Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Quick Lesson on Greed

If you wish to teach a kid about the dangers of greed, have them read this brilliant story on greed from Leo Tolstoy. Quick, entertaining, and the lesson is a good one. An overlooked theme in the story is that at each step the main character makes the choice to go for more; he is never satisfied.

Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World

The brilliant ad campaign for Dos Equis rolls on with more commercials featuring the most interesting man in the world (MIMITW). I enjoy these ads as well as the Old Spice ads of the last few NFL seasons as they portray guys beign guys and not in the immature modern guy way. There is also the element of ridiculous statements. The statements about the most interesting man in the world are strange claims that combine awesome with insane. The ads show him finding treasure in the ocean, playing jai alai, saving bears, deep sea fishing, and being the classy, charming life of the party.

Dos Equis is moving from a beer that you only saw at Mexican restaurants to a beer with great ads. The ads can pay back their value by people hearing Dos Equis is available and then just getting one to then make up "most interesting man" ideas. It is so 'it' as a beer ad that Heineken Light, a terrible terrible beer, is playing on this cool older man thing by using a character "Maurice" who lives in a retirement community but dated two Pointer sisters. No this does not work. You can't rip off the MIMITW idea and apply it to a retirement community old smooth guy. The MIMITW does not live in an old folks' home. He sleeps in a different bed every night with two beautiful women. This is fake me too advertising like Christina Aguilera's awful Gaga inspired video for "Not Myself Tonight". Dos Equis, I salute you. To the MIMITW, thank you for beign an inspirational fictional character.



"He can speak French in Russian", "his beard alone has experienced more than a lesser man's entire body", "his blood smells of cologne", "he lives vicariously through himself", and my favorite "He once had an awkward moment just to know what it feels like".





Stay thirsty my friends.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Camille Paglia and I Both Care About Sex

Sad that this is true, but god I feel Like I was reading a female older version of myself. Secretly, I have enjoyed her columns on Salon as she is a feminist who stayed true to the idea of equality and freedom and didn't sell out just to provide cover for the correct party.

- commentary on the decline of sex - check
- mocking men who dress as boys - check
- women sculpting themselves too skinny - check
- corporate america destroying the soul - check

She's just missing making fun of political correctness, oversensitivity of both genders about sexual harassment or perceived impropriety, and the Internet.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Only the French, Again

This is the trailer for the 1971 film "Le Chat" which was an adaptation of a book with the same name, "The Cat".



I think it is quite obvious someone is throwing that black cat up on that scaffolding. This trailer would never be made today. For that reason, I adore it.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Soccer Blah

When soccer players or footballers stop acting like they just got shot when they get touched, Americans will watch.

Stop with the flopping.

Blog for Young Career Seekers, Women and Asperger Syndrome Folks

Penelope Trunk has some pretty cool writing on her blog. Her advice for the working world, running startups, life and Asperger's Syndrome are interesting to read. She has great entries on a wide variety of things, and her items on the working world (whether self employed or part of a machine) are excellent. She has a little sidebar that has some disguised posts where she admits some posts are really about other topics. She is highly entertaining, and is now a bookmark/favorite on my web browser.

Movie Review: Persepolis

Shocked shocked that I did not post a review of "Persepolis" when I saw it. It is the movie adaptation of the giant comic book (graphic novel) detailing a girl's maturation while the Iranian revolution and later social, political, cultural changes unfolded. It is a French film, so it is subtitled. This film came out in 2007, and with current events unfolding, was well timed and received plenty of praise.

The praise is well deserved. The female lead is one of the best female characters I've seen in years. My wife was constantly saying "this kid/teen/woman is awesome". A rebel within a highly oppressive society is someone people will rally around, and her actions can have meaning or can be frivolous small expressions of freedom and individuality. When she dips into immaturity or manipulation, her grandmother sharply reminds her of her stupidity. Her story is fantastic to watch unfold.

Her grandmother's relationship to her is the heart of the story. Her grandmother is the embodiment of "Old Persia" and the connections to time without mullahs, without secret police forces, and before the Shah. She is the reminder of the betrayal in Iran of the people by both the Shahs and later the mullahs (when they imprison and kill her son). There are simple gramma-granddaughter exchanges between them that are fantastic. Dialogue about how she keeps her breatss so round or to stop being so dramatic over a divorce are great additions in the middle of a movie with such a sad tale.

Her story is sad, as is the story of Iran. Scenes of the dying 'martyrs' and bearded policemen are sad reminders of what goes on today in other parts of the Middle East. I have seen this twice, and could rewatch it over and over. This is a well done animated film, and while heavy at times, is an enjoyable watch.

Minimal Al Gore Comments

Is anyone really surprised anymore? C'mon Al, think. What I am wondering:

1. why a Portland Oregon newspaper sat on the story for YEARS. This would make a person's career, nabbing the winner of the 2007 nobel peace prize (for efforts relating to Global Warming, because that 'makes sense').
2. the left's knee jerk attack the accuser to defend St. Al. Her story has some odd time delays to it, but I know a woman sexually assaulted who sadly filed an initial complaint but didn't carry it through to court.
3. does Clarence Thomas have any advice? does Larry Craig? It seems completely odd now that Clarence Thomas was put through the ringer for accusations that were with flimsier evidence and not nearly as horrible as what politicians are being proven to do these days. It is amazing how 20 years can change things.
4. The man 'invented the internet', he didn't think a police record could be stored forever online?????????

Friday, June 25, 2010

James Taylor Fire and Rain

Interesting that he and his former wife Carly Simon both have the changing origins issue with a giant hit (Carly's is You're so Vain). Fire and Rain could be a hit in any generation. Seriously, can't you see this sung as part of a traveling vaudeville show in the old West to bring the house down with just some tweaks to technology referenced? Taylor spent time in a mental institution for depression and Carly Simon had such severe social anxiety issues she didn't perform live for years (her SNL appearance was recorded pre-show with no audience), and this combo makes me wonder about their kids. Are they super musicians but messed up that they can't perform?

Everyone has a friend, family member or lover they never got the chance to reconnect with. Music can speak of the joy and agony of the human condition and James Taylor sings it with the strength and vulnerability we all carry.

Nagging Feeling Shoulda Bombed Iran in Winter 2008

I get this nagging feeling that we should have given Israel the support and assistance to bomb Iran's nuke facilities in the time period between Nov 2008-Jan 2009. Oil prices had plummeted so any jump could have been absorbed in the oil price could have been better handled by the world economy, it would have dealt with the threat, Barry could have been sworn in on Jan 20th and immediately condemned the act by W's team as he privately thanked him for doing adult work, and his 'negotiations' ploy could have worked a lot better with Iran dealing from clouds of smoke amidst a destroyed nuke program.

Katy Perry Potential Endgame

I asked my wife how she sees Katy Perry's terrible music career ending. Her reply:

"She finds Jesus and returns to Christian music. It will be part fo that image rehab celebrities do."

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Old Jr High Teacher

My niece told me of horror stories of a Jr High teacher she had this year. This teacher was a midget tyrant to the kids, yet tried to earn their pity & sympathy. She sold them pencils for $.25 (when a pack of 72 is 4.99). When she didn't sell many during the week she'd make small comments like "guess groceries will be light this week". Yes! She'd complain about pay and 'poverty' to students (yeah with her lavish benefits). Looking at unemployment rates and food stamp stats, some of these kids could be on govt help or have a parent out of work, unlike this teacher who will have the summer off to supplement her pay. We swapped stories about her like old ballplayers about surviving her antics.

Even before I had her as a teacher, I knew of her dirty tricks. To protect myself from libel charges... RUMOR WAS... She was so devious as a parent, that as a member of the school board in her child's school district, she called her child's high school and demanded they re-weight different courses. Lo & behold, her child magically became valedictorian of his high school class by the slimmest of margins. Yes, she was the caricature of the dirty, small town politician, using her office for her own gain (sadly she's still involved in politics, as is her son). She couldn't help but represent the oppressed, only to oppress others.

When I had her as a teacher in the early 90s, she was middle aged and not as depressed sounding as she is now. She was incredibly angry, and had a bit of that leftover nostalgia from the 60s in her. It would bubble up when discussing the 60s, how the kids of the 60s grew up to be corporate parents of the 80s, Vietnam, the Kennedys, Civil Rights, etc. She made a critical error of explaining how her current husband (no. 2) was a draft dodger. In a class with multiple kids of Vietnam vets and kids like me who had family that served in that war, we sat bug eyed over that revelation. It was not cool. What was less cool was her acting all nicey nice to my parents at every teacher-parent meeting or public event, but being a witch in class to me.

Later in the year, we read a terrible book about some kid whose dad died in Vietnam and his adoptive sister who was Vietnamese turns out to be his half-sister and he goes to the wall to blah blah blah melodrama learn some lesson. As a student who visited the wall in DC with family, the teacher asked me to describe it. I talked for maybe 2 mins about seeing it. She then talked about sacrifice and the people who went. Even as a kid I couldn't resist, and I said "uhhh, yeah but didn't your husband go to Canada instead?" A handful of my friends exploded with laughter and then the entire class giggled and did that 'choke on a laugh' thing. Yeah, this was detention. Freedom of speech didn't exist in that class, so I got detention and my friends who first hooted it up. It was worth it.

Her son would show up before school sometimes to talk to his mom, and he'd even substitute teach some days. I am 99% certain he is unmarried still and because he can't get married in the state. As only a stupid college kid would, he'd pick pseudo-intellectual arguments with 14 year olds. We didn't know shit about shit, but he'd bicker with us. Usually, when a dumb 14 year old would not 'listen' to his reasoning and act like a dumb 14 year old normally does, he'd get red faced and sweaty. Mind you, this jack ass is involved in politics with my home state's representation in Congress far higher than he should be.

At that point in my life (7th grade), my school 'system' was taking shape. I was bored by most classes, could ace everything, always looked for 'fun' in class, and had little respect for authority figures I deemed incompetent. After the detention for calling her hubby out for being a draft dodger, I decided to turn the jets up with small rebellions and pranks. Eventually, I had to stop it all the day I pranked her precious Diet Coke. Everyday she got a Diet Coke. Never did her any good. She also had a Diet Coke can holding her crappy carnation on her desk. At this point in the year, she had moved my desk to the front of the class right by her desk. She bought her soda, left the room right before the class bell and I swapped the cans. I played it cool and waited for her first sip. She spit it out on the floor, and yelled "Who did it?!?!?!?" Class was silent. My friend Tom raises his hand, she yells "TOM!" and he says "what Mrs. XX, did what?" She then incorrectly says "Who poured flower water into my Coke!?!?". Class was silent. I was lucky no one saw me. Then she laid out the ultimatum, "If no one admits to it, you all get detention for the week". I had to play Babar as usual in school, and admitted to it "I swapped your coke cans". I wanted her to know it was all gross water. I got detention for a week again. God, I remember this all too clearly that I even got giddy just typing it. Heck, my niece laughed hearty belly laughs just thinking about that fat piece of sh*t chugging and then spitting the dirty water out.

Sad part is, my cousin has her next year. I'm sending her a packet of pencils so she never has to buy a pencil and give that piece of shit any money. Hmmm, maybe she could sell pencils for $.10 and undercut that teacher. Awesome idea!!!

NY Times Stupidity & Brave New World Now

A perfect match of NY Times stuff white liberals like behavior and Brave New World right here.

Money quote: "I think it is kids' preference to pair up and have that one best friend. As adults - teachers and counselors - we try to encourage them not to do that," says Mustapha Mond, sorry Christine Laycob, director of hypnopa-sorry, counseling at some rich kid school.

Actively restraining children from their natural preference. She also mentions that parents say Johnny needs a best friend but we say he doesn't. As if the counselor/teacher knows what is best for your kid rather than you or your kid. This denies children a basic thing that they desire: a best friend. Note the quote to end the article where a school on the upper east side will act to stop a best friendship if it might be destructive to others. Define destructive. Is it abusive, violent and hate filled messing a child's mind or the much much lower standard of PC culture destructive where a slightly offensive thing happens? This is Brave New World. It's not too far removed from telling small children everyone belongs to everyone and to 'partner up' as much as possible. No shit the front edge of the Snowflake generation is has a hard time with the business world where you might get negative feedback and not everyone is an All Star.

A best friend, a secret sharer, a BFF, or a best buddy is a normal thing. The best friend can change with time, but the idea of having someone you can always count on is great for children. It is hard enough making sense of the world on your own as you grow up. Sad part is, this will go on without many parents knowing. The worse part is, the NY Times and the SWPL crowd will read this and approve. Just remember this when you kid can't figure out who will be their best man or maid of honor because they have 12 good friends and none that stand above the rest.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Fright Night

Netflix had "Fright Night" for instant download. Let's run down some bullet points on this vampire tale:

- Classic vampire rulles apply: no daylight, mirror reflections, crosses, etc.
- One must have faith to use the cross for fighting vampires.
- 80s screaming guitars for the soundtrack. The entire 80s soundtrack is laughable.
- Thriller make up effects
- Boobs
- The best friend and love interest are both played by gay actors. One would become "Marcy D'Arcy" from Married with Children, the other went on to do gay porn, seriously.
- The best friend is a douchebag. That is putting it politely. He plays annoying over the top.
- Seriously "Marcy D'Arcy" plays the cute, teen love interest (at age 27). She looks a bit like Bijou Phillips.
- A high school couple goes out for a year and still haven't had sex.
- The black biker guy from Friday the 13th part 3 is a bouncer in this. It doesn't go well for him here either.
- They call a has been actor to help them, and he becomes a reluctant Obi-wan character. Roddy McDowell really rocks out this character. I love the exchange where he says he has a starring role to run off to but quickly helps the charade for a $500 savings bond. His character is a running inside joke on horror movie culture. The redemption tale within this movie.
- Chris Sarandon plays the vampire calm, cool, collected, dark and sexy.
- The lead is a character you can rally around. I loved the shot of him whittling away a stake in a room of candles after his first encounter. He's realistic as a teen more fascinated by creepy neighbors than by the semi-naked girl in his room. He's had a decent, steady career.
- I wish more films like this were made today. Lower budget, good puppet effects, decent story, appealing characters, and a nice, drawn out pace.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Obama BP Speech Drinking Game

Drink Once when he...
1. says unprecedented
2. mentions something as historic
3. creates a straw man argument to beat
4. brings up random person from Lousiana/Alabama/Florida that has been affected as a human interest mention
5. says "look"

Drink Twice when he ...
1. sidesteps coziness between the White House and BP
2. claims government has been doing all it can from day 1
3. says we need to invest in solar and wind power to propel our cars (hint: they aren't a transportation fuel)

Drink Threes Times if he...
1. Mentions using natural gas as a transportation fuel

Finish your drink...
1. When he blames Bush

Light up a Joint...
1. If the Teleprompter stops and he just sits there waiting for it to kick back on

Mulholland Drive Accident

I read this and immediately thought that Charlie Sheen was going to wander around Los Angeles trying to figure out his identity with the help of a newbie to Hollywood who will disappear after having an intense romantic encounter with him. Maybe he'd just see the creepy muppet homeless man. This might explain his multiple decades of insanity.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Top 5 Favorite Van Morrison Songs

Van Morrison had a voice that could change per the tune's requirement, and a voice that aged well. The man's live performances had so much emotion, and you feel like he's giving his all right there on the stage like it is his last chance to sing that song.

5. Moondance
4. Wavelength
3. Caravan
2. Tupelo Honey
1. And It Stoned Me

Van is perfect music for background at a chill party of mixed company. Not everyone knows each other, but everyone has a Van Morrison song they love.


"Turn it up, turn it up, a lil bit higher, radio"

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Back to the Future Observation

Why didn't the community of "Hill Valley" kill off the Tannens or at least exile them? Seriously, they terrorized the town from 1885-2015 with bullying, murder, and random obnoxious shenanigans. That should have been a town vote.

Jonah Hill

How did Jonah Hill get cast in Hollywood productions?

Nepotism.

Friday, June 11, 2010

A Bob Seger Friday Night

Bob Seger is a blues based rock act from Michigan. The man bleeds blue collar Midwestern America. He was huge in Detroit first back when Detroit rocked. His discography is crammed with rock classics. Looking at his peak years, it is kind of funny to see how he was such a contrast to the disco, new wave, synth pop, punk genres. He was not stadium rock or rock opera like the Who and Led Zep. I enjoy his music and think a bunch of his tunes stand up today, not acting like a timestamp.

No matter when he was recorded, 1972 or 1992, the guy sounded the same. He had an old raspy soulful voice and it held up well. he could rock hard like on "Strut" and play it soft as he did with "We've got Tonight". He was magnificant live. His "Live Bullet" album is one of the best selling and best sounding live albums I've ever heard. The key is how strong his voice was. From that "Live Bullet" album, two rock station staples "Turn the Page" and "Travelin' Man/Beautiful Loser" are ripped from there. I've never heard the studio versions of those songs, and don't need to because the live versions are so clear and fantastic. He sounds like he means it.

Reading the lyrics, he probably does mean it. He's a Michigan guy who lived through the peak and decline. He wrote about heartache, taking to the road, living hard, working hard, but partying harder, fighting for what you could get, and growing up. He wrote about life. His songs commonly strike that nostalgia chord or are look back songs. "Night Moves", "Main St", "Like a Rock", and "Against the Wind" all have that frame story narrative. It is effective as it gets younger listeners to identify with the mental imagery of the story, but the point of view allows older listeners to play remember when. Considering the similar time periods involved, he's like a Midwestern Springsteen.



His greatest hits album has some small stories in the liner notes for each song. I loved seeing how the back up singers for "Night Moves" were from Quebec. This explains why they sing it "Night Move" and drop the 's'. The fact that he signed away the rights for 'Old time rock n roll' cost him millions as he notes that it was a giant jukebox hit (only behind Patsy Cline's 'Crazy'). You can learn the drum track for "Hollywood Nights" is actually 2 drum tracks layered or that "Weve' got Tonight" was inspired by the scene from "The Sting" where Redford propositions the waitress by saying 'its 2 in the morning and I don't know nobody'. I love the little nuggets of inspiration, creation and collaboration.

I've told my wife if I ever died young and she had to arrange my funeral, that she should use a funeral playlist of my choosing, instead of letting the place play that creepy mood music. I remember crafting up a list a few years back and Seger is there. I'd want people to hear something and think of me or a specific memory, not the everyday creepiness that most funerals have. Seger would put people at ease. I have memories of working on my night moves at a drive in. The Saco Drive In was a rite of passage. I am a gambler and striver like the subject of "Still the Same". The songs speak to me, and that's what I want with music. I want to hear it and feel it and Bob Seger manages to reach me. Thank you Bob Seger. I'm off to drink a beer in your honor.

#1 Bestseller on Amazon

F. A. Hayek wrote "The Road to Serfdom" almost 70 years ago. It now sits atop the Amazon bestseller list (because the lemmings bought what Mr. Beck discussed). In honor of that, some rap. "I want to steer markets, I want them set free". I love that female "centuryyyyyy" in the background of the chorus. I align with Hayek, but think the Keynes rap is fantastic.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Music from Great Depression 2

Big Band Jazz and Swing was jumpin' in the Great Depression. The Late 60s and early 70s saw political and economic strife and spawned plenty of great music. I still contend that grunge and the public enemy/nwa change in rap was recession related. I'm just going to sit back and wait for the good stuff to start showing up.

It might just be that musicians and music cannot get as big as in previous eras. Is there an artist or album, let alone 2, that could pop like Michael Jackson did with Thriller... in the same year Springsteen released Born in the USA? I doubt it. I'm going to punch the next person who says Coldplay = U2 20 years ago. No f-ing way. Coldplay is more like an electronic, smart Bread. Download some of Bread's greatest hits and you will hear Coldplay. I'm waiting world of music.

Sports + Gaga = Interesting Fan Experience

I commend Lady Gaga going to a Mets game in full Gaga gear. She sells her image completely. I'm still not down with most of her music, but kudos to her for not showing up in Mets gear. Wearing a leather jacket and rhinestoned bra to a Mets day game is an absolute waste of dressing up. I approve.

Google

I'm trying to get off the technology crack known as "Google". This is funny being on a Google owned blog. Yup, blogger is a Google property. I have immense respect for Google's algorithm and how it has earned them billions. They have made smart purchases of other properties (blogger being one of many), and they do have cool tools.

They also are pretty powerful and evil. The "Don't be evil" schtick is lame. I find that incredibly lame from a company that destroys competition and practically prints money. I don't do ads with them because I did it and suffered the Google 'black box' we need to boost revenue trick. They said I had done some odd behavior to boost my ads and page views. Yup, all 10 page views a week. What really happened is I bet they were looking at the books, saw they might not hit the right earnings per share number so they culled a bunch of low page view blogs that had ads. This way they sold the ad space for a few months but DQed blog publisher's so they could keep more. Their ad revenue algorithm is a secret, and no one knows what it will generate for them for revenue. This is why I would never buy their stock.

My real disgust with Google is the 'don't be evil schtick' combined with their obvious overlooking of certain dates that a lot of Americans might celebrate or recognize. The most recent example was June 6th, the D-day invasion. Bing and countless websites had little recognition bits for D-day. After all, it liberated Western Europe from the Nazis. Google was silent. Same goes for Sept 11th. Nothing nada. Bing had a background with the spotlights shining for the missing towers at night. Google couldn't be bothered. They have done this with Easter, as well as past Memorial days, other can do American stuff. They must be focused on the next designs for oddball days. After all, they only celebrate Edison's birthday, Sesame St's anniversary, and countless small dates in history. It's just lame.

Bing here I come.

Niece

My little niece AJ was born yesterday at 6 lbs 10 oz. Safe delivery, healthy momma, healthy baby. This good news does offset my fave college football team getting a huge penalty from the NCAA. Life is more important than sports.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Tiger - Maximum Balloon

Can't wait to download this in an illegal fashion. "Tiger" has a super grungy funk sound with German dance hall background and decent light guitar work. The vocals sound like my friend Thomas. I also hope it is longer than the 2 mins I have seen on the Esquire 'Daisy Lowe' clip.

Need a Smoke


Sometimes you just need a smoke.

Steve Jobs Visionary and Honorary McTroit Citizen

This interview with Steve Jobs done in 1996 is eye opening. Kudos to him for making so many ideas happen.

Observations:

1. 'Webobjects' - This must be the early name for Iphone apps. Reading how he describes them and what purpose they are to serve, you see the embryonic stage of the Iphone app. He went out and created the premier platform for these webobjects to make $$$.

2. Web winners will sell - Itunes fits his idea of people who will win on the web will have something to sell. He has destroyed the idea of music stores by building the greatest music store out there in virtual cyberspace. He made downloading music legal and reasonably priced.

3. In 1996, he is the changed man we see now - He's gone from the revolutionary, aggressive showman to the creator inside the system. He doesn't want to change the world and accepts that. He wants to work well within the new world.

4. He's ahead of the curve on education - The problems he cites with education, voucher systems being a great tool, and the teacher unions creating a bureaucracy problem that hurts effectively educating children are issues that 'ideologues' would only propose or not be spoken in polite company. After all, everyone has a relative that is a teacher who should be paid more? The governor of NJ, Chris Christie, is going after this issue right now, and other states should be doing it but don't have the courage or leadership. His idea about vouchers possibly spurring private schools left and right is interesting. People might buy land in Detroit and start McTroit, where families who want their kids to succeed can send their kids for a good education. Detroit spends 13.5K per student for a 25% graduate. Indy isn't much better.

5. Not needing a desktop - It took time, but he saw the future as being email, browsing, transactions, not storage. He knew it was coming, so he combined no. 5 with no. 1 to get to the Iphone.

6. Information overload - There is too much out there, and people aren't thinking. He knows this and sends information at people with a firehose in their hand. Give the people what they want.

7. Pixar's origins - Jobs bought Pixar from Lucasfilm in 1986. He created the juggernaut that is Pixar, and collected millions when it went public in the mid 90s. Lucasfilm hasn't made anything of value since 1996. WHY DID LUCAS SELL PIXAR?????? He's an idiot.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Runaway Husbands

Oh no! Another horrible thing men do. Runaway Husbands! The text message and post-it note guys are bad, but how else are you suppose to say "it's over"? There is no right moment, right place or right time. Is this something new? Nope. Bruce Springsteen wrote about it in "Hungry Heart" in 1980, and it wasn't a new idea then. People just have to accept that there are despicable people out there, there are people that don't handle situations well and these people exist in great numbers.

Both genders do this, and this sounds like another self pity party. Bring the nachos. Everyone knows multiple stories of this runaway problem. I know several. Few can top a friend who was married for less than one year and his in-laws called him months after the divorce to speak to their daughter. He informed them that she had moved out without a word, and they were divorcing. It was news to even them. This made the expensive destination wedding in Trinidad and Tobago look even more foolish.

This was on the 'news'. God forbid they discuss the massive transfer of wealth going on with our trillions in bank bailouts or the hundreds of billions soon going to Europe to bail out loose, lazy countries from restructuring their debts and changing their ways. Maybe an honest piece on China's fake growth built on the backs of exploited millions, environmental degredation, currency manipulation, and intellectual property theft instead of just "The China Miracle: Central Planning & Dictatorship Works". Nope, we need more fluff pieces like this.

Steroids in Hollywood

Cracked nails it right here with their 8 celebs most likely on roids. I would have added the Tobey Maguire pre-Spiderman, Spiderman and the post-Spiderman physique. The guy added +/-25 lbs of muscle in 2 months and then lost it all. This doesn't make the cover of Us Magazine but it should, right there next to "See what Surgeries and Insane Diet Extremes Gave So and So their Killer Beach Body".

The World Cup and America

The US sports loving public will never fully embrace the World Cup because the flopping and faking is something America is repulsed by at its core. We dislike cheaters, liars and winning by non-sportsman methods. There is winning the right way, and falling down at the slightest contact is un-American.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Book Review: The Gulag Archipelago

If you are looking to blow your mind, dig into a lesser known historical epoch, explore human darkness and light, laugh out loud at death and misery, look no further than this book. The Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn is one of the greatest non-fiction works I have ever read. It is referred to as an experiment in literary investigation. I have completed volume 1, which is books 1 + 2, and will be looking for the later volumes. This is the epic book on the Soviet prison system, the Gulag, from a prisoner, scholar and human being who would not be destroyed by the system. Solzhenitsyn (AS) used his amazing memory, interviews and the kindness of friends to capture as many stories as possible from fellow inmates and source as much information as possible to write this history of the Gulag while still living in the Soviet police state after his release. AS's work is breathtaking in its ability to weave personal anecdotes and tales within the framework of the history of the system. While it might sound insensitive, there is great humor and sarcasm throughout the book. This is the type of work that we as humans should be proud of and spotlight whenever it emerges.

The Gulag Archipelago (GA) takes the reader along the islands of the prison system, its sewers, its methods and its dirty secrets. AS does his best to teach the reader how everything could happen even in as backward a nation as Soviet Russia. The imagery used is amazing and very engaging despite how macabre and eerie it is to envision. Some Holocaust deniers and other skeptics of the monstrosities of the Soviets, Mao's China and the Khmer Rouge love to point out how difficult it would be to pull it off in a country without others noticing. AS does a fantastic job of describing how the trains for the Gulag are right there in plain sight just covered up slightly. Black Maria prisoner transports with "Bread", "Meat" and "Drink Soviet Champagne!" painted on the side are the hidden shuttles.

"Drink Soviet Champagne!" is referred to multiple times and is part of the secret success of this book. It is filled with dark, sarcastic humor. Gallows humor is strewn throughout this book. He can joke about his own dumb actions, the naivete of new prisoners or the sheep of Soviet Russia, and the dumb rules, regulations, and norms of the Gulag. GA will make you laugh out loud right after chilling your skin with a horrible story of suffering. Your eyes will well with tears at one page, to turn to the next page and chuckle at a phrase AS inserts to poke fun at a prisoner's stupidity or the bizarre rationalizations of the Soviets in charge. AS is at his comedic best when describing the convoys, the jailers, interrogations and the bizarro 'trials'. These are not even the horrible show trials of the '37 purge but smaller show trials of the '20s. AS does a fantastic job of reminding the reader of the smallest of injustices within the big picture and how it all fits into the puzzle.

AS expresses his annoyance with the books and lamentations that all go back to the purges of 1937 as if that was an aberration withint he good old days of Soviet Russia. This book is the sledgehammer to that myth. The GA shows how the mechanism for repression and terror started back in the early days of Soviet Russia under Lenin. It is disturbing to read how the Soviets would have 'waves' as AS writes it of new types of prisoners. Church figures or even just practicing private citizens were imprisoned or executed for their beliefs. The intelligentsia, engineers, kulaks, you name it, the Soviets imprisoned or killed them. AS wants people to understand that the GA was not just a symptom of Stalin's supreme asshole-ness, but was an integral part of the Soviet system. Anyone who might show some independent thought or strength of character would be taken care of in the Mafia sense. It is a good analogy, the Mob and the Commies. Many of their methods overlap.


American children if they take a European history class get the idea that the Russians fought in WW1, the Tsar abdicated, Russia made a separate peace with Germany and then the Bolsheviks took over. It was not so simple, and the Soviets took over as a beaten and scared ruling party. They used prison, executions, and fear to keep control of such a large country. The Soviets manipulated groups to win the civil war, and then turned on those very groups that helped them (farmers especially). AS describes how the Soviets turned on the very people who helped their victory, and then turned on other political parties that allied with them for the revolution, but weren't quite Bolshevik. It is a painful betrayal, and one that peopel did not see because the Bolsheviks were the ultimate bait and switch crew. All of this from the Germans sending Lenin in a sealed train car to Russia to maybe help shut down the eastern front of WW1.

The Gulag system, which started at the USSR's infancy, was partly reponsible for the industrial advances and production of the nation. This was a slave labor system. AS refers to this often, and it will dawn on the reader how much of the infrastructure of Russia was made at the expenses of 'prisoners'. This might explain why the Soviets had such amazing growth and then saw their economic growth slow as the Gulag system was wound down. Maybe without the slave labor, they had to incur true costs for basics which created allocation of capital problems. I'd have to read up on it more, but it is sickening to read AS's words and think that some of these arrests were just because projects needed manpower. Still, the 'arrests' were a terror tactic that had the unintended benefit of manpower.

Arrests are discussed in great detail in the GA. Why, how, when, who and what, all are addressed. For the slightest offhand remark a citizen gets a tenner (10 yr sentence). Forced confessions and false statements lead to other arrests. AS describes article 58, and how it basically allowed for anyone of any suspicion to be arrested. This is pure terror. This is a true police state of terror designed for use against the very citizens it claims to represent and serve. AS does discuss the blue caps of state security, their methods and the sick world they operate in. AS even explores the possibility of working with them when he was in school considering his future. Some of the most interesting chapters are centered on the arrests and interrogations and just how a nation could submit to this in such a quiet manner.

AS mentions that some of the earlier arrests and trials were problematic for the Soviet ruling elite, and that the first wheat is the hardest to cut down. This might be part of the problem. The Soviets might have targeted the toughest opposition first, eliminated them in the '20s and then moved onto terroizing any dissent later. It might have also hurt that the Tsar used methods of imprisonment and iron fist rule at times which made compliance ingrained in the national character. Russians were used to Tsar rule, and in the end, wasn't Stalin just another Tsar? AS makes certain to show just how mild the Tsars were in contrast to the Soviets. The numbers of executions and the rate of execution are frightening in comparison. Plus you had Soviet judges who said "no they won't be executed, they'll be shot" (paraphrasing). Why didn't they fight back? They knew what an arrest meant, so why not go down fighting? This problem starts right at the night of arrest and continues to their transport when prisoners know the charges were false, the trial rigged, the sentence no shorter than 8 years, and hard labor was staring them in the face.

The Soviet Gulag system, as well as Mao's forced famines, are not addressed too closely in modern discussions of those countries. Keep in mind that anything the USA has ever done is currently being apologized for by our current POTUS, but have we as a world ever given proper 'bad dog' finger wagging at the Soviets (and other commies)? The UN and other International things don't do much more than finger wag but has this portion of Russian history been properly addressed? Wikipedia's entry for the Gulag makes a small reference to this. Germans still bear the burden of Nazism, so why not the Russians for the repression on their own people and others who are now independent? In America, I think there is a slight issue of fellow traveler cover. Even on Wikipedia's entry for GA, there is the line that the GA's take on the Gulag system being a part of Soviet life starting with lenin and not just a Stalin brainchild is the prevalent view of right wing writers and scholars. Sorry, but reading this book, seeing released USSR documents, and hearing the stories after the USSR's fall should make it the view of anyone. There might be a reluctance to admit this was the Soviet way because for years, decades even, there was that strain of Americans (referred to pinkies or pinkos back in the day) who wanted people to try to understand the commies. Maybe they spent years using the moral relativism argument to say the US was no better than the USSR. Maybe it is just too tough to admit one is wrong? Tough to talk tough on the bad Soviet Gulag system when you wore Mao shirts in college or at dinner parties labelled yourself a Marxist (I have one aunt that is a Marxist).

This book acts as a flashlight on that dark world. It is a bit of a love letter to those who died within the Gulags sewage system. There is a passage that strikes me as part of the love letter for fellow victims theme and reminds me of why the Holocaust museum was created:
"Thus many were shot, thousands at first, then hundreds of thousands. We divide,
we multiply, we sigh, we curse. But still and all, these are just numbers. They
overwhelm the mind and then are easily forgotten. And if someday the relatives
of those who had been shot were to send one publisher photographs of their
executed kin, and an album of those photographs were to be published in several
volumes, then just by leafing through them and looking into the extinguished
eyes we would learn much that would be valuable for the rest of our lives. Such
reading, almost without words, would leave a deep mark on our hearts for all
eternity
."
While not a collection of photos of the murdered, this book is the tapestry of their lives. They did not die as a faceless number in the Gulag system. Their stories fill this book and make it the beautiful book that it is. Near the end of the book, there is a passage that moved me as the author recounts hearing normal conversations on a train ride while he was being transported by a special transfer. It was his dip back into 'freedom' as a ghost-like figure. I'm not going to bother with suburban commentary on it. I'm just going to leave you all with it. If you do buy this book and read it, please honor the lives of these people and read their story.
"What about the main thing in life, all its riddles? If you want I'll spell
it out for you right now. Don't pursue what is illusory - property and position:
all that is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is
confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life - don't
be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all
the same; the bitter doesn't last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to
overflowing. It is enough if you don't freeze in the cold and if thirst and
hunger don't claw at your insides. if your back isn't broken, if your feet can
walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear,
then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devous us most of all.
Rub your eyes and purify your heart - and prize above all else in the world
those who love you and wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never
part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be
your last act before your arrest, and that will be how you are imprinted in
their memory!"

Saturday, June 05, 2010

70s Billy Joel

Despite growing up with Billy Joel brilliantly using the music video format to reach mass audiences, creating a great 2nd act to his career, I am partial to 70s Billy Joel. Songs like "Captain Jack" fit spoiled NYers I knew in college, "Anthony's Song" somehow reached a small town kid from Maine, and "Scenes from an Italian Restaurant" is an absolute story song classic. "Big Shot" feels like it is a hate filled, angry sonnet to an annoying bitch. Billy Joel songs of the 70s feel grittier, darker and a bit less commercial.






Plus "The Stranger" is dark, evil and magnificent. I loved it at first listen. Long live Billy Joel 70s songs.

Feds 'Saving' Journalism?

The government is trying to figure out how to 'save' the press. This feeds right into my blog post from Friday about government interference. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that a press subsidized by the government will 'self-censor' and be a midwife to whatever schemes the govt wishes to do (worse than they have been the last 20 years). This would hurt the freedom of the press. It would alos create a subset of the media that will operate at a low cost compared to unsubsidized competition.

1. Why are we bailing out a company that has not changed their format?
2. Why bailout this subset of the industry out and not others?
3. Why not allow a news corp to file bankruptcy and be bought by a private investor and changed? Companies buy news media properties all of the time. GE took advantage of NBC, MSNBC and CNBC while they could.
4. How could this be twisted by a 'bad guy' taking control of this mechanism of power?

Numbers 1-3 will be given maybe 2 seconds of thought by the current Congress just like the Health care reform and Financial reform that less than half the population supported and are so confusing that the dirty secrets of those bills are being exposed now. Number 4 should cause all of them to pause for a good long while. Imagine a POTUS with Clinton/Reagan charisma, charm and communication skills combined with Wilson's brutal crushing of any dissent (go look up how many war 'protestors' he locked up) and Nixon's superb instincts and Machiavellianism. It would be scary. Let the big papers shrink, change or fail. Keeping zombie banks around is the same insult to the rest of the industry, and the nation's taxpayers, that keeping zombie banks alive is.

Good Stats on Russian Fertility

Nice little article on Russian childbirth trends. I blogged on this last fall. Total population growth will still be a problem because of the emigration problem. The 'table 1' graphic is scary. A wide variety of countries in the former Communist bloc have seen birthrates drop below 2.0 and some dip below 1.5. While these countries have seen problems with AIDS, thank god they have not seen the AIDS infection & mortality rates of sub-Saharan Africa. Eastern Europe would be a ghost land from the increased mortality, death of middle aged parents, and low birth rates.

For that matter, imagine sub-Saharan Africa with low birth rates. Ghost continent.

Recent Hot Streak

I've been on a recent investing hot streak. I'm prob jinxing it by blogging about the streak. I've always loved the idea of investing. I've had an outside stock account since Oct of 2008. I'm up a significant bit, but so are a lot of people who have been riding the rally since March 2009. Some moves are long term investments, and I just try to find good entry points. Recently, my success has been from trading against the rally. I'm using leveraged inverse ETFs as short term trades. These ETFs are designed to move in the opposite direction of a stock market index or specific sector. They can be 1 for 1 or 2x and 3x the movement. On a given day, if the emerging market index drops by 2%, the inverse etf, EDZ, will move 6% up. I've been riding this one when the market feels disconnected from reality and jump out when the ETF hits a target number.

Just investing for 18 months and paying attention, I'm getting more of a feel for when to move. I'm kicking myself for not jumping in Thursday afternoon but I, like many Americans, thought that since the POTUS said earlier in the week, we'd have a 'big jobs number', so I thought the market would rally on the big jobs number Friday meaning I could buy some of these inverse ETFs even cheaper on Friday. I was wrong as the jobs number STUNK. The market dropped like a rock, and the inverse ETFs skyrocketed. I'm bumming but just going to be patient. Trading is far different that picking out long term investments, and I'm now getting to that point where it is OK to listen to my gut. It is a short term relationship, not a long term marriage. Research, pick your entry spot, set stop loss points, and have a goal to reach. Hit the goal, get out. You got to set up guidelines. Not rules, as rules are too strict. I know I'd enjoy being a hedge fund trader or macro strategist, but I wouldn't want to have a family dependent on my moves. It is a nice hobby with fun money for now.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Friday Night Political Thought

Much is made of left and right, conservative and liberal, but do many stop and think of what they truly believe? No. Many folks are dopes, and even then, many who think of themselves as one or the other are pretty mixed up. I actually think the economic hard times will cause parties to re-evaluate issues, and toss aside what they absolutely want vs. frivolous reaches of the past 20 years. I've blogged before about being a libertarian and even considering myself a bit along the lines of anarcho-capitalists, but believing in the primacy of individual freedom and the right for adults to be free and act as they wish as long as their actions do not infringe on other's right to freedom. Classical Liberalism is a good label, which does not mean what many contemporary people think it means. Many people just don't line up their thoughts with what they say they believe in.

Political diamond graphs, squares or whatever can give you a good post for where you 'fit' in relation to modern America. They also have questions geared to slide you into convenient labels. I often laugh when my friends find that they fall far too deep in the statist/fascist/socialist sections. Unfortunately, modern American politics and western civ economic success have made many people who once were considered 'liberal' in the Democrat sense into statists and 'conservative' in the GOP sense has gone from limited government and interference into pro-business and value socialism.

Liberals don't like being considered statists (I've seen the recoil when they see that's their label), but their policies might be culturally liberal, but 'rights' are derived from the state and the courts and much control of one's life is ceded to the state. An existence provided and based on a state's whims will always be subject to the whims of who is in charge of the state apparatus. Laws giving people power can have the best of intentions, but good intentions paved the 6 lane superhighway to hell. Doe eyed modern statists do not understand that once you bring the government into an issue, you suddenly make it subject to whomever is in charge. It also means that money can influence the decisions. If not allowed to make a decision or have sway over an industry, then money from industry will not find its way into government. Liberal statists forget that when you want the government to provide services, 1. it must provide the same crap for everyone and 2. you need to generate a lot of tax revenue to pay for it all making you subject to the big tax payers. It's like network TV having comedies like 2 1/2 Men while HBO shows Curb Your Enthusiasm. Sadly, liberals consider themselves the good guys who promote freedom, justice and equality (watch MTV vote or die ads), when they do not realize they are lovers of a state power determining life for a vast populace.

I have GOP friends who do not understand that they are value socialists. They do not understand that by fusing laws with their values (yes I know some of basic law is from Judeo-Christian norms) they are imposing a value viewpoint in law which curbs others' right to live their lives as they wish without harming others. They also fail to see how the idea of writing the law infused with 'values' could end up being used against them when the other party is in power. What the GOP used to stand for, small govt and little interference in the economics of the country, was replaced with limited govt interference in economics but plenty of do gooder type laws and actions. The GOP used be to strongly aligned with classical liberalism, but replaced it with heavy doses of God. Somewhere things moved from being supporters of the freedom of religion to writing laws and working in a way to promote religion non-stop. I even think some of that promotion has made atheists and their lame lawsuits far worse than they would be otherwise. The conservatives failed to see that they should be avoiding new laws, promoting individual freedom, and not giving the government more power which could be used against them if in the minority.

I do think the GOP went too far in the 2002-2006 era of values, and this was partly to differentiate themselves from the Dems that became so buddy buddy with big business. The Dems really cozied up to big business. It is as if the Dems figured they could let the rich and corporations make as much money as possible, but as long as taxes were paid, it would pay for the nice social programs. I believe a nation with only big businesses would be much easier and more beneficial to the Dems as they could have fewer targets to shake down. A nation of small businesses would be harder to control and much tougher to regulate, watch, threaten, etc. This is why I laugh with my lib friends hatred of big business per their taling points emails from the DNC, but their absolute love affair with Apple and Google. Those companies have a combined market cap of over 400 billion (that's a lot), yet they have done a tremendous PR job to manipulate the magnetism of coolness. Google and Apple dominate their markets in monopolistic fashion (scary here), which they worked hard to earn and deserve kudos. Liberals would curse any company that reached that dominance in another field, but Apple and Google have both cultivated an image to manipulate their support. I'm rambling now, but it is once again, the liberal friends of mine that speak often of being the good guys that stand for freedom yet, like sheep, support the big bad monopoly power.

Part of my hope for now is that because of the expansion of government power in the last 15 years, which is just a continuation of its massive expansion since FDR, there is a pushback from the population. Increasingly, we have a political class out of touch with the 300 million it exerts power over. Michelle Obama once said she hoped to challenge people to get up and be involved. It just might not be the involvement she hoped to unleash. An active and engaged populace would be a good thing (my Maine town hall influence). It would be far superior to blindly voting on local measures or saying it doesn't matter. It would be marvelous for more people to read up on political thought and carefully think about what it is they believe in and why.

Lost Finale Good Read

Emily Nussbaum and I must have had a meeting to discuss the finale. She works my relationship angle very well and rocked a nuanced review. I still think the show runners had no pacing skills and blew the final season, setting the finale up for a difficult 2 hour wrap up.

I still like my Aaron is MIB and finale consciousness shift idea better.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Song Used on TV Shows, Ads and Promos



Background music, segway music, theme music, this song has been popping up on different shows.

My Laptop and TV can Hook-up

Yes, thanks to the miracle of the HDMI output on my laptop, my laptop and HDTV can combine to become one entertainment center of awesomeness. If I want to watch streaming video, I can now do it on a 42 inch screen. I will not have to buy a 2nd DVD player when my wife and I get our TV for the bedroom. I'm excited.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Squatter Stimulus Program

I commented on this idea with friends, the squatter stimulus program, and this NY Times's article has taken the odd stance of this being an OK thing to spotlight and not portray in a poor manner. This is lightyears from the articles on subprime lower class 'losers' and scammers who used their home like an ATM and walked away with the copper piping and wiring, cackling at the banks. Every financial blog I read has commented or cited this article. I have noticed one common missing note: the failure to hold any large entity accountable has trickled down to common borrower behavior.

There is much in this article that will make a person vomit. People not paying a mortgage and using that money to take their airboat out, go to casinos, and to play games with the contract that they signed known to you and I as a mortgage. Seriously, a lawyer filed a motion to dismiss and it has delayed proceedings for a year. What can they dismiss? They haven't paid in 2 years??? The NY Times shows people using the money to get by, to help their business, and to spend on useless shit which is part of our problem in the first place. The running theme of quotes is to shift blame on the banks, even when the people involved used the house like a credit card, and say 'those dirty banksters are crooks, who cares'. Just because a bank is a crook does not make it right for you to do the same. Two wrongs do not make a right.

Yet, there is no fear, more and more borrowers will pull this act and stay rent free longer and longer. They can't be touched, after all, the big banks and AIG haven't been stopped. No one has been arrested. No one will be at AIG per recent releases. Why should they? One borrowers mentions the bank not lending per income ratios.... well why were you taking that loan to get a truck for a contest giveaway? You still applied for the loan. The bank didn't just factor in your income, they thought if you got in trouble you'd be able to sell your home (the asset) for an amount to cover that loan. They relied on the bubble asset pricing to cover your loan. If the home was still worth a high amount, your ass would be selling it to pay back the loan. This article, the 60 mins segment and the power of word of mouth will probably make this problem worse. This will crush loss reserves set aside as banks might not anticipate people who can pay but won't want to pay in their reserving and write offs.

The article does not portray these folks as 'bad'. The attitude and cultural norm has shifted. It isn't wrong. It is money-wise, the right thing to do for some people, but it is still 'wrong'. You are breaking a contract. When big criminals are not accountable, and are allowed to mark their loans to make believe, why should the little guy worry? Who is ever accountable? People are not allowed to fail and to deal with the consequences of failure anymore, BUT, if a wealthy person/organization/company is involved in an accident, you bet your ass they will be served with a lawsuit. Accountability is only for those who can pay. In the end, these banks that avoid criminal charges can pay. They pay in two ways: 1. campaign contributions and 2. in taxes through their profits. I do not view this squatting as the problem, but as the symptom of the bigger societal problem.

...extend unemployment for up to 99 weeks

...pretend the banks are solvent with accounting gimmicks

...delay foreclosures in the courts with no negative consequence for the borrower

...bailout foreign countries before they change their retirement rules and force citizens to retire at >gasp< 65

...bailout car companies, especially Chrysler which had just been bought by private equity funds only 18 months earlier, without revamping their union pay and benefit structures

...bailout Fannie and Freddie who were designed to help make housing affordable... as housing became unaffordable in proportions never seen before

It's a bailout nation for big boys, so why should the little guy not feel entitled to skipping out on payments?

SNL: Great Song Parody



This is my favorite skit all season from SNL besides the Betty White CSI:Sarasota skit. If you watch the video that this is making fun of, you will appreciate the SNL skit more.

Government of the Lawyers, By the Lawyers, For the Lawyers

Our POTUS has received unfair criticism in some regards for the BP oil spill clean up fiasco. Some accidnets are tough to respond to when there are few if any precedents (see: Katrina levee breaches). Some of it is his own making of proclaiming government can fix things and the i'm superman cult of personality, but it was an accident. One problem is that he is receiving so much heat that he now has to 'do something' to show his admin is trying.

They are launching a criminal and civil investigation into the oil spill.

It was an accident, and his admin has said so themselves. This is silly. It is an admin made up of lawyers doing what they know how to do: create lawsuits, arrest people, hang somebody for wrongdoing even if they are not criminal guilty. Lame.