Wednesday, April 30, 2008
A Republican candidate for congress in NW Indiana, Tony Zirkle, was invited to speak at a meeting of the Nationalist Socialist Workers Party in Chicago. Yes, that's right, the Nazis. He told a radio station afterward that he didn't believe the attendees were of the Nazi mindset. After all, the don't call themselves the Nazi Party, but the Nationalist Socialist... yeah, you got it. There was huge picture of Hitler mounted on the wall behind the lectern, everyone was wearing swastika armbands, and the entire place erupted into a rousing rendition of "Deutschland Uber Alles" when Zirkle ended his speech with "Sieg Heil" (OK, that was a joke).
He also claims that he went there to witness for Jesus. Ummm, nice gesture, Zirk, but do you think that voters will understand? I mean, he told the group that he would go anywhere he was invited. "Why, I even spoke on an African-American radio station in Atlanta once." Oh no he didn't just equate Nazis with African-Americans!
Please read the story when you get a chance. It's almost too unbelievable to be happening in 2008. I'm just flabbergasted.
In case you hadn't heard, McCain and now Clinton are both supporting a "gas-tax holiday," whereby the 18.4 cents per gallon federal tax on gasoline would be suspended during the summer. McCain has no offset for how to pay for it, so really he is going to borrow from the Chinese just like his mentor, President Bush. Clinton wants to charge a windfall profits tax on the oil companies, which is only slightly better. At least she's trying to find a way to offset the loss to the government budget. But the tax has the opposite effect; it causes oil companies to shift profits to their foreign operations because those aren't taxed.
I'm not going to paraphrase Mr. Friedman because he just put it so well:
This is not an energy policy. This is money laundering: we borrow money from China and ship it to Saudi Arabia and take a little cut for ourselves as it goes through our gas tanks. What a way to build our country.
When the summer is over, we will have increased our debt to China, increased our transfer of wealth to Saudi Arabia and increased our contribution to global warming for our kids to inherit.
No, no, no, we’ll just get the money by taxing Big Oil, says Mrs. Clinton. Even if you could do that, what a terrible way to spend precious tax dollars — burning it up on the way to the beach rather than on innovation?
Do Americans really want to drive their SUVs to the beach just to put their heads in the sand?As I said earlier, it's less consumption we're after, not more. Repealing the tax, however temporary, would reveal the government to be the world's greatest enabler. "Gee, I know we need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we can't kill their summer vacations when gas is $4 a gallon! Let's make it $3.82. That'll give the people what they need!"
I think the government needs to go to a Codependents Anonymous meeting. And we consumers need some kind of program of our own too.
One would expect a load of horseshit like this to come from an oil company executive, especially support for Bush's energy policy (whatever that is). But when he mentions the speculators that need to see how serious we are about stabilizing the price of oil, I have to laugh. As if the problem were that simple. First, which speculators is he talking about: the ones who are betting that the price of crude oil will increase, or those that are betting on a weaker dollar? Both of them tend to have an upward effect on the price of oil. But only a stronger dollar will break the vicious cycle of the weaker dollar's buying power meaning less oil is bought for the same amount of money. A stronger dollar means we can by more oil with that dollar. And since supply and demand seem to be somewhat stable for now, having greater buying power means the price of oil comes down. This is the same with food supplies.
If the U.S. set a goal to produce 2 to 3 million barrels more a day in this country, we would send a shock around the world that would immediately say to the speculators, hey, U.S. is serious. President [Bush] said something yesterday about this. I didn't hear him, but I think that's good news. But we should set a specific target.
The presidential candidates should be out there on the postings saying let's increase domestic production by 2 to 3 million barrels a day. That would be something that would put money back into this country, jobs back into this country, and it would bring more supply toward the Americans who need it.
No, producing more oil isn't the answer; using less oil is. The real message the United States needs to send the world is that we are going to lead the way to reducing our oil consumption, our carbon footprint, and the greening of our planet.
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I thought it appropriate to be clear as to why AI is important to me, and to my family.
First, being a recovering musician, it's important for me to get out my feelings about the music I encounter now, rather than keeping them bottled up inside. In the past, as a snobbish intellectual who could not appreciate the pop confection that so many of those in my life -- including my lovely wife -- listen to, that bottling up would frequently lead to an elitist rant about art, musical integrity, and something other than a 4/4 time signature with a 2-4 back beat. In later years, I came to realize that my musical snobbery was managing my life and affecting my relationships. I was out of control. I stepped off the stage (and my soapbox) and started to become more tolerant of those with lower forms of musical intelligence. Those whose attitudes towards music stopped at 12 years old and American Bandstand's "Rate-a-Record." Those who think 3/4 or 7/8 are part of "One Two Buckle My Shoe." Yes, that was me way back then. But I digress.
American Idol, for me, shows me just how awesome it can be for someone to step out of one's bedroom, where one pretended to be a star, and actually become one. I dreamed of big lights and big music, and tentatively stepped out of my bedroom for nearly 18 years, thinking that my off-center taste and elitist attitude would somehow break down the doors of the pop world. I realize now that my desires and intentions were conflicting. One cannot experience widespread recognition for one's talent unless his displays of that talent can appeal to as widespread an audience as possible. I thought that my years of listening to and emulating King Crimson, Gentle Giant, and Frank Zappa were going translate into formidable writing talent that would eventually lead me to audiences as big as they'd experienced. Except they wrote better than I did, practiced more than I did, and studied more than I did. More importantly, their audiences reflected the tastes of their time, which was about 10-15 years before me. It was OK to be weird then. Plus, in retrospect, their audiences weren't all that big when held up to the audiences of, say, post-Gabriel Genesis, or Rush (once Moving Pictures was released).
When I had gotten underway with my musical career in 1980, weird had already lost its appeal. I was listening to bands and musicians who emerged in 1969 and who had already pretty much burned out by 1977. Those who still had so-called "progressive" projects, like Bill Bruford or National Health, were the last of their kind, and they ultimately descended into much smaller side projects or went really commercial. Bruford re-joined Robert Fripp in the new King Crimson, which had relative success with singles like "Elephant Talk" and "Sleepless."
Also, quality musicianship had lost its appeal to wide audiences, replaced by punk and new wave, and had slunk into dank nightclubs that used upside-down 7s to take the place of lost Ls on their marquee signs. By the time I "retired" in 1997, after Webster's New World, and Van Gogh's Ear, and Glass House, and then my last three-song acoustic set as Halfway to Dharma at Genghis Cohen with my dear friend (and a formidable talent in his own right) Byron Fry, I had finally had my fill of all that. But, again, I digress.
Second, the kids who perform each week on AI are usually full of talent, courage, and most of all, hope. It has to take mountains of courage for a girl like Kristy Lee Cook to step out and sing her heart out in front of millions, only to be savaged by the three judges who have only one musical talent (Randy), and one intelligent brain (Simon) between them. Sure, the show is glorified karaoke! Sure, the songs are almost always cheesy. But sometimes, just once in a while, you hear something brilliant, unaffected by all the glitz around it, a moment of pure musicality. For me, that happened during Beatles week #1, when my homey from Inglewood, Chikezie, pulled the smallest kernel of country/bluegrass out of "She's a Woman" and turned it into a barn-burner. His Roger Daltrey-like stuttering that led to almost a howl of passion just did me in. If you don't believe me, watch it for yourself. And, through all of this posturing and having to endure the endless screaming of young girls, with their highly-coached arm waving and clapping above their heads, these kids hope to be big enough to make a great living.
I remember the first season -- and I wasn't even a big watcher back then -- when Kelly Clarkson won and sang that God-awful "A Moment Like This." I thought that corporate America had just ruined a perfectly good talent with a gigantic and pure voice. Further ruining it for me was that ridiculous movie she did with the runner-up, where they made her wear sarongs around her too-big tush. I thought for sure she'd disappear in a year, tops. Then they released this song, "Miss Independent." Then she won Grammys. Then she released some more stuff, and eventually I got hooked into this girl's fantastic talent. And she was just some girl from Texas who was as obscure and unknown as some kid at a Burger King, suddenly a millionaire, suddenly a megastar, and suddenly proof that AI can do huge things for good people. And I believe it's the hope of the contestants that makes the show great.
Finally, one only has to see all the talent that has emerged from the show -- Clarkson, Clay Aiken (Broadway), Fantasia (Broadway), Diana DeGarmo (Broadway), Jennifer Hudson (OSCAR!), Carrie Underwood (CMAs, Grammys), and Chris Daughtry (megastar rocker) -- and the buzz that this show has created all over the fucking world, and one can't help but be taken in.
Tonight, the kids sing Neil Diamond tunes. I've never been a fan, but when you see the guy's songbook and how huge it is, I think it's going to be an exciting show. Plus, I get to watch it on my living room sofa, curled up with my beautiful Lisa and our beautiful boy, Max. It doesn't get much better than that.
Sorry if you don't agree, bro...
Monday, April 28, 2008
I did a little online research about coal gasification, as some have written that environmental groups have lined up behind it as an alternative to burning petroleum products. Greenpeace had a study from 1999 discussing a bunch of alternative energy choices, including coal gasification, and the Sierra Club had stuff too. Essentially, what I'm reading is that, while the concept of coal gasification is neither novel nor undesirable as an alternative to fossil fuel burning, not a lot of commercial support exists for the financial burden of such systems. One study suggested that coal prices would increase 40-90% when we require coal polluters to capture their CO2 output. That report suggested a tax on polluters as the stick that gets them to spend the money, but we all know that lobbies to kill taxes are a no-brainer.
At the end of the day, we can continue to pay through the nose for petroleum, hoping the price gets more reasonable, or we can invest in new infrastructures to wean ourselves off the Canadian/Arab/Mexican/Nigerian/Venezuelan oil teat. For years, we've been arguing about this, all the while knowing that, sooner or later, $4/gallon gas would be upon us. Now it's here, and $5/gallon isn't an unreasonable next step.
Where does this all stop? I think it stops when we listen to our inner voices. The voices that quietly tell us when something needs to be done. Listening to these voices will not get the men in white coats after us; they will compel us to act. Buying smaller cars, hybrids, electrics, taking more mass transit, standing up to the agri-businesses that have hoodwinked us into thinking ethanol made sense, and electing presidents and governors and congressmen with the balls to make real changes. I like Schweitzer's chutzpah, and he puts it right on his website to show everyone where he stands (he also takes a strong stand against Real ID, which I agree with and really respect, but that's another story for another time).
As for me, I'm taking the small step of switching to a hybrid for my next car. I'm using solar for my yard lighting. I'm shutting off lights whenever I can, shutting off phantom power sources wherever possible, replacing my incandescents with compact fluorescent bulbs, recycling more than half my trash, to reduce my carbon footprint little by little. Someday it will be solar panels on my roof (or solar roofing tiles), a hydrogen fuel cell car, tankless hot water heating, etc. But taking action is my focus. Taking action is what I want to teach my sons, so that they can do the same when the responsibility is theirs.
We now know, moreover, the following undisputed facts: the president of the United States and his closest advisers devised, orchestrated and monitored interrogation methods banned by the Geneva Conventions at Guantanamo Bay and subsequently in every theater of combat; these techniques were used not only in the extra-legal no-man's land of Guantanamo Bay but also at the prison at Abu Ghraib where photographic evidence of many of the actual techniques explicitly authorized by the president - stress positions, hoods, mock-executions, etc. - was incontrovertible. We now know that those techniques that the president expressed "shock" at were already explicitly authorized for use by other agents by him long before Abu Ghraib was exposed. (emphasis mine)
Today I have written both to Senator Feinstein and Senator Boxer to call them out -- to urge them to become voices of strong concern, to take action against the government's incremental, insidious, and dangerously irreversible trend toward dictatorship. Those of you reading this might be angry about what's been happening here. Now, today, anger is no longer enough. You must tell others about your anger, tell people who are not the choir to which you might previously have preached. Tell the people whose heads are in the sand, or worse, whose brains have been washed by the current administration into believing that what they are doing to protect us is necessary to prevent future terrorist attacks. While they say now that they are just looking for terrorists, bad guys, you and I might be next. We might be the ones they spy on as we write and talk about what bastards they are for laying waste to our Constitution in pursuit of the Muslim bogeymen.
As we observe the 40th anniversaries of the Tet Offensive, the assassinations of MLK & RFK, the My Lai massacre, and the wild 1968 Democratic National Convention, let's also observe the 41st anniversary of the Summer of Love. That gathering of 100,000 people in Haight-Ashbury signaled the end to our collective inaction about the Vietnam War. The rejection of American authoritarianism, commercialism, and the material benefits of modern life, in exchange for peace, love, and the unity of all mankind, can have meaning today for us. We can turn off the network and cable news channels, put down the newspapers, and turn to our "anti-press," the blogosphere, to inspire each other to be more forceful in our comments, more fearless when we speak the truth to those who don't care to hear it or try to deny it (or make us wrong). We can worry less about how our private money is spent and worry more about how our public money (i.e., taxes) are spent.
Opposing this war is not un-American. Believing that we don't need our liberties, that we are infallible in our foreign policy, that there is only one way to deal with Muslims/Arabs -- THAT is un-American.
Friday, April 25, 2008
Australian researchers interviewed 2,250 men, 1,250 of whom did not develop the cancer, and asked them about their sexual habits. Those who ejaculated the most between 20 and 50 years of age were the least likely to develop the cancer. Men who ejaculated more than five times a week saw their risk factor fall by a third.
The prostate gland is a storehouse for potassium, zinc, fructose, and citric acid, which I guess can be carcinogenic in high concentrations. The research suggests that regularly "flushing out" these substances can reduce their build-up in the prostate, thereby reducing the cancer risk. This is similar to the connection between breast feeding and the reduction in the risk of getting breast cancer in women.
Men, take note, however: having sexual intercourse to ejaculation did not reduce the risk because of the increased risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease, which in turn increased the risk of prostate cancer.
Sorry, guys, it's Rosie and her five sisters who win this time!
And for Woody Allen fans, a dose of Hannah and Her Sisters, where Woody and Mia Farrow discuss his low sperm count as the reason they can't have children. It's about 2:20 into the clip. As Woody says, "Don't knock masturbation; it's sex with someone I love."
It's all legal, and it's not unusual, and often the results are positive for all involved. The federal government owns a lot of prime land, land that can support development of homes, business parks, etc. Further, many private landowners hold environmentally-sensitive parcels that can't be developed. These swaps often add to the federal parkland inventory.
The dark side of this, however, is that the land owners often condition these swaps on receiving subsidies, usually on the backs of taxpayers. This makes these land-swaps no different than all the federal earmarks written into the budget every year, such as the now-infamous "bridge to nowhere," a $223 million pork-barrel project in Alaska that brought Republican Senator Ted Stevens some serious grief.
This is also not to say that neither McCain nor the Republicans are alone in this type of influence-peddling. As the editorial points out, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada makes McCain's work look mild in comparison to some of the land-swaps he's orchestrated in his home state.
Still, McCain's running for president as the "Straight-Talk" Candidate. My previous post ought to serve as a prime example of the kind of candor of which McCain is capable. These land-swaps ought to be fully explained, and he ought to lead the way to reform the land-swap process so that it minimizes the impact on taxpayers.
Still, it strikes me as just more of the same from our elected officials. I don't know: it must be the shirts that they all wear, because they sure seem to need an awful lot of back-scratching.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
However, torture is used to humiliate and dehumanize the enemy as much as it is to obtain information (dubious, that).
It's funny how the dehumanization works both ways, though. The reader related a time when he was sharing his feelings about the war in Afghanistan in his Quaker religious service. Money quote:
I called the men we were fighting "animals, who deserved to be treated like animals." This is the mentality that not only justifies torture but makes it appealing: to reduce your enemies to pathetic creatures; to at once demonstrate your superiority and to make someone--anyone will do--the vessel for your own pain and your own humiliation. It's a psychological form of warfare all the way down, and it dehumanizes all parties.
To me this is the essential ingredient needed to make torture OK. To view the enemy as human makes it impossible to torture them for whatever reason. Once it's become OK to call them "animals," "thugs," "savages," "Muslim scum" or "pieces of Iraqi shit," it becomes much easier to inflict the kinds of pain and suffering on them that one would reserve only for one's most gruesome yet exclusively interior fantasies. Like the guy who nearly ran me off the 110 freeway this morning. I wanted to string him up by his lead foot from an overpass, about 15 feet off the ground, while cars zoomed under him at 70 mph. Now, knowing that he's a human being who might have been in a big hurry for a very important reason -- plus the fact that I just couldn't catch the guy -- would obviate any attempt on my part to act on my scenario. But, with might, will, and a mind-set that reduces the enemy to sub-human status, anything is possible. It's what made slavery possible, what let the Holocaust happen, and what caused senior high-ranking officials in the Bush Administration -- including the president and vice president themselves -- to blame a few "low level renegades" in the military for being "bad apples" and committing atrocities at Abu Ghraib.
Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Surprising: today on NPR, Obama's spokesman said that Obama had gotten more overall votes than Clinton, and that per recent polling he does better against McCain in a general election than Clinton in all of those big states where Hillary won. I haven't seen the polling data, but if that's true, that would be one thing to hang your I'm-for-Obama hat on.
I'm not sure where I fall with this protracted contest. Many of the more cynical political bloggers are proclaiming McCain as the winner in last night's primary. As long as he's the only presumptive nominee out there, he's the only one who gets to present a national campaign strategy and frame a national message without the distraction of having to run against anyone in his own party. Obama occasionally tries on the nominee's clothes, but at most it's a tux rental that he has to return the next day or pay extra. Clinton still portrays herself as the one who's ready to lead, but where that is, I'm not sure. Obama seems to want to lead us away from polarization, and I like that. I certainly don't agree with Republicans on most things, and the more that they lean towards Christianism, the less I resonate with any of their positions on issues. But enough damage has been done to this country and we don't need four more years of political skullduggery, the way the GOP tried to take down Bill Clinton, and the way they took down Gore and Kerry (and let's not forget good ol' Max Cleland). Putting Hillary in the White House will certainly make it easier for the Republicans to go on hating, because she's a Democrat, because she's a Clinton, and because she's a she.
I got an email from a colleague who said some Europeans were predicting McCain would win by boiling it down this way:
On one side, you have a bitch who is a lawyer, married to a lawyer, running against a lawyer who is married to a bitch who is a lawyer. On the other side, you have a war hero married to a good looking woman with big tits who owns a beer distributorship.
Is there a really contest here?
Tuesday, April 22, 2008
A recent survey of teenagers by the education advocacy group Common Core found that a quarter could not identify Adolf Hitler, a third did not know that the Bill of Rights guaranteed freedom of speech and religion, and fewer than half knew that the Civil War took place between 1850 and 1900. ... nearly 20 percent of respondents did not know who the U.S. fought in World War II. Eleven percent thought that Dwight Eisenhower was the president forced from office by the Watergate scandal. Another 11 percent thought it was Harry Truman.
Bill Gates calls the nation's high schools "obsolete," meaning that they cannot prepare their students for what they need to know today in order to be competitive in the marketplace. Nearly two-thirds of the high school students in America either drop out or graduate without the necessary preparation for the next stages of life -- meaningful work and/or post-secondary education.
And how much are you hearing from the presidential candidates about this? Not one iota. It's much more fun to read about Obama's gutter balls, or Clinton's beer drinking, or McCain's shoving a fellow legislator. Those are the real issues.
As a father, my commitment to my sons is that, no matter what, their education and preparation for life will be my primary job.
But for the time being, thanks to ordinary citizens putting pressure on a reluctant government, they’re living on a kibbutz in the Jordan valley and learning Hebrew and math.
Wouldn't it be great if ordinary Americans could do that for illegal immigrants trying to make a better life for their families?
"I would like to have the opportunity to state at the microphone why I don't think we need 5,000 more illiterate peasants in Colorado."
The Democratic chairwoman told Bruce that he was no longer recognized to speak. The GOP caucus said that they were trying to determine what kind of action to take against Bruce.
Outside the chamber, Bruce defended his remarks:
“I looked up ’illiterate’ in the dictionary and it means somebody who is lacking in formal education or is unable to read and write. I don’t think these people who are planning to come over here and pick potatoes or peaches are likely to have much of a formal education. I looked up the word ’peasant.’ The word ’peasant’ means a person who works in agricultural fields. These people, most of them, don’t speak English. Most of them haven’t had any formal education, that’s why they’re coming over here. I don’t blame them for trying, but I don’t think we should pave the way for more aliens to come here."
Technically he's correct in his definition of "lliterate peasant." But of course, the intent was not simply to refer to them as uneducated farm-workers. Thankfully, his subtext was not lost on the legislative body.
The only legislator I know of who has been more direct about his hate for a group of people is Jesse Helms, who in 1993 on the Senate floor commented that Bill Clinton's nominee for assistant housing secretary was a "damned lesbian."
Bruce has been censured by the Colorado legislature in the past for kicking a news photographer who took his picture during a prayer. I wonder what he was praying for...
This "holiday" is supposed to last just three months, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. So just do the math; I'll use my family as an example. When I fill up I usually add about 15 gallons to my car; my wife about 18. I fill up weekly, she fills up semi-weekly. For me, that's 15 tanks of gas (adding two extra tanks for additional summer driving); for her, 8.5 tanks. So...
Me: 15 tanks X 15 gallons = 225 gallons X $0.184 = $41.40 in savings
Lisa: 8.5 tanks X 18 gallons = 153 gallons X $0.184 = $28.15 in savings
That's $69.55 in savings for my family. This would be enough for us to buy groceries, or pay our electricity/water/sanitation bill, for 4-5 days. In my opinion, a good amount of savings would be about $200 for the summer. This would require a family with two cars to buy 1,087 gallons of gas over the summer. With an average gas mileage of, say, 25 miles a gallon, that would mean that a family of four would have to log 27,175 miles on the roads this summer. I don't know about you, but it takes me a year and a half to drive that much.
I brought this up with my father (a Fox News Republican who voted twice for Bill Clinton, by the way), and he said that $100 was a good amount of savings. But we've all been joking for weeks about how little the economic stimulus package passed by Congress will do for the economy. But $200 in savings? No voter's going to cast his vote for someone over a $200 savings, and if he is, then he's agreeing to be bought for $200. He would be even more stupid than I thought, and I think he's pretty stupid already. McCain (and now Hillary Clinton, who has jumped on his bandwagon) is engaging in nothing more than political games-playing. Sure, it sounds good, but it'll do nothing really to help anyone.
Monday, April 21, 2008
But think about how this was done. The rise of angry white men in the media: Rush, Hannity, O'Reilly, Savage, Drudge, Dobbs. None of these guys would be sitting down in a local bar yucking it up with the hard-hats of the world. No, they prefer sipping scotch and smoking cigars in the tony clubs of the Beltway and Manhattan, rubbing elbows with industrialists, lobbyists, hedge fund managers, and the other rich folks with whom they now identify themselves.
And, Frank writes, look where it's gotten those beer drinkers and hard hats: massive government deregulation, attempts to privatize Social Security, the Clear Channel and News Corp monopolies of mass media, Welfare Reform, "free trade" that sent their jobs to Asia and Mexico, the Wal-Martization of middle America whereby being represented by a labor union meant that you were un-American. As most intelligent pundits said after the 2004 election -- the GOP got the middle class to vote en masse against their own self-interest and security. They created a bogey-man in the Muslim, scaring them into giving up their civil liberties as being a patriotic act when it was in fact just the opposite. Created the fallacy that "either you're with us or you're with the terrorists."
And now this machine, this fantastically organized machine, has gotten a Democrat to try to eat one of its own! Barack Obama's comments that have led to "Bittergate" were certainly clumsy, embarrassing, simplistic, and overly generalized, but what they were not was elitist. As if Obama, rather than the Crown Royal-drinking, squirrel hunting, $100 million-earning townie named Hillary Clinton, were now the aristocrat.
Beautiful quote from the Frank op-ed:
If Barack Obama or anyone else really cares to know what I think, I will simplify it all down to this. The landmark political fact of our time is the replacement of our middle-class republic by a plutocracy. If some candidate has a scheme to reverse this trend, they've got my vote, whether they prefer Courvoisier or beer bongs spiked with cough syrup. I don't care whether they enjoy my books, or would rather have every scrap of paper bearing my writing loaded into a C-47 and dumped into Lake Michigan. If it will help restore the land of relative equality I was born in, I'll fly the plane myself.
But has Frank shown us his idealistic knickers? Is this country really that "land of relative equality?" Maybe when I was a kid and hadn't experienced the world and all it has to offer. But now I tend to be a little cynical about this myself. Perhaps the Republicans managed to reveal what this country truly is: a boiling cauldron of provincial, culturally ignorant, violent, hateful swine. We are people who couldn't care less about America's standing in the world. Who would just as soon shoot a Muslim as engage him in meaningful dialogue. Who lack the patience to understand anything beyond the headlines that pass through our vacuous heads every 22 minutes. Bill Maher makes jokes about how stupid Americans really are, but we all know that in every joke is a kernel of truth, the size of which varies on how biting the joke is. To have ceded responsibility for our national intelligence to a bunch of superstitious Christianists who believe the universe is only 20,000 years old, we have to be pretty fucking stupid.
I've worked for nearly seven years at the same company, and I have met and talked with hundreds of its employees in that time. I can literally count on one hand how many of them have actually read the Constitution and can tell me what the Fifth Amendment says. That doesn't necessarily mean that they other several thousand I haven't met are troglodytes, but for the most part, it painfully obvious what most people are interested in. They are most interested in what they're going to do the next weekend, or what's on their DVRs (a-ha, but read my iPod post below, I'm such a hypocrite!), or how their local sports teams are doing in the standings. Their deepest contact with world affairs occurs weekly at the gas station, as they drive up and see how many more cents per gallon they'll pay for gas, and they weigh the option of downgrading to a lower octane even though they know their mileage deteriorates. It then ends once they re-start their cars after filling up, and their endless musical soundtrack blares once again from their car speakers.
Saturday, April 19, 2008
So my in-laws surprised me with a request to lead the seder. I was not prepared, but I gave it a whirl. Since our sons are too young to appreciate the full deal, I abridged it -- a lot. But Max got to read the four questions (in English), and Elijah shocked all of us. We started the seder by identifying all the things on the seder plate, and Eli knew most of them and what they meant. He's three, OK? This was big for me. I'm glad we send him to that Jewish preschool. It's what I'd wanted for Max, and we did send him to one for three months, but it was the wrong school and we didn't really know about this other one. Max will start Sunday school in the fall so he gets his Jewish education that way, plus that's where we're sending him to camp this summer.
Anyway, I'm stuffed and tired, and that's it for today. More of the same tomorrow.
Thursday, April 17, 2008
My friend and mentor, Tom Lofaro, said to me one night, "Potruch, you are a $75,000 a year man at the least!" I took that to heart, because I was engaged to Lisa and I really wanted her not to have to work after we got married so that we could focus on raising a family. The following week had me composing a "CPR," which stands for "Context, Purpose, and Results," for the upcoming interview. The idea of writing these things down is to help me stay focused. Obviously, the results are what I hope to accomplish at the interview. The Purpose was why I was doing the interview. And the Context was the state of being in which I wanted to reside while at the interview. I don't really remember the results or the purpose, but the Context sticks with me to this day and guides much of my thinking and decisions:
My Family is Watching....
This context was so helpful; my interviewer was a woman, a senior executive at the company, and from what I gathered at the interview, pretty tough. However, her being a woman, she did much of the talking (I'm over-generalizing, I know, but it was where my thinking was at the time). All I really did was nod occasionally, say "OK" a few times, and extend my hand and say thank you at the end. That day I got an offer.
So a month ago, here I was again, with a chance to move into a new position. Sales again, but this time with a huge bank with a huge brand. My wife, ever conscious of who her husband is, told me, "You'll do great; just be really, really humble." My Family is Watching...
I had my first interview in person with the office sales manager. It lasted over an hour, and I thought it had gone really well, and the sales manager told me that if he was going to make an offer, he'd do so quickly. But when I followed up two days later, I found to my surprise that the sales manager was wavering on whether I was his guy. He was a great guy, and spoke openly about his own struggles, and I realized most of his concerns were not about me, but about him and his ability to recognize both talent and commitment. It took another 90 minutes, but by the end he said, "I came into this phone call knowing you were a great talent, and at the end of this phone call I know that and much more." Within a couple of hours, his recruiter called me to say that an offer would be forthcoming in a couple of days. She needed income information from me to put together a "guarantee" package that would transition me into the 100% commission job. She warned me, however, that management was taking long looks at these guarantees due to the current mortgage crisis, but she expressed confidence that I'd still get what the manager wanted to give me.
That was two weeks ago...
After it didn't come after two days, I waited two more days and left a message with the recruiter. She called back shortly and left me a message reiterating that management was getting very careful about guarantee packages, and that things were on hold for the time being with no timetable for when things would change. I called the manager myself and he confirmed. That day, another major lender had completely ceased lending operations because it didn't have the cash to sustain the business and make loans. Between that and this company's own budget issues, plus the fact that they were about to make a major acquisition later in the year, guarantees were off the table.
Disappointed, I nevertheless resolved not to let things bother me. Since being laid off in January, I started the process of getting my real estate license so I could broker loans, and had already picked up a decent pipeline and established referral sources. Plus, from my previous job, I had a client list with several hundred people whom I hadn't even called yet. I was not worried about missing out on this opportunity.
Still, I decided to give it another today. And when I reached the manager, I explained to him that a guarantee was somewhat less important to me than he might imagine it to be. Sure, I'd love to have a $50,000 guarantee to soften the blow of going all commission. But I've been a commission-only guy for five years and have never not cleared multiple six figures. I believe in myself, I know that the business is out there, and I know that this company, with its huge brand, was just the right place to be successful in this down economy. So, by the end of another lengthy call, perhaps another 30 minutes, the manager agreed to put together a package that had other ways to make me happy. A bigger commission on deals I closed within the first year, perhaps? A way to get the guarantee later when the money was there, perhaps after I passed the probationary period? Who knows? But I'm feeling better today that my chances of making this move are in my favor once again.
After all, My Family is Watching...
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Well, Brooke made it through. Next week is Andrew Lloyd Webber week. I'm anxious to see how the kids do with Broadway. Is it me, though, or is Broadway singing necessary to pick a pop idol? Maybe this season, when artistry has become more important, re-arranging the songs will be the mark of the real talent.
I thought Mariah week would be a disaster; she's such a diva. To my great surprise, I think she provided some of the most cogent, musical support from any mentor since David Foster in Season 5. She listened, suggested, complimented, and she was fair in her assessments (although I don't think she or the producers would have had her say anything too negative).
1. David A. -- the LA Times blogger calls him "The Chosen One" and he lives up to that name every week. Song and presentation were great. My only critique, and probably what makes him so endearing to young girls, is that he doesn't look like a star -- yet. His physical presence is nerdy, like someone who hasn't quite discovered what his body can do. It's almost as if he hasn't discovered he has a penis yet. And it might be true, at least figuratively, since he hasn't yet sung one song that was about romantic love.
2. Carly – She sang “Without You,” the Badfinger classic. I love her voice, but I actually think she should stop trying to hit the glory notes too often. Not only do they sound "shriek-y," as Simon has often said, but they detract from her smooth style. The nature of the competition makes her do it week after week, but once she enters the pop world again as a solo artist, she should sheath that sword and bring it out more sparingly for better effect.
3. Syesha -- Technically a beautiful rendition of Vanishing, one of my favorite Mariah tunes from the first album. I had predicted that she'd stumble this week and get eliminated, but now I'm not so sure. Her biggest problem is that she thinks she's better than she actually is, as in she attempts these songs to prove to America that she's as good as Whitney or Mariah or Celine. As Simon said, she's just not that good. Still she was better than…
… 4. Brooke -- Total disaster with “Hero.” I had to close my eyes when she performed. Her rushing started earlier than when others have said. Her pitch was all over the place. I’m a little tired of the nasally honk that escapes her mouth so often when she sings. It’s a fine affectation once in a while, but she seems to overplay it. I also am tired of her not standing there quietly when the judges are talking, even if she’s being polite by saying “Thank you.” Hated her pouty face after Simon’s burger/bun analogy.
5. Kristy – Actually liked this performance of “Forever.” She’s gorgeous, she’s likeable, and her slight country lilt in this arrangement was just the right touch. She’ll probably be in the bottom three, but safe.
6. David C. – I actually did NOT like this arrangement of “Always Be My Baby.” David’s pitch wobbled frequently in the lower registers throughout. It was a daring arrangement, and Blake Lewis’s take on Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love a Bad Name” already proved that risk-taking is prized. I didn’t go back and listen again, but perhaps I’ll do it tonight before the results show. Of course he’s safe.
7. Jason – After last week’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” success, I think Jason is going to be a huge star. His version of “I Don’t Wanna Cry” was more of what makes him so unique, and provides insight into how he’d show up as a songwriter. He seemed so much more comfortable in the last two weeks than I’ve ever seen him. I predicted he’d go out next week, but I am withdrawing that prediction.
Here are my predictions now:
7. Brooke White
6. Kristy Lee Cook
5. Carly Smithson
4. Syesha Mercado
3. Jason Castro
2. David Cook
1. David Archuleta
Tuesday, April 15, 2008
When I became a dad on July 23, 2002, my life completely changed. I'd been trying to make a better living in my field of mortgage lending, and my wife and I had managed to save enough money to buy a house by then. But once I saw my sons -- Max in 2002, and Elijah in 2005 -- in the flesh, I knew that I had to step up the pace. I changed jobs and moved out of management into sales. Other than marrying my beautiful wife Lisa, it was the best thing I ever did. I became fearless by necessity, I learned how to compromise, and to advocate, and to "enroll" people in my vision better than I ever had when people reported directly to me. I believe that passion for life is essential to anyone's experience of life. To be a passive witness, a spectator, or to some degree, a commentator, is to miss out on what life has to offer. Ironically, commenting is what I will do here, but in the rest of my life I put my passion into action. As this blog grows, action plans will be part of what I hope to communicate. If that's going to happen, I'll need your help.
If you'll read the archive of posts, I started this blog more than a year ago when my son Max, now nearly six years old, had just been to the hospital after a fall. I'd been toying with blogging for a while before that, but all I'd managed to do at that point was comment on others' blogs.
Now I'm tired of that -- too much work. I'm hoping that with this blog I can get my thoughts down in one place. I hope to inspire others to comment and spread this blog around. If you're reading, thanks. If you don't want to get my daily thoughts, just say so.
Allan Holdsworth -- the world's most amazing electric guitarist, hands-down
Bruford -- Bill Bruford with Dave Stewart, Jeff Berlin and John Clarke
Byron Fry -- a personal friend, a great guitarist and composer, with his first symphony debuting this summer in Mammoth Lakes, CA; Check him out at http://cdbaby.com/cd/outdoorsports)
Elton John -- Funeral for a Friend/Love Lies Bleeding Only; the rest is too pop
Genesis -- Peter Gabriel era only; Phil who?
Gentle Giant -- the most incredible English prog-rock band after King Crimson
Gong -- Pierre Moerlen's version with Allan Holdsworth
Happy the Man -- Arlington, VA's weirdest prog-rock dudes of the 1970s
Jeff Buckley -- the late, great singer-songwriter whose songs and voice are timeless
King Crimson -- 1980s version with Belew, Bruford, Fripp and Levin
National Health -- English jazz-rock innovators; single-handedly killed prog-rock for good
Peter Gabriel -- earlier stuff, pre-Sledgehammer
Radiohead -- OK Computer was the most sonically perfect album ever since Dark Side of the Moon; a late entry into my inner circle (thank you Jill Shinefield)
Red Hot Chili Peppers -- Give it Away only
Robert Fripp -- the Godfather of Progressive Rock and its sanest voice; from his landmark Exposure album
Sting -- Pop, I know, but with a jazz bent and fantastic vocals
Talking Heads -- Pre-Speaking In Tongues, live with the big band
Third Matinee -- Patrick Leonard (Madonna's producer) and Richard Page (Mr. Mister) with some of the best songs ever written and never heard
U.K. -- First album only with Jobson, Wetton, Bruford, and Holdsworth
Yes -- Going for the One album only
"When it comes to Iraq, there is no daylight between John McCain and George W. Bush. They are joined at the hip. When it comes to Iraq, there will be no change with a McCain administration… and so there is a real and profound choice for Americans in November.
"Fifteen months into the surge that President Bush ordered and Senator McCain embraced, we’ve gone from drowning to treading water. We are no closer to the President’s stated goal of an Iraq that can defend itself, govern itself and sustain itself in peace. And we’re still spending $3 billion every week and losing 30 to 40 American lives every month.
"We can’t keep treading water without exhausting ourselves. That’s what both the President and Senator McCain are asking us to do. They can’t tell us when, or even if, Iraqis will come together politically, which was the purpose of the surge in the first place. They can’t tell us when, or
even if, we will draw down below pre-surge levels. They can’t tell us when, or even if, Iraq will be able to stand on its own two feet. They can’t tell us when, or even if, this war will end.
"Most Americans want this war to end. They want us to come together around a plan to leave Iraq without leaving chaos behind.
"They’re not defeatists. They’re patriots who understand the national interest – and the great things Americans can achieve if we responsibly end a war that we should not have started.
"I believe it is fully within our power to do that. Then, with our credibility restored, our alliances repaired and our freedom to act renewed, we will once again lead the world. We will once
again address the hopes, not play to the fears, of our fellow Americans. That is my hope for next November."
Much as I like Joe Biden as a venerated elder in the Senate, I just can't get 100% behind what is excerpted here. Neither Obama nor Clinton would get us completely out of Iraq, and McCain will actually make things worse. We need to face the reality that our presence in Iraq is now required to prevent further damage to the region. I think the war is wrong, our reasons for starting it were wrong, and Bush needs to be prosecuted for his failure to defend our Constitution (from himself!).
However, if we leave before the Iraqis can defend themselves without our support, we will create a power vacuum. Maliki is worthless and Sadr too powerful. Also the Shiite majority are too allied with Iran. Iran wants to go nuclear and dominate the region, and getting deep into Iraq will give them way too much real estate. In fact, last week it announced an expansion of its uranium enrichment program, prompting concerns in both Israel and Saudi Arabia. We need to face the reality that Bush's mistake, endorsed by Congress, is now America's mistake. We all need to see it through and leave the region better off for our having been there in the first place. I certainly don't like it, and I don't think anyone does. But I also don't like the idea of just cutting it off and pulling out immediately, because I think that things will get worse over there if we do. I don't think that the enemy will follow us home, but I do think that it will plunge the world economy into chaos over the supply of oil. Much as I hate to admit it, we will still need the black stuff to fuel our engines for years to come.
Ugh... excuse me while I go throw up now.
Monday, April 14, 2008
I read a few prospectuses for residential-mortgage-backed securities - mortgages, thousands of mortgages backing them, and then those all tranched into maybe 30 slices. You create a CDO by taking one of the lower tranches of that one and 50 others like it. Now if you're going to understand that CDO, you've got 50-times-300 pages to read, it's 15,000. If you take one of the lower tranches of the CDO and take 50 of those and create a CDO squared, you're now up to 750,000 pages to read to understand one security. I mean, it can't be done. When you start buying tranches of other instruments, nobody knows what the hell they're doing. It's ridiculous. And of course, you took a lower tranche of a mortgage-backed security and did 100 of those and thought you were diversifying risk. Hell, they're all subject to the same thing. I mean, it may be a little different whether they're in California or Nebraska, but the idea that this is uncorrelated risk and therefore you can take the CDO and call the top 50% of it super-senior - it isn't super-senior or anything. It's a bunch of juniors all put together. And the juniors all correlate.
He always says never to invest in a company if you don't understand it. He's saying that not even the bank understands its own securities instruments. But, important to note is that he's not advocating more government regulation to protect investors or even consumers. Even the 200 employees of the Office of Federal Housing Enterprise Oversight (OFHEO), whose sole job it is to oversee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, couldn't catch two of the biggest accounting misstatements in history. There are just too many counterparts to each part of those companies, counterparts that cross into other companies and other investors, across international borders. Just an idea of how complicated this whole mess really is.
Hunker down, people; we're in for a long, bumpy ride.
The ideal of the cultural workplace and its embodiment in cubicles also moves against another longstanding distinction of office work—the distinction between managers and workers. The ideal of a boss-less company has not been realized on anything like the large scale the management writers dreamed of, if it has in fact been realized anywhere. However, the impulse to equality and management through culture has led to something like the opposite of the boss-less company with bosses everywhere. As the managerial role is increasingly shorn of “authoritarian” tendencies and managers adopt the stance of a servant and facilitator, the scope of demands upon ordinary workers has risen. Observation, evaluation, encouraging the proper attitude and habits in other employees—these are all managerial tasks that are supposed to be shared. Such is the nature of being a team member. Cubicles may not be inspiring, but they have clearly contributed to new obligations.Having been an office work since college graduation, I'd have to say that my favorite work environments were the ones where there were no walls at all separating me from my bosses, where I could just turn to him and ask a question, share an experience, etc. True, it flipped the idea of privacy upside-down; I had to walk outside the building to have a private conversation with a friend, or retire to a conference room. But being in full view of my managers empowered me to make decisions, be creative, and solve problems in all directions. It was all one big collaboration. However, for the most part, I think that in America we lack the skills to merge in this way. We pretty much don't like each other, don't trust each other, and would do what we could in most situations to advance ourselves rather than help someone else advance.
And now for a little mental health break -- the great printer scene from Office Space:
By the way, if you're reading this, you might have noticed that I take a lot of my ideas on what to write about from Andrew Sullivan, who is a deep source for interesting ideas. Plus, he does it full time while I only have about an hour a day to look around for new things.
Sunday, April 13, 2008
The local movement is being headed by T. Wayne Pickering, who explains his intiative as a way to honor the president in "an appropriate and enduring" way.
I vote yes.
Sidebar: the comments in response to the story are mostly in support or just think it's hilarious. Two posts stood out for me: the first from mayfield17, who writes, "Why don't you guys burn some flags or spit on some soldiers? SanFran, what a terrible place to call home." Immediately following is Brock's fantastic response: "We don't. We call it 'San Francisco.' And we fuck our soldiers, we don't spit on them. Unless they ask."
Saturday, April 12, 2008
"You go into these and, like a lot of small towns in the , the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."Obama claims he was expressing empathy for them, not condescending. I'd have to say that the empathy part was a little hard to gather from these comments without taking Obama himself into context. Should he apologize for them? Maybe, but I would wait until he had opportunities to do so face to face rather than with some staged press statement or during an interview with some reporter. And he needs to do it quickly.
Still it's telling about how thin-skinned we are when someone tells the truth about the desperate conditions in small-town America and people automatically assume the guy's being condescending. I would personally rather hear the truth told to me in a brutal way rather than be pandered to.
Now here's Clinton's response:
"Pennsylvania doesn't need a president who looks down on them. They need a president who stands up for them, who fights for them, who works hard for your futures, your jobs, your families."
Ugh. Talk about condescending. Forget about switching pronouns mid-stream, it's just the typical sound-bite political discourse that advances nothing, says nothing, and for thinking people, inspires nothing.
Friday, April 11, 2008
... [I]deologues like Krauthammer insist on going around wantonly threatening countries, announcing our pre-eminence in the world, which--as the Chinese know--is precisely the sign of a weakling. We may well have to take military action against Iran at some point, and they should know that. But without all the chest-thumping. (Krauthammer should note that the Israelis haven't said very much at all about their intentions toward Iran, but everybody knows what they have and their willingness to use force, if necessary. That is how strong nations act.
But Klein himself bombs, big time:
Now, I'm no expert in Middle East politics, but I don't think Iran would want to raise Arab anger (they are not Arab, you see), so I don't think the target would be Jerusalem, where Arabs live and the al-Aqsa mosque is located. No, I think he'd try to hit Israel where it might really hurt: Tel Aviv, a big city that is the financial center of the country, and where the main entry point is for tourists. There is where the highest concentration of Jews exist that is as far away from Muslims as can be. Klein thinks that Iran wants their own nuclear deterrent against Israel and the U.S. That would be sensible, given Israel's undeclared stockpile of nukes and the U.S.'s apparent willingness to use that option to fight terrorism.
Who says Iran has any intention of nuking Israel? If the mullahs dropped the big one, they would likely wipe out as many Muslims--including their Hizballah allies in southern Lebanon--as Jews. They would also wipe out the third most sacred Islamic shrine in the word, the al-Aksa mosque.
On its face, Krauthammer's idea doesn't seem all that insane, at least from this Jew's perspective. Labelling an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel a holocaust lets Ahmedinajad know that we condemn his version of WWII history, while letting the world know that Israel will always be our ally. But, as Klein said, it would be viewed simply as a provocation to the jihadis to do their best to undermine, to infiltrate, and to destroy from within. They are good at that, as the endless supply of Iraqi roadside, car, truck, and suicide bombers can attest. On top of that, Russia would object to such a brazen display of superpower status and would continue to support Iran both publicly and privately. Bottom line, nothing would get advanced by chest-thumping posturing by the U.S.