founded mainly on his tenacious survival of a recall election (in a Blue state, no less!) which illustrates his invincibility. And he has the Lush Rambo seal of approval.

Strange though, because his baggage seems to redouble every few weeks.

Some lefties will claim he’s vulnerable for his vindictive yet successful attack on unionized public employees’ right to collective bargaining, but I disagree. Unlike private sector unions that must negotiate with stingy management answerable to shareholders who hate to see capital expended on the welfare of mere workers, public employees get to negotiate with pliant politicians who have no such allegiance to fiscal responsibility, happy to lay the burdens of their largesse at the feet of helpless property tax payers who generally enjoy shittier benefits than their public sector neighbors. Essentially, Walker’s action is a non-issue because most voters aren’t overly-sympathetic to the plight of the poor, downtrodden public sector employee who makes more than they do, and can retire at a younger age with more generous defined-benefit pensions guaranteed by the taxpayer.

No, I think people should dread Scott for his shameless opportunism and nauseating pandering to the narrow population of wealthy fucks who fund presidential aspirations, and the people who loathe the liberal conspiracies all around them. His vision is way too constricted to justify a seat in the Oval Office.

  • On foreign policy, like most politicians at the state level, Scott is a little weak. Immigration? ISIS? Euro-zone implosion? Slogans and thin gruel.
  • He’s taken the low road when it comes to women’s issues, thwarting attempts at reaching equal pay and instituting transvaginal ultra-sound as a serious medical procedure.
  • Higher education? As a breeding ground for commies and radicals its budget must be slashed and its charter sanitized to replace the notion of “to serve and stimulate society” with the pedestrian goal of “to meet the state’s workforce needs” – thus turning the venerated University of Wisconsin system into a network of trade schools. (Scott folded like a card table, blaming the wording on low-level staffers, when the blowback became too intense.)
  • Scott is equivocal on evolution, choosing to “punt” when offered a chance to explain his position. Rather than acknowledge the obvious, he’d prefer to consign himself to the league of science-challenged ignoramuses.
  • And Scott is fully on-board with the discredited, necrotic voodoo-economics crowd. Expect to see a resurrection of the laughable Laffer curve shortly.

The U.S. has seen a number of governors ascend by virtue of their perceived “executive” skills to the Office of the President – Carter, Reagan, Clinton, and Bush served 28 of the past 38 years – so it should not come as a surprise that a lightweight like Scott Walker could contend.

Just get ready for an executive order mandating the construction of a wall of Wisconsin cheese to keep ISIS from invading America.

RIP Lesley Gore

By the time the former Lesley Sue Goldstein turned 18 she had already recorded the #1 pop hit “It’s My Party” and its sequel “Judy’s Turn to Cry,” as well as the oft-covered “You Don’t Own Me.” Lesley was discovered after her voice teacher made some demo tapes that somehow came into the possession of Quincy Jones – a path to fame and fortune that seems quaint by today’s standards in which singers must put image ahead of talent and cut one another’s throats to gain attention. Forever typecast by her teenaged angst period, Lesley Gore never again reached anywhere near the fame she garnered in the early 1960s. She died the other day at age 68 from lung cancer.

The song she made famous – “It’s My Party” – has been recorded by a number of artists since it was penned in 1962 by Walter Gold, John Gluck Jr., and Herb Weiner. Perhaps the best version was done by Bryan Ferry on his first solo album “These Foolish Things.” Ferry plays it campy, twisting the tune into a gender-bender classic. Staying true to the lyrics, he’s the jilted girlfriend who sings, “Why was he holding her hand when he’s supposed to be mine?”

Because Bryan Ferry was the front-man for the glittery, avant-garde band “Roxy Music” some people assumed his cover version of “It’s My Party” was a signal he was gay. Little did the fans know that it was Lesley Gore who was gay – she came out in 2005. RIP.

Posted in Music, Obits, Politics | Tagged , , | Comments Off