Monday, January 31, 2011

The Long, Improbable Road to Dallas: The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. The Green Bay Packers

New Orleans knows how to throw a party. So when the New Orleans Saints won Super Bowl XLIV--their first ever Super Bowl victory--they knew what to do. The long-suffering Saints, forever losing, routinely written off mere weeks each season, had now finally reached the ultimate goal of every NFL team. And if there was ever a city in America that needed it, it was New Orleans. Decades of neglect and mismanagement had left the city a mess; propped up by tradition and culture but rotting from within. And after Hurricane Katrina destroyed this veneer and exposed its massive flaws for the entire world to examine from the safety of helicopter cameras and empty rhetoric, the city needed a win. From Bourbon Street to the Superdome, the dank, seedy, hazy atmosphere of New Orleans suddenly got a whole lot brighter. 

It was also a dank, seedy, hazy atmosphere a month later in a backwoods bar in Georgia. Two-time Super Bowl champ Ben Roethlisberger*, still on the favored-end cusp of being in the same breath as Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, was getting his freak on. Big, clumsy, and stumbling, as football players are wont to be in any situation in a world built for smaller, less athletic individuals, Ben's sound judgment and lightning-quick reflexes displayed for sixteen-plus weeks every year was sorely lacking. The night, as recounted, is a mess of unverifiable chaos, deliberately confused memories, and, no doubt, subtle intimidation. The results would, for some, disappoint a city used to holding their envoys to a higher standard, while others saw it as a confirmation of what they already suspected. This is not how respected Super Bowl-bound teams start their seasons. But the minute the Saints hoisted that Lombardi trophy, the contest for Super Bowl XLV was on.
Let us back up. 2009 was a unexpected disaster for the Steelers, especially after coming off of their previous Super Bowl victory against the Arizona Cardinals. After a respectable beginning, they hit a catastrophic five-game skid, losing to decent teams but bottoming out with losses to two of the worst teams in the league at the time, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The playoffs were out of the question, and many people were scratching their heads in befuddlement. They still had a lot of the pieces that had worked the season before. And, sure, they probably had a Super Bowl hangover, as most teams do. But this year, it looked different.  They came out swinging and were destined to repeat again. This was not to be. Fans with short memories and little patience—i.e., Steeler fans—were starting to call for coach Mike Tomlin’s head.

Still, in 2010, little was changed. Antwaan Randle El came back—a veteran of the 2005 Super Bowl Steeler victory, but took a short, well-paid vacation to Washington in the meantime—and a few other players were tweaked. But while other teams have no problems hiring dubious ne'er-do-wells to fill out their rosters—hi, Cincinnati!—the Steelers prided themselves with players who respected themselves and the game.

But things had changed, and not without foreshadowing. Sports heroes are forgiven for a lot, for a variety of reasons, mostly involving pending wagers that don’t cover the spread. Big Ben's troubles in Georgia were still percolating, so the timing couldn’t be worse for one Santonio Holmes. He was already on the Do Not Fly list for the Steelers organization because of various violence and marijuana-related offenses. When he allegedly threw a glass at a club patron and cut her face two months after Roethlisberger’s troubles in Georgia, he was saved only by huge question marks about his involvement. But, finally, when the alarm went off one morning and he casually tweeted that it was time to “Wake N Bake,” the Steelers organization had had enough of his casual drug use and unprofessionalism and traded him to the New York Jets. A once-promising first-round Super Bowl MVP wide receiver seen as a replacement to the good but aging Hines Ward was unceremoniously traded away for a fifth-round draft pick. 

Ben, simmering under the spotlight, wasn’t faring much better. Cops were involved, as were lawyers, media spin doctors, and—most ominously—NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. What happened that drunken night in Georgia will probably always be a mystery, but it ended up with pending sexual assault charges against Ben--something that had already happened once a few years ago, but with much shakier (and flakier) evidence. While criminal charges were obviously the biggest worry, Goodell 's influence could greatly affect the quarterback's fate--which is precisely what happened. When the top cop in Midgeville declared that no charges could be filed given the evidence gathered, he still held Ben morally responsible. Since that sort of thing isn’t what one goes to jail for**, Goodell took over where the law couldn’t: a six game suspension, with the possibility of being reduced to four if Ben took a battery of psychological tests and hung out at the stadium selling Girl Scout cookies or something.

So as the pre-season started, the average Steeler fan was peering into a dark, unfortunate tunnel. A star wide receiver and a top-tier QB were gone. Three QBs, none of Roethlisberger’s caliber, would be leading the team. Pittsburgh is a team not used to starting their seasons without hope, so many were understandably worried. Fans placed their stock on the dependable and able Charlie Batch—a Pittsburgh native, a solid player, perhaps a little fragile, but exactly the sort of straight-laced body the NFL (and the Steelers in particular) needed to see in a time of moral turmoil. And then—inexplicably—coach Tomlin refused to play him.

Instead, Tomlin let the two non-Charlie-Batch QBs fight it out, so the season would start with either the decent but fragile Byron Leftwich or decent-until-lately Dennis Dixon. Normally, this competition for a top spot brings out the best in people, but when you already had a pretty good player waiting to play it confused a lot of people. Tomlin chose Leftwich who then caused everyone's sphincter to pucker when he was injured in the last pre-season game. This left only two viable quarterbacks--Dixon and Batch. So Tomlin did what he should have done in the first place and bumped Batch to be the starting quarterback for the regular season.

Oh, no, wait. That's specifically not what he did. He went with the subpar Dixon, who had played decent in the past but had an awful preseason and training camp, where he was kind enough to give away a lot of footballs to a lot of devoted fans, though not by choice. And while he won the first two games, they were in spite of, not because of, his performance. Dixon lasted all of those two games plus part of a third when he was injured against the Tennessee Titans--when you have more quarterbacks than most teams and still manage to injure two of them, there is a slight cause for alarm.

Conspiracy theorists alleged that Batch's position as the team's go-to guy for the player's union and the pending lockout for the 2011 NFL season was a reason he was benched. These fears were confirmed when, indeed, Batch was sent in to replace Dixon, and the conspiracy theorists were proven correct. But when it was all said and done, the Steelers had managed to come out of Ben's suspension period 3-1, tied with most of the better teams in the league.

Out of (I'm sure) complete coincidence, the Steelers then had the next week off, and then came back against the much-hated and/or -pitied Cleveland Browns. There was a lot of speculation as to how the crowd's reaction to Ben's arrival would manifest itself. The answer was: not a whole lot. People cheered, not booed, but football was bigger than any Ben Roethlisberger, and so they went on to defeat the Browns, 28-10.

It was in this game that the Saga of the Grand Conspiracy To Bring The Steelers Down continued. Specifically, Roger Goodell began fining linebacker James Harrison for a series of brutal hits. With the off-season pressure from former NFL players concerned about concussions and other long-term injuries, it was clear that Harrison was made out to be an example to the rest of the league to stop making such hits. (In football terms, these brutal, finable hits were also referred to as "plays.") The exact definition seemed to drift from game to game as to what was considered an ugly hit, but the fact that the few others that were fined got much publicity and other, equally devastating hits by other teams went unnoticed started to become an issue. Harrison at one point declared that he may just hang up his cleats and retire to a lucrative life of...well, doing something else. But after thinking about it--and no doubt reviewing the situation with his agent and his contract--decided to solider on and keep playing, fines or no. 

Most fans put up with this, right up until a game against the Oakland Raiders. During this otherwise unmemorable 35-3 rout, one Richard Seymour punched Roethlisberger in the face after the play was dead, drawing blood and giving Tomlin a few moments of thought to subbing in Owen Wilson while Ben recuperated. More glaring than the blood or the dramatic ejection from the game of Seymour was the fact that no flags were thrown, nor were any fines levied. This cemented to many in Pittsburgh that a cabal of underhanded agents were trying to destroy any chances the Steelers had in making the playoffs, with their dismal 7-3 record as a clear indication of guilt.

The remainder of the regular season, to be fair, was fairly mundane. Aside from the divisional game against the Baltimore Ravens and a disappointing but somewhat expected loss to the New York Jets, the balance of the schedule was full of snorefests like the NFL Network Thursday night "highlight" game against the Carolina Panthers or the dead-in-the-water Buffalo Bills game (which ended up being surprisingly close). The only drama in the later games was regarding Jeff Reed, a once lovable and accurate kicker who had chalked up enough disorderly conduct and resisting arrest incidents to make everyone avert their eyes when he walked in the room, above and beyond the fact that it was statistically likely that he would be wearing a pink wifebeater and gold highlights. After missing several gimme field goals during the season, he then missed a few crucial kicks in the game against New England. A post-game interview started with the phrase "I'm not going to blame anyone," and then proceeded to blame everyone possible for his dismal performance--the media, the fans, the other players, the coaching staff, the Rooneys, the Penguins, the ghost of the Chief, the sun, the Federal Reserve, etc. A day or two later, this nine-year veteran of the Steelers was no more. He then went to the San Francisco 49ers, where, presumably, their paper towel dispensers are always full and difficult to destroy.

When it was all said and done, the Steelers ended up first in the AFC North, and beat the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets to head to Dallas for the Super Bowl against the Green Bay Packers. The comparisons are trite and overused--"two blue-collar cities," "teams with storied franchises," "huge fan bases that travel well." We get it. This isn't World War II. It's not working with the homeless or working a shift at the sick kid's ward at the hospital. It's not even acing the SATs. When it's all said and done, people love to pay to watch street criminals chase a ball around a muddy field for millions of dollars. But that said, drawing on the dramatic and unpromising start that the Pittsburgh Steelers had--a suspect quarterback, a doped-up Super Bowl MVP, two injured backups, capricious fines, purse-carrying kickers--the fact that they are in the Big Game is, indeed, a story that's more interesting to tell than less.

After decades of lopsided contests for the Super Bowl, this year it appears like it is going to be a good old-fashioned gridiron smashmouth grudge match, the way football ought to be played--in a billion-dollar stadium owned by a rich crazy Texan***. As they say, how 'bout that?

*I will most likely refer to Ben Roethlisberger throughout this column as "Ben," not because of any affection or familiarity, but having to type out "Roethlisberger" each time I refer to him is tantamount to a war crime.
**Although, technically, by law, this entitles you to a reality TV show.
***Also known as a Texan.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Circus Maximus

The circus always kind of creeped me out.

Though I am not sure why. If there are three things I love, it is 1) exotic animals doing ridiculous things they should never be doing, like riding a trike while wearing a birthday hat and cooking breakfast for the Canadian army, 2) foods that are normally should not fried getting fried and possibly fried a second time, and 3) watching homeless people and meth addicts desperate for money hawking balloon animals and "souvenir" mirrors with bootleg classic rock band logos on them. So you would think that the circus would be at the top of my list. But, in reality, it isn't.

 And for my next trick, I will be 500 "burgers" in tomorrow's concession stand

First things first: regardless of anything else, I love me some crazy animal shit.* What I don't like is that you have to navigate and/or endure a large amount of nonsense to get to that point. I am duly unimpressed by acrobats and high-wire acts and human cannonballs. I once fell off the bed while also changing the channel to 30 Rock and did not spill my pop, so anything those charlatans throw my way is vastly overrated. So I don't really feel like waiting twenty minutes while some nimrod wearing an outfit picked up at a roller derby outlet store juggles flaming sticks of some sort just so I can watch a tiger that reads A Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man out loud in Latin. It doesn't really seem worth it.

Zebras, Tigers, Donkeys, Bears, Lions, and Elephants all agree: they would rather be shoved in crates and fed sawdust casserole for the rest of our lives than read any more James Joyce. That guy just sucks.

I'm not one of those fellows who is scared of clowns. I don't get weirded out by them, nor am I one of those people that claims to be terrified of clowns rather than admit they're just kinda creepy and they'd rather stay home and play Black Ops than deal with parking in a field for twelve bucks. But I also am heartily unimpressed with clowns as a form of entertainment. There's a certain level of nostalgia and regret, of course; clowning is a dying art, and kids today aren't impressed by balloon animals or squirting flowers unless it can sent a message to all of their friends in 140 characters or less. Yet, they are still about one step ahead of mimes in my book, with the saving grace being that clowns will deliberately injure themselves for laughs, while mimes will just smoke a cigarette and strike for health care than lower themselves to do a pratfall.

And the food--well, the food is a double-edged sword. The food is so awful--and by awful I mean mind-numbingly delicious--that I want to eat everything, and then immediately regret my choice, whatever it may be. It does not help that most circuses are held in the summer.

Me: Awesome! This deep-fried Oreo Cheesecake on a stick tastes wonderful!

[four minutes later after walking 40 yards in 90 degree sunlight]


And the games--well, the games are more or less a ripoff, and while they can be enjoyable that enjoyment tends to wear off after about two minutes or fifteen dollars, whichever comes first. And I'd be a lot more excited if the prizes were X Boxes or iPods instead of Deputy Dogs stuffed with whatever they used as a cotton substitute in the late 70's, which is when he was manufactured. 

Hey, dude, it's cool. I've been livin' off of Social Security and my Army pension since Ted Turner forced me to retire.

And I won't go into the rides: I suppose they can be fun, though they're normally not my thing. But when I see the same guy with a socket wrench is also the one in charge of shoveling elephant shit into piles, I'd rather not look to see how many moving parts are in the Tilt-A-Whirl.

Despite all this, I'll have to admit that the circus can be fun in small doses. Much like anything else, of course. The problem is, with most circuses, you're all in. I'm not standing in a midway that smells like kid puke and cherry cotton candy for forty minutes and not see a donkey lick the ass of another donkey while they're supposed to be forming a pyramid. I will not allow myself to be deprived of such pleasures.

*I am using this metaphorically.Sadly, literal crazy animal shit is available in abundant supply at the circus.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Send The Marines!

There's some soul-searching amongst the Marine Corps these days. That may seem an odd thing for what is possibly America's personification of straight-laced masculine anti-pussiness, but when your own Secretary of Defense is questioning your entire existence, even the best of us sneak a few moments of contemplation when sitting on the throne.

 One, Two Three, Four...hey, wait a minute. Where is everyone?

The main problem is that while the Marines do a lot of things, their specialty is still what they were doing in Tripoli and Montezuma: storming beaches. The problem is, is that they aren't doing that so much anymore:

The cuts and delays to the Marine Corps' budget are symbolic of a larger debate about the role of the Marine Corps in future warfare. Many potential adversaries have sophisticated long-range missiles that could strike the Marines in their landing craft long before they reach the shores.

So Gates already has said it's unlikely the Marines will be hitting the beaches like they did at Iwo Jima.

And Thompson says that raises questions about the relevance of the Marines.

"If the Marine Corps is no longer going to do opposed landing on enemy beaches in the face of hostile fire, then its role will be significantly diminished in the future," he says.
When asked what, exactly, the Marines should be doing instead of storming beaches and performing other related land/aquatic exercises, the response wasn't very satisfying--the best they could come up with is (I am paraphrasing here) "A plan flying in the sky isn't particularly terrifying, but when you see a Marine charging at you, there's a psychological element. You can't get that from machines." I'm not buying it, because 1) if I see a passanger plan flying above my hometown, I immediately assume the Russians are finally invading, and 2) If you think about it--like, oh, say, about ten years ago--it turns out planes can actually be fairly terrifying. And, also, 3) what is this, 1720? I mean, sure, fighting desert nomads or ragtag rebels in South America might seem like an ideal situation to use psychology as a weapon, but even the lowliest Taliban dirt farmer has a Wii and The History Channel in DirecTV nowadays.

Their case also basically points to the numerous humanitarian and small-scale outlying missions they have gone on, but that still begs the question: why the Marines? Those things aren't particularly specialized.

Do I think the Marines are going anywhere anytime soon? Absolutely not. With the possible exception of Social Security and ethanol subsidies, the Marines are one of the few venerable American institutions that will never, ever go away. The question is, in what direction will they move? Will they stay the same only get smaller (and more elite)? That's an option and may actually be preferable, using them sparingly but still for their intended, specialized purpose. (And sometimes having less is more.) Or will they simply shift their focus onto something else? I don't know enough about military science to guess what that may be, but I'm certainly interested in finding out.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The State of the Union

My thoughts on the State of the Union speech are summed up nicely in a previous post, so I won't rehash it; suffice it to say I will not be listening tonight. I have more interesting things to do, such as anything else.

However, this year's speech appears to be a little different with the "Date Night": several Senators and Representatives have volunteered to sit next to a member of the opposite party. Presumably this is a nod towards a new era of bipartisanship, which is somehow going to be different than all of the other eras of bipartisanship that seem to occur every two years right after election day.

Still, there is one added benefit:
McCain called it "a good idea," but also said it was "a bit overblown." One benefit he hoped for was fewer of the automatic standing ovations by Democrats for a Democratic president, or Republicans for any right-leaning proposal Obama might endorse in the speech.

"I frankly think the cheerleading side of it has detracted from the ability of any president, Republican or Democrat, to speak continuously to the American people without so many interruptions," McCain said. "I think there will be plenty of interruptions, and it doesn't matter where you sit, but it might be nice to have a few less."
There may be hope for me yet. Also, Chuck Schumer and Tom Coburn fighting over an armrest just seems like a blast to watch.

Update: I had read, and subsequently forgotten, that Paul Ryan is giving the Republican response. Probably a good choice; he's a rising star, not a Tea Partier but has distinct sympathies; has been around for a while (in political terms); from a swing state; and is reasonably charismatic. He may be a little bit too wonkish to give a rebuttal speech, but a little bit of policy may be exactly what the GOP needs (as they have displayed very little of it as of late). I like Ryan; he has Newt Gingrich's ideas and is not afraid of bucking Republican core values for the sake of innovation, but doesn't have Gingrich's abrasive personality and poor judgment. This almost--almost!--makes me want to watch it. But I still won't.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Very Superstitious

I'll admit it: I was late to the professional sports game. So to speak.

I don't think I had ever watched a complete kick-off-to-grudging-handshake football game until about five years ago. I didn't watch a full hockey game until the post-lockout, post-Crosby days. Even now, I get kinda bored halfway through seasons. In any case, because of this, I never caught a lot of the diseases that afflict the sports fans. I can't rattle off historical statistics unless they involve the number of jalapenos I downed at last year's AFC championship game.* I don't care enough to work out wild card scenarios until maybe the last game or two of the season. I can't bring myself to give two shits about college athletics unless I have a C-note riding on the outcome.

And: I was never one for superstitions in sports.

I know people who swear by it. Players will not step foot on the team emblem on the floor, dare they jinx that night's game. No one says the name of the penultimate award lest all chances of victory go straight to zero. Quarterback had a franchise-history-making game? Looks like that bottle of Aquafina is getting drank out of for the next six seasons. 

But it's nothing like the fans. They come up with the most ridiculous things to swear by. People wear specific jerseys, hats, or--so help us all--undergarments. Fans drink certain beverages and sit in specific seats. Hard-core season ticket holders chant and dance, all because they have this notion that if they don't their beloved team will lose.

I just don't get it. Some day, Hines Ward is going to look straight into the camera and say, "You know, I had this game locked up. We had this in the bag, but then it turns out that Eric Slanikoski of Blawnox wasn't wearing his Bam Morris jersey backwards for a late afternoon away game, and that's why I dropped the ball in the 4 yard line and now we missed the playoffs. Thanks a lot, Eric. Looks like I ain't going to the Pro Bowl this year because you got behind on your laundry."

To each their own, I guess.

*34. I might not have remembered each one going in, but I was certainly reminded of each one going out.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Monkey In The Middle

Conversation in the car:

Me: You know, I have to watch my Netflix movie. I've been sitting on it for like a month.
Wife: What is it?
Me: Any Which Way But Loose.* You know, the monkey movie.
Wife: Yeah, I know. That's with Burt Reynolds, right?
Me: [Almost crashing] NOOO. It's with Clint Eastwood** and country music and a monkey.
Wife: There have never been any good monkey movies. Dustin's Day Out.
Me: Dunston Checks In. There were others. I just can't think of them.
Wife: King Kong--monkey dies.
Me: Right.
Wife: Gorillas in the Mist--boring.
Me: Mmm hmm.
Wife: Project X--all the monkeys die.
Me: What?
Wife: Yeah.
Me: Well, it doesn't really count, but there was an old TV show called BJ and the Bear. About a cop who had a chimp as his partner.***
Wife: Was it any good?
Me: Yes.
Wife: So he had a bear?
Me: No, I think they called the monkey Bear. Like a nickname. I think. Or maybe BJ was the monkey. I think his name was Banana Jones. Lieutenant Banana Jones, reporting for duty. Man, that was a great show.****
Wife: What? I've stopped listening to you.You can watch your Smokey And The Bandit whenever you want. I'll be doing something else.

*Yes, I know that it's Every Which Way But Loose. I was confusing it with the sequel, Any Which Way You Can.
**I am a modest Clint Eastwood fan, in the sense that the Atlantic Ocean is modestly wet. The fact that my wife does not know the entire cast of every Clint Eastwood movie ever made should be a crime and I plan on writing my congressman.
***This is, in fact, not the premise of the television show.
****I have never seen this show.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Those Left Behind

It still amazes me how many people don't "get" the Internet. I can understand technophobes and older individuals, but there seem to be a lot of people out there that still can't grasp how much the internet has changed the world.

I was reading an article about how the unemployed are looking for jobs, and a so-called "expert" advised individuals that looking for jobs online was a "black hole" that might be a decent first step, but the only way to really find a job is to buy a newspaper from 1985 and back-slap at the local Shriners. (I think. I may be mistaken in that last bit.) I mean, really? I can understand the sentiment of not wholly relying on just the Internet--you have to go to that interview at some point--but the internet is such a valuable tool for things like that it just seems criminal to advise people to downplay its influence.

Harper's Magazine has been undergoing some turmoil--too complicated to list here--but its publisher, one mega-rich Rick MacArthur, seems to have only a tenuous grasp on what the internet means. (This, of course, is why many blame him for said turmoil.) He hates the iPad and Kindle, he believes the internet "wasn't, in essence, much more than a gigantic, unthinking Xerox machine," and doesn't really like e-mail. As the individual pumping money into a loss-generating magazine, I suppose he can say what he wants, but one thinks that someone with such an odd grasp of technology should probably get out of print media.

And a lot of noise was made about the vast expanse of Facebook accounts--and, of course, a movie about it that very well could win Best Picture-- and I've witnessed a little bit of backlash from many corners. Mostly those self-important purveyors of internet culture state things like "I don't have a Facebook account, I have a life" or "I don't want to have to check statuses every five minutes when it's mostly teenage drama anyway." While Facebook isn't perfect, it's also one of the best aggregators of information and communication we'll see for some time.  What you put into it is what you get out of it, of course, but it's not simply a fad. (Granted, people were saying the same about MySpace, which is now effectively dead in its old form, but that was different; MySpace focused in style and letting 12-year-olds post glittery pictures of ponies and playing The Cure.) Even though Facebook has its own set of issues and drama-filled content, at least it looks halfway professional regardless if you're a middle-aged professional or a FarmVille-playing preteens.

In all of these cases, it's easy to glam onto the negative aspects of it. Sometimes, these thing can bring down an otherwise useful site--again, think MySpace--but like everything else in this world, if utilized properly these can be great benefits to society. And at this point denying that the Internet is a world-changing tool is simply foolish.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thanks For Nothing, Dark Recesses Of The Internets!

I made a harrowing discovery a few days ago.

Looking at the statistics for this blog, I noticed that a handful of people had typed in the phrase "crank and rev" to get here.  Odd, I thought; you will sometimes run into the weird search term or phrase that pops up, but to see the same phrase a few times is telling.

Well, when I started this site and named it "Crank Crank Revolution," I probably should have checked to make sure that the name isn't similar to an odd type of fetish. Perhaps I should have paid more attention in college.

 Marketing 101: Don't name your product that can be mistaken for something incredibly creepy.

So: apparently, there is a type of fetish called "crank and rev,"* also known as pumping. I mean, I think. I did a little bit of research, but not too much research, because while knowledge is important and will expand our minds and improve our lives, there are also small bits of knowledge that should forever be stored in the dark corner of the basement closet never to be seen by anyone, anywhere, at any time in their lives. This is one of those bits.

Anyway, this particular fetish involves watching the feet of women pump the gas and flood the engine of a vehicle. That's, um, it. There's nothing NSFW work about it, since all you see is a foot and a gas pedal. (The audio may be more risque--I didn't have the heart to listen all that closely.) I guess some people enjoy that sort of thing. A lot. Enough to post thousands of videos on YouTube.

There are some things I just will never under--OH NOW I GET IT

Of course, weird things like this tend to happen--such as the disproportionate number of Latvians that visit this site. (I guess I have the Latvian pumper demographic all locked up.) On my old blog, American Lament, I noticed that after my column about P.G. Wodehouse, I got an alarming number of queries for Jeeves/Wooster Slash.** This was enough to make me take a ninety minute Silkwood shower.

Thanks a lot, Internet. How you go to sleep every night is beyond me.

*Yes, I am perfectly aware of the irony of the fact that having the phrase "crank and rev" in my blog will actually increase the number of people who search that term and get my site.
**If you don't know who Jeeves and Wooster are, or what slash is, shame on you for the former, and thank goodness for the latter.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Static and Noise: So Help Me

Slow Ride: You know, I love Pittsburgh. I really, really do. But riddle me this: Pittsburgh is a city where Steelers fans have absolutely no problem whatsoever standing outside in parking lots in -20 degree below wind chill eight hours before kickoff. Yet so help us if it sprinkles in the morning, because then everyone drives like a myopic grandmother with no shocks and the gout navigating the roads of Tikrit. It's not the apocalypse, people. It's rain, and not much of it, at that. Thank goodness I don't have to drive through any tunnels. I think people might actually start to move backwards then.

@&#%!: I think the fact that Q*Bert is not available in the Android Marketplace is one of the gravest injustices of the past two centuries.*

Go Tigers! There's been a lot of noise about the Tiger Mother on various blogs. I had an idea for a post about it, but quite frankly it's rehashing more or less what everyone else has already said. (For those that aren't aware, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother is a book by Yale professor Amy Chua, claiming that the strict upbringing of first-generation Chinese parents--i.e., cello practice for four hours a night, no sleepovers or any fun ever, etc.--breeds successful children, unlike the yokels Americans crank out each year.) Bottom line: Too strict (i.e., Chinese), and you'll have miserable kids. Too lax (i.e., American), and your kids will be unsuccessful. Of course, most of the reaction in the states is on the side of "Oh yeah? If American kids are too lazy, how come we dropped the Big One on you!** U.S.A.! U.S.A.! (shoot handguns in air, eat deep fried butter, occupy South American nation)" And on the eastern side, the Chinese don't say anything, because 1) they are too busy using math and science to invent things to put us out of business, and 2) if they do say anything they will be savagely beaten by the police.

Steeler Nation: Speaking of Korea, I just found out that if you type in "Steeler Season 2010" in Wikipedia, the first result is not the Pittsburgh Steelers, but the reference page for the 2010 Pohang Steelers season, a soccer team in Pohang, Gyeongsangbuk-do, South Korea. This seems to me to be one of the gravest injustices of the past two centuries.

*The only benefit is that every time I search for Q*Bert or a form of it, Android comes back with wallpapers of Elisha Cuthbert. So, there's that. 
**Yes, this was on purpose. Everyone knows we dropped the atomic bomb on Singapore.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The New Signs: NFL-Playoff-O-Scope!

Much has been made in the past few days about the "new" horoscope, and how a lot of people's signs have changed. The fact that a centuries-old belief has been upended has caused a lot of people consternation about constellations, and many people are being forced to re-examine their entire lives. Also, it's a bunch of fake nonsense.

Sagittarius: You are likely to believe in a load of stupid horseshit.

However, in my extensive researches I have conducted for the past fifteen, I have found a better method for determining your personality and guide your future: Who you root for in the NFL playoffs. So, as a public service to my readers, I present to you the new zodiac: The NFL-Playoff-O-Scope. 

New England Patriots (AFC East, 1st seed)
You excel at everything that you do: you have a winning record, a stunning wife, and a book full of records it will take decades for other players to match. Thank goodness you didn't have to sacrifice all that much to get to where you are. Only a beautiful woman you knocked up, and then dumped, for a Brazilian model. And wrecking some car that a charity gave you. And you must be forced to wear a Justin Beiber haircut, because no one would do that voluntarily. Seriously, what kind of effed-up Faustian bargain was that? Remember, kids: apparently, victory comes at a price.

Green Bay Packers (NFC North, 6th seed)
Despite being small and hampered by limited resources, your success comes from being efficient with those resources. More importantly, you shed those parts of your organization that are aging and inefficient, where perhaps they will go to a mediocre season with the Jets for a year and then spitefully go to the hated Vikings where they will embarrass themselves in one last, graying, dusty grasp towards the limelight which more or less ends poetically with them sending a cell phone picture of their old, tired penis to a female staff member. Not that you're bitter. 

New York Jets (AFC East, 6th seed)
Funny how that happens. You live a charmed life. You have a brand new stadium and are selected to be featured on HBO's Hard Knocks. A player "accidentally" trips over the extended foot of one of your coaching staff members. Some hot "journalist" with painted-on jeans complains when testosterone-filled jocks mention this fact. Your coach--well, let's just say he doesn't play with both feet on the ground. In spite of all of this, you manage to scrape your way to the playoffs. Your perseverance is unparalleled. Nothing can stop you now. Except, you know, the team that routinely dashes your playoff hopes each year.

Seattle Seahawks (NFC West, 4th seed)
You are going to be that guy--you know, the one who sits by himself at the high school cafeteria, drawing maps for the next MechWarrior campaign that you and your imaginary friends are going to play this weekend. Sure, you're going to ace your AP classes, what with you doing all that studying during the Snowball Dance and the Prom. And then one day you wake up and you have this hot wife and eat hundred dollar bills for breakfast, and everyone else in high school is the 36th-round draft pick in Arena Football. You must have rolled pretty big on that Luck stat.

Chicago Bears (NFC North, 2nd seed)
Big, clumsy, yet tested, you excel at what you do--a reasonably accurate representation of your home city. Never mind that you are in an old, aging, industrial town where fans have to ride Scooters to the game. And don't mind that inferiority complex--they only things you have to compete with are the most powerful female media personality in the world and oh yeah the President of the Entire United States of Effing America. Also you have to compete with those pizzas where the crust competes with the amount of congealed grease for total volume. DAMMIT NOW I WANT A PIZZA. That's your horoscope, suckers: more pizza. 

Pittsburgh Steelers (AFC North, 2nd seed)
You have high standards--A 10-6 record is a failure, and a playoff miss is routinely blamed on Superbowl fatigue--what with you having won so many and all. You release a Superbowl MVP for tweeting about pot, whereas other teams let players put street crimes on their resumes. When your star players get fined for violent hits, it must be because of a vast conspiracy of NFL officials trying to sabotage your success. Now, if only you could apply those high standards to your behavior when you trawl for the skanks that you pour alcohol down the throats of in the back rooms of small-town podunk beer gardens during the off-season.

Atlanta Falcons (NFC South, 1st seed)
Hard work pays off. After decades of futility, occasionally punctuated by bright spots of easily dashed hopes, you appear to have a lot of the best parts set up to be consistently productive. Even if things don't work out this year, it's been pretty good, and prospects for the future are impressive. The staff appears to have the judgment to repair and replace the things that don't work and to preserve the things that do. Alas, it is important to be humbled and remember that no matter how good the players are or how good your team is--and no matter how good your team will get--the one undeniable fact is that you still live in Georgia.

Baltimore Ravens: (AFC North, 5th seed)
You are an unrepentant asshole.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Sticks and Stones

Much has been said over the past few days about political rhetoric--mostly about how we all need to tone it down. For my part, I say: Don't be so hasty.

There are two parts to my thoughts about this. First is that political rancor is the price we pay for democracy. If name-calling, information-skewing, and childish taunts are replacing the jack-booted thuggery of fascism or the mealy-mouthed platitudes of a dictatorship disguised as a socialist paradise, then I'm all for it. A free citizenry is smart enough to figure it all out, even if we're all embarrassed in the process. Free speech is awesome and the cornerstone of liberty, but that also means we have to put up with Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann.

The second part is that this is nothing new. Go to any history book and look at the placards and bills that were posted about Abraham Lincoln, Benjamin Franklin , or, hell, for any campaign in the 19th century. Newspapers were partisan organs for political parties, and hurled invective at each other for over two centuries. In fact, I don't think there has been a period of our history where political insults weren't the norm rather than the exception. Think of it as having every media outlet--whether it be television, radio, or print--be Rush Limbaugh and Rachel Maddow. Somehow, despite this, we managed to survive.

Of course, most people think of political bickering as a mild irritant up until someone does something about it--such as gunfire against elected officials. But it seems this is a convenient thing for everyone to point blame at, because it's easy and can score some political points; it also makes everyone feel better about themselves. Unfortunately, it's also wrong. And this can become dangerous if we fixate on that instead of the real problems--in this case, the mental state of Jared Loughner.

This isn't really a defense of empty political posturing. We are better as a society when our arguments are cogent, intellectual, and substantive. But it's ridiculous to think its abolition will solve anything. Despite the current exclamations otherwise, firebrand political opinions don't cause violence. Tim McVeigh and Loughner didn't commit crimes because they turned on talk radio each afternoon--there was already something seriously wrong with them independent of political opinion. Calls for using politics to force the tone of dialogue runs a very real risk of tampering with freedom of speech.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Static and Noise: When Animals Attack!

Man Bites Dog? The old journalist trope--"Dog bites man isn't news; man bites dog is"--is, like most tropes, alarmingly true. And so: Fox Shoots Man. That's the sort of thing that goes down in Belarus.

Grammar Time: I'm not a Grammar Nazi, but I do play one on TV. As anyone reading this blog can attest, I am hardly perfect, though I am more than willing to pretend that what I make aren't grammatical errors but "mistypes," based on sloppy, hurried posting rather than my innate inability to conjugate. And I am a bit of a stickler--so help the person who writes "loose" when they mean "lose"--but admittedly I'm a selective stickler. (Mostly I don't care about the things I don't know myself.) Still, I like bursting the bubbles of holier-than-thou Internet asshats who like pointing out the smallest technical errors that anyone in the throes of hastily composing a forum tome can make. To kick the provincial dead horse in the ass, here's a Slate article about how putting two spaces after a period is flat-out wrong. I can't say he's an expert, but it's on the Internets so it must be true, and has the added benefit of making me feel morally superior to others.

Statistical Variance: The Atlantic has published their annual "State of the Union" issue, which more or less show s random assortment of statistical information about the United States. Most of it is fairly routine--Foreclosures are up? You don't say!--but a few things stand out. First is that violent crimes have decreased over the past two years--normally, crime increases when recessions hit, as marginal actors in society get booted off payrolls and onto the streets. I'd be interested to know what contributed to this being different than expected. Our savings rate has almost tripled, which is unusual; in recessions, citizens normally exhaust their savings accounts to make up for lost jobs. (Perhaps those that still have jobs and the means to do so sock more away? But that would have to be a pretty drastic change to compensate for those using up their stashes of cash.) And--oddly--teenagers are reading at about a third of the rate they have been in the past. Not sure why that is. More teens working? Harry Potter isn't around any more? The prevalence of Twitter and Jersey Shore hasn't been around long enough to distract kids that much. I love this sort of thing, mostly because we'll probably never get a proper answer.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Joy Of Statistics

This article needs some serious editing. The AP should know better.

The headline is the only real problem I have with the article: It boasts "Ill. faces 66 percent tax boost amid budget crisis." First off, technically, it is 100% true. But it's also massively misleading. 

The tax rate they are referencing is the income tax rate. Illinois has a very low tax rate because they have a much higher tax rate in other ways (mostly sales and property tax), so right off the bat, this is a tax raise on a very small component of their overall tax system.

Secondly, the 66% figure is misleading. The state income tax is being raised from 3% to 5%, which, technically, is a 66% increase. Framing it in that manner for a figure so low, however, is meaningless--66% seems like a huge number, but it really isn't. Look at it this way: had it been raised from 1% to 2%, the tax rate just doubled. If they had dared to raise it from 0% to 1%, that's a tax increase of infinity percent! But for all practical purposes the changes are reasonably minor. The headline writer clearly wanted people to click on the article thinking that some state just increased all of its taxes to 66%. 

I'm not saying this is an easy thing to do, since usually percentages are preferable than absolute values when writing articles. But percentages can be manipulated just as much as any other data. I don't think it was intentional in this case, but it doesn't convey any meaningful information as is. And the reporter only has one job, and that is to convey information in a manner that gets the correct idea across. 

Normally, I would think that readers would figure it out. But I know a lot would just glance at the headline and not get to the halfway point in the article, which spells out the details. 

Update: I happened to catch Fox News, which screamed the exact same headline. It's good to know that regardless of political ideology, scaring viewers with misinformation is something they can all agree on.

Why My Wife Is The Luckiest Woman In The World

(Scene: We are getting ready to go to sleep. We are attending a paranormal gathering tomorrow. Also--this is important--we recently purchased blueberry bagels that are currently in our fridge.)

Me: Are you ready for the meeting tomorrow?
Wife: Yes. It should be fun.
Me: Maybe they will serve boo-gles to eat.
Wife: What?
Me: Those are Bugles. Or--ooh!--those could also be bagels.
Wife: Shut up.
Me: Or maybe booberry boogles. Like in the fridge.
Wife: Go to sleep.
Me: Maybe our drinks will be served on ghost-ers.*
Wife: I hate you.

[Five minutes later]

Me: You know what they would serve on those ghost-ers?
Wife: I thought you were asleep.
Me: Spirits. I don't know how I could have missed that one.
Wife: Go. To. Sleep.
Me: This all just reminds me how on Scooby-Doo they would get themselves in some sort of situation where they would end up riding a Roller Ghoster. But it would actually just be a regular roller coaster painted with fluorescent paint. That was a racket.
Wife: I'm not listening to you anymore.

[Five minutes later, I get up and check my alarm. I had changed it to get up earlier on account of the snow.]

Me: I just wanted to check to make sure I set it to AM.
Wife: I'm sure that was just haunting you.
Me: That's....that's not even hilarious.

*In even more retrospect, I should have asked if we were drinking at the spook-easy. I was off my game.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The End Of The World As We Know It

First there were birds falling from the sky in Arkansas. Then the Seahawks beat the Saints. And--breaking news--there may be three to five inches of snowfall in January in western Pennsylvania. Damn you, Mayan mystics, you were one year off!

Not pictured: Locusts, zombie apocalypse, or the Cuban Missile Crisis

Don't get me wrong--driving conditions can get pretty hairy, and I certainly except everyone to drive with caution in such situations. But it seems like every time the weather people call for more than slight flurries, everyone runs around acting like they are going to be trapped in their houses for weeks without food, electricity, water, or the next episode of Jersey Shore. It's like for four months out of the year we are in a constant state of being two inches of snow away from pestilence and destruction.

Grocery stores routinely have a run on bread and milk--why, I don't know. I can count on two fingers the number of snowstorms in my lifetime that caused transportation to be impossible for longer than about 36 hours. If you can't survive a day and a half without toast and Nestle Quick, perhaps you should think about  taking some Flintstones vitamins once in a while.

I won't even get into driving. Mostly because I am a hypocrite--I complain when people drive too slow in snowstorms ("You have to build momentum or you'll get stuck!") and too fast ("You're going to wreck and spin out!"). Unless everyone follows the specific formula of average-speed driving techniques as I do, it screws me up and I start making up new swear words.

That said, if you can't handle five inches of snow (excepting weird things like ice storms or whiteouts), you need to get more practice. Obviously each situation is different, but not so much that the automatic reaction to hearing that there will be a half a foot of snow is to start establishing your pecking order in Bartertown.

 What's all this horseshit about the Seahawks beating the Saints?

Hopefully, the snowstorm will (literally) blow over and we can get back to normal, which is complaining about road construction.

Monday, January 10, 2011

A Message For Hollywood

I know lot of your Hollywood types read this blog on a regular basis*, so I thought that this might be a good forum to present some sure-fire motion picture ideas that will undoubtedly not only fill your bank account, but also your fireplace mantle with dozens of Academy Awards. Just remember to thank me during your acceptance speech!

George Washington Slept Here: It's 1776, and the Continental Army is just about to take on the hated Redcoats. However, divine providence has other plans, and a vortex opens up (caused by Ben Franklin's kite? Kids would love that! --ed.) and swallows up the Father of our Nation. Plop him in some hipster community and watch the hijinx ensue! Drop him into ridiculous situations. Make him play the Wii! Let him marvel at the wonders of the Internet (Let him change the Wikipedia entry on Thomas Jefferson. Ha! --ed). Make him think all the folks on Jersey Shore are Chinese. And then he develops an unhealthy crush on Snooki. ("I would let her cross my Delaware, if you know what I mean!") When he becomes despondent after soaking in the failures of American culture, some uplifting event (puppies? veterans? peacful political rally? No--A vet who becomes a vet rallying for military pet health insurance!) makes him renew his faith in the American experiment, and he goes back to fight in the Revolution. The last shot shows a victorious George embracing a smiling Martha Washington, who now has an orange tan.

GTL: Gout, Teeth, Liberty!

Hobo Nation: It is decades in the future, and the world has been taken over by transients and hoboes. Haute cuisine is beans in a can, and the only government programs are those that keep the trains running so everyone can hop on board. Successful people are kept on reservations, where their wealth and success is routinely tapped to perpetuate the hobo lifestyle for the masses. The movie centers around one young lady from one of these "Success Farms" who falls madly in love with a hobo. (Gwyneth Paltrow? She would look particularly radiant and successful standing next to a grizzly bum). On the reservation, such people are called hobosexuals and looked down upon, but she rebels against her wealthy parents for the sake of true love. And in the end, learns just a little bit about being rich. Release this puppy the last week of December and it's a ready-made Oscar.

Someone Hits Nicholas Cage In The Face With A Frying Pan Like A Thousand Times: I'm sure people would pay good money for this. As a bonus, this will not affect his acting ability at all.

Why Did I Get Infected? What are the two most popular cultural icons in today's society? That's right--zombies and Tyler Perry. So why not combine the two? Zombies have infiltrated an upper-middle class black community, and everyone learns the value of loyalty and cooperation while they fend off a horde of brain-starved walking dead. There are plenty of opportunities for laughs, sadness, and maybe a bit of controlled violence. Hell, throw Medea in there somewhere. I don't know. I've never seen any of those movies. All I know is having "Tyler Perry's" precede whatever it is your movie title is will make it about fifty million more dollars. Sure, it may seem like forcing zombies into a modest movie franchise is stretching it, but everyone involved will be eating hundred dollar bills for breakfast, so who cares?

What! Is! This! Someone go get me a proper shotgun!

Forever Zedong: Lampooning Hitler is old hat now; you can only have so many Springtime for Hitlers before it gets a little creepy. So why not go after number two? Mao Zedong, the twentieth century's second-highest tyrant, has never gotten the appropriate treatment. And it's been a while since Hollywood has made a big time, full-scale musical, so why not do it now? It will have a cast of thousands! Each of which will then be sent to the fields to work the ground for the rest of their lives. With such musical numbers as "Little Red Book," "My Backyard Steel Furnace Burns Nightly For You,"  "May A Thousand Flowers Bloom Like My Heart Does For You Before I Am Shot In The Back Of The Head For Dissenting," "My Five-Year Plan For Loving You," and the showstopper "Let's All Take A Great Leap Forward Again," the latter of which will hopefully spawn a new dance craze. It's time that Hollywood exposes the real ancient Chinese secret--Broadway!

*This is a lie.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Tucson, Arizona

The tragedy in Arizona this weekend is nothing short of a tragedy. Details are still a little sketchy, so it's difficult to assess the aftermath of all of this, but there are positive signs for her recovery. Hope and prayers always go out to those that were killed in the shooting.

Of course, in the immediate aftermath, my email and Facebook feeds were filled with blame--mostly against conservatives and Sarah Palin who, about a year ago, posted a map with crosshairs "targeting" various congressional candidates for defeat in last November's election. Other people--the usual suspects, Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, etc.--were also lumped in with blame.

This is, of course, disingenuous. The only person to blame is the shooter, who, at this point, appears to be a deranged individual with mental problems. That's not stopping people from more less less claiming that Palin and--by extention--Tea Party Republicans pulled the trigger themselves. Or, to use the appropriate code words, "fostered an environment that makes violence acceptable." Using crosshairs, for example, is the exact sort of imagery that will caused an unbalanced person to seek out and murder a congresswoman. And allowing people to own handguns is simply asking for the public executions of politicians.*

Military terminology has been a long tradition in any political arena, not just the United States. We routinely talk about "battleground states" and "character assassination" and "bombshell." William Safire's political dictionary--the gold standard of political vocabulary--is filled with so-called "violent" terms, from centuries ago to the last election. Pundits and politicians use these terms not because they literally want to slay their enemies, but they use it to show forcefulness while knowing that individuals will understand the concept in context. No one can go through life excising every borderline graphic, allusion, or phrase that might have a 1% chance of setting off a deranged man with a hair trigger.**

People often tend to think the current climate of the last ten years or so as some awful nadir of political intemperance, but this is flat out wrong. Even if we assume away the contentious period of the Civil War, it was only half a century ago that the streets were filled with riots, universities were getting bombed, and police officers being assaulted.And the perpetrators of those acts weren't mentally deranged, but rather had a narrow, specific political goal in mind.  There was never any halcyon era of rhetoric in the United States--in fact, it's one of the drawbacks of having a fractious democracy. This was quite by design.

Obviously, this isn't to minimize the violence that's happened against Representative Giffords. But to immediately point a finger and accuse the opposing ideology solves no problems.  In fact, it's a touch hypocritical--by falsely accusing public figures of causing the shooting they clearly had nothing to do with, the rhetoric is already ratcheted up.

Some further reading: The Daily Beast and Slate.

*I'm not exaggerating here--this is pretty much the direct opinion of people who should know better. The more professional ones know how to couch it in indirect terms, but the sentiment is the same.
**A case can be made that, after the vandalism against several congressional offices, it may have been wise to take Palin's map down. I'm somewhat sympathetic to that, but only because it's good PR. Actually claiming that the map was a blueprint for revolution is downright idiotic, and the fact that it wasn't taken down makes no difference.

Saturday, January 8, 2011


A Kinder, Gentler GOP?

Political parties are much like any other organization or--dare I say--merchandise. Rebranding is important, since how you sell yourself will get you the most customers, viewers, or, in this case, voters. Parties redefine themselves all the time, and there isn't anything particularly wrong or inconsistent with that. Times change, and parties have to change with it. (Remember: there was a time in which the Republicans were known for civil rights and a smaller military, and the Democrats known for free trade and international intervention.)

The Democrats had some great success during the Bill Clinton era; for decades, they were known as a libertine tax-and-spend party, nominating lackluster candidates like Walter Mondale, George McGovern, and Mike Dukakis who were almost caricatures of the exact sort of image they were trying to avoid. Clinton was able to sell the Democratic party by emphasizing the positives and downplaying--and outright changing--the negatives. This "New Democrat" idea is the prevailing image of the party today, even with a bit of backsliding from the current administration. 

Is the Republican party in the midst of its own rebranding as a more compassionate party?

It's been a rough road. The GOP's has had the hard-hearted sour image issue for a political generation or two, which more or less culminated in Newt Gingrich's cranky-pants get-off-my-lawn prickliness that turned many against him. George W. Bush tried to brand himself as a "Compassionate Conservative," which seemed to have some modest success--until 9/11 made compassion obsolete for a while. And it didn't seem like things would be any different anytime soon; if there was one emotion that drove the Tea Party to success, it was anger, not compassion. 

Are things changing? I'm not sure. Details are few and sketchy. The in-power representative of the Republicans is new Speaker of the House John Boehner. He wasn't really well-known before the new congress, so the only thing people know about him is that he cries. A lot. Like, three or four times, publicly, in the last two months or so. It was only thirty years ago that the appearance of a tear destroyed any chance Ed Muskie had of being president. Now it's perfectly acceptable. It helps, of course, that the reasons he's cried are somewhat relatable--the culmination of a lifelong dream, say, or the joyous activities of children. Obviously, there's a chance that this is all simple manipulation--Boehner is a politician, after all--but it seems unlikely.

Now, had he been crying about the estate tax, we'd be having a completely different discussion

Likewise, the standard-bearer of the far right, Sarah Palin, has made some surprisingly positive remarks about gays. Granted, one tweet doesn't equate her being the Grand Marshal of the next PRIDE parade, and I don't expect her to change her position on gay marriage or other related issues (though harnessing Willow might be a good start), but it's certainly an unexpected step toward...well, something different than whatever it is that is that entity known as Sarah Palin.

Does all of this mean that the Republicans have learned from their mistakes? Will they now play the part of the sympathetic and emotional but respected grandmother instead of the stern, taskmaster father figure?  We shall see.

The Pledge: Personally, I'd rather see a bunch of cranks lay the hammer down and start destroying the people, groups, and organizations that have gotten us into the fiscal disaster we see ourselves in, but the electorate has made it clear they would rather have hugs and rainbows in exchange for their vote. Go Team Democracy!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Unintended Consequences

One particular saw I like to drag out and repeat pretentiously when arguing about politics and economics is "You can't repeal the laws of supply and demand." Despite what people want to believe--whether it be health care, the minimum wage, or, heck, terrorism--you can't simply wish away economic precepts. They are much like the laws of physics or math: they can't be ignored just because you don't like the result.

In the past, I've mentioned that the CARD act--which was supposed to clean up how the credit card does business--was a bad law. While it--as with most laws--cleared up some legitimate issues with the industry, it was also heaped on by well-meaning but clearly flawed regulations that would have unintended consequences. So far we've seen higher interest rates to compensate for reasonable and legitimate fees that can no longer be assessed. There will most likely be additional, more subtle problems that arise as time goes on.

One of the allegations leveled against the credit card companies* is that they preyed on unsuspecting college kids to get trapped in credit card debt. (The fact that they are letting people in college who can't figure out simple compound interest is a telling fact in and of itself, but that is another post for another day.) The government can't straight-up tell the companies to not give credit to college kids--that would be discrimination!  So as a workaround to this, the government now requires that applicants no longer count their household income but their individual, "independent" income. College kids can no longer count mom and dad's income when applying for a credit card.

And wouldn't you know**--that caused the number of college kids that get credit cards to drop significantly. Unfortunately, it also means a large segment of the population--namely stay-at-home wives--to not be able to get them, either, since they don't have an "independent" income. If they want credit, their husbands have to do it for them. Now the law is being branded as a "setback to women's rights." Department stores that cater to married women and housewares are lobbying to get the law changed.  It is a mess with no easy solution without someone's rights being violated--citizens with secure incomes who don't meet the government's arbitrarily defined idea of income versus irresponsible college students who will never learn the consequences of their bad choices by a government that loves to make their choices for them.

The Pledge: The notion of repealing the law and just letting people be responsible for their own actions does not appear to be an option. Everyone who is surprised, raise their hand.

*Please note that I am legally obligated to refer to the industry as the evil credit card companies. 
**This information is pulled from Megan McArdle's post at the Atlantic.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Good Morning!

From my phone this morning:

Is it me, or does the Lego dude sort of look like a tool? "Yeah, I'm straight-up Lego, man. Watcha gonna do about it?"

Maybe I shouldn't eat this breakfast. But I did.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Cranky New Year

From your friends at Crank Crank Revolution, may the new year find new things to complain about. Something bigger and better than oil spills and universal health care.