Archive for February, 2007

The Thinker

Review: The Producers (Movie, Musical Version)

I have a queer fascination for Mel Brook’s classic 1968 movie The Producers. It has been at least 25 years since I first saw it. I like the movie in part because it was so audacious, particularly for the year it came out. Some years back I tried to explain its appeal to my daughter. Born in 1989, from her perspective World War II might as well be The Civil War. Just what was it about a musical of Adolph Hitler that would be so shocking? Well, there was the horrific matter of the millions of Jews and other minorities he murdered. My fascination for it inspired us to go up to New York City in 2003 to see the show on Broadway.

A musical of the movie (it is about a Broadway musical designed to be a flop, so its producers could abscond with two million dollars) turned out to be even funnier than the movie. Mel Brooks, the creative comic genius behind both versions, outdid himself with the Broadway musical. Fortunately, Mel (now 81) is still very much among the living. As in the original movie, and in at least some shows on Broadway, and definitely in the movie musical version, Mel shows up for a cameo in the famous “Springtime for Hitler” number.

Over the weekend, we finally got around to seeing the movie of the musical The Producers. It stars its original Broadway attractions, Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick. Having seen it on Broadway (but with different stars), I was curious if the movie could measure up.

As I mentioned in my review of the movie Rent transitioning a musical from the stage to film is a devilishly difficult chore, easy to screw up and hard to get right. Musicals are designed for the stage, not the wide screen. The movie Rent succeeded in part because it featured many of its stars from the original Broadway Cast. With Lane and Broderick, who have performed the roles of the washed up Broadway producer Max Bialystock and the shy accountant Leo Bloom literally hundreds of times on Broadway, the odds were that I would enjoy the movie.

I did very much enjoy the movie. However, after seeing it on Broadway I was sometimes dissatisfied with the choices made by director Susan Stroman in transitioning it to film. For the die-hard The Producers fans, the DVD does include the cut scenes in the bonus section. I feel removing these scenes really detracted from the movie. I would have preferred an uncut version that is more faithful to the stage.

Gratefully, most of the time Stroman gets the transition right. Lane is something of a serial Broadway actor. He inhabits the character of Max Bialystock with nearly, but not quite Zero Mostel’s sliminess. Broderick is looking a bit old for the part of Leo Bloom. Broderick tried hard to channel Gene Wilder, who played the original Leo Bloom, but gets only a B grade. Granted, Gene Wilder is a tough act to follow. I have yet to see an actor perform a manic role with more conviction than Gene.

Other parts in the movie soared while others hardly took off. Uma Thurmond was not quite right as the buxom and shapely Swede “Ulla”. Like Broderick, the 35-year-old actress looked at bit old for her part. On the other hand, Will Ferrell as the Nazi playwright of “Springtime for Hitler” is inspired. He should have performed it on Broadway. In playing the psychotic Franz Liebkind he finally graduates to the A comic actor list. Gary Beach reprises his Broadway role as the gay eccentric director Roger DeBris. He has lost none of his talent. The whole scene in the DeBris house may be the best part of the movie. It is funnier than it was on Broadway. I especially liked the parody of The Village People done at the end of the scene.

The sets of course are larger and more grandiose than on Broadway. The little old ladies, which Max uses as his source of financing (many of whom are performed by men), are no less funny than on stage.

Overall, there is little to complain about. The laughs come through a bit easier in the theater where there are hundreds laughing along with you. As a translation from stage to movie, it succeeds at about 85% of the time, which is much better than most. So I am confident that you will enjoy this rendering whether you have seen the version on stage or not.

Alas, soon it will be impossible to see it on the stage. The Broadway show, which premiered in 2001, is in its final weeks. So if you have not seen it staged you will likely have to content yourself with this movie version. It is nearly as enjoyable as seeing it on stage, but not quite. Thank goodness though it was brought to film. Otherwise, the staged version would be revived a few times, they probably forgotten. The musical deserves to be immortalized, and now it has been.

The movie gets a 3.2 on my 4.0 scale.

The Thinker

Real Life 101, Lesson 2: Personal Finance Basics

This is the second in an indeterminate series of entries that provides my “real world” lessons to young adults. It is my conviction that these lessons are rarely taught either at home or in the schools. For those who did not get them growing up you can get them from me for free. This is part of my way of giving back to the universe on the occasion of my 50th birthday. It is my hope that at least some of you reading this will benefit from my experience and save yourself a lot of unnecessary anguish.

When I was growing up managing money was straightforward. If you were just starting out it was almost impossible to get a credit card. Consequently, you lived within your means, no matter how modest they were.

Now managing money is much more complicated. Unfortunately, it is a good bet that you graduated high school without a money management class. Credit card companies spend millions trolling for financial fools willing to get themselves deeply in debt. They especially target young people, and try to make your indebtedness to them a lifelong habit. It appears that many Americans and young people in particular now see money as wholly abstract. As long as your ATM card works or your credit card is not over its spending limit, you assume your head is above water. Personal debt has become as abstract as the National Debt.

If this is what you think, you are sadly mistaken. Debt matters and the kind of debt you carry matters even more. Carrying debt costs you dearly and limits what you can do with our own money. Your goal should be not to be one of the millions of Americans with a negative net worth. Your goal should be to get out of debt entirely and start accumulating both a reserve of cash and a supply of assets that exceeds your debts. What you will get are financial resiliency and peace of mind. You want to be one of the financial winners in life, not one of the many losers out there always struggling under a crushing load of debt. If a real financial crisis hits, like a banking crisis or the need for an expensive operation not covered by insurance, these people will end up as financial road kill. You should not aspire to be one of the unfortunate.

Having no debt is ideal, but impractical. Credit card debt, like any debt that is unsecured is bad debt. Any debt that does not help you work yourself up the food chain is also bad debt. Consequently, student loans are probably good debt, providing you use the money to study earnestly in a program that will provide you with a good and steady income in future years.

All your expenses can be placed into three categories based on decreasing priority: things you need, things that will enhance your long-term financial solvency, and things you want. You need food, housing and a way to get to and from work. You may aspire to be a college graduate or a truck driver. Money spent here is your second priority because it enhances your long-term solvency. The latest Xbox game station may be something you think you need for your happiness. Do not delude yourself. It is something you want. You can live without it. If after satisfying the first two priorities there is money left over, go and buy something off your want list, providing you can pay for it without going into further debt.

You might say, “But I need high speed internet so I can respond to emails for job searches.” Sorry. It is convenient to you to have high-speed internet, but it is not a need. You can go to most public libraries and use their internet service for free. Similarly, you do not need a car. You can walk, bike, join a carpool or take public transportation. You might even be able to work from home. If you live in the middle of nowhere you can move to some place closer in. People survive without cars all the time and so can you. I used public transportation for years until I could afford a car. Similarly, you may think you need your own apartment. However, you could also find a roommate, take a room in a group house or even live in your parents’ spare bedroom if they will let you.

Granted this sort of life will not necessarily be fun. However painful what you are doing is in the short term, always keep in mind that it is a sound long-term strategy that has been proven effective over millennium. It means that you are living within your means. It means that you are positioning yourself for your long-term prosperity.

After seeing where your money goes, the next step is to make sure money goes where it needs to go first. This involves the prosaic but vital exercise of making and sticking to a budget. If you have more expenses than income, you either need to cut expenses, increase income or do both. Creating a budget is not rocket science. If need be you can do it with a pen and paper, as most generations until now have done it. Any spreadsheet can be used to create a budget. If you cannot afford Microsoft Excel, download the free OpenOffice suite, or use Google’s free spreadsheet tool.

For years, I would end up going “ouch” whenever that big bill arrived. I did not necessarily have all the cash on hand when, for example, the auto insurance bill arrived. Eventually I figured out that if I escrowed equal parts of the money I needed every month I would have all the money on hand when I needed it and I would not be so anxious. You can use the same strategy. My criteria is that any bill paid less often than monthly and which will be for more than $250 when it arrives I will escrow for in advance. I divided up one of my bank accounts into a number of imaginary accounts, one for each of these major expenses. For example, I pay $765.18 a year for homeowner’s insurance. That is $63.77 a month. Therefore, every month I put $63.77 into that account. I expect the bill in 4 months, so I have paid 8 months into the account so far and have accumulated $510.16 in it. When the bill comes due, I have the money to pay it in full. In addition to known bills, I also escrow for anticipated major expenses. For example, I put $250 a month into a car savings account. It is there to act as a down payment for future car purchases, as well as to pay for any major car repair bills that come up. I have a similar account for major repairs. This generally means that I do not need to touch savings when I have to install a new roof or put in a new air conditioner.

To use an escrow system you first need a pile of cash that you can subdivide this way. If you have no pile of cash because you are making payments on your credit card instead, work to get its balance down to a zero balance as fast as possible. You can use a debt calculator to figure out how much money to pay every month to get rid of a credit card balance. For example if you have $8000 in credit card debt and are being charged 15% interest and want to pay it off in 2 years, you can use an online debt calculator like this one. Pay $383.10 a month over two years and you will pay off the debt.

I suspect you will find that when you pay off a debt that you will feel like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. While you are paying off the debt, you will have the satisfaction of seeing your finance charges and outstanding balance drop lower every month. When finally paid off, there will be no more finance charges ever. You can use the money on other priorities. $383.10 a month can buy a lot of Xboxes.

I plan to offer more financial guidance for you to ponder will be coming up in future entries.

The Thinker

Not just another blog

Here I am at entry number 637, four years, two months and ten days since my first blog entry in 2002. Yes, it is 701,906 words later and sometimes feel like I have expounded about everything possible. Yet curiously, I have never taken this time to explain what this blog is about.

I have explained why I blog. I have also provided periodic blog entries where I captured most popular entries and my blog’s growth statistics. However, I have never explained the purpose of my blog, Occam’s Razor.

This blog is not here to discuss Occam’s Razor or to suggest all of life’s weirdness can be understood through the rigorous application of its principle. Wikipedia does a decent job of explaining Occam’s Razor:

The principle states that the explanation of any phenomenon should make as few assumptions as possible, eliminating, or “shaving off”, those that make no difference in the observable predictions of the explanatory hypothesis or theory.

To put it more simply:

All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one.

For me the key words here are “tends to”. In my blog, I do not assert that the simplest explanation is always the explanation. The principle only asserts that the simplest explanation is the safest bet. If I had to bet my life on two explanations for something I did not understand, I would choose the simpler one because I would be more likely to survive. Perry Mason endings are entertainment. Real life is typically more prosaic.

This is not to say that if you scratch beneath the surface a bit, the ordinary cannot be quite complex. In essence that is the raison d’etre of my blog Occam’s Razor. Its intent is to examine the ordinary and discern what really makes it tick. A good example is my entry Infidelity: It’s Not So Simple published in June 2004. That adultery happens is hardly extraordinary. At the surface level, infidelity is about cheating. However, this is like saying your backyard consists of grass. It is not until you take a spade to your lawn and see the life teaming in and under it, that you realize that there is more to grass than grass. Grass depends on soil, water, sunshine and a host of other factors. Similarly, infidelity happens for many of the reasons that I suggested in that entry, not because “the bastard cheated on me”.

My blog Occam’s Razor asserts that everything is connected. Because this is true, things can be both blindingly simple and inordinately complex at the same time. This blog is my attempt to pull back the curtains of our existence and expose the real Wizard of Oz. It is my attempt to discern and explain the complexity that most of us cannot or choose not to see that exists in the simple and the ordinary.

Some of you are going to have problems with this idea. “How can something be simple and complex at the same time?” (Hmm, it occurs to me that I gave Catholics a hard time for just this reason recently. Please excuse the hypocrisy.) If you believe in black and white, but no shades of grey, then you might as well stop reading. The premise behind my blog is that the world is what it is. It often provides the illusion of simplicity. However, tilt the prism and what looks simple can become devilishly complex. I am driven to try to find and document the complexity behind the simple. I rarely categorically assert that my analysis is indisputable, but hope that you will give it some consideration.

Perhaps I have a mental problem, but I seem to be driven to analyze everything. My brain is constantly sifting through patterns, some explicit, some covert and looking for connections. It may be that most of the connections that I infer are not there, but I need the connections for my own sanity. Otherwise, the universe is simply random chaos. If there is one thought that terrifies me, it is that underlying the universe there is nothing but utter meaninglessness.

Unfortunately, inspiration does not come every day. I also have a busy life outside of my blogging. When these occasions occur, it becomes a convenient distraction to pull out something from the ether and expound on it as an entry. Items that fill my Life categories fall into the miscellaneous noise that I encounter during life. I feel it should be documented, mostly for my own purposes. I offer them to the universe in case anyone finds them interesting.

This blog often feels like a Seinfeld episode. If Seinfeld was a show about nothing, this blog is a blog about nothing in particular. It really has no principle theme. However, it does desire to be a smorgasbord of well-structured and well-written thought. It prefers to enlighten, but it is sufficient if it just amuses. It abhors only your indifference. I try very hard to write quality original content. Of course, there is very little in the world that is truly original. Many of my ideas have been stated before somewhere else. With luck, I might package them better.

Perhaps now that I have explained what this blog is about, you will be able to appreciate it more. If this sort of place tickles your fancy then please bookmark it and return regularly; your time and attention is appreciated and makes me feel flattered. Please share my blog with any friends of a similar mind. And please, leave thoughtful comments. I enjoy all comments that I receive.

Now that I have this off my chest, back to my regular fare.

The Thinker

The virtues of being ordinary

There is more recent evidence for those who quietly lust to be a celebrity that it ain’t all it’s cracked up to be. Call me nuts, but if you ask me being rich, beautiful and famous is just not worth it. I will take turnip farming any day of the week.

No doubt, you are aware of two recent cases in point. Pop star Britney Spears checked herself out of rehab today, a day or so after shaving her head, which was a day or two after she checked herself out of rehab the first time, which was shortly after she was photographed at Club One in New York City, trying on the skimpy attire required of its erotic dancers.

Perhaps these incidents are not surprising given that her personal life is in shambles. She recently divorced the dancer Kevin Federline, some years after a 55-hour Las Vegas wedding with Jason Allen Alexander. Here she is at age 25, the dysfunctional parent of two young children, both of whom, no doubt, are being raised by nannies. Mommy has little time for temper tantrums, poopy diapers and 3 AM feedings. I hope that she sees very little of her children; they are probably better off hanging around with their completely ordinary nannies than with their wacky mother. Oh, and then there is her career. It is unclear to me where her income is coming from. She is no longer popular with the teen crowd, and she never had much talent to begin with. She appears to be living far beyond her income. We know she smokes, but going to rehab twice suggests that she is trying to shake a problem bigger than a nicotine addiction. Most likely, Britney is quaffing or snorting something very pricey. She seems to be trying to emulate Madonna’s bad girl act, except she has neither her talent nor her ability to stand on the precipice of a cliff without falling off.

And then there is the recently deceased Anna Nicole Smith, former March 1992 Playboy magazine playmate, proud 8th grade graduate, ex stripper and wife of the late oil billionaire J. Howard Marshall. She married Marshall in 1994 when she was 26 (a year older than Britney) and he was 89. You would have to have been living in a cave for the last dozen years not to know about her dispute with Marshall’s family over his estate when he died about a year into their marriage. For some mysterious reason her case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Her marriage to Marshall, in addition to making her the nation’s premier gold digger and bimbo, led her into unmemorable parts in various movies and TV shows. She had a son when she was only 18, who unsurprisingly grew up to become drug addicted. Clearly spaced out on something, he died at age 20 in his mother’s hospital room. What a way to introduce himself to his new baby sister, whose paternity, incidentally, is still being argued. Ms. Smith had a “commitment ceremony” but apparently not a legal marriage with her attorney Howard K. Stern. She died ingloriously on February 8th at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel in Hollywood, Florida. She reportedly had a very high fever at the time of her death. Until yesterday, her body sat on ice. The most honest income she probably made was for being a spokesperson for TrimSpa, which was reputedly her means for losing the 69 pounds that she put on during her court challenges.

Certainly not every celebrity is a walking train wreck, but they do seem to end up doing a lot more stupid and foolish things than the rest of us. Money gives them the means. Talent and/or good looks also ensure they are constantly showered with attention.

As I alluded to in another entry, underneath the façade of course they are fallible people just like us. Unlike us though, they have the means to keep tripping over themselves. The evidence suggests that their talent and good looks are often a deadly combination. “All the world’s a stage,” Shakespeare told us. That is certainly true for celebrities. Like it or not they are always on stage. They do not have the privilege of living with their shields down. Even if they try, the paparazzi are just around the corner. Instead of being an advantage, being a celebrity becomes a prison for which death is the only final escape. There is always a fan that wants to tell you how wonderful you are. There is always a queue of people wanting to sleep with you. You need a staff: a publicist, a hairdresser, a personal trainer, an agent, accountants, bodyguards, servants, chauffeurs, and personal shoppers. If you want to do something ordinary like run through the drive thru at a Burger King, you need to don a disguise, and hope your dopy disguise does not give you away.

Thankfully, I am ordinary. I do not have these problems. With the exception of the office or within a couple hundred feet of my house, I can go anywhere and I will likely be unrecognized. While my average looks ensure that glamorous women will not be making passes at me, they also ensure that I do not need to deal with the stress that such constant attention would cause.

Truly, I am blessed to be unnoticed and so are you. Being a celebrity is simply too much stress and too much of a hassle. Britney and Anna Nichole are recent and somewhat egregious examples of the hazards of being a celebrity. They suggest that Darwin was right and that being a celebrity itself is reduces your odds of survival. My ordinary life comes bounded by reasonable constraints. These constraints are not evil; they provide a structure that allows me to reach my natural potential.

I do not wish to be a celebrity and I believe neither should you. Celebrate how fortunate you are that your life is ordinary. Celebrate that because you are ordinary your values are likely magnitudes better grounded than Britney Spears’. Celebrate that you are likely to make it to an old age in good health, instead of being in rehab at age 25. Celebrate that your parents, while flawed, likely filled you with more function than dysfunction. Because they cared, you had enough common sense to wait until you were ready before you tackled major life chores like marriage and children.

If you truly aspire to be the next Britney or Anna Nichole, American Idol is likely taking auditions in a city near you. Just be careful what you ask for because you may get it. The package may look all nice and pretty. However, if your dream is actually realized then beware: it may be momentarily thrilling, but it is more likely to be descent into hell.

The Thinker

Real Life 101, Lesson 1: Job Basics

Having turned 50 recently, I realized that I have finally mastered some major lessons from the school of real life. I thought I would use the excuse of my birthday to pass on some of these lessons to younger generations. While I enjoy pretending to be a fountain of wisdom, in reality, like most bloggers, any wisdom I have achieved is likely more the result of successful marketing than anything else is.

Today I am starting an occasional series of entries in a “Real Life 101” series. Maybe you can find these on Motley Fool or in a Dummies Book, but here you can get them free. These strategies have been tried, tested and proven true in the sphere of real life. Unlike a stock market investment, where you earnings are never guaranteed, these principles will work. They have been painfully acquired from navigating through real life for five decades and in many cases through making the wrong choices. They are not always easy to implement, but life never is.

Today’s topic: job basics.

Unless you happen to have inherited a large estate, the most important factor in avoiding misery is a good, steady and well paying job. Ideally, the job will be one that you will also enjoy. While there is no lack of jobs out there, few of them meet all these criteria. Most likely, you do not have one of these jobs. Here are some strategies that will get you there.

When it comes to any job, consistently going beyond the expected almost always reaps rewards. I am amazed by how many workers cannot seem to grasp this basic truth, even after their fourth or fifth job. Strive to be exceptional in whatever you are doing, no matter how menial or mundane. In the unlikely event that your efforts are not noticed in your current job, your attitude will be noticed by some future employer. Save the snarkiness for when you get home. When you are at work, focus on your work. Be the first to volunteer to do difficult or not so glamorous work. Unless your chain of command is full of pointy haired bosses, most likely your work attitude will be quickly noticed, and you will be given more challenging and interesting work as a reward. It is quite possible that you will earn a promotion and/or more money too. Having demonstrated your value you are much less likely to be pink slipped or downsized.

Constantly steer toward jobs that offer the three critical factors: steady employment, good wages and benefits. While I generally do not like debt, I have gladly gone into debt so that I could compete for better paying jobs that advanced my career. Be hard nosed. For example, it is better to go into debt to get a degree than a certification. It might seem a worthy goal to be a Microsoft Certified Software Engineer, for example. Nevertheless, certifications have a limited shelf life. A degree in software engineering though will carry the broad education that you will likely be able to apply for the rest of your career.

Few things have the potential to be more personally catastrophic than unemployment. This means that you should always do your best to avoid being fired or laid off. Regardless, you will probably get a few periods of unemployment in your career. If it happens to you, expect to feel devastated, but do not think that you are unique. Unemployment happens. You will recover from the experience and reemerge on your feet. In most cases, you can anticipate your termination. If you sense that you are likely to lose your job then take action. Start aggressively looking for your next job. Rats know when to desert a sinking ship. So should you.

Another rule of thumb: the best job for you will likely not come from a newspaper or an internet jobs site. It will come through a referral from someone you know. You would probably not pick a doctor out of the phone book. Instead, you will get recommendations from friends. The same applies doubly with jobs. People’s actual experience with employers will tell you a lot. After all, you do not want to waste your time dealing with the trauma of a job that does not fit you. Consequently, you need to develop networking skills.

Recently a contractor I have not worked with in seven years sought me out. We kept in touch and traded occasional emails and holiday cards. We would meet for lunch every year or two when our schedules allowed, which they usually did not. She was interested in applying for a job and wanted to know if I knew anyone who worked at the place where she was applying. It just so happened that yes I did know and worked rather extensively with someone who worked there. Although it had been several years, I contacted the man I used to work with, who I considered part of my own personal network. He gave the background on the culture of the place and what they were likely looking for. It sounded like a good match for her. She has applied for the job and will use me as a reference. I suspect that if she is interviewed she will do well. In addition to having the skills, she will have an understanding of the culture of the place to carry into the interview. We all know people with whom we can network. It could be your friend, a neighbor, a coworker’s spouse, or someone you know at church. By marketing yourself to these people, you are actually marketing yourself to a larger number of people, and they will likely keep you in mind and let you know of opportunities. Make networking a habit and if you are in the position to return the favor, do it.

Since unemployment will visit most of us at least a couple times in our life, devise a proactive approach so you can be prepared when it strikes. If you are chronically low on cash, your backup strategy might be to move back in with your parents for a time. (Please check with them first to make sure they will agree.) Putting your expenses on a credit card is the wrong way to go, so strive to create a nest egg that will play for at least three months of expenses. The current trend, unfortunately, is that while unemployment is happening less often, when it does happen it lasts for longer periods. Most experts are now recommending saving six months of expenses to emerge from unemployment financially intact. Whatever your strategy is, you must be realistic about it. Even if it is to live off your credit cards, you will still need income to make those monthly payments. This means that while being unemployed you will likely have to be underemployed by doing some work that you would normally consider beneath you.

Your first jobs are likely to offer little in the way of benefits. If you are young you may be able to go without health insurance for a while, but it is always risky. Benefits should be a primary consideration for accepting any job. Health insurance in particular is a crucial factor. Granted, the job has to pay enough so that you can afford the health insurance premiums, but you should make it your goal to find a job that offers health insurance benefits.

Another way to judge an employer is to find out how much money, if any, they will contribute toward your retirement. Many small employers simply cannot afford to contribute to a 401-K plan, but will let you contribute your own money into a plan. Others cannot be bothered. A decent employer will match your contributions to at least three percent of salary. An ideal employer would double this amount. If you can find an employer that also provides a traditional pension that would be nirvana, but it is not realistic anymore. If you want this degree of protection, look toward state, county or federal employment.

Of course, if you get benefits like these do your damnedest to take advantage of them as soon as possible. Health insurance is most important, since any condition you may have or develop can leave you financially devastated. Otherwise contribute to the 401-K as much as you possibly can. You will pay less in the way of taxes and, of course, the sooner you start, the more you will reap when you retire. You may not believe that the money will actually be there when you retire. Do not be stupid. You too will age and if you are lucky, you will live to see your retirement. You will not want to eat dog food in your retirement. While social security may be problematical, your 401-K will generally be invested in commercial stocks and bonds. Our financial system has shown extreme resiliency. Even the Great Depression did not wipe out the stock markets. Invest early, invest regularly and invest until it hurts.

More job and career advice will follow in subsequent entries in this series.

The Thinker

Review: Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death

I have been trying to see this movie for years, but it simply was not stocked at our local Blockbuster. This is not surprising. Released in 1989, it was made on a shoestring and just for cheap laughs.

However, now that I have belatedly joined Netflix, I have access to a whole range of obscure (as well as grade B and C) movies that were unavailable for easy rental before. This campy movie became my very first Netflix rental.

My family enjoys a bad movie now and then. We have a small collection of truly rotten movies, from classic bad movies like Plan 9 from Outer Space to more obscure bad movies, like the absolutely must-be-seen-by-any-bad-movie-aficionado Sheena (1984). (Sheena stars Tanya Roberts as a blonde, blue-eyed jungle warrior who runs around Africa on a horse painted to look like a zebra.) We were introduced to some of these movies via the classic Medved Brothers bad movie books published in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Perhaps ten years ago I was hunting through a bargain basement bookrack and came across Video Trash & Treasures by L.A. Morse. If you have any interest in bad movies, this book is a must read, providing you can find it. It is an exhaustive review of ghastly grade B & C horror and science fiction movies from the 1980s. Many of these movies were rip offs of rip offs and were designed to earn its producers a few quick bucks at very little expense. They were often made with unknown actors and terrible directors. Irreverently written, the book remains a surprisingly fun read.

It was Video Trash & Treasures that mentioned Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death as one of its favorite and schlockiest B movies. As an almost imprimatur of its low quality, it features the bosomy Adrienne Barbeau. Those of us of a certain age will remember her from the Maude TV series of the 1970s and the movie Escape from New York (1981). This movie, unlike Sheena, was made to be campy. In this aspect is succeeds rather well.

Shannon Tweed plays Dr. Margo Hunt, a professor of feminist studies at a Spritzer University, which comes complete with a big, phallic shaped building. The government pays her a visit to persuade her to visit the Avocado Jungle that, by the way, consists of much of southern California. It is controlled by the radical feminist Dr. Kurtz (Adrienne Barbeau), whose band of women, as you might suspect, have unorthodox eating practices. They like to hunt down, kill and consume any men that happen to wander into the jungle. Well, apparently not all men. There is a small tribe of subjugated men who spend their time being wimps and making potholders for the women. As a professor of feminist studies, Dr. Hunt is arm twisted into going into the Avocado Jungle to persuade Dr. Kurtz to give up. The government wants to remove these radical feminists from the avocado jungle because, of course, avocados are critical to our national security. If these radical women agree to surrender, the government will give them all free condominiums!

Of course, Dr. Hunt will not go into the jungle alone. A Valley Girl boy-crazy student of hers named Bunny (Karen Mistal), who seems to be embracing feminism as her latest fad, wants to come along too. On their way, they stop at a biker bar to select a male guide. This turns out to be, of all people, Bill Maher. Apparently, he has had a nose job since this movie was filmed.

The rest of the plot does not really matter and believe me you will not care how it turns out. The question is whether the cheap laughs and humor make it worth a rental. If you are someone who appreciates schlocky movies, the answer is clearly yes. Shannon Tweed actually turns in quite a nice performance as the measured, always respectful but of course drop dead gorgeous feminist professor from Spritzer University. Much of the humor though revolves around Bunny, who has to wear everything in pink and is not amiss to wearing pink high-heeled shoes while traipsing through the Avocado Jungle. Adrienne Barbeau does not show up until halfway through the movie. All the jungle women are, of course, drop dead gorgeous and, with the exception of Ms. Barbeau, cannot be older than 25.

The movie does slowly fade after the first highly amusing fifteen minutes. Once we understand that Buffy will always wear pink, for example, the humor has less of an impact. Still it is amazing that with such a silly plot this movie can keep you chuckling for its ninety minute running time. It includes a finale swordfight between these feminist professors that is one of the least convincing of all time. Considering that it looks like a movie made for less than $100,000 it delivers a lot of laughs. Having finally seen it though, I felt that one viewing had scratched the itch completely.

For me, a movie like this one that tries to be campy is generally not quite as humorous as a movie designed to be serious but which becomes a fiasco that slimes everyone in it. That is why, while I will remember and laugh over certain scenes in Cannibal Women in the Avocado Jungle of Death for many years, Sheena will remain forever on my DVD rack. (Watch Sheena online here for the cost of a short commercial.)

So pick up Sheena first, since it is more likely to be available anyhow. Otherwise, yeah, go ahead and rent this movie. While the humor is sometimes strained, it is often hilarious and it manages to stay at least amusing throughout. If you keep a private stock of schlocky movies, this is definitely one to consider purchasing. Just be aware you probably will not reach for it very often.

There is some brief nudity involving gorgeous topless women at the start of the film, otherwise there is nothing here that will give offense. I do not recall a swear word in the whole movie.

The Thinker

My Inner Catholic

It has been thirty-two years since I last attended Mass as a Roman Catholic. After thirty-two years, you would think that I would have exorcised Catholicism from within me. Theologically, I am about as far from Catholicism as you can get. I have been a practicing Unitarian Universalist for the last ten years. This is a religion so Christian-lite that arguably it is neither a theology nor Christian. Rather than having to profess that I believe in the Trinity, to be a UU I do not have to profess to believe in anything at all, including God.

Yet I believe that if you took a survey of members in any Unitarian Universalist church and asked them what religion they grew up in, at least forty percent would say they were raised Roman Catholic. That was my experience when, some ten years ago, I attended an orientation on Unitarian Universalism. I expected myself to be nearly unique. Instead, I was surrounded by ex-Catholics, many of whom, like me, were still more than a bit traumatized all these years later by the whole weird Catholicism experience. I think it would be hard to find any drug that could mess up a logical mind more completely than Catholicism. (I am sure others would protest that their religion had this effect too.)

Perhaps subconsciously choosing Unitarian Universalism as my religion was an adult act of rebellion. “Take that, pope! Of all the religions out there, I choose the one that is the most unlike the Roman Catholic Church!” There is none of that contemptible original sin dogma in UUism. I do not have to spend my Sundays contemplating whether, after coveting my neighbor’s wife, the sin was mortal or venial.

I am 50 years old and I am free of Catholicism, except I am not. I do not think many of us who were raised Catholic ever fully escape its long tendrils. Deep inside me, like most of us ex-Catholics, there still lurks an inner Catholic. I have determined that no surgery can remove it from me, as much as I would like it to. No amount of therapy will assuage that small, frightened inner Catholic child in me that still thinks, “My soul is stained and I will go to hell.” For better or for worse, who I am is defined by the Catholicism that I experienced in my developing years. If I could remove my inner Catholic, I would be a stranger to myself.

Perhaps I would have happier memories of the Catholic Church had I had parents who went a little less heavy on Catholicism. Alas, I did not. Attending Mass once a week was not just a good idea, my parents demanded it. If I did not attend then I had committed a mortal sin, which meant that God was seriously pissed at me. The first bus that run over me meant that it was straight to Hades for me, for eternity, for missing a frigging Mass. (It was not until later that I learned about Cafeteria Catholics, who somehow got to heaven even though they only attended Mass on Easter and Christmas.) We had to go to confession about once a month too. I was generally too scared to tell the priest my real sins (“I jerked off twice today Father, and I felt guilty about it, but it also felt too good to stop”) and, bizarrely, made up fake sins, which logically further stained my soul. Bless me Father for I have sinned. I lied twice to my parents, even though I didn’t really. I took the Lord’s name in vain once, even though I didn’t swear. These were sins I felt comfortable confessing. After a while, I got the impression that these were the kinds of sins the priests wanted to hear. I was easily absolved with a few Hail Mary’s and Glory Be’s. I would never tell my parents, much less this creepy dark robed creature whispering at me from behind a veiled partition, my real sins.

I had many other issues with Catholicism of course, but it all boiled down to a couple points. As a parochial school student, I witnessed physical abuse by the sisters at the school who, when I think today about what they did so many years ago, still raises my blood pressure. Even as a child, I knew what I witnessed was deeply wrong, but it seemed blessed by the Catholic Church. Of course, at that age I was incapable of reconciling these evils with the absolute faith I had been handed. The second issue were its bizarre creeds that I supposedly subscribed to. Jesus ascended bodily into heaven? Jesus was conceived via Immaculate Conception? God was three entities at the same time: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit? I don’t think so. It is unlikely that I will ever be Muslim, but at least they got it right: God does not suffer from multiple personality disorder.

I realize that billions of people believe, or at least profess to believe in these teachings. Moreover, I both respect these people yet cannot fathom how they can actually believe this crap. Catholics, do you really believe a consecrated host is both bread and the actual, living body of Jesus at the same time? If you can believe that, why it is that I cannot sell you swampland on which to build your estate? On the other hand, is your belief just pablum that you cannot acknowledge even to yourself?

Yet Catholicism for all its illogic still intrigues me, and remains a part of me. As readers know last summer, my family went to France. I spent much of my time inside the many Catholic churches, basilicas and cathedrals in and around Paris. For reasons I do not understand, stained glass evokes awe in me, along with statuary depicting long dead and likely wholly legendary saints. Visiting a cathedral like Notre Dame filled me with awe and reverence. While we were at Notre Dame, we watched a mass in progress. A soprano filled the cathedral with her ethereal music. The priest did his best to fill up the vast space with the pungent smell of burning incense. It was not really magical, but some part of me still perceived it was both magical and mystical, because I was viewing it through the prism of a naïve and trusting six year old boy.

While most of the church’s beliefs are just silliness, some of its practices are plain mean-spirited. For example, I think it is contemptible that they deny divorced Catholics access to the sacraments. Priestly celibacy is both unnatural and has proven unworkable. In fact, the male chauvinism of the religion simply reeks. How can any thinking Catholic woman put up with it? The second-class status it affords homosexuals, who are only seen as good Catholics providing they never act on their urges, is loathsome and truly makes me want to vomit.

Still, underlying it all are some kernels that still resonate with me. It is one of a small number of Christian denominations that still believes that all life is truly sacred, that the death penalty is just wrong in all cases, and that it is not enough to just say that you believe in your faith, but to insist that faith must be manifested by deeds. I have enormous respect for institutions like Catholic Charities, which do some of the hardest and most necessary charitable work in the world.

Catholicism thus remains something of a mystery to me, which both resonates at times and resurfaces feelings of loathing. I both admire it and despise it. I cling to those parts of Catholicism that so touched me as a child: the candles lit during a High Mass; the smell of incense; the sound of chimes as the Priest consecrates the host; their numerous saints; the virtuous Mary, Mother of God ™; and those engraved stations of the cross along the sides of the church. They personalized the poor, suffering Jesus who died so I could guiltily sneak peaks at Playboy magazines.

Perhaps what I miss the most about Catholicism is its utter and obnoxious certainty about everything. THE ONE AND ONLY TRUE PATH, from birth to death, was laid out with crystal clarity that was obvious to any true Catholic that stayed awake during CCD classes. All they had to do was walk its path. If there was any question about what the path was, your pastor could unambiguously clarify things for you, or you could thumb through a Baltimore Catechism and get a sonorous answer there. Its promise was not so much God and the hereafter as it was promises that with weekly injections of Catholicism you could get through life unafraid. All it took was utter faithfulness to its creeds, which I translated into the abandonment of reason on all things religious.

Now at age 50, the world is a cold place. Despite the silliness of Catholicism, its unyielding certainty (even when it is so completely wrong) and its proud obliviousness to the way the world actually works, it still holds some allure. I find Unitarian Universalism offers little in the way of comfort, other than the companionship of fellow souls with thoughts and fears similar to mine. I also know that even if I succumbed to the lure of Catholicism again, I would simply be deluding myself. I will never really believe in Immaculate Conception. There would always be some part of me that would say, “This is just utter rubbish.” Still perhaps someday as my life span narrows and my fear of death increases, my insecurities will get the better of me. Perhaps I will find myself engaged again in the adult thumb sucking that, sorry, to me epitomizes Catholicism.

The Thinker

Adventures in Lighting

Like all obsessions, this one started out as something relatively innocuous. In my case, I was at the Home Depot and strolling down the light bulb aisle when I noticed a four pack of compact fluorescent light bulbs. In case you do not know what a compact fluorescent bulb is, they are fluorescent lights designed to fit into the sockets of regular light bulbs while putting out a similar amount of light.

Example of a compact fluorescent light

Admittedly, these compact fluorescent lights look a little odd. However, their odd shape hardly matters, since most light bulbs hide inside lampshades anyhow. Nor were they particularly expensive. I was able to purchase the pack of four 60-watt compact fluorescent bulbs for about eight dollars. When I arrived home, I replaced the bulbs in the lamp in our living room, TV room and in the hallway. I could not discern any real difference in the quantity of light put out. I expected that when I flipped on the switch there would be a delay until the light came on. However, there was none. I smiled. This was not hard at all! Moreover, one compact fluorescent light should last for years, meaning I would have to spend less time replacing light bulbs. I would save both money and time.

Like many Americans waking up to the reality of global warming, I understand that replacing incandescent lights with fluorescent lights is just one small step. Compact fluorescent lights use sixty percent less energy and generate little heat. If I could replace all our incandescent lights with compact fluorescent lights, my family will not be dumping 300 pounds of carbon into the atmosphere every year. It seemed like something tangible and relatively painless that I could do to reduce global warming.

The next time I went to Home Depot, I bought two more four packs of compact fluorescent lights. This time I changed lights in the laundry room, the hallway going to my basement, and assorted ceiling lights. I put one in a light with a dimmer switch. It took only a couple weeks experience to discern this was not a good idea. At full power the lights, well, fluoresced, pulsing and flickering. Within a couple of weeks, it gave out. Reluctantly, I put an old-fashioned incandescent bulb back in that fixture. I placed the used compact fluorescent bulb in a bag for special disposal since the mercury vapors inside the light were potentially dangerous.

We have four vanities in our house. Each has above the sink a set of four to six soft white incandescent lights. As I was repainting one of the bathrooms, I kept looking at the light fixture. It was not particularly attractive and so 1980s. I wondered if I could replace the light fixture with a fluorescent one that was reasonably attractive. Those four 60-watt bulbs must be drawing a lot of power. I shuffled back to the Home Depot and wandered through their lighting aisle. Their stock mostly consisted of the usual incandescent and halogen lights. Close to the standard ugly fluorescent lights suitable for workshops were a small number of classy looking fluorescent light sets. There I found this light set. It was designed to be mounted on a ceiling, but with a bit of jury-rigging I was able to place it above the bathroom mirror where the old vanity light fixture sat. With its brushed nickel frame, it looked classy.

24 inch fluorescent vanity light set

The final authority though was my wife, who gave it the thumbs up. I took that as an okay to buy another one. The next one went over the vanity in our master bedroom. We noticed that it put out a brighter and whiter light than what it replaced.

Yesterday, I tackled the master bathroom’s vanity light set. This set was particularly environmentally unfriendly because it consisted of six incandescent lights in a row, which used special soft white bulbs. It put out a lot of heat. Moreover, my daughter was in the habit of leaving them on. This vanity was particularly annoying because its lights were constantly blowing out anyhow. Unfortunately, I could not find quite what I was looking for at Home Depot. I drove to Lowe’s, traversed their light aisle, and I found just the thing, this Newcastle Fluorescent Bath Bar. It fit perfectly into the existing space and looked similar to the other light set. It was both brighter than the old set and cast a more natural bright white light. Its only defect was that it took a second to come on, unlike the others.

36 inch fluorescent vanity light set

I have also replaced a defective floor lamp in our living room. I purchased a compact fluorescent bulb for it that was supposed to have three brightness levels, like a three way incandescent bulb. Unfortunately, I could not get it to work with in that fixture, but at least the light is usable.

I am ending up with a quite a collection of used incandescent light bulbs. I am not sure what to do with them. I still need to replace more incandescent lights in our basement with fluorescent lights. I am pondering what do to about the ceiling mounted lights in our basement, all of which work off a dimmer switch. So far, I have not found a fluorescent light that actually works with a dimmer switch, although some claim to work. Other specialty lights like the ones we use for our bedstead and our outdoor porch light do not appear to have ready compact fluorescent alternatives.

Nonetheless, I now feel compelled to try to replace every incandescent and halogen lighting fixture that I can. I still have one vanity light set to replace in the downstairs bathroom. As compact fluorescent lighting technology matures with new demand, I figure there may come a time when every light in my house will be a fluorescent light. It may not be possible to replace lights like the one in my refrigerator with a fluorescent light, but perhaps in time appliances will come with fluorescent fixtures too.

To reduce the impact of global warming, we can all take action. You may find as I did that ridding yourself of non-fluorescent lights in your house can be a fun project. I use other energy saving devices such as a programmable thermostat. A large energy saving project we need to take up one of these days is to replace our windows (which are already double pane) with more energy efficient windows. I would prefer to wait until we have the money saved, since this looks like it will be at least a $10,000 project.

I may be naïve to think that my contributions will amount to much. As I noted in an earlier entry on global warming, the increase in our population growth alone suggests these efforts will not reduce emissions, but only help check their growth. Nonetheless, for a culture that supposedly believes in life, and the survival of our species in particular, it seems suicidal not to at least try. If nothing else my small actions replacing lights encouraged me to keep committing toward a path where my family and I will live more harmoniously with the planet.

The Thinker

Ready or not, here life comes

I am beginning to understand that the first eighteen years of parenting are the easiest.

Those first eighteen years amount to parental spadework. Parents provide the soil, the sunlight, and the seeds that help a child grow and mature. When it comes to our children, most of us are reasonably myopic. How could we not be? We had to be there for our children 24/7 for eighteen long years. When they were infants bawling at 2 AM, we had to sort through their issue of the moment. When they took their first tentative steps, we had to be there to make sure they did not hurt themselves. We had to sort through innumerable child rearing issues from their schooling, their religious education (or lack thereof) and their friendships. Then at some point, we have to cut the cord and try not to grimace as our darling children struggle to navigate the complexities of real life.

There are times when I think that my daughter, who graduates high school and turns eighteen this year, should have engaged life more. Like her parents, she has turned quite introverted. She is fine with her small coterie of oddball friends. She seems fine that most of them have already started executing their career plans while she has yet to engage. While naturally intelligent, she often lacks motivation. What she really wants to do is write fiction (and she is a gifted writer) and watch CSI: Miami reruns. Unfortunately, writing fiction, while a laudable goal, is unlikely to provide the income she will need to survive. Moreover, there are only so many episodes of CSI: Miami. When she thinks about her looming adulthood at all, she is trying to figure out whether she wants to go to a community college or spend a year in the real world and then maybe go to college. Rather than decide, she seems content to just see what life serves up on her doorstep. Her attitude is understandable. The real world can be a bizarre, cold and brutal place.

While concerned, I realize that any teenager moving into adulthood will go through stages like this. She is like a chrysalis. She may prefer to stay in her shell, but it is opening anyhow. Life is propelling her toward maturity, whether she is ready or not.

Her “go real slow” approach is not necessarily a bad strategy. Her innate sense of caution, perhaps learned by observing some dysfunctional friends, has had some positive effects. She does not smoke and is not taking drugs. She has not run off with a biker named Thor. I do not worry that she has caught a sexually transmitted disease or that she will have a child out of wedlock.

In addition, she does appear unlikely to emulate her somewhat older cousin. Over the last week or so, I have become privy to an example of a disastrously bad choice that a young adult can make. My niece is a skinny, intelligent, well-mannered and attractive girl. Excellent parents raised her in a warm and nurturing environment. Her parents, as best I can tell, have done everything right. Doctor Spock would use them as examples. My niece has excelled scholastically, grabbed a scholarship, managed a part time while attending university, and learned the art of sharing an apartment with a friend. Her parents have followed the usual best practices: giving educational carrots and additional freedoms commensurate with grades and demonstrating sound values.

So just why has their 20-year-old daughter run away with a very handsome but very troubled young man? It is not as if she did not have any warning about his dysfunctional nature. Nor is there a lack of earnest young men with sound values who would like to be romantically involved with her. Instead, she chooses to focus on her bad boy boyfriend. He smokes, has gotten in trouble with the law, totaled some cars and continually relies on others to bail him out. Now my niece has stopped going to classes. She has moved to Atlanta to be with her boyfriend and his dysfunctional mother .

Her parents, of course, are tearing their hair out. They spend much of their time crying, worrying and not getting much sleep. They are also taking painful steps: repossessing her car, cutting off her cell phone and cleaning up the detritus she left behind. These included two beloved cats that she abandoned. I think I can confidently say that my daughter will never do anything quite this rash. Caution seems to be hardwired into her brain.

As she turns eighteen, my wife and I are negotiating a set of transition rules for our daughter. Just agreeing on a set of rules is a big challenge for us. Both of us come from different backgrounds. Consequently, we have sometimes-divergent ideas of what strings and carrots are appropriate for a young adult. It seems unlikely that on the day she turns 18 that our daughter will move into an apartment of her own. Having spurned a part time job, she does not have the money for such an endeavor, and we will not give it to her. With the high cost of living in Northern Virginia, she would need plenty of roommates to make ends meet. Given her tendency toward inertia, we will likely have to prod her to find a job. Nonetheless, the outlines of what we are prepared to do are now clear.

We have a pile of money set aside for her college education. We will spend it on her educational expenses only. If she goes to school full time and needs a car we may provide a car but we will not give her the title. If she wants to wait a while before going to college, then she can stay with us but will have to pay us rent. Right now, my wife and I are negotiating these details. I am thinking $200 a month or 25 percent of her gross income for rent, whichever is less, with amounts going up every year. If she chooses not to go to school, we will expect her to work at least 32 hours a week. She will be responsible for getting to and from work. Our bus service around here is problematical, so it will be a logistical challenge for her. It will be one of many challenges she will have to manage, but they will help prepare her for much bigger challenges ahead.

Our daughter has the outline of our thinking, but we have not presented the details. We plan to implement it as a contract where we all sign on the dotted line. If she does not like it, she is free to move out. I cannot see her doing that, since inertia may just as well be her middle name. In addition, the true cost of living would be a real shock. I doubt she has the right set of skills to manage the complexity of jobs, roommates and living within her means at this stage of her life.

The reality is we all found this time of life challenging. College, as hard as it was, provided me with something of a buffer. Student (and later off campus) housing was straightforward and not too complex. It was not until I graduated and found myself in the midst of a bad job market that I was forced to fully engage adult life with all its uncertainty and stresses. I struggled. My wife went through similar struggles.

Our daughter knows that advanced education and a professional work attitude will make these challenges less stressful. However, knowing is not the same motivator that feeling them provides. We suspect that when she experiences these things first hand she might find additional motivation to do hard things, like make the commitment to strive hard in college. A year between high school and college working a low wage job might provide a needed dose of reality. Her lack of a plan may be the career perfect medicine.

Still, it is no wonder that she prefers to stay in denial. She has absorbed at least this much correctly: real life can be damned scary. It was scary for me and it will be scary for her. Given that society is far more complex for her than it was for me at her age, it could well be scarier for her. Yet like all of us, by confronting real life she will gain self-assurance. It remains to be seen how well she will do and whether our strategies will help or hinder her in this process. The only thing we can say for sure is that there is turbulence ahead. I hope that for a girl who likes roller coasters she will find a way to enjoy the topsy-turvy years ahead.

The Thinker

Guffawing over a War Tax

It is not often that I agree with Senator Joe Lieberman. Nevertheless, with his bizarre proposal yesterday for a War on Terror Tax, I found myself in a rare moment of agreement. Yet while also nodding in agreement with the intensely odd senator from Connecticut, I was also guffawing over his utter cluelessness.

Of course, his proposal has virtually no chance of becoming law. It would not even get brought up in committee. Right now, the hardest part for his fellow senators when encountering Joe in the hallways is to avoid laughing aloud. It would be charitable to call him just a jokester, but his proposal apparently was delivered while he was completely sober. In doing so, he is demonstrated how completely out of touch he is with political reality.

Raise taxes to fund an unpopular war? It is clear that taxes will not be raised on Bush’s watch, no matter how much debt we have to incur. While a Democratic Congress might be inclined to raise taxes on the rich to fund programs for the poor and middle class, it has zero appetite for a special tax to pay for Bush’s War on Terror.

This is too bad because, looked at from a non-political perspective, there are virtues to his proposal. Democrats keep trying in vain to find a means to get our troops out of Iraq. In the Senate, even holding a formal debate a non-binding bipartisan resolution expressing concerns about Bush’s planned “surge” of troops in Iraq became politically impossible. A war tax though, if it could be signed into law, would definitely end our involvement in Iraq for good. However, it would also end the Democratic Party’s control of Congress and send any senator foolish enough to vote for a War Tax into permanent retirement. That is why those senators who understand political reality will not touch it with a ten-foot pole.

What is strange is that it appears that Senator Lieberman actually thinks Americans could be persuaded to support a war tax. Exactly the opposite would happen. It would infuriate the American people. They might ignore it for a while, but they could not ignore it when it came time to file their taxes. Imagine Joe Taxpayer’s reaction when their annual income tax refund suddenly disappeared to pay for a war instead.

Bush may appear to be stupid, but he was at least smart enough to put Karl Rove on this staff. While Rove’s batting average has been off lately, in 2001 he was astute enough to realize that the War on Terror could be used to ensure a Republican grip on power. It could be done by substituting knee-jerk flag waving for genuine sacrifice. The War on Terror became a No Sacrifices War, except for those who felt called to serve their country. Bush hopes that economic growth that will fund the War on Terror.

In reality, it is foreign creditors with piles of cash burning a hole in their pockets that are funding this war. After all, you cannot make any interest stuffing all that dough in a mattress. Thank goodness for the U.S. Treasury. Its appetite for debt appears to be insatiable.

It is ironic that cash rich nations like China are funding the War on Terror. In helping us fund a lost cause, China is in effect helping itself. China is our nation’s second biggest creditor. As of last November, it held $346 billion dollars of our debt, more than any other country except Japan. Put another way, every American currently owes $1153 to the People’s Republic of China, and the amount continues to grow. If we need to go to War with China, who will fund it? I think we can rule out the Chinese.

Here is a bulletin for Senator Lieberman: the public is simply not vested in the War on Terror. Yes, we cared about it immediately after 9/11. Moreover, we were still scared a year later, when Bush erroneously told us to invade Iraq because Saddam was “grave and gathering danger” we could no longer ignore. However, the War on Terror is so five years ago. Now we simply give it lip service. We were told to fight the enemy by spending money as if the War on Terror never occurred. So we did. As in the War on Drugs, the War on Terror has been outsourced and abstracted. We have been trained to be complacent and to assume Big Brother had it all under control. Now that we realize Big Brother bungled it beyond redemption we simply want it to go away. Poll after poll indicates that is why the Democrats swept Congress last year.

Add a war tax though, and watch the public go ballistic. This tax would make an abstract War on Terror suddenly a very personal War on My Pocketbook. Since most of us are barely keeping even with inflation, a war tax would have the direct effect of decreasing our standard of living. In other words, it would hurt.

That is when, instead of getting tens of thousands to an antiwar demonstration in DC, protestors would be marching in the millions. The din would be so loud and so insistent that even the most pro-war Congressman would realize on what side their bread is buttered. Burned once, simply getting rid of the war tax would not do. Protestors would insist that Congress get out of Iraq altogether. No war, no war tax. It is that simple. Only Joe Lieberman would cast a dissenting vote.

So Senator Lieberman’s interesting idea, in the final analysis, simply shows how dramatically out of touch he is with the American people. As a fiscal conservative, if we must have a War on Terror then I would much rather pay for it up front than put it on plastic. I remain convinced that terrorism is a serious problem and needs to be addressed more effectively. Nevertheless, like most of the American public, I too have figured out that our war in Iraq is futile and ruinously expensive. We just need to get out.

If it takes a War on Terror tax to do the trick, I will be writing my Congressman.


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