Tuesday, December 30, 2008

It's Time to Put the Fun Back in Dysfunctional

Several years ago the New York Times ran a Sunday Magazine profile of several young and successful TV sitcom writers. They spoke of their therapy sessions, their shoes and their families.

"You can't write for television" said one comedy writer, "if you didn't grow up in a dysfunctional family."

Okay, I admit it. I love oddball families.

There were the Dowds, the extended family of Harvey the six foot rabbit. In You Can't Take it With You the Sycamores took in every misfit in town, even the wealthy son of the bigshot banker who was trying to evict them.

And of course my personal favorites, those lovable Brewster sisters of Arsenic and Old Lace who buried their problems in the basement.

Did anyone who went to the theater ever believe that these were authentic slices of American life?

Of course not. The Dowds, the Sycamores, the Brewsters were all fictional. And that's the point.

So, for anyone here with a sensitive nature or a fragile ego, cover your eyes, ears, nose and throat. What you are about to read will shock and amaze you. It may revolt you. It may even enlighten you, although I doubt it. The reason is that my conclusion is so basic and so self evident that for those that understand the concept it's as clear as crystal. For those that don't it's as dense as treakle and ten times more unpatatable.

Here goes. You have been warned.

There is no such thing as a dysfunctional family.

You read it right. There is no such thing as a dysfunctional family. It's a fiction. What we have today is a pathetic legion of dysfunctional people, aided and abetted by an army of psychologists and social workers, who have slithered out from under their beds to blame those that love them most for all their problems and difficulties.

It's nearly impossible to miss the symptoms.

Bad habits become addictions.

Anti-social behavior is defined as a public health problem.

Unpleasantness is defined as honesty and "speaking my mind."

And all personal failures are ascribed to an all-consuming but nebulous family pathology, i.e. dysfunction.

So, not only do these dysfunctional people make life a hell on Earth for family and friends, they also turn the mirror toward the wall and blame everyone around them for their own shorcomings. Worse, these losers have now reached a critical mass as the designers of the popular culture. They are eroding our objective sense of right and wrong, human and inhuman, functional and dysfunctional.

When I turn the key to start my car and hear nothing but a faint clicking sound, I can be fairly certain that my battery is dysfunctional. I don't blame the entire automobile industry for inflicting dysfunctional cars on an innocent and unsuspecting public. Then, when I notice that I had left the lights on the night before, as a relatively sentient being I blame the occasional dysfunction in my own brain rather than any defect in the battery.

Not so for the dysfunctional person.

"That battery should know that I'm imperfect. It should recognize my weaknesses. It should adjust and accomodate. It's that damn battery that doesn't understand me!"

As Elwood P. Dowd told us so eloquently, "In this life you have to be oh so clever or oh so pleasant. I decided to be oh so pleasant."

It seems that the designers of today's popular culture have decided that they want to be oh so unpleasant. Tragedy is, there's not a thing that's the least bit clever about any of it.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Milestone

December 27th, 2008

Today marks an important milestone for me and the fact that I'm here writing this blog entry on this dreary afternoon is the proof. On December 27th, 2003 I was diagnosed with tacchycardia-induced cardiomyopathy which caused severe damage to the left side of my heart and a 35% loss of cardiac function. On that day, the odds of me being here to tell this story stood at less than 50/50.

So... it's time for a little history.

I've never been in really good shape. Even during my high-school days when I played baseball and ran track, I would often cross the finish line after a sprint and collapse. In the past twenty years, other than running around with the kids I've done virtually no exercise.

Then, about six years ago I started having dizzy spells. Doctors couldn't find a cause, other than thallysemia or "stress and anxiety", and it went on for a year. More than once the attacks were so bad I had to go to the Emergency Room. Early that same year I cracked up my motorcycle and broke my collarbone and four ribs. (Doctors had no problem with this diagnosis)

After the crash I spent two months sleeping in a recliner (out of necessity) and another four months spending most of my time in that same recliner (out of de-motivation).

Finally I saw a doctor who diagnosed atrial fibrillation. The good news: A calcium-channel blocker cured the problem in about a day.

The bad news: I had 35% loss of cardiac function (cardiomyopathy) on the left side of my heart. Just my luck, it’s the type of problem that kills 50% of patients within 5 years.

When I asked the cardiologist if my heart damage could be reversed he looked up at the ceiling and said that it's been known to happen... in some patients... some of the time...

I sensed immediately that he was blowing smoke up my shorts.

Dr. Zaman told me to go on a light exercise program so I bought a treadmill and a Total Gym. Good news again. After about five months my heart function started to rebound slowly. Little by little I was up to 75%... 85%...

In a year I was back up to 95%. Then 100% in less than two years. But the heart damage was still there.

Still, I felt as if I had been reborn. The A-Fib episode gave me all the motivation I needed and I resolved that I was not going to make the same mistakes (no exercise) again. I had been 175 pounds, 149 cholesterol and normal blood pressure for the last 30 years, but I WAS SQUISHY.

The treadmill and the Total Gym worked fine, up to a point. Then I hit a plateau.

So I decided to increase the intensity. Working late one night I took a break and turned on the TV. As I was flipping through the dial I stopped on a fitness infomercial and made the first, and only, impulse purchase of my life.

Soon the DVDs, resistance bands and pull-up bar arrived and I started the program. Starting easy I went through the first twelve weeks, felt better and looked better. Then, during an echocardiogram Dr. Zaman said that there was something curious going on.

"Your cardiomyopathy has improved" he said.

That's when I told him that I had started an extreme exercise program.

I was supposed to consult with my doctor before starting, but I was sure he would advise against it. That was more than a year ago.

But there's more.

My last two echocardiograms showed no evidence of cardiomyopathy.

I asked the doctor if he had ever seen this before and he told me that in 37 years practicing cardiology he has had five patients who have improved their cardiac function, but only one patient who has completely reversed a cardiomyopathy.

Guess who?

BTW: The fibrillation was caused by a defect in the electrical impulses to the heart muscle, not any problem with weight, cholesterol or blood pressure.

My advice: If any of you have experienced a flushed feeling, rapid heartbeat and dizzyness don't take the doctor's word that it's stress or anxiety. Stress is the modern day equivalent of evil spirits. When they don't know what's wrong with you they blame stress.

Get yourself checked for atrial fibrillation. It's the most common and undiagnosed form of cardiac arrythmia and there are modern methods available now to treat it.

Hope this helps.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Hobbyists, Take Heart!

Please read this disclaimer before proceeding:

I don't have a diploma from Harvard like John Thain, Rick Wagoner, Barney Frank, Jamie Gorelick, Chuck Schumer, Ted Kennedy and Eliot Spitzer.

I don't have any high-level executive experience at rock-solid enterprises like Lehman Brothers, Pan American World Airways or Studebaker.

Most importantly, I do not have any special insight or intuition regarding arcane, high-yield investment opportunities like Bernard Madoff, Ivan Boesky and Carlo Ponzi.

No, I'm merely a poor, starving writer with a degree in theater arts from a humble municipal institution of slightly higher learning. However, I do know that a business has to take in more money than it shells out, provide products and services that customers actually want, and pay back money that it borrows. Call me naive. Call it 19th century thinking. Call it anything you want, yet these simple facts of life remain in force today as they have for more than 5,000years. Surprisingly, these concepts seem to have been lost on most graduates of high-tone universities.

This isn't a new phenomenon and you don't have to look back very far for parallels.

During the dot.com bubble we were told that "old economy" metrics like share of market and price-to-earnings ratio were no longer relevant.

No, in this new Gilded Age investors foamed at the mouth to invest in startups with high share of mind and price-to-concept ratios.

Then, when the inflow of new cash couldn't keep up with the outflow of marketing funds (i.e. Super Bowl commercials necessary to maintain high share of mind) the house of cards came tumbling down. These were companies with no tangible products, services or value. In short, investors had no reasonable expectation of profit--long term, near term, any term. Oops, forgot to ask.

How is the Madoff scam any different?

If there's any lesson to be learned it's that traditional business models and metrics matter.

Today, any objective observer looking at General Motors would determine that GM is not, by any definition, a car company.

No, it's the world's largest nursing home with a small money losing operation that makes cars.

In spite of the fact that they employ the greatest minds in the automotive industry every car that rolls off the GM assembly line sells for an average of $900 less than it costs to produce. We can debate all day about the reasons, but--LISTEN UP CLASS--a company that continually produces products at a loss is not a viable business.

General Motors Chairman Rick Wagoner acknowledges that his company loses money on every car they sell. His public statements suggest a belief that they can make it up in volume.

Do you get the message folks?

If Americans will simply open up their grandchildren's piggy banks to them they're confident they can come up with a plan to sell more cars at a loss. Is it possible that he learned of this curious business strategy while pursuing his MBA at Harvard? If so, I'll take my degree from UCLA (The University on the Corner of Lexington Avenue) any day of the week.

As an independent contractor I have to file a Schedule C every year detailing business income or loss from my modest enterprise. According to IRS rules any business that shows a loss in three of the previous five years is not really a business at all, it's a hobby.

Now, if GM gets its way, independent contractors from coast-to-coast will have a wide variety of opportunities to report losses from fishing, golf, TV watching, snowboarding, jetskiing and every other diversion they can conjure.

In its own way GM can almost singlehandedly transform the American economy. Rather than producing goods and services, Americans will be able to focus all their energies on avoiding the production of goods and services. That is, of course, unless your business happens to be fishing tackle and golf clubs.

Perhaps the best part of this whimsical adventure is that next year President Obama will get to change the name of the Commerce Department to the Federal Bureau of Diversion and the Secretary of Commerce will forevermore be known as the Hobby Czar.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Escape, American Style

One interesting demographic trend that was ignored in this past election cycle is the outmigration from California and the northeast by retirees and others who are trying to escape the oppressive burden of taxes in their home states.

When you look at the highest combined tax burdens among all fifty states the numbers are staggering. Connecticut: Number 1. New York: Number 2. New Jersey: Number 3.

In fact, the only state in the northeast that's not in the infamous Top Ten is New Hampshire which ranks 29th in combined taxes and has no state sales tax. Maybe that's why New Hampshire is seeing an increase in population compared with it's neighbors.

But there's a festering problem on the horizon and the evidence is clear in the state-by-state election returns of last November. New Yorkers, and others from liberal enclaves move out to escape the oppressive burden of taxation.

Then they get to their new home and pull the lever on election day for the same scolds, bloodsuckers and losers who have made life unlivable in their former hometowns.

So, how do the rest of us avoid this tragic fate?

It turns out that we’re looking to make a move in the next few years to escape from sales taxes, state income taxes, five-figure property taxes, increases in tolls and fees, along with confiscations we cannot even imagine now as New York's deficit grows and its population dwindles.

In analyzing our choices we determined that our destination will have to fulfil several criteria.

It must be in the Bottom Ten in combined tax burden.

There must be no major cities.

It must have little or no migration from the northeast or any other liberal mecca.

This last factor is critical.

We were at a recent going-away party for friends who were moving to North Carolina because they could no longer afford New York. When I told Ben that we were looking to relocate and were considering North Carolina he raised his glass and said:

“Good. We’ll turn that red state blue in no time.”

I walked away shaking my head while making a mental note to cross North Carolina off of our prospective destination list.

Right now, our leading choices are Biloxi, Mississippi and Gulf Shores, Alabama.

When I mention these two destinations to friends here in Fun City they gag and become physically ill.

I think we're on the right track.

UPDATE: December 26th, 2008.

This morning, while browsing through the New York Times, I choked on my porridge when I got to the "Escapes" section. Seems that the Manhattan intelligentsia have discovered Gulf Shores, Alabama. Looks like we'll have to cross this one off the list as well. Costa Rica is looking pretty attractive.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Invisible Hand

I recently stumbled upon a very interesting website from a company in the Great Northeast that designs and builds high-end, high efficiency homes and commercial structures. This is a field that has interested me since my old advertising/public relations days with a great metropolitan electrical plug and connector manufacturer.

But enough about me.

On his blog page Tedd Benson (founder of Bensonwood, Inc.) takes his own industry to task for their complicity in the current housing collapse.

According to Tedd, the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) ignored the public good and continued to lobby for loose or non-existant credit standards in order to keep the housing bubble inflated. But for how long? The current bust, which may have broader implications far beyond our wildest nightmares, was both inevitable and predictable.

Tedd ends his blog entry with the following statement:

"Economist Adam Smith didn’t contemplate conscious, rationalized idiocy on such a large scale; his “invisible hand” was no match for such a massive, wanton snow job."

I enjoy Tedd's blog and often agree with his observations and conclusions. However, in this case I respectfully disagree.

Actually, Adam Smith anticipated exactly what has happened in this particular boom/bust cycle.

He made it very clear that considerable structure was needed before the invisible hand of the market could work efficiently.

For example, property rights must be strong, and there must be widespread adherence to moral norms, such as prohibitions against theft and misrepresentation.

In his time, property rights were only recognized among the aristocracy.

Adam Smith developed his theories in a centralized, heavily planned and dictatorial society where some individuals were above the law and others were effectively without any rights.

He saw the system of his time as corrupt and inefficient--a massive and wanton snowjob that enriched the few at the expense of the many.

He even anticipated the influence of special interests, writing that:

"People of the same trade seldom meet together even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public or some contrivance to raise prices."

The two greatest misrepresentations (uhh... outright lies) of the modern liberal/progressive movement are:

- Those who favor an Adam Smith approach to economics seek a law of the jungle society where the strong devour the weak without constraint, and…

- Adherence to Keynesian macroeconomic theory can eliminate the normal ups and downs of the business cycle.

Rather than leveling the cycles the present economic crisis is the result of the massive doses of Keynesianism our government has given us for decades. John Maynard Keynes did not trust the market economy therefore he called for central management of the economy by governments and central banks.

According to Keynes, since spending and consumption drive an economy the more that is spent the better. Smith, on the other hand, recognized the distinction between productive and nonproductive consumption.

It seems axiomatic that productive consumption is an agent of economic growth while nonproductive consumption--paid for with money fabricated out of thin air--leads to economic impoverishment, but this fact is lost on today’s generation of economic experts, including Nobel laureates.

In my opinion the strongest reason for leaving the allocation of effort and reward to the invisible hand is that when it misappropriates goods it is usually on a small scale. Centralized methods of allocating goods are more prone to corruption and waste. More importantly, when centralized planning succeeds it succeeds modestly and when it fails, it fails on a massive scale.

Smith wrote about the spending of other people's money this way:

"It is the highest impertinence and presumption, therefore, in kings and ministers to pretend to watch over the economy of private people, and to restrain their expense...They are themselves always, and without exception, the greatest spendthrifts in the society."

In place of kings and ministers substitute presidents, committee chairs, university professors and columnists… most especially columnists who are also university professors.

I don't blame the NAHB. They were advocating for their constituents. Where were our elected officials? Where was the adversarial press? Yes, there were some in 2004/2005 who wrote of the 18-year housing cycle and warned that the next bust could be deeper and longer than any in recent memory, but you really had to dig deep to find them.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Son of Privilege

Just saw a CNBC interview with Michael Gates Gill the author of How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else.

What a pantload!

Son of privilege is right.

Son of Brendan Gill, New Yorker critic and columnist, he grew up in a Bronxville mansion with regular guests like John and Jackie Kennedy, Ernest Hemingway, John Updike and Brendan Behan showing up for tea and crumpets and Chivas Regal. His life story is a prototype blueprint illustrating how birth privilege provides a safety net for all manner of irresponsible behavior.

Drop out of college... not a problem when your frat buddy can get you a job at his Daddy's Madison Avenue advertising agency.

Marry, divorce... have an affair... marry divorce... have an affair... father more children... Hey, just brush it off with trust-funds, inherited money and a six-figure salary from advertising giant J. Walter Thompson.

Then, when you run out of great ideas like "Plop, plop. Fizz, fizz." and they toss you out on your butt, just use friends and family to fund a vanity consulting business. Go bust? Well, it wasn't your money anyway.

Then what? No more money, nobody left to borrow from, no job prospects and no wife.

Ever wonder why a young woman would be attracted to a pasty-faced, balding, pot bellied has been? Duh... he's rich.

Not rich anymore? Not married anymore either.

So this modern day Siddhartha, who had never taken a subway ride until forced into it by penury, had a revelation while rubbing up against the unwashed:

Eureka! Simplicity is key to happiness!

Now that his sob-story memoir has become a best seller, soon to be a major motion picture starring Tom Hanks, his advice for America is simplify your life, reduce your overhead and live the life of a modern-day Thoreau.

Great idea, Einstein.

Why didn't the rest of us think of that?

Tell a young family that runs out of money on Wednesday and has to wait until payday on Friday to buy groceries that they should lower their overhead and live simply. If you live in a 25-room mansion, like Mr. Gill once did, it's easy to scale back. For the rest of us it's hang on for dear life and ride out the storm.

My father worked in a sweatshop, when he wasn't on layoff. We ate plenty of spaghetti for dinner. Then I got to college on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and discovered that all those "Sons and Daughters of Privilege" who all grew up without a care believed in the nobility of poverty. They actually envied those of us who had nothing and didn't hesitate to tell their therapists and anyone else who would listen.
Let them try it for a day or two.

This morning I started writing a book entitled...

"How Having Plenty of Money Saved My Life: A Son of The Working Class Learns to Live Like a Child of Privilege."

What are the chances that Tom Hanks will give me a $50,000 advance for the rights?

Excuse me while I go plunge my hands into boiling water and wait for Mr. Hanks' people to text message my people.

Uh, oh... L'il Angel--my 15 year old daughter--just yelled out that she's ready to be chaufered off to school. On the way I'll ask her what she thinks of switching over to the simple life.

"Live like everybody else, Dad? We already live like everybody else."

I guess the romantic view of everybody else is a little bit different from up on that perch in Westchester.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Munchausen By Proxy, Washington Style

By the time she was 8 years old, J.B. had been hospitalized 200 times and had undergone more than 40 operations, including the removal of most of her intestines.

K.C., a 2-year-old boy, was hospitalized more than 20 times due to complications from asthma, severe pneumonia, mysterious infections, and sudden fevers. His doctors were baffled and unable to determine the cause of these illnesses.

Productive Americans who work hard, play by the rules, pay their bills and live within their means have lost nearly half of their net worth in 2008. Politicians scramble to stop the bleeding, but nothing they do seems to help.

What do these seemingly unrelated cases have in common? They were all the result of Munchausen by proxy syndrome.

This relatively uncommon condition involves the fabrication of illnesses or symptoms by a primary caretaker. One of the most harmful forms of child abuse, Munchausen by proxy syndrome was named after Baron von Munchausen, an eighteenth-century German dignitary known for telling outlandish stories.

J.B.'s medical history was traced to her mother, who manufactured her daughter's illnesses. Similarly, when K.C. was thought to have AIDS, he eventually complained to his mother's friend that his thigh was sore because "Mommy gave me shots" (indicating that the mother was giving her son something to cause his symptoms).

In the case of the American economy, Washington politicians caused the disease through legislation (Community Reinvestment Act) and executive order.

Through these actions they, along with their hired extortionists like ACORN, coerced lending institutions into making loans to clients who did not have the ability nor the willingness to pay them back.

Many of them took huge campaign contributions from lenders like CountryWide and Fannie Mae. Fannie Mae, in fact, became a dumping ground for government cronies who made tens of millions at the same time they were producing phantom profits from loans they knew would never be paid back. Franklin Raines, former CEO of Fannie Mae, ascended to his high office after several years in government service advising that other famed real estate guru, William Jefferson Clinton.

Comrade Raines took salaries and bonuses totaling more than $90 million during his short stay at Fannie, but shows no willingness to pay back any of it.

Now that the financial mess has reached crisis proportion, these same psychopaths claim they are the only ones qualified to solve the problem.

Often Munchausen perpetrators give themselves away with subtle verbal clues or attempts to shift blame.

Rahm Emmanuel's recent statement that Democrats should "never let a crisis go to waste" is one example.

Harry Reid's demand that Detroit executives need to submit a detailed plan before "we show them the money" is another.

These geniuses have been running their industry into the ground for five decades, but the esteemed Senator wants a turnaround plan in two weeks.

I've got an idea. Since I'm an independent contractor and file estimated taxes, instead of a tax check I'll send a polite note informing Senator Reid that he must submit a detailed plan to retire the national debt before I "SHOW HIM MY MONEY."

Anyone care to join me?

In Munchausen by proxy syndrome, an individual deliberately makes another person sick then misleads others into thinking that the child has medical problems by lying and reporting fictitious episodes. He or she may exaggerate, fabricate, or induce symptoms. As a result, doctors usually order tests, try different types of medications, and may even hospitalize the child or perform surgery to determine the cause. Sound familiar?

Typically, the perpetrator feels satisfied by gaining the attention and sympathy of doctors, nurses, and others who come into contact with him or her and the child. Some experts believe that it isn't just the attention that's gained from the "illness" of the child that drives this behavior, but also the satisfaction in being able to deceive others. Remind you of anyone?

Because the caregiver appears to be so caring and attentive, often no one suspects any wrongdoing.

Most often, abusive Munchausen by proxy syndrome cases are resolved in one of three ways:

The perpetrator is apprehended.

The perpetrator moves on to a younger child when the original victim gets old enough to "tell" on them.

The child dies.

To get help, the caregiver must admit to the abuse and seek psychological treatment. But if the perpetrator doesn't admit to the wrongdoing, psychological treatment has little chance of remedying the situation.

Psychotherapy depends on truth, and Munchausen by proxy perpetrators generally live in denial.

Now the questions remains: Will those of us who work hard, pay our bills and play by the rules continue to drop our pants and invite the syringe every time Pelosi, Frank, Reid, et. al. declare a crisis that only they can solve?

With thanks and apologies to Kidshealth.org

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Getting on With Life

John McCain's choice for Vice President has inspired some very interesting comments from the left-wing blogosphere:

i'm outraged that mclame piked a chearleeder

Well... actually... she was point guard for her high school basketball team and hit the winning free throw that clinched Alaska Small School State Championship.

another big oil stooge

Well... actually... she raised state royalties on oil drillers and gave every Alaskan a $1,200 energy credit from the proceeds. I understand that to the current crop of Neo-Socialists, tax credits that provide direct cash are anathema. After all, it's the responsibility of the state to confiscate earnings and profits then provide "services" designed to dictate behavior and promote a utopian society--while providing huge monetary gains for state-supported cronies. This is the culture of corruption in Alaska politics that Governor Palin was elected to combat, and did. Any comments from Mr. Obama--an extortionist for ACORN as well as willing accomplice to the Chicago corruption cartel--would be greatly appreciated.

once again an attractive woman gets picked ahaed of qualified women

This one is especially amusing. First, because it suggests that a woman with nearly a decade of executive experience is less qualified for Veep than a man with barely three years in the Senate and not a single legislative achievement on his resume is for President.

And second, because this feminist tactic confirms Rush Limbaugh's contention that:

"Feminism was created to allow unattractive women access to the mainstream media."

Okay, here we are. Many comments, very few surprises--until this little gem after it was made known that Governor Palin has a four-month-old child with Down's Syndrome.

she should have had an abortion and gone on with her life.

An isolated kook, right. Wait, there's more.

any woman who would give birth to a down sindrome baby isn't smart enough to hol office

she should quit her job, stay home and take care of her family; what's she doing having five kids anyway

Yes, I do agree with population control, and would want it guaranteed by
mandatory sterilization after one-half a live birth per person. Both people involved get the knife. And any guy who gets more than one woman pregnant at a time loses his nuts.

These vitriolic blatherings should not have come as a surprise. As I was reading these thoughtful postings my "Horrid Comment" memory chip kicked into gear. Years ago when an acquaintance from work gave birth to a Down's Syndrome child a highly-evolved colleague suggested that she should: "Leave the kid at the hospital."

Some turned away while others nodded.

And in fairness, even on the Leftoid message boards there were expressions of disgust from many posters. But that didn't keep the whackos from posting on.

I think it is dumb to have a kid that you know will be born all messed up. Period.

Actually, Trig's biggest problem isn't that he has Down's Syndrome it's that he has a repuke for a Mom.

Granted, as an adoptive father I'm biased. When our son was born, the inseminator (referred to euphemistically as the birth father) believed that his responsibility ended with an offer to pay for an abortion.

Our daughter was born three years later and our legal liaison relayed the same story.

But then, when I proudly showed her picture to a group of professional associates at an Upper West Side cocktail party I was left speechless (not easy) by a comment from a complete stranger who proclaimed with an unassailable aura of authority that:

"Foreign adoptions are a conspiracy to depopulate the Third World."

As I said, none of this should surprise me.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Staring at the Ceiling Fan

I'm sullen, confused, depressed. My normally cheerful outlook on life has been dragged through the depths of despair. All of the poisons that have lurked in the mud for millenia... well... never mind.

Every once in awhile I see, hear or read something that makes me want to go straight to the nearest cliff and throw myself to the mercy of gravity.

That was my reaction recently when I happened upon this essay written by a young gentleman, Ken Ilgunas, from Niagara Falls and published in the Buffalo News. The whining ruminations of Mr. Ilgunas are reproduced below in Bolshevic red.

I am 24, live with my parents, can’t find work and am floundering in a sea of debt five figures high. I think of myself as ambitious, independent and hardworking. Now I’m dependent, unemployed and sleeping under the same Super Mario ceiling fan that I did when I was 7.

How did this happen? I did what every upstanding citizen is supposed to do. I went to college. I took out loans so I could enroll at Alfred University, a pricey private school. The next year, I transferred to the more finance-friendly University at Buffalo, where I could commute from home and push carts part-time at Home Depot.

I related my forthcoming debt to puberty or a midlife crisis — each an unavoidable nuisance; tickets required upon admission to the next stage of adulthood. But as interest rates climbed and the cost of tuition, books and daily living mounted to galactic proportions,

I realized this was more than some paltry inconvenience.

Upon graduating, I was helplessly launched headfirst into the “real world,” equipped with a degree in history and $32,000 in student loans. Before ricocheting back home, I would learn two important lessons: 1) There are no well-paying — let alone paying — jobs for history majors. 2) The real world is really tough.

Desperate times called for desperate measures, and I had no intention of living in a society that was as unfair as this one. To seek a haven devoid of the ruthless 9-to-5 ebb and flow of contemporary America, I moved to Alaska.

As a liberal arts major, I dreamed of making a profound difference in people’s lives. Instead, for a year, I lived in Coldfoot, a town north of the Arctic Circle that resembles a Soviet Gulag camp. My job as a tour guide for visitors temporarily alleviated my money woes because it provided room and board, but when the season ended and I moved back home, I was again confronted with the grim realities of debt.

Desperate, I browsed through insurance and bank job descriptions. I had hit an all-time low. Could I surrender my soul for health coverage and a steady income? Could I sacrifice my ideals by falling into line?

Suddenly, living at home didn’t seem nearly as degrading as selling out. But sadly, other graduates don’t have any choice but to work for temp agencies and retail stores to eke by.

That’s the tragedy of student debt: it doesn’t just limit what we do, but who we become. Forget volunteering. Forget traveling. Forget trying to improve your country, or yourself. You’ve got bills to pay, young man.

Unfortunately, the recent passage of the College Cost Reduction and Access Act doesn’t portend that times are a-changin’. The act reduces interest rates on Stafford Loans and increases Pell Grant awards. Whoopty-do.

There’s no question that this is a step forward. But we’re still talking pennies and nickels when we need to completely revolutionize the government’s role in financing post-secondary education.

College is a wonderful experience and something every young citizen should pursue. But without help, a college education is becoming an unaffordable rite of passage and a privilege of the affluent.

My loan payments can’t wait much longer, and soon I must leave home to find work that doesn’t compromise my integrity. Although I sometimes wonder what it would be like if I had declared as an accounting major and got a cushy job punching numbers somewhere, I’ll take my history major, my debt and my mom’s cooking any day of the week.

Being a heartless windbag I'm probably the last person who should be commenting on this doofus' ramblings, but I can't help myself.


Wanna travel? Get a job.

Wanna help your fellow man? Earn your own way and set a good example.

Wanna get out of the basement?

Stand on your own two feet and quit the whining and self pity.

America's future? I hope not.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

New York Governor Averts Panic

The horrifying images are in. The killer shark that's been terrorizing aquatic adventurers on Long Island has been vanquished. A team of marine rescue specialists, dispatched by Governor David Patterson who declared a state of emergency from Montauk to Lake Champlain, descended upon Zach's Bay and captured the man eater before disaster ensued.

EMS technicians arrived at the scene to treat panic-stricken bathers. Women screamed, children fainted, grown men cried in anguish at the sight of the monster.

Maria, a 37 year old mother from Flushing, was treated for "The Vapors" and described the horror experienced by everyone who witnessed the near carnage.

"For the rest of my life, everytime I take a drink of water or step into the shower I'll be haunted by the grisly images of what might have been."

Marine biologists, unsure of what to do with the pelagic carnivore, decided to give it to Rip Curant--a Jones Beach lifeguard who has a 110 gallon marine aquarium in his bedroom.

Rip is seen here, taking his new pet out for a walk.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Forever Young

It was an inspiring evening. A very close friend and colleague invited a few intimate buddies to his 80th birthday at Tavern on the Green in Central Park. More than 300 people packed the main banquet room. He has been a great mentor to me, a pioneer in the art of television lighting.

Literally a pioneer

That term is bandied about, but when Immie started there was no such thing as TV lighting. He was trained in theater, so when he was hired on at ABC in 1950 he told his new boss that he knew nothing about TV lighting. His boss told him not to worry, nobody does.

"How will I know if what I do is right," he asked.

"If it looks good, remember how you did it."

Good advice all around.

When I started in TV as a technician (1974) Immie was already a legendary figure. The first time I encountered him in the studio I was too awestruck to approach. Then, years later after I became a writer, I got a call to work on a corporate documentary:

"This is Imero Fiorentino Associates, would you please hold for Mr. Fiorentino?"

My heart stopped.

Over the years I have been very blessed. At every turn there have been bright, creative and caring people who were more than willing to put a hand on my shoulder and guide me through the rough spots. None more creative and caring than Immie. Following his example I've also tried to return the favor to those young people entering our industry.

At the end of the evening he jumped up to the podium to thank everyone for being part of his life and to invite us all to be a part of the rest of his life.

Never a thought of retiring.

Never a thought of slowing down.

At 80 he's looking forward to more challenges and more victories.

The renowned glass artist, Josh Simpson, once said that an artist must find his comfort zone and then spend the rest of his life staying out of it.

Through the quiet eloquence of his sterling example Immie has shown all who have been blessed to know him that staying out of our comfort zone is more than a slogan, it's a way of life.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pre-Teens in Combat

In a dramatic report, the New York Times has uncovered a conspiracy by the United States military to conscript children.

Posing as male nannies, bow-tied Republicans wisk away infants as their single mothers pursue their dreams in exciting careers away from the drudgery of traditional home-based chores. They then force these babies into combat zones and cover up their misdeeds with the complicity of the right-wing hate media.

This conspiracy came to light in today's Times. Buried deep inside a front page story detailing how George W. Bush has personally foreclosed on millions of American homeowners in order to give their houses to Halliburton stockholders, the Times printed this seemingly innocent quote:

"Steve Allen, 51, a Vietnam veteran in Seattle, was repeatedly rejected when he and his wife, Lesa, started searching for an apartment this month. Some apartment managers said no because they had lost their home to foreclosure. Others said their credit scores were too low."

If the New York Times reporter had a calculator handy, she could have quickly determined that Mr. Allen, born in April of 1957, would have been 15 years old at the time of the Paris Peace Accords of January, 1973.

Democrats were quick to cite this disclosure as evidence of a larger, ongoing conspiracy.

"This is typical of this administration's continued effort to distort, misleed and dissemble" said Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama.

Harry Reid added that his office will look into the recent rash of child abductions. "There is nothing this adminstration won't do to advance their war strategy, including kidnapping" said the Senate Majority Leader.

Eli Pariser of Moveon.org commented that this disclosure reinforces the Moveon/AFSCME message seen recently in their "Not Alex" TV commercial. "If you think that these Neo-Fascists won't kidnap your children and train them to fight in secret wars, think again" said Mr. Pariser as he was leaving his aroma therapy session.

Quick to respond, the far-right hate cult Swiftboat Veterans for Truth issued a press release. "We have polled thousands of American veterans who served in Vietnam between 1965 and 1973. Not one had ever reported seeing American children in combat."

Senator John Forbes Kerry, however, differed. "I remember this clearly. It is seared into my brain. During Christmas of 1944 I was windsurfing toward Bastogne when I came upon a battalion of American snowboarders. They couldn't have been more than eleven years old."

In a related development, Barack Obama has reported to close advisors that he has been experiencing symptoms of post-traumatic stress syndrome.

According to campaign chief David Axelrod, the senator has been having recurring hallucinations where he sees himself, as a child, using a flamethrower against civilians living in grass huts.

"We are looking into a two-year gap in the senator's personal history. We can't seem to account for the years 1970-1971. This has an ominous feel to it."

"Barack would have been eight years old at the time," added Michelle Obama, "the perfect age for the Republican abduction squads. After all, Steve Allen was eight when they sent him to Viet Nam in 1965. Do the math whitey!"

Willie Randolph Blames Man-Made Global Warming for Historic 2007 Collapse

Citing extensive United Nations research as well as personal observations, former Mets manager Willie Randolph has concluded that last year's historic late-season collapse of the New York Mets was caused by anthropogenic global warming.

"This is a settled issued," declared Randolph.

"The Intergovermental Panel on Climate Change has investigated every possible explanation for our cataclysmic stretch run choke. The only logical conclusion is that global warming caused severe imbalances in the microclimates in and around Shea Stadium."

Pressed for details Mr. Randolph explained that temperature readings in left field were .0002 of a degree (Celsius) higher than readings in right field.

This phenomenon was most pronounced during day games when left field is bathed in sunshine while right field is shrouded in shade.

The Mets left-hand heavy lineup was at a dramatic disadvantage since fly balls hit to right field carried an average of .013783 of an inch less than a similarly struck ball hit to left field.

He was quick to note that the Mets final game last year was played in the afternoon when the leftfield/righfield temperature differential was most dramatic.

Mr. Randolph continued. "Satellite readings also showed that Tom Glavine's armpit temperature was 98.70012 rather than the normal 98.6 degrees. This, to any thinking person, should be conclusive."

The former Mets manager also suggested a solution.

"The commissioner should institute baseball's version of cap and trade" he said.

Under this proposal major league teams in cooler climates would gain one game in the standings for each one-tenth of one degree decrease in field temperature below a specified norm determined by the United Nations. Under these rules, the Mets would now hold a five game lead over the Philadelphia Phillies and sixteen game lead over the Florida Marlins.

"And I would still have a job," added Willie.

When asked whether his opinion was colored by the fact that the Mets are the northernmost team in the National League East, Mr. Randolph angrily described the questioner as a global warming denier and stormed out of the press room.

Just before his exit he was overheard muttering to a confidante that global warming had killed his dog, reduced the value of his home and given him athlete's foot.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Reflections on Father's Day

Whenever I reflect on the most important moments of my life it's always those seemingly insignificant and casual conversations that come to mind. In every possible way he could devise, my father tried to impart to me the lessons and values he had learned the hard way, hoping against hope that my journey would be less torturous than his own.

The most profound message that my Dad delivered to me was:

"Put in a little effort now and it will pay off for the rest of your life."

Of course, as a precocious (some say obnoxious) pre-teen I put more emphasis on the "little" than I did on the "effort." As a result I skated through my junior high and high school years with less than inspiring B/B- results. To say that I was Joe Average would be overstating the obvious. My high school graduation standing listed me as 150th in a graduating class of 300. Jim Hightower, that progressive scion, once said that the only thing you find in the middle of the road is roadkill. Well, he didn't know me. There I was, comfortable and complacent sunbathing right there on the solid double line next to a flattened and bloody possum.

Then, my little effort regressed to a miniscule effort and that B/B- magically became a C/C- during my first two years of college. Way to go kid.

Thankfully, after I endured science, math, sociology, pychology and all the other requirements that university students were once expected to master, I got to the real meat: theater, music, philosophy, art--the reason I attended college in the first place. I'm not sure whether I put in more effort because I enjoyed the subject matter and did well, or I enjoyed it more and did well because at that stage of life I was more willing to put in more than the minimum. Whatever the reason, I finished my last two years with a perfect 4.0 GPA and no one asks, nor do I volunteer, what my four year cumulative was. The diploma on my wall doesn't have an asterisk indicating that:

"We confer this degree on Josph Martini in spite of the fact that he f**ked up during his first two years."

As in golf, the scorecard just records the result, not that you had to hit it out of the trap to save par.

Lucky for me that this life is full of opportunities for redemption.

Next week my son will receive his high-school diploma. Next September he will attend college. I'm certain that he'll hit rough spots and have to hit it out of the sandtrap occasionally, metaphorically speaking. And I will have to be there to guide, advise and encourage while resisting the impulse to micro-manage his life.

I hope that I'm equal to the task.

In spite of all the mistakes I've made in these past eighteen years there are still opportunities for redemption.

Lucky for me.

Friday, April 25, 2008

Al Gore: Invisible Man

Recent news about the global food crisis has caused me re-post this essay from January of last year. Curiously, Prince Albert of Tennessee has been unavailable for comment.

Georgie Cracks Corn

I don't know how many State of the Union Addresses since 1973 have pledged commitment to energy independence, but to quote Jim Ignatowski when he was asked how many different illicit drugs he had ingested in his lifetime, it's "exactly a lot."

It was still a surprise, however, when our current President touted ethanol last week citing the sustainability myth as just one of its many indisputable virtues. Science aside, the numbers on ethanol are staggering. Today, the federal subsidy stands at 51 cents per gallon. The most optimistic projections regarding the effects on greenhouse gases are estimated at 5%, but, like nearly all environmental statistics, they're based on static models that do not factor the ancillary costs of growing, processing and transporting ethanol. For example, since ethanol destroys the rubber seals used in conventional pipelines, every drop, at every stage of its refinement, must be trucked in vehicles burning, what?

Candidate Clinton, campaigning in Iowa last week, touted ethanol mandates as an excellent method for promoting sustainable alternatives to foreign oil. But there’s a reason why so few U.S. Senators have been elected President, and this is the perfect example. During this little chat, Her Heinous neglected to mention that she consistently voted "Nay" on ethanol legislation and even signed a letter stating that: “There is no public policy reason to support an ethanol mandate.”

Senator Clinton opposing a government mandate?

Now there’s news.

Last year, federal and state subsidies for ethanol total $6 billion. In addition to the 51-cent a gallon domestic subsidy there's a 54 cent a gallon tariff on imported ethanol. Would anyone make the stuff without these government bribes? Would anyone buy it without government coercion?

But there’s an even darker side to this charade. Artificially high corn prices are reflected in everything from breakfast cereal to Coca-Cola, taco shells to pork chops. America’s meat industry, a major exporter, is becoming much less competitive because of a distorted market for feed corn.

The price of tortillas, an important dietary staple among the world's poorest, has risen sharply. In Mexico this price rise has caused widespread protests and price controls. China has abandoned ethanol-plant construction declaring ethanol a dangerous threat to food security. In Brazil, long touted by environmentalists as a beacon of enlightened ethanol policy, ethanol production has displaced small indigenous farmers. For their own survival, many of them have fled to the Amazon rain forest where they clear the forest for their small subsistence farms.

Once again, an elitist Western fad is causing widespread Third World misery. Once again we have proof that when the government, rather than the free market, selects the economic winners and losers, eventually everybody loses. For someone born, raised and educated in New York City this simple fact has been evident to me since Vincent Impelleteri was mayor.

In spite of the multiple attempts at indoctrination by The New York City Board of Education, The City University of New York, and conversations with nine out of ten people I meet in my peregrinations around the town, I hold these truths to be self evident:

Freedom is better than tyranny.

Free markets distribute economic benefits more equitably than centrally planned, subsidized and distorted economies.

Free people pursuing their enlightened self interests have created ALL of the technological advances, material wealth and public good in world history.

But all philosophical matters aside, the ethanol debate represents a much larger issue that no one on the Left, Right or Center seems willing to face: The morality (yes, morality) of using food to fill the fuel tanks of America's SUVs when there are still people in this world who are slowly, but surely, starving to death.

The comments to this essay provide a keen insight into the mindset and motivation of the Anthropogenic Global Warming zealots.

R. Reynolds said...
Interesting. But of course, you left out the elephant in the room. Boys and girls from Oceanside and elsewhere are dying in Iraq to ensure we get our oil. 19 Saudi men with boxcutters could bring the US to its knees because of our dependence on Mideast oil. Our reliance on the region may bring us to the brink of world war III. So the problem is more than tortillas and corn chips. Market forces don't factor in the cost of nuclear annihilation. All or none thinking regarding the "wisdom" of the markets is silly and long ago discredited.

January 30, 2007 7:05 AM
Anonymous said...
corn is dirt cheap in this country. before you say another thing about corn, read michael pollan's book, the omnivores dilemma.

there are as many people in the world "starving to death" as there are overweight people! look up the latest stats, mr. martini!

there is plenty of food to go around, just not the best of political climates in places where it is needed most.

January 30, 2007 7:48 AM
Joseph Martini said...
I read Omnivore's Dilemma and I seem to remember Mr. Pollan (an elitist imbecile) having some very harsh words about today's organic food industry. Sorry, but very few of us can afford to get our food from family-run organic farms that are within walking distance.

Using McDonald's as an example of "industrial nutrition" is a typical exercise in card stacking.

Since a large part of my diet is made up of fish and mollusks that I hunt and gather myself, I suppose I'm ahead of the game.

When something occurs to you before it occurs to me, you may say a prayer over me and shovel dirt in my face.