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?

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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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Exodus: Movement of the Water

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

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

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

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

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

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

GM Slimes Out of Their Obligation

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

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

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

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

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

Shame on “new” GM.

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The Financial Folly of the Death Penalty

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A $12M garbage bill comes due.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Forget Rand Paul. Check out Paul Rand.

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

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

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

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The Reassuring Voice of the Savage Wiener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Just Admit It!

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Has it really come to this?

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

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

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

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

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

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This Week in Insanity

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

Crash and Burn

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

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

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

Damn – what to do?

John Bolton: Desk-bound Warrior

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

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

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John “Slim” Bolton rides Little Boy into Tehran.

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

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

Influenced by ISIS, or psychosis?

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

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

The Newest “Right to Discriminate” Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dumb & Gabbana

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

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

In a word: insane.

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

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

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No synthetic children were used in this ad.

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Love Letters Straight From the Heart

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

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

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

An Open Letter to North Korea
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An Open Letter to the Maldives (signed 47 times by Senator Inhofe)
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An Open Letter to Russia
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An Open Letter to Cuba (signed in crayon by Senator Marco Rubio)
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An Open Letter to Italy
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RIP Ernie Hemmings

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

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

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

RIP Ernie Hemmings.

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People Do the Darnedest Things

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

Hillary Clinton

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

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

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

North Korea

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

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

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

Mitch “The Turtle” McConnell

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

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

Saudi Arabia

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

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

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


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

Chris Christie

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

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

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

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“Under the Dome”

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

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

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The Art of Destroying Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

RIP: Leonard Nimoy

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Leonard Nimoy suffers for his art

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

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

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

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In Defense of A-Rod

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

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

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

Post

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

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Proof that New York press at one time didn’t completely despise Alex Rodriguez

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

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

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

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

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

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

Filed under WTF!

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

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Dread Scott

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

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

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

Somewhere in the middle lurks Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP Lesley Gore

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

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

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

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Three Rounds of Sudden Death Golf – And Maybe One More?

golf3As they say, deaths of famous people always come in “3’s”. And so it was in the professional golf community when three big figures of the sport succumbed in just the past couple weeks: Billy Casper (Feb. 7/83 years), Kel Nagle (Jan. 29/94 years) and Charlie Sifford (Feb. 3/92 years).

Casper was known as one of, if not the best putter of his age. And as putting is such a large component of the game, mastering it tends to translate into success – and Casper had plenty of it in his prime during the 1960s and 70s. He won 51 times on the PGA tour including two U.S. Opens and a Masters tournament. He also won the Vardon Trophy five times for posting the lowest average scores, and was a Ryder Cup member eight times. His highlight came in the 1966 U.S. Open when he overcame a deficit of seven strokes with nine holes to play to tie the legendary Arnold Palmer, forcing an 18 hole playoff the next day which he nailed after Palmer carded an ignoble 40 on the back nine.

Not a household name, Charlie Sifford ranks among the likes of Jesse Owens and Jackie Robinson for breaking down race barriers in competitive sports. As the first black man to infiltrate and succeed in the pro ranks of the quintessential white mans’ game – a fortress surrounded by racial barbed wire even more impregnable than baseball or track & field – Sifford withstood taunts and threats on and off the course. He never let such shit distract him though, winning twice on the tour in the late 1960s in Hartford and LA. Like Robinson and countless other black athletes who were consigned to playing in “Negro” leagues, Sifford spent his best years playing in a cordoned-off area of the United Golf Association’s tournaments, winning the National Negro Open five years running starting in 1952.

Just last year, confined to a wheelchair, Sifford was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Tiger Woods often noted Sifford’s ground-breaking courage that paved the way for his own ascent to the pinnacle of golf.

And speaking of recent golf-related deaths, might we add Tiger’s own game to the list? Once considered invincible, the man who would surpass Jack Nicklaus’s record of 18 major tournament wins, Tiger has been stuck at 14 majors since the 2008 U.S. Open. In between then and now, Woods has suffered debilitating injuries – the worst being self-inflicted. Skipping a good deal of competition as of late in the hopes of recovering from physical ailments, Woods returned last week to competition only to put up his worst professional score ever (an 82 at Torrey Pines) and then drop out the next day after 11 holes due to back trouble. Just the other day Woods announced he was taking an extended hiatus until he can play without embarrassing himself.

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Ten years ago the question was how far would Woods surpass Nicklaus’s record, then five years ago the question was whether Woods would surpass the record at all. Three years ago the question was whether Tiger would win just one more major. And today the question is whether he’ll ever win another golf tournament.

My succinct prediction: RIP Tiger Woods’s golf game.

Who Said it?

In the course of reading a lengthy article about a famous dead American leader, I came to learn he wrote the following observations about Jews. Can you guess who he was? Hint: It wasn’t Henry Ford who was also a big-time anti-Semite. Answer at the end of the blog.

“the greatest stinking bunch of humanity I have ever seen.”
“these people do not understand toilets and refuse to use them except as repositories for tin cans, garbage, and refuse.”
“lost to all decency.”
“lower than animals.”

End Note – Fuck you Microsoft

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In the middle of penning this blog, Microsoft decided it was high time to forcibly shut down my laptop so some urgent bug patches could be applied to their shitty Windows 7 operating system. Although this intrusion has become almost routine, it still comes as a surprise when you forget to postpone the action every couple of hours.

As a long-time abused user of Microsoft products, I assert they spent years and treasure defending their monopolistic hegemony by tying all their products into a single spaghetti-ball of “integrated” code rather than attending to the fundamental security and integrity of their operating system. And because of their misguided actions, most of the world must now suffer the scourge of spam, ransomware, bots, phishing expeditions, and lethargic 1980s-level of system performance on their super-fast 21st century hardware.

So once again I say – Fuck you Microsoft.

The Mystery anti-Semite is —

General George Patton.

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Brian Williams: Hero of the Crimean War

nbcI’m standing behind NBC anchorman Brian Williams in his hour of tribulation. While millions excoriate the fetching TV man for stretching the truth (OK, outright lying) about being present on a U.S. Army helicopter that was struck by enemy fire over Iraq in 2003, I believe only a moron would make such a preposterous and easily-debunked claim that if revealed would devastate his career (and nullify his $10 million contract). Forthwith, to my knowledge, no one has produced a single test score or brain scan that indicates Brian Williams is a moron. Hell, he might not even be an imbecile, for that matter.

Besides, the record implies otherwise. From the research desk at Major Terata Publications, what follows is just a sampling of Williams’s exploits that have altered the course of history for the betterment of America and, and judging by the turmoil dear Brian has endured of late, its ungrateful citizenry.

Outside the Washington Hilton Hotel, March 30, 1981

As would-be presidential assassin John Hinkley fired his pistol at Ronald Reagan that rainy afternoon, Brian Williams was on the scene from Pittsburg, Kansas reporting for KOAM-TV. Although Reagan took a round to the mid-section and Press Secretary James Brady suffered a bullet to the head, it could have been worse. “It wasn’t until later,” said Brian, “that the Secret Service told me a bullet headed straight for Reagan’s heart had struck my Cross pen and deflected harmlessly into a wall. I was so shaken after the first gunshot rang out that I totally forgot about the pen.” Brian continued, “I’d show it to you but the Secret Service confiscated it. I heard it’s at the Reagan Library somewhere.”

At the White House, outside the Oval Office, 1996.

Inside the White House following an interview with Attorney General Janet Reno, Brian happened upon a young intern who was scurrying from the Oval Office. “As a noted investigative journalist, I sensed something odd about the demeanor of this young woman, whom I later learned was an intern named Monica Lewinsky,” recalled Brian. “I remember she was wearing this awful blue dress – with a big, gooey stain right there on her bosom. That woman – Ms. Lewinsky – obviously recognized me right away because I was NBC’s chief White House correspondent at the time, so she confided in me that the stain was presidential semen.” Showing remarkable aplomb, Brian counseled the anxious Lewinsky. “Don’t have your dress cleaned. Keep it in safe place in case we ever need DNA to clone President Clinton.”

At Columbine High School, Columbine, CO, April 20, 1999

Cutting short a skiing vacation in Vail upon hearing the breaking news of a massacre underway at Columbine High School, Brian arrived at the scene in time to save at least three students. Some years later, upon deeper recollection, he raised the number saved to five. “The place was a madhouse. Hysterical kids running with their hands raised. Parents jockeying for position hoping to catch a glimpse of a loved one. Utter pandemonium.” Brian stopped to brush aside a tear. “Knowing that mayhem was still occurring inside what had once been a safe place of learning, I ran inside to assist in the evacuation. I’m not sure whether it was Harris or Klebold, but one of those bastards was shooting down the hallway. I corralled three (editor’s note: now five, per Williams’s press agent) students into a classroom and out the window. I’m quite sure at least one student escaped a sure shot to the head when the bullet deflected off my Blackberry.”

On board United Airlines flight 93, September 11, 2001

In a situation that would portend the awful fear Brian had to endure aboard the helicopter in Iraq, hijackers representing Al Qaeda commandeered a United Airlines plane out of Newark heading for San Francisco. Brian remembers being on that plane. “We tried to figure out how to land safely,” he said, “I seem to recall we landed very quickly and hard. We were stuck, a bird over Pennsylvania and we were north out ahead of the other Americans chasing us in fighter planes.” At this point, Brian’s memory fades. “I just can’t remember how I wound up back in the studio in New York that day. I wish I could. Just the fog of war, I guess.”

At Osama bin Laden’s compound in Abbotabad, Pakistan, May 2, 2011

“It was zero dark 30 and I was embedded with the Seals on a mission to avenge a terrible wrong committed on 9/11. I was in the helicopter that crashed landed on the wall surrounding Bin Laden’s compound. By the way, what the fuck is with these helicopters, man?” Brian takes a moment to regain his composure before continuing, “I was standing right next to Rob O’Neill who led the charge up the stairs to the third floor where Bin Laden was presumed to be hiding. O’Neill bursts into the room and there before us is the tall visage of the most wanted man in the world.” Brian breaks into an almost imperceptible grin of pride. “Rob boy squeezes off a round, which deflects off my iPad and catches Bin Laden right between the eyes.”

For obvious reasons of national security, this detail is left out of Rob O’Neill’s interview on Fox News.

But as anyone can plainly see, Brian Williams’s record of heroism in the line of journalistic duty is above reproach. Expect to see Brian back on NBC within a week, promoted from The Nightly News to hosting The Biggest Loser.

From the “Never Knew That” Department

New York Giants football fans know and mostly revere the name Mara. Tim Mara founded the team in 1925, and when he died in 1959 his son Wellington took over the reins. He ran the club until 2005 when he kicked the bucket as well.

Then just the other day, Wellington Mara’s wife of 60 years – the former Ann Marie Mumm – succumbed from injuries sustained after falling on the ice. She left behind 11 children and 42 grandchildren.

And one of those grandchildren is actress Rooney Mara, pierced-punk co-star of the racy film “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.”

I wonder what Grandpa Wellington thought when he saw Rooney – playing Lisbeth Salander – vengefully shoving a huge dildo up the “tight end” of a sexual tormentor.

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Rooney Mara shows her stuff.

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Herbal Supplements: The Standard is Poor

toejamThe Attorney General’s office of New York State yesterday accused GNC, Target, Walgreens and Walmart of selling store brand herbal supplements like echinacea, ginseng, and St. John’s Wort which failed to contain any or all of the ingredients listed on the packages. In fact, many of the supplements thought by some to be life-extending contained nothing but filler: rice, beans, pine, citrus, asparagus, primrose, wheat, and ground up houseplants. Nothing deadly perhaps (unless you’re allergic to any of it), but illegal nevertheless.

I’ve often harbored skepticism about the efficacy of the plethora of exotic and medieval-sounding health supplements for sale in chain stores, gas stations and in the margins of Facebook feeds. Now I’m more certain than ever there’s a vast conspiracy run by unscrupulous alchemists to leech off of the gullible health-nut cohort.

But thanks to the diligence of the AG’s office, slime in the herbal industry has been uncovered and maybe thwarted for the time being. But that’s just one state. What about the U.S. at large? Why isn’t the FDA or some other agency looking for pulverized rat-shit in the stuff Americans consume? After all, the USDA does a pretty good job at rating beef. No one seems to be complaining about their intrusion in the abattoir, least of all the beef industry itself which leverages government grades like “prime” and “choice” to promote their product to consumers.

It’s because of obstructionists in Congress like Orrin “the Snatch” Hatch that no federal oversight of supplements exists. Hatch’s 1994 law specifically forbids the FDA to get involved. The reason: Supplements are safe, sayeth the Snatch (that, plus Hatch has taken hundreds of thousands in contributions from the supplement industry.) And, let’s face it, the effort to keep the FDA out of the action comports with a long-standing belief among many laissez-faire politicians that the government should never regulate anything.

Remember that affable geezer on TV who used to say government isn’t the solution to the problem – government is the problem? Welllll . . . his disciples would much prefer to turn the task of regulation over to private industry which is much better equipped, more efficient and more motivated to do the right thing.

So what can happen when private sector rates itself?

Consider another news story that broke yesterday – the one about Standard and Poor’s agreement to pay a $1.375 billion fine to atone for its mischief leading up to the devastating 2008 financial crisis. Here’s a tale of a private sector firm paid by banks and other financial institutions to rate the quality of the instruments they sell. Along with Moody’s and Fitch, S&P applies ratings to bonds, mortgage backed securities, collateralized debt obligations, or any other figment of a quant’s imagination that investors can purchase along with a gauzy promise to be paid back some day. As one S&P analyst was quoted as saying, “It could be structured by cows and we would rate it.”

The ratings agencies theoretically act as independent agents who study markets, probe companies’ capabilities and financial wherewithal, estimate risk, and offer assessments of the quality (and hence the value) of whatever instrument is placed into the market.

In reality, these agencies do little of that. Financial instruments like credit default swaps and synthetic CDO’s are too complex for the rating agencies to assess (not that that would stop them from trying), and besides, the agencies are essentially owned by the companies that hire them. Should S&P or Moody’s plop a mediocre rating on a bond issue from Goldman Sachs, the fallout would no doubt be swift – banishment from sucking on the lucrative, derivative tit.

Such incestuous relations explain how S&P could give Enron debt a top rating in August of 2001 when in fact the company was about to crater into bankruptcy in December of that year. At every step in Enron’s procession toward death, S&P was one or two steps behind reality – always bestowing upon the company a too-generous rating and in the process fucking over the average investor with bullshit sunshine. Affirming a strong BBB+ rating on October 25, 2001, S&P said, “The fundamental strength of Enron’s energy marketing and trading franchise has remained steady. Standard & Poor’s has detected no lapses in the company’s risk management practices and trading discipline.” Two weeks later, Enron restated earnings to the tune of $600 million. S&P’s defense has always been “Enron lied to us.” But if that’s your excuse – if all you do is regurgitate what companies tell you – why exist? What possible value do you bring to investors if your role is to be nothing more than a gussied-up PR firm?

Whenever I hear wags proclaim the stultifying effects of government regulators on commerce, and how such regulation – if done at all – should be done by the private sector, I think first of S&P and the damage such shills can inflict upon said commerce.

RIP: Kel Nagle

Kel Nagle, the winner of the 1960 British Open golf tournament died the other day at age 94. Not well known in America at the time, for he plied his trade mainly in the South Pacific league where he won 61 tournaments, including an Australian Open, six Australian P.G.A. tournaments, seven New Zealand Opens and seven New Zealand P.G.A.s, Nagle rocketed to fame when he nipped Arnold Palmer at St. Andrews.

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My earliest recollection of Nagle came in 1965 when he vied for the U.S. Open against Gary Player. I don’t remember much except that Nagle and Player were going head to head on Monday in an 18 hole playoff after coming up tied on the 72nd hole of regular play. Early on, Nagle sliced a drive into the head of a female spectator. When he arrived to his ball, Nagle encountered the woman bleeding profusely from a gash in her head (she later received eight stitches). Nagle was so flustered that he bladed his next shot into the ankle of another female spectator. He took a double bogey on the hole. Needless to say, Player won the U.S. Open that day after Nagle put up a four over par 74.

RIP Kel Nagle who demonstrated so ungracefully how the game of golf is satanic and evil.

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New York: The Vampire State

crockLast week’s arrest of New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon (“Smelly Shelly”) Silver served as yet another reminder that the “Vampire State” harbors the worst state legislature in the United States. Using a metric involving level of corruption [C] times cost to maintain the whole population of cretinous politicians, and their staffs and perks [P] divided by the value of the output of their “work product” [W], the New York State legislature is by far the most useless and least cost-effective body in America. And maybe the Third World for that matter.

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NY’s Public Servants in the Headlines

New Yorkers from the skyscraper canyons of Manhattan, to the mountains of snow in Buffalo, to the empty badlands of the Southern Tier, to the tony beaches of the Hamptons – all can attest to the ill effects of incompetence upon their lives: nation’s highest taxes, largest income inequality, most punitive property taxes, highest incarceration costs per inmate (2X the mean), highest public school spending per pupil , and some pretty shitty infrastructure (27% of bridges are functionally obsolete, 23% of major roads are in poor condition, 399 dams are rated high hazard.)

Silver’s long-running stint as one of Albany’s “Three Men in a Room” – derided rightly as the epitome of undemocratic colloquy and decision-making – demonstrated how much the system in New York had atrophied. The head of the Dems was able for 20 years to wield outsized power to buttress his leadership position and in the process inflate his worth to miscreants (lawyers, mainly) looking to game the system with monetary stipends and referral fees.

But let’s not allow the travails of Smelly Shelly to make us forget the full depth of the New York State government bench when it comes to corruption and cronyism. The compendium of flagrant violators of the public trust is legion. And I’m not even talking about the assholes who now or once embarrassed New York in Washington, D.C. – sub-humans like Anthony Weiner (sexting addict), Eric Massa (digs “snorkeling”), Charlie Rangel (censured, but never gone) and Michael Grimm (hothead felon).

Rather than present a depressing list of the best of the worst, let me make the process more fun by challenging your knowledge of the state of New York State governmental despair that plagues every citizen.

Match the New York State politician/criminal with the crime (all incidents occurred only since 2000).

The Criminals

1) State Assemblyman William Boyland, Jr. (D)
2) State Senator and Majority Leader Joseph Bruno (R)
3) State Senator Efrain Gonzalez (D)
4) State Representative Diane Gordon (D)
5) State Senator Carl Kruger (D)
6) State Senator Vincent Leibell (R)
7) State Representative Brian McLaughlin (D)
8) State Senator Hiram Monserrate (D)
9) State Health Commissioner Antonia Novello (R)
10) State Senator Kevin S. Parker (D)
11) State Supreme Court Justice Gerald Phillip (D)
12) State Assemblyman William Scarborough (D)
13) State Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo (R)
14) Governor Eliot “The Shitz” Spitzer (D)
15) State Comptroller Alan Hevesi (D)

The Crimes

A) Pled guilty to costing the taxpayers $48,000 in overtime by making staff carry out personal chores, such as picking up dry cleaning.
B) Resigned and pled guilty to charges of corruption and bribery.
C) Arrested for soliciting bribes.
D) Expelled in connection with a misdemeanor assault conviction against his girlfriend.
E) Sentenced to 7 years in prison, followed by two years supervised release, after pleading guilty to two conspiracy counts and two wire fraud counts.
F) Charged with corruption.
G) Pled guilty to felony bribery, tax evasion, and obstruction of justice charges related to $43,000 in cash kickbacks taken.
H) Convicted of attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe. Sentenced to 27 months in prison.
I) Arrested for criminal mischief and assault after chasing a photographer.
J) Indicted on eight counts of corruption, including mail and wire fraud. Convicted on two counts of wire fraud.
K) Sentenced to ten years in prison for racketeering.
L) Convicted of accepting bribes to manipulate the outcomes of divorce proceedings.
M) Indicted on charges for helping a contractor obtain a $2 million parcel of land from the city if he would build a house in return.
N) Pled guilty to corruption charges surrounding a “pay to play” scheme regarding the New York State Pension Fund, and was sentenced to 1–4 years.
O) aka. Client 9, resigned amid threats of impeachment by state lawmakers.

Answers

1-C; 2-J; 3-E; 4-M; 5-B; 6-G; 7-K; 8-D; 9-A; 10-I; 11-L; 12-F; 13-H; 14-O; 15-N

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Breaking the Brokers

garbageAs a harbinger of the turmoil to come in the music publishing industry, a ragtag service called Napster caught the imaginations of musicians and their fans, the record industry and not a few lawyers. A friend who was both a lawyer and an indie-label record producer tried to explain to me that Napster was a rank copyright infringer because the service facilitated the unlawful copying and distribution of protected content. My argument to the contrary was based on the notion that Napster itself neither copied nor distributed content – instead the company supplied peer-to-peer software that allowed users to share content with each other without communicating through an intermediary. Although Napster was deployed almost exclusively to share music (mostly illegally), it could also allow users to share personal photos, documents and any other digital file. Clearly, the people sharing copyrighted music were violating copyright, but in my mind Napster wasn’t. (I likened the situation to head shops that sold water pipes and bongs for smoking dope – they facilitated an illegal activity, but the products themselves were not illegal.)

To be sure, record companies litigated individuals who had egregiously violated copyrights, but the fallout from attacking its customers cost the record companies even more ill will. Remember, Napster came about at least in part as a response to the piss-poor way the record companies delivered music: as expensive bundled albums containing one or two decent songs accompanied by uninspired filler.

Nevertheless, under tremendous pressure from the music industry Napster was shut down. The Recording Industry Association of America sued for copyright infringement in 1999 under the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and the courts forced Napster to put processes in place to thwart illegal sharing – a requiement that was impossible to comply with given the design of the software. Napster went away, but not before dramatically altering the music industry forever.

Similarly, a company called Aereo filed for bankruptcy just a few months ago after losing an intellectual property suit in a U.S. District Court in California. Aereo sought to disrupt the cable television industry by allowing subscribers to rent an antenna which picked up freely-available, live TV broadcast signals. Aereo then delivered the captured signals over the internet to individuals’ devices. Again, Aereo did not copy content – it merely picked up signals available to any American with an antenna on his roof. Aereo offered to house the antenna for a fee to its customers. Still, under intense pressure from the cable companies – a group broadly despised by its customer base, by the way, for its crappy business practices – the courts intervened. Its business model shattered, Aereo suspended operations.

Which brings me to the newest collection of upstarts seeking to disrupt other necrotic industries like taxi service and vacation lodging: Uber, Lyft, AirBnb, and countless others. Are these “brokers” vulnerable to fates similar to those of Napster and Aereo?
Uber and Lyft provide mobile software that connects people seeking rides with drivers willing to provide them. Both companies use GPS technology and route optimization algorithms to match riders and drivers. They also offer variable rates based on instantaneous demand and other factors, and complete the transaction automatically so no money changes hands. In cities where the taxi and limousine industry hasn’t changed much in a century, Uber and Lyft seem like transformative agents. AirBnB operates to match people looking for temporary lodging with individuals (not hotels) in possession of accommodations they are willing to rent temporarily. In all cases, the companies continually point out they do not own or operate taxis and hotel properties, nor do they employ drivers and hoteliers – and therefore should not be constricted by the laws and regulations that apply to their old-world competition.

Others see it differently, particularly those who have suffered from the way Uber and AirBnB sometimes deliver dicey service: riders subjected to the dangerous moves of unskilled drivers, neighbors of people who rent out their apartments to inconsiderate strangers who traipse about the common hallways in drunken stupors. AirBnB came in for some serious derision in a recent New York City Council hearing in which irate tenants blasted the company for facilitating deterioration in their communities. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman reported that fully three-fourths of all AirBnB transaction in the state are illegal. Uh oh.

Uber is under even greater attack, especially from the taxi industry and its friends in politics. Although banned from operating in several cities and countries (Spain, India, Thailand, Germany), Uber has been anything but contrite or circumspect. Uber executives have been vilified for suggesting a plan to smear prying reporters, and many riders have come to loathe the surge pricing algorithm that can drive the cost of a short trip into the stratosphere when conditions constrain supply. And Uber had to apologize after gouging panicked citizens of Sydney, Australia who were trying to get away from the location of a terrorist hostage situation (but fundamentally, if you don’t like the idea of surge pricing, you shouldn’t complain when you can’t get a taxi in the rain.)

Jawajarlal Nehru University Students Union Activists Protest Against The Rape
Some less-than-favorble press for Uber.

Perhaps the biggest threat imposed by Uber and its ilk is its ability to collect, analyze and even release personal information about its clientele. They know every place a client has been and where they went, and when, and how often. They can easily establish patterns of behavior, and in doing so could determine who has cancer, who is cheating on their spouse, who is an alcoholic. Once people start getting outed by Uber – either purposefully or as the result of a hack on Uber’s servers – will the enthusiasm for the service remain high?

Still, the broker business model seems to have captured the delight of investors. AirBnB and Uber imitators are cropping up like weeds, and companies like Angie’s List, Match.com, eBay have long thrived on doing nothing more than pairing buyers and sellers efficiently.

The looming question is whether a force strong enough to snuff out or seriously alter Uber and AirBnB will prevail, like they did with Napster and Aereo. I predict an existential showdown is coming.

And now – Breaking the Balls

Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady on the subject of his balls. (All quotes guaranteed verbatim.)

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“Our equipment guys do a great job of breaking the balls in. they have a process that they go through. When I pick those balls out, at that point to me they’re perfect. I don’t want anyone touching the balls after that. I don’t want anyone rubbing them , putting any air in them, taking any air out. To me those balls are perfect and that’s what I expect when I show up on the field.”

“You go through that process of breaking the balls in and getting comfortable with them. Of course I choose the balls that I want to use for the game and that’s what I expect to go out on the playing field with.”

“I’m not squeezing the balls. That’s not part of my process. I grab it, I feel the lace, I feel the leather.”

“Everybody has a preference. Some guys like them round and some guys like them thin. Some guys like them tacky. Some guys like them brand new. Some guys like old balls. They’re all different. And it’s leather.”

RIP Kim Fowley

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I first discovered the skanky works of Kim Fowley in the mid-1970s through my nascent interest in the seminal chick punk band, The Runaways. A local band I hung around with at that time occasionally opened for The Runaways. I went to a couple shows before the band became (in)famous in places like Fredonia, NY, and bought the eponymous first album – an energetic disk produced by Fowley. Hearing about Fowley and his off-the-wall antics compelled me to seek out and collect his earlier obscure albums – which in a pre-Internet, pre-eBay world was not an easy task.

I managed to acquire several Fowley albums over the years, none of which were particularly endearing. But I loved to pull them out once in a while just to ogle the covers. My favorite was 1968’s “Outrageous” featuring a chained and leathered Fowley lying in cesspool about to be whipped by a naked woman standing calf-deep in murky effluence.

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If you’ve never heard of Kim Fowley, you may still know of such acts as Paul Revere and the Raiders, Gene Vincent, Blue Cheer, The Seeds, Alice Cooper, and (yes) Helen Reddy. Fowley produced works for these and many others, dating from 1959 to 2014. In 2012 he wrote a memoir/poetry collection titled “Lord of Garbage” which sums things up nicely. Here is an excerpt describing what happened after his grandmother decided to send him back to his mother alone on a train at the age of three.

“I rode from Oregon, alone, to Los Angeles, roped into a seat, pissing and shitting the whole way. On the way to the train station I saw a truck full of turkeys on their way to being slaughtered. It was raining and the turkeys knew they were about to get murdered, and they were crying and whimpering in this open truck. And they all looked at me, and I looked at them, and I knew I was doomed for life. I was deformed. I was being sent back alone, a thousand miles away, alone in the middle of a fucking war. And it was at that moment as the age of three, that I formulated the idea for a song I would one day write, a song that Jimi Hendrix recorded in 1967 called Fluffy Turkeys.

Is any of that true? Who really knows.

Kim Fowley passed away January 15 leaving behind a legacy of debauchery and, perhaps, genius. Such assessments are in the eye and ear of the beholder. But it’s for certain he exercised an influence on rock n roll that is probably under-appreciated.

RIP Kim Fowley.

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Not for Prophet Publication

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Mohammed lights a cigarette for Jesus

A dozen people in Paris were summarily executed earlier this month for the capital crime of portraying an image of the Prophet Mohammed – an offense committed by the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo after editors repeatedly published cartoons featuring the holy man on the cover of their niche-market magazine. Charlie Hebdo also regularly ran cartoons lampooning Jesus Christ and the Pope among other easy targets – but those acts apparently don’t qualify as capital crimes as no psychopathic Catholics ever came forward to mete out justice.

When their work was done, the executioners, radical Islamist jihadists and brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, exclaimed, “We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad” – although it’s debatable whether the Prophet would have appreciated the gesture.

Once the initial shock of the savage attacks in Paris subsided, handwringing ensued. The most common observations:

  • The jihadists don’t represent true Islam which is actually a peaceful religion.
  • Europeans need to reach out to and assuage the fears of disaffected Muslims – or else.
  • Watch out for right-wing Nationalists who will use the recent Islamic violence to incite anti-immigration sentiment.
  • “Je suis Charlie” and all that, but the magazine’s editors really should have poured a little less oil on the fire.

And several articles and blogs took on the question of whether or not Islam truly forbade the creation of images of the Prophet, and if so, what punishment was called for. Albawaba News penned an article titled “Muslims have used images of the Prophet Mohammed for centuries, what’s the problem?” On the other hand, CNN reported “Why Islam forbids images of Mohammed.”

But so what? The better question to ask: How is it possible to produce an image of a person – realistic or caricature – when no one knows what that person looked like? Muslims take offense at images of their Prophet, but no record exists of how Mohammed appeared. How are they to know who or what it is they’re looking at? If someone paints a picture of George Clooney piloting a yacht while wearing a turban, and titles it “Mohammed on Lake Como,” has the artist committed a capital offense under Shariah law? Probably.

In effect, the observer must take a cue from the artist; the image is one of Mohammed or Jesus or Moses because the person who drew it says so.

Remember the outrage that accompanied the Brooklyn Museum of Art’s display of Chris Ofili’s “The Holy Virgin Mary,” a painting that incorporated elephant dung and cutouts from porno magazines? Had Ofili titled the painting “Black Woman in a Dress” instead, no one would have given two shits.

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And does anyone actually believe Jesus Christ, a citizen of the Middle East, looked like this?

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The whole indignation over the publishing of Mohammed’s image, and the subsequent violence that such publication incites is foolish. Time to move on to something more important.

Endnote: Fuck you, Adobe

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Her Jaw Was Perfect

ekbergI once wrote a novel titled “Architect’s Rendition” which told the story of an avaricious architect who designs an elaborate scheme to eliminate his wealthy and manipulative wife so as to spend his life with Wren, an adoring woman half his age. This is how I described Wren:

(She) had smooth alabaster skin and shoulder-length golden hair that she wore in a variety of styles depending on her mood. She stood five foot seven and her well-toned, willowy arms and legs were unmarred by garish tattoos so commonly worn by women her age. Her face resembled that of an ancient goddess – Peitho, maybe, the goddess of persuasion – sculpted from pure white virgin Marathi marble. And her jaw was perfect.

The model for Wren was Anita Ekberg, the blonde Scandanavian beauty who died last week at age 83 and was certainly best known for her seductive role as a Swedish-American movie star in Fellini’s 1960 “La Dolce Vita.” Looking at the still photo of Ekberg as she lolls in the spilling waters of the Trevi Fountain, is it possible to refer to her jaw as anything but “perfect”? Something about a perfect jaw that is foundational to the beauty of a woman.

Ekberg performed in numerous films before and after “La Dolce Vita,” but I challenge most people to name one. It was her performance in the Fellini masterpiece that defined her, thankfully. As Martin Scorsese said of the Fountain scene, “This brief moment conjures up a vast universe that’s gone now — the international ‘jet set’ of the 60s and 70s, the world of international moviemaking, the very special cinematic world of Federico Fellini. He and Marcello Mastroianni and Anita Ekberg made magic together. It was her one great moment in movies, but it was legendary.”

RIP Donna Douglas

And speaking of blonde beauties, Donna Douglas – known better as Elly May Clampett on the insufferable “Beverly Hillbillies” television series – died recently at age 81. Douglas was born almost two years exactly after Anita Ekberg, and like her European counterpart started out early in her career as a fashion model. And while Ekberg became Miss Sweden, Donna Douglas was once crowned Miss By-Line, a jokey acknowledgement of the many TV appearances as a “letter girl” she made in the 1950s.

Although each woman was a beauty in her day, Anita and Donna were clearly cut from different cloth. Anita possessed Continental glamour while Donna – no doubt amplified by her role as Elly May Clampett, dressed in a tied-off flannel shirt and short-short “Daisy Dukes” – exuded the sexy innocence of a pretty farm girl.

After the cancellation of the “Beverly Hillbillies” Donna Douglas lived out the life of a “celebrity” personality identified solely by one particular role (just like co-star Miss Jane.) Forever tarred for being Elly May Clampett, Donna Douglas spent decades attending “Beverly Hillbillies” nostalgia conventions and signing memorabilia for a hayseed version of the Trekkies. That’s too bad. She seemed to have an acting range broader than that of Gomer Pyle, but I suppose the attraction of a multi-year contract to play a key role in a popular TV series was too much to pass up.

Anyway, in case you thought Donna Douglas was always Elly May, consider her performance as the unfortunate, terminally “ugly” woman in the famous and creepy “Twilight Zone” episode of 1960 titled “Eye of the Beholder.” Love that one.

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Every Silver Lining has a Cloud

derrickA generation ago, citizens of the United States first heard about a group called “OPEC” and they didn’t like what they saw. Although it had lurched around unnoticed for a decade, by 1973 the oil cartel made up mostly of Middle East countries awash in crude decided to punish America for its support of Israel in their war against Arab neighbors. Who knows what OPEC had in mind at the time, but the embargo they set in place must have awakened the sheiks to recognize the extent of the power they could wield.

Quality of life in America took a hit after gasoline prices spiked in 1973, and again in 1979 following the Iranian hostage outrage. It became Gospel: high gas prices were the root of all economic evil.

Just a few years ago high oil prices continued to be the bête noire of financial analysts. In a Washington Post article published in March 2011 and titled “Higher oil prices threaten global economy” the reporters stated the obvious: “Higher oil prices are slowing global economic growth, and the impact is likely to spread in coming months. Oil is now trading at more than $100 a barrel, suggesting the gap will widen in coming months.” They went on to quote an expert: “Jay Bryson, global economist at Wells Fargo Securities, said he has cut his U.S. growth estimate for the January-March period to 2.9 percent, down from about 3.3 percent last month. Much of that reduction is due to the impact of higher oil and gas prices.”

A fairly lucid analysis in a January 2013 report titled “Ten Reasons Why High Oil Prices are a Problem” lays out how expensive oil intrudes negatively upon the price of consumer goods, housing prices, business expenses, trade deficits, etc.

Okay – So we’ve been inculcated for 40 years that high oil prices are baaaaad. Now we’ve finally entered a period of marked and sustained reduction in oil prices. Bring on the good news!

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Wait, what?

Apparently we live in a world that must find the cloud behind every silver lining.

In an interesting twist, the same outlet that published “Ten Reasons Why High Oil Prices are a Problem” in 2013 just put out an article titled “Ten Reasons Why a Severe Drop in Oil Prices is a Problem.”

Bastards!

Orange You Glad?

This past Tuesday, the state of Florida became the 36th in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. It was only six years ago that 62 percent of the population there voted to amend their constitution to ban the practice. And further back in 1977 Florida unwittingly became a national battle-ground over gay rights when a former Miss Oklahoma and Florida Citrus Commission shill named Anita Bryant started a crusade against the homosexual lifestyle, croaking, “If gays are granted rights, next we’ll have to give rights to prostitutes and to people who sleep with St. Bernards and to nail biters.” (Nail biters? Please tell me the ban on nail-biter marriage is still in place.)

Like many ill-conceived campaigns, Bryant’s served mostly to rally more people to the cause and provide comedians with oceans of material. Boycotts of oranges became popular, and many gay bars shit-canned screwdrivers in favor of an eponymous drink called the “Anita Bryant” – vodka and apple juice, which must have taken real sacrifice on the part of the imbibers of the cocktail. Soon the Florida Citrus Commission and Anita parted ways. When she divorced in 1980, her fundamentalist buddies headed for the hills. Bankruptcy followed.

I remember reading an article in college in which Anita explained why God hates gay men. It’s because “the male homosexual eats another man’s sperm. Sperm is the most concentrated form of blood. The homosexual is eating life”. Now to my knowledge, there are more than a few women who do likewise yet I never heard Anita rail against the sisterhood of freethinking fellaters.

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Perhaps it was her flimsy logic that brought Anita Bryant down. Or maybe she simply failed to bone-up on the subject.

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Where are the Great Golf Movies?

screen-shot-2014-10-18-at-10-53-16-pm New York Times’s columnist Richard Sandomir yesterday published his list of his top ten favorite sports-oriented movies. Heading the list: Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” – the visceral story of boxer Jake LaMotta, starring Robert DeNiro in the title role. I have no serious issue with any of the choices Sandomir made which include three boxing films, five baseball films, and one each representing basketball and billiards (“The Hustler”).

It’s a bit strange perhaps that no movie about America’s current national pastime, football, made Sandomir’s list (“Any Given Sunday,” “Brian’s Song,” “The Longest Yard”), or horseracing (“Seabiscuit”), or dodgeball (“DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story” – just kidding.)

But it is entirely understandable why no movie about golf would make the list; although a great deal of heritage, legend, personality, drama, courage, gripping victory and painful defeat have been associated with the sport that rose up from the pastures of Scotland centuries ago, nearly every Hollywood attempt has been sullied by lame humor and preposterous plots.

Given the extraordinary potential material to work with, Hollywood prefers to use golf as a vehicle to highlight the exploits of retards, sociopaths and consummate losers. Knowing that most Hollywood moguls undoubtedly cut deals on the golf course and at least modestly revere the legacy of the game, why hasn’t a movie come forward built upon the painful near-wins of Greg Norman, or the tragedy of Tiger Woods, or the struggles of Native American Notah Begay, or the charmed life and untimely death of Payne Stewart, or the enormous penis of Old Tom Morris who outright owned The (British) Open in the 1860s?

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Ask yourself: Do any of these movies strike you as top contenders for best sports movie?

“Happy Gilmore”
Professional idiot Adam Sandler plays a mediocre hockey player who parlays his one skill – a wicked slapshot – into a viable career on the professional golf tour. This makes sense since the game of golf is all about long tee shots; the short game, putting, sand shots – none of this comes into play in real life. Furthermore, the movie compels Gilmore to make it big in golf only because his poor old granny needs financial help following a blitzkrieg on her meager wealth from the evil IRS.

Happy enters some penny-ante local golf tournament, and by virtue of winning this walk-on event, becomes eligible to join the PGA pro tour. If this were a movie about baseball, Happy would throw a ball 100 feet into a garbage can and thereby sign with the NY Yankees as their new short stop. Not to spoil things, but do you think Happy Gilmore vanquishes the arrogant pro, wins the big tournament, saves his granny’s house and gets the girl? Fuck me!

“Tin Cup”
Kevin Costner loves to make sports flicks: “Bull Durham,” “Field of Dreams,” “McFarland, USA,” “Draft Day,” “For the Love of the Game.” It comes as no surprise then that Costner would take the lead in a golf movie about an underdog driving-range manager named Roy McAvoy who magically makes it into the U.S. Open – and goes all the way to play in the final grouping on Sunday. Again, the plot line is absurd – analogous to a stall-mucker parlaying his shit-shoveling skills into becoming a jockey in the Kentucky Derby.

In a classic case of deus-ex-machina, Roy is sought out by a female psychiatrist named Molly Griswold (Renee Russo) for golfing lessons. She also happens to be the main squeeze of an asshole pro golfer who enjoys fucking with Roy’s innate inability to avoid stupid dares.

A born loser, Roy decides to get psychiatric help, swapping roles to become Molly’s patient seeking counseling.

Needless to say, once he qualifies for the Open Roy makes good – even after shooting an 83 on the first day of the tournament, a score that is all but impossible to recover from. (Sidebar: Golf Digest estimates the chances of a person qualifying for the U.S. Open at .8% – and that’s after the field has been culled to about 10,000 scratch players.)

Anyway, on the second day of the tournament, Roy cards a 62, which in real life would be a U.S. Open record going back a mere 100 years. Of course, in the end, Roy’s gotta be Roy – a douchbag driving range manager who’d rather stay true to himself than win a golf major. So when faced with a challenging shot on the 72nd and final hole of the tournament with the victory in the balance, Roy continues to hit shot after futile shot into a creek crossing the fairway, instead of laying up close to the green as is his option– just to show he’s a . . . Purist? Fighter? Authentic Guy? Fucking Asshole?

Although he steals the girl from his nemesis (a foregone conclusion in Hollywood), it is nonsensical that coming so close to victory (and therefore rewarded subsequently with huge money and options to compete for more on the tour), Roy would kick it all to the curb. But that’s what passes for plot in Hollywood.

“Caddyshack”
Many golfers for some reason revere “Caddyshack” for its humorous spot-on portrayal of the caste systems that pervades the hoity-toity country club scene: snobby members versus the blue-collars that keep the system running for their betters. Most fans point out the buffoonery of Rodney Dangerfield and the oddball behavior of greenskeeper Bill Murray as the best performances. Someone I knew had actually memorized a particularly long line from the movie recited by Murray – the kind of thing people do when they’ve decided a movie has reached cult status. (The line involves Murray telling of the time he caddied for the Dalai Lama in Tibet: “So, I’m on the first tee with him. I give him the driver. He hauls off and whacks one – big hitter, the Lama – long, into a ten-thousand foot crevasse, right at the base of this glacier. Do you know what the Lama says? Gunga galunga… gunga, gunga-lagunga. So we finish the eighteenth and he’s gonna stiff me. And I say, “Hey, Lama, hey, how about a little something, you know, for the effort, you know.” And he says, “Oh, uh, there won’t be any money, but when you die, on your deathbed, you will receive total consciousness.” So I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.”)

Anyway, Dangerfield and Murray aside, the movie is really not that funny. Ted Knight does a passable job, but Chevy Chase, as always, is boring. The caddies’ antics are moronic. Lots of the so-called humor derives from poop, puke and an animated gopher. And the romance subplot is trite and predictable.

And as usual, the caddy who would suck Ted’s kneecaps for a scholarship decides in the end to stick to his principles and play a round of golf on his own terms. Uninspired at best.

“Caddyshack II”
A “Caddyshack” clone with a different cast of B-list players. Same basic plot absent any of the characters that gave the original a semblance of humor. Earning an abysmal 4 percent on RottenTomatoes.com, “Caddyshack II” received some blistering reviews:

  • “On and on they come — Chevy Chase, Dan Aykroyd, Jackie Mason, Dyan Cannon, Randy Quaid — all trying to crack us up, all failing miserably.” Los Angeles Times
  • “Chevy Chase, as a socialite who sells the club to Mason, and Dan Aykroyd, as a psycho ex-Marine hired by Stack to dispatch his enemy, are pitifully awful.” People Magazine
  • ” The original was no great shakes, but this is beyond bad.” Mountain Xpress

“The Legend of Bagger Vance”
Finally, a serious movie about golf. Directed by Robert Redford and starring Matt Damon, Will Smith and Charlize Theron, “Bagger Vance” is the Depression-era story of a charismatic caddy and the broken-down golfer to whom he imparts the secret of the perfect golf swing. (Any guess as to who plays the caddy?)

Damon the golfer, a shell-shocked veteran of World War I who has lost his swing, gets to play in a tournament against none other than Bobby Jones and Walter Hagen – two of the best golfers of the time (and perhaps ever). If done deftly, the circumstances leading to the opportunity as well as the competition with the pros itself could have been good.

Unfortunately, Redford feels compelled to turn a contest of golf into a heavy-laden metaphor for life itself, just as he did to baseball in his better movie “The Natural.” You see, Vance (Will Smith) is no ordinary bagger – he’s an other-worldly clairvoyant who is more of a swami than a caddy. In fact, the name “Bagger Vance” is said to have been derived from the Hindu god Krishna who appears as the mentor Bhagavan in a story that was supposedly the basis for the movie.

New Yorker Magazine called the film, “Another lusciously produced, emotionally clammy Redford enterprise — forced, phony mythmaking filled with tinged sunsets and full moons.” If you watch “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” you’ll likely find the end of the match contrived and the conclusion of the movie a treacly mess.

“The Caddy”
Jerry Lewis. Need I say more?

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