Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry F-ing Christmas to you, too

As I found myself embracing my 9% Jewish heritage yesterday with a brunch of crepes and potato pancakes on the second day of Hanukkah, I was thinking of why the holiday has not caught on.  Eight days of eating fried food and gambling?  It's like a week in Vegas, only with the bonus of chocolate coins.  If there's a secular way to celebrate Christmas by having a strange man invade your home via chimney, I'm sure we can figure out a Hanukkah celebration that involves latkes and dreidels without the miracle of the oil aspect.

Then, I'm reminded of why not by a post on Facebook:

Just so everyone knows, I have a CHRISTMAS TREE in my living room (not a holiday tree), my family is getting CHRISTMAS PRESENTS (not holiday gifts) and we will eat CHRISTMAS DINNER(not a holiday meal), and I will attend a CHRISTMAS PARTY (not a holiday party). I will also very cheerfully wish you a MERRY CHRISTMAS! (not... happy holidays). By the way, if you want to have a Happy Hanukah , by all means do, I respect that. If you want to have a Blessed Kwanzaa, I also respect that. I want to have a Merry Christmas, so I ask YOU to respect that!
Bearing in mind that this person watches a lot of Fox News, I'm not surprised to see this.  The idea that any culture can have a monopoly on December celebrations is narrow at best, deliberately closed-minded perhaps, and flat-out racist at worst.  As Hanukkah predates Christmas by a couple hundred years, perhaps it is Christmas that is stealing Hanukkah's thunder? 

What really annoys me is the idea that the author will wish someone a Merry Christmas even when he knows that the person does not celebrate the holiday.  Let's talk about the purpose of the greeting, shall we?  When one wishes someone a Merry Christmas, it is a hope, wish, and aspiration for the other person.  You do not go up to someone and say, "I hope I have a Merry Christmas".  You want the recipient to have the Christmas that is merry.  So, if you know the person on the receiving end will look at December 25th as a day off work and little more, do you want them to have a Merry Christmas, or a Happy Holiday?  If the greeting is intended for the recipient, then the Happy Holidays works for the entire time between Thanksgiving and MLK Day.  If you still want to wish someone a Merry Christmas, then the greeting is for yourself, and you are a selfish little A-Hole who is using this as an opportunity to shove your beliefs down another's throat.  What's wrong with you?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Don't compliment a Lutheran

As I drive around the Midwest visiting friends and family for the holidays, I've been catching up on The News from Lake Wobegon podcasts for two reasons.  First, Garrison Keillor's voice is soothing to my cat and keeps her from screaming in the back seat of the car, and second, the humor comes from astute observations of the ridiculous nature of the culture in which I was raised.  One of the podcasts concerning Thanksgiving included the line (and forgive me for not writing it down - I was driving 70mph on the Tri-State Tollway afraid to be rear-ended while on my way to Wisconisn) that "You never compliment a Lutheran.  It unsettles them."

I'm currently trying to apply for graduate school.  I say "try" because each application requires me to spend hours complimenting myself about how awesome I am.  Lutherans do not do this.  As such, the number of completed applications I have done is zero.  I'm hoping for some down time to work on these over the next two weeks, but I'm afraid that the biggest hurdle to overcome will be the idea that I do have so speak well of myself to do these.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Sunday Morning Papers: Census and Poverty

While it is tempting to write about the Presidential campaign right now, everything will probably revolve around the economic news that was announced on Thursday: 1 in 2 Americans is living in poverty or near poverty.

Now look at the Republican field that wants to cut or eliminate the safety-net, automatic-stabilizer programs that provide high-velocity money to those who have a marginal propensity to save of 0.  When unemployment benefits are given to someone living under the poverty line, the entirety of that check goes to rent, utilities, and food, and whatever it takes to keep from starving or becoming homeless.  Meanwhile, the landlords and grocery store owners can hire clerks and pay their own expenses, and the utility companies can pay for line maintenance and still return ginormous profits to their stockholders (Deregulation, HO!).  Newt Gingrich deciding that 99 weeks of unemployment is unnecessary means to me that he has no concept of the velocity of money, which is surprising as someone who should have a command of the social sciences.

The new poverty measures which classify a family of 4 as living in poverty if they make under $22,500 (above the average unemployment benefit), and low-income as below $45,000, illustrates a fundamental problem in the United States: what good is job creation if the jobs that are created are not worth having?  To make $45,000 per year, a wage earner would have to make $21.63 per hour.  That's three times minimum wage.  If this is a two-income household, then to rise to the middle class, parents would have to work 3 full-time jobs, or work 2 jobs that pay 1.5 times the minimum wage.  Minimum wage is so far away from a living wage in this country that it is hard to think that there is any corelation between the two. 

Which is why the attempts to institute the unfounded supply-side trickle-down economic theory in the Midwest should concern everyone.

Right now, Right To Work campaigns are underway in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana, where the speaker of the General Assembly has declared that undercutting the ability of unions to organize is the most pressing priority in the state.  Indiana already has a median household income below the national average by state, one of the poorest states in the Midwest, and just barely over the standards of the new Low Income Household by the Census at $45,679.  If the most pressing issue in the state is to drive the percentage of workers living in poverty and low income households above 50%, then by golly, this sounds like a swell idea.  However, if you want to create jobs that allow people to live and thrive without reliance of government assistance, then maybe you should look at incomes and the decrease in demand of a consumer economy that can only afford to buy housing and electricity as a problem to try to tackle.

Friday, December 16, 2011

50 DTSBYD: #25 Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room

Part of my 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die Challenge

Way before the mortgage meltdown, there was Enron.  Led by my favorite meteorologist's little brother, Enron imploded in spectacular fashion, following an absolutely improbable run of decades in which the company didn't seem to make any money or have any real plan that would ever make the company profitable.  And these smug little bastards didn't seem to find anything wrong with that because they were smart enough to figure out how to perpetuate the fraud.

Whether the cause of bad business sense, stupid accounting rules, or the logical result of the deregulation of rules designed to prevent abuse, it's a bad thing.  What's worse is that it does not appear that the business community learned anything from this situation.  Sometimes we have regulations for a reason.  Whether or not utilities should be a public good is the question, not whether utility regulations get in the way of corporate profits.  The Enron case is a cautionary tale about what happens when regulation is repealed without thinking about what the consequences are going to be.  We're living through the consequences of the repeal of Glass-Steagall Act, and the inability of the government to recognize that Credit Default Swaps should be regulated like insurance policies.  Maybe someday we'll recognize this.  Maybe?

50 DTSBYD: #46 Little Dieter Needs To Fly

Part of my 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die Challenge

Hey!  It's Rescue Dawn!  But without Gloria Steinem's step-son in the lead role (yes, strange, but true).

Little Dieter Needs to Fly is the story of Dieter Dengler, a pilot who was shot down over that country we were not bombing during the Vietnam War, held captive, then managed to escape to freedom.  What you learn from this documentary is not so much about Dengler's amazing story, but the lengths that Werner Herzog will go to in the production of a documentary.  He has Dengler running through the jungles of southeast Asia, recreating moments of his captivity, and pretty much making an old man relive the most traumatic moments of his life.  It's kind of fascinating.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Sunday Morning Papers: $10,000 Bet

In last night's debate, Mitt Romney bet $10,000 that he was right and Rick Perry was wrong.  Bad idea if you want to connect with the average voter. 

With median household income at $50K per year, Mitt just bet 20% of that like it was nothing.  If it was a rhetorical bet, why not bet a million dollars?  If it was a real bet, why not $100?  It shows that he doesn't seem to appreciate that $10,000 is that grey area where it's hard for an AVERAGE person to figure out if he's serious or not about the cash. 

I know this is the time of year where car companies like to pretend that a husband will buy a car for his wife, but if you are making $50,000 per year, you do not consent to spend $10,000 of your household's money without consulting your wife first.  I'm not sure why Perry didn't mention that.  It had to be in the back of his mind when he mentioned that he wasn't in the betting business.  Here is the major problem with the Republican field:  It's way to masculine.  There's a sense of one-upmanship when it comes to being the most macho.  If Perry were a Democrat, then he could have said that $10K was real money in his house, and he'd be sleeping on the couch if he didn't run it past his wife first.  The Democrats would accept that - the Republicans would call that being pussy whipped.  Negotiating the price down to something that would have been realistic ($20, for example) would have been unmanly.  Unfortunately, the Republican base appears to want to elect the Marlboro Man, and it doesn't appear that anyone can set up to that ideal.  The only one who came close was an actor, after all.

Friday, December 9, 2011

50 DTSBYD: #38 March of the Penguins

Part of my 50 Documentaries to See Before You Die Challenge

I'm not sure what else to add to the reviews of March of the Penguins.  It's beautiful, tragic, sweeping, epic, and its nature.  Almost any type of political statement you would like to make concerning anything could find a route into this movie, from the imporance of a two parent household to global warming.  So how about this - the landscape is cold and barren, yet somehow this species survives and thrives.  Plus the chicks might be the cutest darn things in the world, and with the auroras overhead, the film is breathtaking.

50 DTSBYD: #41 The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters

Part of my 50 Documentaries to See before You Die Challenge

I like video games, but not that much I guess.  Growing up, we had a Commodore Vic-20 system, which played a number of Atari knock-off games.  Since it plugged into the house's one color TV, we could not play for long - namely, no time after 5:30pm, and not during afternoon Cubs games.  You don't get used to playing video games for long periods of time when you are going to be kicked off after 20 minutes.  It wasn't until my mom broke down and bought a Compaq (TabWorks operating system.  Yeah) that I was able to play Donkey Kong.  And I was pretty good.  I could get to the 4th or 5th level pretty consistantly.  Apparently that isn't very good.

Enter the Kong.

King of Kong looks at the kind of person who will spend four, five, six, twelve? hours a day playing the same video game.  In one corner is Steve Wiebe, an obsessed an mild mannered nerd who doesn't even have the self-confidence to correct people when they mispronounce his name.  In the other corner is Billy Mitchell, a hot sauce salesman who may have peaked in 1987, but speaks with such bravado you wonder if he knows that the best years are behind him.  Honestly, he seems to be peddling his old success and unwilling to perform the way we expect, like a professional sports player who hasn't laced up the cleats for a few years, but still acts like he'll be starting on Sunday.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, you see that absolutely anything can be controversial if three or more people are involved.  The political infighting and paranoia surrounding Twin Galaxies is rather humorous (seriously, they referee competative arcade game high scores) until you realize that these things REALLY matter to this group.  I don't have the time to try to best Donkey Kong, but it does make me happy to know that if I wanted to be the best in something, there is probably a group that can officially convey the title to me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yes, you will get out of Wyoming

Today marks the 70th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I'd love to say that my grandfather marched to the local recruiting station the next day to enlist, but he was actually in Africa at the time fighting with the Brits.  However, once he returned, he marched right into his local recruiting office (found out that he never had a birth certificate issued...), and joined the logical branch of service for someone from the southern part of a landlocked Midwestern state, the Navy.

Strangely, this isn't too surprising.  When looking at the number of Navy Recruits per capita, it's not the states with the longest coastlines who enlist.  The top ten include Guam and Texas, who have higher military participation rates than the average state (or territory), and a couple states that make sense like Alaska and Washington.  Virginia, home of Norfolk?  Down at number 13.  Maryland, home of Annapoolis?  Number 17.  You are more likely to join the Navy if you are from the landlocked states of Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, Idaho, or Colorado than either of these states.  However, the bonus of joining the Navy over the Army or Air Force is that yes, you will not be stationed anywhere near the Black Thunder Coal Mine.  So perhaps there is something to the idea that kids run away from home to join the Navy.

Cut jobs to create jobs

The New York Times reported yesterday that threats of budget cuts are leading public sector employees to retire early.  Couple that with Republicans in Congress threatening to reduce the federal payroll, and you are seeing a massive destruction of the American economy based on bad economic policy.

Right now, consumer spending is responsible for 2/3rds of GDP, with private capital investment and government spending covering the other third.  If you cut back on government spending by reducing payroll, this will affect the amount of money in circulation to comprise the 2/3rds of GDP that is the result of employed people spending money.  If you reduce demand of consumer goods, then what capitalist is going to invest in a business if there are no customers?

This is why the idea of cutting government jobs to create jobs will lead to a contraction of GDP... or will make this recession into a bone fide depression.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

So long, Rod

Rod Blagojevich goes in for sentencing today.  He's expected to receive 10 years for doing something that would have been his duty before the 17th Amendment, to select a Senator based on the best political deal he could manage.  Something that was expected in 1915 will probably result in Rod going to Federal prison in Terre Haute for the next decade.  Democracy may not be perfect, but we're working on it.

The sad story of Rod is that in a town where graft, corruption, and payoffs are actually expected (dude, my garbage was picked up in the middle of a sanitation workers strike in Chicago.  Hizzah for the political machine that made that deal!), and he knew that he could get away with it... but had no idea how to actually do it.  Instead of trying to do some little things here and there for the good of the constituents, like get a sanitation workers union to come and pick up the garbage in one ward in exchange for supporting the union's strike city-wide, he really just tried to pad his own wallet and didn't have the good sense to hide it.  He was quite dumb as to how this all worked.  Meanwhile, he's married to the daughter of a seasoned politician, who obviously expected some kickbacks, but also wasn't fully aware of the masaging that needed to be done.

When it snows in Chicago, people don't care how the roads get cleared, just whether they are cleared or not.  People are willing to accept a little give-and-take if the services expected get delivered.  It might be more expensive than it needs to be done, but if that's the cost, then at least things get done.  People aren't too upset if a contract goes to a congressman's nephew - we assume the congressman is going to kick the nephew's ass if he doesn't deliver.  However, shopping a Senate seat to the highest bidder?  How can you even pretend to sell that one to the voters?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Stupid Biological Clock

It started Thursday morning... NPR featured a story on women in their 40s having to face the fact that they waited too long to try to have kids.  Your fertility plummets once you hit 25.  Thanks, just what a 32-year-old wants to hear.

Then, Thursday night, "Whitney" (or, that show that you watch because you are too lazy to try to change the channel after The Office... taking place in Chicago, my ass) had the plot line of Whitney coming to terms with her own ticking biological clock.

To make matters worse, it turns out that laptops are destroying sperm.  So just in case I am that 10% of women who can still have a kid in her late 30s, my husband's late nights researching may have screwed up our chances.  That is, if BPA that our parents consumed in the 1970s did not mess with our reproductive systems so that we never had a chance.

Here we are.  Torn.  Do we have a child before we are financially stable, or do we not have kids?  Are we supposed to be responsible parents or not parents?  Raising a child today can cost a quarter million dollars per child for 18 years, not including college.  The cost of child care alone would be 33% of our household income.  Any responsible person would not doom a child to poverty.  If we're going to have a continuing problem of Americans delaying childbirth until it is too late due to financial realities, then it is time to think about the economic costs that this entails.  Just child care alone is rapidly becoming a cost that middle income families cannot afford at $13K per year when the average household income is $48K pretax, and they cannot make ends meet on one income to have one parent provide care.  Add food, an extra bedroom to the house, a sedan or minivan, strollers, clothes, and a safe place to sleep, and really - who can afford to have kids on $48K per year?

Sunday, December 4, 2011


On occasion, I'll hear a woman of my age say something to the extent of "I'm not a feminist."  A 30-year-old single woman, with a college degree, a full-time job, living on her own, with her own assets and real estate, is not a feminist.  She's okay with this, and that right there means that she's some type of feminist.  Otherwise, she'd consent to an arranged marriage orchestrated by her aunt, or move into her brothers house to be the elderly spinster aunt for her nephews.  At least that's what would be expected in before 1955. 

Sometimes we don't think about how far we've come towards gender equality until we really reflect.  This week, a study came out on men and women and multi-tasking at home after the workday has concluded.  Yes, women do more work at home, but men are still involved in child-rearing tasks.  That's progress. 

Yesterday, Herman Cain suspended his campaign for president in light of multiple allegations of sexual harassment and a possible mistress.  Of course, there's no way you could have a national political career with these types of skeletons in the closet.  At least not these days.  Warren Harding had 4 mistresses (and probably an illegitimate daughter), and Grover Cleveland admitted to fathering a child out of wedlock.  That's just what powerful men do.  They are so powerful that their sexual prowess cannot be contained by the banns of holy matrimony.  No one well-bred woman would consent to THAT much sex.  Even 20 years ago at the Clarence Thomas hearings, it was implied that Anita Hill was asking for it, that she had put herself in a position where she would be taken advantage of, and men need a space to be manly man-like men.  There was an attempt to classify Herman Cain's accusers as being financial ne'er-do-wells, but few people were buying that logic.  Which is good.  Maybe we're making progress.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Well, we're fat.  The New York Post reported Monday that the average American weighs 20 pounds more today than they did in 1990, which makes sense because we've all gotten married... let ourselves go a bit... maybe lost that free time to go to the gym... oh, not individuals, just people in general.  Ok.

I did find out that my "Fat Weight" is the average weight for an American woman.  Makes me feel a bit better.

However, while we're fatter, we're also okay with it.  I'm not okay with this part.  Some of the issue is that we know a lot more about obesity now.  We're also more aware that different bodies have different ideal weights, and instead of a firm number calculated on 100 plus five pound for every inch over 5 feet tall to determine ideal weight, we have ranges.  However, outside of that range, we're more accepting.  That's where I have issues.  We shouldn't be okay with that.  Unless we are training for the Olympics or the Super Bowl, it probably means that the diet or exercise routine we're in is not working for us, and we should address that.  Being okay with being overweight is problematic - we don't have that trigger that says we should hit the gym again and have a salad.

That said, Monday was when I started my diet to shed the excess Fall / Thanksgiving weight, and I'm starving.  I'm a little pissed that the entire 2/3rds of Americans who are overweight are not as hungry as I am right now.