Archive for December, 2010

The Thinker

Two movie reviews

Here are two movies that I squeezed into my frantic holiday schedule. Maybe I will see a couple more over the long weekend.

The Namesake (2006)

Americans tend to be insular people, generally ignoring movies either not made in or not produced by Hollywood. We are getting marginally better watching Indian movies. Bollywood movies are developing a minor cult following here in the states. Bollywood, like Hollywood, puts out a lot of dreck, but sometimes an Indian movie will surprise you. I was blown away by The Fall, Tarsem Singh’s visual masterpiece, when I reviewed it two years ago. The Namesake was produced the same year. In The Namesake, there is none of the singing and dancing you anticipate in an Indian movie; however it is true to being Indian in being a very family-focused movie. The Namesake becomes something of an exploration of how an Indian family copes in the distant and colder land called America far from their ancestral roots.

In India, arranged marriages are the custom, which is how Ashoke (Irrfan Khan) and Ashima (the famous Indian actress Tamu) end up a couple. Ashoke is a learned professor teaching in New York City and Ashima is from a well to do Bengali family who nonetheless has lived something of a sheltered life. The couple marries and she follows him back to New York City where she fights culture shock, loneliness and cold weather. Their marriage may be arranged but fortunately, they quickly learn to love each other, which is good because their son Gogol (Kal Penn) is on the way. The time is the late 1970s.

Gogol’s name is not accidental. Gogol was named after a famous Ukrainian novelist Nikolai Gogol, whose philosophical novels become married with a tragic train accident that a young Ashoke is fortunate enough to survive. Gogol’s novel The Overcoat inspires a young Ashoke to take risks, which is how he ended up in New York City. Embracing change is much harder for Ashoke, but their curly-haired son Gogol soon fills the void in her life. Gogol becomes thoroughly westernized, but in time adopts his “proper” name Nikolai (or Nick) to reduce the teasing that his name brings.

Many Indian movies are made on a shoestring. The Namesake is an exception and is blessed not only with a decent budget but also by fine acting and directing (by Michael Apted). At the same time, it stays true to its rather simple story of an immigrant family growing up in America. Tamu is a famous Indian actress but is largely unknown here in the states. The movie offers an opportunity for Americans to revel in her talent, for she is both beautiful and a fine actress. The same is true of Irrfan Khan, who plays her devoted but gentle husband whose life, for better or worse, is framed around the thoughts and observations of a dead Ukrainian writer. Penn as Gogol deftly mirrors the tensions inherent in his unusual upbringing, seemingly wholly out of touch with his culture, somewhat estranged from his family but who is handsome and intelligent nonetheless.

In short, if you have to watch an Indian family drama, it would be hard to do better than to spend two hours watching The Namesake. For an Indian movie, it’s pretty racy, as there is a nude scene (filmed from behind). While certainly not a spectacular movie, it renders a heartfelt, touching and very human story of a nuclear family stretched but not wholly torn apart over several decades by their adventure in the strange land called America.

3.2 on my four-point scale.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

C.S. Lewis’s Narnia books continue to make good money at the box office, so sequels are inevitable. The third chronological sequel, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader arrived in theaters this month. Since my wife became fixated on the series in her childhood, I knew we were destined to see it as well as that big gentle furry hunk of godly liony well-groomed love, Aslan. (I guess he has plenty of time to lick himself clean.) Fortunately, I like a good fantasy so I did not mind joining her.

This third installment though feels very anticlimactic. The principle characters from the first two movies (Susan and Peter) are gone, but apparently, their sister Lucy (Georgie Henley) is still young enough to pay a return visit with her brother Edmund (Skandar Keynes). Narnia is a great escape, because back in England a war is still on, and Lucy and Edmund are forced to board with their cousin Eustace Scrubb (Will Poulter), who is openly hostile to both of them for messing up his childhood. No question about it: Eustace is a thoroughly loathsome boy, so much so that several times in the movie I had to restrain myself from wanting to slap his 3-D projection. Rather than going through the back of the wardrobe, the three are pulled into Narnia through a nautical painting on the wall. They end up at sea but fortunately, Prince Caspian (Ben Barnes) is commanding The Dawn Treader. They are all quickly rescued while Eustace immediately resumes being irritable and unhappy about the whole thing and demands to be taken to the British consulate!

Things are going great in Narnia, however, and it appears they will have nothing to do. There is some alleged unpleasantness on an island far out to sea that they must investigate, which seems destined to change the loathsome Eustace. Also along for the ride are some of the animal characters we have come to love, including the swashbuckling mouse Reepicheep, voiced in this movie by Simon Pegg. (Presumably Eddie Izzard was not available.)

Eventually Eustace becomes entertaining in his irritableness (the actor at least is convincing in the part), and his love of gold somehow turns him into a dragon. This proves useful to solve the problem of the moment, which involves finding seven swords of former kings. We sort of expect some sort of major battle between the good and valiant citizens of Narnia, led by Caspian, Lucy, Edmund and Reepicheep, but compared to the first two movies this battle, much of which occurs in a tempest, feels and frankly is anticlimactic.

Which makes this third installment one you can safely miss. Maybe you can miss the next movie as well, since I am told Eustace is a recurring character in it. I hope that Narnia has cured him of his irritableness, but I am not sure I could endure another movie with the boy anyhow. So you get sort of what you expect going in, just less of it. It is all competently done, just not terribly compelling to watch. As for that fuzzy lion Aslan, God has never gotten on my nerves before, but he is starting to do so. He’s a bit too mysterious and mystical, and we see perhaps more of him that we should. Still, he can give a mighty roar. I am also getting tired of the whiteness of the series. I realize England during the Battle of Britain did not have a whole lot of people of color, but the absence of many people of color in Narnia, except as bad guys and occasional townies, is notable in our multihued reality.

This is a well-done movie with a B movie core, which means it earns a solid B, or a 3.0 on my four-point scale.

 
The Thinker

The joy of giving badly

What do you do when you have a good portion of your extended family over for Christmas, they have largely everything they need but there is plenty of extra room under your Christmas tree? You could skip giving them any gifts, of course, which would save everyone a lot of money. Or you could do what me and a number of my siblings do on Christmas: give the gift of the bad.

Bad gift giving is not for every family. If there is a lot of sibling rivalry that still manifests itself in your adult years, it is probably not for your family. The joy of giving badly does not come from offending your family. It comes from finding that special something that (a) you know they would not like (b) is tacky and (c) costs about as much as warm spit.

If you can do a bad gift exchange right, it can be a lot of fun. Particularly if you and your siblings are competitive creatures, finding the baddest bad gift of them all is something of a minor triumph (but probably not something to highlight on your college application). In our house, the procurer of the baddest bad gift wins the trophy. Well, it’s not an actual trophy. It’s a set of slippers, with each slipper shaped like a fish. The fish slippers look, well, dreadful, not because they are old and ragged (they look almost new) but because they are so incredibly tacky. No one in their right mind would want to use them, let alone own them, although the contest winner will sometimes do a celebratory dance in the fish slippers with cameras clicking away.

In theory, the person who gets the fish slippers can hold on to them for one year. The next year they are awarded to the next person to wins the next bad gift contest. In practice, the fish slippers sit at the top of my closet, since invariably the bad gifts are exchanged at our house, generally on Christmas afternoon when remnants of our family in the area descend on our house for conversation and (probably more importantly) gobs of delicious, fattening food courtesy of my spouse.

This custom began sometimes in the early 1990s. Our memories of how it started are rather hazy, but it was likely my sister Mary’s idea (as her sense of humor is particularly skewed). The bad gift exchange neatly solved a number of problems. First, it took care of the problem of finding real gifts for my siblings. Second, it allows us to indulge our competitive spirit. Third, it gives us a great reason to look forward to getting together. Otherwise, the conversation devolves into football (for those few of us into it) and politics. Fourth and perhaps most importantly, giving bad gifts is a lot of fun, both for the giver and the receiver. A truly spectacularly bad gift needs to be singularly inappropriate, hard to find, lacking in taste and dirt-cheap.

If you want to play the game with your family, here are some tips. Here are examples of bad gifts that are not funny: a lump of coal for your stocking, imitation doggy doo doo, fake vomit or political bumper stickers for a party the receiver is not aligned with. Your job as the bad gift giver is to find something much more spectacularly inappropriate. Ideally, the recipient should both laugh hysterically and feel repulsed at the same time.

Where to find bad gifts? The mall is a way too expensive a place to buy a bad gift. $5 per gift should be an upper limit, which is important because most bad gifts tend to end up in the trash later in the evening. I get most of my bad gifts at dollar stores, but thrift stores of any type work as well (try Salvation Army or Goodwill). eBay is great for the eccentric gift, but with shipping it is hard to keep the cost low. Stores like Spencer Gifts are also full of bad gifts, but they tend to be pricey.

The highly competitive bad gift giver keeps a constant watch for bad gifts all year long, and is always ready to buy. This describes my brother Tom who is highly competitive and feels compelled to excel in everything, including bad gifts. His bad gift radar is on all the time. Consequently, he tends to win many of these contests.

You will need some sort of process for determining a winner. We usually do it by paper votes with each person ranking the bad gifts from baddest to least bad, with one being the baddest. You are not supposed to vote for gifts you have given, to keep out the bias. The giver of the worst “gift” with the lowest point score wins possession of the fish slippers, and many hearty congratulations.

This year we invented a new process where we paired two gifts and took a majority vote on each pair to determine the badder gift. This elongated the process considerably, as there were many gifts, hence many rounds to go through and plenty of opportunities for voters to argue why one gift was worse than the other. The winning gift this year came from my nephew Ryan, who is proving to be a genius at bad gift giving. It was a football jersey for his sister Margo. Margo is a skinny little thing who can’t be more than a hundred pounds soaking wet. This jersey from a Goodwill store for some no name team would probably be roomy for a beefy defensive lineman with his protective gear on. Both Ryan and Margo got inside the shirt at the same time and it was still way too large. It also helps that Margo is not particularly into football or jocks so it was not a welcome gift, yet it didn’t offend. Consequently, it was a terrific bad gift. Get it?

My bad gifts were not as good as usual as I was pressed for time. They included: some plastic cockroaches for my sister Mary (she used to live in Florida, where cockroaches are everywhere); a Sylvia Brown book (used of course) taking about the feminine God for my brother Tom (who happens to be an atheist); a Hannah Montana CD for my 21-year old daughter; a pint-sized glow in the dark plastic “lightsaber” for my wife (a Star Wars fan) that turned out to be missing its glow; and a tiny little Hula girl figurine for my brother Mike (who is unlikely ever to get to Hawaii or ever try on a flowered shirt).

What these bad gifts do is provide a central event on an important day, and stimulate laughter and competition. Surprisingly enough, this event that has gone on most years for twenty years, is an effective way to bond at least some of my siblings and I together as we age. (We do have a sourpuss or two who when they show up won’t play.) With my nieces and nephews getting the hang of the game, I suspect the game will outlive us. It may even pass into family lore.

Try it next Christmas. I think you will find that it is way more entertaining than watching the Detroit Lions lose again.

 
The Thinker

An app’s not an app, for all of that

Christmas often brings a new gadget or two under my tree. This Christmas brought me an Amazon Kindle e-book reader, courtesy of my spouse. While I work my way to the conclusion of my paper-bound tome of David Herbert Donald’s Lincoln, I already know that it would be an easier book to read at night in bed on my Kindle.

I have not yet succumbed to the smartphone mania, although I have played with the smartphones of others. I find them neat devices, at least when the wireless spectrum is not too crowded. Arguably, there would be times in my telephone-minimized life when one of these gizmos would prove useful. It would work as a great GPS, and I wouldn’t have to pay $70 to Garmin to get updated maps. I might find it convenient to answer email while mobile, although I have avoided Blackberries specifically so I do not raise the expectation with my boss that I should always be electronically accessible.

Smartphones seem to be much more about the Internet than about the telephone, and generally to do something useful with them you must download an “app” (application), many of which you must purchase. These apps are proving a boon to software developers, who need to pay bills.

I have been following Google’s Chrome for a while now. Many of us are aware of the Google Chrome browser, and it seems to be gaining market share at a fast pace. It is already clearly the number three browser, and most of its share of the browser market is coming at the expense of Internet Explorer. It’s important to distinguish between the Google Chrome Browser and Google Chrome OS, which is a lightweight operating system. Chrome OS is starting to come out of the labs and will soon be embedded into devices like notebook computers. The Chrome browser is available for a number of operating systems.

Just to make things more confusing, Chrome OS is a distinct operating system from Android, Google’s operating system for smartphones. As many of you know who own smartphones, Android and Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS own much of this market. Arguably, BlackBerry OS is the granddaddy in this market, although its devices have traditionally been focused around email. Microsoft as usual is trying to play catch up, and is currently rolling out Microsoft Phone 7 as its smartphone operating system, apparently deciding to give Microsoft Mobile the towel.

For smartphones, apps are a near necessity. Given the small screen size, you should not mind paying for clever apps that make the most of your smartphone. After all, if your smartphone had enough resolution to be a desktop computer, you would not be installing apps. You would surf to your favorite sites instead.

Or would you? The browser makers are now busy standing up app stores. Browsers like Firefox have a proud tradition of user written free extensions that add functionality to the browser. Many of these extensions are being remarketed as “apps” in Mozilla’s soon to be released application store. Arguably, a browser extension is not the same thing as an application. An extension, as the name implies, extends the functionality of the browser. An application, at least in theory, can live separately from the browser. You should not have to run the browser in order to run the app.

Rather, these apps depend on one or more frameworks. Ideally, an app will depend directly on the operating system to handle the messy things that operating systems do. They may also depend on the framework provided by the browser. Mozilla Firefox, for example, is a browser that works on multiple operating systems. Under its hood is a framework that application developers can build on top of that works regardless of your operating system.

By definition, you need to have your browser running in order to run these browser extensions. With apps, it is no longer required. It may be possible to write an app that uses the browser’s framework without needing the browser to actually display anything. Or an app can be written directly for the operating system. Just as Microsoft Word is written to work with Microsoft Windows, Chrome apps are starting to appear that will work directly with Chrome OS.

All this background is necessary to understand where this is leading. Mobile-friendly operating systems in particular are making browsers less important as independently running apps provide a richer experience. This trend is now bleeding over into desktop and laptop computers and endangering the browser and the world wide web.

So why did Google create its own browser called Chrome in the first place? Could they really create a better browsing experience than, say, Mozilla Firefox? Perhaps, but differences in the usability of browsers in general are becoming irrelevant. Some are marginally faster or slower or offer better or fewer features. The Chrome browser is being marketed so heavily that it is hoped that you will accept it and get used to it. With Google products like GMail and Google Docs, you will also get used to having your electronic life “in the cloud” rather than on your personal device. Eventually you may replace your Windows or Mac machine with a lightweight device running Google Chrome OS. When you will do, you will be encouraged to install various apps, many for free, many for money, to do things the snazzy Google Chrome browser cannot do. (This may not be readily apparent if the apps live inside of the Chrome browser, but the effect will be true nonetheless.)

This will in turn tie you closer to Google, its software services and monetize a stream of money toward Google and third party developers, all through apps provided in its store. The result is that you will end up paying more to get content, much of which used to be free. In addition, the browsing experience may be less valuable, as service providers like Amazon spend more of their time and money tuning content to work with applications rather than a browser. If an app takes off the way other viral software did, say, like Visicalc did in the early 1980s, the only way to get content may be through the authorized app, rather than through a browser.

The World Wide Web as we have known it may be ending, as content moves toward being used through apps rather than a browser. The companies that succeed in the apps market hope to be richly rewarded. The Internet, as a neutral platform for acquiring information, may be less useful or, in time, disappear into marginal relevance. Instead, you will need an app to do it. You may find, for example, that to make your flight reservation with Southwest, you must use its authorized app, for which they may charge you a $10 a year annual fee.

Think twice before paying for an app or buying a device running Google’s Chrome OS. You may be locking yourself into proprietary networks, thus balkanizing an Internet where open accessibility has been its strongest feature. My new fancy Amazon Kindle is locked into Amazon’s network. Now I can buy any eBook I want, as long as it is in Kindle format, and therefore as long as I buy it only from Amazon. (Note: Kindles also can show PDF documents, but they are not as easy to read as an eBook.)

 
The Thinker

Let’s throw those bums a bone

Merry Christmas to you, particularly if you happen to be Christian. Presumably, the birth of Jesus means more to you than it does to me. Because I do not believe in Jesus’s  divinity, I cannot claim to be a Christian, except perhaps in spirit. Like most Americans, I participate in many aspects of Christmas anyhow. I am not beyond festooning my house with Christmas lights, putting up a Christmas tree and even putting an angel on its top. Aside from the usual presents under our tree for loved ones who rarely need nor want what I buy them, I was a real Santa Claus this year. It did not involved donning a red suit, but it did involve spending about $100 on presents for a 3 year old girl named Jaylee, for whom I am a Secret Santa. I won’t meet her but she will get things she really wants but which her family cannot afford, including a Dora the Explorer doll and a three wheel scooter. We also spent a few hundred dollars on food for the homeless that we donated to a nearly empty community food bank.

Nuclear moneyed families will use the occasion of the season to tune into various holiday TV specials, some of which are actually religious. Most of these turns out to be feel-good shows, like the latest Hallmark holiday special starring my heartthrob Jewel Staite. In it, apparently two people and a motherless boy find love, not in Jesus, but in each other. Many of these specials are animated, and many are frankly dreadful to watch, even for children. Many contain more saccharine than saccharine itself. Most people would say that A Charlie Brown Christmas is the holiday special that most closely evokes the religious aspects of Christmas. For me, How the Grinch stole Christmas is most appropriate for our modern times. It is clear that Jesus was no fan of the rich. The Grinch epitomizes the soulless, possession-obsessed, anti-poor overlords about to overrun our House of Representatives, people so soulless they cannot wait to cut unemployment benefits and food stamps, even for their own constituents.

If ever there were a time when we needed more of the true Christmas spirit, 2010 would be it. Food banks are bare. Homeless shelters are overflowing. The only way to get Congress to extend unemployment benefits is to continue to borrow obscene amounts of money to give tax cuts to millionaires who don’t need the money and have been living on government largess for much of the last decade. 99’ers (those unemployed for 99 weeks or more) are now out of luck and will get not even coal in their stockings, which at least would provide a little heat. Instead, they will likely soon be found standing in a cold queue for a cot in their local homeless shelter. Letting them eat cake is clearly too rich for them, but apparently cheaper than buying them fruits and vegetables. With their food stamps benefits exhausted and their food pantries empty, their next dinner may come courtesy of the dumpster behind the local Wendy’s restaurant. To add to their misery, Lord, it’s cold out there, at least here in northern Virginia. We’ve gone weeks without seeing forty degrees and today we are getting gusts of wind up to forty miles an hour. It has only occasionally crept above the freezing point.

Not that we, especially us purported Christians, really will care all that much. We will comfort ourselves with the fantasy that through ensuring that our citizens are miserable, we are providing the virtue of self-reliance, all at no cost to our wallets. We are teaching them to fish, so to speak, although many of them are reeled in like fish. Our legislators whine that we cannot afford to put them on Medicaid or give them emergency housing. The social safety net is so yesterday. The homeless can spend their days shuttling between the dumpsters at Wendy’s, the line at the homeless shelter and the emergency room for their pneumonia, which is fine with us because none of these are on our commutes. Out of sight, out of mind.

Surely, all this recession-fed self-reliance and austerity will eventually bear fruit, although so far in Ireland, Greece, England and elsewhere the evidence that austerity has any advantages beyond making the less moneyed more vulnerable and scared cannot be found. All this is necessary because we have been living beyond our modest means, but also because while the rich like being rich a lot, they like being richer even more, and have no qualms if it is done by making the middle class impoverished. It’s good to be a creditor and if you threaten to stop loaning money, even first world countries get scared and start cutting spending.

It would be great if the so called Christians and humanitarians among us would practice what we profess. In two days, we celebrate the birth of Jesus who implored those of us with possessions to give them to the poor. There is little sign that the rich will do so, unless they can be bribed to write it off on their taxes. With the top one percent of the country owning over 42 percent of the national wealth (as of 2007), the rich can afford to pay much more to feed, house and cloth our abundant poor. Much of our national misery is self-inflicted because wealth redistribution is now anathema. It has to be voluntary, but the rich at least cannot seem to summon the will to pony up some small measure of their vast treasure at this miserable time. In short, the vast majority of them are apparently as Christian as Attila the Hun.

So Merry Christmas to all of you who are food, sleep and/or shelter deprived. With luck, the winter won’t leave your old coat too threadbare. As for the rest of us, while raising that glass of eggnog, let’s acknowledge our true feelings about the poor and the homeless, as found in this Bob Rivers’s parody of the of tune “Home for the Holidays”:

Oh there’s food for the homeless on the holidays
‘Cause no matter how filthy and uncombed
If your down on your luck, you can really graze
For the holidays we throw those bums a bone

I met a man who drank and smelled of pee
He was headin’ for the local mission for some homemade pumpkin pie
Pan-handlin’ folks are always hangin’ round by the discount liquor store
And they’re not too brand specific
Gee a buck would be terrific

But there’s food for the homeless on the holidays
There’s a turkey just like Mama made at home
If they pine for redemption from their heathen ways
Come the holidays we’ll throw those bums a bone

Take a piss in your pants til you smell like you’re from France
Put some vino in a crumpled paper sack
Though you’re smellin’ like a beast you’ll treated to a feast
want second? Come right back!

There’s lots of food for the homeless on the holidays
Have some pumpkin pie and ham with provolone
We don’t care if they eat dog food on the other days
When you call a cardboard box your home sweet home
For the holidays we’ll toss those bums a bone

 
The Thinker

How Republicans politically manipulate you

Republicans may be wrong on most things, but that certainly does not mean they are stupid. How many poor Republicans do you know? I cannot think of any offhand. Unless you inherit a boatload of money, you don’t get to be rich by being stupid. You get rich by figuring out ways to manipulate people, organizations and markets so that you come out ahead, usually at someone else’s expense. Perhaps the first rule in becoming rich should be to join the Republican Party.

Lately, Republicans have fine-tuned their machine to deliriously new and exciting heights. The Great Recession scared most of us shirtless, but Republicans saw it as an opportunity. They got us into it in the first place. However, when you don’t care about the consequences of your actions as long as it enriches you and your tribe, and when you do not feel remorse, you also won’t suffer from shame and guilt that most normal people would feel.

Yes, their stock portfolios took a tumble just as mine did, but they had eight profitable years under George W. Bush and largely Republican congresses to fatten their cash coffers. They persuaded Congress, which they essentially purchased, to lower capital gains taxes below their income tax rate, far below it, in fact. This means that investing money is now officially valued more than labor, which means the rest of us will pay disproportionately more in taxes. They also pushed the levers of power to lower their income tax rates as well. The cost has been massive deficits and the movement of wealth from middle and lower classes into the elite’s pockets instead. That this happens really doesn’t bother them at all; it makes them happy. If the government has to borrow money to give them tax cuts, like we’re going to do again with the latest compromise, that’s perfectly fine too. All that really matters is the accumulation of more and more wealth through whatever means works. When you cannot grow an economy because of lots of systemic factors, moving wealth from the bottom half to you is more than acceptable.

So unsurprisingly, Republicans dominate the moneyed professions, such as banking, investments, realty and the like. The one exception might be the law profession, simply because Republicans as a class don’t like it when the legal system can be used sue the rich into making them give up some of their wealth. It’s not sporting for a Republican to play Robin Hood, and that’s what a lot of these trial lawyers do, while often collecting a third of the settlement as their reward. So we get disinformation campaigns on so-called lawsuit abuse, for filing civil suits in court that are inherently lawful.

One of the first rules that the rich learn is that if you want to make money, you have to spend money. If you are of modest means like the rest of us, you don’t have a whole lot of discretionary spending. In fact, Republicans are hoping you are up to your eyeballs in debt, because this just makes you more disenfranchised. Whereas if you are rich, spending ten percent of your income to make sure you stay rich or get richer makes a lot of sense.

With the Supreme Court’s blessing in the Citizens United decision, they now no longer have much in the way of constraints. Under the guise of a corporation or a political action committee, they can spend as much as they want on elections. Unsurprisingly, they use their money to dominate the airwaves to make sure their message is heard. They also spend gobs of money on focus groups to figure out what message or phrases are most likely to influence you. Once they find it, they market it relentlessly.

Therefore, you get campaigns that culminate in an odd sort of distinction: PolitiFact’s infamous Lie of the Year 2010, a carefully crafted lie generated by moneyed Republicans designed specifically to appeal to your worst fears. That it was in fact a lie matters not. There is no penalty for lying in political advertising. The only thing that matters is whether you can sustain the lie long enough for it to have a political effect. Oh, the lie? It came from political consultant Frank Luntz who urged GOP leaders to say that health care reform was “government takeover”. How many of you knew it was a lie? How many of you were convinced, like Sarah Palin may actually believe (but probably no other thinking Republicans), that health care reform meant government death panels were imminent? How many of you were uncertain, but it had just enough plausibility in your mind to alter your vote?

Republicans played voters like a well-tuned fiddle this election season. Voters were already dreadfully anxious because while we were technically out of a recession the unemployment rate hovered near ten percent. So thinking like a Republican, you see opportunity and put out messages designed to feed these anxieties. Accuracy is obviously not important, you just have to influence perceptions and feelings. And when you have a lot of money and can afford to do first class market research and saturate the airwaves, you can translate anxiety into votes and gain sixty-three seats in the House of Representatives alone.

Democrats unwittingly aided and abetted Republicans, proving ineffectual at best at countering these messages. This was in part due to the large volume of salvos being hurdled at them. If you are forced into a defensive game, this eventually means that you will lose, because to win you have to score points. With money, it is possible to put the opposition on the defense most of the time. Rest assured that Republican political consultants have prepared poll tested responses in advance for any response they will get from Democrats to one of their many lies and exaggerations. Mainly they know that we voters are simple creatures. We cannot handle too much complexity, so they keep repeating the same talking points relentlessly until they sort of morph into a new conventional wisdom.

Any questions? How to change this dynamic will be the subject of a future post.

 
The Thinker

Some moderate weather, please

If I am sick of extremes in politics then I am also sick of extremes in temperature. Living as I do only some twenty miles from Capitol Hill, certainly the center of hot air in the United States, you would think some of that hot air would be headed my way right now. It might, you know, chase away this unwelcome winter that most of us east of the Mississippi are dealing with.

Too much. Too much hot air in Washington. Too much global warming (2010 was our hottest year in recorded memory, including here in the Washington D.C. area), too much extreme snowfall (Snowmageddon and Snowpocalypse, all within the last twelve months), too much extreme weather in general. Now this: days of unrelenting arctic weather and our first brush of snow for the season. Lots of hot air and lots of cold air, but I don’t recall too many days when things were just uniformly comfortable. Perhaps we had plenty of days like this in 2010, but my fading memory does not remember many of them.

No, I am stuck in the misery of the present. Winter does not officially start for a week, but it arrived early nonetheless. The Midwest was largely shut down by a wayward mass of arctic air. A stadium’s roof collapses in Minneapolis from nearly two feet of white stuff. Here we have been dealing with nearly two weeks of continuously below freezing temperatures and brisk northwesterly winds. Maybe it’s not Chicago but that’s the point, it’s not Chicago. We deserve better than this.

We deserve better than cars that hesitate to start. We deserve better than, not just mere gusts of wind, but steady freezing winds of twenty to 30 miles an hour day and night, yet with occasional gusts wherein Mother Nature showed us her power. On our screened in porch, Mother Nature decided the door had to blow open twice. The darn thing is screened. The wind is supposed to blow through it.

I feel like Nanook of the North, just (until today) without the snow. Going outside is an act of courage. It involves donning my warmest, stuffed and fleece-filled coat, often with a sweater on underneath it, my thickest gloves that recede past my wrists toward my elbows, my warmest stocking gap and a scarf. It’s still not enough. Facing into the wind feels not just cold, it feels sadistic.

I enjoy a window facing office, but not so much in the winter. I arrive at work and my office is cold. There is a heater by the window that I immediately crank up. I also put on my extra sweater, which goes on top of my long sleeve shirt and undershirt. It is still not enough to feel warm. All morning the heat pours from the window heater but it is never enough until sometime in the afternoon when the sun finally shines through my window and the high outside makes it to 24 degrees. That seems to do the trick.

I am rethinking my notion of retiring in New England. Of course, I enjoy a brisk autumn day, but who needs their long and miserable winters? Who needs the constant snow shoveling? Maybe New Englanders, like Chicagoans, get used to it. I think I am too old. I don’t like heat. I don’t like extreme cold. Give me lots and lots of moderate and comfortable weather. Give me weather that is boring, but predictable. The lows might creep into the fifties and highs would rarely get much into the eighties. That is what I want now, even if I have to deal with long, dreary and wet days to get it.

Some place like Oregon, perhaps. We had close to a week in Oregon this summer, but we also spent a couple of days in the dreary Oregon coastal murk. However, it was a lovely dreary coastal murk. Back home, the ozone was at unhealthy levels, the heat was frequently reaching triple digits, massive thunderstorms were leaving tens of thousands without power and the humidity, when you ventured outside your air conditioned sanctum, caught itself in your lungs and oppressed you with its heaviness.

Someday I will escape it for good. I will retire somewhere where living is comfortable and I rarely need to either wear shorts or a coat. I’ll be like Mister Rogers and be content in a light cardigan sweater. I’ll feel mellow. If I never have to deal with a thunderstorm again, that will be fine. I’ve had my fill of them. In Oregon, thunderstorms are almost unheard of. They may have to deal with the occasional plume of volcanic ash or earthquake, but they happen very rarely when they happen at all. Weather fronts, when they decide to arrive, arrive slowly. You may not even know that they came. This would be fine with me.

No Sun Belt retirement for me. There will likely be no New England retirement for me either, although hopefully I can pay extended visits during the temperate times of the year. Instead, give me a home where the weather, like its people, is ordinary and moderate.

 
The Thinker

The Blu-Ray thing seems ancillary

Generally, I will wait for a technology to make things cheap before I buy into it. It looks like I will be waiting quite a while for an Internet accessible cell phone, since I refuse to pay $50 a month or more for the privilege of being able to surf the web remotely on a tiny device. However, I have faith in American ingenuity. It may take another five years or so, but eventually I will ditch my delightfully dorky $10 Virgin Mobile cell phone for an internet accessible version with more features and zillions of cool apps. My price point is about $20 a month. This is about what I pay right now every quarter to Virgin Mobile, which is very affordable if you only send or receive a half dozen or so calls a month. (I do email, not phone calls.)

I bought a high definition TV a few years ago to enjoy those HD cable channels, but I was waiting for Blu-Ray disc players to come down to a price that I was willing to pay. The price finally arrived. This weekend I bought a nice souped up Samsung BD-6800 Blu-Ray player for $199 along with a Blu-Ray version of the movie Inception. I installed it last night (a surprisingly painless experience) and spent part of this afternoon configuring it.

Inception looks great on my HDTV, although I now realize our Surround Sound system is about two generations behind. With my Blu-Ray player, I could be enjoying HDMI digital sound. Instead, I have this Dolby Digital DTS sound system. Fortunately, sound systems, even for seven-channel sound are also surprisingly affordable. So this will likely be another gift for myself that I will put under the tree this year.

While refrigerators still cannot assemble a shopping list for us, my Blu-Ray player is so feature rich that its ability to play Blu-Ray discs is almost ancillary. Apparently, what I have purchased is an optimized portal for high definition and high fidelity content, agnostic about whether it comes off a disc, off the cable network, or off the Internet. In fact, I can surf the Internet with my Samsung Blu-Ray player, or at least portions of it. It took a bit of configuring, but once configured I found I could see my Picasa web photo albums on my high definition TV, courtesy of my Blu-Ray player, and its wireless card. So next time friends drop by and I want to show them pictures of our vacation, I can do so easily on my widescreen TV.

First, I had to teach it how to access our network. Our wireless network is encrypted, so the hardest part was finding our WEP key, which my wife keeps on a scrap of paper under mounds of paper on her desk. Once I had found it, it was straightforward to make the player just another device on our network.

My Blu-Ray player likes being on the Internet. Once it knew there was a network available, the first thing it did was nag me to upgrade its firmware, so I could have the latest features. This process took about five minutes. Then it started downloading all these apps. There is now no need for me to rush upstairs to my Mac to read Facebook; my Blu-Ray player will deliver Facebook to me. It will also deliver Twitter, a local forecast from Accuweather, and allow me to play Texas Holdem, should I be so inclined. (No worries there.)

The Accuweather app may actually be useful, since I may not have the patience to wait for weather on the sixes on The Weather Channel. As for the other apps, they are more to show what is possible than anything else. Lacking a real keyboard, only a masochist would try to post a tweet using the handheld remote that comes with the Blu-Ray player. I am betting though that Samsung or some third party provides a compatible wireless keyboard just in case you do want a more usable user interface.

Blu-Ray discs are nice to own, but apparently are now a somewhat antiquated means of getting high definition movies. Once the apps are installed, you can download high definition movies or DVDs from your favorite content provider. Netflix is one of many companies now in this business. To stream its movies, I don’t need to spend a hundred dollars or more for a box from Netflix. My Samsung player, like most of these players these days, is set to stream movies from Netflix or other services. I just need to upgrade my Netflix account, mess with my app settings and I am good to go.

It’s hard to imagine a media that my Samsung player cannot play. I can rule out cassettes and 8-tracks. If it’s on a disk, it can play it. Blu-Ray, DVDs, CDs, MP3s and innumerable variation of these formats are all built in. There is a convenient port for a flash drive on the front of the player as well. The only format that may frustrate me is DiVX. So many of the DiVX codexes are licensed, which means I would have to point the player to a license file. This seems an unlikely problem, as I am not aware that I have any content in a DiVX format.

How long before the Blu-Ray CD becomes obsolete, and all our movies reside somewhere either in our own personal internet cloud, on some ubiquitous terabyte hard drive in our player or somewhere on our personal network? I am starting to think that the reason my player was so cheap is that companies like Netflix and Blockbuster are subsidizing players to get my share of future business.

It looks like they will probably succeed.

 
The Thinker

Bloomberg plus The Coffee Party in 2012?

Michael Bloomberg for President? The mayor of New York City is making noises like he may be running for president. Anyhow, so suggests Washington Post columnist Dan Balz in today’s paper, quoting the $18 billion three-term mayor of the Big Apple from various recent speeches. One thing is for sure: it’s hard to pin Bloomberg down to a political party or ideology. He used to be a Democrat, found it convenient to run for mayor as a Republican, then when he last ran for mayor decided he was an Independent. No question about it: it helps to be a billionaire. A month before he was reelected to a third term (for which he had to cajole the City Council to amend the city’s charter), he had spent $63 million on his campaign, drowning out his closest opposition sixteen to one. In a Democratic city, he won grudging respect from the governed. His approval ratings hovered in the sixties for a long time and are now in the mid forties. For a politician these days, those are good numbers

As a partisan Democrat, I have a grudging respect for the guy. Good: he supports same sex marriage and gun control, although I suspect the latter just within his city. He raised taxes in 2003 and as a result steadied the city’s precarious financial position. He believes in immigration reform and is generally pro-environmental. Not so good: he thinks us lefties are, well, kind of weird. He’s convinced we think that only more government will solve problems when we really want government to do the people’s business when other means clearly don’t work. He does not want to decriminalize marijuana although he admits to having used it (and enjoyed it). He considers himself a fiscal conservative, although he is not the kind that Grover Norquist would recognize. He supported the War in Iraq. He is not exactly anti-development and has taken the side of developers over preservationists. In 2004, this very smart man endorsed George W. Bush for his second term at the Republican National Convention. He must have been smoking that stuff he does not want to decriminalize.

Will Bloomberg run for president in 2012? An astute businessman, Balz suggests he won’t unless he is convinced that the polls suggest it is viable. History would be stacked against him. Arguably, Ross Perot’s run as an independent in 1992 put Bill Clinton in the Oval Office. Still, these are unique times. The country is deeply divided but there remains an independent middle deeply disgusted with both parties. If this group can constitute a critical mass that is greater than the mass of partisan Republicans and Democrats, Bloomberg could win. With $18 billion, he can self finance a national campaign.

I sometimes wonder if those of us who are partisan are just as sick of the partisanship as the rest of the country. I cannot be alone. I am deeply scared for our country. President Obama’s most recent attempt to tack toward the middle has left me very troubled. Yet, I am not sure if I were in his shoes that I could have done anything differently. The current political dynamics stink and the only way to move even a very modest agenda seems to require dances with the devil. I guess I should not be surprised that Republicans will put tax cuts over deficit reduction. It is just crazy insane to borrow hundreds of billions of dollars to finance tax cuts to multimillionaires who not only don’t need it but cannot even think of ways to spend it. Republican audacity simply knows no limits.

Our country desperately needs a few things that seem likely to elude us. We need to be one united states again, instead of the sectarian divided states that we clearly are. We need politicians to behave reasonably, not to be rewarded for ever more virulent and extreme positions. Instead, we have the irresistible force colliding with the immovable object. All that generates is great destruction, destruction that achieves the aims of neither the left, nor the right, nor the middle but likely will make the Chinese happy.

For me this is Bloomberg’s appeal. We already have a Congress overwhelmingly white and wealthy, but we don’t have a whole lot of people in Congress who can act rationally. This is because no matter what side you are on, you don’t get there unless you echo the party line. President Obama’s latest capitulation to Republicans is a case in point. Democrats, at least House Democrats, are outraged and rightly feel they have been betrayed. Obama can stalk the center, but he is going to find it a lonely spot. It may sway independents and maybe even get him reelected, but it won’t grow the center. What’s the point of having a second term if it will be one where he is continuously hamstrung and where little of any real benefit results? Instead, Obama will become an even larger piñata, with Democrats taking swings at him as well as Republicans.

Bloomberg doesn’t come with that baggage. Is he a Republican, Democrat or Independent? Does it matter? No, because neither side will find a reason to like him and will only feel threatened by his candidacy, should he run. Bloomberg’s credentials as mayor, his pragmatism, his fearlessness to tell things and they are, and (let’s face it) his great wealth that gives him the means to do so, are compelling credentials, just the sort of stuff we need. Which is why, although I am a partisan Democrat, I might have to vote for him. Why? Because our national situation is so bad that whether the president is Republican or Democrat, their political affiliation would only fan the flames of further national dysfunction. To get beyond it, the first step may be an independent mediator in the form of an independent presidential candidate with the right credentials, the right attitude, and the money to challenge all the political parties and the entrenched special interests out there. Bloomberg’s got all these things.

If I were to give Bloomberg advice, it would be not to run as an Independent, but to run under the Coffee Party banner. The Coffee Party is arguably not a real party, but it could become one quickly enough. The Coffee Party is simply a bunch of moderate and reasonable people, with a slightly leftward bent, sick of excessive partisanship and incivility by both parties. They believe we can rise beyond our partisanship and ideology and just be reasonable. Like Michael Bloomberg has demonstrated as mayor.

It’s not widely know, but Abraham Lincoln was the first Republican president. The Republican Party coalesced around the old American Whig and other parties after the Whigs disintegrated. They were the counterpoint to the Democratic Party, which in its day was unmistakable from today’s Republican Party. Abraham Lincoln himself was a Whig for most of his life. The time for a party of moderates may be rising. The time for deeply polarizing Democratic and Republican parties may be waning.

I am convinced that pragmatic and moderate people are the majority in this country; they are just not heard. Bloomberg, affiliated and running under a Coffee Party might sweep not only himself into office, but throw out both Republicans and Democrats from Congress. Moderate Americans just need a viable alternative and need to rise up en masse. Right now, they don’t have a party which is viably centrist. It’s either the devil they know or the devil they don’t.

If such a party were viable and if Bloomberg were associated with it, I might switch. More than anything else, we must govern in a civil and reasonable fashion again. Continuing down our current path yields disunity and a rapid descent into second world status. As a patriot, I cannot stand for it.

 
The Thinker

Review: Unstoppable

We live in a complex age where brains wins over brawn and many big problems require teams of experts to fix. That is why we crave an occasional special type of action-adventure movie. It should not require the Mission Impossible crew, but give an opportunity for some ordinary hardhat Joes (and Janes) to solve a critical problem through gumption, great risk and practical knowledge. Problems like, say, stopping a coaster (a runaway train) loaded with deadly chemicals that is careening down the railroads of central Pennsylvania.

The movie Unstoppable is based on the true story of the CSX-8888 train that in 2001 ran for two hours by itself across Ohio. Central Ohio, where this real coaster ran, is pretty flat. Not so with central Pennsylvania, which makes for a much more suspenseful location for a disaster movie, particularly when this high-speed locomotive will have to travel through a city with an elevated track and a tight curve. The producers of this movie of course invent other ways to heighten suspense: putting schoolchildren on a train on a collision course with the train and, of course, lots and lots of scenes of squealing and flaming brakes. There is also an omnipresent news helicopter flying insanely close to the train. Most importantly, ordinary blue-collar railroad workers are willing to try all sorts of risky things to stop the train.

Since it is an action adventure movie, it should have some good guys and bad guys. The bad guys are at corporate busy putting their company’s bottom line first. The good guys are train engineer Frank Barnes (Denzel Washington), conductor Will Colson (Chris Pine), and the kick-ass yardmaster Connie Hooper (Rosario Dawson), all of who will risk life, limb and their job to do what is right. That’s what I love about blue collar types. They tend to be relentlessly mission focused, even (as in the case of Frank) with a forced early retirement looming. Sometimes, like with Will, their personal lives are in great upheaval during momentous events; he is estranged from his wife and kids. Despite these pressures and a likely huge train disaster that odds on will kill them, they do what they feel they must do. It’s like a reflex.

Unstoppable also features a good federal employee. This may be news to Republicans, but there are plenty of us out there. Inspector Werner (Kevin Corrigan) of the Federal Railroad Administration happens to be in the dispatch station when the crisis occurs and provides crucial guidance to help solve the problem. He also provides specific guidance on the lethality of molten phenol, which the locomotive is pulling.

I last saw Chris Pine in a movie as a young James T. Kirk. Here he plays an angst-filled young train conductor with a day old beard, whose family name may be the sole reason for his fast rise in the railroad business. Conducting sure does not seem to be Will’s skill. Even though his marital issues are distracting him, Will seems out of his league, and knows it. It’s probably good that he is partnered with a seasoned engineer like Frank. Perhaps because things are going badly at home, it is easier for him to attempt some of the many risky scenarios for stopping Train 777.

The railroad tries a number of strategies to stop Train 777 that predictably fail and remain tone deaf to suggestions of their employees down on the tracks. It takes the two hardhats Frank and Will, a spunky yardmaster not afraid to tell the Vice President of operations how she really feels, along with Ned the welder (Lew Temple) in a very fast pickup to stop the unstoppable train. And, of course, they will succeed. You sense that going in, especially if you remember the news reports of the CSX-8888 incident.

The movie is reasonably heart stopping anyhow. The movie does a good job of pulling you into the railroad business, if only for a little while. The Appalachian towns of Central Pennsylvania look dilapidated, but there you can find the mythical “real America”, if your definition of real includes a preponderance of manly, gritty, often overweight blue-collar types in jeans, hardhats and work boots. The movie includes some impressive and well-staged train collisions that might alone be worth the price of admittance.

If you start watching Unstoppable, you probably won’t be able to stop watching it, which is a sign of an engaging but not spectacular movie.

3.2 out of four-stars.

 
The Thinker

The Great Regression

The Great Recession sure isn’t/wasn’t much fun. According to economists, we have been out of the recession for a while, but for most Americans, with 9.6% unemployment we feel still deeply mired in it. We probably won’t feel like we are out of it until unemployment is around six percent or so, and we have recovered at least most of the wealth we lost in the 2000s.

Republicans of course are saying they want to create jobs. Naturally, the best way to do it is to follow their economic theories, which are largely the same theories that got us into our current mess. This time however there is a new wrinkle. They say this time they will honestly and sincerely shrink the size of government and balance the budget too, all while ensuring that no taxes go up. Just like they said they were going to do the last few times and missed the mark by a few trillion dollars.

President Obama tried to head them off at the pass this week by proposing to freeze federal salaries for two years. Republicans of course have a much more aggressive idea. To start, they want to cut federal jobs by ten percent and reduce federal wages by ten percent. Surely, this is just the tonic we need to reduce unemployment: pink slip hundreds of thousands of federal employees and cut their wages to boot, by at least ten percent. Oh, and those federal pensions sure look like they can be cut too, even though federal employees have been faithfully contributing to their own pension plans all this time. It’s not stealing if the government passes a law saying it’s legal!

If history is any guide, this latest attempt to shrink the size of government will in fact grow it. There have been ceilings on the number of federal employees for much of my federal career. This made it hard to attract new talent, but it certainly opened the doors to contractors who rushed into federal agencies to do much of our work, albeit with a substantial markup, generally in the thirty to 50 percent range. This allowed contractors to give money to Republicans so they could pass laws allowing even more contractors to be hired. It was a profitable cycle for both sides. Republicans may succeed in cutting federal salaries by ten percent or more, but when those private sector bids come in don’t expect that they will match reduced federal salaries.

Republicans have all sorts of curious ideas. Some of them, for thirty seconds or so, almost sound plausible. Most of them though sound strange at best and horrifying at worse. Conservatives have apparently decided that the further you can roll back time, the better things will be. What is amazing is that they may have the votes to enact some of these wacky ideals into law.

Some years back when some Republicans opined that some part of social security money should go into private accounts, Americans rose up in arms. It was one of the reasons the Democrats regained control of Congress in 2006. This time they want to make you wait until you are nearly seventy to collect benefits and when you collect them, to give you fewer dollars, all in the name of making social security solvent. Apparently, Americans haven’t bothered to educate themselves on the matter because a lot of them are now nodding their heads. Yes, they are saying, I need to retire later and get less of my own money back so that a system that is fully solvent for more than the next twenty years with no changes whatsoever can use its surpluses to pay for other costs of government. It makes sense that I should sacrifice my retirement!

Republicans also have their eyes on Medicare. Their solution to rising costs: give people vouchers to buy insurance. Of course, these same Republicans also want to repeal recent health care legislation, which is the first meaningful attempt to actually reign in health care costs by forcing efficiencies and fair play. Vouchers are a back door way to undo the alleged socialism of Medicare but won’t stop the spiraling health costs. This means, of course, that seniors who are not rich will be incrementally priced out of health care when they need it the most. What a satisfying way to stop “socialism”.

As weird and radical as these ideas are, these remain some of the tamer ideas. Republicans have much wackier ideas in their arsenal, all of which follow a general theme: let’s regress America back to the 19th century, no the 18th! How far can they go?

Well, there are plenty of Republicans who want to repeal the 14th amendment. This constitutional amendment says if you are born in America, you are a citizen. We have had the 14th amendment for 142 years, more than half as long as we have been a country, but these “conservative” Republicans now consider it wrong and radical. The animus of course is they are dreadfully concerned that there are too many people not like them living here now, you know, Hispanics and the like. If you can’t deport them, at least you can disenfranchise them. As you will see, other Republicans have much more aggressive ways to disenfranchise Americans.

Republicans are also forming a long line to repeal the 17th amendment. It used to be that state legislatures elected senators. They want to go back to those days, disenfranchising you from voting for the senator of your choice. Their argument: this is the way it was written when the constitution was set up, so it must be better than what we have now because original intent must be better than subsequent amendments. Never mind that it’s never a cakewalk to get any constitutional amendment enacted. It requires 2/3 of both houses of Congress plus three quarters of the states, a very high hurdle. They figure, if it was good enough in 1783, it’s got to be better than what we have in 2010.

When I first heard that some Republicans wanted to repeal the 17th amendment, I honestly thought it was a joke. Who in their right mind could possibly believe in something this nutty and antidemocratic? Much to my surprise, these people are serious. However, going back to the 19th century is not going back far enough some Republicans. To be faithful to our constitution, we have to go back to original intent. And in the very old days, states decided the criteria for who could vote and who could not. Generally, you could vote only if you were (a) white (b) male and (c) property owners. In short, you were not an “enfranchised” citizen unless you had enough capital to own property.

Just two days ago we learned that Tea Party Nation leader Judson Philips believes that denying the vote to those who do not have property is a good idea. “And that makes a lot of sense, because if you’re a property owner you actually have a vested stake in the community,” Philips actually said. He did not call for only white men to have this privilege, so perhaps that means he is a secret progressive.

I am not a renter. Yet, it occurs to me that if Philips had his way I would still not be able to vote. I happen to be male and white, which is good as far as original intent is concerned, but I do not own my property. Rather, I have a mortgage. You only really own your property if you pay off your mortgage balance. I have about $80,000 to go. Instead, all I really own is the equity in my house, which is not actual property. Most likely, you could not vote either, which would mean mostly rich Republicans would constitute the voter pool, something that doesn’t seem to bother Philips, naturally. After all, they are vested in the country because they have property, much of which was purchased with unearned inheritances.

If there were any doubt who Republicans really care about, you can see it in their actions over extending the Bush era “temporary” tax cuts. In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised Republicans would block any bill in the lame duck session of Congress unless tax cuts are first extended to the wealthy. Republicans have donned their Scrooge hat and are also blocking extended unemployment benefits for the chronically unemployed, a new START treaty with Russia and hosts of other things.

If all Republican fantasies came true and only property owners could vote, I suspect reverting to the 18th century would not be far enough. There is no limit to how far back conservatives can go. What they want is a Great Regression. Was feudalism really all that bad? And what’s wrong with a little polygamy? It was fine for many a Jewish leader, and the original Semite himself Abraham had plenty of wives.

Abraham probably didn’t pay anything in taxes either. I suspect this is their ultimate goal: to revert us way beyond the Dark Ages, into the pre-Biblical days where you lived by your wits, government did not exist and all were free to be savages preying on their fellow men. Justice was an eye for an eye; it was perfectly fair and natural. Their actions suggest this is precisely where they are going. Do not stop at Go and do not collect $200.

Yet we keep voting these clowns into office. It’s like the rest of us are abused wives. Yes, I must have done something wrong because he beat me, so beat me some more. I deserve it!

Let’s hope we all sober up by 2012.

 

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