Debate Exposes Over-Rehearsed Automatons

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Weills: Petty Plutocrats Practice Penury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

joan

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Hollywood’s Age Gap Trope

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

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

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

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

More recent examples include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As Predicted Here

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

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

In a word, duh.

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The NIMBY Defunders of the Freedom Caucus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Endnote: A Wonderful Word

Vergangenheitsbewältigung – It means coming to terms with the past.

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This Week in Irresponsible Gun Ownership

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

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

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

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

And now, this week in irresponsible gun ownership.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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50 Great Movie Lines not on the AFI 100

sunset-boulevard-william-holden-nancy-olson-1950The American Film Institute (AFI) accumulates several “best of” lists, one of which is the 100 Best Movie Quotes. Compilation of such a list is a natural given the propensity of movie screenwriters to secure their immortality by delivering a devastating or memorable line in a script, especially when uttered by a Hollywood icon. Checking out the current list, I have no complaints. These are truly great lines – most are well-known by movie aficionados and lightweights alike. Like most lists, they tend to be a multiple of ten, often a collection of 100. Given the enormous body of work from the emergence of talkies to the present, it seems an injustice to cap the list at 100. To that end, I’ve added 50 more (not in order – that’s too hard to do).

When you’re slapped you’ll take it and like it. (“The Maltese Falcon”):
When the foppish Joel Cairo gets under the skin of hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade (Humphrey Bogart) in this film-noir classic, Spade bitch-slaps him down into the sofa. Cairo’s ineffective attempts to thwart the blows elicits this great line which establishes the relationship the two will have for the rest of the movie.
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Look mister, we serve hard drinks in here for men who want to get drunk fast. (“It’s a Wonderful Life”):
After George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) gets his wish and enters an alternate universe into which he had not been born, he encounters bartender Martini’s evil twin who snarls this stinging retort to Clarence the Angel who had just ordered a glass of milk. This is the kind of line that you would never hear spoken in real life which is what makes it so nice to hear.

When the world slips you a Jeffrey, stroke the furry wall. (“Get Him to the Greek”):
Taken out of context, this sentence makes no sense, but watching Sean “P. Diddy” Combs soporifically stroke an actual furry wall after smoking a powerful joint, the line resonates. It comes to light that the powerful joint – a combo of opiates and psychotropic drugs – is dubbed “Jeffrey” so as to make it seem less threatening.
Get Him to the Greek

It takes brass balls to sell real estate. (“Glengarry Glen Ross”):
Screenwriter David Mamet is known for his fast-paced, barbed dialog heavily sprinkled with profanity. Probably his best effort was “Glengarry Glen Ross” about a handful of slightly dishonest real estate salesmen. With quota in jeopardy, the owners bring in Mr. Blake (Alec Baldwin) to give a pep talk – which is actually a thorough dressing down. After challenging their manhood, Blake takes from his briefcase a pair of brass balls tethered together by string, dangles them in front of his trousers and utters this pithy observation.

Heineken? Fuck that shit! Pabst Blue Ribbon! (“Blue Velvet”):
In a major revival of his career, Dennis Hopper plays the sadistic Frank in David Lynch’s study of the pitfalls of walking on the wild side. In a fashion demonstrated throughout the movie, Frank forcefully exposits his opinion on beer to the snoopy, white-bread teenager Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLaughlin).

Who’s Dick Hertz? (“Fast Times at Ridgemont High”):
Ridgemont High School teacher Mr. Hand (Ray Walston – aka My Favorite Martian) calls out for Richard Hertz and receives no response. He repeats, “Richard Hertz?” A student tells him that the kid goes by Dick, leading to the classic juvenile inquiry played so well by Bart Simpson on Moe the bartender.

I ain’t got time to bleed. (“Predator”):
Starring two future governors, “Predator” is a clever twist on the otherwise stale genre of muscle-bound special forces running around the jungle with enough armaments to overthrow Guatemala. Told that his massive bicep has taken a flesh wound, Jesse Ventura utters this over-the-top line which he reused as the title of his book about politics.
Predator228

Where should I stick this? (“It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World”):
In this star-studded comedy of a slapdash crowd of people competing to be the first to dig up stolen treasure, Ethel Merman plays the loudmouth mother-in-law Mrs. Marcus to milquetoast J. Russell Finch (Milton Berle.) When Ethel picks up a potted cactus and unassumingly asks “where should I stick this,” the look on Berle’s face is priceless.

Stingo, you look… you look very nice, you’re wearing your cocksucker. (“Sophie’s Choice”):
Meryl Streep plays the Eastern European title character with tremendous aplomb, and for her efforts won the Academy Award for Best Actress. In a heavy Polish accent, Sophie compliments Stingo (Peter MacNicol) on his seersucker suit, subbing in a funny, unexpected synonym.

No Ace – just you. (“Stand By Me”):
Kiefer Sutherland plays tough teen rebel Ace in this adaptation of Steven King’s short story “The Body” directed by Rob Reiner. Ace and his friends meet up with adolescent Gordie Lachance (Wil Weaton) and his buddies at the site where lies the dead body of a boy hit by a train. Looking down the barrel of a pistol that Gordie is holding tightly with both hands, Ace tries intimidation. “What are you gonna do – shoot all of us?” Gordie’s confident reply serves notice that the meeting is over.
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I want you to hold it between your knees. (“Five Easy Pieces”):
I can’t believe that lines from the classic diner scene in “Five Easy Pieces” are not on the AFI top 100 list. After making no headway on placing an order of toast with the snippy waitress, Jack Nicholson tells her to hold the chicken on a chicken salad sandwich. When he clarifies exactly how he’d like her to hold it, she responds with indignation. With one arm, Jack swiftly clears the table.
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I’d buy that for a dollar. (“Robocop”):
Funny satire “Robocop” takes place in dystopian Detroit where crime is out of control, yet everyone on TV seems oblivious to the social decay. At the end of every skit, a goof-ball TV personality sums up by saying “I’d buy that for a dollar” which became a double entendre used for a time in conversation after the movie left the Cineplex.

These go to eleven. (“Spinal Tap”):
Another great line that should contend for top 100 status. Clearly confused about the volume settings on his guitar amp, Nigel Tufnel (Christopher Guest) tries to explain that his equipment is louder because the top number is 11 instead of the standard 10. When questioned about the meaninglessness of it, all the fumbling Nigel can say is “These go to eleven.”
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Check out the big brain on Brett! (“Pulp Fiction”):
Samuel Jackson plays Jules, a gangster in the employ of Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), a man whose briefcase containing something quite rare (his soul?) has been stolen. After busting in on the thieves who look more like frat boys than big time criminals, Jules interrogates one of them (Brett, played by Frank Whaley) as to why the French refer to a Quarter Pounder as a Royale with Cheese. Brett’s supposition that the metric system has something to do with it prompts an outburst of sweet sarcasm.

Lunch is for wimps. (“Wall Street”):
Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas) sums up the mentality of the 1980s Street nicely.


Help me! Help me!
(“The Fly”):
After scientist Andre Delambre (David Hedison) muffs his experiment by entering a transporter accompanied by an unseen house fly, he pops out the other side sporting the fly’s head and other body parts. Although trailers for the 1958 movie present the reveal to his wife of his hairy fly-head as the audience shocker, I personally found the scene where the fly with the scientist’s white head entangled in a spider web to be more creepy. As well as the high-pitch squeal “help me, help me” which has since found its way into popular culture.

Everything that guy just said is bullshit. (“My Cousin Vinny”):
Although completely implausible, “My Cousin Vinny” works in large part due to the stellar performances of Joe Pecci and Marisa Tomei, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. Pecci plays bumbling quasi-lawyer Vinny Gambini hired to defend two guys indicted for murder and facing capital punishment (yeah, right.) But who couldn’t love Vinny’s single sentence opening argument in response to the DA’s carefully laid out preamble.

Run that baby. (“All the President’s Men”):
Washington Post investigative reporters Woodward (Robert Redford) and Bernstein (Dustin Hoffman) have just nailed a late-night Q&A with Nixon Attorney General John Mitchell in which the AG reveals some potential knowledge of Watergate nefariousness. Editor in Chief Ben Bradlee (Jason Robards) mulls over the consequences of publishing the hot-potato story, and concludes that it should run in the next day’s edition. The glee with which Bradlee green-lights the publication captures the sense of the rising role newspapers would play at the time in reining in rogue government.

Coffee is for closers. (“Glengarry Glen Ross”):
Once again, Mamet delivers. Mr. Blake (Alec Baldwin) lays out the severity of life for those salesmen who can’t cut the mustard. The look of incredulity on Shelly Levene’s (Jack Lemmon) face as he pours himself a cup of Java is executed perfectly. Shelly soon learns that second prize in the sales contest is a set of steak knives – and third place is “you’re fired.”

Money is something you need in case you don’t die tomorrow. (“Wall Street”):
Sage advice from airline machinist and union boss Carl Fox (Martin Sheen) to his avaricious bond-trader son Bud (Charlie Sheen). So true when you think about it.

God damn you to hell! (“Planet of the Apes”):
Hack actor Charleton Heston on his knees pounding the sand in anger at the discovery that Earth is finished is something to behold. If you didn’t know better, you’d swear he’s reading the lines off a teleprompter. I saw this movie at a drive-in theater when it first came out and unlike clueless Charleton who thinks he’s landed on a planet in a galaxy far, far away, I knew right away that he was wandering about an Earth overrun by primates. So obvious.
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Have you ever tried to pick up your teeth with broken fingers? (“The Crying Game”):
Great line. Defending the honor of his transsexual “girlfriend” Dil (Jaye Davidson), Fergus (Stephen Rea) spouts this challenging query to his cheeky boss. Needless to say, boss-man backs off.

Me so horny. (“Full Metal Jacket”):
Spoken like a true Americanized prostitute. Not grammatically correct, but in some ways more provocative than the King’s English.

Fred, what’s with your fuckin’ hair? (“Mr. Saturday Night”):
BuddyYoung, Jr. (Billy Crystal) is an over-the-hill Borsht Belt comedian with a life-time’s worth of one-liners that no one under 65 finds funny anymore. With the help of a female talent agent half his age (Helen Hunt), Buddy gets a job warming up the audience before the start of a game show. Fred, the host of the game show, sports a mullet-like hairdo, which gives Buddy some nasty ideas.

The cat’s in the bag and the bag’s in the river. (“The Sweet Smell of Success”):
How this Billy Wilder line is not on AFI’s top 100 is beyond me. Does anyone think it’s inferior to “Listen to them. Children of the night. What music they make.” (“Dracula” – #83), or “I feel the need – the need for speed!” (“Top Gun” – #94) or even top 20 entry “Made it, Ma! Top of the world!” (“White Heat” – #18)? Spoken by small-time press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) to big-time gossip columnist J. J. Hunsecker (Burt Lancaster) to indicate the former’s success in solving a problem for the latter, the line is pure noir, like Wilder’s shimmering B&W masterpiece.

It’s Showtime! (“All That Jazz”)
Dexedrine-addicted Joe Gideon (Roy Scheider in his best role as a thinly-veiled Bob Fosse) likes to burn the candle at both ends. Simultaneously editing a film he directed, choreographing a Broadway musical, relentlessly chasing long-legged women, and smoking and drinking to excess while tempting a heart-attack, Joe starts each day with a gentle reminder to himself why he gets up each morning. The show must go on, and so must Joe Gideon.
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I am not an animal! I am a human being! (“The Elephant Man”)
This beautiful black and white telling of the life and times of John Merrick (aka. The Elephant Man for his grotesque deformities) produced by Mel Brooks of all people and directed by David Lynch is a masterpiece examination of degradation, humiliation, exploitation (low-brow and high) and finally dignity in death. After Merrick’s dogging tormentors pull off the shroud hiding his misshapen head, the Elephant Man calls out this memorable line, and you want to cry.

What knockers! (“Young Frankenstein”)
Silly, but the way Mel Brooks constructs the scene in which Dr. Frankenstein (Gene Wilder) hoists Inga (Teri Garr at the peak of hotness) from the horse-drawn carriage, her ample bosom inches from Gene’s face, just as Igor (wall-eyed nut-ball Marty Feldman) bangs on the castle doors is priceless.

The last one I wrote was about cattle rustlers. Before they were through with it, the whole thing played on a torpedo boat. (“Sunset Boulevard”)
William Holden plays Joe Gillis, a disillusioned screenwriter in 1950s Hollywood taken under the wing of over-the-hill actress Norma Desmond (Gloria Swanson). Explaining his disdain for the so-called creative process in Tinseltown, Joe sums up what happened to one of his scripts after the studio got through with it. No doubt a process that continues to this day judging by some of the trash that makes it to the Cineplex these days.

Nobody’s perfect. (“Some Like it Hot”)
Also the title of the definitive Wilder biography, “Nobody’s perfect” was the reaction from a smitten bachelor of a certain age (Joe E. Brown) to his love interest, a homely guy in drag (Jack Lemmon) upon learning she/he is actually a man. Before this movie-ending send-off, Lemmon and Tony Curtis have struggled to avoid execution by mobsters by dressing up as women and hanging around ditsy-blonde Marilyn Monroe who plays ukulele in an all-girl traveling band. The possibilities with such a set up are endless, and Billy Wilder’s script packs in as much wackiness that will fit in 90 minutes.

The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist. (“The Usual Suspects”)
“The Usual Suspects” is a complicated film. Dim-bulb Verbal Kint (Kevin Spacey) is in police custody pending release on bail, and in the interim receives a bit of interrogation about a drug-bust-gone-bad-on-a-boat by hard-boiled cop Dave Kujan (Chazz Palminteri). In the course of his investigation, Kujan learns of a mysterious outlaw named Keyser Soze – a criminal of such depraved indifference to life that he could be the Devil himself. Verbal tells Kujan about the Devil’s greatest trick, and then goes on to prove it. Little known fact: it was 19th Century French poet Charles Beaudelaire who originally wrote this pithy assertion.

He’d strangle on his own spit if I weren’t here to swab out his throat for him. (“From Here to Eternity”)
Sgt. Milton Warden (Burt Lancaster) essentially runs Company “G” at Schofield Barracks while his superior officer Captain Dana Holmes (Philip Ober) goes AWOL chasing skirt and getting wasted (after all – this takes place on placid Oahu before the War). In what is one of his top two or three performances across a monumental career, Lancaster plays the kind of hands-on zoo-keeper who, recognizing the incompetence which surrounds him, could properly deliver such a great line. The movie also starred Frank Sinatra, who as Maggio won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, just like Johnny Fontaine in “The Godfather.”

There goes a thousand dollars. – Your shoes cost a thousand dollars? – That one did. (“The Game”)
What better way to capture the essence of a man’s obscene wealth than this clever bit of banter. As Nicholas (Michael Douglas) and Christine (Deborah Unger) scramble up a fire-escape ladder to evade fast-gaining dogs, Nicholas drops a shoe which is promptly shredded by a Doberman. The ennui with which Douglas delivers the lines is sardonic.

The Durango ’95 purred away a real horrowshow – a nice, warm vibraty feeling all through your guttiwuts. (“A Clockwork Orange”)
“A Clockwork Orange,” based on Anthony Burgess’s seminal dystopian novel, must be watched several times, if for no other reason than to hone one’s understanding of the dialog of Alex and his Droogs spoken in what Burgess dubbed “Nadsat,” a combo of Russian, Cockney and English slang. This line, done as voice-over by Alex (Malcolm McDowell), comes as he and his Droogs race down country lanes in pitch midnight darkness – a shot done with an obvious phony background of receding pavement and trees, and the occasional car run off the road. I wish there was such a vehicle as the Durango ’95 so I too could get a vibraty feeling in my guttiwats.
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I smell spare ribs. Somebody’s been eatin’ spare ribs. How come I ain’t got none? (“The Grapes of Wrath”)
A powerful tale of one Okie family’s fraught emigration from the mid-west dust bowl after eviction from their homestead to California, “The Grapes of Wrath” presents a broad set of deeply developed characters, including fiery Tom Joad (Henry Fonda), loquacious ex-preacher Jim Casy (John Carradine), and strong-willed Ma Joad (Jane Darwell who won Best Supporting Actress). One of my favorite lesser players is Grandpa Joad played by Charley Grapewin who does a marvelous job of capturing the old man’s mental decline into senility hastened by the family’s traumatic upheaval. Camped out in a squalid transient park, Grandpa rants like a child when he catches a whiff of elusive spare ribs – it captures his character’s arc perfectly.

Find one in every car. You’ll see. (“Repo Man”)
“Repo Man” is chock-full of eccentrics, none more so than Miller (Tracey Walter) who comes off as a menial labor simpleton, but who also spouts a cryptic line once in awhile that might just contain mystic wisdom. In this case, the thing you’ll find in every car is one of those smelly pine-tree shaped “air fresheners” that hang from the rear-view mirror. Is it a metaphor for the orderliness of the universe? Unlikely. I suspect that after repossessing a million cars the man has simply spotted a trend.
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Say, that’s a nice bike. (“Terminator 2”)
When the liquid-metal T1000 robot of the future pays this fey compliment to a motorcycle cop, the audience tallies another soon-to-be casualty of sharp knives and “stabbing weapons,” as Arnold Schwarzenegger calls them. No blood & guts required – in fact, the line elicits chuckles for its aplomb.

Release the Kraken! (“Clash of the Titans”)
Actually, this non-descript, trailer-made line (delivered with uber-serious conviction by Liam Neeson as Zeus) will be better when someone in the future has his hero scream it out in the midst of grunting out a stubborn bowel movement.

She doesn’t quite chop his head off. She makes a Pez dispenser out of him. (“Sin City”)
The movie version of Frank Miller’s graphic novels is to my way of thinking the best adaptation of a comic book. More visually thrilling than the “Superman” oeuvre, grittier than “Spiderman,” darker than “Batman” (with the possible exception of Tim Burton’s efforts.) “Sin City,” a sadistic black-and-white film shot mostly in front of a green-screen is remarkable for its faithful depiction of Miller’s revenge-obsessed “The Hard Goodbye.” After a heavily made-up Benicio del Toro (playing corrupt detective Jackie Boy Rafferty) gets a bit fresh with some feisty prostitutes, one of them takes a Samurai sword to his throat, leaving Benny the Bull hanging. His decapitated head (can a head be decapitated, or just a body?) continues to carry on conversation, though – it is a comic book, after all.

Leave the gun. Take the cannoli. (“The Godfather”)
Strangely, “The Godfather” franchise boasts but two quotes on AFI’s list. Given that nearly nine hours of action and dialog comprise the trilogy, you might think a couple other lines would appear among the top 100. Most every casual movie-goer is familiar with this juicy line from the first “Godfather” in which fat Clemenza gives instructions following the whacking of a Corleone family turncoat. I’ve seen several cheeky versions of this line posted in more than one Italian bakery. It didn’t make AFI’s list, but I it should have.
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What are you thinking? – Of all the people who have been born… and have died… while the trees went on living. (“Vertigo”)
Every ten years, Sight & Sound compiles a list of the best 100 films of all time after polling several hundred film experts, and in 2012 Alfred Hitchcock’s dream-like “Vertigo” pushed aside perennial favorite “Citizen Kane” from the top perch. I don’t agree that “Vertigo” is number one, but I do love the film for its complex character construction, experimental visual techniques, twisty plot and lovely mid-Century San Francisco locations. My favorite exchange comes when Scotty (Jimmy Stewart) and Madeleine (Kim Novak in one of two roles) stroll Muir Woods – a forest of towering Sequoias – in eerie silence. Madeleine’s response to a casual question captures so well her despondency over the seeming insignificance of life, and presages the strange relationship that develops between the two.

Attica! Attica! Attica! (“Dog Day Afternoon”)
Sonny Wortzik (Al Pacino) starts off as a bumbling bank robber, becomes a working-class hero (and an irritant to clueless law enforcement), and winds up captured by the FBI just steps away from a Boeing jumbo-jet ride out of the country. As you might expect the middle section of the movie is the most compelling. That’s where during his “fifteen minutes of fame” Sonny commands the attention of the rapt denizens of counter-culture cheering him on from behind the blue NYPD barriers. When Sonny struts about the sidewalk outside the bank yelling “Attica! Attica! Attica!” to conflate the police activity facing him to the notorious riots in an upstate prison, you can’t help but to connect with his charisma. Just like the hostages inside the bank. But you know he’s going down in the end.

Deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it. (“Unforgiven”)
As a revenge-filled Western with no heroes, no stock characters that traverse through the mandatory “story arc,” “Unforgiven” would seem to have virtually no chance of getting a Hollywood green-light had not Clint Eastwood (10 time Academy Award nominee, 4 wins including for “Unforgiven”), Gene Hackman (5 and 2 including for “Unforgiven”), Morgan Freeman (a win for “Million Dollar Baby”), and Richard Harris (2 time nominee) been attached. And thank God. Who knows how many potentially great films like “Unforgiven” get the stamp of rejection because they refuse to adhere to the formula and have no talent attached? Anyway, this line sneered by William Munny (Eastwood) as he points a 12-gauge into the face of a defeated, supine Bill Daggett (Hackman) sums up the ethos of the movie quite nicely.

Well, ma’am, if I see him, I’ll sure give him the message. (“Blood Simple”)
Director Joel Coen’s first movie, “Blood Simple” is an under-seen gem of modern noir (his brother Ethan was producer). It’s a twisty tale of lies, deceit, revenge, and mistaken identity – just my cup of tea. A hired hit-man named Visser (Emmet Walsh) does some double-crossing and winds up shot through a wall by a woman who mistakenly thinks she just popped her vindictive husband Marty. Unable to see her victim, she calls out “I’m not afraid of you, Marty,” to which the bleeding hit-man Visser chuckles this funny line before buying the farm.

Sometimes nothing can be a real cool hand. (“Cool Hand Luke”)
“Cool Hand Luke” opens with a scene in which an inebriated Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) severs parking meters from their steel posts – nothing more than rank vandalism – and ends with his death following a daring escape from a prison in the sultry deep South where he once served his sentence on a chain-gang cutting down weeds with a scythe and shoveling gravel onto hot, fresh tar. Once acquainted with the other miscreants in prison, you begin to feel that Luke really doesn’t belong there. And neither does Luke, for he makes a couple escape attempts which cost him penalty time in “the box” – a tiny dog-house enclosure brought to hellish conditions in the sweltering, mid-day sun. In one of the many scenes inside the prison barracks, after Luke has bluffed a fellow prisoner out of a big poker pot with nothing but shit cards, he makes this pithy observation. And he takes on the nickname for which the movie got its title.

A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti (“Silence of the Lambs”)
How do you respond to that? You’re carefully interviewing a dangerous, sociopathic disbarred psychiatrist inside a dank prison, and this is what he lays on you? Hannibal Lechter (Anthony Hopkins) delivers the line with delicious intensity, following up with a sinister flutter of the tongue that is seriously creepy – so over the top that it has been immortalized in numerous parodies, including “Dumb and Dumber.”

Hey, careful, man, there’s a beverage here! (“The Big Lebowski”)
The Dude (Jeff Bridges) becomes a tad indignant when a couple guys strong-arm him into a waiting vehicle for some benign interrogation – not so much because of the denial of his civil rights and the whole due-process thing, but because he’s holding a freshly-mixed, vulnerable White Russian, his signature drink, and under no circumstances is it cool to spill the beverage of The Dude.

I got brown sandwiches and green sandwiches. – What’s the green? – It’s either very new cheese or very old meat. (“The Odd Couple”)
At a poker game with his middle-aged divorced friends, and those on the cusp of divorce, slovenly Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) offers his guests some hastily arranged sandwiches, some brown and some green. Just to describe the sandwiches that way says something about the manner in which Oscar lives as an aging, single sports-writer in New York. It’s humorous to watch the decades-old movie now and compare the main characters to the Metrosexuals of Manhattan today. You just know Oscar and his buddies don’t do Pilates, or have their backs waxed, or eat vegan, or subscribe to Esquire. They’re just regular guys who sometimes throw spaghetti against the wall.

A man’s got to know his limitations. (“Magnum Force”)
Sound advice offered often by Inspector Harry Callahan (Clint Eastwood) to just about everybody he encounters in this film about vigilante cops hunted to extinction by the patron saint of vigilante cops, none other than Harry Callahan. The final utterance of this instructional line is delivered to Lt. Briggs (Hal Holbrook) posthumously after the corrupt police official is blown to smithereens by a bomb surreptitiously dropped into the back seat of the lieutenant’s squad car – by the Dirt-man himself. Fade to whatever resembles the color of burning flesh and smoldering mid-70′s automotive upholstery.

I am married to an American agent. (“Notorious”)
Bad news for Alexander Sebastian (Claude Rains) who is a member of a cabal of post-WW II Nazi fanatics seeking a path back to glory by cornering the market for enriched uranium. Things are moving along well until Claude screws up and falls for fake female adoration heaped upon him by Alicia Huberman (Ingrid Bergman), a Teutonic beauty half his age. She’s also an operative of a U.S. spy agency under the supervision of Mr. Devlin (Cary Grant). When Claude figures out the ruse, and utters these words of resigned doom, his deliciously devious mother (Leopoldine Konstantin) conjures up the slow demise of Alicia the gold-digger – or should I say, uranium-digger?
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OK – One more makes 51

Mother, they’re still not sure it is a baby! (“Eraserhead”)
A strange line that more than piques the curiosity of the audience, and one that sets everyone in the theater on edge. By now, anyone who watches “Earserhead” has either seen it 100 times, or is a newbie who’s heard all about the cult classic and is waiting nervously for the visual assault. For the latter group – yes, the baby is shocking, and disgusting, and sometimes risible, but contrary to various claims bears no resemblance to E.T.

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It Doesn’t Go Without Saying

secret-Political discourse in America is atrophied, not only by ultra-partisan, tribal behavior, but also by the need for those partisans to conveniently elide key factual elements when making their chest-thumping arguments. This dishonesty is allowed to pass because much of the audience to whom the arguments are aimed is too busy mastering Cookie Jam to conduct some research of their own. In the end, an outraged cohort of like-minded yet misinformed agitators is built into an influential voting bloc.

Consider a few controversial topics currently coursing through the national chatterbox.

Planned Parenthood

Although Planned Parenthood is the recipient of about .015 percent of the Federal budget largely in the form of Medicaid reimbursements, many Republicans in Congress are frothing at the mouth to defund it completely. Despite the positive value the organization provides to people in poor corners of the country in the form of breast cancer screening and HIV testing, the rabid solons would rather shut down the government than allow inclusion of an inaudible noise in the budget. The outrage stems from the performance of abortions at some of the Planned Parenthood facilities, and their supposed profiteering in the selling of fetal body parts. (Planned Parenthood denies this.)

But what is left out is the fact that it is already against the law for the U.S. Government to fund Planned Parenthood to pay for abortions – and has been since 1976. Known colloquially as the Hyde Amendment, the law expressly forbids any Federal dollars to pay for abortion unless the pregnancy arises from incest, rape, or to save the life of the mother.
General hatred for Planned Parenthood is obviously the underlying emotion, but those wishing the organization would go away can’t seem to make an honest argument against shuttering a group that provides so many other valuable, non-abortion services.

Carried Interest Loophole

Under current tax law, income derived from making investments is taxed at a lower, capital gains rate than income earned through just plain working for a living. Favorable treatment for investors has long been a point of disagreement among economists, and the topic that stokes the inequality gap discussion. Bluntly speaking, the capital gains tax exists because its supporters believe investing is more important to the economy than working. That if capital gains were taxed like ordinary income, the vaunted investor would curtail his “job-creating” activities, and everyone would suffer.

The subject earned new currency when Donald Trump began to rail against the tax benefits bestowed upon a small but fabulously wealthy clique: hedge fund managers. Although the annual take-home pay of the top managers exceeds a half billion-with-a-B dollars (a quarter million dollars an hour), these geniuses pay tax rates that middle-class shlubs would envy. (Sidebar: the top 25 highest compensated hedge fund managers in 2014 pulled down $11.6 billion … and half those on the list generated mere single-digit returns for their clients in a year when the S&P 500 posted 13.7 percent gains.)
Still, the anti-tax gurus make the case that the hedge fund managers deserve the incentive-based rate as a reward for the risks they take.

But what is so often left out of the argument is the fact that the hedge fund managers invest and take risks with other peoples’ money. They invest the funds of their clients, not their own, yet when the investments pay off, hedge fund managers reap rewards for which they pay a tax rate that is about 40 percent less than if the carried interest loophole did not exist.

Presumably, noting that distinction would make the loophole even more galling to Joe Average, and that would not bode well for the anti-tax crowd.

Sources of Illegal Immigration

Illegal immigration is a red-meat topic these days, with presidential wannabees falling over one another to see who can be the greatest xenophobe on the planet. So-called solutions run the gamut: building walls, electrifying fences, repealing the citizenship clause 14th amendment, fining Mexico, and deporting millions (including children of illegals who themselves are U.S. citizens.)

No doubt illegal immigration is a problem, but what is rarely mentioned is that anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the illegal immigrants in the U.S. started out as legal visitors who overstayed their visa – two thirds of whom came into the country through an airport.

Funny, you never hear a candidate call for a 20 foot tall wall to be built around LaGuardia. Although I will give credit to Chris Christie who acknowledged the issue by saying “”You go on online and at any moment, FedEx can tell you where that package is . . .yet we let people come into this country with visas, and the minute they come in, we lose track of them.” Presumably, the portly Christie is calling for every foreign visitor to be tattooed with a bar-code. Jesus.

The New Volkswagen Bug

The Environmental Protection Agency discovered recently that the Volkswagen corporation installed software on a number of their auto models that could tell when the cars were undergoing emissions test – so that when they weren’t being tested, the emissions systems could be turned off. Disabling the emissions systems yields increased performance, of course, but it also allows the release of huge volumes of pollution into the atmosphere. The footprints in the software make clear that this was a purposeful plot and not a programmer’s error. And for that, Volkswagen will recall half a million vehicles. They’ll also get hit with massive fines and, hopefully, criminal indictments.

One thought: how many drivers of affected Volkswagens and Audis will ignore the recalls so as to retain the increased performance. Already some are downplaying the impacts because they deem the damage as negligible, unlike with GM’s faulty ignition switches that caused the deaths of 174 people. In an editorial in today’s Investor’s Business Daily , the crackpots on staff there opined, “No one has been killed, as far as we know, by these rampaging Volkswagens. But that matters not to the EPA, which has become the most crusading and burdensome of all government agencies.”

A “burdensome agency?” I’d prefer to see the focus trained on Volkswagen, a “criminal enterprise.”

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Volkswagen Chief Scientist inspects a prototype for flawed software

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Favorite Sexy Scenes

bound1I watched the movie “Bound” the other day for what must have been the fourth or fifth time, and again enjoyed every minute of it. It’s a sexy noir thriller starring Jennifer Tilly, Gina Gershon and Joe Pantoliano that involves a plot to steal big-time from the mob, and the frantic depths to which the steward of the missing money goes to retrieve it. “Bound” breaks tired norms by casting the plotters of the heist as Lesbian lovers.

Not unexpectedly, the producers pushed to change the moll’s secret lover and co-conspirator from a Lesbian woman to a hot-blooded heterosexual man, presumably to make the movie more conventional and marketable. But thankfully the Wachowski screenwriting team stood fast. The result is a fast-paced, twisty, sleek-looking film that benefits from what I found to be a more intriguing relationship that challenges each character’s trust in the other.

Early on in the movie, Violet (Tilly), the girlfriend of mafia money launderer Cecil (Pantoliano), seduces Corky (Gershon), a recently-released convict who is renovating the apartment next door. The love scene between Violet and Corky is not explicit or pornographic – just sexy. And it gives the movie added spice, setting the tone for the rest of the tale.

There are a number of fine, provocative, edgy movies that have used this technique, and I love them all. Submitted for your approval:


Blue is the Warmest Color


Mulholland Dr.


Frida


The Hunger


Black Swan

RIP Irving Harper

In the world of well-designed furniture, the term “Mid-Century” always means a period from about 1935 to 1965, with a special emphasis on items produced after World War II. No ambiguity. Mid-Century refers to the 20th.

A little-known player in the world of Mid-Century design died the other day at 99 – Irving Harper, the force behind the now-famous “Marshmallow” sofa. Although it sold lightly in its first production run (only 150 were purchased in the first four years), the sofa became an iconic, and quirky, addition to the types of stylish furniture that appeared on “Mad Men” and are sold by authorized reproduction vendors like Design Within Reach. (Sidebar: your reach needs to exceed $5,000 if you want one for yourself.)

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As it so often happens, Harper worked diligently in obscurity – in his case, for George Nelson – until he stumbled upon an unexpected opportunity to break out. Nelson had been investigating the possible uses for molded plastic circles, finding none. Just messing around, Harper mounted 18 upholstered circles on a steel frame, and voila – the Marshmallow sofa was born.

Although not as famous or recognizable as furniture designed by Charles Eames and Le Corbusier, the Marshmallow sofa has influenced the development of numerous whimsical constructions.

The next time you enter a chichi boutique hotel lobby or a stop in for a drink at a trendy roof-top bar, note the furniture and pay some homage to Irving Harper.

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Kentucky Fried Brains

davisIn a front page story in today’s New York Times that baffles me, it’s reported that some narrow-minded clerk in Rowan County, Kentucky is refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. This kind of shit has popped up sporadically around the country – mostly in Bible Belt states – since the Supreme Court in June decided that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. In many cases, the clerks refuse to issue licenses to anyone – gay or straight – so as to inoculate themselves against charges of bias.

In today’s story we learn that county clerk Kim Davis just can’t seem to perform her duties when it comes to marriage licenses. She says her denials are legitimate “under God’s authority” and that to do otherwise would violate her Christian beliefs. Of course, being a Christian she feels obligated to say, “I have no animosity toward anyone and harbor no ill will,” adding incongruously, “to me this has never been about a gay or lesbian issue.” (Sidebar: Davis demonstrates her belief in the sanctity of marriage by having done it herself four times so far.)

After the Governor of Kentucky directed all county clerks in the state to issue the licenses across the board, Davis did what any decent civil servant would do – sue in federal court, arguing that she should be excused from, essentially, doing her goddamned job.

If you drove into a Jiffy Lube and the grease monkey in the pit beneath your car refused to change your oil because he spotted a Planned Parenthood sticker on your bumper, I can say with confidence that he’d get the boot. But hey, that’s the private sector.

It should be kept in mind that these government people aren’t called “clerks” for nothing. Following the definition of the word, they undertake routine administrative duties. Routine! Anybody can do this stuff. But because they are elected, apparently they can’t be touched for gross insubordination. And that’s what’s so baffling about the whole stupid affair. Why must citizens put up with people, paid for with tax dollars, who refuse to do their jobs?

Davis’s lawyer said that if his client were to be fined or jailed for not doing her job, “it could be one of the most disgraceful things that ever happened in this country” – thus demonstrating his complete ignorance of American history. But he also said he was confident Davis would prevail in the end.

And then what?

Denali Denial

Representative John Boehner and fellow Ohioans are pissed that Obama’s Interior Department gave the go-ahead to change the name of Mt. McKinley in Alaska back to what it had been long before America existed: Denali. William McKinley, 25th president and native of Ohio, got the honor of having his name on North America’s tallest mountain after some gold prospector suggested doing so as an honorific following McKinley’s nomination. Although McKinley never stepped foot in Alaska, and his connection to the mountain was tenuous (OK, non-existent), the people from the state that’s “round on the ends and high in the middle” took umbrage at the apparent slight against a native son.

Here’s what Boehner had to say: “There is a reason President McKinley’s name has served atop the highest peak in North America for more than 100 years, and that is because it is a testament to his great legacy. McKinley served our country with distinction during the Civil War as a member of the Army. He made a difference for his constituents and his state as a member of the House of Representatives and as Governor of the great state of Ohio. And he led this nation to prosperity and victory in the Spanish-American War as the 25th President of the United States. I’m deeply disappointed in this decision.” All good stuff, but nothing mentioned constitutes a reason as to why the continent’s highest peak should get the great man’s name.

Still, perhaps a bipartisan compromise is in the works. Some possible changes the Interior Department could look into:

  • Rename California’s San Andreas Fault after the 37th president and senator from California – Nixon’s Fault.
  • Rename Alaska’s second-highest peak and a Denali neighbor, Mount Foraker (and create a great visual concept in the process) after the one-time governor of the country’s 49th state – Mount Sarah Palin.
  • And not to ignore notable Democrats, rename and anagramize Meteor Crater in Arizona to Carter’s Crater after Jimmy the illustrious 39th president.

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Mount Sarah Palin?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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

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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?

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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

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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.

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Uber Uber Alles

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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

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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.)

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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.

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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.

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

John McCain: Warmonger, Idiot or Both?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.”

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