Friday, November 30, 2007
Venezuelan prodigy Gustavo Dudamel makes his debut with the New York Philharmonic this week. What does a conductor really do anyway? Of course he leads the orchestra in rehearsal, including pauses for specific instruction -where the 26 year old Dudamel's "comments focused largely on color and character". I'm sure the venerable stars of the NY Philharmonic appreciate this - "give me green, no bluer, bluer, that's it almost aqua - now mean, meaner, downright nasty - that's it, fantastico." Maybe it's not that easy to get to fantastico, “Do you want higher, lower, what?” a percussionist asked with a slight tone of exasperation. “Something different,” Mr. Dudamel said, “but not keys.” (Laughter.) Something different - thanks a lot kid, I'd like you to hear something different, bend down so your head is right next to this gong.
And then, of course, there's game day. The conductor cues the orchestra so they start in unison. By game time the orchestra pretty much knows the score, but the conductor might coax a little emphasis here, tweak the timing there. In the case of the NY Philharmonic, I suspect they will be on their own once Mr. Dudamel strikes up the band. Most of these players have been at the top of their game since before Dudamel was born. If they look to his energetic gyration for direction while in concert, they risk bursting out in either laughter or tears.
Thursday, November 29, 2007
See Turkmenistan Rising (but it was a close call) the most recent post by As Good As News in its role as the as the official blog of "reclusive" Turkmenistan. We finally turned the Times coverage around, but fear not Turkmen, we remain ever vigilant, ready to post again if the need arises.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
The origins of the Latter Day Saints, and even some of the Mormon's relatively recent views on Africans, are strange. So what, take a look at the origins of nearly every religion and you will find something a little odd. The first Jew was ready to slaughter his own son because he heard a mysterious voice. If Christ lived today, died and came back, we would be arguing about the grassy knoll in the crucifixion video and branding his faithful as a bunch of conspiracy nuts. If the Mormons seem a little different, it's mostly because their history is more recent.
Religion can matter. I would not vote for a member of an Islamist sect, even a girl scout, if that sect was dedicated to the destruction of the US, regardless of what the candidate said about his or her personal views. Resign your membership if you disagree with your religion, but don't belong to a religion, or any other organization, that is fundamentally opposed to your country or your performance of the duties of the office you seek. I would not vote for a Roman Catholic candidate for District Attorney who campaigned on a plan to prosecute doctors for murder whenever they performed a legal abortion.
The question is not simply to what religion does the candidate belong, but it's not that complicated. What does the job require, what does the candidate say about his or her own beliefs as they relate to the job - is there any tenet of the candidate's organized religion or personal beliefs that will prevent the candidate from performing the duties of the office?
I'm not aware of any tenet of the Latter Day Saints that would prevent Mitt from doing the job of President. Mitt might choose to make a speech about his beliefs and how they mesh with his vision of service to his country, but he should not have to defend himself on this issue. Gov. Huckabee, who is a committed Baptist, should be more than happy to speaks out against intolerance. He would actually gain votes. The socially conservative Iowa Republicans who are worried about Mormonism will stick with Huckabee because of his consistency on abortion and gay marriage. A gracious stand against religious intolerance might add some undecided voters for Huckabee without reducing his social conservative base.
As Good As News needed to buy a map to find Turkmenistan, but not to spot the NY Time's snide treatment of this proud Asian republic, which sits north of Iran along the Caspian Sea's eastern shore.
As Good As News could not overlook the Time's complete inability to use the name Turkmenistan without the adjective "reclusive" (murky and isolation were often thrown in for good measure) and the Time's persistent failure to distinguish between the old regime of President for life Niyazov, a paranoid psychotic, and Turkmenistan's new President, Doc Gurby, a dentist, dental professor, health minister and now President of an administration that has shown some bent toward incremental improvements in both personal freedom and the economy. After a trial period involving frequent, but brief, comments in defense of the Turkmen, As Good As News became the self appointed offical blog of reclusive Turkmenistan, and responded in-kind to a sneering column by C.J. Chivers, the Times man in Ashgabat. Read the Times piece first, it's funny in its own snarky way, then enjoy the rebuttal in To The Ramparts Turkmen.
Tuesday, November 27, 2007
Blackwater USA saw the Iraq war as an opportunity to scare up some big contracts, even if it had to drop recruiting standards (there's just never enough good mercenaries when you need them) and accelerate training (that chapter on when to avoid deadly force was boring anyway). Now, despite our best efforts in Mercenary Monitors Mocked, Blackwater is out of the news, apparently with no serious penalty or loss in status. CEO Erik D. Prince remains a mystery - no one even left a comment explaining his decision to drop out of Annapolis. Don't be afraid, anonymous comments will be published.
Monday, November 26, 2007
Rice's Turnabout on Mideast Peace Talks - Condi swirls in her new ball gown, and absolutely everyone will be there, from the senior clerk in the ladies shoe department of Syria's second biggest department store to the manager of camel grooming in Jordan's mounted police. Washington on fire with rumor of special guest appearance by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as stand-up comedy act for kick-off dinner.
In West Iowa, Obama's Man Thinks Locally - "Prolonged harvest = delay in availability of volunteers = yikes, how much longer can I respond on my own to every grumpy old coot with a question on social security. I need a night off so badly I can taste it, just one night out of Iowa, I don't care if have to swim the Missouri in December to get to Omaha."
Musharraf Rival Returns to Rally Pakistan Dissent - General Musharraf, you should have given Mr. Sharif time to use the rest room the last time he landed in Pakistan, he seems to be really upset, don't listen to Karl Rove next time.
Missouri No. 1? College Football Surprises Again - Top ranked LSU and second ranked Kansas fall leaving Missouri and West Virginia in the hot seats with Ohio State lurking. Has even one weekend passed without one or both of the top ranked teams losing this year? West Virginia takes on Pitt, a traditional rivalry, complete with overhyped "Backyard Brawl" nickname, that often produces a close game regardless of the spread. Missouri will face traditional powerhouse Oklahoma in the Big 12 Conference Championship. In 2007, bet that at least one will lose.
New York Manhole Covers, Forged Barefoot and Sweaty in India - Handling molten iron in bare feet, yes NY Times - it does sound like a safety issue, but maybe they are hire only swamis who train for the job by walking across hot coals. The real question is when will they start marking the points of the compass on those manhole covers?
As Good As News declares kudos to Prof. Coontz for today's op-ed column, Taking Marriage Private. If this sounds vaguely familiar, see Guaranteed Upgrade for Civil Unions, posted here on November 10 for a related slant on some of the same core issues. If an old op-ed post, even one with a few funny lines, is too much for Cyber Monday, go back a few days further to Revenge of the Nerds from Nov. 7.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
W's Kiss of Death Claims Another Victim - John Howard of Australia follows Jose Mari Aznar of Spain and Britain's Tony Blair to the political graveyard, all victims of voter dissatisfaction with their support for George W. Bush and the war in Iraq. W, there's not much time left, but maybe this thing can still work for you - if you become a steadfast ally, personal friend and unswerving supporter of Hugo Chavez, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the entire ruling junta in Burma, and, of course, Vlad Putin (W, you're already bffs with Vlad - this one should be a no brainer, your specialty) maybe you can take them down before your term ends. It's not too late to build an historical legacy of accomplishment that will make lame ducks like Mallard Fillmore green with envy.
Friday, November 23, 2007
From this dispassionate perspective of complete ignorance, I've spotted a trend. Not only are Black Friday sales pushing into Thanksgiving Day, but the loss leaders, the limited supply super saver giant screen plasma TVs designed to generate long lines of desperate to be first shoppers, are discounted ever more deeply, promoted more heavily and utilized by more retailers in sales that start ever earlier. Early reports indicate the loss leaders are working. At K-Mart in West Orange, NJ the line waiting for a 6:30AM Thanksgiving Day opening stretched "all the way by Wendy's" said one shopper, "I was shocked." Another bought a 42 inch TV on Thanksgiving because she was daunted by the prospect of a "scrum" on Black Friday.
There is no end in sight for this escalation. As soon as more smart shoppers begin to beat the Friday scrum by shopping on Thanksgiving, some enterprising retailer will push the opening bell for the Thanksgiving sale gold rush up to Wednesday. The result may ultimately be even more stress and less Holiday family time for retail employees, lower profit margins for retailers, little real benefit for consumers who end up getting, or not getting, the same super deals a few days earlier.
What should we do? Let's recognize this for what it is - a contest. "Scrum" captured it perfectly. Sales already generate an occasional scuffle between shoppers vying for the last item, let's make those deep discounts on plasma TVs a prize that go to the strongest and swiftest, not just the earliest bird.
Organized by the producers of American Gladiator, the Shoppers' Steel Cage Death Match will begin immediately following the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. The first 10,00 shoppers in line (remember this extravaganza is covering all the Thanksgiving sales in the NY metro area)receive the chance to compete for their choice of giant screen TVs (male heavyweight decision), family room sofa and lounger set (couples tag team) and Santa's bag (ten minutes in FAO Schwarz to the families that win a race through an obstacle course with handicaps to adjust for age variation - did you really think As Good As News would throw children into a steel cage death match). The competition is televised on Fox as part of the NFL pregame and halftime show. Participating retailers put their sale items into a giant pool and winners pick which sale item they want to buy. If K-Mart has the best TV deals, then K-Mart gets the publicity from the male heavyweight champ, emerging bloodied and battered from the finals, telling the world he's shopping at K-Mart.
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Turkeys - 9AM Memorial Service followed by 4PM Annual "SO GLAD WE MADE IT" dinner featuring Spencer Davis tribute trio of celebrity yodelers.
Auto Travelers - 11AM to 3PM - snarl through thirty mile drive; 3PM - 7PM eat week's worth of food then pretend to watch football on TV, all the while plotting return trip; 8PM Announce to family that you will not leave until after Midnight and explain brief detour into Ohio may be necessary to get from Northern to Central New Jersey.
Native Americans - 11 AM - Angry mob burns Pocahontas in effigy for 385th consecutive year.
College Students - 4PM, rub sleep from eyes and wolf down turkey - breakfast of champions - following hard Wednesday night partying with high school buds.
Air Travelers - 7AM - Call Transportation Security Administration to see if Grandma has been released yet - voice mail instructs you to have a Blessed Thanksgiving, the office is closed. 7:30 AM - after ten busy signals you reach the Lost Luggage number for BudgetAir, voice mail instructs you to have a Blessed Thanksgiving, the office is closed.
Guantanamo Inmates - Noon - spit on specially prepared Red Cross Turkey Dinner; 2PM - enjoy unique Holiday Celebration featuring waterboarding with cranberry juice.
Vegetarians - 4PM pig out on delicious, steaming hot plate of roasted, beige colored material pressed into the shape of turkey breast; 5PM studiously avoid watching football, except for a few seconds, well maybe minutes, while changing channels. 6PM strange stomach sensations and sounds lead to heated discussion with host - "What do you mean that wasn't tofu - didn't you get our e-mail?"
PETA - 6AM - Militant faction attempts to shoo a flock of two dozen liberated live turkeys to freedom at sunrise ceremony/photo op on Sixth Ave. near Macy's. Twenty-three birds immediately strut to their death under the tires of the fast moving early AM traffic - one lucky turkey reaches Madison Square Garden and dons an abandoned "I Love Zeke" jersey.
In honor of numeral ten, revisit the post of September 10, Couch Potato Propaganda, not only does couch potato set the tone for Thanksgiving, but this post gives you at least one thing to like about the Dallas Cowboys.
Happy Thanksgiving, count your blessings, hope you get past ten.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
What can you do? Let's start with the obvious. You are relying on an overworked baggage handler to save the day when the bar code reader strikes out. Make it easy - stick large day-glo signs on the outside of your luggage with a simple message in big block caps: "TODAY IS NOVERMBER 21, 2007. I'M GOING FROM NEWARK TO LOS ANGELES VIA DALLAS." Even the most frenzied baggage handler might notice something amiss if he's loading your suitcase on a plane to Chicago. This could start a trend - a line of luggage with brightly hued dri-marker ready panels on four sides. Let the chic lose their Louis Vuitton, your ABCs with Bert & Ernie Baggage will never leave you. Before long Samsonite will introduce a motion activated, programmable luggage tag that announces your destination each time the bag is moved. The baggage handler will have a shot at success even when your luggage is buried in the middle of a mountain of luggage going the wrong way.
Now, suppose your spouse has a hideous avocado suitcase that's been kicking around since college graduation and a wardrobe of missized clothing that screams it wants to visit Alaska while you head for Hawaii. Success begins at home. Make sure there is absolutely nothing in this bag that connects you to it or it to you. Stuff it to the gills, you want to get to 55 pounds and pay an overweight charge to build a record of the magnitude of your loss. Find an obscure travel decal for the outside of the bag - "DENALI - Where Big and Tall Is More Than a Men's Store". Now comes check in and the key to success, be sure to smudge that bar code in the brief moment before your burnt orange beauty is shifted to the conveyor belt, apparently it does not take much to confuse the automatic bar code readers. Take some time during your flight to practice stunned silence followed by deep disappointment for conversation with baggage clerk in Honolulu.
You won't need a buyer's guide when the products speak for themselves, see Brand Death. As Good As News remains heartbroken over the absence of a single comment requesting further information on the availability of left handed toilet paper.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
Monday, November 19, 2007
"The principal author of the Wikipedia article, reached via his user page there, wrote in an e-mail message that he considered the damages “insignificant,” and had “made no effort to contact the author or publisher.” He described himself as follows: “I’m male, in my 40s, have a Ph.D. in physics, and work as a professor at a university in California. I view my Wikipedia writings as a form of procrastination from real work, so I’d prefer to remain anonymous and not reveal the extent of my procrastination to colleagues.”
Funny guy and funnier motive. I don't feel like writing up that article for Black Hole Monthly just yet, I'll post something on Wikipedia instead. As Good As News confesses to some closet Wikipedia posting of its own: subject - additions to the article on my town in suburban New Jersey covering history and famous natives and residents; motive - local pride and a cynical desire to maintain local real estate prices (yet another reason you should not trust Wikipedia); surprising side effect - just one day after I created a local hall of fame featuring athletes, authors, composers, politicians, etc. I found a completely unfamous "notable" , hiding alphabetically among the elite I had carefully chosen. She subsequently disappeared.
Gee, your Uncle Fred has lost a lot of weight, is he OK?
I thought that was your second cousin from San Francisco, the one who was a Goth all through high school and college.
No, wait, doesn't this look like that guy who came to dinner with Frannie last month, Bobby Phaser, Brian Glasser, something like that?
A little, but what kind of lunatic would do this, doesn't he have a family of his own?
We better warn Frannie, who knows what other fetishes this guy might have - she could be seeing a serial killer.
Want a quick bump in status? Print Mr. Grazer's picture (from the top of this post), frame it in a cheap, heart shape frame and place it quietly next to Uncle Frank in your family photo - corner. Then tell all your friends you just had dinner with a famous Hollywood producter.
52 Across - Notorious stigma: scarletletter.
Which reminds As Good As News of the strike vanquished David Letterman. If you need a top ten fix badly try Letterman Strikes Back or Top Ten Reasons To See Iran Now. Scab labor? Yes, but you won't have to cross a picket line.
Sunday, November 18, 2007
OK, so why didn't I get a health warning before I sent my kid to a computer camp? And is horseback riding really the way to go here? An overwhelming majority of computer addicts, and all the Korean campers, are male. No doubt these guys need exercise for every muscle in their bodies, other than their overdeveloped thumbs, but maybe the camps should import some girls and try a dance class to complement the high ropes. It just doesn't seem like the relationships with the horses have a long-term future. These guys will be hacking into OTB the day after graduation. Real world relationships, team building - campers, let me introduce you to Color War. We'll divide into red and blue, restore your Internet privileges for an hour a day. First team to locate Osama Bin Laden wins.
Does Death Penalty Save Lives? A New Debate - Think twice, pro-life opponents of the death penalty. There is some evidence that the death penalty may actually deter future murders, thus saving more lives than it takes. For those assessing capital punishment on the basis of non-utilitarian values, this may have little impact. If you want an eye for an eye, then you don't need deterrence to make your point. If your primary moral concern is stopping execution as an act of the state, you will still believe it's wrong and should stop, even if it costs more in the lives of future victims than it saves in the lives of convicted murderers on a net basis. Of course, deterrence relates only tangentially to the the two legal death penalty issues most in the news lately - 1) is lethal injection cruel and unusual punishment and, 2) in light of DNA results producing many overturned convictions, is our criminal justice system accurate enough to impose the ultimate sanction. Even so, effective deterrence, or its absence, looms large in any debate that might result in the end of the death penalty.
So, whether its decisive to you or not, consider - is the death penalty really a deterrent? Economists insist that incentives change behaviour and tend to keep looking until they find data to support this approach in any application. Data here is sparse due to the limited number of executions in the US lately, but there is some indication that states that execute often, like Texas, produce a decline in capital crimes. Others see the same pattern of declining capital crime in Canada, which has no capital punishment. Some would argue that potential killers don't think through the penal statutes before pulling the trigger, but perhaps they do think about the death penalty at the last moment, or maybe they pause for thought before deciding to bring a gun to a robbery or an argument. This is an area where theorizing is not enough. The best analysis of the best empirical data we can get, drawing on both international and historical material, is in order.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Buffett Says No Estate Tax Would Be A Gift To The Rich - Mr. Buffett is speaking plainly, taking a position contrary to most monied senior citizens and walking the talk by donating most of his estate to charity without worrying about where the estate tax will be at his death. There is some devil in the estate tax details, however. The estate tax generates so much planning that I suspect it produces more income for lawyers and accountants than revenue for the government. For those really dedicated to tax planning, consider dying very soon. Effective rates are low and falling, but with sunset provisions and a Democratic Congress this once in a lifetime opportunity will not last long. The minimum size of an estate subject to tax has changed much of late, but an estate tax can produce pain for the middle class and force the break up of productive family owned businesses. If the goal is to break up plutocracies of inherited wealth, then impose a tax only on estates of $30 Million or more. I bet Mr. Buffet is leaving at least this much to his daughter, notwithstanding his concern for plutocracy. Do not revive this white elephant as a revenue producing measure or it will bring with it a counterproductive universe of middle class tax planning, Accept the fact that you will not make much revenue by taxing a few billionaires, develop a simple, avoidance proof tax that is levied only on extremely large estates and live with the fact that the result is better at preventing plutocracy than raising revenue.
Two for the price of one today, since "palindromic" gives you 47 Across from the answer to 24 Across.
While the Senate "page gawks at task wage gap", who gawks at the Senate page? Larry Craig, of course. See, If Only, Thinks Larry Craig, posted here on August 28.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
Imus was not overtly racist when he was serious. For an old, white guy he was sometimes relatively deft at dancing a fine line between avoiding political correctness, part of both his comedy schtick and his folksy but serious interviewer persona, and being racially aware without being racist. His success at getting serious authors and politicians as interviewees was part of his downfall - he became more than just another shock jock and paid the price when a tasteless attempt at humor fell very flat, something that had happened to Imus, and his on-air confederates, fairly often before without resulting in the death penalty. Would anyone have even noticed the same line from Opie and Anthony?
Attempted humor often means a free pass from charges of racism - attend a comedy club if you don't believe me - but it's not valid everywhere for every remark. If you want to play it safe, stick to jokes about your own ethnic group. If you want to be daring, especially on tv, then you had better be funny, a tricky proposition when you often find out after the fact what works comedy wise and what does not.
Now Imus is headed back into the public eye on RFD-TV. That's RFD as in Mayberry (well, Omaha), rural free delivery, a channel that was a not for profit agronomy outlet until recently.
Will Imus help the station break into new markets? How many TV sets will stay on RFD when it makes the 10AM switch from Imus to Silage and Baling - the Choice is Yours
Will real ranchers grow weary of endless remarks about the Imus ranch?
Will his old pals from politics and the world of books sign on for interviews?
Will Imus speak to the old pals who abandoned him. Will he got tossed off the air for speaking to them in one syllable, four letter Anglo-Saxon.
The players have been stunned by the reaction to what they saw as a spontaneous gesture, “a moment of levity,” said Gail Greenberg, the team’s nonplaying captain and winner of 11 world championships.
“There was a lot of anti-Bush feeling, questioning of our Iraq policy and about torture,” Ms. Greenberg said. “I can’t tell you it was an overwhelming amount, but there were several specific comments, and there wasn’t the same warmth you usually feel at these events.”
“What we were trying to say, not to Americans but to our friends from other countries, was that we understand that they are questioning and critical of what our country is doing these days, and we want you to know that we, too, are critical,” Ms. Greenberg said, stressing that she was speaking for herself and not her six teammates.
Later today we will cover the restoration of Imus and the intrusion of politics on contract bridge.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
The film is at its strongest when it stays closest to the book and the first person viewpoint. Jean-Do's humor, perspective, and sometimes poetic narrative carry the day. To be fair, the embellishments work too, each dream and memory sequence, each scene shot from outside Jean-Do's perspective, adds to his story. The scene in which the mother of Jean-Do's children must function as his voice in a telephone conversation with his mistress is a sledgehammer to the gut. The film's only significant weakness is the result of an editing dilemma. Each scene works, but some scenes drag the viewer perilously close to the edge of pathos, and two hours on emotional edge creates a resistance that begins to dull the film's effectiveness. The scenes taken most directly from the author's perspective best avoid this dilemma.
So, you are thinking, why would I want to see a low budget, independent, French language film with subtitles about a dying paraplegic instead of Die Hard 4 when I only get out to the movies once every two weeks. Two reasons. First, every actress in this film is beautiful and exceptionally talented (we won't even mention the subtle score or the extraordinary performance by Mathieu Amalric as Jean-Dominique Bauby - all he's got to work with is one eye - My Left Foot was a comparative piece of cake). Second, before watching this movie, I would have left a living will, instructing all concerned to "pull the plug" if I suffered a stroke that left me in Jean-Do's condition. Now, I'm rethinking that instruction.
Monday, November 12, 2007
As Good As News will endeavor to select a long answer (so you actually get some worthwhile help solving the puzzle if that's what you seek) that is otherwise of interest.
Today's One Answer Only is 34 Across: "Floral" film of 2006 with Josh Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson - The Black Dahlia - Scarlett Johansson, author James Ellroy and crime fiction noire are all of interest here at As Good As News.
No promises are made on timing. I do the crossword every weekday, but not always in the morning. There is no absolute guaranty on daily posting due to travel and other commitments.
If you don't want simple, unenriched fun - then take a subway downtown, the ride itself is an educational view of the real NYC. Board the Circle Line, sail close by the Statue of Liberty and visit Ellis Island. When you're done, grab a cab to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side. The Tenement Museum is an under publicized NYC gem featuring a tenement building in which individual apartments are restored with genuine artifacts from real families who were once tenants, each from a different ethnic group and a different wave of immigration. Ellis Island and the Tenement Museum are a one two punch that will painlessly teach the family a volume of history in a single, enjoyable day. When you're done, stay on the Lower East Side, grab supper in a trendy neighborhood, maybe you can even find an off off Broadway show that's family friendly and not struck................................................................................................................................................
Sunday, November 11, 2007
Hey Candidate, I'm All Yours - Story on odd couple endorsements of questionable value (Pat Robertson - Rudy Giuliani) doesn't go far enough. Michael Jackson - Aqua Dots. Darth Cheney - Musharraf. Musharraf - Darth Cheney. Maureen Dowd (she might be a crook but she can make small talk with a cocktail in her hand) - Benazir Bhutto. Bill Clinton (shortly after meeting his wife) - Dennis Kucinich. Alberto Gonzales (unfamiliar with the Constitution) - George W. Bush. Angelina Jolie (it was too late to adopt him) - Barack Obama. Ho Chi Minh (he's one tough mother) - John McCain. Al Gore (he's the only candidate who really understands my Internet) - Ron Paul.
The Tables Turn for Dilbert's Creator - Any truth to the rumor that Scott Adams is introducing Rachel Ray as an heroic character in Dilbert? She takes over the company cafeteria, previously the purveyor of a select line of overpriced inedibles, and turns it into a gourmet paradise. Will this desperate effort to curry favor (not to mention lamb and chicken) and get some tips (asparagus, sirloin, hot) on running a food empire hit paydirt.
As Stagehands Strike, Shows Don't Go On - Photographer Sara Krulwich and Times editors send a not so subtle message that striking stagehands are the Grinch stealing the shows from this year's Christmas. (Sorry readers, the Times on-line ran a different strike photo - look at page 1 as you walk by the Newstand.) Meanwhile, Maureen Dowd lets striking SNL writer/performer Seth Myers take over her column, A Bite of the Bagel. Union propaganda? Maybe, but it's funny propaganda.
Subprime stories rear their ugly head thrice. Banks Said to Agree on Credit Backup Fund is the umpteenth story on this special fund that fails to explain what it will do. This item reports agreement of the three sponsors, JPMorgan Chase, Citibank and Bank of America on a simplified structure and notes that the fund is not funded (it will seek contributions) and won't save the special purpose mortgage bundlers who face death from the subprime crisis. OK, but what will it do? Will this fund ever really exist and actually do something, or is it just a PR gimmick to create a long running, confidence inspiring news story without actually doing anything? Countrywide's Chief Salesman and Defender gives CEO Angelo Mozilo a platform from which he blames special pressure from minority advocates for relaxed credit standards (yes, Angelo, we're sure this was a big factor in your credit review process) and demands a bailout. Help individual mortgage borrowers with government support? Maybe, in a very focused program. Help Countrywide with tax dollars? Sorry Angelo, you are on your own. Call those Big Banks, oops, we don't know what they will do, but we already know they aren't going to save you. Ben Stein is a funny guy who knows his economics, but he seems to be getting even crankier than me. It's Time to Act Like Grownups starts out snapping at mortgage borrowers, who have gains to match the huge write-offs reported by lenders. Correct in theory Ben, the borrower who defaults when he has borrowed to the hilt and can't make the payments when his adjustable rate moves up does have a theoretical gain equal to the amount of any debt he can't repay. He also gets to lose his home, which will be sold at a foreclosure auction in a buyer's market, producing less than enough cash to pay off his mortgage loans. Unless he has a non-recourse mortgage loan, the borrower will then get to struggle with the unpaid balance while he looks for a new home. Maybe this borrower made a bad decision, maybe he even blew his home equity on lap dances during a trip to Vegas, but he is not sitting very pretty right now and those unsold homes are a problem for everyone. Ben then attacks the Big Bank Boards that slept as this crisis was created, singling out both diversity appointments, who didn't have the competence to spot the problem, and Robert Rubin for criticism. First, not every board member needs to be an expert banker, although you need some. Second, any Big Bank board member who asked questions like: why are we betting so much on collateralized debt obligations? Is the high yield on CDO's in relation to our borrowing cost telling us there is risk here that we are not evaluating properly? Are we putting too many eggs into the CDO basket? What happens to our position if interest rates move up and real estate prices fall?-- Would have been told by the CEO: We constantly evaluate all positions including simulations on rising interest and falling real estate scenarios, the risk is hedged through derivatives, understanding risk is a core competence to which we devote significant resources, blah, blah,blah. The audit committee has a better shot at getting into detail on a risk evaluation issue, but even there it is very hard for a board member to question specific decisions if he's assured by management and outside auditors that there is an effective process in place. Some of those college presidents are smart people who ask good questions. If the model board is composed soley of bank experts wouldn't you get a dozen Robert Rubins, the same guy you flay in the next paragraph? Ben, if you want to get cranky, then whine about the huge compensation packages the departing CEO gets after wrecking the bank's balance sheet - even a college dean can understand that one.
In Serfs of the Turf, Michael Lewis makes a strong case for paying college football players, a case that proves too much. Let's turn major college ball into a professional development league for the NFL and let the colleges get back to education. Notre Dame's Fighting Irish become the professional minor league team the South Bend Fighting Irish, in a league with the Columbus Buckeyes and Ann Arbor Wolverines. Universities get fees for allowing the minor league football franchises to use their nicknames, mascots and stadiums plus a lucrative no-compete payment if they promise not to start a replacement college team as part of the deal.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
What about a completely different approach. Get government out of the marriage business altogether. As Good As News is not suggesting the abolition of marriage, merely recognizing a clash between freedom of religion and equal rights and presenting an alternative that meets both objectives. Marriage has always been a mixture of A) spiritual commitment and B) contract defining legal and economic rights. Leave part A to religion. Rename Part B as civil union and use it as the sole basis for any and all governmental interaction with the committed couples. Once these two roles are separated, renaming will very gradually lead to redefinition and a governmental approach that can logically, without fear of religious entanglement, address the legal and economic consequences of any law that treats a committed couple as something different than two individuals.
Implementation will raise many issues, but here's a start. Amend all laws so that they refer to civil union, not marriage, and let each religion continue to make its own rules about marriage with no legal concern, subject to one key limit - as is currently the case with a marriage certificate, each couple must obtain a civil union certificate before marriage. A civil union certifcate is all they can get, there will no longer be any marriage certificates. Certificates will not be issued to minors (or any other group of citizens - for example those with severe mental handicaps - the legislature declares ineligible), close relatives or those who are already committed to a prior civil union. Thus the state can use the civil union certification process to aid in the enforcement of laws preventing bigamy, incest and the exploitation of children and other groups that do not have the capacity for a marriage or civil union.
All existing laws referring to marriage are, by omnibus amendment, changed to refer to civil union instead. This would include everything -divorce, joint tax returns (it would be nice to implement the same plan simultaneously on a federal level) medical privacy and visitation, government pension - you name it - any place that any law, including any municipal law, mentions marriage it now means civil union. Pre-amendment marriages are recognized as valid civil unions under a grandfather clause. The same omnibus amendment automatically replaces the the term spouse with civil union partner. The same law also covers mandatory reinterpretation of marriage and spouse in private documents like wills and pension plans.
A qualified couple (same sex or otherwise) can get a civil union certificate and never get married. They will have the same legal rights as a couple (same sex or otherwise) who gets the civil union certificate and then exchanges vows in a religious marriage ceremony. The civil union, not the marriage, is the basis, the sole basis for all governmentally granted or enforced rights.
This approach guarantees equal legal treatment for same sex couples who enter into a civil union. It also lets each religion make its own rules on eligibility for marriage and may, at least partially, reduce the concern of conservatives who do not want to see government endorsing gay marriage. Once the legal and economic side of marriage is separated from the spiritual, government can begin to deal more freely and effectively with the civil union couple.
Friday, November 9, 2007
Mike's MySpace page includes new comedy clips posted today. If you haven't visited yet, use the MySpace link in the right hand column and play "Mike's Best Show Yet!" for an introductory shot of political and autobiographical humor. If you don't have six minutes and forty seconds to spare for some laughs, then try the shorter clip, "41 Tells 43 How to Pick an AG."
Today instead of picking on one or two headlines of the NY Times, As Good As News takes on all of them. Fox has endured endless enmity from the NY Times crowd for slanting its news coverage to pander to its conservative viewers. Is the Times on-line doing the same thing? Those who utilize an RSS feed to keep up with the NY Times online (generally a technically aware crowd) get a heavy dose of tech articles, markedly different than what you see if you simply click on the Time's home page the "old fashioned" way. Does the front page reflect the Times editorial view of what is important, or what will sell? If the former, why does it change so dramatically when the subscribers are in the technophile demographic?
Thursday, November 8, 2007
The story is bare bones so far, an arrest report, court records and some google results, but with strike deprived fans hungry for a Conan fix, it will keep on exploding, in the National Enquirer if not in the Times. Ajemian is the Manhattan bred son of a journalist who worked through a series of jobs (including telemarketing) and tried law school before finding his vocation (as a priest - not a Conan stalker.) This Enquiring mind wants to know:
Was Conan an altar boy?
How well did Ajemian and Conan know each other at Harvard? Is there any possibility that they were roommates briefly until Conan demanded reassignment? Is there any possibility that they were roomates briefly until Ajemian demanded reassignment?
Did Ajemian ever make real time Conan contact with a visit or a call? Was he wearing his clerical collar at the time?
Did Conan respond to any of the communications from the Padre? Are there deleted e-mails that haven't actually been erased from his hard drive?
Did the stalking start shortly after Conan's 2002 marriage? Did Ajemian perform the ceremony? Did he attend disguised as a flower girl?
Is any particular obsessvive trigger apparent in the communications sent by Ajemian? Did the decision by Congress not to push the resolution condemningTurkish genocide against Armenians set him off, or was it Max Weinberg's extended absences?
Does Ajemian have any other stalking victims? Is anyone surprised that Conan and Letterman, but not Craig Ferguson and not Jay Leno, have that stalk me vibe? Does Ajemin have friends in his non-stalking life? Does he know Mrs. David Letterman? Would he like to know Mrs. David Letterman?
As Good As News Readers - do not hesitate to comment with answers (humorous answers and/or answers based on actual knowledge of Ajemian preferred) or questions. Despite the separated at birth pictures, Conan is not related to any As Good As News contributor, don't worry about stepping on any toes.