Archive for September, 2008

In which I wish I were more sexist

Monday, September 29th, 2008

I don’t know if you saw this story, but a huge study showed that it’s not just women who make less money than men, but men who believe in gender equality make less money than men who don’t. I wrote a column about this because I was very surprised.

I can’t help but be curious as to what other belief sets are associated with higher earnings. Do racists earn more money? Does a belief in Scientology suggest you’ll have a higher income? (If your name is L. Ron Hubbard, yes!) What about people who enjoy Velveeta? With infinite correlated data points, there are probably a whole lot of really fascinating statistics just waiting to be discovered.

Another All-Nighter

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

I stayed up waaaaaaaaaaay too late (still now) to write a song that summarizes last night’s presidential debate. The text is here.

2008 Presidential Debate in Rhyme

Saturday, September 27th, 2008

Why did I stay up all night after the debate writing this? Well, because I did something similar in 2004. And so after starting to look at a transcript of the debate, I knew what had to be done. This had to be done:

(mp3 available here)

2008 Presidential Debate Rap:

Jim Lehrer:
Yeah… Are you ready for debate?
My name Jim Lehrer, and here are some things to contemplate

Obama:
Yo. My name’s Senator Barack Hussein Obama
That’s right, word to yo mama,
Across the nation, I hear people wondering
How will it affect me, economy blundering
Affecting my job, my house, my kids at school, man!
Well I’m here to say be cool, here’s the plan:
1) You gotta have oversight, don’t spend $700 billion overnight
2) Make sure people paying the tax, who put money risk just might get it back
3) The money ain’t for golden parachutes,
4) We’ve really got to get to the root, of the issue, it’s true, I gotta suppose ya
Heard about the number of increased foreclosures.
Homeowners need protection when shove comes to push.
From 8 years of failed policies from George W. Bush
All supported by Senator McCain
Honestly, is he insane?
He lets the rich get richer, shreds consumer protection,
You should know this if you’ll vote in the election.
He likes to dick around with policies of trickle down,
Hasn’t worked out that fundamentals need to be measured
On whether the middle class gets a life that’s treasured
That’s why I running for president, that’s my intent.

McCain:
Senator John McCain here in the debate
Republicans and Democrats must work together to create
A solution to this crisis of great magnitude
Frankly, we’re pretty screwed.
The failure of Wall Street affecting Main Street,
Is going to land you all on pain street
People are losing jobs, homes, and credit,
Which makes me want to make a slight edit.
When I said the foundations of our economy were strong?
That might have come out wrong
we need a recovery package with transparency,
oversight, and accountability.
Options for loans to businesses that are failing,
otherwise we’ll be constantly bailing
people out, government taking over the shop.
I think you’ll agree, that’s got to stop
It’s not the beginning of the end, it’s the end of beginning,
If we keep these institutions stable. That’s how we’ll be winning.

J:
Obama, let me ask you man,
What do you think of the recovery plan?

O:
Work is being done
I’m optimistic we’ll have a solution come
2 years back, I said that subprime lending
Would be a problem if not soon ending
Regulation has a little bit lax,
We were gonna have problem I knew a while back.
I wrote last year to the secretary of the treasury
But would my ideas be used? Seemed they’d never be.

Jim: McCain will you vote for the plan?
McCain: I…I hope
Jim: As a Senator, I’m asking you man
McCain: Sure.
I warned about Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac,
Saw corporate excess and CEO pay a while back,
A lot of us saw this train wreck down the track
I took flak for asking someone to resign
Accountability is on the decline
We need to hold people to account
Greed shouldn’t rewarded, that’s paramount.

Obama:
He’s right, we need responsibility,
Not just when Wall Street’s lack of ability arises.
Folks have been struggling before this crisis
We can solve the short-term problem, but that hardly suffices.
Our energy policy is busted, health care system is broke.
C’mon, strong fundamentals? I think John misspoke.
Folks have to take on more debt just to make mortgage payments
And we can’t ignore them, I’ll be working for them.

McCain:
Look, there’s no doubt, regulation we need.
Main Street pays the penalty for Wall Street’s greed,
But the American worker is the most innovative,
Fundamentally most productive, most creative.
That’s absolutely what I believe,
There’s no end to what we can achieve.
I’m going to get spending under control,
I got a pen. And this pen is… very old
And when this pen and I see a spending bill,
We’re so ready to veto, it’s a pending kill.
Earmarks are the problem, I’m telling you boy,
And check the earmarks on the kid from illinois.

O:
Yo, It’s Barack, back on attack,
I agree the earmarks that you see have been wack
I suspended requests in my home state
for senior centers, or whatever you hate.
But if you want to talk money, let’s compare some facts.
Senator McCain would like to cut the tax
Paid by wealthy corporations, no ifs ands or buts.
We’re talking $300 billion in high bracket tax cuts.
I want to save the tax cuts for folks who might need it
Working class families, trying to keep their homes heated.

M:
Senator Obama, you’re just being a dork,
All those years in the senate, you requested the pork.
I said we need to clean things up, and I meant it,
I didn’t win Miss Congeniality in the Senate.

O:
I want to close corporate loopholes, stop tax breaks
For companies who send jobs overseas instead of here in the States.
I want a healthcare system people trust with sickness descending,
So yes, I think that’s worth spending.
And after 8 years of tax cuts that just help the rich,
I thought some people might want a switch.

M:
Look, I want those big companies to stay,
And more taxes is something nobody should pay.

O:
Well if you make less than a quarter million bucks a year,
You won’t pay any more taxes while I’m here.
Businessess have high tax rates, but pay the least.
Because of loopholes. McCain won’t kill the beast.

M:
We had an energy bill, gave oil companies dough
Obama there voted yes, I was strong, voted no.

O:
John, that just isn’t true. You have made a mistake.
You’re the one giving oil companies a $4 billion tax break.
I tried to strip out the pork of your pork-barrel bill,
But you stopped me. Ain’t pork what you promised to kill?
Let’s talk about what I’m going to make a priority.
Our energy policy is just doing horribly.
We need independence from foreign oil czars,
Alternative energy, fuel-efficient cars,
Our health care system is becoming a burden
On working class families financially hurtin’.
We’ve got to make sure that everyone in the nation
Has the option of getting a great education.
We need more infrastructure, and not just roads,
But electric grids and Internet lines - heard of those?
Rural communities without them can’t compete in the economy.

M:
Look, we’ve got to cut spending, and that’s what I’m gonna be
Doing. Ethanol subsidies have got to die.
And defense spending seems like it’s gotten too high.

O:
We do need to make cuts, and so cuts will be made.
Like insurers skimming billions of dollars off of Medicaid.
I’d like a list of all Federal Spending available online,
Taxpayers can look and see how we’re spending their dime.

M:
Oh, I’ve got a plan, how about a spending freeze?

O:
Rather than look at each program and determine which needs to be cut? Please.
We’re spending $10 billion a month in Iraq.
Let’s stop doing that, bring our boys and money back.

M:
This alternative fuel stuff is all well and good,
But we need nuclear power. Barack doesn’t think we should.

O:
The financial crisis means the budget is tight.
No tax cuts for the rich, let’s just spend where it’s right.

M:
I don’t want to spend money on a health care plan,
Obama wants to pay to put it in the government’s hands.
We’ve been spending too much under this president.

O:
That’s the one that you agree with 90 percent?

M:
I think we learned in Iraq, you need a great strategy,
And we’re winning now, we will attain victory.

O:
I think the whole war was a mistake, I said it before.
Six years ago I stood up, opposed the horrible war.
I wish I’d been wrong, and that McCain and Bush had been right,
But we’ve spent over $600 billion as of tonight,
Lost 4,000 lives, and we’re still spending more.
Here’s a lesson. Want to leap? Take a look before.

M:
What’s done is done. And we’ve managed to prevail,
Even though Barack thought the surge would fail.

O:
The surge succeeded in making our failure less,
But the whole war was one big mistake, and I guess
John McCain likes to think the war started last year,
But in 2003, his voice rang loud and clear,
He said “It’s gonna be easy, it’s gonna be quick,
We’ll find WMDs and give ‘em a kick.
You were wrong, John.
You said we’d be greeted as liberators; You were wrong.
You said there was no history of violence between Shiite and Sunni neighbors.
But you were wrong.
Really wrong.

M:
Obama has gone off here on a bad kick,
He doesn’t know the difference between strategy and tactics.

O:
McCain opposed funding for troops attached to a timetable,
Because he wanted an open-ended mission, wanted to be able
To stay forever, cut George W. Bush a blank check.
We both wanted to fund troops, but to that plan, I said what the heck,
I know the difference between tactics and strategy.
And strategy means when Afghanistan’s mad at me,
I don’t suddenly deside to rush into Iraq.
Afghanistan is where bin Ladin was, where our forces lack.

M:
I think with all of our troops there, we’ve probably found
That Iraq, not Afghanistan, will be the battleground.

O:
We need troops in Afghanistan, a couple brigades.
Armed with proper equipment, like a couple grenades.
And Al Quaeda is there, so that’s where we need troops.
And if you want a more detailed plan, here’s the scoop:
The Afghan government has got to help their people get by,
And I’ve said this to President Karzai.
We’ve got to deal with the ever-growing trade in poppy,
And deal with Taliban havens in Pakistan, not to do so is sloppy.

M:
I’m not prepared to cut off aid to Pakistan,
So we shouldn’t talk in public as if that’s our plan.
Now their president, whatshisname, Kardari,
He’s got his hands full. It’s a tough job, I’m sorry.
But we’ll add a few troops. There’s no need to attack.

O:
John McCain, once again, has misquoted Barack.
I said if we have al Qaeda agents in sight,
Then if Pakistan won’t pull the trigger, we might.
Our mistake was in helping Musharraf, dictator,
Which made people hate us.

M:
Barack, you’re the hater.
The old state was failed, I’m old, I would know.
I voted for Bosnia, Somalia, Kosovo,
I’ve got a record. And a bracelet from a soldier who died.

O:
I’ve got a bracelet too, and I wear it with pride,
And we can’t let the soldiers who’d give us this chain
Ever think that their sacrifices were made in vain.
And our eye should have been right on Afghanistan,
Not just “muddling through”, as was John McCain’s plan.

M:
Never mind, let’s talk about the threat from Iran,
We’re worried those kooks might acquire some nukes.
And although you’d never hear this from Barack,
It’s become clear Iran is working with Iraq.

O:
Actually, Iraq and Iran are huge foes,
And as we’ve hurt Iraq, Iran steadily grows.
They’ve funded Hezbollah, they have funded Hamas,
And it’s clear that our policy’s mostly a loss.
We need sanctions, and direct diplomacy too.

M:
Obama has said, this is what he would do,
He would sit down with Chavez and Ahmadinejad
Which would only legitimize what they have done.
I would rather we make them see who’s number one.

O:
We can’t have pre-conditions, or they’ll never show.
We must talk with the people, or try, so we’ll know
If diplomacy works. Yes, we need to prepare,
But failing to talk doesn’t work, as you might be aware
If you look at North Korea where all talks were stopped.
And how has that great plan worked, diplomacy dropped?
Well, their nuclear capacity is four times what it was before.
They’ve tested a nuke, tested some missiles, and even more.
So I think you should rethink your policy on talks, Senator McCain.
Hell, you said the other day you wouldn’t even meet with Spain.

M:
Look, to sit down with a dictator without precondition,
Is naive, and quite a dangerous proposition.

O:
McCain’s mischaracterizations are quite unfair.
“No preconditions” doesn’t mean “Don’t prepare”.
Henry Kissinger agrees, we can’t ignore our enemy.

M:
Well, Kissinger’s a friend of mine, and I think he’d agree with me.

O:
Let’s talk about Russia, they’ve got nukes by the ton,
So nuclear proliferation might be issue number one.
And their actions in Georgia should make you realize,
You can’t base foreign policy on staring into someone’s eyes
And seeing his soul.

M:
Oh, but maybe I can.
I looked into Putin’s eyes, and I’m telling you, man,
I saw three letters: a K, a G, and a B.
Running government with apparatchiks is his decree,
Fueled by petro-dollars, from the rich oil veins,
So we’ve got to support Georgia and the Ukraine.

O:
For the most part I agree with Senator McCain,
But with foresight, these problems can be anticipated,
Petro-dollars and oil consumption… Gee, think that’s related?
We use 25 percent of the world’s oil supply,
Which is why my interest in alternative fuels is so high.
Winter heating bills are on the way with colder climes.
Oh, and McCain voted against alternative energy 23 times.

M:
I think our nation is safer that it was seven years ago,
But that doesn’t mean we don’t still have a long way to go.

O:
I disagree. We spend billions on missile defense,
But when suitcase nukes are more likely, does that make sense?
We need to find the root causes of the problems we face:
Nuclear proliferation, not missiles from space.
And terrorism is a problem, one that’s on the rise.
We’re gonna need cooperation from a lot of allies,
So how folks abroad perceive us is important when commanding.
As president I would restore America’s standing.

M:
Missiles still are a threat, Reagan knew this before.
I admire Ronald Reagan, and his program of Star Wars.
We have to stay in Iraq, Barack does not understand,
And this is why Americans should vote for me in command.

O:
McCain and Bush are so obsessed with Iraq that we find
When it comes to other countries they are almost half-blind.
We spend $10 billion a month, bin Laden hasn’t been found,
And we’ve weakened our capacity on all other ground,
Can’t pay for health care at home, invest in science and tech.
No military power ever lasted if their economy was a wreck.
We need a president with broad strategic vision who won’t ignore it.
It’s been missing for 8 years, I want to restore it.

M:
I’ve been involved in strategic challenges for 20 years.
Obama doesn’t have experience, he’s wet behind the ears.
I know veterans. I’ll take care of them for sure.
I’ll keep this country safe and secure.

O:
My dad’s from Kenya, came to the United States,
Because no other country in the world was so great.
We inspired the world a few decades ago.
Do we do that today? No.
We have to show the world the greatness we represent
Which is something I would do as president.

M:
I know we’re out of time, and don’t mean to trouble you,
But just wanted to mention that I was a P.O.W.

Jim Lehrer:
That ends this debate, so thank you one and all.
And if you didn’t like either speaker, go vote for Ron Paul.

What the Health.

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

So, my column last Friday was about current health scares relating to contaminated food. One of these was the big powdered milk scandal in China. And then I realized that the other day, I was wearing a “Got Milk?” shirt. And a very very wrong idea occurred to me, which is something along the lines of a “Got Powdered Milk?” shirt with a little stick figure baby with X’s for eyes lying at the bottom.

Nope, much as I may dislike some politicians, I’ll never be able to run for office.

Two things which I really enjoy…

Thursday, September 18th, 2008

…are writing and eating. Often at once. This is why I’m thrilled to have finally gotten into doing restaurant reviews. A few weeks ago I reviewed an Italian restaurant, and yesterday they ran my article on the local greasy spoon.  Writing down the price range for Jack’s in comparison to most other places I reviewed was just plain entertaining.

Speaking of my life as a gourmet, tonight I had a seafood casserole with lobster, crab, scallops, shrimp, garlic, cilantro, white wine, and parmesan. It was, frankly, pretty damn tasty. And the best part is, I didn’t have to go to a restaurant to get it.

The problem with unreasonable people (aside from the fact that they are sufficiently unreasonable that such is the main adjective you use to describe them) is that you can’t complain to them that they are being unreasonable, or they will simply get stubbornly huffy and continue being unreasonable while calling you an unreasonable complainer. This is as true in real life as it is in politics.

Meta-writing

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Writing about writing. Although I suppose this blog post is now meta-meta-writing. And every time I mention it, I add another meta. I never met a meta I didn’t like.

Anyway, yesterday’s column was about J.K. Rowling and her lawsuit against the Harry Potter Lexicon. And I just finished next week’s column, which was supposed to be entirely unrelated to writing, but I ended up dropping in a footnote about a famous author… I bet you know who.

I sometimes wonder if our perception of time is based entirely on relative lengths of time experienced now and time already experienced previously. Because waiting ten minutes used to seem like a year, but these days years are going by in a matter of minutes, and I have it on good authority that it just gets worse. Bad authority?

Back to School

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

Man, Rodney Dangerfield was crazy, but he had a certain charm about him.

Anyway, it’s around the time of the year when people who aren’t me have to go back to school. To them, in the words of Dave Barry, I would like to say: “Neener, neener.”

If you miss the pointless exams of school, don’t fret. I wrote a fun little Back to School Quiz that you can take.

A little while back, a friend of mine pointed me to a pretty neat Diablo 2 mod, and I started playing again. Now, one of the things about Diablo 2 that makes it so addictive is that your character levels up and gets to pick a set of skills to increase. (This is similar to Blizzard’s other big hit, World of Warcraft.) My problem is, rather than focus on one skill that becomes powerful, my natural instinct is to put one point into everything because I want to try it out. Then later in the game, I realize I don’t have enough points to raise any one skillset high enough to rule the world, because I’ve tried a bit of everything. But in those early levels, with all the potential skills spread out in front of me, I envision all the different paths I could take, becoming a master of one or the other. Inevitably, I dabble here and there and don’t focus enough on one thing because everything seems so fun.

Life is like that.

Penguins and Lawyers

Monday, September 1st, 2008

Well, it’s September. And there’s nothing I can do to stop it. The months start to speed by, and I’m sure the year will be over before I know it. The Olympics are already over, although you can relive all the highlights in my most recent column. And I’m back from attending yet another wedding, for what will in all probability be my last time in a tuxedo. Tuxedos are bizarre, and wearing one with any frequency seems more trouble than it’s worth. Honestly, I don’t know how penguins do it.*

Still, catching up with old friends is always delightful. Whether it’s playing board games, or hearing interesting anecdotes (one of my lawyer friends had an objection sustained against him for “being sarcastic”), or just hanging out, weddings provide one of the few reliable reunions that gather many of my friends from all over the country.

Speaking of country, my article about Country Joe McDonald was published last week, so feel free to read it if that sort of thing interests you. Right now, I think what interests me is lunch.

*please do not take this as an invitation to send me videos of penguins mating.