"Irreverence is the champion of liberty and its only sure defense."
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Andre Vladimir Sebastian is a figment of your imagination. Honestly, you really could have done better than him, now couldn't you? Next time, put a little effort into it.

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Red Light Baghdad
I don't know about whiskey and democracy, but The Times of London reports that Baghdad now has plenty of sexy. At least until the mullahs take over.

  posted by AVS @ 10.5.03


The Kicks
I just stumbled upon a very good (and very young) new band, The Kicks. They're a kind of melodic punk band. They're so new they aren't even on CDNOW yet. Their cd was just released last October. But they're starting to get recognized. They've done shows with Reel Big Fish and The Donnas. It probably won't be long before they're getting prime commercial radio play. They're more radio friendly than The Vines or The Hives. Not as raw as those bands, but still punk enough to lay claim to at least a modified version of that label, maybe neo-punk, to use a prefix in overly heavy circulation at the moment. Don't know if you can find them on the file sharing services. If you like that kind of music, I recommend picking up their cd. Their Web site says it's available at Wal-Mart. It's one worth plunking down the cash for. It's a very good disc, and you'd be supporting some talented young artists who are still trying to establish themselves.

  posted by AVS @ 9.5.03


Edwards Sees The Elephant
Bob Novak had a great column this Thursday on Gephardt's health care plan. It begins:

"A focused moment in last Saturday night's discursive debate in Columbia, S.C., by nine Democratic presidential hopefuls came when Sen. John Edwards, his once high hopes fading fast, took dead aim at the proposal that has generated momentum for Rep. Richard Gephardt's candidacy. By raising taxes to pay for universal health care, said Edwards, Gephardt ''is taking almost a trillion dollars out of the pocket of working families making $30,000 or $40,000 a year.''

"None of the other candidates likes the Gephardt plan, mainly because the incipient campaign's first new idea came from somebody else. Only Edwards, however, admitted there was an elephant on the stage at the University of South Carolina: a tax increase for a $40,000-a-year family of four that eventually would cost it at least $1,600 a year. That admission would undermine the Democratic line of President Bush's tax cuts benefitting only the rich."

The rest of the column is here.

  posted by AVS @ 9.5.03

Monkey See, Monkey Doo-Doo
What happens when you give a computer to a bunch of zoo monkeys?

"The lead male got a stone and started bashing the hell out of it. Another thing they were interested in was in defecating and urinating all over the keyboard." That's accordign to Mike Phillips, who runs the Plymouth (England) University's Institute of Digital Arts and Technologies. Here's the story on their "experiment."

I guess Martin Prince was wrong when he told Bart, "A blindfolded chimp with a pencil in his teeth has a better chance of passing this test than you do."

By the way, this so-called study was funded by England's Art Council. There's a good use of taxpayer dollars.

  posted by AVS @ 9.5.03

Cradle Of Bureaucracy
What's happened to Boston? It was once called the Cradle of Liberty. Now you can't even smoke indoors in any business in the city. And virtually no one in the city disagrees with the new regulation. Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney wants to honor the city's history by naming the major I-93 tunnel the Liberty Tunnel. Legislative Democrats want nothing to do with that foul moniker. They want to name it after Tip O'Neil. Hmm, liberty, the ideal for which our ancesters fought and died, or a sleazy, back-stabbing politician? In Boston, that'll be no contest. Man, I don't want to drive through the Tip O'Neil Tunnel every time I go down for a Red Sox game or to visit the MFA.

  posted by AVS @ 8.5.03


Attention Alanis
I like this quote, posted on Super Fast Computer. "There is no little irony to the fact that the music industry, which has made billions celebrating the outlaw life, based in a town founded on movies idolizing Prohibition-era gangsters, is now in the business of suing millions of children for bootlegging." --Michael S. Malone

Speaking of the music industry, have you read any 50 Cent lyrics? Pick a song, any song. Emerson, Lake and Palmer were "guaranteed to blow your mind". 50 Cent is guaranteed to make you sick.

  posted by AVS @ 8.5.03

Enron? It's all Ronald Reagan's Fault
Author Jane Smiley may be a great writer (I wouldn't know, I've never read her). But like too many novelists, when it comes to politics she's a babe in the woods. Here is what the Pulitzer Prize winner, author of the new novel Good Faith, said about the greed of the 80s, the evil of capitalism, and the spell-binding voodoo of Ronald Reagan on the Diane Rehm Show on Monday (I transcribed it myself from the RealAudio download on WAMU's Web site):

Jane Smiley: "I think the real estate business for years, you know when the savings and loans were in tact and were working the way they were intending to work when they were set up, the real estate business really was about, you know, buying a little family home -- three bedrooms, a bath or a bath and a half, nice basemen, nice attic, you know -- and it ws kind of easy, the transfer of real estate from one person to another was, was fairly easy and straightforward. But then, I believe this did start in the '80s, people began to want more. And some of the things they wanted were perfectly justified, like they wanted good insulation. But other things they wanted I think were very, very funny, like huge laundry rooms, you know that's what some people want now.

"And so, that's because I think we see houses that we buy as places where we're going to achieve some kind of self-realization. And if it's just organized properly and if it just has the right equipment or if it just has the right sunshine coming in in the morning, somehow everything in our lives will smooth out and we'll live like we lived on a stage set somehow."

Diane Rehm: "Why do you think it all began in the '80s?"

Jane Smiley: "Well, I think there were several reasons for that, but, but everybody is subject to, um, the influence of what they see on television, so if you see luxury, um, on TV or maybe in the movies, um, and then someone tells you, 'well, you can have that,' then it's very tempting to get it. And for some people it's clothing, but for other people it's houses. You know, I see a beautiful colonial house with columns on the TV, and I begin to think, well I deserve that. I mean, and in the '80s there was always somebody to tell us that we did deserve it, whatever it is. If we wanted it then we deserved to have it."

Diane Rehm: "But was there something about the political scene that helped set the stage?"

Jane Smiley: "Oh, absolutely, absolutely, absolutely. I mean, I always felt Ronald Reagan was the smoothest talker ever to enter the White House. You know, he was very soothing, his voice was very soothing, and he always spoke in a very flattering way of, about, um, everything, you know, people, the country. It was like he put everybody to, into a dream state where they didn't really investigate what was actually going on. It was like a con job in my opinion."

Diane Rehm: "So, as far as deregulation..."

Jane Smiley: "Oh, I think deregulation was the worst thing to ever happen to this country."

Diane Rehm: "I mean, how did that affect the real estate market about which you write?"

Jane Smiley: "I do think deregulation affected the savings and loans and the banking industry in several particular ways. One of the specific ways it affected, um, them in 1980, in the early '80s, I think it was '82, was that they were allowed to put off the day of reckoning. The savings and loans were already in bad trouble by the end of the 1970s because of the high interest rates. But, instead of coming to terms with it, um, in the early '80s, which they should have done and could have done for a fairly modest amount of money. The Congress had passed regulations which allowed them to, um, sort of ignore their books, and do something, which I think is a funny phrase, called gambling for resurrection. That's where they could take depositors' money and put it into risky investments. Lots of times that would work for a while. There was a meshing at the time of these high-risk investments that maybe 23-year-olds knew all about and the old savings and loan guys didn't know too much about. So the old savings and loan guy would be sold on the high-risk investments by some guy just out of business school. Um, one of the stories I heard was about a small savings and loan, i think it was in California, that ended up cornering some obscure market, and so their books looked great until the day that there was a margin call. And then they had to use all their depositors' money to pay, and there were no sellers, excuse me, there were no buyers once they cornered the market on these very high-risk securities. Um, so, from the point of view of the savings and loan industry, um, deregulation was just an invitation to, um, to try and do all sorts of things with other people's money that you shouldn't, shouldn't be able to do."

Diane Rehm then begins to seque into a conversation about Smiley's book. But she'd rather expound on the evils of deregulation.

Jane Smiley: "I'd like to say, make one more thing about deregulation. People in our country live two lives. There's the life of the consumer and there's the life of the citizen, and they don't mesh perfectly, you know. But, in a democracy one man or one woman has one vote. In a capitalist society, it's one dollar one vote. Regulations are the way that the democracy balances those two things: balances the influence of money with the needs of the individual."

Diane Rehm: "Or tries to."

Jane Smiley: "Or tries to. So in the 1980s, when the, the, um, when the Republicans came in and said, 'OK, now we're gonna have, we're gonna deregulate everything, obviously they were taking away the protections of the citizenry against the class of capitalists, and we see what's happened in our own day. Just a few weeks ago in The New York Times there was a headline, some women in the accounting industry said, well we didn't really know how extensive the fraud was, and we're only just finding out now how extensive the fraud was. Well, it seems to me that any person in the 1980s watching our every system in the country be deregulated has to say, 'who is doing this and what are they doing it for?' Well, they're doing it in order to make themselves wealthy. They're doing it in order so that they can fleece the citizens."

Diane Rehm: "So you see a direct connection between the deregulation of the '80s and, for example, Enron."

Jane Smiley: "Absolutely! You know. And everybody's screaming now because it's about, because it's investors that are being defrauded. But, you know, back in the '80s when it was simply consumers that were entering in a new, sort of dangerous world where they didn't know what was in their food and they, you know, they didn't know what was in the air, um, everybody kept quiet and said, well, you know..."

Diane Rehm: "We'll see what happens and maybe we'll benefit."

Jane Smiley: "Right, or also business needs dirty air, you know. Um, so it drives me crazy that as soon as the rich people began getting a little bit worried about their investments, then there came this huge thing about deregulation."

Diane Rehm: "Sure."

Sure. Capitalism is bad because it makes people want to get rich and have big laundry rooms. Government is good because it prevents these things. Reagan was an evil sorcerer who hypnotized America liked Kaa hypnotized the monkeys in The Jungle Book, and nobody cared about the poor savings and loan victims because they were just citizens, while the government raised a fuss about Enron because rich people were going to lose their money. Except, Enron was such a scandal precisely because regular people, not the rich, were getting screwed -- because most investors in America today are not rich, they are average Americans, just like the savings and loan victims were.

Smiley sounds like a college freshman overwhelmed by her first encounter with Marxism, which probably involved some textbook's pulled quotes from The Communist Manifesto, dutifully run beside the somber mug of Karl Marx looking like a plump, bearded Dr. Brown from Back To The Future. What amazes me about people who say stuff like "deregulation was the worst thing to ever happen to this country" is the complete lack of perspective. I'd have thought slavery rated the No. 1 spot on that chart. Nope, it's deregulation!

Smiley blames Reagan and the Republicans for the Savings and Loan scandal, which is an angle taught in most college textbooks. But the Democrats controlled the House throughout the entire 1980s, and by large margins, so they should share the blame (or credit) for deregulation, which they never do. And the Democrats implemented federal deposit insurance, which was a major factor in the scandal.

This quote demonstrates Smiley's lack of understanding of the scandal: "from the point of view of the savings and loan industry, um, deregulation was just an invitation to, um, to try and do all sorts of things with other people's money that you shouldn't, shouldn't be able to do."

Deregulation did invite some bad business decisions, I don't think many people would argue that. Any time you let people free to make their own decisions, they will make bad ones. But what invited the savings and loans to do things they shouldn't with other people's money was the FDIC. Federal deposit insurance meant that savings and loan operators were protected from bad investments. They could risk all of their depositors' money on flimsy real estate deals because they knew the feds would reimburse them if they lost it. The insurance reduced the risk, inviting irresponsible behavior. Take away the guaranteed government bailout, and the risky investments would not have happened to anywhere near the degree they did. The savings and loan scandal was not a market failure as much as it was a consequence of benevolently intended federal legislation.

"But, in a democracy one man or one woman has one vote. In a capitalist society, it's one dollar one vote. Regulations are the way that the democracy balances those two things: balances the influence of money with the needs of the individual." I'm not even sure what this means. One dollar will get you one vote where? In the grocery store? Capitalism makes possible things like, say, book publishing because it allows individuals and groups of individuals to invest in capital in hopes of gaining a return on that investment. Without capitalism, the only book publishers would be government-run book publishers. I wish Diane Rehm had asked Smiley how far she thought her book, which denounces the administration in which the father of the current chief executive was second in command, would get in a government-run publishing house?

I love her theory that people in the '80s "began to want more" because TV and Ronald Reagan hypnotized them. This is the same theory the radical left has about Rush Limbaugh. The general populace are mindless robots easily manipulated by smooth-talking charlatans, and they need us to protect them! It's so incredibly condescending. I may yet read A Thousand Acres, Smiley's book which one the Pulitzer Prize in 1992. But I won't be reading Good Faith.

  posted by AVS @ 7.5.03


Punishing Saddam
Some readers have written with suggestions for fastening the baseball cap of justice upon the sinister head of Saddam Hussein. Tiger writes:

"As Iraq is an area with a rich history going back to ancient times, I would have a trial and punishment befitting the area. Find a suitable pit and place Saddam in the pit. All of those who support Saddam are welcome to jump in and shield him from the large stones that those who condemn him will be asked to throw at him from the lip of the pit. If he has more supporters than condemnors, he will survive the stoning and be freed, and if not, he and all those who chose to support him will be stoned to death."

Non-blogger Billy Watson suggests a more horrific torture:

"If the evil one is found he should be forced to become the president of the Detroit Tigers fan club in which capacity he would be forced to attend each game. His seat should be behind the plate where the camera constantly looks so that he could not sneak out early."

Have the perfect punishment for Saddam? Send it to curveballcomment at, and if it's worthy of dispersal among the masses, I'll post it.

  posted by AVS @ 7.5.03

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