Yeah, and if you believe that, I have a $20 million stash in Nigeria I'll give you for only 10% if you first tell me your Social Security and bank account numbers.
But I am outta here for a while. The theory is, when you've been cranky in New York for a long time, it's sometimes refreshing to go be cranky somewhere else for a while. So I'm off to the Left Coast for a week of eating, drinking and spending more money than I should, during which I ain't gonna post diddley-squat. There, that should fix things.
Watch for fresh posts a few days from now. Oh, figure January 3. But maybe the 2nd. And maybe the 4th. Or maybe the 5th.
Hey, if I were reliable and predictable, I wouldn't be a crank, would I?
Monday, December 25, 2006
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Thursday, December 21, 2006
Pervert-protecting Congressional Sex Nazis to Senior Citizens: “No sex for YOU, you doddering old geezeer!”
It’s as though it happened in the dead of night – and for all I know, maybe it did. Aside from an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (no longer on the web) and an online publication called Senior Journal...
…the press was largely silent about it. Maybe all those young journalists thought nobody would care.
At any rate, the Crank first heard about it when I got my hands on the letter above – identifying information redacted to protect the impotent – in which AARP/United Healthcare declared that Cialis was no longer on their formulary because “Congress has determined that…” [drugs that treat erectile disfunction] “will be excluded from coverage under Medicare Part D in 2007” So that includes Levitra and Viagra, too.
WAIT A SECOND, WAIT A SECOND!
WHICH CONGRESS IS THIS?
MAYBE IT SHOULD BE CALLED
“THE SEX NAZI CONGRESS”
“No sex for you,” says this Sex Nazi Congress to erectile disfunction sufferers over 65.
Hey gang, this is the same Sex Nazi Congress that covered up for Congressman Mark Foley, who was making buggery attempts at his teen-aged male interns.
MURERED MISTRESSES AND
“JUST SAY NO” HYPOCRITES
It’s the same wife-cheating (Remember Congressman Gary Condit and his much younger murdered mistress Chandra Levy?) sometimes wife-beating, frequently divorced Sex Nazi Congress full of self-righteous Republicans who are willing to encourage the spread of AIDS in Africa by ineffectively telling people who’d like to enjoy sex, “Just say no.”
It's the same Sex Nazi Congress that kowtows to the lunatic fringe of the “Christian Right.” You know, the same Sex Nazi Congress that wants to let the FCC fine television stations $325,000 per incident for profanity that gets uttered on the air in the heat of live events – from wars, to 9/11, to sporting events.
See, they don't want you to know that soldiers who are under fire or rescue worker who were watching the World Trade Center collapse and snuff out thousands of lives would actually cuss. They want to do all the cussing themselves, whenever they get caught -- almost literally -- with their pants down.
Yes, it's the Republican Sex Nazi Congress that turned a Democrat budget surplus into an eight and a half trillion-and-still-counting-national debt...
...that also has authorized, almost without a peep of protest, half a trillion dollars poured down the toilet of two wars that we’re losing simultaneously, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan. (We belong in Afghanistan, but thanks to the drained resources getting flushed away Iraq, Afghanistan is rapidly drifting back to the Taliban.)
So these big spending Sex Nazis, who gave themselves eight pay raises in the last nine years...
...now want to block senior citizens from getting a $10 or $20 pill maybe once a week so they can have a a few happy moments of sex with their spouses in their retirement years.
These are the very same Sex Nazis who banned negotiating with drug companies for medication – something that could have lowered the cost of Vigara, Cialis and Levitra – and all medications – and made them more affordable to consumers, taxpayers and the Government. Now they say we have to "control" health care costs. How? By denying people health care.
These are the Sex Nazis who promised they’d get government off our backs. Now we’ve got it in our bedrooms.
You no longer have to be gay. You no longer have to be promiscuous. You no longer have to be foreign. Now all you have to be is over 65 – something nearly all of us will experience.
WRITE A LETTER OF PROTEST
TO YOUR CONGRESSIONAL SEX NAZI
You’ll find his, her or it’s address here:
Demand to know where he, she, or it stands on banning erectile disfunction drugs from medical benefit formularies. Remind him or her or it that nearly everybody gets to be 65 unless they drown in New Orleans floods while the Sex Nazis in Congress fiddle, die in Congress-supported wars – or unless the Sex Nazi Congress finally outlaws longevity.
Tell your Congressional Sex Nazis you wanted Medicare to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate damnit – for better drug prices for everyone in America. Tell them that you want ALL legitimately prescribed drugs to be covered by the so-called, confusing, donut-holed “Drug Benefit.”
And if they give you any crap about not wanting the U.S. Government to pay for quality of life medications – remind them about all the raises they gave themselves to improve their own quality of life.
WHO OR WHAT WILL FALL
VICTIM TO THEM NEXT?
What quality of life or care benefit will the Sex Nazi Congress cut for the rest of America next?
Will they eliminate wheelchairs because that improves the quality of life of paraplegics?
Will they cut oxygen for people who want their quality of life improved by being able to breathe better?
SHORT ON TIME? JUST SEND YOUR
CONGRESSIONAL SEX NAZI THIS
You don’t have to compose your own letter if you don’t have time. Just copy this blog article into an e-mail addressed to your Sex Nazi Congressman. Or give your Sex Nazi the URL
And let the Sex Nazis in Congress know that if they won’t act, they can all go to Heil.
Monday, December 18, 2006
New York and San Francisco swap weather. Astrophysicist says it’s because the universe has turned inside out.
New York (Dec. 18) - New York and San Francisco have exchanged weather patterns in what an obscure astrophysicist, working in a Greenwich Village basement laboratory, calls “a balloon or bellybutton inversion.”
The weather in New York today was 65 degrees and cloudy, typical of San Francisco this time of year. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the weather for a while dipped down to a New-York-In-December 36 degrees and windy, with bright New York sunshine.
Simultaneously, New Yorkers began acting increasingly laid-back. A man on a bus stood up for a pregnant woman. On the same bus, an out-of-towner dropped two dollars in nickels and dimes into the fare box and the driver said, “Thank you, man, that’s very cool.”
A few hours later, during rush hour in San Francisco, a native tired of waiting for the Van Ness bus loudly loudly muttered several unprintable epithets and stomped off downtown on foot.
While investigating this phenomenon, The New York Crank stopped for coffee at Reggio, one of the last authentic Greenwich Village Italian cafés that hasn’t been put out of business by Starbucks. In the café, located on MacDougal Street, he struck up a chat with Herschel Harshbarger, PhD., who described himself as a freelance astrophysicist. Harshbarger, it turned out, has a theory about what’s going on. The universe, he declared, has turned inside out.
AND A LOT OF BROW-FURROWING MATH
The New York Crank replied, “I don’t get it,” whereupon Harshbarger whipped a small yellow balloon out of his pocket. He lay the balloon on the marble table next to his cappuccino, with the mouth of the balloon pointed left.
“It’s a matter of topology,” he said. Harshbarger explained that topology is a study of the geometry of the surface of changing shapes, which didn’t seem to help explain anything, but he kept on explaining.
“Watch this,” Harshbarger said. With a long pair of pincers he reached into the balloon and turned it inside-out, laying it back on the table. “Now, as you see, the mouth of the balloon, which had been pointing left is pointing right. All bodies and spheres in the skin of the balloon which had been oriented right-left are now oriented left-right.
“If we can assume that Earth is part of the topological skin of the balloon, then everything on earth has been reversed. This explains why New York and San Francisco have exchanged climates,” he said.
CAUSE FOR ALARM
Ever-alert, The New York Crank asked whether this “topological inversion” as Harshbarger called it justified the Lunatic Conservative movement’s insistence that pollution and the loss of rain forests are not causing climatic change.
“On the contrary,” Harshbarger insisted, “it is entirely possible that heat rising from formerly forested areas, plus the growing emission of greenhouse gasses have distorted the balloon, thus causing the inversion.”
“It’s as if you were made so sick by pollution that you turned inside-out from the locus of your bellybutton,” Harshbarger said.
BUT THERE’S REASON
FOR OPTIMISM, TOO
According to Harshbarger, there is currently so much temperature fluctuation on earth that the topological surface of the universe is in flux, rather like a balloon that expands, contracts and changes shape as the air inside it is heated and expands, then cools and causes deflation.
“Things look very hot in New York today,” Harshbarger said, “but they could cool down tomorrow, just as San Francisco chills out by heating up.”
Harshbarger did some elaborate computations on the back of a napkin (adjacent to text) that he said, “confirm the fluxness of the situation in a topological sense.”
Bystanders, some of whom seemed to have stopped by from the nearby Institute of Mathematics at New York University, seemed impressed.
“That’s the most extraordinary napkin I’ve seen in years,” one of them said.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
Get off that bread line, Stupid. You’re NOT starving. You’re merely experiencing “very low food security.”
Among the many sick and dirty tricks dreamed up by the Bush administration, the sickest have been their attempts to make problems go away by re-naming them or changing the meaning of everyday language.
That’s how losing in Iraq came to be known as “winning.”
That’s how having no quantifiable goal whatsoever in that country got recast first as “mission accomplished” and then as the promise that, “we’ll stay until we complete the mission.”
That’s how torturing people by nearly drowning them over and over again got redefined by Vice-President Chaney as “a dunk in the water.” http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/27/AR2006102700560.html
ADMINISTRATION BRAINSTORM: IF WE
RENAME “STARVATION” MAYBE PEOPLE
WON’T KNOW THEY’RE STARVING
Now the Bushnik political hacks at the U.S. Department of Agriculture are about to completely “eliminate” starvation in America. They’ll do it simply by renaming what ails the hungry.
I’m going to let Liz Krueger, a member of the New York State Senate, put it her own way. The following are excerpts from a recent letter to her constituents:
“A glaring change in this year's USDA report is that they have decided to stop using the term ‘hunger’ to describe hungry people. From now on, the most desperately poor Americans—11 million people! — who show ‘multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake’ will instead be defined as facing ‘very low food security.’ In other words, they are hungry.
“Note to the Feds: You cannot define away the very real problems of poverty and hunger facing millions of Americans by changing the terminology.”
YES, THIS REALLY IS
HAPPENING IN AMERICA!
Krueger, who has worked in emergency food pantries, soup kitchens and food banks, has harrowing memories of what she saw:
“… panicked mothers telling me about having to put their children to bed without dinner; of parents admitting they skipped meals so their children could eat. There were endless conversations with people who were forced to use their food money to pay rent and utilities to avoid eviction and homelessness. There were poor seniors who told me of the humiliation of digging through garbage bins behind supermarkets…
“Too many conversations ended with people breaking down in tears because they were wrongly rejected for Food Stamps or because they realized that even with Food Stamps, their benefits would not last a full month. There is nothing hypothetical about families facing the reality that the need to pay for an emergency prescription is going to result in many missed meals for weeks to come.”
YOUR HEAD ACHES, YOUR
STOMACH HURTS, YOUR CHILDREN WEEP?
OH, JUST SNAP OUT OF IT.
Krueger continues, “All of these people were facing or experiencing ‘hunger’ -- the kind that brings headaches, causes your stomach to hurt, leaves children and seniors much more likely to get sick, unable to concentrate, angry and/or depressed—real physical and emotional consequences of ‘hunger.’ They were not feeling "insecure" about food -- makes it sound like a Dr. Phil topic of the week. ‘I'm feeling a bit insecure about food today...can we talk?’
“The U.S. is the most affluent country in the world and yet, our federal government spends time and money altering our vocabulary, instead of fixing our problems. Let's stop playing with words and decrease the shame of hunger in America. A few easy ways to start:
“1) Strengthen the Food Stamp Program in the upcoming Federal Farm Bill -- make the application process easier, increase benefit levels, provide flexibility to expand outreach and enrollment incentives to states.
“2) Connect more children to child nutrition programs, such as school breakfast, summer meals, child care food and after-school snacks and meals.
“3) Boost family incomes through strategies like an increased minimum wage and refundable tax credits for low-income workers.
“4) Expand funding for meal programs for low-income Seniors, particularly deliveries to homebound elderly and disabled.”
But Liz, Liz – do you actually think programs like this will come from those wonderful Bush administration folks who brought you “very low food security?”
Don’t hold your breath.
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
“We are in the business of using language persuasively,” says Lester Wunderman, founder of the advertising agency that bears his name.
“We constantly search for those appropriate and explicit words and phrases that will arouse interest and trigger action.
“When we do that, we are not just another part of our industry but of a special and unique group of imaginative and sensitive individuals who constantly strive to create effective, persuasive and even, on occasion, beautiful prose and poetry.” http://lesterchroniclesblog.wunderman.com/
That's mighty hifalutin’ talk for a guy whose company made its bones churning out junk mail and those 800-number TV commercials. But at least the thought seemed to have some validity when Lester was actually minding the store. In better times the Wunderman agency had a reputation for being a class act – or at least as much of a class act as you can have in the direct marketing business.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN,
LESTER HAS LEFT THE BUILDING
These days Lester, now “way up there” in years, is no longer running the place. Oh sure, he still helps front for the agency and even writes a blog for it, from which I’ve taken his comments on sensitive individuals and beautiful poetry. But one glance at the advertising associated with the shop tells you that somebody less august than Lester is running the place today.
Take the ad shown above, for KnowledgeBase Marketing®, which proudly bills itself as “a Wunderman company.” Was this vulgar piece of poop-in-your-face communication written at some far-away subsidiary office (say in Dallas) or at the Wunderman nerve center at 285 Madison Avenue in New York?
It doesn’t matter. Either way somebody in top management was snoozing at the switch when the ad got approved – and remains asleep at the switch even today. After all, the ad has run over and over again in direct marketing trade magazines. Presumably, agency management reads the trades about their own industry. Or can they read?
They certainly can’t read well enough to recognize bad writing when it smacks them in the chops. The author of this ad has a wee bit of trouble with his syntax. He means to say you should talk to KnowledgeBase Marketing if you’re having trouble increasing the percentage of readers and viewers who respond to your advertising. Instead, tangled in a web of ain’t-I-clever puns and mangled metaphors, he writes, “If upping your response rate is keeping you awake at night, talk to us. Rest assured, you’ll see your prospects in a whole new light.”
Well, at least you can figure out without gnashing your teeth what he means to say.
SORRY, YOU’LL HAVE GRIT YOUR TEETH
TO PLOW THROUGH THIS NEXT BIT
It’s a bit more of a brow-wrinkling exercise to plow through the Wunderman ad agency website. Getting through the prose there is like paddling against a current of molten tar. You’ll discover juicy tidbits such as:
“Customer data yield the insights and knowledge we need to help clients create meaningful customer dialogues in every media and at every customer opportunity. And we do it with a creative flair. Wunderman conceives, builds and runs the infrastructures around the communications we develop -research, databases, campaign management tools, all of it. We immerse ourselves in our clients' infrastructures as well, to become a total marketing partner.” http://www.wunderman.com/working/53.asp
THE DADA OF ADVERTISING
Nevermind that the Wunderman website’s techno-jargon brutally obfuscates whatever the hell it is they’re trying to say. (Yeah, yeah, you’ve probably decoded it if you read it carefully enough, but did you want to?)
Pretentiously fuzzy communication was on the verge of becoming the dominant discipline at Wunderman some years ago, when some fool briefly changed their honorable company name to “Impiric.” Eventually, wiser heads changed the name back and saved the agency from its neo-Dadaist approach to self-branding.
A brief aside: once upon a time there was a direct marketing advertisement for the mail order Sherwin Cody School of English. Written by the late John Caples, an advertising copywriter who truly knew how to write clearly and compellingly, the ad’s headline asked its readers, “Do you make these common mistakes in English?”
Maybe that ad ought to be required reading for every Wunderman employee.
AND ONE MORE THING:
A POST SCRIPT ON PLAGIARISM
P.S. The Wunderman “up yours” headline can’t even claim the virtue of originality. Back in the 1950s, a New York subway car poster featured a clean-cut guy wearing a skinny tie and a snap brim hat, holding up three fingers. The headline, for an interest-bearing bank account, read, “I upped my income 3% last year. Up yours!”
An old advertising pro, now deceased, once confided in me that he was part of the mischievous team at the Ted Bates advertising agency that created that first Up Yours ad. And yes, they absolutely understood that they had written a double entendre. They wanted to see if they could get away with it, he told me. The joke was meant to be on the client. But with the passage of years, he at least had the good sense to feel slightly ashamed of himself.
These days, the joke is on the agency that panders to the mentality of an 11-years-old juvenile delinquent who has just learned a vulgar new phrase.
Sunday, December 10, 2006
So Colonel Alexander Litvinenko, the whistle blowing Russian spy, died of Polonium poisoning after dining with his buddies in a London restaurant, and now some of his dinner companions are also poisoned.
Investigators found the poisoning came from radioactive Polonium, which somehow made it into either Litvinenko's sushi, or his cocktail, or his cigarette. Since then, Geiger counters have been going off all over London. Creepy, right?
Nah, not in Sheffield, England, where a restaurant called Polonium is doing a pack-‘em’in business since the poisoning scandal. http://www.breitbart.com/news/2006/12/04/061205005849.uzua3100.html
An otherwise undistinguished restaurant hasn’t done this well on horrifying publicity since the mob rubout of Crazy Joe Gallo at Umberto’s Clam House here in New York’s Little Italy. The restaurant lived on its bad reputation for years.
There’s nothing like a slight frisson of deathly fear to enhance a meal, whether it’s fear of Polonium poisoning or of a stray mafia bullet. And the French think wine is the appetite-enhancing aperitif? Lillet is lovely, but it's no match for a dead customer.
Somehow all this brings to mind the ancient limmerick:
A diner while dining in Crewe
Found quite a large mouse in his stew;
Said the waiter, “Don’t shout and wave it about
Or the rest will be wanting one, too.”
Thursday, December 07, 2006
Somebody sent me this photograph about a year ago. What a great idea to help pay for the Iraq war!
You see, this is a greedy America we now occupy. In exchange for a wad of bucks shoved into some team owner’s pocket, baseball parks and football stadiums will shun stirring up any civic pride that comes from naming ball fields after their teams and cities. Instead, we’re now naming these places after voracious banks and corrupt companies.
Fortunately, the sponsored name lasts only as long as the money flows. Remember Astros Field in Houston, named after the team that actually played there? Greed and corporate egotism changed the name to Enron Field, which in turn changed, ahem, to Minute Maid Park. Want to cheer for a glass of orange juice?
One of the blessings of a nation ruled by greedy egotism (or is it egotistical greed?) is that loyalty has the approximate longevity of a container of yogurt left out in the sun. I know a university that will name a building after you in exchange for a king’s ransom. But dare to die and in two shakes of King Midas’ wand they’ll take your name off the building and replace it with the name of the next deep-pocketed donor.
So as long as America is up for sale, how about selling military ranks to corporate sponsors? Think of the tax cuts some hack politician could take credit for if, say, McDonalds starts paying for military uniforms instead of the Department of Defense.
It will take some getting used to, but army privates will hereafter be known as McNuggets. Generals, on the other hand, will be known as Big Macs. Despite protests of sexism, Army nurses will get stuck with the rank of Egg McMuffin.
In the spirit of inter-service competition, the Navy will have a different sponsor. Its former admirals will hereafter be known as Whoppers. Former ensigns will have the rank of Chicken Tenders. Chief Petty Officers will become Big Fish.
Oh, bad news for all you guys wounded in action. You can forget about a purple heart. Instead, they’re going to give you a Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry pin.
What, you’re complaining? Whaddaya want from the government? You want fries with that?
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I only raise this issue because a recent poll by Zogby, the public opinion firm, “found 77 percent of U.S. residents could name two of Snow White's dwarfs, whereas only 24 percent could name two Supreme Court justices.” http://www.sciencedaily.com/upi/?feed=Quirks&article=UPI-1-20060814-19023200-bc-us-popculture.xml
Wait a second, just wait a second! Maybe this country isn’t so dumb after all.
Last night, perhaps as an act of depraved masochism, I was listening to a C-span broadcast of the U.S. Supreme Court proceedings concerning Parents v. Seattle and Meredith v. Jefferson. Both cases have to do with school integration and racial discrimination.
My friends, there were distinct parallels between some of the justices and some of the dwarfs.
Take justice Clarence Thomas. During the spirited Q&A back-and-forth between the justices and the various lawyers representing parents, school districts, and George Bush’s administration (You’d think George would have better things to worry about, like Iraq, but no!) I heard not a peep out of Mr. Justice Thomas.
Now admittedly, I didn’t sit through the whole thing. I didn’t even come in at the very beginning. So it is possible that Clarence cleared his throat at some time during the proceedings. But not to my knowledge.
So why was there not a word from Thomas, who during his confirmation hearing raised the issue of “lynching” to describe descriptions of alleged sexual misbehavior on his part? Surely, you’d think he’s interested in race-related matters.
Unless he was SLEEPY and nodded off. Or DOPEY and didn’t want to sound dumb by asking a dumb question. Or maybe he was just too BASHFUL, a sad state of affairs for a U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
I was surprised how remarkably nasal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg sounded. Perhaps she was a bit SNEEZY and keeping it in with a handkerchief and nasal spray. Because the court proceedings are recorded for broadast, but not recorded on camera, we may never know.
To my surprise, Justice David Souter sounded rather GRUMPY in some verbal dueling with some of the lawyers. Too bad, since I happen to like the way he has come down on most decisions.
I have two nominations for HAPPY, Justices Samuel Alito and John Roberts. Why shouldn’t they be? They fudged, hedged, and stealthed their way into their seats, although one suspects they could have achieved even these feats only in a Republican Congress. Since we no longer have one, they got into office just in time.
Oh listen, I’m not going any further with this. Offer your own nominations. If they’re printable, I’ll post ‘em.
Meanwhile, be of good cheer. Whistle while you work.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Holy Guacamole! Is somebody in the Bloomberg administration or NYPD actually paying attention to the furor?
Just below, you’ll find a rant about cops under the current Mayor Bloomberg and former Mayor Giuliani administrations blaming the victim or failing to arrest the driver when a bicyclist gets killed by a motor vehicle. This has applied even when the cyclist here in New York City was on a protected greenway path where motor vehicles don’t belong.
Well, every rule has an exception – or maybe somebody down at City Hall or police headquarters has been reading this blog and decided to reform. Sad that another life got wasted before this new turn toward some semblance of justice.
At any rate, the exception occurred Friday after a cyclist, Eric Ng, was struck and killed by a reportedly drunk driver who had somehow begun using the bicycle path as a private highway.
The alleged driver was arrested and charged with vehicular manslaughter, reckless endangerment and driving while intoxicated. The details here: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/03/nyregion/03bike.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
Ironically, Mr. Ng was a member of Time’s Up, the bicycle organization that has been an irritating burr in the side of the city's administration.
Friday, December 01, 2006
When cyclists get hurt or killed, Mayor Bloomberg’s NYPD blames the victims – and turns its attention to crazy definitions of “parade”.
One evening last June, a New York City physician named Carl Nacht and his wife went out for a bicycle ride. Cautious about braving traffic, they chose a path along the Hudson River Greenway, a strip of asphalt reserved for bicycle riding, skating and people moving about on foot.
Suddenly a police tow truck from an adjacent highway turned onto the path, colliding with Dr. Nacht. His wife told a reporter from the New York Times that the truck did not yield to him, as required by law. Nacht died of his injuries. (Some of the details here):
BITTER, BITTER IRONY
The Nacht case was one of six collisions between motor vehicles and bicycles that were listed in a written statement submitted to a hearing panel by Richard Rosenthal, a seasoned New York City writer who specializes in cycling sports and bicycle industry-related matters. The panel was meeting to consider new regulations concerning how pedestrians and cyclists could be arrested for “parading.” Rosenthal’s statement was deliciously redolent of sarcasm and irony. He wrote:
“The history of the police department's proposed amendment …of the Rules of the City of New York—a parade consists of two people!—betrays the real reason for it and belies any claim it is simply to better control and enforce obstruction of traffic and going through red lights ...The department shows itself to be blatantly and transparently hypocritical in floating the canard that the purpose for this is anything other than to create a nuisance and to harass, intimidate, and impede a section of the New York cycling community.”
RIDE IN GROUPS AND YOU’RE BUSTED.
RIDE ALONE AND YOU’RE DEAD.
Rosenthal’s statement enumerated some of the ways Michael Bloomberg’s cops (and Rudy Giuliani’s cops before Bloomberg) routinely failed to seek punishment for drivers who kill bicyclists when they’re pedaling along alone or nearly alone, even as the police attempt to punish bicyclists who have the nerve to ride together in groups.
Of the Nacht death – a case of negligent homicide the way I see it – Rosenthal wrote with considerable cynicism, citing newspaper headlines and the traffic rule a driver had violated:
“A New York Times story about the incident was headlined, ‘Bicyclist Hurt in Collision With Tow Truck’. The article spoke of his injuries (Dr. Nacht died a day later) ‘when he collided with a Police Department tow truck, the police said yesterday.’ The driver was not ticketed [despite] The New York State Traffic & Vehicle Law, §1143: The driver of a vehicle about to...cross a roadway...shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching on the roadway to be crossed.
“Note the police report: the bike collided with the truck. It's pretty much always this way in police reports: bikes collide with cars, cabs, buses, and trucks. Cars, cabs, buses, and trucks never collide with bikes. This is because cyclists habitually ram their 23 lb. vehicles into multi-ton speeding pieces of steel.”
THE FULL CHAMBER OF HORRORS
It’s worth reading Rosenthal’s full litany of violent bicycle “accidents” and violated rules that went unpunished, because police under the last two Republican mayor administrations have done nothing more than shrug at them.
Remember, this is the same police department that pumps 50 bullets into a van full of unarmed people, but then spends its time worrying about bicyclists and pedestrians who have the temerity to walk or ride together in groups.
SPEED AND KILL A DISTINGUISHED SCIENTIST?
NOT A PROBLEM TO NEW YORK COPS.
• “July 12, 1997, Dr. Rachel Fruchter, 57, a graduate of Oxford and Rockefeller Univ. Ph.D., a biochemist, a professor of obstetrics, and a researcher into gynecological cancer and the epidemiology of cancer, was cycling in Prospect Park in Brooklyn when she was struck from behind and killed by a van driver driving well over the speed limit, as police reconstructed the scene. He was not permitted to be on the park road as he was. He was ticketed, but not for that. He was ticketed only for equipment failure.”
CARELESSLY DRIVEN LIMO
KILLS RIDER? TOUGH LUCK!
• “A few years ago, a cyclist was riding south on South Street. A limousine driver was driving north. The limousine driver made a left hand turn into the cyclist killing him. The driver was not ticketed. The police could not bestir themselves to cite him for violating the New York State Vehicle & Traffic law, § 1141: The driver of a vehicle intending to turn to the left...shall yield the right of way to any vehicle...so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. “
BANK EXAMINER KILLED.
RIDICULOUS EXCUSE ACCEPTED.
• “April 30, 2005, Jerome Allen, a 58 year old New York State senior bank examiner, and very experienced cyclist, was on a solo, evening ride in Staten Island. If the reported story told by the 23 year old driver who killed him, Anthony Tasso, Jr., is to be believed, Allen would seem to have been riding his bike as fast as Lance Armstrong. That, or it would seem Anthony was content to drive his uncle's, Joseph Tasso's, Lexus SUV (with an out-of-state license plate) on an otherwise empty, well-paved, six-lane road… [at]. 18 MPH, which more than strains credulity. In either case, according to a report, young Tasso claimed Allen saw fit to suddenly swerve in front of him as they were riding side-by-side. That doesn't pass the laugh test. Tasso, who was driving on a suspended license that he neglected to have re-instated, was not even ticketed. The failure of the police to conduct a serious investigation has seriously hindered and prejudiced claims arising from this.
STRUCK FROM BEHIND?
MAYBE HIS BUTT WAS TOO BIG.
• “September 24, 2005, 14 year old Andre Anderson was cycling near his home in Far Rockaway, Queens when he was hit from behind by another 23 year old, Jose Vicens, driving another luxury SUV, this one a Lincoln Navigator. (See: http://rightofway.org/) Vicens was not ticketed. The police could not bestir themselves to cite him for violating NY State Vehicle & Traffic Law §1122, which enjoins drivers from aggressive passing.”
RIDER’S LEG CRUSHED.
BLOOMBERG’s COPS YAWN.
• “June 20, 2006, a man was riding his bike on Tenth Ave. at 44th Street. A cab driver opened his door into him. He swerved to avoid hitting it-or after hitting it-and had his leg crushed by a bus. The cab driver was not ticketed. The police could not bestir themselves to enforce the New York State Traffic and Vehicle Law, §1214: No person shall open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so, and can be done without interfering with the movement of other traffic.”
WHY ALL THIS MATTERS
OUTSIDE OF NEW YORK CITY
I hope America is watching as closely as some of us New Yorkers are watching. Both Michael Bloomberg and Rudolph Giuliani’s names have been mentioned in connection with the next Republican nomination for President. They’ve spent considerable effort polishing their images – but neither politician, when you get into it, seems to give a hang about their constituents’ lives and limbs.
Instead, the current Mayor Bloombereg makes inroads into normal citizens’ civil rights under the First Amendment under the name of “traffic control” – except he has no interest in controlling traffic that kills people.
And the former mayor? Well speaking of the First Amendment, Giuliani once threatened to cut off city funding to a Brooklyn museum because he didn’t approve of one of the pictures hanging in it.
Back in Brooklyn – which happens to be where I grew up – they had a word for this:
Thursday, November 30, 2006
Suppose the radioactive Polonium that poisoned Litvinenko was actually a smuggled nuclear bomb? Boom!
I came back from Europe last August complaining bitterly that wary airport security officials in Frankfurt made me squirt my own prescription nasal spray up my nose. They wanted to, uh, “confirm” that it wasn't explosive.
Then it turned out that Colonel Alexander Litvinenko, the former Russian spy who most probably was poisoned by henchmen of Russian head honcho Vladimir Putin, was done in by radioactive Polonium – not by Thalium, as originally suspected and as I reported. See “the lunatic who came in from the soup” here:
Most recently, traces of radioactive Polonium 210 have been found on at least two British Airways jets.
The Times reports today that it’s “not clear” how the radioactively hot stuff got onto the airplanes in the first place. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/30/world/europe/01spycnd.html?hp&ex=1164949200&en=210f59188877aad4&ei=5094&partner=homepage
Well dudes, that’s the life-or-death question. While airport security folks are busy sniffing shoes for plastique and examining 1 ounce nasal spray bottles for teensy-weensy explosives, some diabolical genius could walk aboard an airplane with a nuclear device, detonate it over London or New York, and turn all of us into radioactive cinders.
I don’t want to belittle the damage that an ounce of nasal spray could do in the right hands. I mean, it could paralyze sinuses from here to Kirkuk.
But for goodness sakes, do you mean to tell me that after all this time since 9/11, they still don’t have Geiger counters passively screening passengers as they walk through airport security – not to mention Geiger counters screening checked luggage?
Oh, sorry, I forgot. We only screen for whatever happened last week.
Well, folks, that’s how the bad guys are gonna get us. Not by smuggling in things we’re looking for. They’re going to get us with what we don’t bother looking for because it’s too much trouble or too expensive. Or because our security people are too lazy to think of it.
Speaking of which, there's a program in the works to give business travelers who pay $100 an “easy pass” to avoid airport security. Nice idea – on the surface.
But what’s to stop an Alchaida bellhop in London from slipping a small nuclear something-or-other into the traveling patsy’s bag, which will then speed through security unexamined, it's telephone-activated trigger cocked?
Thanks to the Polonium flub-a-dub, we now all know there's evidently nothing to stop nuclear luggage. The privileged passenger turns into an A-bomb bomb delivery system. Or at least a dirty bomb delivery system that could poison half the citizens of any good sized city. Are we going to wait until it happens before we install airport geiger counters and repeal these stupid "easy passes." My guess is...
Monday, November 27, 2006
As I write this, a public “hearing” into a new Police Department regulation defining a “parade” is going on in New York’s City Hall.
But don’t expect the police high brass or the city’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg (shown at right with a deserved Hitler mustasche) to be listening.
They’ve got their hands full with a police riot that led to a gang of rampaging cops firing 50 shots – most of them into a van full of unarmed passengers, a few into nearby objects. One passenger is dead, killed the night before his wedding.
No no, I’m not claiming Mayor Bloomberg, or his police commissioner Raymond Kelly, actually ordered the shootings. On the contrary, instead of keeping a watchful gaze on the anti-crime operations of a police force noted for shooting first and asking “What the hell are we doing?” second, (remember Amadou Dialo, who committed the fatal crime of waving his wallet?)
they’ve been busy redefining what a parade means.
TIME'S UP DEMONSTRATES,
EVERYBODY GETS PUNISHED
Apparently, the cops are so bugged by a ragtag group called Time’s Up that holds unruly street demonstrations on bicycles, they’ve decided to outlaw the peaceful congregation of any group of 30 or more people for any reason at all unless the cops give them a permit to "parade." (If the connective logic of this eludes you, you're not alone, but that's the Bloomberg Administration for you.) You say that meanwhile other cops are gunning down unarmed citizens? Never mind that. Let’s fix the unauthorized parade problem.
This is remarkable, because it makes New York City one of the few places in the world where the cops, not a legislative body, write the rules and then enforce them. Well, actually Nazi Germany did that, too.
So the new regulations, theoretically “under consideration” essentially appear to be a done deal. They “would allow the police to arrest any group of 30 or more cyclists or pedestrians for ‘parading without a permit’, even if they are obeying all traffic laws. Groups of as few as 10 cyclists or pedestrianscould also be arrested, if a police officer decides that the cyclists or pedestrians have violated a traffic rule for ‘more than two city blocks’.
Now, there’s not even language in the so called regulation defining what these people have to be doing, aside from walking or riding in a group.
TOURISTS TAKE NOTE:
NY COPS CAN BUST YOU
AND THROW YOUR BUTT
If your kid, for example, is part of a class trip to New York, and there are 31 people in the group, they can be arrested just for being together without a permit. (A good reason why the class might want to visit, say, Montreal instead.)
Angry recreational bicycle riders, who have nothing to do with Time’s Up but who often ride in groups of more than 30 on their way out of the city, could also be arrested just for riding together without a permit.
If ten of you come to New York and you’re crossing the street, and one lags a bit and the light turns red, you all can be arrested under the proposed police regulations.
In other words, the new regulations of Mayor Bloomberg’s NYPD will punish everybody who happens to live in, visit or do business in New York in order to get even with a small band of unruly political demonstrators.
This reminds calls to mind what the Nazis did during WWII. If a Nazi officer was killed by a sniper in a village, they’d grab 50 villagers – involved in the sniping or not – line them up against the wall, and shoot them.
YOU CAN FIGHT IT IN COURT AND WIN
IF YOU'RE BUSTED, BUT IT'LL COST YOU
Fortunately, the New York Courts have been shooting down these insane Bloomberg Administration police regulations as fast as the cops can write them and then arrest somebody for violating them.
And the under-the-breath whisper one hears in defense of these Nazi-like edicts is that the law will be enforced selectively. In other words, “we’re only going to arrest people we don’t like.” Which of course, is the very soul of the fascist idea.
Besides, mistakes get made. Do you want to be the one who gets arrested and fingerprinted and spends the night in a crowded prison cell reeking of urine before your case comes up for judicial review? Want to spend the many, many thousands of dollars involved in appealing your case?
There’s no point complaining to Michael Bloomberg. As I said, he’s not listening. He isn’t the slightest bit interested in listening. And he’s too busy right now – trying to wipe up the stuff that hit the fan when his cops went on another rampage – to listen even if he wanted to.
But do us New Yorkers a favor, because we have to live here full time with these police state rules. When you cancel your hotel stay, restaurant reservations or theater tickets in New York, send in a printout or e-mail to the vendor or a cut-and-paste of this article along with your cancellation.
The one thing short of mass minority outrage over a police homicide that seems to get the Mayor’s attention is the possibility that the city is losing business.
Let New York businesses know what this mayor is really costing them.
Friday, November 24, 2006
This morning’s headlines shout with alarm that Hugo Chavez is leading in Venezuela’s presidential elections.
Yeah, yeah, I know. He’s not only a populist and a nationalist but maybe even a Marxist. Even worse – horror of horrors – he branded President Bush with the mark of Satan, declaring Bush to be “the devil” and telling the UN back in September, “I smell sulfur.”
What’s the best way to deal with the Chavez anti-United States stance?
Nobody in the present regime in Washington is going to listen to this, but the best ploy is to reach down and give Chavez a great big bear hug. Love him to ruination.
As we finally learned in Viet Nam after a war that wasted thousands of American lives… as we finally learned in China, to which we now go to finance President Bush’s regime of financial mismanagement…nations busy gobbling up wealth at the groaning board of commerce have no time to plunge full time into Marxist dialectic and major league repression.
And they’re certainly not going to bite the hand that feeds them.
The quickest way to undo Fidel Castro’s form of Marxism would have been to trade with him and readdict Cuba to U.S. price supports for sugar. Similarly, Chavez's economy ought to get force fed by us like a Strassbourg goose. Ditto a roomful of Latin American nations whose poverty and inequities of wealth feed their anti-Uncle-Sam-ism.
Of course, just as it has elsewhere, the Bush administration will go in exactly the wrong direction on Chavez. I wouldn’t be completely taken by surprise if some White House directed agency attempts the overthrow or assassination of Chavez, once again aping James Bond and the Russian secret police.
No no, guys. Believe me. You don’t want to off Chavez. You want to seduce him.
But what to I know compared to that genius, Boy George?
Our last post had Russian Colonel Alexander Litvinenko lying ill in a London hospital after having been poisoned – presumably by Russian agents – with thallium.
Litvinenko died yesterday. And the poison, whatever it was, turned out not to be thallium after all. Nobody seems to know what it was. Livinenko’s final words: “The bastards got me, but they won’t get everybody.”
Monday, November 20, 2006
So perhaps you’ve been reading about former Russian spy and critic of the current Moscow regime, Colonel Alexander Litvinenko (picture at right), who was poisoned with a deadly chemical called thallium in London.
As I write this, Litvinenko is in an intensive care unit with a 50-50 chance of survival. If you’re not up on the story, go here: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061120/ap_on_re_eu/britain_russian_spy
The news reports bring to mind a woman I met outside the United Nations building years ago – while the late premier of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev, was inside scandalizing the planet by taking off one of his shoes and disruptively banging it on a desk in front of the world’s diplomats.
A GREAT YEAR FOR CRAZY STUFF
This was in October of 1960. It was a very good year for nutty things to happen – from shoe banging to Fidel Castro slaughtering his own chickens in a Harlem hotel – and I was on top of the nutcase situation when I met Sylvia Krause.
I was a reporter at the time for one of New York’s daily newspapers. Sylvia Krause was an antiques dealer. The first time I saw her she was walking around in one of the pens made of saw horses, erected across the street from the UN by cops trying to control the insanity. The various pens were spaces reserved for legitimate protestors and for severe nut cases. You name it and they had it penned up:
There was a man dressed in a bear costume, goose-stepping. There were angry survivors of the Soviet-induced famine in the Ukraine back in 1932-33. There were enraged Hungarians. There were anti-Castro Cubans. And then there was Sylvia Krause.
Sylvia was carrying a sign that said something like “Russian Spies Poisoned Roosevelt. Who’s next?”
“Are you talking about Franklin Delano Roosevelt?” I asked her.
THE SOVIET HIT LIST
“Oh yes,” she said, “and they didn’t stop with Roosevelt.” She ticked off a list of more than a dozen celebrities from the world of politics and the movies whom the Kremlin had bumped off with poison.
“Why movie people?” I asked.
“Because they were anti-Communist,” Sylvia replied.
What immediately struck me was that, like Roosevelt, all of the “victims” had been reported dead of natural causes when their obituaries appeared in the newspapers.
“How do you know they were poisoned?” I asked.
THE SECRET AGENTS IN YOUR SOUP
“The Russians have secret agents working as waiters all over the world,” Krause explained, “and when someone they want to kill comes in for lunch, they put poison in their soup. That’s how they got…” and she listed the names of half a dozen more deceased celebrities.
“But how do you know this for a fact?” I asked.
Because they tried to poison ME!” she said.
“Then how come you’re not dead?”
“Because I realized they had poisoned my soup, and right there in the restaurant, I stuck my finger down my throat and threw up.”
I loved the imagery, so I wrote a short feature story about her. In those days, stories were typed on actual paper rather than into a computer. Next they were carried by a “copy boy” to the desk of a city editor, who edited them with a fat lead pencil. Unwanted stories ended up “spiked” – literally impaled on a brass spike that sat atop the city editor’s desk.
I watched forlornly as, across the city room, my Sylvia Krause story got spiked faster than a secret agent can say “thallium bromium arsenic chromium.”
Sylvia Kruase operated her antiques business, The Carriage Antique Shop, in a townhouse on East 70th Street near Lexington Avenue. In the course of poking around for information, I learned that she had been leafleting students at nearby Hunter College concerning those poisonous secret Soviet agents. Evidently, many of the students had encountered her and were fond of coming into her shop between classes just to torment her.
THE LIST OF VICTIMS GROWS
A few years later, I wandered past her shop again. There were no longer any antiques in her shop window. The window contained only a spotlight shining down on a photograph of the late President John F. Kennedy. Seems that Sylvia learned the Soviets had poisoned JFK's soup, too. The grassy knoll, Texas Book Depository and Lee Harvey Oswald? Those were just fabrications to throw you off the track, Sylvia explained.
Her new list of secret Soviet poisoning victims included Marilyn Monroe and John Foster Dulles.
As you might expect, an antiques dealer who spends her time tracking down Russian poisonings rather than displaying, buying and selling antiques is doomed to financial failure. She went out of business soon after. Way out of business.
OUR TALE ENDS NOT ONLY SADLY—
BUT ALSO WITH A SHUDDER
In 1970 I came across her again, grimy and a bit ragged looking, at the base of a flight of steps at the Seventh Avenue entrance of Pennsylvania Station in New York. She was begging for coins, shaking a bent and filthy Styrofoam cup, but still displaying a sign – this one written in crayon on a piece of corrugated coardboard – denouncing Soviet poisonings. By then, she appeared to be about 50.
I never saw her after that. I doubt that she is still alive. Even if her life had remained comfortable, she’d most probably be in her late 90s by now. I assume that she died somewhere on the street and was buried at the potter’s field on Hart’s Island, where the city rids itself of the remains of its homeless.
But now there’s the case of Col. Alexander Litvinenko, evidently poisoned in a London restaurant. And the hair stands up on the back of my neck.
I mean, you just have to wonder: did Sylvia Krause really know something after all?
Saturday, November 18, 2006
The blog Overheard In New York publishes some hits and some misses, but this one is a super-triple-extra bonus home run. With their encouragement, I just had to run it here
As Long as We Maintain a Sense of Smug Superiority, We'll Make It
Blonde #1: You know her parents are letting her study abroad next semester?
Blonde #2: Really? Where?
Blonde #1: Ummm, this place that's near, like... Russia. Like, in China?
Blonde #2: Japan?
Blonde #1: No. Well, yeah, Japan's in China, but that's not the one she's going to.
Blonde #2: India!
Blonde #1: No, but oh my god I totally just remembered! It's New Zealand!
Blonde #2: New Zealand's not in Russia, it's in Australia, stupid.
Overheard by: MistressSilver
via Overheard in New York, Nov 18, 2006
Thursday, November 16, 2006
Boy, you might have known it. The Conservative faction of Op-Ed Alley at the New York Times has taken up arms against the movie “Borat.”
Both John Tierny –sometimes a dead spot-on columnist and sometimes a dead-wrong one – and David Brooks – a conservative pundit who rarely manages to write engagingly about anything or anybody – have attacked Borat.
I guess that since the Republican Party fell into a poo-pot of their own making on Election Day, neither of these guys wants to natter on about the political situation when they can pick on a cheaply-made comic movie instead.
In case you’ve just arrived here from a long journey in outer space, let me explain that the movie Borat, (full name: “Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan”) is one of those split-your-sides-and-roll-in-the-aisles films that come along perhaps once a generation. The last one that I can remember before Borat was Animal House, and before that the very first Pink Panther movie.
RUSTIC BOOBS TURN OUT
TO BE RUSTIC BOOBS
The premise is that a rustic boob from a backward republic comes to America to make a documentary film about life here. The Borat character is such an obvious sendup that only a fool would take him seriously. Among the fools who did (beside Tierney and Brooks) were the people who run Kazakhstan. They were so upset that they went to considerable expense airing a TV spot for several weeks in America, to, uhh, correct the negative impressions of Kazakhstan that might gain currency when the Borat movie opened.
Speak of boobs! The TV spot showed a herd of horses, a quick view of what looks like some grazing buffalo, a pile of rocks, a mosque, a small group of thuggish-looking guys in black suits, a city block somewhere that looks exactly like a city block somewhere, and a fountain somewhere that looks surprisingly like a fountain.
The two sentences of spoken information on the sound track inform us with a grandiose phrase, “Kazakhstan, the heart of Eurasia,” (So what is Turkey, chopped liver?) and an enigmatic question, “Kazakhstan – ever wondered?” No, not really. And why should this TV spot correct your negative impression?
Back at the Times, you’d think the outraged conservative op-ediots would at least come to the defense of poor beleagued Kazakhstan. But no. These guys want to fry Borat in oil – or at least the alter ego that created him, Sacha Baron Cohen. Cohen’s unforgivable crime? Poking fun at the Americans he films in his travels.
Tierney at least touched on a valid point: To make fun of his subjects, the Borat character takes cruel advantage of their sometimes good-natured gullibility. This does create some laughs that are a bit on the edgy side, although Cohen makes almost as much fun of himself – in scenes that range from Borat in a ridiculously revealing bathing suit to Borat and his hairy manager in a nude wrestling match.
However, both Tierney and Brooks seem to be fuming – Brooks more expansively so – at what they evidently see as a form of liberal “snobbism” behind the movie.
EXPENSIVE IRE – FOR A CHEAP SHOT AT LIBERALS
I would list a URL for you here but sad to say, access to both columns is by special New York Times for-pay subscription only. You have to shell out to read these cheap shots at comedy on line. Personally, I consider this either a desperate attempt by the Times to make these columnists earn their keep, or an equally desperate attempt to hide them from view as much as possible.
Brooks is self-righteously irate. If I read the gassy bubbles in his boiling ire correctly, he’s upset that yet another effete intellectual snob (an English one at that) has made fun of stock objects of heartland ridicule such as a gun dealer and drunken frat boys.
But wait! Borat asks the gun dealer which weapon he should buy to “kill Jews” and the gun dealer helpfully points to the proper weapon for blowing somebody’s head off. Why isn’t Brooks irate at the gun dealer for not responding to this request by hurriedly calling the cops and saying, “Hey, I might have a psychopathic murderer in my store and he’s trying to buy a lethal weapon.” Isn’t a guy who would enable a cold-blooded murderer worthy of at least some ridicule? The nerve of that movie to make fun of somebody who’d help you blow the head off a perfect stranger!
Borat’s depiction of the frat boys – who come across as two foul, drunken slobs – also ignited Brooks’ fury because they are the kinds of stock characters Brooks has been hearing about all his life. Maybe Brooks has watched Animal House so many times that the entire topic of frat house swine bores him. But unlike Animal House, these frat boys are authentically swine-like, not some fictional caricatures cooked up by a bunch of Lampoon writers.
The frat boys are now suing Cohen. They claim the racist and sexist remarks they made were spoken with the understanding that the film would only be shown outside of the United States. Evidently, they seem to think it’s perfectly fine to spew racism and sexism around the rest of the world.
They also claim that before the cameras rolled they were taken to a bar and given booze by the film crew. Oh, those poor 250 lbs.-or-so babies! Did all those effete intellectual snobs stick a gun in your ear and force you to down jello-shots? If not, where’s the beef, other than on your fat heads?
The lawsuit claims, “The film ‘made plaintiffs the object of ridicule, humiliation, mental anguish and emotional and physical distress, loss of reputation, goodwill and standing in the community.’”
All of which those two prejudiced porkers seem roundly to deserve.
There are several other examples of pure red blooded American bigotry in the film, but if you haven’t witnessed them yet, I won’t spoil things by telling you more about them.
COLUMNIST SENT INTO EXILE
Instead, I’ll end with some positive news. Tierney’s op-ed column is about to become history. Instead, he will move to the Science Times pages, writing on science subjects. For a writer who has enjoyed the kind of exposure and unfettered range of subject matter that Tierney once had in Op-Ed, thi smust be the equivalent of deportation to Kazakhstan.
As for David Brooks – maybe he should take a real journalist’s tour of Kazakhstan and report back on what life there is really like. That might lead to a Brooks column that actually offers some interesting content.
Monday, November 13, 2006
What has the dunce in the White House learned from the spanking voters just gave him? Nothing, nothing, nada, zilch, zip!
A dunce is a dunce.
Yeah, Rumsfeld’s history. But the W and his merry band of Bushniks seem to think that all they need to do is change a face in the cabinet and everything will get all better again.
Substantial changes? Forget about it. These guys plan to shuck and jive ‘till the cows come home to avoid changing anything they’ve always been doing. Consider how they're trampling on the Bill of Rights -- the sort of thing we're supposed to be fighting for.
The Associated Press reports: “The Bush administration said Monday that Guantanamo Bay prisoners have no right to challenge their detentions in civilian courts and that lawsuits by hundreds of detainees should be dismissed.
“In court documents filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the Justice Department defended the military's authority to arrest people oversees and detain them indefinitely without access to courts.”
Speaking of the Associated Press, one of their photographers has been locked up for – well, there’s open suspicion it’s for doing his job as a combat photographer, although the Pentagon claims otherwise.
Says the American Journalism Review, “The U.S. says Bilal Hussein has links to terrorists. The outraged AP implores the Pentagon to charge him or free him.”
Oh yes, a small matter: The photographer is a Pulitzer Prize winner.
The military had three secret meetings about the photographer, but refused to tell him specifically what he's charged with. He’s been behind bars for over seven months.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Tribune reports that while the Bush administration says it’s willing to take a “fresh” look at Iraq it’s not fresh enough to change the administration’s “policy” of “achieving success there” – whatever the hell that means.
It seems to mean they’re not leaving until the Iraqi government announces it can defend itself – which that government is not going to do as long as we’re determined to stay “as long as it takes.”
Stick with the Bush policy and 50 years from now it’ll all be the same. We’ll still be mired down in Iraq. American lives will still be getting wasted needlessly. The lights and tap water from Kirkuk to Bagdad still won’t work. The Bushniks ain’t changing nuttin’ if they can help it.
Looks like the spanking administered by American voters has done nothing to improve our nation’s World Class Dunce.
See, all those child psychology people who say spanking doesn’t work are right.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Since almost nothing’s as nauseating as a wonky recap of political history, I’ll spare you reams of historic details. Suffice it to say that not so many decades ago, the American center was in favor of a robust Social Security system with defined benefits. The center was in favor of Medicare, in favor of graduated taxes, in favor of much higher taxes for the most highly-paid individuals than we have today, in favor of mutual sacrifice for the future of America.
What do we have now? Thanks to the Republican Greed-Is-Good crowd, not a single politician I know of – left, right or so-called center – dares to say, “We need a tax increase for the good of the United States of America and future Americans.” The word “sacrifice?” Count on most people to sacrifice somebody else’s chicken, and then only to Mammon, the god of greed.
If you’re a candidate running as a Democrat and you oppose reducing taxes, you’re “hopelessly liberal.” More spending? Sure, say the Greedniks, especially if it's money spent in Iraq. Taxes to pay for the spending? The Greedniks assume the money will materialize magically from a galaxy far, far away. (My own suspicion is that the Bush administration is secretly printing money to pay its own bills, gradually moving the value of the dollar, in the direction of the value of toilet paper.)
The Democrats, at least recently, have been overly careful to watch what they say ( except for Gaffing John Kerry.) I’m not certain whether the latest election will change that. House Democrats are talking about bipartisanship. As of this writing, control of the Senate is iffy at best, and Republicans in the White House and the judiciary seem to be sticking to their guns. Which leaves nobody standing up for America and our nation’s future prosperity, or sweating over the terrible debt we’re placing on our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
HEREWITH, A NEW DEFINITION
OF THE POLITICAL CENTER
We need to move the political center a few feet to the left. Hereafter, let’s define the center the way it should be defined. Here’s are some of the key commonsense things that real “centrists” believe:
1. ON WAR
As a centerist, you have to believe in Colin Powell’s doctrine of going into combat only with “overwhelming force.” In war, as in almost everything else, you get what you pay for. Right now we’re paying for a losing proposition in Iraq. This has been said many times before but it’s worth repeating: It’s taking us longer to drown in the mire of Iraq than it did to win World War II. Don’t you get the feeling that history and current events are telling us something?
2. ON GETTING THE U.S. INTO WAR
It’s a no-brainer that any time you get into a war, people get killed, wounded and horribly maimed, and that the loss is financial as well as human. Therefore, war should be conducted only in the gravest and clearly tangible circumstances.
Anyone proved to have gotten the United States into war on a pretext such as non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” – thus robbing the United States of citizens’ lives and of economic treasure for no valid reason – has committed a deed equivalent to treason and ought to be tried and, if found guilty, punished with according severity.
3. ON TAXATION
If you are truly in favor of capitalism, you have to be in favor of graduated federal income tax with extremely high taxes on the highest incomes that paid to officers of public corporations. Here’s why:
Taxation does more than raise money for Federal projects. Properly applied, taxation also controls rapacious and clearly anti-capitalist behavior, such as looting corporate treasuries, thus directly robbing the companies’ owners – the stockholders. Another example: The Ken Lay Maneuver – committing fraud to prevent stockholders from selling out and cutting their own losses. Taxation should make it pointless to take more than about $2 million a year in total compensation out of any public company. If that means a 97% tax bracket on CEO incomes over $2 million, tax the greedy bastards!
You’ll hear the CEOs who make $50 a minute – that’s a minute – whine, “But I’ll lose my incentive to work!” Yeah, and so would Willie Sutton, the bank robber. Fine, lose your incentive, be gone and be damned. Meanwhile, maybe your board will recruit an innovative leader who’s more interested in growing a company, innovating new products, and contributing to America’s economic base than he is in stuffing his own bank account.
4. ON SMALL BUSINESS VS. BIG BUSINESS
Americans, Democrats included, seem to have forgotten that the true wellspring of economic growth is the small entrepreneur, not the big business mogul. Job-creating new industries – the ones that grow into the Apples and Microsofts – start in garages, not in executive suites.
Therefore, preferential tax treatment should be given to small companies. And companies that get “too big” – and perhaps we ought to have a national debate over how big “too big” is – ought to be broken up for being the anti-competitive dinosaurs that they are.
5. ON GUNS
True Centerists agree with the U.S. Constitution on the right to bear arms. Specifically, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
Therefore, the Government should, under the Constitution, keep a list of all owners of arms, large and small, to make sure those people are properly enrolled in their militias, now known as the National Guard, and are providing regular service to those militias. Those gun-owning individuals not doing so should be arrested as AWOL or as deserters.
6. ON PRIVATIZED VS. PUBLIC
FUNCTIONS OF GOVERNMENT
The first instance of privatization recorded in American history occurred during the Revolutionary War – fortunately on the British side. Rather than put their own soldiers everywhere, the Brits rented Hessians to do the soldiering for them. It was a lot cheaper, and a lot less upsetting back in England. The result? Of the 17, 000 Hessian soldiers, more than 11,000 were disasters.
• 535 and were reported as killed in action
• 3,014 were reported as deserted or missing
• 2,628 were reported as captured during the war
• 4,983 reported as died of other causes (disease, accidents, etc.)
Incidentally, my source for the privatized Hessian numbers considers these figures to be conservative. By other accounts, Hessians killed in action numbered 1,200.
In any case, the founding fathers learned a lesson: Some government functions, most especially war, are far too important to be left to private enterprise. The lives, security and health of American citizens are too important to be entrusted to a bunch of greedy corporate jerks out to make a buck. If the American Revolution were left to the likes of the today’s Hessians – the Halliburtons and Bechtels –we’d still be singing “God save the Queen.”
Functions reserved to government ought to include not only national defense and local policing but also highway construction and maintenance, the maintenance and expansion of national forests, and health care insurance, to mention only several. It’s a national crime that over 20 cents of every healthcare dollar you spend goes to enrich an insurance company (or more probably its under-taxed CEO) rather than to purchase medication, get you the doctor you need, or support your local hospital and medical school.
7. ON REGULATED INDUSTRIES
Big business is out of control. You can see this almost any time you pick up a newspaper, but moderates ought especially to be outraged that Big Banking is working overtime to drive American citizens into debt that – thanks to Repulican legislation – is becoming harder and harder to escape by declaring bankruptcy.
Puppet Republican legislators, their strings yanked by banking lobbyists, get irate and declare that people ought to pay their credit card debts without recourse to an escape by declaring bankruptcy. The problem is, most bankruptcies in this country are caused not by carelessness but by out-of-control medical bills that can destroy a family. And Republicans don’t seem to give half a damn about that.
How bad is the situation? Credit card interest rates can go as high as 25 percent, and maybe higher under the right circumstances. That’s worse than the rate Legbreaker Louie, the Mafia loan shark, used to charge back in the days when the FBI and the Treasury Department were working overtime to send Louie to the pokey.
Centerists believe in stronger usury laws and stronger limits than we have now on the pursuit of people who’ve fallen in over their heads on debt, usually for no fault worse than trying to pay for the medical care needed to save a family member's life. Incidentally, where are all the “right to life” people when it comes to paying for life-saving healthcare?
7. ON GAY MARRIAGE
Centerists would gladly oppose gay marriage if we could see one iota of harm it does. However, all evidence is that it does no harm at all.
“Defense of Marriage Act?” Defense against what? How does it hurt my heterosexual marriage, or yours, if two gay folks down the block tie the knot? The issue is pure hokum from the get-go, designed to take your mind off issues that really matter to your life and your future.
How come people who don’t want government “meddling” with a life-and-death issue like healthcare suddenly get all worked up about gay marriage? It’s time to get off this piece of crap “issue” and focus on what’s important.
MORE TO COME
When The Crank gets around to it, we’ll have more to say about the center – and about what a good Centerist’s position ought to be on public education and its outrageous cost, on abortion, about pseudo science and its toxic fallout, and more.
Until then, stay centered.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
Hey, I know The New York Crank is up against some heavy competition. If you want oracles with a track record there’s the New York Times/CBS Poll. There’s Zogby. There’s the Marist Poll. There’s Gallup. Unfortunately, here at The New York Crank, we can’t afford the big-name pollsters. We work on a budget so small it could hide under the petty cash box in a newspaper newsroom.
Fortunately, just down the gritty block from our own rodent-infested office, and up a flight of none-too-pristine stairs, we have a local oracle. She prefers not to advertise her name, even on her street sign, so let’s just call her Madame Galzogarist. She offers what she calls (see photograph of sign, above) a “$5 Speical.”
It’s always a bit risky to ask a fortune-teller to see into the future when she can’t even see into a dictionary for the correct spelling of “special.” But in an election year, any prediction is better than no prediction.
HERE’S THE TRANSCRIPT
OF OUR REVEALING SÉANCE
NY CRANK: Hello. I’m here for the $5 special.
MME. G: You want a special? Or you want the spe-i-cal?
NY CRANK: Can you explain the difference?
MME G: Nevermind, just gimme the five. Now whaddya wanna know?
NY CRANK: Can you predict who's going to win the next election?
MME. G: For a lousy five bucks?
NY CRANK: If you call this one correctly, we might have more work for you.
MME. G: Okay, ask me something.
NY CRANK: Hold on a second. Do you have any experience predicting political outcomes?
MME. G: You bet. I have lots of famous clients.
NY CRANK: For example?
MME G: Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. I’m the one who predicted to him that the Iraqis would greet our troops with roses.
NY CRANK: That wasn’t very accurate.
MME G: So what? You never heard of a rosy prediction? Even the CIA and Condi Rice use me.
NY CRANK: For what?
MME G: Who do you think told them about all those weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? Did I mention Dick Cheney? I tell him everything he knows.
NY CRANK: I’m a little nervous about the accuracy of your predictions. What’s your margin of error?
MME G: Plus or minus 97 percent, just as good as the White House. You got a prediction you want for your five bucks or not?
NY CRANK: Okay. First of all, who’s going to win the elections?
MME. G: You askin’ about this district by election district, or in a general sort of way? Because if you want a precinct breakdown, it’s gonna cost you a lot more than five bucks. You got fifty?
NY CRANK: Sorry, we aren’t budgeted for that. In a general sort of way, who’s going to win? Republicans or Democrats?
MME. G: Hmm, let me concentrate on my crystal ball. I see a Democrat sweep, but with a malfunctioning broom.
NY CRANK: What does that mean?
MME G: It means where they win they’re gonna win, and where they lose they’re gonna lose.
NY CRANK: Yes but what do you mean by a malfunctioning broom?
MME. G: I mean Democrats may be right on political issues, but they’ve got a gaffe problem. I mean, tell John Kerry to keep his day job and forget about doing stand-up comedy. Somebody should duct tape his mouth until the elections are over. I mean, tell Howard Dean not to do his whooping cowboy impression any more. He shouted "Eeeyah!" once and we got stuck with John Kerry as a waffling candidate and then four more years of Bush. I mean, in New York, tell Alan Hevesi that the next time his wife wants to go somewhere, hail a cab or call a lobbyist to send a limousine instead of using a a state-chauffeured car. If he’s going to steal, at least steal like a Republican.
NY CRANK: Don’t you think Republicans are guilty of some gaffes, too?
MME G: You mean like Republican Senator George Macaca Allen’s racial slurs? Or are you talkin’ about the fact that the Prez of the U.S. can’t even pronounce “nuclear?” Yeah, Macaca Allen is probably toast. But Kerry’s safe for now because he’s not up for re-election. Goes to show you: It’s not what you say, it’s when you say it.
NY CRANK: Will the Congressional page scandal around former Republican Congressman Mark Foley hurt Republicans in Florida?
MME. G: His former Congressional district right now is as hot as a Republican trolling for sex in a public latrine at midnight. I’d say Republicans can kiss his seat goodbye, if you know what I mean.
NY CRANK: Will the Republican attempt to cover up the Foley scandal have any fallout?
MME. G: Yeah. It'll allow evangelicals to decide whether they want to vote to get us out of the Bush mess in Iraq or vote in favor of more hypocrisy.
NY CRANK: Which way will they go?
MME G: You’re askin’ a helluva a lot for five bucks, but if I were you I’d put my money on hypocrisy.
NY CRANK: I notice campaign advertising is getting dirtier and dirtier. Who will the slime hurt most?
MME. G: Listen, kid, throwing slime is as American as apple pie. That’s why politicians are right up there in the public esteem with used car salesmen and matrimonial lawyers.
NY CRANK: But will the Democrats get hurt more than the Republicans or…
MME G: Nah, at the price you’re paying me, that’s all the predictions you get.
NY CRANK: You mean, you’re not telling me any more?
MME G: Come back any time. But as the Republican candidate said to the lobbyist, be sure to bring lots of money.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Stick out your tongue and say, “Hell no!” Here's why most seniors won’t be fooled by the Bush Administration’s latest Medicare flim-flam attempt
Oh, those doctrinaire free market Bushniks! There they go again, trying to privatize you out of the benefits you’ve worked hard for all your life.
According to a story in the October 30th New York Times, five U.S. Senators and Representatives on committees charged with overseeing Medicare caught the Republican administration at its latest attempt to trick old folks out of taking full advantage of their benefits. The annoyed members of Congress gave it to Health and Human Services secretary Michael O. Leavitt with both barrels.
“The 2007 handbook strongly favors health maintenance organizations, preferred provider organizations and other private Medicare Advantage plans over the traditional Medicare fee-for-service program,” they complained.
They called the handbook’s recommendations “misleading” and “biased.”
IN OTHER WORDS, LIES, LIES, LIES
"Misleading" and "biased" are nice ways of saying, "You're a trash-talking liar." Fortunately, Leavitt won’t fool any senior who at some time in his life had to put up with the requirement that you visit a doctor for permission to visit a different doctor. Or with some clerk making a medical decision about whether you could or could not seek the care or procedure you needed. Or with an HMO telling you the equivalent of, "That procedure's not covered, so drop dead."
Yeah, the Leavitt/Bush Health and Inhuman Services Department points out that some HMOs will pay for your eyeglasses and some dental services. But they fail to point out that the dentistry rarely includes the kinds of dental services you need most late in life, like dental implants to replace lost teeth. Admittedly, getting your teeth cleaned is almost free under some HMO plans – if you have any teeth left to clean by the time they’re done with you.
As for those eyeglasses, well, if you want to choose from the selection of cheesy-looking frames set aside by your HMO, welcome to it, pal. Maybe after that you can get a walk-on part on Ugly Betty.
More important than ugly glasses and limited dental care, your HMO may block you from seeing a specialist who has a more reliable (but more expensive) way of, for example, saving your life than a hack doctor who signed up with a tight-fisted HMO. Remember, insurance companies aren't in business to buy you medical care. Insuranced companies are in business to make the fattest profit they can from your health care premiums, whether you, your employer or the government is paying them.
FROM PERSONAL EXPERIENCE I'LL TELL YOU
IT CAN BE WORTH YOUR LIFE
True story: Two and a half years ago, I had kidney cancer. My HMO doctor had a quick solution. He insisted he had to cut out the kidney, the whole kidney, and nothing but the kidney right away – before he left on vacation.
Fortunately, just at that moment I became old enough for Medicare. I enrolled and then went to see a urological surgeon who really knew his stuff. “No,” said the better surgeon, “it would be a mistake to take out your whole kidney. You have a blood pressure problem, and if the whole kidney goes, the pressure problem will be worse. Besides, you can just cut out the cancer and some of the tissue around it and you’ll be fine. ”
IS FREE TOOTH POLISHING WORTH
DEATH BY CANCER? YOU DECIDE.
So the surgery was done laparoscopically, saving 90 percent of the kidney and weeks of recovery time. And I’m cured. It's more than two years later and MRI tests show there's no kidney cancer left in my body.
You want to trade that kind of medical care for an HMO surgeon who’s in a rush to hack out your kidney, and a pair of free eyeglasses to go with your cheap false choppers? Do you think any member of the Bush family would settle for that? Do you think Secretary Leavitt would settle for that for himself? If you do, sign up for your Senior HMO and I wish you lotsa luck, sucker. See you in the coffin.
You’ll find the full New York Times story at:
Friday, October 27, 2006
Doubletalk! Goodbledygook! Pompous trash-talking and the thespian sisterhood. It can drive you crazy, crazy, crazy!
Listen up. The crime of misleading people with meaningless or misused language is nothing new. I wish I could track down the name of the early 20th Century candidate for US Senate who slimed an opponent by defaming the guy’s sister, an actress. “My opponent’s sister…” the candidate told his shocked and horrified audience of rubes, “is a known thespian!”
Academia has been picking up on this technique over the past few decades. Since academic audiences can’t be bowled over by throwing a single ten dollar word at them, the self-appointed seers of academia do it by tying sentences and lines of reasoning in knots that’ll cross your eyes and snap your ganglia if you try to parse them.
AND OTHER IMPENETRABLE WRITING
A school of something-or-other called “Deconstructionism” has been taking the lead in this fine art of wowing people by tossing out just-about meaningless stuff – stuff that might sound profound if you’re the academic equivalent of a con man’s mark. For example, Here’s Jacques Derrida, the father of Deconstructionism, describing what it is he does:
“I would say that deconstruction is affirmation rather than questioning, in a sense which is not positive: I would distinguish between the positive, or positions, and affirmations. I think that deconstruction is affirmative rather than questioning: this affirmation goes through some radical questioning, but it is not questioning in the field of analysis.”
Right Jacques, I get it. Deconstructionism is bullshit. What I want to know is, if you’re the father of Deconstructionism, who’s the mother you raped to produced this abortion?
Well come to think of it, nevermind. The real question facing us is not how many sheep it takes for Derrida and his pack of academic charlatans to pull the wool over our eyes. It’s why is this disease spreading?
WHERE ARE FILTHY
(BUT UNDERSTANDABLE) LIMMERICKS
NOW THAT WE NEED THEM?
Poetry, for example, started out as a form of communication. But academia has infested the ranks of so-called “poets” with poseurs who couldn’t communicate their way out of a paper bag. For some reason, the following brain-buster appeared on a blog devoted to poetry. (Http://ursprache.blogspot.com)
“The phenomenological power of both metaphor and thisness derives from an awareness of an extreme tension between being and time. Thisness is the lyric comprehension of this tension; an instant of time opens to embrace the resonance of all that is; time is present, but suspended--held in balance. Metaphor, by contrast, is a form of domestic understanding: wholeness overrides morality, but does not erase it. The distinction of things remains the foundation of their resonant connexion. In metaphor, gestalts glitter: those inflected by being and time, flashing back and forth over the hinge of what is common. –Jan Zwicky, Wisdom and Metaphor, #67”
Thanks, Zwicky. And thanks, Ursprache. I’ll return to you guys whenever I’m in the mood to have my mental chain jerked.
All this stuff boils down to bad writing. Sad to say, bad writing has even infested businesses that get paid to write well.
AD AGENCY DIGITAS
CAN’T WRITE A COHERENT AD
Suck on this excerpt from a want ad recently placed in a magazine called ADWEEK by Digitas. (You should know that Digitas is the meaningless name of an advertising agency):
“…searching for an Account Supervisor to spearhead the strategy and development for direct mail or interactive initiatives to meet the marketing and business objectives of a specific client.”
A less pompous-assed ad agency would say they want “a junior executive to head up direct mail and internet projects that will help one of our clients make his sales numbers.” But that clear and truthful description would sound a hell of a lot less impressive and make clients wonder why the agency is soaking them with formidable fees.
You can help cure the problem for those Digitas junk mail guys. Call them by the name they deserve: “Digit-Ass.”
AN AD EVEN A CARPENTER
SHOULD BE ASHAMED TO WRITE
It’s getting so bad that even the lumber business is talking like a full Professor of Contemporary Eschatology on a magic mushroom trip. Take this choice morsel from a want ad placed by Woodworker’s Supply in Alberquerque, NM:
“Successful candidate will embrace established company core values and vision in managing experienced staff in executing multiple B-B and B-C initiatives in web, catalog and showroom channels…We require strong analytic tool knowledge and analytic skills, one or more degrees...”
In other words, they’re looking for a “company man” who knows how to sell to consumers and other businesses using the Internet, catalogues, and showrooms and who also can crunch some numbers.
If this is kind of language the company uses all the time, no wonder the poor bastard who gets the job will need a couple of degrees.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
“OxyContinRush” Limbaugh slimes Michael J. Fox. Hey, in America you have a constitutional right to be a slimebag. Right?
It was too much for OxyContinRush Limbaugh. He just had to rush to the airway and start smearing slime. Why?
Michael J. Fox, suffering from the tremors and shakes of advanced Parkinson’s Disease, had done a TV commercial in support of a politician who favors stem cell research that might help cure Parkinson’s.
OxyContinRush is the radio commentator whose drug history involves getting dragged into court by a Florida DA for illegal acquisition of more than 2,000 OxyContin painkillers. That’s a felony in Florida. But it usually ropes in drug addict and drug dealers who aren’t also nationally-known radio commentators.
Offended by those people who have the gall to want to see a cure for diseases like Parison’s and will support a Democrat to do so, OxyContinRush decided to slime Fox.
"He is exaggerating the effects of the disease," OxyContinRush Limbaugh said on the radio. "He's moving all around and shaking and it's purely an act.”
And for insulting good measure, OxyContinRush added, “This is really shameless of Michael J. Fox. Either he didn't take his medication or he's acting."
Well, the Washington Post went and interviewed Elaine Richman, a neuroscientist who literally wrote the book on Parkinson’s disease. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/booksearch/isbninquiry.asp?r=1&ean=9780674017511
Richman said of Fox, "Anyone who knows the disease well would regard his movement as classic severe Parkinson's disease "Any other interpretation is misinformed."
Which is a polite way of saying, if I may crib a line from Al Franken, “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Liar,” as well as“a Big Fat Idiot.” http://www.thenation.com/doc/20000619/franken
This past spring, OxyContinRush Limbaugh signed a “deferred prosecution agreement” with the Florida State Attorney in Palm beach.
It’s time that agreement became un-deferred.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
Las Vegas: What happens here stays here, including Steve Wynn’s wrecked Picasso painting. But is it art? And what’s it really worth?
My favorite advertising slogan – at least for today – is the one promoting Las Vegas tourism.
It says, “What happens here stays here.” It’s permission from a state government to sin your head off. Or your pants. Or your wallet.
Wanna cheat on your wife by getting nekkid with a free hooker supplied by a grateful pit boss to thank you for leaving 50 grand of the family's money at a craps table? Not to worry. It’s “our little secret.”
Of course, some local Nevada blue noses consider the slogan “repulsive.” See http://www.reviewjournal.com/lvrj_home/2003/Dec-18-Thu-2003/news/22822287.html
On the other hand, some folks (me for instance) love the slogan because it’s so upfront about what Las Vegas always has been and probably will continue to be. Personally, I hate the place. It’s all plastic – manufactured excitement and glitz, designed to lull you into parting with your money. But at least the advertising’s honest these days.
THE BIG LIE
Some years ago, a dumb attempt to sell Las Vegas as a place for “family vacations” crapped out in the marketplace. This was proof that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time, or even josh them a little by telling them that an openly sinful city is a great place to take the little kiddies. Not that I have anything against sin. It's the commercializing of it that gets my goat.
Las Vegas for family vacations? Come to think of it, it wasn't a little fib. It was a big lie. But I’m beginning to stray a bit too far from the points I really want to make. So let’s get on to the topic of the day.
WHAT'S THAT PICASSO WORTH?
Just recently, Casino mogul Steve Wynn auctioned off the Picasso painting you see reproduced above for $137 million. And then – accidentally – he poked his elbow through it, substantially diminishing its value. He immediately cancelled the deal. http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20061018/od_nm/picasso1_dc
Nevertheless, the story raises some questions. Why was the Picasso worth $137 million and not $13.7 million, or just 13 cents? Why is the jpeg reproduction of it at the top of this page worth nothing at all, even though you can see almost exactly what Steve Wynn saw before he trashed this great piece of art and object of desire? And finally:
WHAT THE HELL IS
Let’s start with what art started out to be. Originally, it was simply a way to show us what something looked like. Pre-historic cave men drew animals on their cave walls. It's easy to imagine them saying to each other, “Yeah man! That looks exactly like the beast I’m gonna put an arrow through tomorrow morning. We’re eating meat tomorrow night, baby. Meat, meat, meat!” You can almost see a bunch of happy Neanderthals dancing around their cave painting, laughing and high-fiving one another.
A bit later on, art began serving religious functions, but it still had to do with showing us what things – or people – looked like. Walk through any antiquity museum or ancient ruin. Here’s a portrait of Dionysus, the booze god. Here’s Zeus, ruler of the sky. Here’s Persephone, goddess queen of the underworld. Yadda yadda yadda. Oh, and by the way, here are my human pals: Plato, and Emperor Nero, and Queen Nephertite. That’s what they looked like.
Still later, in medieval and into Renaissance times, church paintings told stories to illiterates who couldn’t read the Bible. “Here’s Moses coming down from the mountain. Notice he has stone tablets with 10 commandments in his hand. See the 10 lines? Count them on your fingers.” “Here’s the Last Supper. See all the disciples?” “Here’s St. Sebastian, suffering his terrible martyrdom. See the arrow in his abdomen? Betcha that hurts! See the look of agony on his face?”
So in essence, art was a comic book without all those hard-to-read things called words.
YOU CAN TAKE A HIKE ALONG A
GIANT COMIC BOOK. WHOOPS!
SORRY, IT'S ACTUALLY A PRICELESS TAPESTRY.
In Bayeux France there’s a 230-feet long tapestry telling the story of the Norman invasion. It’s a big deal, about a thousand years old, that has a museum all to itself. There are hundreds of separate drawings embroidered on a piece of cloth. You see medieval war ships. You see guys wading ashore. You see knights in armor getting zapped.
What it boils down to is, it's giant war comic, not terribly well-drawn. The only things missing are frames drawn around each panel. Art was always intended to be displayed like the Sunday funnies. In this case, it was a funnypaper you have to take a 230-foot hike along, while getting elbowed and jostled by other museum-goers who want to stand in front of the panel where you’re standing.
HANG IN THERE
WHILE WE LEAP AHEAD
Hey, I know I’m about to take some giant and clumsy leaps through art history. Bear with me. I’m not going through the whole damn history of painting here. I’m trying to make a point. So to continue...
In the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century, artists like Pissaro and Seurat began to show off. “Hey, I can make a whole lot of little dots and if you stand close to my painting they’re just little dots, but if you stand back, you still have a comic book frame. Look, now that you’ve stood back you can see your girlfriend sitting on the grass.”
Picasso took things even a step further. “Look, I can take your eye and put it here, and take your head and shove it there, and stick your shoulder and your neck someplace they don’t quite belong, and you can still recognize yourself. Is that cool, or what?”
Well, maybe. But things ran downhill pretty quickly after that. By mid-20th Century we had Jackson Pollack throwing paint at canvas, in a “that’s-how-I-feel-man” frenzy that apes in zoos have replicated with their own feces, and Piet Mondrian was drawing lines and boxes and then coloring them in, the same as you could do with a ruler and a paintbrush.
IS IT ART? OR IS IT CACA?
I once asked a woman who told me that for a living, “I make art” what all those pictures-of-nothing that hang on museum walls and sell for millions are supposed to be telling us. She got huffy. “They don’t have to tell you anything,” she said, as if a painting is a form of lazy entitlement. “They just move you.”
Move me? So does a taxicab.
“Also art is something that gets you thinking and talking. Art creates buzz and excitement.”
Yeah yeah. So does an enraged bee at a garden party. Why isn't a live bumblebee art? And how come a fish tank containing a dead shark – pickled in formaldehyde by Damien Hirst – is considered to be exceptional art by some critics?
Why is a forgery of a Rembrandt worth not nearly as much as the original painting, even though you can barely tell them apart?
Why is a Picasso original worth $137 million without a hole in it, but a whole hell of a lot less with the hole? After all, the one with the hole got me buzzing – or at least writing. It has us – right now – pondering the purpose and value of art together.
So if the purpose of art is to create conversation and buzz, shouldn’t a Picasso with a hole in it actually be worth a whole lot more than if it were undamaged? After all, had Wynn merely sent the intact painting to his buyer instead of jamming his elbow into it, none of this conversation would be happening.
FINALLY: A DEFINITION OF ART
AND A WAY TO DETERMINE ITS VALUE
Where I come out is, “Art" is anything somebody says is art. And the rest of the world can take it or shove it. Cherish that definition. It will serve you well – as long as you keep it to yourself.
And the value of art? Here's an economics lesson for you:
Any piece of art on the planet is worth exactly the maximum sum that a buyer is willing to pay for it.
And not a penny more.