Saturday, October 31, 2009

Some creative jack-o-lanterns, courtesy of my sister

My sister definitely has more of an artistic proclivity than I. Check out her creations for the scariest day of the year. Nicely done, Steph!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

When free speech can really, really cost you

"I don't agree with what you say, but I will defend your right to say it." Such was the dictum of the enlightenment philosopher Voltaire and I agree with it. The right to say such things however is not a shield from criticism. Whenever people state an opinion and then are faced with a backlash of hostile counteropinions, they will often, mistakenly, retort "What about my right to free speech?" I can only shake my head when peole revert back to that excuse. Once you open your mouth, you have to be prepared to take as much as you just gave, even if the criticism comes from genuine idiots and fools.

Free speech though isn't just about what comes out of the mouth. In this regard, I do not support such things as amendments to the constitution as burning or desecrating flags. Although I am appalled by it, such is the right of people. If the symbol becomes more powerful than what it actually stands for, then the symbol stands for nothing.

The DNC is sponsoring a contest where people can submit ads that will run on TV in support of the Obama/Democratic health care proposals that are afloat. There are 20 finalists and one of them, if chosen, will do more harm than good. In this video, a flag is painted upon a mural and then graffitied with various "political" messages related to the health care debate. Now, the person who submitted it is free to do so. But he should not be alarmed by the backlash that it could cause. If the DNC chose this particular add, it will probably very likely turn off the independents who have yet to formally weigh in on the health care debate. Is vandalizing a flag the best way to get the point across? Without doubt a lot of people will ignore the message and focus on the graffiti on the flag.

Yes, have your free speech, but don't cry foul when you not everyone lines up to agree with you. You can watch the video and see if it passes your own litmus test for good taste.

If only we heeded these words after Kennedy

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wanna win an academy award?

Dear Alec Baldwin,

For years now you have complained bitterly about not winning an academy award. Despite such passionate and unequalled in acting in such blockbuster films like "Beetlejuice", "The Hunt for Red October", "The Chase" and "Fun with Dick and Jane" not to mention how such great performances certainly make you a credible co-anchor to Robert Osbourne on TCM's show, "The Essentials" where he and you geniusly appraise what movies are absolutely essential for any movie-lover to know, also considering the success of the show "30 Rock" and last, but certainly not least, the fact that you were once married to Kim Basinger who did win an academy award for Best Actress for her work in one of the great movies of the 1990s, "LA Confidential", I can understand your frustration. Also, I'm sure that the screen actors guild's and the academy's constant overlooking of your natural and god-given talent which seems to have bypassed the other Baldwin brothers (yes, especially Steven) only brings out more frustration to the point that you threatened to leave the country on numerous occasions if Bush became President of the US (we're still waiting on that one) and that you call your daughter a " fat pig" which was then broadcast on every infamous celebrity show on E! and tabloid. How can a man clearly cast in the mould of Welles, Burton and Hanks be passed over so many times? I sympathize; I truly do.

But I have wonderful news for you, Alec. You can win an academy award. Granted you need to star in a movie first, but I've got the perfect way to guarantee you an Oscar: you need to die, preferably horribly and tragically. The movie doesn't have to be great, but it should be better than mediocre and you should try to do it before it's released to audiences around the world. That will help immensely.

I wish you well in that pursuit.


Excelsior blog

OK, I'm no big fan of Alec Baldwin. Granted, I liked "Beetlejuice" and "The Hunt for Red October" but I own neither and can just as easily have done without them.

But it does seem that if you are an aspiring actor that you should naturally want to win an academy award for your efforts. I'm sure more than one actor has said that they would die to win an academy award. And there is precedent!

Heath Ledger won a postumous academy award for his role of the Joker in "The Dark Knight." Now, I don't think he was that great. He was convincing but he was a caricature trying to blend in so many different facets that it look contrived. Still, it was a good movie.

Now, after one day of showing, Michael Jackson's postumous documentary "This is it" is apparently getting some attention from the academy. I kid you not. Though I am not enthralled by Elizabeth Taylor's film critiquing abilities (considering that she is not a good actress either; anyone seen "Cleopatra?" I don't care if she won an academy award twice. So did Marisa Tomei. A great actress does not an Oscar make. But I digress) who remarked (paraphrasing) that it was the single greatest bit of filmmaking ever. Clearly over the top, but then again so is Elizabeth Taylor. Nevertheless, it seems that some in the academy are spurred by Dame Elizabeth's appraisal and are suggesting that this documentary deserves some consideration for an academy award.

Will he win? Too soon to tell since nomination won't even come out until January 2010. But if he does, maybe Alec will threaten to leave the country again. Maybe this time, he'll finally put his money where his mouth is.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Zombies compared to...

School Choice works and is demanded especially by the poorest of the poor

We are told, mainly by Democrats, the self-appointed bulwarks of freechoice, that school choice is not an option for kids whose parents simply cannot afford a private school, whether that school is parochial or secular. Vouchers are always decried because they could be used at a private religious school. The constitutional claim they use to buttress this idea is that taxpayer money should not be funding religious institutions in accordance with the first amendment. Such claims are flimsy. The politicians who see kids going to a religious school on a voucher are hard pressed to see how this passes the Constitutional litmus test of the state "establishing" a state religion, which is what the founders were especially concerned with. If you want the "real" reason though, you must simply follow the money trail. It always comes back to that.

Despite Barack Obama's pledge (which has been broken countless times since he took office) to be bipartisan and to go with what works rather than be dictated to by ideology, such is not the case here. In Washington D.C., the public school system is a catastrophe and that's being nice. The DC scholarship program which allowed for over 1700 students from D.C. to go to better private schools at almost half the cost it would take to educate them in a public school in the district ($7500 compared to $15,000) has had great success. Students are not only learning but they are safer and more discipline. But, despite the fact that it works, Barack Obama decided to cancel the program. Why? It works. It works well. It gives opportunity. But I suppose that whenever the state is proven to be lacking (and make no mistake; Obama is a statist) and the private sector does better, the government must be vindictive so that no one upstages it again.

Here's a video about it. I encourage you to watch.

What do the following have in common?

Accounts Receivable Tax
Building Permit Tax
CDL license Tax
Cigarette Tax
Corporate Income Tax
Dog License Tax
Excise Taxes
Federal Income Tax
Federal Unemployment Tax (FUTA)
Fishing License Tax
Food License Tax
Fuel Permit Tax
Gasoline Tax (currently 44.75 cents per gallon)
Gross Receipts Tax
Hunting License Tax
Inheritance Tax
Inventory Tax
IRS Interest Charges IRS Penalties (tax on top of tax)
Liquor Tax
Luxury Taxes
Marriage License Tax
Medicare Tax
Personal Property Tax
Property Tax
Real Estate Tax
Service Charge T ax
Social Security Tax
Road Usage Tax
Sales Tax
Recreational Vehicle Tax
School Tax
State Income Tax
State Unemployment Tax (SUTA)
Telephone Federal Excise Tax
Telephone Federal Universal Ser vice FeeTax
Telephone Federal, State and Local Surcharge Taxes
Telephone Minimum Usage Surcharge=2 0Tax
Telephone Recurring and Non-recurring Charges Tax
Telephone State and Local Tax
Telephone Usage Charge Tax
Utility Taxes
Vehicle License Registration Tax
Vehicle Sales Tax
Watercraft Registration Tax
Well Permit Tax
Workers Compensation Tax

Don't know? These taxes are less than 100 years old, many of them less than 40 years old and many of them aren't even necessary any more but are still kept on the books simply to collect more money. Before these taxes were in place was there any question around the world about who the strongest nation was even after we had just finished rebuilding the South after a bloody civil war? No. And yet, we are told that we need these taxes to be considered a civil and compassionate country. It just goes to show you that we have idiots in control. And we keep putting them there.

It's not my fault

I've come to the conclusion that people who run for Congress or the Executive Branch campaign on one issue: It's not my fault. Think about it. Regardless of what party holds your allegiance, if any, any career politician makes this simple childlike excuse his mantra for his career. It's not my fault the deficit is skyrocketing, it's not my fault there is record unemployment, it's not my fault the dollar is not stable and will soon be replaced. If we hear kids giving this excuse for such infractions as hitting a playmate on the playground or breaking a vase or lamp in the living room or getting all dirty from rolling around in the mud, no good parent (emphasis on good) would tolerate it and would punish the child according to the enormity of the transgression.

So, why do we continually endure this inane excuse from politicians? They give a childlike and childish excuse for wrongs infintisimally worse than breaking a lamp or rolling in dirt. Yet, we keep voting these guys into office. It makes no logical sense, but as Captain Kirk once remarked that Spock's homeworld of Vulcan was the only planet in the universe which could claim logic as its guiding principle. And Kirk remarked also that human problems are so unpredictable that not even logic can solve them. Wisdom in Star Trek.

These politicians who also give us the excuse that the fault lies not with them are also the ones who tell us that they are so much smarter than the rest of us. Intellectualism, by itself, does not solve problems. When you consider that the vast majority of Congressmen and Presidents (such as Obama) are lawyers and glorified social studies majors and that only a fraction of them have real experience with real problems that the people of this country face (like jobs, for one), maybe we should buy that excuse. It's not their fault because they've never taken the time to actually learn about the nuances about real life. So, maybe we should give them that.

But, that should not be a reason for returning them to office two times, three or more so that they can repeatedly campaign on the "It's not my fault" mantra. Children have to grow up; politicians can learn from kids in that respect.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is it the shoes?

A dream of many ballers on the courts of high schools is to play for a great college and then, hopefully, move up to the NBA. God love them for it. I'm sure that such was and is the dream of Marcus Jordan, son of Chicago Bulls Hall-of-Famer and all around great player, Michael Jordan. Marcus is a freshman at the University of Central Florida (UCF) and is eager to play. But there's a problem. As Nike advertisements back in the 1980s and 1990s consistetly asked "Is it the shoes?" trying to determine what made Michael Jordan so great, for Marcus Jordan, it is clearly about the shoes.

Marcus Jordan refuses, absolutely refuses, to wear Addidas brand sneakers which has a contract with UCF. His reason? The Nike shoes he wears, which his dad endorsed, are special to him. They are so special that he cannot wear anything else. I'm sure that the school will gladly sacrifice the $3 million contract it has with Addidas through 2010 just to appease this scion of the great Jordan family. UCF is also in talks with Addidas for another $3 million deal to go for another six years. Here is the source.

I'm sure that the school will not sacrifice such a lucrative deal just because of the whinings of a freshman basketball player regardless of his lineage, but they may just do that. A few thoughts: I wonder how good Marcus Jordan is. I mean it would be one thing if this guy was the next incarnation of his father or the next LeBron James or Shaq, but he's not. He's playing for a bottom dwelling team in the Conference USA which, save for Louisville and Memphis, is not a power conference by any stretch of the imagination. And considering that he is not even playing for a school of the caliber that his dad played for tells me he's not that great to begin with. So, why is there even negotiation over this? What if Marcus Jordan had a problem with the school colors and wanted instead to wear the blue and white of his dad's alma mater, the Univeristy of North Carolina? Will UCF negotiate that too? The shoes are part of the uniform just as the colors. Shut up and wear them.

But, like a lot of other people, Marcus Jordan is invoking his last name to mean that he deserves special treatment. I'm sure that his father did nothing to stop this character flaw from developing because Michael Jordan is an egotist as well. Have you listened to his speech when he was inducted into the NBA hall of fame? It's all about "me, me, me." He puts down other players, other coaches, people whom he thought "got in his way." I don't know if his dad is encouraging this, but I'll bet he's not stopping him from complaining either.

In the end, it's all about the shoes.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

How much should you be paid?

There's controversy today when the White House announced that through its "pay czar" it will limit the financial compensation of CEOs of major companies that receive federal bail out money from the TARP fund or the stimulus or any other packages. Now, most people think that this is only fair. After all, these companies are getting help from the government so why shouldn't the government dictate how that money should be spent? To me, that's a fair argument. I am opposed to the bailouts in the first place, especially as this money is going to big business, which is ironic since that is the traditional iconic enemy of the Democrat problem, and not to the little people who are the ones getting screwed in this economy.

But here's the thing that disturbs me. This sets a dangerous precedent. If the pay czar through the White House can establish what an executive should get in terms of financial compensation, how long is it before that same person dictates how much the underlings of that same company which received taxpayer money receive for doing their job? And how does a government official, who probably knows nothing about running businesses and who had some sort of social studies major in college, know what is fair and what is not?

Now, it is a fact that most millionaires in this country are first generation millionaires. In other words, they didn't inherit their money but worked hard and produced and managed to become successful. Do you suppose, then, that this person should receive the same amount of money for working 40 hours a week as a person who manages a McDonald's restaurant in Iowa or a janitor at a school or a waitress? If you do, then please discontinue reading because you are obviously a Marxist/Communist and reality has no place in your thinking. But if you do believe that people who have worked hard and have managed to climb the ladder out of their own merit should earn whatever they feel like, then this move by the white house should concern you. How long will it be before all other professions are dictated to about how much a teacher, a construction worker, a plumber, a doctor, etc. should make? By the way, Hollywood received stimulus money. How come the pay czar isn't targeting movie executives for big cuts? Is it because they are major contributors to Democrats? No, couldn't be that.

During the Clinton years, during their health care debates, there were proposals put in the legislation that would tell prospective medical students where they could go to medical school, that would tell med schools how many they can take, what field of medicine students should be assigned to, etc.. The government was going to dictate everything. In this health care legislation, there is serious talk about putting in provisions that would actually put a financial limit on how much certain procedures would cost and thus regulate how much money doctors could make. (But let's not put limits on sueing doctors; an argument for another time).

Soon, the government is going to start stepping in to various industries and dictating to them how much compensation should be for every employee and executive. That's where we're headed.

Now, let us consider a couple of scenarios. Let us say a computer company, like Dell, is going to sell to the government 10,000 laptops for the government employees at $1200 each. Total amount owed to Dell would be $12,000,000 plus tax, I'm sure. Now, let's say that Dell would use 1% of that money, and it is tax money by the way that is paying for this purchase, would go to a CEO's retirement package. He then would get $120,000 from that sale. But, since taxpayer money is being used, would the government have the right to say that since Dell did business with the government, the executive's compensation should be half of that? I think we would all say "no". But, some would say, this is different. Really? How? If the purpose of the bailouts was to ensure that these companies could continue in business for the government's and people's sake, then their business is still being maintained. If this were to happen, how many companies would do business with the government? I'd venture to say none.

Let's consider this, too. The rank and file member of congress earns an annual salary of $174,000 each year. The speaker of the house, majority and minority leaders earn more. Now, considering how screwed up this economy is which they have played a large part in and conisdering how stupidly they are handling things now, why doesn't the pay czar also target them for salary cuts? This congress has dismal approval ratings (30%). Why stop there? The President is constantly going down in the polls. Let's slash his salary by half. But what makes this worse is that a great many of these members of Congress who have been there for their whole lives, have income from other ventures such as investments and being members of the board. Why can't we dictate to them how much they earn? Whenever they want a pay raise, they can certainly vote for one. But, we can terminate their salary when we vote them out. How often does that happen? If anyone has screwed up this economy, it's those idiots in government and yet they are the ones dictating how much one should fairly earn. Most of these people in Congress were social studies majors and have never spent one day managing a budget or directing a business, but we are lead to believe that they are so enlightened that they can dictate what is right for business?

Soon, there are going to be federal guidelines on how much you can earn, no matter what your profession is. What's worse is all of this is being handled by a czar, an appointee of Obama who does not have to be confirmed by Congress and is not even regulated by Congress. It's an extra-constitutional position and this guy has the authority of a dictator!

If you think that this will never happen, let me fill you in on a few things that HAVE happend that I never thought would:

1)monetizing the debt
2)government takeover of banks, insurance companies and car companies
3)unemployment reaching 10%
4)exponential growth of government
5)dollar is the 50th most stable in the world (we're behind Albania folks!)
6)government deficit ceiling is going to be raised to $13 trillion
7)government using NEA for propaganda purposes
8)net neutrality and regulation of content (I'm sure my blog will be outlawed)

The list can go on. The point is, we can no longer just be satisfied with the old expression of "that will never happen." A lot of things have happened that shouldn't have and I'm sure more are on the way. Freedom is a precious thing, especially when it's lost.

Friday, October 9, 2009

By merit or by popularity?

One of the things that separates us Americans from specifically the European world, whence our cultural heritage mainly derives, is that we have held that advancement and recognition in society was to be determined by merits, by one's own efforts as opposed to the family that one was born into or whatever connections that family may have.

Today, Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. His win was considered quite stunning; you could hear the gasps from the audience when his name was read. Even the odds were against him. The chances that either he or Bill Clinton would win the award were 1/14 which is not insurmountable, but, still, almost very unlikely. Nonetheless, Barack Obama is the winner of the prize. But the question is whether he actually has done anything, whether as President or even as a U.S. Senator to merit such a distinction. Considering that the nominations for the 2009 prize were closed as of the last week of January, which was only the second week of his presidency and had not even begun work on the stimulus bill and that the duration of his time in the Senate amounted to only 110 days or so and the other time was spent running for president, what has President Obama actually achieved to be considered for such a distinctive honour? I believe he has done nothing. Now, that does not preclude him from any possible future success. But to honor him now is extremely premature. Even Lech Walesa, the leader of the Polish movement Soidarity even acknowledged that.

So, what has this to do with a meritocracy? It seems to me that the only reason Obama won the award was because of his good intentions and because of his standing as a celebrity among the world's leftist intellectuals. Even Obama himself mentioned in his speech that his award was more of a "call to action" than a recognition of anything actually done. But that is not why you receive a reward. A player on a soccer team doesn't get a trophy as a "call to action" to win the championship.

A little while ago, I wrote a piece about how far we have drifted from a society that values actual achievement and merit to a society that rewards those who have the connections or the name. To recap a little of what I wrote about in that blog, I offered the example of the Republic of Rome.

The Roman Republic had as its highest and most revered office, the consulship. Two men would serve for one year terms. Each had veto power, presumably to keep one from exerting too much power over the other or over the senate. The Romans created this system because, according to legend, the son of the last king of Rome, Tarquinius Superbus, raped the noble woman Lucretia who killed herself because of shame but not before she asked her husband, Collatinus and her brother-in-law Lucius Junius Brutus (the ancestor of the assassin of Caesar) to avenge her dishonour. The Romans rose up in rebellion against the tyrants and drove them out, abolishing the monarchy and setting up a Republican system of government where no one man would be able to exert supreme and abusive authority. Theoretically, two men each year would allow for a lot of different people to rise to the consulship. This was unfortunately not what happened. Over the course of the Republic's existence, the consular chairs were held continuously by 35 different families. On rare occasion, new men, novi homines as they were called in Latin, were able to climb up the rigorous steps to become consuls. Such men included some of Rome's finest generals, Gnaeus Pompey, Julius Caesar, Caius Marius as well as revered statesmen and orators such as Marcus Tullius Cicero. None of these men had ancestors who were consuls, though they often had ancestors who rose up highly enough. The term, novi homines, though has distinctive negative overtones. In Latin, the adjective novus not only means "new" but also "strange", even "revolutionary." The Romans were a conservative people: Better to go with the devil you know. Though the Romans theoretically had a society that valued merit, ultimately it came down to which family you belonged to.

Have we gone that way now? Is accomplishment, achievement, merit, whatever you want to call it no longer the mark of a man? Is it now just good intentions and vision? We all have visions and dreams but to confuse those for genuine work that creates change is quite another thing altogether. Most people, unfortunately, in this life do not accomplish their dreams and visions but go to their grave unfulfilled.

Now good people can disagree whether Barack Obama has actually accomplished anything. But in reality, he hasn't. Both on the foreign stage and on the domestic front, Obama has given plenty of great, eloquent speeches and seems to be perpetually locked into campaign mode where he comes off as a rock star. We can also disagree as to whether his winning a U.S. Senate seat, meritorious in itself, should be counted as experience to be commander-in-chief and President of the U.S. I would say it does not. But for even the most ardent admirers of President Obama to say that he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize is nothing more than checking reason at the door and being blinded by cult of personality.

To win an award should require work and some degree of success. At the same time, considering some of the other recent winners of this award, perhaps I should not be incensed at all. The terrorist, Yasser Arafat, the incompetent and blundering fool, Jimmy Carter, the hypocritical and scientifically uneducated Al Gore have all won Nobel Peace Prizes. Perhaps the committe simply doesn't understand its own criteria, hence its choosing of other less than deserving winners.

Merit has gone out the door and has been replaced by good intentions and cult of personality.

Personally, though, I think that the choice was done for no more reason than to shout a final "Fuck you" to George W. Bush. How's that for enlightened thinking?

If I am ever nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize...

I hope I don't win. How can I ever even think to be in the same glorious company of such peacemakers as Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Al Gore and now, Barack Obama? I'm totally undeserving and have done nothing, but then again neither has Barack Obama.

Let's summarize Obama's accomplishments that clearly make him a peacemaker in the world.

1) Has let Iran continued to build a nuclear facility and even when he had the attention of the world at the UN security council, which he chaired, to enforce sanctions against Iran and the power to do it, he, instead, didn't want to be diverted by that issue from talking about his dreams of a nuclear-free world.

2) Has chided the Israelis and placated the Palestinians.

3) Has sold out our stalwart allies in Eastern Europe, the Czech Republic and Poland by abandoning the implementation of a missile shield to protect against Russian and Iranian missiles and did so on the 70th anniversary of the Soviet invasion of these countries. He has only emboldened adversaries such as Russia and Iran.

4) He has not ended any war. In fact, he's planning to escalate military efforts against the Taliban and Al-Qaida in Afghanistan.

5) He refused to back the dissidents in Iran who were rightfully protesting the rigged election in Iran.

6) He continues to openly support deposed wannabe dictator Zelaya of Honduras who was expelled from Honduras for violating the Constitution.

So, it's all about good intentions, then? I guess actual accomplishments don't matter anymore. So now I need to reward students who merely intend to get good grades rather than actually do it for themselves. That is essentially what the Nobel Committee did--they awarded good intentions. Obama has done nothing. Now, he may very well do something eventually that should be worthy of a prize. But he hasn't. It's that simple. Even Lech Walensa, the leader of Solidarity in Communist Poland in the 1980s against the Soviet puppet government and who won the award himself said Obama was undeserving.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Be on the lookout

With my current situation, I just wanted to let my readers know (especially you, Uncle Emil) that I will be finishing my journals on my trip to Europe and Germany. I had only through day 5 so now I will be able to give my impressions of Neuschwanstein, Schloss Linderhof, Zweifalten, Mehrstetten, my family, Salzburg, etc. I have the time to do it, so be prepared for more of my scintillating observations (sarcasm implied)!