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I'm NOT a witch!



"And this isn't my nose - it's a false one!"

Sep. 2nd, 2010

"This preposterous idea, that things must pay their way or be dispensed with, is perhaps the most intractable legacy of the Thatcher years, so much so that it has become received wisdom even among many liberals. But when you think about it even for a nanosecond, it is perfectly obvious that most worthwhile things don't begin to pay for themselves. If you followed this absurd logic any distance at all, you would have to get rid of traffic lights, schools, drains, national parks, museums, universities, old people, and much else besides. So why on earth should something as useful as a railway line, which is generally much more agreeable than old people, and certainly less inclined to bitch and twitter, have to be economically viable to ensure its continued existence? This is a line of thinking that must be abandoned at once."

-Bill Bryson, talking about his favorite British railway.

Poke Her Face

I've got a friend who constantly bugs me about Lady Gaga. Specifically, she continues to insist that Lady Gaga is a great performer, that her lyrics are "full of depth," that she is "innovative," etc., etc. And I continue to insist that I think her music sucks and her performances aren't anything interesting. But I do admit, and have always admitted, that she is 1) talented, and 2) has a great voice, which are not mutually exclusive with me not liking her music or thinking she contributes anything good or interesting to pop culture. You can appreciate someone's talent without liking at all what they do with it.

In the latest back-and-forth on the issue, I brought up the example of Joan Osborne. Remember that song "One Of Us" that was somehow a smash hit and got totally overplayed on the radio even though everyone I personally knew hated it? Since that was my only exposure to Joan Osborne and her music, I always wrote her off as a crappy Christian contemporary artist (redundant?). BUT, a couple years back, a fantastic documentary called Standing In The Shadows Of Motown was released into theaters, and I caught a screening late on a weeknight at a small joint in downtown Portland.

The documentary revisits the Motown era, and specifically chronicles the story of the so-called "Funk Brothers," the moniker given to/adopted by a group of studio and traveling musicians in the Detroit/Motown scene who essentially created the Motown sound, and played backup for all the famous artists of the time. According to their take on history, someone like a Smokey Robinson would roll up into the studio with a half-formed idea, and whatever musicians were around would flesh it out into a full song, for which they were only paid studio rate time and not a penny more, while Smokey and the record label cashed in on the resulting residuals for the rest of their days. Supposedly the Funk Brothers were partly responsible for more #1 Billboard hits than the Beatles, Elvis, and the Rolling Stones combined.

As part of the documentary, they got all the surviving Funk Brothers together to perform some of the old hits with contemporary pop artists and performers, among whom were Bootsy Collins, Montell Jordan, Ben Harper, and, most germane to this discussion, Joan Osborne, who turned in an absolutely amazing rendition of What Become Of The Broken Hearted:

Video here.

Audio: WhatBecomes.m4a


Needless to say, having previously written her off as just another generic pop artist, I gained a lot of new respect for Joan Osborne and her abilities after seeing her in this context.

A similar revelation happened the first time I saw a video of Prince playing a live show a number of years ago, probably on VH-1, where he was doing a blues set (can't find the YouTube video of it, sadly). I had no idea the guy could play like that, and while his pop stuff is pretty good, "Seven" especially so, I liked him a lot more after I learned he could shred the fuck out of a guitar.

I know I'm not the only one who's had this happen - what are your examples?

May. 18th, 2010

So if you can be arrested for this:

"For each evil spirit that was supposedly around me, she told me a certain number of thousand of dollars that I needed to bring to her [...] She told me if I didn't give her more and more money, that something terrible would befall my mother."


...I'm assuming the Catholic church is next, right?








*I really hope the hotline mentioned in the article:

"If Marks told you Vigo the Carpathian was exercising demonic influence over your bank account, you can contact detectives at (303)-665-5571.


...just plays a loop recording of someone yelling "THEN YOU'RE A FUCKING IDIOT!"

Sunday! Sunday! Sunday!

So...let me get this straight. A long, long time ago, the all-powerful, all-knowing Magic Sky Fairy decided to knock up a human woman with himself (he and the blastocyst, embryo, fetus, whatever, are simultaneously him but somehow different), and this son-of-the-Magic-Sky-Fairy (who is still also the Magic Sky Fairy) grew up among humans, was "killed" (even though he was the all-powerful Magic Sky Fairy, he somehow could still be killed, yet still be eternal), and then arose from the dead (somehow he was dead while still being eternal, and still being two Magic Sky Fairies simultaneously) and was walking around hanging out, being groovy. At some point, either before or after, the Magic Sky Fairy was also a third Magic Sky Fairy while still being only one Magic Sky Fairy. The resurrected human Magic Sky Fairy eventually pieced out to heaven, but is supposed to come back at some unknown point in the future when the most awful, terrible things will happen to people who don't believe in the Magic Sky Fairy because the Magic Sky Fairy is such a caring, forgiving guy.

MAKES SENSE. I'M SOLD!

Voodoo? Who do? You do.

If this is the basis for hauling a religious practitioner into court for scamming people:


An alleged bogus faith healer accused of conning Black Country people out of thousands of pounds told a jury he has a gift passed down through generations.

Niem Mohammed sat on the floor of the courtroom at Wolverhampton Crown Court and assembled a miniature fire pit on top of a silver table surrounded by jars of spices to demonstrate techniques he uses to meditate and pray.

He also passed around scrolls, “talismans” and jewellery which he sends out as part of his work.

The jury heard how clients were given a host of instructions to follow themselves, including wearing the jewellery and talismans and dissolving the scrolls in water and drinking them.

Mohammed, a father-of-four from Wilmslow in Cheshire, denies the claims against him and said faith healing was something that had been in his family for decades.


...then I'm sure the Catholic church (or any church, for that matter) is next up for prosecution, right?

Right...?

Holy shit, a talking muffin!!!

Descartes' philosophy might not be very good (his dualism is a crock), but he somehow managed to serve as inspiration for two of my favorite philosophy quips:


1) Descartes walks into a bar. "The usual, Mr. Descartes?" inquires the bartender. Wanting something different, Descartes says "I think not..." and - *POOF* - promptly disappears.


2) Never put Descartes before the horse.



But my favorite nerdy joke of all time is from physics:


Two ions are hanging out, shooting the breeze. The first ion says to the other "Hmm...I think I lost an electron..." "Are you sure?" asks the second ion, to which the first replies "Yep! I'm positive!"


What are yours?
This is a stunningly bad decision by the Ninth Circuit. The dissenting opinion lays it out better than I could:

Here is what happened to Malaika Brooks, a pregnant mother, as she was driving her son to school one day: Two, soon three, police officers surrounded her. The officers thought she was speeding in a school zone; she says she was not. Brooks provided her identification when asked, so there was no doubt who she was or where to find her. The officers wrote her a ticket but she refused to sign it. Refusing to sign a speeding ticket was at the time a nonarrestable misdemeanor; now, in Washington, it is not even that. Brooks had no weapons and had not harmed or threatened to harm a soul. Although she had told the officers she was seven months pregnant, they proceeded to use a Taser on her, not once but three times, causing her to scream with pain and leaving burn marks and permanent scars.

...

Obviously, the sensible reaction to her refusal to acknowledge the ticket in writing would have been to so note on the ticket and send her on her way. Instead, a traffic offense — assuming it occurred — turned into an encounter that inflicted physical and, in all likelihood, emotional pain on a citizen who was not in any way dangerous to anyone. As “the situation here was far from that of a lone police officer suddenly confronted by a dangerous armed felon threatening immediate violence,” Deorle v. Rutherford, 272 F.3d 1272, 1283 (9th Cir. 2001), we should be holding the force used constitutionally excessive. But the majority does the opposite: it sanctions the use of painful force causing permanent scars against a citizen who threatened no harm.

...

This is not a close case. Any reasonable officer should have known that using a Taser repeatedly on a pregnant woman who had committed a trivial, nonviolent crime and who posed no realistic threat to the safety of others was unlawful.


Worth noting: despite the Ninth Circuit's reputation as a liberal haven of reckless, activist judges, the two judges in the majority who think that it's okay for police officers to tase pregnant women who pose no threat to their safety were Reagan appointees. The dissenter, who thinks it's clear that this should not be considered acceptable (and whose legal analysis is a hell of a lot stronger in this opinion), is a Clinton appointee.

Dear LiveJournal

Someone I know is starting a small business and looking for a web hosting service for their website.

They need recommendations for the hosting service. Domain name has already been registered.

Additional details:

-The business involves providing personal services, so any additional suggestions of what type of information to include or examples of effective/catchy personal services sites would also be appreciated.

-The site will likely include photo media, but probably not video or audio.

-The owner of the business is computer-literate, but not coding, html, or computer programming literate, so hosting services with good tech support and/or easy-to-use update tools are probably more preferable.


Help!
I wonder why, in the entire article on the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria (which is probably going to result in mass plagues, with much wailing and gnashing of teeth), the author fails to mention the biggest contributing factor to this phenomenon: factory farming practices. I wrote a paper on this in law school awhile back, and it's a very serious and scary problem.

Why isn't anything being done to regulate the use of antibiotics in animal agriculture? Because factory farming just wouldn't be possible without antibiotics, and the largest producers of animal products in our country (Tyson, Smithfield Foods, etc.) have incredible influence on any and all legislation that might affect their industries. So, in addition to being horrible polluters, and crowding out, taking over, or using their influence to shut down family farmers (see, e.g., Food, Inc.), the big players in this industry are putting our collective health at risk by squandering one of our most important medical resources.

On 2x CD-ROM...

Is it just me, or did tonight's Lost (with the spinning stone tablet thing) totally bite off the Myst aesthetic from back in the day?

Books, Books, Books

A list of books I've read over the last two or so years, presented in no particular order because I have a horrible chronological memory:

Against The Day*
Absurdistan
A Short History of Nearly Everything***
Shakespeare: The World as Stage
The Ridiculous Race*
How I Became A Famous Novelist**
2,666**
The Savage Detectives
The Skating Rink
In The Woods*
The Likeness
The God Delusion*
Girl With The Dragon Tattoo*
The Girl Who Played With Fire*
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle*
Cloud Atlas***
The Great Gatsby
Apathy and Other Small Victories
The Jungle
Midnight's Children
The White Tiger
Freakonomics
Downtown Owl
A Fine and Pleasant Misery**
Portnoy's Complaint
The Man Who Loved Only Numbers
The Invention Of Air
The Ghost Map
Logicomix*
Asterios Polyp*
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
Watchmen
Basic Writings of Nietzsche
The End of Faith
Snow Crash
Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman!
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work
The Art of Travel
The Monsters of Templeton
Bonk
A Confederacy of Dunces*
This Is Your Brain On Music
A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court**
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The Metamorphosis and Other Stories
The Fall
White Tiger
The Omnivore's Dilemma**
The Year of Decision, 1846
The Painted Bird
Cryptonomicon
Snow Crash
The Portable Dorothy Parker*
Captain Blood**

Along with about a half-dozen or so each of Craig Johnson and Michael Dibdin mysteries sent by my dad (he loves detective mysteries, Italy, and westerns).

The ones that are starred are ones I particularly enjoyed. More stars = more enjoyment.

What should I put on my list for this year? I've already got a stack of a dozen or so sitting on my table, but I get through them pretty quickly.

Also, a couple of my favorite bookstores in various cities that you should check out if/when you're there:

Portland: Broadway Books, owned and operated by my buddy Aaron's mom, and the subject of one of the best local business stories of the past few years.

Portland: Powell's Books.

Chicago: Myopic Books.

Los Angeles: Book Soup.

Need to get back in the habit of posting...

Talking to a friend the other day about how awesome the high speed train between Paris and London is (and how I want to go back and visit both cities again ASAP), reminded me about how much I wished we had similar infrastructure in the U.S., and how ridiculous it is that we don't have it already. One of the popular objections to proposed high-speed rail projects in the U.S. (not to mention local public transit options), is that they won't turn a profit, or will operate at a loss. But I think this misses the point, summed up nicely in a recent Matthew Yglesias post:

"Infrastructure is infrastructure. Highways don’t “make money” they facilitate activity. Transit and intercity rail are the same way. Charging money to avoid overuse and to efficiently allocate scarce spaces makes sense. But the creation of public infrastructure in general, and of passenger rail in particular, isn’t a bad business proposition - it’s just not a business proposition at all. It’s a policy proposition."


Here in Chicago, there are constant budget deficits in the CTA system, and emergency measures must be passed on a regular basis just to perform track maintenance, run bus lines at capacity, etc. A lot of people whine that their tax dollars shouldn't go towards public transit because they don't use it (this is not exclusive to Chicago - I've even heard it in Portland), and that public transit should operate at a profit. But this is ridiculous. My tax dollars go towards road and highway construction and repairs, even though I haven't had a car in years. And high-speed, high-capactiy public transit that runs on a regular schedule is an infinitely more efficient way, both in terms of travel time and monetary cost, to move people around in a city, or between cities. There's no reason why we shouldn't start building it immediately. And if you're wondering how to fund it, maybe look to all the money we're throwing at car-based infrastructure in order to subsidize that lifestyle at our collective expense.

This happens a lot in Chicago...

One of the things I really hate is when the temperature and humidity combine to render the air a particular weight and consistentcy such that it is equivalent to the density of car exhaust, so that instead of rising or dispersing, the fumes merely mingle with the surrounding air and just hang there at eye level, like a fart in a shower.

San Juan Islands

A couple of weekends ago, I headed off to the San Juan islands with some friends for a week. We spent part of the time on Lopez Island, where my buddy Damon's parents have a place his dad designed and built, and the other part camping on Orcas Island. To get to the islands from Seattle, you drive or take a shuttle from SeaTac a couple hours north up to Anacortes, where a ferry will take you over to the island chain (of which Victoria, B.C. is a part).


I'M ON A BOAT FERRY.

Lots more pics under the cut...Collapse )

It's not a bug, it's a feature...

Matt Yglesias writes:

On a loosely related note, part of what’s wrong with the world is that the very same people who spend a lot of time cheerleading for free markets and donating money to institutions that cheerlead for free markets—businessmen, in other words—are the very people who have the most to gain from markets being totally dysfunctional. The absolute worst place on earth you can find yourself as a businessman is in the kind of free market you find in an Economics 101 textbook. As a market approaches textbook conditions—perfect competition, perfect information, etc.—real profits trend toward zero. You make your money by ensuring that textbook conditions don’t apply; that there are huge barriers to entry, massive problems with inattention, monopolistic corners to exploit, etc. So when it comes to something like health insurance, you have people on the left who want public policy to aim at replacing the market with publicly run entities and you have people in the business community who want public policy to aim at making the market as dysfunctional as possible. So you get what we have, which sucks.


This is borne out perfectly in an article about the politics of the current health care debate, specifically the idea of having a public option that would compete with private insurance companies:

But critics argue that with low administrative costs and no need to produce profits, a public plan will start with an unfair pricing advantage. They say that if a public plan is allowed to pay doctors and hospitals at levels comparable to Medicare’s, which are substantially below commercial insurance rates, it could set premiums so low it would quickly consume the market.


Yes, lower administrative costs and no need to produce profits. What horrible things to have in an entity providing our health insurance. It almost sounds like the insurance companies don't want to compete against an efficient, low-cost provider in an open market, even though the rallying cry against public health care is that the market is ALWAYS more efficient than government. Except when it isn't.

What the argument of the "critics" really comes down to isn't anything about "efficiency" - it's that they think someone should be entitled to make a profit off of our health.

Trip to Seattle

I went to Seattle this past weekend to see a bunch of friends, brainstorm ideas for some iPhone apps philedry and I are going to develop, record some music, and just generally have fun. Took a bunch of pictures, so here they are:



The B.L.A.S.T. sandwich.

Click for 39 more...dial-ups beware...Collapse )

Food Post

I felt like cooking tonight, so because it's morel season, I decided to try and make some fresh morel pasta:



Fresh morels shallots, garlic, and parsley from the Green Grocer.

Click for more...Collapse )

Ten

I've probably hinted at it here and there, but I'm not sure I've ever blatantly professed my love for super spicy food before. I'm not talking about jalapeños-on-nachos spicy, or this-stuff-is-made-in-New-York-City spicy. I'm talking legitimately, brow-sweating, tongue scorching, nasal passage clearing, burns the next day kind of delicious spice that lights your palate on fire and sends you to a different plane of consciousness spicy. The runner's high equivalent of a capsaicin marathon spicy. I think it must be somewhat similar to the types of people who are tattoo junkies - they acknowledge that there is pain involved in getting the tattoo but it's a good kind of pain.

Now, as a caveat, I don't like hot sauce where the one and only goal is pure heat - I like spice as an accent to flavor, like you find it in the best examples of Mexican, Indian, and especially Thai food. Thai food is where I've typically had the best experiences, at least in the few places who have taken me seriously when I tell them that they can't possibly make it too hot for me (I achieved a sort of opposite of Nirvana the very first time I ever ate sushi - they told me that wasabi was for spice and I was like "Awesome..." so I put a giant dab of it on my maki roll and proceeded to go blind for about 45 seconds after the first bite since wasabi is the intense, quick-burning kerosene fire to the slow-simmering charcoal fire of Thai spice).

One of my first experiences with incredibly spicy food was at a Thai restaurant in Portland called Lemongrass. At their older, original location, my family and I went for the first time back when I was in my teens. Even then I had a knack for spice, so when the waiter explained that their scale went from 1-20, I thought "Hmm...I like spicy food..." and proceeded to order my dish at a 15.

"No."

"No? Um...ok, how about a 10?"

"No."

"Um...ok..."

Eventually the waiter reasoned us down to a 3. When the food came, we took a couple bites. My dad almost died in a fit of spice-induced coughing. I sat there bug-eyed, sweating from every other pore on my body, my face surely as red and inflamed as my tongue, throat, stomach, and intestinal tract. But goddamnit, it was good. So delicious. I couldn't stop eating it, partly because during the time you were eating, it wasn't quite as hot - only when you stopped and the spice settled in on your tongue to simmer were you truly in pain - and also it was just damn tasty. It was one of the seminal moments in my burgeoning love of spicy foods. A few years later, I returned to the restaurant with an ex-girlfriend, and we ordered a dish at a level 6, which was as spicy as I'd ever had something up to that point. But this was a few years back. I am definitely heading into double-digit territory the next time I go.

A more recent experience occurred at the tail end of my post-bar exam trip when I was in London and went to Nipa Thai, one of the few Thai restaurants in the U.K. to be officially sanctioned by the Thai government for providing a suitably accurate representation of their national cuisine. We sat down, and I ordered the spiciest and the second-spiciest dishes on the menu, and told the waiter to make them hot. The following conversation ensued:

"Sir, these are very hot dishes."

"Yes, I know."

"Sir...these are going to be extremely spicy."

"Yes, I know - that's what I want."

"But sir, they are very, very spicy..."

"I KNOW. I want them spicy. Make them Thai hot."

"Sir..."

He was eventually half-way convinced. But between ordering the food and when the appetizer arrived (the second-spiciest dish), no fewer than four other staff members came by the table to explain to us that the food we were getting would be very, very, very spicy, and inquired whether we would like to have them tone it down, or perhaps order something else. No, I said, I want it spicy.

So the dish arrives, and we take a few bites. It's amazing. Delicious. Some of the best Thai food I've ever had in my life. So I'm scarfing it down and our original waiter approaches hesitantly, and asks how the food is. I look him square in the eye and say, "It's really good. I'd say it's medium spicy."

His facial expression transforms from a look of trepidation to shock, and then quasi-indignation.

"Oh. Hmm. Well, your next dish will be out soon..."

The next dish arrived shortly thereafter (the spiciest on the menu), and I proceeded to eat it happily, as it was just as delicious as the previous dish. At this point, a couple more of the wait staff had wandered by to check on us and make sure we were okay, and were incredulous that we could possibly be not only eating, but actually enjoying, food with this magnitude of spice. One waitress asked if I had lived in Thailand. No, I told her, I just like spicy food. She laughed, and said she would never even think of eating food this spicy. Eventually, even the chef wandered out of the kitchen, not approaching our table, but obviously for the express purpose of casting a glance at these pasty white people who were downing her spiciest offerings as if they were piles of candy. When we had suitably cleared our plates of any and all food, the waiter returned to the table and was clearly impressed that we had actually eaten all of it. My only regret is that I feel as if they may yet have been holding back a little on the spice, because they still weren't sure that I meant business. I'd like to go back.

On that same trip, at some point in Edinburgh, we ended up wandering into a branch of the recently-launched Revolution Vodka chain of bars/restaurants. They had a large selection of flavored and infused vodkas, from which you could order a flight of five in a sampler, so I picked a couple that included the chili vodka, featuring a skull and crossbones next to it on the menu. The waiter asked me if I was sure. Yeah, I said, I'm sure. Well, it turned out to be a habañero-infused vodka, and burned mightily, but tasted delicious. Towards the end of our meal, the waiter asked where we were from, and upon finding out we were Americans from Chicago, implored us to wait around a little bit to talk with one of his co-workers who was an expat from Wisconsin studying for his PhD at the University of Edinburgh. We chatted him up, as he missed talking to Americans, and even though they hadn't yet put Revolution brand vodkas on the market, he convinced his manager to sell us a bottle of the chili vodka to take back to the 'States, so for all I know we were the first (and perhaps only people so far) to have a bottle of the stuff back here. We'd break it out very rarely, trying to make it last, although it was always fun to give other people a taste to watch their eyes bug out and start gulping glasses of water as the effects of the spice set in.

Anyway, you get the point. I love spicy stuff. Which brings me now to Pho's Hot & Spicy Thai.

He who controls the spice, controls the universe... (click for the rest of the story)Collapse )

He promised a trophy at some point, but I don't need one. Personally, I'm content having a nice conversation with this subdued yet mercurial coyote I just met...

Teabagging



This is easily the most innuendo-laden piece of television news reporting I've ever seen. Well played, Mr. Schuster.

I don't know where this is...



...but I WANT TO GO THERE.

How to Make Spicy Pasta

Step 1: Cut a hole in a box... Boil some water for the fresh pasta, slice about a half pound of crimini mushrooms, dice some fresh garlic (2 cloves) and shallots (1-2).

Step 2: Heat a frying pan and toss in a generous scoop of home-made Super Hot Giardinera from Bari Foods in Chicago (featuring habañero peppers, carrots, celery, capers and some herbs all marinating in olive oil). Add in a little extra oil from the jar if you want the dish to be even spicier.

Step 3: Sautee the shallots and garlic for a minute or so with the giardinera.

Step 4: Add the sliced mushrooms and stir/toss every few seconds until the mushrooms start to get a little cooked.

Step 5: Add a generous pat of butter and stir it into the mushrooms as it melts.

Step 6: Throw some salt in the boiling water, which will cause it to turn into a rapid boil. Add the fresh pasta. If you don't have access to fresh pasta (which only needs to cook about 30-60 seconds for al dente), do this step early enough so that your dried pasta will have cooked by the time you are almost done cooking the sauce.

Step 7: Your mushrooms, etc., should be browned and almost smoking at this point. Douse the pan in a couple tablespoons of dry vermouth. This will deglaze the pan and, if you're cooking with gas, make the cool flame effect. Turn the heat to low or just turn it off.

Step 8: Drain the pasta and dump it in the frying pan with the sauce. If you are fancy enough, you can do the tossing thing to mix it in with the sauce. For the rest of us, it's easy enough to coat the pasta and mix everything up by turning/folding it a couple times with a pair of tongs.

Step 9: Plate the pasta and sprinkle some fresh parmesan on top.

Step 10: Admire:





Step 11: Eat. Sweat. Enjoy the burn of the spice.

Drink the Drink

Does anybody else remember the Samba line of beverages? They were discontinued long ago, and I can't find any images of it on the internet. Their ad campaign consisted of a bunch of smiling, hyperactive Brazilians shaking what their mamas gave them while a particularly photogenic female cried out "Dance the dance! Drink the drink!" in a broken english accent.

The only reason I remember Samba beverages is because of soccer tryouts during the summer before my junior year of high school. Tryouts were called "Daily Doubles": two two-hour sessions, the first one consisting entirely of "conditioning," which is short for our coach coming up with new and innovative ways to make us run to the point of throwing up - drills with inspirational names such as "horseshoes," "there-and-backs," "increase-and-demand," and the always popular "fartlickers." The second session involved a few more conditioning drills, and then various ball skills and scrimmages.

This particular summer, the director of the program in his or her infinite wisdom decided that instead of spacing out the sessions during the day, there would only be a half-hour break in between the two in which the would-be players could "recover" and desperately try to hydrate, tape up blisters, complain loudly, and apply Icy Hot to various non-groinal regions (nobody ever made that mistake twice...) in the vain hope that it would actually help you be able to walk without pain later that evening.

At some point during the first week of Daily Doubles, just as we were finishing the conditioning session, up rolls a giant, promotional Samba beverage truck, laden with icy cold, crisp, refreshing Sambas. It was like a G-rated Miller Lite commercial. Cracking the top of the can transported you from a hellish, sweltering soccer field to an icy realm of cool, refreshing carbonation infused with various citrus and berry flavor combinations. Unfortunately, there were no accompanying palm trees, bikini chicks, or speckled Bull Terriers donning sunglasses and Hawaiian print shirts - the closest we came to that was the varsity girls' squad jogging past to warm up for their own training session.

Anyway, the excitement of free stuff, combined with the fact that it was free cold stuff on this hot summer day right after we'd all sprinted around a field for two straight hours, caused what might be called a slight excess in consumption. And by that I mean everyone started chugging Samba like it was going out of style (which it was - I think its shelf life approximately equaled that of Crystal Clear Pepsi - and it's even possible that the "cola" flavor of Samba was just a bunch of leftover Crystal Clear Pepsi they had to repackage and unload on the populace). Guys were opening multiple cans just to sample each flavor, guzzling it wantonly and strewing the half-empty cans about the sidelines of the field.

And then the whistle blew to start the next training session...

It turns out the consuming mass quantities of a sugary, carbonated fruit beverage after running for two hours and before running for two more hours was somewhat of a tactical error. I have never seen so much collective throwing up in a situation that didn't involve drinking games or viral internet porn, and possibly not even then. Within the first five minutes of the initial sprinting drill, countless players were hunched over on the sideline in complete and utter misery, purging undigested Samba twice as fast as they had been swigging it mere moments ago. As one of the few players who stuck to his Gatorade, tucking my promotional cans of Samba in my bag for later, I watched this modern-day vomit spectacle unfold with a mixture of amusement and horror. The coach was mostly just pissed.

At this point, the promotional truck was long gone, leaving a terrible, carbonated nightmare in its wake. Samba was on the store shelves for maybe a few weeks after that, before disappearing into obscurity forever. While their ad campaign left something to be desired, I feel like their ill-timed promotional effort probably didn't serve them very well in the Portland market during the summer of '96.
There has been a lot of whining and complaining lately, both before and after the election, about taxes, Obama's tax plan, the "war on wealth," etc., and while it's perfectly fine that someone wants to have the viewpoint that the tax rate should be lower, it's at times laughable, absurd, and infuriating how much of the debate is being fueled by misinformation and ignorance about the facts in the context of the overall picture.

Before we get to the numbers though, you can begin by questioning how "serious" and principled the perpetual arguments are for tax cuts when it magically turns out that they are the cure-all, the panacea, good ol' Uncle Grover's Elixir for What Ails Ya', in every conceivable economic situation:

Rich people, by definition, have a lot of money. Consequently there’s an enormous quantity of direct and indirect demand for policy ideas that serve their interests and flatter their prejudices. And much as theory would predict, recent years have seen an enormous blossoming of arguments about why rich people should pay less in taxes.

There’s a certain beginner’s level of this. Here, when progressive tax policy has been in place during a period of growth, and that growth has led to a budget surplus, you argue not that it’s smart to balance the budget over the course of the business cycle, but rather that the surplus reflects the government “overcharging” in taxes that should be returned to those who pay the most taxes; which is to say to those who have the most money; which is to say to the rich. That’s a 1999 argument. Then if the economy falls into recession wiping out the surpluses, you argue that a tax cut for the rich is needed as economic stimulus. That’s a 2001 argument. And if the economy is growing during a period of conservative tax policy, you argue that the low taxes produced the growth so need to be kept in place forever. That’s a 2005 argument. And then if the economy falls into recession again, you argue that additional permanent tax cuts for the wealthy are the only solution.

Ta-da! That’s a little business cycle mojo.


Or here it is in cartoon form:



Moving onto the numbers, first of all it's astonishing that conservatives and libertarians are painting Obama as some kind of Marxist when he is merely going to return certain tax rates to where they were at at the time that Ronald Reagan left office. Apparently in his eight years as leader of this country, Reagan was secretly presiding over a socialist empire. WHO KNEW!?!? And yet this return to the rich paying a proportionate share of taxes at Reagan-era levels won't even begin to compensate for the vast increase in the wealthy's share of income, i.e. that rich-poor gap you may have heard about:



They are whining about paying more money in taxes, but proportionally they are paying a lot less than they did under Reagan, and they are paying more money in taxes because they are making a fuckton more money! I weep for the rich, I really do.

It's also unclear to me why Obama's plan is being characterized as a "tax increase" when it only increases taxes on a miniscule percentage of the population while reducing the tax burden for everyone else. Do you know how many people actually make over $250,000 per year, i.e. the only people subject to a tax increase? NOT VERY MANY! People reporting adjusted gross income over more than $250,000 will only make up 2% of the population this year. TWO PERCENT. Meanwhile, the median income in America is astonishingly lower than that, and every single one of those people will pay less in taxes. Yet there is still whining about a "tax increase."

One of the biggest points of sheer ignorance (or perhaps disingenuosness) driving this debate is anyone who spouts off claiming that this tax increase is going to cause a rich person to pay "40 percent" of their income in taxes. There was a great takedown the other day of an article premised on this very misunderstanding:

I've seen a lot of dumb news reports in my life, but I'm not sure anything can quite match this one from ABC News. The premise of the report is this: Barack Obama plans to raise taxes on people who make more than $250,000, so the reporter has gone and found people who earn a little more than that sum who plan to decrease their income so that they come in underneath the magic line.

Now, the obvious objection here is that the tax code doesn't work that way. A tax increase affects the marginal dollar that a person gains. That's means only every dollar over $250,000 is taxed at a higher rate. Obama is not proposing a tax system whereby somebody who goes from $249,999 to $250,000 suddenly becomes poorer. Nobody has ever enacted a tax hike like that in the history of the United States.


Anyone who is dumb enough to "go Galt" and reduce their own income below a particular marginal tax bracket because they think it saves them money isn't smart enough to deserve earning that much money in the first place.

In a great article exploring this issue in more depth, there is a perfect example of how dumb this tax rhetoric actually is when you remove it from fanatical wingnut universe and actually break it down to apply it to a real-world scenario:

Finally, there has been a near total absence of discussion of what higher rates will mean in the real world. Say you're a CNBC anchor, or a Washington Post columnist with a seat at the Council on Foreign Relations, or a dentist, and you managed to cobble together $350,000 a year in income. You're doing quite well. If you subtract deductions for state and property taxes, mortgage interest and charitable deductions, and other deductions, the amount on which tax rates are calculated might total $300,000. What would happen if the marginal rate on the portion of your income above $250,000 were to rise from 33 percent to 36 percent? Under the old regime, you'd pay $16,500 in federal taxes on that amount. Under the new one, you'd pay $18,000. The difference is $1,500 per year, or $4.10 per day. Obviously, the numbers rise as you make more. But is $4.10 a day bleeding the rich, a war on the wealthy, a killer of innovation and enterprise? That dentist eager to slash her income from $320,000 to $250,000 would avoid the pain of paying an extra $2,100 in federal taxes. But she'd also deprive herself of an additional $70,000 in income!


Like I said, anyone that stupid doesn't deserve to be earning that much money in the first place.

Now, the question of what our government priorities are, whether or not we are spending in the most beneficial manner, etc., is another story for another day. But when it comes to just complaining about the tax rates and Obama's "tax increase," it would be nice if everyone would inform themselves to the point where we can start from a realistic base of actual facts instead of repeating things you heard on Rush Limbaugh.

UPDATE:

Check out this graph of historical tax rates over time:



Clearly, the periods of ultra-low taxation were prosperous times for all, and as close as we got to a Libertarian fiscal nirvana! No, wait, the periods of ultra-low taxation were the ones followed by a budget crisis under Reagan, and two periods of catastrophic global collapse (Coolidge-Hoover and the current Bush-fueled debacle).

Meanwhile, those periods of post-WWII astronomical tax rates and the Clinton era where everyone prospered and things were super awesome? Definitely wouldn't want to repeat those. What a nightmare.

Huge Picture Post

Lots of pictures from Chicago/San Francisco...



Homemade pasta sauce.

+20 more...not good for dial-ups...Collapse )

Is There A Ralph's Around Here?

A friend of mine who works at an online retailer told me earlier today that the customer service people in her office were in hysterics over a particular customer service call.

Apparently a woman had called in, sounding very frantic and upset, claiming that she had ordered an item shipped by next-day air, which had not yet arrived and which she urgently needed for her grandmother's funeral later that day. She said it was extremely important, because she need it "for the ashes."




She had ordered one of these.

Broadway Books - Help Me Out

Lots of new stuff since I last posted, but none of it really impelled me to update (highlights included a great birthday weekend in Portland, drinking a wine from the year 1848 on Thanksgiving, helping this guy (a client of my best friend Jeff, and the current "voice of the Atlanta Hawks," also a former Sprite guy) record a voice demo on my mic/computer setup to audition for a role as the "urban" robot for the forthcoming Transformers 2 movie, reading a bunch of books, planning a renovation to one of our Portland houses, and actually getting into the gym a decent amount to counter the excessive eating/drinking that typically accompany the holiday season).

BUT, what has compelled me to post, and what I hope some of you might re-post in your own journals if you have Portland connections and/or a Portland audience, is a call from Aaron, one of my best high school friends, to support his mom's bookstore this holiday season:

"My mother has owned and operated an independent bookstore for the better part of 20 years. Broadway Books has been a staple in NE Portland and has developed a wonderful, loyal clientele. This store is my mother's passion and she's been an outstanding success in her endeavors. She makes me unbelievably proud.

...

Well, it seems this economical fiasco has made it's way into my peripheral. The aforementioned slap in the face came in the form of a brief e-mail from my equally amazing father. In this e-mail, my father told me that business this winter season at my mom's store had been incredibly bleak. So much so that the future of the store could possibly be in jeopardy. Because I know how much this store means to her, I just sat at my desk in near tears for hours. Then I got angry. Then I thought I'd do everything I can to help from my remote location here in San Francisco. I wrote famous people on twitter.com asking for them to please mention her store to get more people there. I mentioned it through my own twitter account and on facebook.com. Now I'm digging into my own pockets and offering you some incentive. 

There are two weeks left before Christmas. My parents are coming to visit me on Christmas day and I want to see my mother smiling.
One of the "tweets" I wrote on twitter the other day said "if you're in Portland do me a favor??? Buy a book at Broadway Books. No wait, buy 3 of em. I'll buy you a burrito the next time I'm in town." The later it got yesterday the more I felt like making (most of) that a reality. So, here's the deal... I wanted this to be a surprise to a number of my friends and I haven't told many of them this yet but I'll be in Portland to visit January 15-19, 2009. Now, about that burrito. Meet me at Cha Cha Cha on SE Hawthorne in Portland on Friday January 16th at 6PM with a receipt from Broadway Books for over $50 and between today's date and Christmas and I'm buying your kind ass a burrito. I've got about a grand left on my one credit card -told you I was a simpleton- which equates to roughly 166 of you spending at least 50 bucks a pop. That means an additional $8,333 of revenue for a deserving staff at Broadway Books. I'd never feel better about diving into a thousand-dollar hole, all-the-while supporting another local independent business. I suppose I'd have to cap it there, at 166 peeps but here's to hoping I reach that cap."


Aaron's mom, Roberta, not only runs a fantastic local business, but is also just a great person in general.  I'm going to make it a point to buy most of my gifts this year from Broadway Books (if my family is reading this, you can still pretend to be surprised).  And while I won't be around to take Aaron up on his burrito offer in January, what I am going to do is up the ante on the offer and make one of my own:

If you buy over $50 worth of stuff from Broadway Books between now and Christmas, I will buy you a burrito and a beer at a yet-to-be-determined burrito establishment.  Or if burritos and beers aren't your thing, I will buy you an equivalent substitute somewhere provided the scheduling works out (40 and a burger?  Oysters and a martini?  Coffee and a scone?).  And if you can't afford to buy $50 worth of stuff but just buy something, I'll get you a beer anyway.

If you end up doing this, either leave a comment or send an email to pdanielson at mac dot com and let me know so that I can try to arrange a time and place to thank everyone and eat/drink/be merry.
 
 

28

I saw Hillary Clinton at Midway airport last night while I was waiting for my plane. She walked past me surrounded by three Secret Service guys, and went over to browse some magazines. I didn't recognize her until she was about 15 feet away. She looks younger in person than she did in any of the campaign pics or debates.

There was a roller derby team on the plane with me.

I turned 28 today. Last year I spent my birthday at the office from 8:30 in the morning until 11:30 at night because it was a weekday and I was on an emergency project. This birthday is going much better.

Nov. 12th, 2008

Sometimes discussing politics or constitutional issues with libertarians feels like punching a freight train of stupid.

Warm, Clinging Hands

The problem with guns is that it's always the crazed, castle-defending-hero-wanna-be fanatics who cling to them so tightly:

"Starting in the days before the election, gun shops across the state have been mobbed by buyers who fear that Obama and a larger Democratic majority in Congress will restrict firearm sales.

Many were stocking up on things such as assault rifles, high-capacity magazines and handguns that they think would be the most likely targets of new laws, though practically everything related to shooting has been selling more quickly.

"It's been an absolute madhouse," said Trey Pugh, a manager at Jim's Pawn Shop in Fayetteville, which is selling 15 to 20 AR-15 assault rifles a day. "I'm getting guys come in and say I always wanted that gun, and give me that one too and that one and, oh, I need a gun safe, too."

Distributors are running out of assault rifles, he said, and prices are rising."

 


Maybe it's my liberal elitism talking, but the people currently stockpiling arsenals of tactical grade weaponry in a mad fit of big-government paranoia are fucking idiots.

Look, I know plenty of responsible, sane, friendly gun owners.  My dad is one of them.  I have personally enjoyed target shooting with a variety of guns throughout the course of my life, including everything from BB guns to hunting rifles to Desert Eagle .50s to double-barreled shotguns, and even an AR-15 (which nobody ever plausibly needs besides pure recreation).  But all it amounts to is some recreational fun.  And if every gun on earth disappeared tomorrow, I would not care.  I would not feel personally less safe.  And, most importantly, there would be no perceived change in the size of my own genitalia merely because I wasn't carrying around a hard metal object that goes *BANG* and kills people on my person.

I suspect the people snatching up assault rifles like duct-tape and bottled water before the turn of the millennium might be partly motivated by the absurd notion that they will somehow be able to effect an armed resistance in the event of imminent government tyranny, but again, they're fucking idiots.  It's too late.  The government can already fry you with a fucking death laser from fucking outer space, not to mention just blow you up with a targeted missile strike if they really felt like it.  I don't care how many Tom Clancy novels you've read, or how many Rambo movies you've watched, and I don't even care if you have an array of modified XM25s at your disposal, the idea that you're going to cowboy up and defend your personal fortress like some kind of libertarian action hero is so delusional, fantastical, and frankly childish as to make the most hardcore LARPer blush with envy at your ability to eschew the psychological constraints of objective reality.  If you didn't want a tyrannical government to be able to wreck your shit so handily, perhaps you shouldn't have been consistently voting for the party more willing to dump trillions of dollars into the military-industrial complex all these years.  Also, grow up a little.

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