Friday, March 19, 2010

The Oz Decade

Much handwring occured up until 2009 with respect to what to call the previous decade.
After all, you had the Sixties, the Seventies, the Eighties and the Nineties, but the Oughties sounded weird.
Well, I propose and history will weigh in on this choice, The Oz Decade.

In 2000, if we only had a brain, we would have elected Al Gore.
In 2001, if we only had courage, we would have gone after Al Qaeda.
In 2002, if we only had a heart, we would left Iraq alone.
In 2009, if we only had a home, we could have avoided foreclosure and homelessness.

Nobody Asked Me, But...

1) The weather in New York City is spectacular. Spring has been very kind so far, and it's not even started yet. I love this kind of weather and the addition of spandex to women's line of clothes has my, um, heart, um, pounding.
2) Today is World Sleep Day. Billions snore their approval.
3) This is weird: YouTube accuses Viacom of secretly uploading videos to the site while complaining about pirated videos. Assuming it's true, it's a pretty ineffective marketing scheme, since I hadn't heard they were making a big stink about it. But hey, maybe it's better than nothing.
4) He made a fine wine, too. I always got him confused with the LA Dodgers first baseman Wes Parker, who is still alive, as far as I know.
5) By the way, when you reach 85, unless you've been shot or died in an accident, ANY death is of natural causes. Sorry. You've lived a full life, no need to go blaming someone else.
6) I wonder if Hillary Clinton has to bite her tongue hard when dealing with the Israelis and Palestinians? After all, these are issues her husband worked on, nearly twenty years ago. Children mature faster than these two idiotic people. And I don't mean her and President Obama.
7) Note to Dems: Kick ass, take names.
8) I sort of feel for Rick Lazio. First, he was the substitute punching bag for Rudy Giuliani in 2000 against Hillary Clinton, and got his clock cleaned. His misogyny and near-assault of Clinton during a debate didn't help him. Now he had a clear field to run for Governor of New York, presumably against Andrew Cuomo, and here comes another Democrat, Steve Levy of Suffolk County, switching parties and almost immediately getting the party endorsement. I feel for him...but not that much!
9) He shot the deputy, but did not shoot the sheriff.
10) Finally, a new Shakespeare play has been discovered. OK, not so new, cuz, you know, 17th Century and all, and not so much discovered, since it was first performed in the 18th Century, but it looks like it might be verified as real.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


You'd think the one base that the Teabaggers would not want to piss off is the Religious Right.
Well...guess what?

Where shoulders once shrugged, fists now shake. Glenn Beck's comparison of social justice Christians with Nazis and Communists is a reminder of many things, not the least of which being that deep down, Glenn Beck is shallow. On Beck’s show, demagoguery reigns.

His reactionary comments were clearly intended to raise the hackles of moderates and liberals—and he succeeded.

Writing with the outrage of a biblical prophet, Sojourner’s Jim Wallis refused to attack Glenn Beck but challenged him to an open conversation about social justice, what it is and why it’s important. Beck demurred.

That Glenn Beck is a practicing Mormon only make the story more interesting.

Interesting? It came as a shock to me. I thought he was Jewish! Little did I know...but I digress:

Across the religious spectrum, Beck’s comments served as a source of puzzlement to commentators. Especially illuminating is a quote by Kent P. Jackson, associate dean of religion at Brigham Young University in a recent New York Times article: “My own experience as a believing Latter-day Saint over the course of 60 years is that I have seen social justice in practice in every L.D.S. congregation I’ve been in. People endeavor with all of our frailties and shortcomings to love one another and to lift up other people. So if that’s Beck’s definition of social justice, he and I are definitely not on the same team.”

It was, of course, only a matter of time before the Teabaggers went from ridiculous to carnivorous. The jihad they have been on, trying to eliminate all opposition to a conservative, homogenous, rich-white-men-only society has long been a source of intrigue by the mass media, some who I believe are rooting for it to happen.

Glenn Beck hitched his star to this movement. It will be with this movement that he comes crashing down to the pavement, hard. My estimate is one year before he's irrelevant, and three more years before he's been shot to death by one of the crazies he's encouraged in a Mark David Chapman-like transferrence.

Good riddance to him, says me. But that hopeful state won't occur for a while, so let's focus on this rather curious construct he's invented.

The Religious Right has never been one for tolerance and until recently, had made alliances with non-Evangelical-Protestant groups like the neo-cons and Catholics only in the sense of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." That appears to be crumbling. Recently, there's been a sense of anger amongst hoi polloi on the right that, because they're so rigid and dogmatic they're being somehow oppressed even more.

Well, if laughing at someone is oppression, Bozo The Clown ought to be running terrorist camps because honestly, the Teabaggers have behaved in a way that is only comedic. Plus, I'd argue that if anything, the Teabaggers have been handled with kid gloves, much like Senator Joe McCarthy was before Edward R. Murrow got his talons in. This too is only a matter of time.

There's this warped Dispensationalist Bible that the Religious Right, including Beck, appear to adhere to. For those of you who aren't up on Biblical philosophy, Dispensationalism is another word for "God has mood swings." Rather than admit that God Himself might have evolved and learned from His creation of Man, Dispensationalists put forth the theology that God is still perfect, but, well, psychotic, in that he sometimes hates man (Genesis, Job) and sometimes loves man (The Gospels) and sometimes has slasher fantasies about Man (Revelations).
To me, this latest "outrage" from Beck is nothing more than Glenn Beck watching his ratings plateau and trying to figure out another controversy to drive his advertising, which from what I seen relies heavily on seed corn and gold. Hmmmmmmmmmmmm...
Everytime Beck opens his mouth, he isolates both himself and the movement he has co-opted.
Keep talking, Glenn. Just, you know, put down the megaphone.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Par Value

Tiger Woods announces his return to golf with his entrance into the Masters' Tournament next month in Augusta, GA.
I suppose this is a good thing. While he certainly has more than enough money that he could retire today and never lift a club in anger again, he's young enough that it would make him crazy, and probably end his marriage and family for good.
A man needs a hobby, after all.
Others will reflect on whether this is a good thing for Woods or for golf.
I'd rather focus on why his return to golf is good for America.

Just don't make him out to be a hero if he does [win the Masters']. This isn't [Ben] Hogan coming back after almost dying in a car crash, nearly broken in half by a bus. This is a guy going back to his job after the job he did on his good name, and on his marriage.

I've often railed about the cult of celebrity we have in this country, and how we raise heroes way over our heads, only to notice the feet of clay just before they crash down on top of us. It happened with John Edwards, and the people angriest at Edwards are the people who took too him so very early on, adopting him like he was the featured boy singer on Sixteen Magazine.

When he betrayed Elizabeth, he betrayed those people too, and they were hurt. Messiahs can do that to a person.

Woods has a chance to redeem himself a little. We forget how amazing a golfer he can be. As pathetic as that sport is-- it's a little like saying he's the greatest hopscotch player-- no one can deny his talent there. If his golf skills have not eroded terribly-- and apart from the stress and pressure his personal life has now put on those skills (concentration, focus, consistency), there's no reason to think they have-- he can re-establish himself as a golf champion and golf hero.

And that ought to be enough. It should have been enough from day one of his career. He's a man. He's just a man.

And sometimes, men do really incredibly stupid things, and hurt people around them. Unfortunately, the people around him include not just his family, but his fans, the media, fellow golfers and anyone who happened to tune in a TV when this scandal was at the top of the news.

We were all injured by his clumsiness and that, my friends, is the farce of this whole thing. He's a golfer, not a priest, and so we had no business butting our noses into his personal life.

More than redemption, he needs to be put into perspective. We can applaud his skills without applauding him, just as we ought to applaud anyone who has a talent in a particular area, but we need not deify him or her either.

Humans have flaws and failings. We should appreciate that Woods struggles with infidelity just like so many Americans do. We can empathize with him, we can weigh his assets and liabilities as a person and as a person, try to determine what we would do in his circumstance. With all his money, for example, he probably shouldn't have gotten married if he had this problem and if he didn't recognize it, then the people who so carefully marketed this up-from-the-Wheaties-box athlete should have dialed it down a notch and handed us expectations he could live up to.

To have done otherwise was to do a signal disservice to Woods and then to us.

Ironically, my suspicion is after the Masters' things will go back the way they were before: we'll have Tiger out of the news for a very long time, win or lose. We Americans are as fickle in our life's choices as Tiger appears to have been with his marriage.


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Monday, March 15, 2010

Deep Slices Of Trouble

The last ten years have not been easy on Americans, psychologically. We've had our innocence and hubris shattered, a moron President who tried to falsely raise our spirits and hopes by raping two other nations, another President who promised hope and change but who has had troubles not only with the "loyal" opposition, but the morons in his own party who can't pass legislation if you spot them 60 votes in the Senate, and two economic crises that threaten the very underpinnings of what it means to be an American: an unlimited future.
And now, we're starting to see those crises work their way into our bloodstream. Literally.

But it's America that has become the world's preeminent fat-making machine. To dismantle it we need a coordinated, comprehensive plan of attack, one that pairs individual responsibility with a social construct that fosters good nutrition and a healthy lifestyle. We need to be surrounded by food that makes us well, not sick. We need schools and workplaces that reward us for exercising our bodies, not just our brains. "If you want people to make the right choices, they need to have the right choices to make," says Dr. William Dietz, director of the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. We need forceful and well-enforced policies, a government that invests dollars in improving the diet of school kids and puts limitations on the advertising that targets them. We need Americans to perceive obesity as a personal threat to themselves and to their children, not as somebody else's problem. We have a long way to go.

In New York State, there is a brutal ad campaign going on now that centers around the so-called "sugar tax," a tax on soft drinks and fruit juices that will be assessed based on the amount of sugar in a drink. I support this tax, just as I would support a tax on beer, wine, guns, tobacco and gambling if these did not already exist. The role of government is not to protect its citizenry from enemies foreign and domestic, and among those domestic enemies are corporations whose love of profit countermands their common sense and love of their customers.

Corporations spend billions of dollars a year on research and development of products that are blatantly unhealthy for us. While sugar is energy, too much of a good thing is no good. The problem is, drinking a sugary soft drink makes us feel good. Hell, they are marketed to us as life-improving and mood-altering substances, and there seems to be precious little difference from how a soda is sold to you and I, and how a prescription drug is sold to us. And drugs are controlled substances. Maybe it's time we were honest about soda and candy.

And because they make us feel good, we turn to them in times of crisis and need. Which brings me to item 2:

The most common assumption is that people are irresponsible and that they are not wise about their money. It's basically victim blaming … an attempt to shift the blame onto individual consumers. The other point of view on this issue is that it is primarily the fault of predatory lending practices--the "evil" credit-card companies. I'd say there's some truth to both views, but it's not that simple.

One of the most important factors is the easy availability of universal credit, plus the fact that the marketplace [is open to us during] every waking moment. Because purchases can be completed so quickly, they're very unlikely to be interrupted by a prudent thought. A third reason why people are going broke is the basic insecurity of our economy. If you have a consumer society where no one is saving—where no one is encouraged to save—and millions are in debt [and then] you hit them with a jolt to their income, they're instantly going to be in trouble.

That article, written in February 2008, has become more and more true as the months has unfolded. Right now, the crisis lurking in the tall grass is consumer credit debt: car loans, student loans, credit cards. Americans have worked hard to bring all of these down, but as incomes decay and erode due to inflation and poor economic conditions worldwide, more and more of these are going to go into default.

The best estimates of consumer debt runs around $2.5 trillion dollars, and this is debt that is secondary to things like mortgages. This represents car loans, credit cards, lines of credit, and payments on those along with mortgages equal about 13.1% of after-tax income to Americans.

The real problem lies in the fact that a substantial number of Americans make absolutely no dent in their debts: they pay the minimum balances. This type of debt is intended for short term fixes, but instead have become long-term obligations that must be paid off at some point, but not today. And they don't go away if you lose your job. There's no house to walk away from and let the bank have.

Much has been made of "underwater mortgages," mortgages where the balance owed is more than the resale value of the house securing the loan. But think about this: of that $2.5 trillion, almost none of it represents an asset that can be sold to reduce the indebtedness. It's all money that's been pissed away to pay for food, clothing, a car, toys and games.

In other words, you'll be paying in 2030 for a vacation you take this year. If you're still able to. And mind you, that's not to say we as a nation have been completely irresponsible: much of this indebtedness flows from the un- or underemployed, people with catastrophic illnesses, people who divorce, people who have unplanned pregnancies. People who meant well, but life threw them a curevball.

So if you've been wondering why all of a sudden, your "friendly banker" has been charging you fees for things you never paid for before, or has been working hard to make it deliberately harder to pay your credit card on time so he can collect late fees, or has been urging you to just spend more, well, this is why: he has to mine the good credit in order to cover his likely losses on the bad.

That's not going to improve the mindset of the people of this country. We're heading to a crisis of confidence, and in crisis, as I've discussed before, comes along the black horse.



You Can Stop Calling Him "Shirley"