Archive for February, 2010

Politics – A Fun Thought Exercise In Running Government Like a Business

February 24, 2010

A common theme in Republican circles is to run government like a business. Now, this should actually be extremely troubling to Republicans, for the precise reason that businesses exist to make a profit. That’s their job. That is generally why you start a business. In fact, one can argue that what the teabaggers and the GOP are protesting against is, in fact, what they claim they want: to run government like a business.

But doing this illustrates some other faults and problems which are profoundly interesting and worth looking into: why the GOP spends so damn much, why the Deep South has zero right to be outraged over high taxes, and a few absolutely brutal ways to make a lot of money.

Let’s start by looking at who’s profitable and who’s not. For that, we’ll use the data gathered by the Tax Foundation about who gave what to the government and how much they got back between 1981 and 2005. Anything under a dollar means that state is profitable. And how many states are profitable?

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida (by a slim margin), Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan (just barely), Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon (barely), Pennsylvania, Texas (by the closest one-to-one margin on this list), Washington, and Wisconsin.

These eighteen states keep the lights on and pay the bills, as much as they can. And notice the theme here: they have major boom industries and have major urban centers within their state lines. Biotech, IT, health care, the financial industry, and others occupy these states, in addition to New York City, Boston, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Las Vegas, Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Los Angeles…in short, this list contains most of the cities of industry and all of the cities of services. In fact, the only baffler here are Wisconsin and New Hampshire; I’m assuming the former is just too nice not to pay higher rates and the latter, from what I know of it, is just too damn stubborn to take the money.

Anyway, these are our profit centers. They’re the ones making money.

Rhode Island sits, all alone, in exact parity: for every dollar they spend, they get a dollar in federal services.

How many aren’t? Let’s see here: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia (although to be fair just barely), Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana (just barely), Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisana (with a recent spike for what should be obvious reasons), Maine, Maryland, Mississippi (which gets twice what it pays out, mind you), Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico (another member of the Twice as Much Club), North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio by a slim margin, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming.

For those playing the home game, that’s 31 states we’re running at a loss! Thirty one!

Now, if we were running government like a business, the solutions here are obvious: cut spending on these money drains and hike what you’re getting out of them. Since we’re running this as a business, we’re going to be more discriminate in our spending. After all, we don’t want to sink too much money into a failing division.

Needless to say, there are other themes here. Most of these states are rural, agrarian, and, not surprisingly, this list contains all of the most desperately poor parts of America. Equally unsurprisingly, it contains most of the Republican states as well. In fact, aside from a few anomalies, it’s almost a one-to-one ratio of Republican strongholds to Democratic strongholds.

So what can we conclude from all this?

1) The GOP is so damn profligate because that’s what its electorate wants.

Basically, their audience is going to take anything. ANYBODY getting lower taxes sounds good to them, because it’s less money leaving wallets, period. At the same time, of course they’re going to spend heavily on their own districts. A dollar goes a lot further in an area when they’re scarce in terms of visibility.

But at the same time, it’s a trap because this self-same electorate claims, at least, to dislike welfare programs (how much of this is self-hatred is beyond the scope of this writing). So the GOP spends it on the wealthy, and the wealthy spend it on, well, themselves. In the process, some of this gets splashed onto the rest of the people in the area, and they’ll take it, because what other option do they have? Even flipping burgers is going to look good to a guy without a job if his family’s hungry enough. Sure, some fat-cat son of a bitch is basically building a house with your money, but at least you’re getting some of it back in the form of a job (and then taken away from you in terms of taxes, but nobody said this arrangement was fair).

2) By the same token, most of the country has no right whatsoever to bitch about taxes.

You live in those nineteen states, you have a right to complain. But, I’m sorry, remaining thirty-one: you elect politicians to bash the godless liberal states keeping the lights on and generally act like assholes, and then ask them to spend lots of our money on YOU. Basically, you’re crashing on the couch for five bucks a day and complaining that it should be three bucks and demanding caviar for breakfast, lunch and dinner. This probably isn’t intentional, granted, but that’s not exactly making me, or I’d assume anyone reading this in those nineteen states, inclined to be terribly civil or think your opinions on taxes and government spending are worth a damn thing.

This said, I’m of the opinion we’re on something resembling the right track. At least the money is going largely to the poor areas, although whether it’s actually going to the poor (which it isn’t) is another matter entirely.

But this post stands as proof that the way the GOP, and especially the teabaggers, view the system and how the system actually works are pretty much at complete odds.

Unless you want to pay me back my 30%. Then we’ll talk.

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Politics – Teabaggers Deserve a Cup of STFU

February 24, 2010

Just a quick note to all the teabaggers whining about Scott Brown showing token bipartisanship.

Here’s a simple rule: if you are a current resident of Massachusetts, you’ve got every right to complain.

If you’re not, shut the fuck up.

It’s really that simple. You don’t live here. We do. You don’t like the jobs bill, complain to your own fucking Senator. I bet most of you come from a state that Massachusetts pays for (foreshadowing!) So, take it from the guy who pays for your roads and schools while you whine about your taxes: you’ve got no right to bitch.

Jesus, I’m a liberal, I don’t even like the guy, in fact I think he’s kind of a dick, but he’s still looking better than you lot. Think about that. Your hissy fits and immaturity are actually moving me to defend the guy simply because I live here and it pisses me off you think you have the right to tell other states what to do because you lack the emotional maturity to deal with people who disagree with you in an intelligent manner.

Grow the hell up and if you don’t live here, get the hell out of my state.

Why the Silence? Plus Scott Brown’s First Test

February 23, 2010

If you’ve wondered why I’ve been off my usual update schedule, the short answer is I’m researching a massive project about political spending and why the GOP spends so damn much, with a side of “I’ve got a lot of paying gigs now.”

Seriously, I’m up to nine markets or so now. One of the things I’ll start doing is a weekly linkdump of all the writing I’m doing. There’ll be some interesting stuff.

Tomorrow: why the GOP spends so damn much.

But for now, some local political musings.

Scott Brown’s made his first splash, and the Tea Party now officially hates him. Basically, Brown has decided he’s willing to work with Democrats over a pretty modest jobs bill.

As I’ve said before, however Brown moves, he’s taking massive political risks. Work with Obama, the conservatives will flip out (which they are; check out Twitter); work against Obama and he’s in trouble in Massachusetts.

So, to be honest, while it’s mild and uncontroversial, it’s a good start. If Brown turns out to be a moderate instead of the GOP android he pretended to be during the primary, that’ll be a pleasant surprise. My judgement, however, remains reserved.

Movies – “The Wolfman” Is a Hoot

February 16, 2010

By all rights, “The Wolfman” should be terrible. It changed directors a few weeks before filming, from Mark Romanek, who at least views himself as an artist, to capable studio journeyman Joe Johnston. It has a script partially written by Andrew Kevin Walker, who never met any research he couldn’t avoid doing if it meant he could work an eighteen-year-old’s idea of a profound insight into a script (see “Seven” and “8mm” back to back and point out all the logical flaws put in place because Walker couldn’t let go of his ending). Really, this thing should be excruciating. I was showing up for the Rick Baker make-up and gore.

And yet, for what it is, a fairly modest remake of a beloved yet dated horror movie, it works. It’s even surprisingly effective in places.

I’m even willing to say that “The Wolfman” is a remake that works, arguably better than the original. The original has its charms, certainly, but it’s very much a movie of its time, and that time was more than sixty years ago. This remake isn’t just exploiting a name, but a sincere attempt to remake the movie for modern audiences.

Mostly that means taking the kind of unnerving unintentional Freudian subtext in Curt Siodmak’s original screenplay (remember, this is a movie where a father beats his own son to death) and making it intentional and even MORE unnerving. And then making Benicio Del Toro underplay his role while letting Anthony Hopkins play the most overt villain ever.

Seriously, it’s not a spoiler Hopkins is the bad guy. The moment you see him in his Victorian pimp coat, you realize what’s going on. But what’s great is how Hopkins plays it. This isn’t a Snidely Whiplash portrayal, in fact at first I thought Hopkins was just phoning it in. He seemed bored. It’s not until later that you realize his character is the one who’s bored, tired of pretending to be a decent person. Once he gets the ability to show what a raging prick he is, then Hopkins really goes to town.

Another upside of sixty years of changing times is now we can actually see what the Wolfman gets up to. For all the hype about the gore in this movie, how it’s done and how it’s shot is welcomely understated. This isn’t some Avid-fart riddled, overlit tossing of CGI blood at the camera; the lighting lets the movie show just how violent the Wolfman is while still being a little restrained and classy. But make no mistake, the Wolfman is coming, he’s pissed and he is going to fuck you up.

That said, the first appearance of Del Toro’s wolfman is a masterpiece of black humor as a bunch of rural hicks try to trap him and promptly get mauled. It’s the most fun I’ve had at a horror movie in a while, right down to the final nasty stinger (which my girlfriend commented as “Here, let me help you with that.”)

It’s not a perfect movie: most nerd reviews I’m reading are saying “good, not great”. But good, for a horror movie, hell, for an old-fashioned horror movie, is doing spectacularly. “The Wolfman” is probably the most fun you’ll have in a theater until the summer hits. Go check it out.

The Most Quotable Movie You’ve Never Seen

February 12, 2010

If you’ve never seen “The President’s Analyst”, you’re missing out. For one thing, it has this incredible monologue from Godfrey Cambridge, an actor who largely spent his time playing comedic parts, including “The Watermelon Man”:

But that makes it sound like a serious drama. It’s quite the opposite. Take, for example, this bit between two FBI agents:

Or the highly memorable Quantrill family:

And we haven’t even gotten to Severin Darden’s character yet, who has some of the best lines, arguably ever (“You want to save the world? You’re the great humanitarian? Take the gun.”) You’re starting to see why this movie is compulsively quotable. Pretty much every single scene has a line that you have to take out of context and use somehow.

As a movie it’s of its time, which is a nice way of saying it’s a little dated. But it’s gloriously insane and still as funny as hell. Check it out, ASAP.

Ubuntu – Who Writes This Documentation? Cave Trolls?

February 12, 2010

Yes, this blog is getting an Ubuntu tag. This is because while the OS is something I’m rapidly getting comfortable with, the documentation is clearly written by cave trolls, apes, or some other species that has an incredible grasp of code but no idea what people use computers for.

This is what I had to do, to figure out how to get my netbook to accept USB drives, aka cheap storage, aka the most common form of storage in current usage on Earth.

— Check fruitlessly in the wiki.

— Look in the forums.

— Randomly click on a thread about automounting SD cards while combing the forums looking for just anything to fix issues that really should be obvious.

— Discovering that this thread actually contains an explanation of how to get into the terminal and fix the damn problem. It turns out that when you install Ubuntu on a thumb drive, it decides the USB is a CD drive. Thus, when you plug in a thumb drive without inserting a # into, literally, one line of code, it thinks it’s a CD, tries to load it as one, and can’t mount it.

— Fuck around in the terminal for another fifteen minutes before I finally get the code, insert the pound sign, and get my thumb drives up and running.

— Joyously click on one of the MP3s I had saved.

— Discover that the clunky iTunes knockoff contained therein does not come with an MP3 playback codec.

— Download the damn codec and FINALLY have at least some of my music up and running. The rest I install next week.

Like I said, now that I’m used to it, I like Ubuntu. I just hate the customer support. Awwwwww, it’s just like Windows that way!

Gadgets – Ubuntu? Not if I Bunt You First

February 11, 2010

So, as of last night, my netbook officially runs Ubuntu. For those curious, I downloaded and ran Easy Peasy, a distro designed specifically for netbooks.

A few observations on the process:

— I know that not all Linux users are raging snobs by a long shot. It’s just that the raging snobs obviously write the documentation. This is literally the first thing you read at Easy Peasy “Right a Wrong: Why was your awesome netbook shipped with that horrible operating system?” Because 90% of the world uses it, jackass.

This is a consistent tone throughout the documentation, the forums, etc. In their defense, they are at least informative. But the attitude is off-putting. I literally would not be here if I had A) any applications for my computer that were Windows-dependent and B) if I weren’t facing a Windows reinstall anyway. The fact that I had to reinstall the OS is what made me say “fuck it” and install Ubuntu; if I’m going to reinstall, I might as well reinstall with something that gets fewer viruses.

— I’m not really sure why I spent nearly four hours downloading an iso that was 825MB over a wireless connection that ranged between 50kbps and 100kbps, then downloaded a bootloader that downloaded another 600MB file, and apparently used precisely fuck-all of the 825mb file I had to restart three times.

— So, wait, you bill yourself as the easiest, simplest distro…and I have to go into the command line to turn on my wireless card, enable my webcam, and get the computer to turn off properly? This is a joke, right? You can’t seriously be that much of an arrogant shithead and have a free distro that’s broken in places it shouldn’t be. David Wong over on Cracked compared this kind of thing to an L-shaped condom; don’t hand us any shit about design, you know damn well what we’ve got.

— Also, don’t cop an attitude about Windows and then steal all your design cues from Windows 3.1. Just…just don’t.

As an OS, Ubuntu eee is perfectly functional, albeit clunky. It does its best to be elegant, offering various tabs instead of icons to click through and find what you need, essentially a full-screen version of OSX’s dock. But it can’t really hide that to get at anything, you’re digging around in the file structure. There isn’t a particular reason this can’t be a desktop like OSX or Windows, as far as I can tell. This was a problem Microsoft had licked back in XP, guys.

Most of this experience has been pretty instructive in why people don’t switch. The community can be rude and foreboding, and the documentation throws a lot of technical terms your way. The interface can be clunky if you’re not used to it. Setting up the OS itself can be, unsurprisingly, a pain in the ass. In short, switching seems to be a choice either for those who want to do it or for those who have to do it, instead of a better option. I find it hard to see any reason to switch beyond that: if you have no emotional investment in software, why bother?

Anyway, I’m updated now, and I’m staying that way. I’m going to need this computer, and I need to not worry about viruses. Hence the switch. But, so far, after years of being preached at by Linux nerds, as far as I can tell, Ubuntu isn’t better. Just different.

TV – The Tragedy of Captain Phil Harris

February 10, 2010

Watching “The Deadliest Catch”, which is probably one of the hardest-edged documentaries on Discovery, there was no figure more compelling than Phil Harris. Because how often does one see the circumstances and reasons of a man working himself to death?

Phil Harris died of stroke complications, an ending which was painfully inevitable to anybody who watched the show. Harris literally had to be forced off his own boat by his own sons before he’d go to the hospital, only to discover he had cancer. He literally would not stop working.

This gives the entire series a tragic tone. To the Harris family, if you’re reading, my sincere condolences.

Movies – “Cashback” is Aptly Named

February 10, 2010

Look, it’s not that “Cashback” is a badly done movie. It’s not, at least visually. The movie has plenty of visual tricks and ideas that at least make it pretty to watch and even somewhat engaging. It’s the story that’s the problem.

The main problem is the hero of the story is what every guy in college, especially in the arts, thinks he is, namely a sensitive old soul, and the writer doesn’t realize that actually he’s a callow little prick. I mean, this guy discovers the ability to stop time, and his use of it is to strip women naked in the supermarket and draw pictures of it, all while layering on the usual blather about the beauty of the female form. I dislike the theory of “the male gaze” for any number of reasons, but it’s like the writer and director, Sean Ellis, is out to prove it right down to the little details. He’s trying to use his intellect to justify his erections and blame his total lack of understanding of women on women.

And, of course, the girl who dumps him at the beginning and who he spends his nights mooning over realizes what a great thing she has, and he gets the chance to dump her. Oh, and also, out of nowhere, a gallery owner will see his sketches and think he’s a genius. Also, he’ll win the lottery.

OK, I’m making that last part up. But the script wanders into such blatant Mary Sue/wish fulfillment territory that it becomes painful pretty quickly.

Sean Ellis is a talented filmmaker, if a little too flashy for his own good. Hopefully he can find better outlets for his eye, or at least something less blatantly an attempt to rewrite his college years.

Software – Maybe Vundo Exists to Get Everyone To Switch To Linux

February 9, 2010

Right now I feel the way a dedicated carnivore must feel when he discovers he’ll have to go on an all-veggie diet, or when a rich Yellow Elephant gets arrested for something Daddy can’t fix, or when a staunch liberal gets mugged.

OK, not really. I have no emotional investment in operating systems. They are software that enable me to do what I want to do. And as of tomorrow, the software that will be doing that is Linux.

This is not due to my seeing the light and becoming an open-source advocate. Good God, no. It’s because of the digital AIDS known as Vundo.

Vundo has basically rendered my computer semi-useless in the space of two days. I did everything right: I installed anti-virus software, I kept my descriptions up to date, I didn’t use torrents or open suspicious files. And I STILL got it.

My computer still functions for what I need it to do, but Vundo has broken the registry, Safe Mode, probably my Java, and Christ only knows what else. So basically, even if I effectively remove Vundo, I’m still going to have to do an XP reinstall. And at this point, if I have to reinstall the OS anyway? Fuck it. I’m installing an OS that doesn’t have these problems. Better to do this once than another five times.

So, yes, I am soon to be an Ubuntu user. My (gentle) mocking of Linux users has been rendered hypocritical.

God. Damn. It.