« October 2011 | Main | December 2011 »

November 30, 2011

And in Local News…

Arlington County board member Chris Zimmerman is hopping mad at Republicans in the Virginia state legislature labeling them, “extremists,” whose goal is to “wreck government.”

What got Mr. Zimmerman so upset?

They won’t allow him to tax more things.

In Virginia, localities are only allowed the powers granted to them by the state. In the case of Arlington, the county is only allowed to tax people’s houses. And cars. And boats and trailers and motorcycles. And hotel rooms, meals, drinks, and cigarettes.

And their dogs.

And if you’re a business they can tax furniture and fixtures. And machinery and tools. And computers, and software. And that’s on top of your business license.

But other than that, it’s like a dry well.  What are they supposed to do?

Okay, they could just raise existing taxes, but you know the problem with that? People notice it. It would be much better if taxes could be targeted to small, politically weak or unsympathetic groups.  (That’s what we call, “democracy!”)

Zimmerman points out that he needs to tax more things because the state keeps passing down unfunded mandates, requiring localities to come up with the money to pay for them.  Without additional revenue, that means Arlington County might be forced to cut back on essential services.

Like the “Artisphere,” an “Arts Space for Everyone,” that was “to be free from the constraints of a singular vision, performance type or audience.”

What do you get when your business plan consists of little more than, “Hey, what the hell, let’s see what happens?”

“However, the unintended consequence of the individual interpretations that arose from such branding has been confusion over what exactly Artisphere is supposed to be, and for whom.”

The other unintended consequence has been a projected operating deficit for 2012 of about four times the original estimate. Made last year.

If you pull that money out of the Artisphere, and use it to fund state mandates rather than increasing taxes, what are the unidentified performers supposed to do? And what about the audience yet to be specifically targeted?  Where are they supposed to go if they want to enjoy an artistic performance of some undetermined type?  What will you tell them? Whoever they are?

Fortunately, federal dollars are still flowing as Arlington just accepted a million dollar grant for automated license plate readers that will allow the county to easily monitor the movements of tens of thousands of Arlington citizens none of whom are suspected of any wrongdoing.

Thank you, federal government, thank you for caring enough to provide us the money to put in place this important program.

Otherwise we might have had to cut back on funding programs pestering people to stop driving their cars.

J.

November 30, 2011 at 03:58 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (10) | TrackBack

November 21, 2011

Okay, So Who Would Man the Butterball Help Line Then?

You know who doesn’t want you working on Thanksgiving Day?

God.

This, according to Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, a professor of theology at the Chicago Theological Seminary, which is how she knows (he probably dropped by during her office hours).

“Let us be clear. Squeezing profits out of the American worker in this way not only violates standards of basic human dignity, from a faith perspective it also is an affront to the God who created people in God’s image.”

Here at Planet Moron, we were raised as good Christians, and yet don’t remember working on Thanksgiving to be considered an affront to God.  Working on Christmas, maybe. Easter?  Sure.  Bingo night?  What, are you kidding?!  But we don’t ever remember God setting aside Thanksgiving as a day of rest.

But that’s not important.  What is important is that Ms. Thistlethwaite really hates the fact that people work hard to buy things:

“Our economy has become a treadmill for both workers and consumers alike, locked in an awful race of overwork and consumption... Consumers, with their salaries flat or even cut in recent years, think they need the sales in order to afford gifts for the holidays. Workers are locked on to this same treadmill, having to service the consumption in order for the machinery of the economy to ‘improve.’”

And by “improve,” she means, “improve.”

“This system is profoundly immoral.”

Really, is there anything more immoral than free individuals engaging in the trade of goods, services, and labor absent the coercive intervention of the state and in so doing exercising the free will with which they had been endowed by their creator? Surely it comes in somewhere in between coveting your neighbor’s wife and double-parking.

“First, the basic premise is false. These retailers don’t need to encroach on Thanksgiving in order to survive. Corporations are making huge profits, and they are increasingly doing so on the backs of American workers.”

This would probably be a good time to point out that this article appeared in the Washington Post’s “On Faith” section, dedicated to “A conversation on religion and politics.”

Second, the human toll of this increased ‘productivity’ is ‘heartbreaking and harrowing,’…”

And by “productivity,” she means, “productivity.”

“…as shown by personal stories of overworked Americans. The stories are crucial to understanding the human cost of our skewed economic values.”

Those skewed economic values being the product of the free will of the population as expressed in their desire for iPhones.

“Thanksgiving is about family and friends rejoicing together, relaxing after all the hard work of the year.”

You are going to enjoy yourselves dammit!  Now get your ass rejoicing or there’ll be hell to pay. Literally.

“How much is the American worker supposed to put up with? These stores are invading one of the few holidays many workers get anymore.”

As I look back, there is not a holiday I haven’t worked on at one time or another.  I do have to admit that I did not work on my wedding day, however I did work on my first anniversary, 2000 miles from my wife, holed up in a windowless conference room.

God must have been really ticked off at me.  More than my wife, even.

By the way, while Ms. Thistlethwaite has God on the line, yes, he supports higher taxes on the rich, and yes, he was behind the passage of Ohio “Issue 2” which rolled back Senate Bill 5’s restrictions on collective bargaining of public employee unions.

We really didn’t think of God as much of a detail guy, but there you go.

In fact, according to Ms. Thistlethwaite, collective bargaining is a “moral imperative.”

You see, but for Ms. Thistlethwaite, we would not have thought that colluding with others in a price-fixing scheme in order to extort monopolistic pricing for labor that would be illegal but for specific exemptions in anti-trust laws was a “moral imperative.” 

Ms. Thistlethwaite also notes that God wants you to have broadband.

And that He approves of economic stimulus plans and is against the Bush tax cuts.

And really hates cutting government-run social services.

While Ms. Thistlethwaite has spent years pointing out God’s public policy positions, she is careful to note just how important it is that we all guard against:

“…extremists who use religion as a wedge issue for political gain.”

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

J.

November 21, 2011 at 01:48 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

November 16, 2011

It’s Not That David Brooks is Angry, He’s Just… Disappointed.

Do you think you know what led so many Penn State administrators to turn a blind eye to child rape?  An insular power structure, perhaps? A single-minded focus on protecting the organization no matter what the cost? An over-emphasis on, and idolatry of, college sports?

According to respected New York Times columnist David Brooks, none of those things can account for the alleged behavior. However he has found a common thread among the participants. A single commonality that explains everything:

Everyone involved was human.

So, yeah, it’s kind of your fault too.

According to Mr. Brooks, we are all full of self-deception and evasion.

How does he know?  Science!

For example, Brooks notes that some experiments have found a behavioral phenomenon known as “motivated blindness” in which people simply do not see what they don’t want to see. Kind of like when your wife makes you watch Dancing With The Stars. You just can’t believe YOU’RE WATCHING DANCING WITH THE STARS.

Sure, Mike McQueary clearly saw what was happening and even testified under oath that he saw what was happening, going so far as to tell Coach Paterno who believed him enough to alert his superiors.

But never stop a conservative when he’s on a roll condemning humanity as inherently sinful. That’s right in their wheelhouse.

Other research cited by Brooks that directly incriminates you found that people tended to talk a braver game than they would actually be willing to play, such as an experiment at Penn State in 1999 that found that while half of people claim they would speak up if someone made a sexist remark, in reality only 16% actually do.

So, what do you think, big shot?  We bet if you heard someone suggest that women can’t drive you’d probably just sit there and do nothing.

Also, women really can’t drive (but then, neither can anyone else).

And how is an offhand sexist remark really any different than witnessing the brutal rape of a little boy?  Sure, you could argue that the sexist remark reinforces a patriarchal culture in which such normative behavior corrupts any notion of women empowerment within the context of even post-modern feminism, but child rape is pretty bad, too.

And that’s not the only evidence. According to Brooks:

“In another experiment at a different school, 68 percent of students insisted they would refuse to answer if they were asked offensive questions during a job interview. But none actually objected when asked questions like, ‘Do you think it is appropriate for women to wear bras to work?’”

Answer: “No.”

Wait! Dammit. It looks like we’re no better than Mike McQueary, either.

Brooks gets to the point:

“So when something atrocious happens, people look for some artificial, outside force that must have caused it — like the culture of college football, or some other favorite bogey.”

Among those artificial outside forces: The actual perpetrators. Besides, searching for actual causes is so pedestrian. Brooks has a higher calling here.

“People look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.”

Silly humans, looking for laws that might make it a crime to allow child rape to go unreported by responsible adults at an educational institution, or maybe putting policies in place that break up entrenched bureaucracies and the secrecy the breed.  What do they think that will accomplish?  Aside from making it less likely that such a thing will happen again, we mean.

“Commentators ruthlessly vilify all involved from the island of their own innocence.”

That innocence being based on little more than their innocence.

“Everyone gets to proudly ask: ‘How could they have let this happen?’”

How dare you question how someone could have allowed child rape to happen.  What gives you the right? Aside from not having allowed child rape to happen.

“The proper question is: How can we ourselves overcome our natural tendency to evade and self-deceive.”

If that’s the proper question, Jerry Sandusky is going to be one relieved guy.

“That was the proper question after Abu Ghraib, Madoff, the Wall Street follies and a thousand other scandals.”

Unless you were a prosecutor. Or a victim. Or, really, anyone who isn’t a respected New York Times columnist.

“But it’s a question this society has a hard time asking because the most seductive evasion is the one that leads us to deny the underside of our own nature.”

Also, we’re kind of busy trying to put criminals behind bars and looking for laws that can be changed so it never happens again. But, yeah, sure, we could also examine the larger sociological context in which we’d probably conclude, as have others over the past ten thousand years or so of civilized society, that humans often behave badly.

Which is why, instead of waxing poetic over the inherently complex nature of human beings, we put criminals behind bars and look for laws that can be changed so it never happens again.

But then, not everyone can be a respected New York Times columnist.

J.

November 16, 2011 at 03:49 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

November 14, 2011

Now If Only They’d Bring Back The McDLT

It was a bad week for ‘80s-era icons here at Planet Moron.

First, our alma mater was rocked with scandal when it was revealed that legendary Penn State football coach Joe Paterno treated a credible eyewitness report that his long-time assistant had sexually molested a child with the same sense of urgency and moral outrage one would have accorded to reports that he had been discovered stealing ketchup packets from the dining hall.

Second, and perhaps even more grotesque and stomach-churning, I ate a McRib sandwich, currently making one of its rare limited-engagement appearances on the menu at McDonald’s.

Now, before you jump to conclusions, I should point out that I worked at McDonald’s in the summer of 1979, before the introduction of the McRib, and was impressed with the company’s focus on quality and extensive use of fresh ingredients. In fact, I had trouble convincing people that we used honest-to-goodness eggs that had to each be individually broken open to make Egg McMuffins as if they assumed that the yolk in the center was made out of some kind of advanced polymer (that’s what we put in the milkshakes).  No, in my experience, McDonald’s used a surprising number of wholesome ingredients as found in nature.

The McRib was not one of them.

While I never had the distinct honor of making a McRib (after all, I did not have a chemistry degree), I happily indulged in the BBQ-slathered pork-inspired product as a customer, purposefully ignoring the fact that the perfectly formed rib patty was totally devoid of ribs. I never questioned why they put pickles on it (Answer: Shut up, that’s why.) I simply allowed its processed goodness to caress my young palate, which at the time had all the nuance and subtlety of a Michael Bay movie.

And so this weekend, in particular need of the comforting embrace of nostalgia, I purchased my first McRib sandwich in nearly thirty years.

McRib Box

Hey, new packaging. I like it.

Tangy Temptation

Now that really is a tangy temptation!

McRib Box Open

Okaaaay. Well, let’s take a good look at the side.

McRib Side View

That doesn’t look anything like the picture. Fine, let’s open this sucker up…

McRib

Oh. My. God.  What kind of sadist would make this?  What hell-spawn jackal of a demon monster would ever…

McRib Bite

Hm.  Not bad.

Okay, so the patty was pretty vile, and every time you crunch into an onion or pickle you think it’s gristle (It isn’t. I think.) but the bun was pretty fresh, the sauce was indeed tangy, and, well, it’s a McRib sandwich. Sure, it’s not as good as I remember it, just like the music from the same era wasn’t as good as I remember it either (Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car?  Really?).  But for a few moments there, Joe Paterno was respected, $200 billion deficits were considered “large," the damage Barack Obama could do was limited to poorly organizing a communty, the World Trade Center was standing, and I still had brown hair.

We will meet again McRib.

J.

November 14, 2011 at 05:54 PM in Weekend Leisure | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

November 04, 2011

Ford: Drive One. But Not Too Far.

Driven by various Obama Administration-inspired government mandates and incentives intended to create new and exciting innovations in personal transportation, Ford Motor Company has introduced what might be its most technologically advanced automobile ever:

The $40,000 Ford Focus Electric.

You read that right. For the price of two compact cars, you can get one compact car.

Think of it as a “Buy 2 Get 1” deal.

To be fair, the imaginatively named Focus Electric offers many advanced features not found on a regular Ford Focus, such as a range between “fill-ups” that is easily half that of a 1908 Ford Model T.

Seriously, progress just moves too fast for us these days.

While it’s true that you will have to stop to fuel up far more frequently than with a gasoline-powered car, at least filling it up will take a lot longer. 

That’s right, you can finally kiss those quick, frantic stops at the gas station goodbye for good. Instead, you will find yourself engaging in far more leisurely stops, almost like a visit to a spa, since fully charging a Focus Electric with a 240-volt charging station takes about as long as replacing a transmission. Of course, you don’t have a 240-volt charging station. Almost no one does. But think of the jobs that will be created in the hospitality industry as you scramble to find a room while your Focus Electric charges up overnight on regular household current!

But, faced with rising gasoline prices, the Obama Administration felt it needed to do something.

Such as seeing to it that electricity prices also rise.

You can’t say these guys aren’t thorough.

We should also point out that with a top speed of 84 miles per hour, your $40,000 Focus Electric will easily be able to keep pace with most Vespa Scooters.

Given that electric cars appeal only to those consumers who prefer that products be more expensive yet less convenient (which we believe is Best Buy’s target market), there has to be another reason the Obama Administration is so fond of them. At first we thought it was an attempt to reduce income inequality by giving rich people something else to waste money on, such as the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac executives earning millions of dollars of taxpayer-provided bailout bonus money.

Then we figured it out:

It’s to make high-speed rail look good.

J.

November 4, 2011 at 02:32 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (7) | TrackBack