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Special captions are available for the humor-impaired.

Thursday, August 29, 2002

Rise and Shine, Puto Gringo

Guadalajara, Guadalajara;
Guadalajara, Guadalajara.
Tienes el alma de provinciana,
hueles a limpia rosa temprana;
a verde jara fresca del rio;
son mil palomas, tu caserio.
Guadalajara, Guadalajara,
hueles a pura tierra mojada.


Don’t get me wrong; I like this song as much as the next guy, but I don’t need to hear it coming up from the courtyard my building shares with a neighboring restaurant. Not at the volume level of “once" at which the kitchen staff prefer. I love Mariachi music and most of the time I find the workers’ music and singing accompaniment to be fun and charming, a perk to my apartment, but I was up late last night. I like to be drinking tequila with music this loud and uproarious; not three and a half hours into a night’s sleep.

Here is the punch line to the above paragraph: The restaurant from which the fiesta is emanating is a Thai place. Perhaps I have finally discovered the “mystery” of the Orient. The beauty of this set-up is that all of the people working in the front of the restaurant are Thai with varying skill levels in English. The interaction between the two cultures in this restaurant would make for a pretty entertaining, three language sitcom.

Letter to the Editor

Since I'm a little short on material today I'll pass along a letter I sent to Dan Savage, Village Voice columnist of Savage Love. For those of you people who don't read him (does anyone in America NOT read him?) he writes a sex advice column. He recently ran a piece on a strange sexual proclivity for dressing up in an animal costume for sex. These people call themselves "furries."


Dear Mister Savage Love,

I read with intense interest your column regarding this rather distasteful and deceptive propensity to dress up as one of God's lesser beasts for cheap sexual gratification. Just the other evening I settled down in front of the VCR to watch a few minutes of unwholesome entertainment. Imagine my horror when I discovered that what I thought was an unspeakable act of bestiality turned out to be something as harmless as a strung-out runaway and two guys in a moose suit. I applaud your crusade to educate the general public about these weirdoes.

God Bless,

Someone who thinks animal impersonation is the depth of depravity


OK, I said I was low on material today.


Boring Economic Stuff

If you have some free time and would like to listen to an excellent lecture on Democracy and Globalization hit this link. John Ralston Saul has helped to shape my views on everything from economics to literature, from celebrity worship to modern art.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

How Do I Love Thee? Rating Your Stalker

First let me begin with a brief history of love. Forgive me if the dates aren’t exact but our fact checkers have been outsourced to our customer service center in Huancayo, Peru. The company is saving a bundle so they tell me not to sweat the small stuff like accuracy. Has anyone in the office seen the Quechua/English dictionary?

1200 A.D. Troubadours in the south of France disseminate the idea of love through popular songs. Men other than troubadours plagiarize their songs and hook-up right and left.
1600’s Shakespeare raises the bar on romance and mushy-ness with his sonnets and plays. Because copyright laws are invented men are forced to actually express themselves to women in their own words. Most men don’t even bother and hence there is born a huge market for a 24 hour sports news channel for guys with no charm.
1931 The greeting card is invented and men are off the hook again. Cards are sold in the same aisle of the store where you find beer and snack products. This is even easier than ripping off lines from the troubadours. A lot of women seem to think the cards are cute and heartfelt even if they come with slurred signatures and covered with Cheeto stains.
1980 Men’s notion of love founders on the barrier reef of modern society. In response to this alienation the rock group Air Supply releases its love anthem, I’m All Out of Love. Are men truly “all out of love?” Many people feel this song to be the height of kitsch but it proves to be a turning point in the way in which men would express their romantic ideals. The intense outpouring of feeling resulting from the Air Supply tune leads directly to the birth of stalking—the new romance.

But this isn’t a history lesson. This column is directed to the female readers.

Women, do you ever feel that your stalker isn’t really trying very hard? I mean, how committed do you have to be to call someone on the phone a few times a day and hang up? Maybe loser-boy shows up at your work and screams out “If I can’t have you then no one can,” as he is escorted out of the building by security. Yawn. If only you had a nickel for every time you’ve seen that one before.

Christo covers the Reichstag in a paroxysm of creative energy and all your stalker jerk can muster is a poorly-written note left under your car’s windshield wiper? Maybe it’s time the two of you had a talk about where this relationship is going. Let him know that you felt a tinge of jealousy when you heard that the blond tramp in the temp pool has a stalker who sends her a bouquet of flowers every day. Admit to him that you actually pulled a bunch of orchids out of the dumpster and took them home. One girl’s stalker garbage is another girl’s center piece. It’s stalker envy, it’s pathetic, and you’re sick and tired of it.

The lame antics your stalker has been pulling don’t even rank a restraining order, unless he’s willing to go down to the courthouse and wait in line for you. His brand of obtrusiveness is about as threatening as a shy Girl Scout selling cookies. If he really wants to get your attention he should try 24 hour surveillance, seven days a week, rain or shine. He should send disturbing letters written, if not in blood--which is just totally gross--then at least in red ink. Or how about a tasteful gift once in a while; something practical like a nice sauté pan with a lid. Is that asking too much? If he’s old school perhaps a self-inflicted tattoo.

Where is the commitment? Where is the obsession? He doesn’t even call in the middle of the night like any other self-respecting creep but phones between 6 and 8 in the evening like some love-sick telemarketer. It’s time to lay down the law with this sicko. Either he needs to bring his stalking to a new level or you're going to fix him up with one of your desperate single friends. Let’s see how much energy he has for bothering you when he has to help his new girlfriend paint her kitchen or take her cat to the vet.

A Clean, Well-Lit Place

And the food ain’t bad--and beer, did I mention that they have beer?)

If you read a lot then you are, by nature, an anti-social creature. At least you are anti-social while you are reading. To read you have to close all of the other windows in your life, or most of them, anyway. I sometimes read stuff out loud (I like women that like being read to) but most of my reading has been done for private consumption.

I have periods in which I tend to go overboard on a lot of things that make up my life: work, exercise, piano, social life, and reading. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to go overboard on all of these positive things at the same time so a period of intense piano practice coincides with doldrums in my work-out schedule. It’s like I am juggling these things and one or more of them is on the floor while the others are being tossed around.

I’ve never been much of a juggler thus my ascension to Renaissance man status will be done in the matter that I seem to do everything else: half-assed and drastically behind schedule.

I’m a public reader. I like to read in cafes and bars. One place I gravitate towards--if it is late enough in the day for me to feel comfortable having a drink--is The Two Bells Tavern in the Belltown section of Seattle. It is the perfect neighborhood pub for reading: good light, not too crowded, nice tables near the windows, and the food and drink are good.

I have been on a bit of a reading bender lately. Yesterday I don’t think I talked to a single person all day long except in the course of a business transaction. I stopped by Two Bells at around six and took a table by the window. I ordered an amber ale and put on my dorky reading glasses. I only wear them if I am going to be reading for an hour or more. I have not needed glasses until last year. They’re a complete pain in the ass but if you have had your nose in a book your entire life your eyes are going to go sooner or later.

For me I find it necessary to combine the anti-social pursuit of reading with the social medium of public areas. Sitting in a café helps to alleviate the solitary confinement aspect of staring into a book. Not that I find the prospect of solitary confinement to be a total horror. I am fascinated by writing about prison, both fictional accounts and memoirs. I would suspect that a lot of compulsive readers have fantasized about being stuck in a cell with nothing to do but read.

My apartment isn’t much bigger than a prison cell, at least compared with a suburban McMansion. If I could only take one of my books and one of my CD’s with me when they drag me off to prison for a life sentence which ones would I choose? I have thought about this quite a bit for someone who has never committed a felony. What book and record would you choose?

Saturday, August 24, 2002

Not So Brave, Not So New World

I am often challenged with the question, “If you’re so smart why aren’t you rich and famous?” I have answered this question often here in the pages of Leftbanker: I am unpopular because I bring forth ideas, and ideas challenge people to rethink their own notions. People do not like to think, they prefer to be reassured.

Few enough people read this page and most of them seem to have arrived here completely by accident while doing a Google search for “Franky Muniz burp” or the ever popular search request “Indain porn [sic].”

Some of the ideas that I have set forth here are so revolutionary that they threatened to knock our society on its side; like this idea I proposed some time ago but didn’t post because our national psyche was too delicate at that time (no, it wasn’t 911, it was back when MASH * was going off the air). Perhaps I can unveil this idea now without rupturing the thin fabric of American popular consciousness.

Here goes. You know how girls like to show off their butt cracks these days by wearing low-riding jeans that expose their thongs or g-string underwear for all the world to see. And do you know how girls like to get the area above their butt cracks done up with tattoos. My idea is that girls should get a tattoo on their butts of a g-string killing two fashion birds with one stone and thus saving themselves a fortune on expensive Victoria Secret underwear. For men, homo-erotic rap artists and skateboarders could tattoo boxer shorts on their behinds thus freeing them from the shackles of Calvin Klein and Gap underwear.

Whether or not this nation has sufficiently recovered from its post-M*A*S*H (P-M) hysteria to cope with such a radical concept I suppose is a question best put to the political pundits--the lice of popular journalism. The real problem with this idea, as well as many other concepts I have introduced, is the opposition it is likely to receive from big business. The vast Underwear Industrial Complex in this country controls much of the media and has bought and paid for most of our politicians. They are sure to snuff out this idea before it catches fire with the American public.


* while channel surfing in my hotel room last week I realized that there exists an entire newtwork (at least it seems that way) dedicated entirely to showing reruns of this tired old TV comedy.

Wednesday, August 21, 2002

Humor = Democracy

HUMOR = DEMOCRACY

The world portrayed by Homer is a world ruled by kings, but one of its remarkable features is the freedom with which lesser men speak their minds to greater men; they risk anger, abuse and violence, but the risk has more in common with prodding a bull than with ridiculing the sacraments. Democracy was a logical consequence of irreverence.

THE GREEKS, Kenneth Dover

This is a great book, by the way, filled with insight into the world of the Greeks and trenchant analogies to the present. If I can take Mister Dover’s observation a bit further I would say that humor is a very powerful form of irreverence and presents a tremendous challenge to humorless, dictatorial rule (such as the case in most of the Muslim world). Imagine the course history may have taken had someone stood up in that Munich beer hall and asked, “Yo Hitler, what the fuck is up with that stupid moustache?” The entire house of cards could have come crashing down.

The pillory of political leaders in America has been the bread and butter for comedians since the beginning of this country. Think about Nixon and you think of shaking jowls and the scowl of a criminal. Ford’s clumsy bumbling practically made Chevy Chase’s career. Jimmy’s Carter’s naiveté and southern drawl were easy targets for parody. Reagan’s speech patterns are mimicked by half of the populace that lived through his two terms. George Bush was mimicked so well by Dana Carvey that Bush himself was a big fan of his work. Clinton’s fondness for McDonald’s and sex made life easy for stand-up comics from the right and left.

And now we have George W. Bush whose malapropisms and solecisms make Dan Quayle sound like Winston Churchill. Bush sort of makes comedians superfluous.

Notes on Pop Culture

I saw on TV a clip of the Pope being lowered into a car during his trip to Poland. Think Weekend at Bernie’s but with the leading Catholic cleric in the lead role.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Washington Road Trip

Irony, which I am so fond of identifying, is an essay in which I lambaste our culture’s reliance on the automobile followed by today’s discussion of my upcoming road trip. I never said that I was consistent. I definitely will say that I don’t have many answers, just lots of questions. If you are looking for all of the answers and rigid consistency there are plenty of conservative types out there that dish this stuff up every single day.

I think that the automobile is a pretty lousy way to get around on a daily basis. I hate driving for the most part. I do own a car and tomorrow I’m driving as a means of discovery. I suppose the road trip is as American as just about anything. The car gives us a sense that we are never more than a tank of gas and a bit of scenery away from a completely different life. At least this is true if you believe Kerouac and Steinbeck.

This time every year I take a few days off for my birthday to travel. I’m not going any place very exotic this year. I’m taking my road bike and my mountain bike and heading up to the North Cascades for five days of riding. I guess you could call the North Cascades exotic. It is one of the most beautiful places I have seen on this planet.

Winthrop, Washington is a touristy old mining town outside of North Cascades National Park--from what I have heard it is mountain bike heaven. The scenery can’t be beat and there are a couple good bars in town. I’ll throw in a bit of rock climbing, supplement that with a couple good books, and I should be pretty well entertained for the next five days. The Mariners are playing the Red Sox and the Yankees this week (my radio is packed) so my dance card will be pretty full. I will also get to watch a bit of TV (lots of fancy hotels have TV’s IN the room).

Traveling alone is something I would highly recommend to everyone. Traveling solo forces you into different kinds of situations than you would experience when traveling with others. Most of the best travel memoirs were written by solo travelers. If I were the type to write self-help books I would throw in a chapter or two on traveling alone.

BONUS ESSAY

I found a great site for classical sheet music. I have been looking for Bach’s Six Sonatas BWV 525-530, known as the trio sonatas, for some time. I suppose the trio refers to the three voices of the organ’s two manuals and the bass. I went to Capital Music in downtown Seattle yesterday and special ordered these pieces written for the organ. When I got home and did a google search and found a German site that has Bach’s works in adobe acrobat reader. It is a free download and the quality is very high. I’m still trying to find these sonatas transcribed for guitar and piano but I can play the organ music on piano to a certain degree. If nothing else looking at this music has helped me to understand that the organ is an amazing instrument. Bach was reported to have been one of the all-time great organists and this work was composed his years of greatest maturity. My lack of skill limits me to the slower movements. I am looking forward to playing these with along with a friend of mine who plays guitar. He is a much more accomplished musician and he always makes me sound better. The last piece we played together was a Vivaldi guitar concerto.

Tuesday, August 13, 2002

Over-Consumption and Society

OVER CONSUMPTION AND SOCIETY

A TALE OF TWO LIFESTYLES

Planes land carrying tourists to Amsterdam at the Netherlands’ Schiphol Airport which is integrated into the European train network. Inside the airport/train station a machine dispenses a ticket for the ten minute train ride into Amsterdam. The trains depart every few minutes and are often crowded. Most passengers carrying airline-amounts of luggage just stand by the doors and don’t bother finding seats. The commuters keep to themselves, reading or simply gazing out the windows. The tourists talk to one another in the relaxed atmosphere of this fast and efficient public transport. I am reminded of B.Wilkinson’s remark that the greatest theme of history is men’s efforts to reconcile order and liberty.

The train arrives in Amsterdam and a few steps outside of the Central Station I board one of the trams that service most of the city. Rembrandt Plaza is a couple of stops from the station and from here I can walk the two blocks to my hotel. I am traveling light and since it was a long flight I relax in one of the plaza’s cafes. I find myself sitting here admiring an unfamiliar city only 45 minutes after getting off the plane..

Rembrandt Plaza, although rather small, is a highly commercial area with the statue of the artist in the center dwarfed by the neon signs that rise to the top of the five story buildings which surround it. As I look around the square I can’t help notice the heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic and, by contrast, the scarcity of automobiles. This is the result of an almost decade-long program to reduce cars in the older Canal Zone, an area of about three square miles representing the heart of Amsterdam and home to about 80,000 of the city’s 500,000 residents. The program has reduced parking drastically while narrowing streets and widening bike paths and sidewalks. Eventually all non-vital traffic will be banned.

In fact, the car reduction plan came into effect almost by accident. After a dismally low voter turn out and a defeat of the ruling parties in the 1990 elections politicians in Amsterdam began looking for a way to stimulate public involvement in politics. The city council asked the electorate for suggestions for a topic to put up for a public referendum, Amsterdam’s first. The voters chose “the automobile” as the subject for the referendum and more specifically the automobile as a nuisance and how far the city should go in reducing traffic. When the referendum was drafted and a plebiscite taken a plan to drastically reduce cars in the city center narrowly defeated a more modest proposal of traffic control.

From the beginning the proposal met with fierce opposition from local merchants who believed that reducing cars would reduce business. Many feared that Amsterdam would become a relic, a place for tourists but no longer a working city. The reduction plan still has a long way to go but it is evident that most of the original objections were unfounded when the people of Amsterdam decided they preferred the city planning of their 17th century ancestors over the 20th century’s dependence on the automobile. Amsterdam is not alone among European cities trying to lessen their reliance on automobiles. Even Paris is taking strong measures to give the streets back to pedestrians.

On another trip I look out of the window as the plane descends into Los Angeles International Airport. Los Angeles and Orange counties may not have invented urban sprawl but it is here that it has reached its disastrous zenith. I leave the terminal and wait for the shuttle bus which will take me to my rental car. About 25 minutes later I am driving south on the San Diego Freeway. It takes a while in this intense driving environment before I am able to count the lanes: eighteen--nine in each direction. This is the ultimate liberty, every citizen free to sit in traffic alone in his vehicle. Is this what people would choose? If transportation options were put to a plebiscite here in Southern California would people choose to travel on eighteen lane freeways and spend hours each day stuck inside of an automobile? They probably can’t imagine another option.

Even with this vast expanse of the earth’s crust flattened and paved traffic is still ground almost to a halt at various times throughout the day. At other times the average speed is well over the legal limit. For the uninitiated it is a frightening, apocalyptical experience. Although California leads the nation in traffic fatalities, its mileage death rate—a grisly formula of deaths to miles driven—is below that of many other states.

National statistics notwithstanding it would be impossible to view this particular stretch of freeway as safe. I speed past city after city looking for my exit to Mission Viejo. It is impossible to discern where one city begins and the other ends as the landscape is a seamless tapestry of strip malls, track housing, industrial parks, and parking lots. Lots and lots of parking lots. Even the apartment complexes in suburbia, the only sensible way to house people in an urban setting, are laid out in ugly sprawls to give priority to the tenants’ dormant automobiles.

Missing an exit on this freeway is comparable in seriousness to the space shuttle being a few degrees off when it enters earth’s atmosphere--God only knows where you may end up. I find my exit and follow the precise directions I have downloaded from a mapping website. A sign tells me I have entered Mission Viejo. I’m sure that somewhere, at some point in time, there actually was a mission viejo here but like everything else I have seen since landing at LAX this place is made up mostly of cars. Like Amsterdam’s center Mission Viejo has a population of around 80,000 but spread over six times the area. There is virtually no pedestrian traffic here, the distances are simply too great to walk.

Every single bit of urban design is adapted to fit the needs of the automobile. Every single thoroughfare in this bedroom community is as wide as the Champs Elysees: at least two lanes in each direction with a median strip. At 29.1 minutes each way Mission Viejo residents have one of the longest average commuting times in the nation. Public transportation is almost nonexistent. Most suburbanites perceive public transportation as being for poor people. With the median family income at about $64,690 Mission Viejo residents don’t consider taking the bus.

I pull into a strip mall—the preferred facility of commerce in Southern California and the rest of suburban America. They stand like lonely fortresses in a hostile territory ruled by motor vehicles. Even after parking my car I find that strip malls prove to be not much of a sanctuary for the pedestrian. Parking begins practically at the door to every establishment and it seems more practical to drive from one store to another within the mall. Statewide California spends $40 dollars per person annually on highway projects and only four cents per person on pedestrian projects. From what I see even this pittance for bicyclists and people on foot seems to have been ill-spent.
There are twenty or so shops in this mall along with the ubiquitous MacDonalds, and two slightly more formal restaurants. I walk into a not-very-inviting looking Mexican restaurant to use the phone. It has a small outdoor patio that looks on to (what else?) the parking lot. Not much of a place to relax and enjoy the company of friends. It seems more like a gas station—simply a place to exchange money for something you need and then get back into your car.

I pull up in front of the home of my friend. It’s a couple of miles from the nearest commercial building so walking anywhere is completely out of the question. His suburban house is many things my urban apartment isn’t: spacious to the point of agoraphobia-inducing, quiet, and private. Even walking around in the nearly one quarter acre back yard you won’t see another person. For the first time since arriving at LAX nearly two hours ago I feel like I can relax. I won’t have to drive again today. The nightmare of traffic and sprawl is the price people here are willing to pay for the private home. This is their pot of gold at the end of the asphalt rainbow.

...to be continued

Friday, August 09, 2002

Cure for the Common Cold

Yesterday I vanquished Alzheimer’s and today the common cold. Actually, this deals with both cold prevention and also a cure. By the way, this isn’t a joke. Ask anyone who knows me and they will have to tell you that I haven’t been sick at all in about five years. By sick, I mean for more than 48 hours, the time it takes me to cure myself of cold and flu symptoms.

Prevention first: Never touch your eye. If you have something in your eye use a tissue to extricate the object. I suppose this is common sense. The membrane tissue in the eye is a direct conduit to your bloodstream. Next, and this may sound gross, when you shower make sure you shower your nose. No shit. Just squirt a little hot water in and blow it out. I recently read a study that backed up my long-held theory and it has to do with germs taking root in your nasal passages. These viruses generally take between 8-48 hours to enter the body via the membranes in the nasal cavity. I know it sounds weird but it beats the shit out of walking around coughing and hacking 2-3 times a year for two weeks or so.

Here is the cure: This is been a Leftbanker medical breakthrough and just remember that you heard it here first. When you do find that you are coming down with a cold, get yourself to a steam room or a sauna as quickly as possible. I can tell the moment I am coming down with a bug. I can feel it when I swallow. My gym has a steam room and sauna side-by-side so I stay in the very hot steam room and then “cool down” in the sauna. A twenty minute sweat session should do it.

I am really sick of writing in this thing so I thought I would at least impart something that may do the world a bit of good. I have a sneaking suspicion that this technique is already known by the medical community and has been kept a secret. Cold remedies are one of the big earners for the drug industry and none of them do a bit of good. In fact, I would say that taking medicine, any medicine, when you have a cold is about the worse thing you can do.

Thursday, August 08, 2002

Coping with Senility

I guess that I’m too young to be suffering from Alzheimer’s but sometimes I wonder. I bought a thing of dental floss the other day along with a bag of groceries. Somehow I lost the dental floss in the unpacking phase of the operation. Not a big deal as I go to the store almost every day. I bought another thing of dental floss on the next trip and lost it again when I got home. I also misplaced a vital part to one of my bikes. It’s not like I’m living in the Versailles Palace here. How lost could something get in a few hundred feet of urban apartment?

Like most people, I worry about becoming senile one day and losing the ability to take care of myself. I think I have come up with a novel idea on how to assure that I’m not a burden to my family and friends.

I have taken out a contract on myself. I have paid a hit man to kill me. The hit man I have hired is incredibly incompetent. He came cheaply so what do you expect? I wanted an incompetent hit man as I really don’t want him to kill me. Under the terms of our agreement he will make a very half-hearted attempt to kill me every six months. He is required to do the deed with a riding lawn mower which should make it difficult enough. I figure that the only way he can pull it off is if I’m out wandering around the park in my pajamas. The day I’m too slow and feeble to get out of the way of a riding mower is my day to check out.

Wednesday, August 07, 2002

Observations on the Current State of Capitalism

A few huge companies go belly-up, a few mealy-mouthed laws are passed, and we are told that all is well with corporate America. Worldcom and Enron weren’t aberrations; they are the tip of the iceberg. Keep your money under the mattress and out of the stock market, it isn’t safe to go back in the water just yet.

In a nutshell, the problem with this form of American capitalism, the publicly held company, is that it really isn’t capitalism for the corporate heads. Capitalism implies risk: you buy or sell in the open market with some people winning and others failing. The way many corporate salary packages work the executives get paid huge amounts even if the companies fail. There is no risk involved.

Capitalism implies ownership yet these executives do not own the companies they manage. Shareholders own the company but because they are so numerous they have little or no say in the way in which the company is run. That is determined by the officers. The board of directors, for most companies, is generally a pretty toothless means of oversight and boards are generally more honorary than authoritative. They are paid well to look the other way as the officers pay themselves a king’s ransom from the shareholders’ coffers.

Think about it. How could any business executive be worth the astronomical salaries being pulled down by these people? What private business can afford to allow its employees to fly first class let alone buy them a corporate jet? Think about that the next time you are on your way to the cheap seats in the back of the plane. Ask the passengers in first class if they are flying at the expense of their publicly-held company and then cross that company off your list of possible investments. And we thought that only the government is capable of waste and excess.

The whole house of cards started crumbling with the dotcom bust. Before the dotcom’s, most public companies actually made something. The dotcom’s were selling little more than ideas. Most of them really had no need to go public as they had no need of capital. They had no real need for growth as they weren’t really selling much of anything. They went public, they money came rolling in, and they spent it.

Seattle was a prime beneficiary in this gold rush as tech companies here were stepping over each other to buy expensive office furniture and costly advertising campaigns. Lots of businesses artificially inflated their employees’ roles simply to impress investors with their rapid “growth.” This charade lasted a few good years until people realized that most of these companies were over-priced and thus a pretty shitty place to put your money.

The downward spiral isn’t over yet and investors have every right to lack confidence in the market. Investors have been swindled by the companies as well as the go between companies like Merrill Lynch.

The really pitiful result of this whole swindle is that now it is extremely difficult for a company with a solid business plan to get venture capital. It is also tragic to think of what a great leap forward this nation could have made if the companies that wasted all of their stock money had actually used some of it to fund research and development. What we received instead are a few more ethically challenged multi-millionaires and lots of used office furniture.

Tuesday, August 06, 2002

Bush and Irony

irony [< Greek eiron dissembler in speech] 1. expression in which the intended meaning of the words is the opposite of their usual sense. 2. an event or result that is the opposite of what is expected

I will try to put this in chronological order.

Bush went to Yale and Harvard yet he speaks English like it is his second language. “They misunderestimated me.”

A million angry words were written by conservatives criticizing President Clinton’s drug use as a college kid and the “I didn’t inhale” thing. Bush was a former coke-head and he was convicted for drunk driving. I haven’t read anything in the press about Bush’s party days. By the way, Bush was no college kid when he was in his drug and booze phase.

Bush is our president although he wasn’t elected. He lost the popular vote by a healthy margin and was more or less appointed president by a very conservative Supreme Court.

When Bush took office he inherited a budget surplus put in place by a financially irresponsible Democrat. Within one year the country was again in the red as a result of Bush’s tax cuts for the rich.

Bush feigns disgust at the recent wave of corporate malfeasance yet he and his cabinet (most of them are former CEO’s) have been involved in dealings at least as shady as those now in the press. Clinton was investigated to death for some fucking hick land deal in Arkansas. ¿Donde está Kenneth Star?

He has deflected public opinion away from the sorry state of the economy by placing all of the nation’s troubles on those pesky al Qaeda boys (by the way, if my military Arabic serves me it is pronounced al caw id a). More people died of food poisoning last year than in the 911 attacks. About the only thing he is willing to talk about in public is the need to protect ourselves from Al Qaeda. Damn the expense of this protection either in dollars or in civil liberties. Republicans say that this country cannot afford health care for its tax-paying citizens. 30 million go without any health coverage and one half of all personal bankruptcies are the result of medical expenses.

Maybe I’m just a bit paranoid but when Bush mentions the war on terrorism it is starting to sound like “Reichstag Fire.” The next election is not too far off and the economy is for shit, let’s invade Iraq! He can’t do it this year because all of the jingoistic furor will have faded by election time and he will lose his reelection bid just like his daddy.

I can’t even count how many times I have heard that we should all get behind our president for the good of the nation in this time of peril. I never heard the Republicans mention this sort of partisan-free politicking when Clinton was in office. Clinton was elected by the people yet he was hog-tied at every step of his presidency from doing the things the people elected him to do, namely to reform healthcare. Bush wasn’t elected by the people yet he was easily able to pass his tax cut for the rich (I received $300. That is really going to change my life). Does that sound like democracy to you? To me it sounds like irony.

A Few Minutes in Line

I go to the grocery store almost every day. I guess it is a 'lack of confidence in the future' thing. I mean, why buy two days worth of food if something bad may happen? We keep getting all of these warnings from the FBI so why the hell should I buy a gallon of milk when they sell those little cartons? I was just at the store a few minutes ago doing a bit of shopping. The place is fairly busy in the late afternoon with people stopping in after work to get stuff for the evening meal or some beer. I got in line at one of the cash registers.

I should have studied the situation a little more intelligently instead of just blindly picking a line. The guy in front of me had a shopping cart fairly spilling over with stuff with lots of produce that had to be priced by hand. I’m not a line jumper; it is bad luck to move once you are already in a line. You’ll look stupid if the line you move to also grinds to a halt. This is also my philosophy in car traffic.

Why anyone would be in a hurry in a grocery line is a mystery to me. There is plenty of stuff to read in the magazine rack. Sometimes this is my only tie to pop culture. How would I know that Brad and Jen are dating if it weren’t for the grocery line? How would I know that the lobster boy married Siamese twin midgets? Lucky bastard!

Rosie O’Donnell’s corpulent mug graces the cover of one of the scandal sheets next to the headline “Rosie Can’t Stop Drug Habit.” It didn’t say what drug she was abusing. From the looks of her I could make a couple of guesses. Is fried chicken a drug? What about ham?

Lots of magazines--those for men as well as those for women--use the same formula to attract readers although ‘lookers’ is a better term because there isn’t much to read in them. They all have identical covers. Cover up the name and you’d be hard-pressed to tell one magazine from the other.

They all promise to give you the secret to better sex. Are we all doing it wrong or something? I’m pretty much self-taught in that department and I think I manage OK on my own. Every magazine offers up this secret and they all do it every month. I never realized that sex took so much studying. I’m willing to practice on my own but I have enough to read as it is.

These magazines all have the picture of some celebrity on the cover and the promise of an enlightening interview inside. Magazines especially like to tell the story of a celebrity’s struggle to overcome some great obstacle in their life like drug addiction or dyslexia. Why are we so entertained by the hardships of others? That is the subject for another day. Like children, we always insist that these tales have a happy ending.

The third thing that these periodicals all share is the promise of a new diet or ab-flattening/ buns-tightening exercise regimen. I suppose that if you go back over the years there has been a diet of every single possible combination of foods. This means that no matter what you eat you are on some sort of diet. That’s good enough for me.

I try to soak it all in but eventually the cashier has typed in the code for the last bag of chayote squash for the guy in front of me and my reading halts until my next trip to the store. My brush with pop culture is over for the day.

Friday, August 02, 2002

I, Conformist

Here is an incomplete list of fashion accessories I’m not hip enough to sport.

1) Tattoos
2) Piercings
3) Dew Rags
4) Ball Caps worn straight or turned at any angle
(I just read that guys who wear ball caps with the bill to the rear do so in order to more quickly perform blow jobs. Makes sense to me.)

5) Fucked up Hair style
6) Colored Hair

In reality you could take a chimpanzee and mutilate it with the above-mentioned accessories and it wouldn’t put a single thought in the monkey’s head. I suspect that the greater number of these items sported by an individual, the more he professes to stand out from the crowd, the less likely he is to have an original thought.

We are constantly told that we are a nation of rugged individualists. We tell each other to think different, step outside the box, and be true to ourselves. In a nation practically devoid of poetry almost everyone knows the Robert Frost line about taking the road less traveled.

I would suggest that when we finally do meet people who are truly individuals we are scared shitless. I know I am. When I come across the rare writer who challenges the way that I think I am often very disturbed. How dare this person introduce an idea that opposes my carefully constructed status quo. How dare this person present his idea in a manner so utterly convincing that my own arguments seem impotent. I hate it when I have to revise how I think simply because what I once thought was completely wrong. What an asshole!

Flattery will get you everywhere. If you can’t say something nice to someone then don’t say anything. This creed is most notably present in the self-help section of the bookstore.

For the purposes of “research” I stopped into the big chain bookstore next to my bank. I was too embarrassed to ask directions to the Chicken Soup for the Soul section but it is pretty big and easy to find.

Once I was in the wisdom-free zone of the self-help section I was bombarded with the answers to all of life’s mysteries. I started looking through the books at random. 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People by David Niven, Ph.D. (Is there any more pompous title than Ph.D.?) I immediately discounted as pure shit because he doesn’t even bother to define ‘success’ although he has 100 down-home homilies on how to get there. That’s like someone giving you directions to a place where you don’t want to go.

Most of the books that I looked through were full of life-affirming stories that will warm your heart and rejuvenate your soul. I just wrote that sentence and I don’t have the slightest fucking idea what it means. This entire section seems like complete crap to me, the publishing equivalent of a hat on your head backwards or a tattoo--everybody reads them so they must be cool.

You could read every single book on the self-help shelf and you’d be a lot like that monkey that just spent the day getting tattoos and body piercings. You may find that you speak the language of sociologists but I doubt that you will gain a shred of wisdom from such puerile doggerel as Stand Up for Your Life by Cheryl Richardson or by shelling out $24 for a book written by a columnist in Oprah magazine.

I prefer to stay inside the box. I’ll stay in the traditional sections of the bookstore: literature, history, philosophy, et cetera. I figure that the self-help books are like fad diets: if they had any merit there wouldn’t be so many of them. They all claim to have answers to issues in life that have never really asked a question.