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Monday, December 15, 2008

Don't Look At This As Goodbye, Ed

Just that we won't share our time together here anymore. That's right, this website is now defunct. I am very excited to announce the purchase of the Shambollocks web domain. Yes, that's right-from now on, Shambollocks will be as free as a bird! So please visit us at our new location here:

It's new, it's spiffy, and you'll love every second wasting your time with a whole slew of added features!

Thanks Blogspot for being the cradle. But now, ladies and gentlemen, it's time to kick this baby into overdrive.

Friday, December 12, 2008


Will eat you alive! Mwaaahahahaaaa!


Bobby Rush-Working For Us

I know, I know, this week has not been kind to my fellow Illinois citizens. Our initial excitement at the news of Boy Blunder's downfall has turned into horrid embarrassment as the national media attention changed our state's image to that of an -izikstan. At least my wife can say she's from Iowa. Me, I got nothing.

And yesterday the Tribune reported that another Illinois politician continues their excellent public service in Congress, one Bobby Rush. Bobby is my representative in Congress, although I voted for him once-in my first election. This week, he sponsored a bill guarding our great nation from the tyranny of a false college national championship game.
He [Rep. Joe Barton of Texas]said the bill — being co-sponsored by Reps. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, and Michael McCaul, a Texas Republican — "will prohibit the marketing, promotion, and advertising of a postseason game as a 'national championship' football game, unless it is the result of a playoff system. Violations of the prohibition will be treated as violations of the Federal Trade Commission Act as an unfair or deceptive act or practice."

I give. Next time, Kara and I have the Iowa talk I'm calling her bluff.

Illinois, vote these bums out

Historical note- the above congressman waxed our President-elect in a primary here a few years back. For the record, I voted for Obama.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Afghanistan- Gung Ho? Or No?

I stand as one of the few people who said after American forces invaded Afghanistan, "This is a bad idea." For as long as we have written history, attempts at occupying that country have come to naught. And for good reason. The country is as inviting as a Rush Limbaugh, post-show hug. When you're not dealing with impassable mountains you're stuck in flesh-melting heat. The great majority of the country has no running water or electricity. The New Republic this month provides a thorough examination of just what kind of mess President-elect Obama is hell-bent on entering.

That America's October 2001 invasion failed to impose peace and stability is not exactly a surprise. Afghanistan is like a Chinese finger trap: The harder you try to solve it, the more it constricts you. Ask the Russians. In 1979, the Soviet Union sent military forces to install a pro-Soviet government in Kabul. At its peak in the country, the Red Army numbered some 140,000. But, after ten years of inconclusive fighting, 15,000 dead, and tens of thousands more wounded, the battered Soviets mounted a humiliating retreat--one that probably helped speed the collapse of their empire. ("They've already repeated all of our mistakes," one former Soviet general from the Afghan campaign recently said to The New York Times of the U.S. occupation.) Or ask the British. More than a century earlier, the United Kingdom dispatched a huge army to Afghanistan from India to secure it against Russian influence. That adventure, too, was a disaster, ending in a retreat of 16,500 troops and civilians through the Khyber Pass into Pakistan. Only one survivor made it--his life spared by the Afghans so he could recount the ghastly tale for others.

From the beginning, experts with this historical perspective in mind warned that crushing the Taliban was impossible: "No matter how successful the U.S. campaign is," wrote the Council on Foreign Relations's Kimberly Marten Zisk in November 2001, "never will all the rebels defect to the winning side. The rebels who are left will not stop fighting, no matter how hard conditions get." The past seven years have made those words look prescient. Today, the Taliban is as bold--and as brutal--as it has been since the United States first drove it from power. The Pashtun Islamic radicals who controlled the country from 1996 to 2001, and provided safe harbor to Osama bin Laden before September 11, have found sanctuary and regrouped just across Afghanistan's eastern border, in Pakistan's self-governing northwestern tribal areas.

The Afghans know how to kill and maim, yo. Obama, you best watch it. They will fight forever because that is all they know. I don't think America is ready for an interminable occupation of Afghanistan. My advice-gather a regional council of NATO, Russia, China, India, and Pakistan. Collaborate on an infrastructure for Afghanistan that gets modern knowledge and sanitation for these people. Agree to spend what it would cost to house 300,000 troops there. Invest in the Afghanis- not the crooked tribal chiefs or warlords.

Success in Afghanistan would do much to make the world forget the Iraq debacle. But it can't be done by any repeat of an Iraq strategy. When in doubt, don't forget to ask the Russians.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Twat(s) of the Day

Empire of the Sun, "Walking On A Dream" from Benjamin Technology on Vimeo.

If you were wondering what it would take to make the Chinese go all al-Queda on our asses, check out this video. Not only does the song make a Chinese laundry joke sound cutting edge, these two Australians make a video that collectively dumps on Chinese culture. It is the music video version of Road Rules Europe. Let's show how enlightened we Aussies (thank God, they are not Americans) are by trading on the same level of self-involved irony we do at home!

Please feel free to play this whenever you need an outlet for that irrational rage issue you have.

woxy Holiday Mixer

My wife is a wonderful, adorable woman in almost every conceivable, measurable way. But when Christmas comes every year she desires holiday music to the near exclusion of all else. Of all the music genres, I am quite sure that holiday music contains the most rubbish. And the most repetition. It it truly necessary to hear 'The Christmas Song' fifteen times, even if it is the classic Nat King Cole version?

To our collective rescue comes woxy with their Holiday mixer. I just listened to unique Xmas songs by Shambollocks favorites Guided By Voices and Ron Sexsmith.

Feel free to hang mistletoe with care- and with devils horns.

'Children of the Revolution'-T Rex, Elton, Ringo '72

This rocks a whole hell of a lot. Three drummers, T-Rex, and Elton bang out this classic T-Rex hit. On the flip, you also see the wasted self-love which made the '70s suck. Bolan starts off by serenading EJ from within his piano. Ringo, who directed a T-Rex feature from which this is taken, walks around in a clown suit filming T-Rex in a mirrored cube. Ick!

Amount of degradation before and after this was shot- Epic!

Found- MBV.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

'As Tall As Cliffs'

Margot and the Nuclear So & So's - As Tall as cliffs - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Shambollocks loves jam sessions, cities at night, and messy sing-a-longs. Margot and the Nuclear So & So's give us all of that in this wee in the morning performance. I especially love the maracas played against a Makers bottle.

'Stronger Than Jesus'

The band is called A Camp. The song is 'Stronger Than Jesus'. It is the first single from their next album. The album drops Feb. 2, 2009, and will be called Colonia. Very much dig the song with its mid-70s MOR feel, and a video which harkens back to the very early days of music videos.

Plus, I like hot blondes.

Found- Chromewaves.

Dumbest. Politician. Ever. (UPDATED)

2008 just keeps giving for me, politically. The Republicans were marched out of office last month. This morning at 6:15 AM, federal agents knocked on the North Side Statehouse of one Governor Rod Blagojevich (Boy Blunder to Shambollocks readers), and arrested him for going on "a political corruption crime spree" (words of U.S. Attny Patrick Fitzgerald). Huzzah!

From early reports, it appears Boy Blunder was auctioning off the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Obama to the taker whose bid best accommodated Rod and Patty financially. He was doing this up through this weekend, despite reports that he was under audio surveillance on the front page of the CHICAGO TRIBUNE! Wow, really Trib, nobody pays any attention to you. Don't think this rotten stew could get any better? He was racking his brain for a way to appoint himself to the Senate seat, thereby avoiding the threat of impeachment and prepping himself for a, sit down, run for the President in 2016!

Hahahahaha...oh yeah, I'm at the keyboard.

Illinois is an open sewer. I wonder how this will reflect on Obama, whose staff has many connections to Boy Blunder. I wonder if George Ryan will now get a new bunkmate. Is Daley next on Fitzgerald's hitlist?

Find news of this developing story here.

Illinois-Where the Governor's pension includes room and board on the Fed's dime.

- Here is fine piece from Chicago in February which gives some deep background on Boy Blunder's problems.

[Dick] Mell [Boy Blunder's father-in-law and mentor] insists that he largely kept his big ego in check during the campaign, but in the aftermath of the November election, he began to feel as if he were getting the cold shoulder from Blagojevich. His phone calls weren't returned. He was left out of meetings. His nominees for state jobs got rejected. His advice was ignored.

Tempers flared outright a couple of months into Blagojevich's term, over something seemingly trivial: office stationery. Mell's office had printed Blagojevich's name on the alderman's 33rd Ward letterhead, an inappropriate link to the governor. Blagojevich was furious, but instead of calling Mell, he ordered one of his close advisers, Christopher Kelly, to handle it. Mell says Kelly summoned him to the East Bank Club and announced: "The governor's really pissed off." Asked why, Kelly shot back: "The stationery—it's got his name on it!"

Recalling the incident today, Mell grows animated, and his voice rises: "He sends that asshole Kelly to reprimand me about stationery! He's my son-in-law—pick up the goddamn telephone and call me." Adding to Mell's sense of insult, the governor's office sent him a cease-and-desist letter. (Attempts to reach Kelly were unsuccessful.)

The first rule of a spouse is don't piss off the in-laws. I've only been married two months and I know that. And if your father-in-law happens to be one of the ten most powerful people in the state and your political base, you might want to walk on egg shells. But not our testicularly vital (his words) Boy Blunder. He took that as a cue and alientated everyone.

Better learn how to make friends now, Rod. Sure helps in the prison showers.

Does God Love SUVs?

The above picture is from yesterday's Times. What are they thinking? One of Detroit's problems is that they make cars America doesn't want. What, is God going to buy them?
Pentecostal Bishop Charles H. Ellis III, who shared the sanctuary’s wide altar with three gleaming sport utility vehicles, closed his sermon by leading the choir and congregants in a boisterous rendition of the gospel singer Myrna Summers’s “We’re Gonna Make It” as hundreds of worshipers who work in the automotive industry — union assemblers, executives, car salesmen — gathered six deep around the altar to have their foreheads anointed with consecrated oil.
Oy vey! First, God doesn't care what happens with the auto industry. Second, the Big Three are not a governmental welfare agency. They are a business. And they don't want to change. Declare bankruptcy, dump your high-salaried corporate boobs, and restructure your legacy costs.

God helps those who help themselves.

'Little Dealer Boy'

Willie Nelson and Stephen Colbert provide us with the holiday hit of the season- 'Little Dealer Boy'. Enjoy.

And let mankind not bogard love, indeed!

Sesame Street Christmas 1978

With all the troubles that we're going through right now, I know we all can use a good smile. Here is 'Christmas Eve on Sesame Street' from 1978. I was for sure too young to remember this airing, being all of 11 months old. I'm sure my sister Michelle watched it. She had a Sesame Street playset that I loved when I got a couple years older. Really brings me back to plenty of wonderful Xmases on Springfield Ave. My mother would clip out the holiday listings from the Tribune's TV Guide, and my sisters and I planned our December viewing around the Grinch, Charlie Brown, Frosty the Snowman, and (maybe one year) this.

The cast we grew up with is all here- Bob, Maria, Gordon, Susan, Luis, David, Linda, and Mr. Hooper (!!). And Snuffalupagus!

You can watch the rest of the special right here.

Rhetorical questions- How does Oscar see where he's walking with no eye holes in his can? With no money, do I want to know how Bert and Ernie make rent each month? How come Big Bird was always getting himself lost?

- Want more retro Christmas treats? Get yourself over to BetaMaXmas right now! Awesome site that collects a bunch of our childhood Xmas specials.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Sign 'O The Times

The above picture comes from Sunday's New York Times. Republic Window and Doors on the North Side of Chicago closed its doors on Friday. Except the workers haven't left. Some of them occupied the factory all weekend. Good for them.
The workers, members of Local 1110 of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America, said they were owed vacation and severance pay and were not given the 60 days of notice generally required by federal law when companies make layoffs.
And where are the jobs going? Of course, overseas. Republic owed money to Bank of America, late of the Paulson bailout, which stopped Republic from giving its employees the back pay they were owed.
“Here the banks like Bank of America get a bailout, but workers cannot be paid?” said Leah Fried, an organizer with the union workers. “The taxpayers would like to see that bailout go toward saving jobs, not saving C.E.O.’s.”
We sure would, but I'm not going to start holding my breath. We know with whom the politicians go to dinner, and it isn't us. We need to celebrate the collective action of workers again. We need unions in this country, again. Someone has to speak for the needs of labor when the spoils are divied in Washington.

- Why did I pull the Republic story from the Times, and not the Tribune? Great question. Energizing redesign notwithstanding, the Trib sucks. I subscribe to it because I always have.

Today, the Tribune announced it was filing for bankruptcy. I still can't get over it. Sure, the paper will still run, and 'GN will remain on the airwaves, but the TRIBUNE CO. filed for BANKRUPTCY!!? The largest media company in Chicago, the owner of the Chicago Cubs, is BANKRUPT? Wow. I never thought there would be a time when the Trib didn't exist. But it is coming. The end of the newspaper era is upon us. The place where nearly every writer got started, the urban daily, will soon cease to exist. As both a writer and newspaper lover, I can't help but get a little misty.

And scared. What will replace newspapers? Who will speak truth to power?

'Jizz In My Pants'

The hottest viral video on the web right now is 'Jizz In My Pants', the video from Andy Samberg's the Lonely Island. Jamie Lynn-Sigler and Molly Sims provide the t & a. Andy is not allowing us to embed the video, but take my word for it-this is going to reach a 'Dick In A Box' level.

Remember, you heard about it first right here!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

'Salvage Mission'

How I Became the Bomb - Salvage Mission from How I Became the Bomb on Vimeo.

Great video for a very cool, bombastic slice of pop by the group How I Became the Bomb. I'm not sure what video game they used for the special effects, but it looks like it might be a Star Wars game.

Yes, music videos are back as meaningful art. MTV be damned, rockers still want to be actors. And thank God for that.

Ups to MBV for this.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Eliot, Be Good

Eliot Spitzer, former Emperor's Club VIP, returned from the dust heap of recent history Wednesday to write a slam dunk, right on article about the current bailout for Slate. I myself have done my best over the past few months to tell you exactly what I think about the mess, but my limited knowledge of economics makes me very much like Bambi- I can sense when something's amiss, but I can't tell you why exactly I'm running. Eliot, ex-Wall Street fighter he was, knows why it is amiss. Let's start with what's wrong with our economy:

  • Our trade deficit has ballooned from about $100 billion to more than $700 billion annually in the past decade, and our federal deficit now approaches $1 trillion. These twin deficits leave us at the mercy of foreign-capital inflows that may diminish as Asian nations, in particular, invest increasingly at home.
  • Our household savings rate has been close to zero—and even negative in some years—not permitting the long-term capital accumulation required for the investments we need; China's savings rate, by comparison, is an astonishing 30 percent of household income.
  • U.S. middle class income has stagnated over the past decade, while the middle class in China—granted, starting from a lower base—has seen its income growing at about 10 percent annually.
  • Our intellectual advantage could soon turn into a new "third deficit," as hundreds of thousands of engineers are being created annually in China.
  • We are realizing that the service sector—all the lawyers, investment bankers, advertising agencies, and accountants—follows its clients and wealth creation. This, not over-regulation, is the reason investment-banking activity has begun to migrate overseas.
Yes, yes! So true, especially that last one. All the white-collar yos who are out of work right now who think they have it bad? Wait until ten years from now, when most of their industries follow the money to India, China, or Europe. It was one thing when high-school guys lost their industrial jobs. Not much tear-crying by the degreed powers-that-be. But when a Burnett copywriter is serving up lattes at Starbucks? Ladies and gentlemen, there will be a symphony orchestra playing at every street corner.

Gotta get into the studio to lay down 'Brother, I'll Tell You How To Make Some Dimes'.

Spitzer goes on to state that we're propping up dinosaur industries- not just Detroit, but the lot of them. I've believed this, too. I know we need to bring money into the market because the banks are tighter than a Catholic school paycheck, but why are we putting the money into the same failed institutions?

A more sensible approach would focus not just on rescuing pre-existing financial institutions but, instead, on creating a structure for more contained and competitive ones. For years, we have accepted a theory of financial concentration—not only across all lines of previously differentiated sectors (insurance, commercial banking, investment banking, retail brokerage, etc.) but in terms of sheer size. The theory was that capital depth would permit the various entities, dubbed financial supermarkets, to compete and provide full service to customers while cross-marketing various products. That model has failed. The failure shows in gargantuan losses, bloated overhead, enormous inefficiencies, dramatic and outsized risk taken to generate returns large enough to justify the scale of the organizations, ethical abuses in cross-marketing in violation of fiduciary obligations, and now the need for major taxpayer-financed capital support for virtually every major financial institution.

Eliot, my man! So in short, prop up credit markets with new vehicles. Do NOT give money to the chuckleheads who drowned the baby and now can't find the telephone. Dude may have hired some ladies of the evening, but you know, leadership comes from strange places. This is by far the most well-reasoned piece I've read about our current plight.

You heard it here first. Eliot Spitzer. US Attorney General. 2012.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

'Big Timber'

Himsa 'Big Timber' from RadarMusicVideos on Vimeo.

Remember Headbanger's Ball? Remember how much you loved it? I know I don't get my own metal face out nearly enough. Himsa's very cool video for 'Big Timber' brings you back to the late '80s, when you didn't care what was being played as long as they played it FAST and LOUD!

Thanks to the aforementioned MBV.

MBV: Your One-Stop Music Blog

Shambollocks always wants you to be the coolest person on your scene, so we want to make sure you're aware of MBV- the new music site which combines the works of Said the Gramophone, Largehearted Boy, Fluxblog, The Catbird Seat, and Chromewaves in one place. Don't waste your time at Pitchfork or trawling the web. If you want new sounds, stop at MBV first.

Just as a reminder, they are the new addition to our blog list at the bottom of our page.

Windows 386 Is On The Attack!

Enjoy this promotional video for Windows 386. Stay until the seven-minute mark, where you will find some priceless, horrid white rapping.

How did John Williams, Spielberg, and Lucas allow Raiders music into this debacle?

Odetta: 1930-2008

Odetta, one of the leading voices of the '50s folk revival, died Tuesday. Odetta coincidentally died a few weeks after Studs Terkel, who introduced her to me through his WFMT show. Odetta sounded like no one else; like a cross between Bo Diddley and Nina Simone maybe. Her guitar-playing was as spare and plain as could be, but her voice, well, her voice was like the dark side of soul music. Sam Cooke and Ray Charles brought soul to Whites by taking out the pain. Odetta reveled in the pain. It was very much heavy metal folk.

Odetta influenced many. From Odetta, we get the Staples Singers, Bob Dylan, and The Band. She played at the March on Washington in 1963, so we can also thank her for President-elect Obama. I know she will be rocking out on January 20 of next year, and Studs will be close at hand, passing a hat through that heavenly bar.

The New York Times has a great interview with her last year here.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Meet Our Creditor

The man above is Gao Xiqing. He manages $2 billion out of the $2 trillion we owe China. James Fallows interviews him in this month's Atlantic. What does he think went wrong with his debtor friends across the pond?

People, especially Americans, started believing that they can live on other people’s money. And more and more so. First other people’s money in your own country. And then the savings rate comes down, and you start living on other people’s money from outside. At first it was the Japanese. Now the Chinese and the Middle Easterners.

We—the Chinese, the Middle Easterners, the Japanese—we can see this too. Okay, we’d love to support you guys—if it’s sustainable. But if it’s not, why should we be doing this? After we are gone, you cannot just go to the moon to get more money. So, forget it. Let’s change the way of living. [By which he meant: less debt, lower rewards for financial wizardry, more attention to the “real economy,” etc.]

We're the guy who wants the filet mignon on our $70 a day salary. He's the guy reminding us when the rent's due. Better start saving, America. 'Cause when Gao wants his money back, we'll think the events of the last two months were the good times.

I have to say, I kind of like our creditor. Give this to the Chinese, without having to appeal to voters or shareholders they rate very low on the bullshit scale.

Keepin' 'Em Locked Up

We like to lock people up. Can't get around it. America likes to send people to prison, and if we can make the prisons absolutely miserable, well, more power to us. Dissent Magazine gives us an informed essay on the price we all pay for our criminal warehouses.

Since the 1970s, the U.S. prisoner population has increased by more than fivefold. Today, the United States is the world’s warden, incarcerating a higher proportion of its people than any other country—or about one out of every hundred adults. A staggering seven million people—or one in every thirty-two adults—are either incarcerated, on parole or probation, or under some other form of state supervision.

These figures understate the enormous and disproportionate impact that this unprecedented social experiment has had on certain groups in U.S. society. If current trends continue, one in three black men and one in six Hispanic men will spend some time in jail or prison during their lives.
So what, you might say. If they did the crime, they can do the time. OK, but what about the ripple effects that each convict's absence causes? The communities which suffer the most from imprisonment are already high-crime areas. Does it make any sense to remove healthy males from communities that already can't support themselves? And what do we do with these people we imprison? Do we educate them, get them off drugs, or, at least, keep them safe from disease and violence? No. We dump them back in the very same high crime communities, where they can import the 'tough love' we showed them to their new surroundings.

Imprisonment costs an awful lot as well. In this current economic crisis, does it make sense to feed and tend to adults who contribute nothing to society, except the occasional license plate or end table? The educational and rehabilitative services which have been cut from state prison budgets nationwide are much more effective at controlling crime than the building of more prisons. There is no reason offenders cannot return to society with marketable skills.

Finally, our nation's prisons are the last great civil rights issue. We in America just elected a black president, and we are justifiably proud of this. But we still imprison an extraordinarily high amount of black men. We need to stop looking at crime as the cause of problems, but as the effect of years of governmental ignorance. Give poor communities jobs. Give inner-city schools appropriate funding. Give increased student aid to underprivileged youth who want to go to college. Yes, this will cost an awful lot of money, but it is an investment in their future and our safety. Because what kind of investment is a prison?

This is a personal issue for us at Shambollocks. We have both been the victims and the loved ones of crime. So has most of America. It's time to make a more compassionate decision.

The Parking Meter Windfall

When is Mayor Daley finally going to take off his mask, and let everyone see that he is really George Bush? The fire sale of Chicago's revenue-generating assets continued yesterday when Daley announced the sale of the parking meters to a private company.

The City Council's Finance Committee is scheduled to debate the parking meter lease agreement Wednesday, with a final vote of the full council expected Thursday. Aldermen have given quick and overwhelming approval to all of Daley's groundbreaking privatization efforts in recent years, eagerly accepting enormous checks for long-term leases of the Chicago Skyway toll road ($1.83 billion), downtown parking garages ($563 million) and Midway International Airport ($2.5 billion).
If you wanted to know where the old Republican style of government went, it's home and safe in Chicago. Sure, you could be responsible and try to cut the administrative fat from the budget, or throw out the TIF districts, but why do that? No, just sell off future revenue to a private company that will raise rates drastically on everyone. See, you're not raising taxes. You're just mortgaging the future of the city- until 2016, when we get the Olympics and it rains lollipops and puppy dogs and we all rent our homes for outrageous sums.

Yeah, right.

The CTA is still available, but hasn't attracted interest from private hands because it needs no further push toward full-tilt disaster.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


Iceland may be suffering through a winter of discontent, but they are still churning out great music. Today we spotlight the band Sin Fang Bous, a side project for a guy who is in another band called Seabear of which I am unaware. Their song 'Sinkership' has everything going on-horns, strings, and what sounds almost like the theme song to 'Kid Icarus'. Shambollocks' never faults pop which tries too hard, and we will definitely keep our eyes and ears open for this band's future work. You can find the song at bunnynico.

The Big Chart

Give yourself twenty minutes, and enjoy The Big Chart- a short film about an NCAA tournament to decide the best 'thing'. It is both funny and thought-provoking in a totally meaningless way- kind of like the best after-hours conversation you've ever had.

I Asked For A Zima, Not Emphysema

Alas, one more line from my favorite Simpsons episode will need to be explained to my children. Zima, the beer (?) which came, saw, and then turned into a national punch-line, was officially put out of its misery by MillerCoors on October 10th. Slate last week published an appreciation for this amazingly bad tasting malt beverage.

Zima came into being at the beginning of my drinking. I distinctly remember the first time I drank the stuff. In a decade which brought us the iced-beverage fad (yes, I once drank Miller High Life Ice), Zima was by far the foulest brew available. It tasted like cold, flat ginger ale-except with a distinct, mediciney after taste that made you want to immediately gargle with Jager. It lasted amongst my peers for a year because the Mother McCauley girls were able to place Sweet Tarts in it to create some kind of uber-sugary concoction similar to Homer's dear Skittle-Brau.

Here's to you, Zima. May you continue to ruin young drinkers' palettes in some Latin American after-market.

Torture Just Doesn't Work

I know it seems like, no matter what President-elect Obama says, we are already post-Bush in this country. The messy economic picture, the war drums sounding from India and Pakistan, and the imminent celebration of Christmas in January (Obama's inauguration!) make the chore of looking back on the last eight years truly disheartening. But as a history student, I am a firm believer that those who don't learn from history are doomed to repeat it. And one lesson I hope was learned by the 110th Congress is how truly awful and nation-staining our interrogation policy is. We should do whatever we can to rewrite those rules immediately.

Matthew Alexander led a Special Forces interrogation unit in Iraq during the bloody chaos of 2006. The title of his op-ed piece in Sunday's Washington Post says it all- 'I'm Still Tortured By What I Saw In Iraq'.

Our new interrogation methods [investigative instead of physcially and mentally punishing-Ed.] led to one of the war's biggest breakthroughs: We convinced one of Zarqawi's associates to give up the al-Qaeda in Iraq leader's location. On June 8, 2006, U.S. warplanes dropped two 500-pound bombs on a house where Zarqawi was meeting with other insurgent leaders.

But Zarqawi's death wasn't enough to convince the joint Special Operations task force for which I worked to change its attitude toward interrogations. The old methods continued. I came home from Iraq feeling as if my mission was far from accomplished. Soon after my return, the public learned that another part of our government, the CIA, had repeatedly used waterboarding to try to get information out of detainees.

I know the counter-argument well -- that we need the rough stuff for the truly hard cases, such as battle-hardened core leaders of al-Qaeda, not just run-of-the-mill Iraqi insurgents. But that's not always true: We turned several hard cases, including some foreign fighters, by using our new techniques. A few of them never abandoned the jihadist cause but still gave up critical information. One actually told me, "I thought you would torture me, and when you didn't, I decided that everything I was told about Americans was wrong. That's why I decided to cooperate."

Torture and abuse are against my moral fabric. The cliche still bears repeating: Such outrages are inconsistent with American principles. And then there's the pragmatic side: Torture and abuse cost American lives.

I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It's no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me -- unless you don't count American soldiers as Americans.

The damage our interrogation policy has done to our image as a beacon of light to the world will take many administrations to correct. Terrorism is a crime, and it should be dealt with by trained criminal investigators. There is no armed military solution to terrorism, as Gen. Petraeus has shown us during his tenure leading our forces in Iraq. If you beat people enough, they will tell you they are Santa Claus. That is the truth.

24 is a popular TV show. It is not the real world. When you torture people you exacerbate crime, not eliminate it.

- On the same tip, in Sunday's New York Times Jonathan Mahler writes that the war on terrorism will never be only fought through our judicial process.

Mr. Obama may be more inclined to prosecute suspected terrorists in the federal courts than Mr. Bush has been, and he may even avoid referring to the battle against terrorism as a “war.” But ceding the military paradigm altogether would severely limit his ability to fight terrorism. On a practical level, it would prevent him from operating in a zone like the tribal areas of Pakistan, where American law does not reach.

“If you seriously dialed it back to the criminal-justice apparatus you will paralyze the executive branch’s ability to go where they believe the bad guys are,” says Benjamin Wittes, a fellow at the Brookings Institution. “When people talk about a return to the criminal-justice system, they’re ignoring the geographical limits of that system.”
OK, then we need to set up a national security court which provides some recourse for those apprehended in other countries. Flying around the world and picking off the bad guys will continue to bite us in the ass. We need to make sure we are giving all detainees as much due process as we can. We're America, for God sakes. We don't stand for unwarranted imprisonment.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Word Of The Day: Rickrolling

From Wikipedia:

Rickrolling is an Internet meme typically involving the music video for the 1987 Rick Astley song "Never Gonna Give You Up". The meme is a bait and switch: a person provides a Web link that he or she claims is relevant to the topic at hand, but the link actually takes the user to the Astley video. The URL can be masked or obfuscated in some manner so that the user cannot determine the true source of the link without clicking. When a person clicks on the link and is led to the web page, he or she is said to have been "Rickrolled" (also spelled Rickroll'd). By extension, it can also mean playing the song loudly in public in order to be disruptive.
The age of irony now reigns supreme over the internet. At first, this is a genuine funny prank. But then it gets co-opted into something much worse- an appreciation for an awful song which forgets why it was even started. By the time it hits network TV, it becomes such a Russian doll of a joke that you get exhausted trying to figure out why you're supposed to laugh.

As a cultural commentator, I'm left feeling cheated. What is important? That Rick Astley is alive and well? That a nagging buzzterm can infiltrate the mainstream to erupt on the float for a children's show on a traditional holiday platform?

I guess I just can't believe that the folks from the Today show are more on the pulse of the moment than I am. If this is hip, though, I'm ready for Florida.

Again, harrumph.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Real Numbers On The Paulson Bailout

The Paulson Bailout has now cost $4.6165 trillion dollars! Hard to wrap your head around a number that big, right? Consider- this bailout is now more expensive than the cost of World War II, adjusted for inflation (which is $3.6 trillion), PLUS the Vietnam War, adjusted for inflation ($698 billion), PLUS the S & L Crisis, adjusted for inflation ($256 billion)! And that is just from Barry Ritholtz on his The Big Picture.

Over at Bloomberg, they calculate Paulson's tab at $7.76 trillion. According to that figure, every man, woman, and child in America is on the hook for (sit down) $24,000.

Thanks Wall Street for the new student loan. Can you at least send us all a BA in Business? I think we've earned it.

Somebody better get in that recording studio and record 'China, Can You Spare A Dime?'

What pisses me off most about this crisis is that Friday evening we will all watch our idiot neighbors skulk off from dying big box stores with their BluRay players and laptops. Because we shouldn't consider that thing are going to get worse, right? No, no, NEVER stop spending.


Monday, November 24, 2008

The Trouble With Citigroup

Citigroup became the very latest domino to fall in '08's Great American Bank Bailout. According to today's Economist, we will guarantee $306 billion dollars of bad mortgage debt and give them $20 billion in cash in return for $27 billion dollars in rapidly dropping Citgroup stock. What a deal!

How did America's largest bank find itself in such desperate straits? Greed, lack of oversight, and...did I mention greed? According to the Times, David C. Bushnell, Citigroup's senior risk officer, was buddy-buddy with the traders he was meant to oversee.

It was common in the bank to see Mr. Bushnell waiting patiently — sometimes as long as 45 minutes — outside Mr. Barker’s office so he could drive him home to Short Hills, N.J., where both of their families lived. The two men took occasional fly-fishing trips together; one expedition left them stuck on a lake after their boat ran out of gas.

Because Mr. Bushnell had to monitor traders working for Mr. Barker’s bond desk, their friendship raised eyebrows inside the company among those concerned about its controls.

"Hey, Dave, remember that time we ran out of gas on your boat?"

"Yeah, Randy?"

"That was awesome!"

"Sure was, Randy. But not as awesome as the time I helped you take on billions in unsecured mortage debt, which would later almost cause our whole bank to collapse!"

"Yeah, that was wicked. But, hey, we still have our jobs."

And there's the rub. The good news today from the Washington Post is that the Obama Deal sounds like it will be $700 billion on infrastructure and jobs. The bad news is that tax cuts are included with that package, which will make it all the more expensive eventually. And that Obama is being advised by former Clinton Treasury Secretary Robert E. Rubin, who was (who woulda thunk it?) an 'influential director and senior advisor' at Citibank!

NO, President-elect Obama. No damaged goods. They made the mess, they do not advise on the clean-up. Or do you need to be reminded of the current Treasury Mess, Hank Paulson? Send Rubin away. Now. We're watching.

Today's Big Dumb Idea

Ever want to go for a jog, but stopped because you really hate pavement? Or maybe you're just looking for another way to make that broken-wing hop you do even more ridiculous? Shambollocks presents the Treadmobile!

Wow. I'll just let that video speak for itself.

Kal-El Lands In Canada

Last night, a giant meteorite smashed into an area near the Alberta/ Saskatchewan border. The reunited Alpha Flight was believed to be on their way to inspect the extraterrestrial debris.

Water From Air

It has been said that the resource wars of the future will be not be over oil, but water. 'Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink' remains as true today as when it was written two hundred years ago in some areas of the world. Water surrounds us, but the ability to provide potable delivery to an increasing global population will make for one of the largest challenges of the 21st century. But what if we could pull the water simply and cleanly from the atmosphere?

Shambollocks introduces you to WaterMill, invented by the company Element Four, which went on display at Wired's bazaar of developing technologies. For the electrical cost of three light bulbs, the WaterMill, mounted outside your home, will work as a dehumidifier, providing your home with water pulled from the atmosphere. The technology will retail for a pricey $1,200 when released in the States, but don't think that will stop the hip greens on your block.

Bldgblog goes a bit further on their entry on the WaterMill, imagining a city which undergoes permanent drought because of the absence of humidity. No rain. No snow. I can do without the humidity here in Chicago, but I'll still need snow. Maybe we reenginer the WaterMills in winter.

It's The Economy, Charlie Brown!

Poor George W. Bush. Watch as his peers in the developed world refuse to shake his hand. We can learn something from this. First, nobody loves you internationally when you're down and out, especially when, as leader of the Capitalist Cult, they blame you for much of the current world financial mess. Reputations change overnight. One moment you're leading a 'Coalition of the Willing', which includes Poland and Great Britain. The next you're being snubbed by the cool kids in the International Club.

Second, we would be foolish to believe that leaders this churlish will bend over backwards for the incoming Obama administration. Diplomacy is always hard work, and when you're surrounded by people who are Number 1s in their own land it is difficult to engender deference. I believe they will immediately embrace Obama, but rhetoric and action are often strange bedfellows.

Secretary of State Hillary (maybe?) will need to work on her very best Avon push.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Detroit Broke City

Paul Ingrassia in today's Wall Street Journal writes that bailout or not, Detroit is broke.

Yesterday, congressional leaders gave the car companies until Dec. 2 to come up with viable business plans and renew their request for aid. Meanwhile, it's worth examining the myths that are shaping this debate. One is GM's assertion that "bankruptcy is not an option." In truth, GM already has conceded that it's bankrupt -- by publicly stating it's nearly out of cash and needs emergency assistance. The company hasn't made a formal bankruptcy filing, which is no small matter. But it has declared bankruptcy everywhere else. Chrysler, at this week's Senate committee hearing, did the same.

A second myth is that management changes in Detroit would be pointless. GM CEO Rick Wagoner said he wouldn't resign to secure federal aid for his company. This was like Louis XIV saying, "L'√Čtat c'est moi." Mr. Wagoner explained that he didn't see "what purpose would be served." Well, the same one served by the presidential election in this country three weeks ago: to bring in somebody new to try some fresh ideas to fix things.

Mr. Wagoner has been GM's chief executive officer for eight years. Even before this year's calamity struck (the company lost $181,000 per minute in the second quarter), the company's U.S. market share, financial results and stock price had plunged precipitously.

$181, 000 per minute! I don't know about what Paul thinks, but it takes real talent to blow that kind of money. Hell, I don't know if Hank Paulson could come up with that kind of money loser.

Let Detroit go bankrupt. Under bankruptcy protection, they can start to open up the union contracts and other legacy costs which guarantee they lose money on every car they sell (yes, you actually read that right). The restructuring should come with the resignations of Wagoner from GM and Nardelli from Chrysler.

Congress passed the first important step-a step which I was very skeptical they would make. They turned down the Detroit 3 once. They stripped Hot Rod John Dingell of his chairmanship. All very impressive. But the automakers shall return in January for round two. We must make sure we don't throw more of our money toward a broken industry.

- Mitt Romney, scion of Detroit's ruling class, wrote in Tuesday's New York Times that we should let Detroit go bankrupt.

Without that bailout, Detroit will need to drastically restructure itself. With it, the automakers will stay the course — the suicidal course of declining market shares, insurmountable labor and retiree burdens, technology atrophy, product inferiority and never-ending job losses. Detroit needs a turnaround, not a check
When I agree with Mitt Romney, you better believe we're reaching some kind of consensus on this issue.

Holy Flaming Crosses, Batman!

Christmas is upon us, and what is a better gift for the black, Jewish, or Catholic Obama supporter on your list than the American Family Association's Christmas Cross? Yes, nothing better displays your love of white supremacy and Christian arrogance than this 5.5 foot tall cross with 210 lights. Sure, it may bear a striking resemblance to other potent symbols from our troubled past, but why should you care? You're a member of God's chosen people!

White sheets sold separately.

Thanks to my buddy Pat Winters for the info.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

'Eidoko Varos'

Real slow news day today. How many ways can the press play the 45 'The Economy Sucks' b/w 'Barack Is Coming!' without everyone rolling their eyes? What we need is something to blow off the dust, a palette cleanser for the tough times and the always tough holiday season. From distant Athens, Greece comes Fantastikoi Hxoi with a futuristic number called 'Eidoko Varos'. The song reminds of the early electronic work of Brian Eno. It will take you into a future far from now, where our retinas make our purchases for us and we all have bar codes tatooed on our foreheads.

I'm blaming all of this gloom and doom on the fact that I'm listening to Kill 'Em All.

Thanks to 20jazzfunkgreats for the track.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

'The Kids Don't Stand A Chance'

Shambollocks has already tooted the horn of Vampire Weekend. No Age has my Best New American Band designate at this time, but VW is still a contender. The dance remix duo known as Chromeo have reworked 'The Kids Don't Stand A Chance' from VW's January debut into the kind of upbeat dance track you need on a Wednesday evening. This song makes me want to vacuum, so I can dance and make all kinds of foot marks in the staticky carpet. The weekend is just around the corner! Thanks to The Tape Is Not Sticky for the track.

Whither Iceland? (UPDATE)

We in America are in tough straits economically. Unemployment is growing. Credit is next to impossible to obtain. The domestic auto industry stands outside our homes with a hat out for change. My generation has never seen our fiscal security look so bleak. But we at Shambollocks are always keen to look at the bright side of things.

We're not Icelanders.

The country of Iceland is bankrupt. Yes, the entire country. Last month, citizens were unable to use their credit cards. Icelanders on holiday found themselves stranded, with no bank willing to exchange their currency. Their stores sat bare, as they fought to even achieve the bare minimal goal of feeding themselves.

How does a Western economy find itself completely broke? The Financial Times over the weekend had a great account on what life is like in Bjork Country.

Picture a pig trying to balance on a mouse’s back and you’ll get some idea of the scale of the problem. In a mere seven years since bank deregulation and privatisation, Iceland’s financial institutions had managed to rack up $75bn of foreign debt. In his address to the nation, Haarde put the problem in perspective by referring to the $700bn financial rescue package in America: “The huge measures introduced by the US authorities to rescue their banking system represent just under 5 per cent of the US GDP. The total economic debt of the Icelandic banks, however, is many times the GDP of Iceland.”

And here is the nub. Iceland’s banks borrowed more than $250,000 for every man, woman and child in Iceland, and placed an impossible burden on the modest reserves of the central bank in the event of default. And default they have.

OK, so things most definitely could be worse for all of us. We are still looking for a leader to emerge from our economic struggle, but at least we can still buy food. In fact, at this very moment I have a casserole almost done which smells delicious. I plan to dig in and give thanks that as bad as everything is right now, I know tomorrow will be better. And I'm sure that will hold true for the industrious Icelandic people.

But just in case, next Sigur Ros show you attend, bring some canned goods. They may need it.

- UPDATE: On Sunday, protests broke out in Iceland over the arrest of a protester. They eventually degraded into a clash with police. Cue the Stones' 'Street Fighting Man'.

'Punk Rock Is A Joke'

That was the instant opinion of a Dallas youth after walking out early from a Sex Pistols show there in January, 1978 (a very special month indeed). The Pistols played the Longhorn Ballroom, a Dallas institution which at one point was owned by Bob Wills and, later, Jack Ruby.

The video is great for all you rock historians, if just for the marquee outside the Longhorn, which advertises a Merle Haggard show beneath the Sex Pistols. There is also an intellectually stimulating interview with one Sid Vicious. Sid couldn't score heroin as easily in Texas and, suffering from withdrawal, would spit blood at a woman who climbed the stage and punched him.

The Pistols' 1978 US tour was one of rock's great debacles. By the time they reached the final date in San Francisco, every band member wanted to call it quits. We at Shambollocks feel we owe the Pistols quite a bit. Literally.

Thanks to WFMU's Beware of the Blog for the vid.

- In other rock news, my instant verdict on No Age, after a second time seeing them last night- best new band to come out of the States in a couple of years. If you pine for '80s punk, or are a big Husker Du or Mudhoney fan you should definitely check them out.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Circumcisions Daily

Need to get your baby boy's top popped? Circumciser Ismet Dural came up with this hilarious and ingenious way to advertise his services. Enjoy.

Waiting For The Obama Deal

When President Obama gets sworn into office on the 20th of January, he will have a wonderful opportunity to transform the relationship between the federal government and society. For twenty-eight years, and in particular the last eight, the federal government's number one priority was to destroy itself. Congress after congress, administration after administration, we sold off our government, piece by piece. The resulting chaos could be seen in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis. Both incidents drew attention to our national irresponsibility to our infrastructure and to ourselves. This America lay prostrate at home in full view of the world.

Today, Hank Paulson and Ben Berneke speak to Congress on their spending of the $700 billion blank check Congress handed them six weeks ago. Thankfully, this will be the last Bush Administration fleecing of the American pocketbook. Voters everywhere spoke loudly two weeks ago. We are sick and tired of funding a corporate welfare state. We need a new vision of American domestic policy. And we can find that vision in the past.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt entered office in January of 1933 with America at its lowest ebb since the Civil War. Over the next hundred days his administration was a legislation machine, throwing a hundred crazy ideas at Congress. The resulting New Deal did not get us out of the Depression, but it did put regular Americans back in charge of their own destiny. They built bridges. They paved new roads. They wired power lines. They painted murals. They recorded indigenous music. You may not place a high priority on these actions, but they are the nuts and bolts of a nation. The heart and soul of a nation. What example does America offer to the world when we ask others to help us off the mat? We need to own our best interests, not sell them to China or India. We can do this, because we have done it before. We need an Obama Deal which invests in us, not in corporations.

If the above stump steech leaves you less than motivated, New York magazine also asks for renewed public investment. Check it out.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Star Wars Storyboards

In my quest to post all neat Stars Wars-related net finds for my fellow geeks, here is a flickr slideshow with a host of original storyboards. Very cool stuff, and worth a momentary dork-out.

Merril Lynch? Anyone? Merril Lynch?

"My boyfriend's brother's cousin's sister saw Merril Lynch overextend themselves on junk bonds made up of packaged bad mortgages a few months ago on Wall Street."

Hilarious! Peter Schiff, the President of Euro Pacific Capital, Inc., is a talking head on a number of business channels. This video is made up of a series of his cable appearances where he consistently does his best Chicken Little while the smarmy Wall Street mouth pieces laugh him off the screen. The first four minutes are not great, but wait, wait, until the six minute mark when, on FoxNews no less, none other than Ben Stein himself advises us last year to buy Merril Lynch stock. And then the the blonde with the fish lips says to buy Goldman Sachs (HA!). The capper comes in a minute when Charles tells us to buy Washington Mutual (HA! HA!).

I remember when people would say someone worked at Merril Lynch with such reverence, like the bank was run by MacArthur genius grant winners. I would look at them cross-eyed, because I knew that person growing up, and knew they were throwing around a plumber's savings about on Bosnian internet firms while firing off forwards from Brokers are gamblers, even if we give them an illusion of non-Las Vegas legitimacy. The only differences between the Golden Girl feeding her Social Security quarters into a slot in Joliet and the 25-year old handling your savings at an investment bank is that at least the Golden Girl knows she can't game the system and doesn't get paid out for losing.

Do not let these hacks get government money. After this recession, do not let these hacks control our pension funds and savings. Wall Street has been the high-class arena for hucksters and modern-day carpetbaggers for too long. Before you take financial advice from anyone, ANYONE, in the future, make sure you know where they make their money. And never buy stock from someone on TV.

Not even if he stole a John Hughes film.

Sidelight-Schiff was an economic adviser to Ron Paul, so to all my PaulHead readers, cheers! Who looks crazy now?

We Are Old- Living Proof

Yes, that is the 17-year old from the cover of Nirvana's Nevermind. Nothing like a picture to jab you right in the gut and tell you that your unresolved adolescent self-image problems are now a real-life adolescent. You feel stupid. It's contagious.

Thanks to PopWatch, Entertainment Weekly's blog.

Iran Won't Bring Back Its Bat And Ball

Life imitates high school. You wanted to hang out with the Bad Kids in high school because you identified with them and the administration treated them with disgust. As long as deans told them to cut their hair and teachers called them stoners, the Bad Kids always had ready appeal. Why can't the adults just leave them alone? What business is theirs how long the Bad Kids hair is?

If you were a bright dean, you wouldn't harass those misfit Bad Kids. You would co-opt them. Bring up how you both listen to Led Zeppelin. Humanize them. Now, the Bad Kids don't seem so bad. They look more like all of us nerds. And as a nerd, maybe I don't look so good with this long hair. Maybe I'd better cut it off. The Bad Kids need to react. Either they continue their surliness and lose their audience, or they adapt to society and try to rein in all that anti-social behavior.

During the campaign, President-elect Obama expressed a willingness to open constructive diaglogue with Iran. Iran is the current worldwide Bad Kid. They have made much hay from the monumental mistakes of the Bush Administration. They are the little shit in the back of the class, middle finger extended, nuclear material (maybe) in their pocket. Iran's appeal lies not in its policies, which, as a Shiite theocracy, are not attractive to the vast majority of the Arab public. No, they're cool because they stand up to us and Israel. They refuse to stop processing uranium. They play our allies off of each other.

But Obama wants to talk, unconditionally. The Arab public's reaction to his election was strongly positive. The new dean doesn't want conflict anymore, and neither does the student body. According to Thursday's Washington Post, Iran won't cut their hair.

"People who put on a mask of friendship, but with the objective of betrayal, and who enter from the angle of negotiations without preconditions, are more dangerous," Hossein Taeb, deputy commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps, said Wednesday, according to the semiofficial Mehr News Agency.

"The power holders in the new American government are trying to regain their lost influence with a tactical change in their foreign diplomacy. They are shifting from a hard conflict to a soft attack," Taeb said.

Keep up the pressure, incoming Obama administration. Unless we see a spike in oil soon, Iran's regime will be on the ropes. Let's let the Bad Kid define itself without that bad 'ole dean image handy. Don't withdraw the offer to talk, and stay positive. We can't get the Arab public to cut their hair overnight, but we can humanize everybody and that's a huge first step. Let's make the Arab public think for themselves, and not allow our policies to be ignored through the Bad Kid's ignorance and our heavy-handedness.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Michael Lewis Gives A Post-Mortem

Today is nuts. The web is just alive with great material about the end of Old Capital. Is it just a coincidence that the Republicans have been run out of town on a rail at exactly the same time that Wall Street decided to kill itself? Hmm, I'll let that one be rhetorical.

Michael Lewis, author of Liar's Poker and Moneyball, wrote in yesterday's Conde Nast Portfolio a post-mortem of the Wall Street we knew. What killed the golden calf? A truly toxic combination of greed and arrogance. But mostly just pure, unadulterated greed.

And short Eisman did—then he tried to get his mind around what he’d just done so he could do it better. He’d call over to a big firm and ask for a list of mortgage bonds from all over the country. The juiciest shorts—the bonds ultimately backed by the mortgages most likely to default—had several characteristics. They’d be in what Wall Street people were now calling the sand states: Arizona, California, Florida, Nevada. The loans would have been made by one of the more dubious mortgage lenders; Long Beach Financial, wholly owned by Washington Mutual, was a great example. Long Beach Financial was moving money out the door as fast as it could, few questions asked, in loans built to self-destruct. It specialized in asking home­owners with bad credit and no proof of income to put no money down and defer interest payments for as long as possible. In Bakersfield, California, a Mexican strawberry picker with an income of $14,000 and no English was lent every penny he needed to buy a house for $720,000.

More generally, the subprime market tapped a tranche of the American public that did not typically have anything to do with Wall Street. Lenders were making loans to people who, based on their credit ratings, were less creditworthy than 71 percent of the population. Eisman knew some of these people. One day, his housekeeper, a South American woman, told him that she was planning to buy a townhouse in Queens. “The price was absurd, and they were giving her a low-down-payment option-ARM,” says Eisman, who talked her into taking out a conventional fixed-rate mortgage. Next, the baby nurse he’d hired back in 1997 to take care of his newborn twin daughters phoned him. “She was this lovely woman from Jamaica,” he says. “One day she calls me and says she and her sister own five townhouses in Queens. I said, ‘How did that happen?’ ” It happened because after they bought the first one and its value rose, the lenders came and suggested they refinance and take out $250,000, which they used to buy another one. Then the price of that one rose too, and they repeated the experiment. “By the time they were done,” Eisman says, “they owned five of them, the market was falling, and they couldn’t make any of the payments.”
This is some far-out, Apocalypse Now kind of financial irresponsibility. I'm glad the guys who ran those investment banks are out-of-pocket. No one would match that insanity by hiring one of those CEOs to head, I don't know, the Treasury Department. Guess again.

The Bush Administration. Making dumbfoundingly awful decisions all the way through to January 19, 2009.

Paulson's Pot Of Gold

Shambollocks is on record as against the bailout. Open taxpayer checkbooks will not get us out of this crisis. Responsible leadership will. When Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson asked for $700 billion dollars of our money from Congress, I was more than a little skeptical. First, he wanted complete control of the money with very little oversight. Second, as a life-long employee of Goldman Sachs, he would personally profit from a government buyout of Sachs' bad debt. Third, he did not lay out a coherent vision for where the money would go.

I don't like to say I told you so, but today's New York Times reports that Paulson doesn't know what he's doing. Plan A, buying bad debt, is out the window. Plan B, creating some kind of government 'bank' which would foster lending, sounds thoroughly half-baked. The Democrats want to give money to Detroit to save the unions. President-elect Obama remains silent. One, he's not President. Two, this is a seemingly no win situation. I have an idea. Why don't we sit down and take a little time to come up with a coherent strategy between the incoming and outgoing administrations instead of playing the 'React to the Dow Jones' game? The economic teams from both sides get into a room for a week, come out and tell the American people where we're going. Even if a solid solution isn't reached, it would at least show that both parties can lead through a crisis together.

Bad money has already left the building. Let's make sure the next semis of cash that leave the Treasury have a well-thought out plan behind them. Please.

- Details on the complete lack of congressional oversight on the $700 billion (of which $290 billion is already gone) in today's Washington Post.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

P.J. O'Rourke Plays Taps

One of the few reasons to read Rolling Stone during the '90s (when I read it religiously thinking it would turn me into Hunter S., when instead it turned me into someone who inexplicably owns a Live CD) was the work of P.J. O'Rourke. Smart, funny as hell, he was the main reason I loathed the Democrats during the '90s. In short, he gave me much early education in politics. When I stopped reading Rolling Stone, I stopped reading P.J. I don't even know if he writes for the Stone anymore, it has been that long since I picked one up. I digress.

From this week's Weekly Standard, Mr. O'Rourke on where conservatives went wrong. Very, very, funny. The man can still cut.

In how many ways did we fail conservatism? And who can count that high? Take just one example of our unconserved tendency to poke our noses into other people's business: abortion. Democracy--be it howsoever conservative--is a manifestation of the will of the people. We may argue with the people as a man may argue with his wife, but in the end we must submit to the fact of being married. Get a pro-life friend drunk to the truth-telling stage and ask him what happens if his 14-year-old gets knocked up. What if it's rape? Some people truly have the courage of their convictions. I don't know if I'm one of them. I might kill the baby. I will kill the boy.

The real message of the conservative pro-life position is that we're in favor of living. We consider people--with a few obvious exceptions--to be assets. Liberals consider people to be nuisances. People are always needing more government resources to feed, house, and clothe them and to pick up the trash around their FEMA trailers and to make sure their self-esteem is high enough to join community organizers lobbying for more government resources.

If the citizenry insists that abortion remain legal--and, in a passive and conflicted way, the citizenry seems to be doing so--then give the issue a rest. Meanwhile we can, with the public's blessing, refuse to spend taxpayers' money on killing, circumscribe the timing and method of taking a human life, make sure parental consent is obtained when underage girls are involved, and tar and feather teenage boys and run them out of town on a rail. The law cannot be made identical with morality. Scan the list of the Ten Commandments and see how many could be enforced even by Rudy Giuliani.

God, P.J. How I wish you were on my side. Either way, it's good to read you again, and know you'll be sticking pins in the Democrats for the next eight years at least, which is what you do best.

The Grant Park Countdown

Enjoy. The above is footage of the countdown to 10:00 PM CST in Grant Park, when Barack Obama was declared President by CNN. Goose bumps. Check. Go see other victory celebrations around the world at the Countdown to Victory blog.

Hiroshima: The Photos

On August 6, 1945, an American B-29 bomber, the Enola Gay, dropped a uranium bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. 130,000 people blew up instantaneously or were incinerated within seconds. It was the wrath of God, unlocked by science. Harry Truman, our President at the time, agonized over the decision and truly never put it to rest. The debate over the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the city we bombed three days later (at a cost of 80, 000 lives), will most likely never end. I myself am torn over the topic. A dear family friend may have had his life saved by the bombs. On the other hand, why bring total war to a country where defeat was fact except in the mind of its military leaders? Since those two bombs, no one else has used a nuclear explosive in combat. The possession of nuclear arms has become a goal of nearly every developing country. On August 6, 1945, the nuclear genie left its bottle. No amount of earnest wishes, prayers, and hard work have since contained it.

The American government banned photos of post-atomic Japan from publication. The only images I remember were done by American photographers years later photographing the terrible disfigurements of survivors. Eight years ago, a Massachusetts man was walking his dog and doing a bit of garbage picking. He spied a beat-up suitcase, and unlatched it. Inside he found about 700 b & w military photos of post-bombing destruction. has the man's story, as well as the story of the man who originally owned the photos, and many more photos of Little Boy's (the bomb's name) impact. Consider it a must-see.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. on the Election

No matter how wonderful Obama's election has made me feel, nothing must compare to the feelings of our black neighbors. A major irritant for me during MSNBC's election night coverage was Keith Olbermann and his pale pals telling us how much this must mean to blacks while showing footage of them weeping and hugging at Ebenezer Baptist and Grant Park. How in God's name does Keith Olbermann know how it feels to be black in America? If you cannot possibly relate, take a lesson from Walter Cronkite and shut your pie hole. The images themselves spoke volumes, and needed no white interpretation. None of us whites know how it feels to be a second-class citizen day in and day out. Whites encounter prejudice, surely, but we are in no way defined by prejudice. Obama's victory must be nothing less than miraculous for blacks. Shambollocks wanted to make sure we included a black record of their important evening, and now we do.

Henry Louis Gates. Jr. is one of the great black intellectuals of our day. Currently, he is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University. That's a whole lot of words basically telling you he's Harvard's black face. As editor of chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center (yes, the man collects titles like MJ), he wrote an article describing his feelings the day after Obama's election for the Oxford University Press blog.

So what does Barack Obama’s election portend for the future of race relations in America, and for African Americans in particular? I wish we could say that Barack Obama’s election will magically reduce the number of teenage pregnancies or the level of drug addiction in the black community. I wish we could say that what happened last night will suddenly make black children learn to read and write as if their lives depended on it, and that their high school completion rates will become the best in the country. I wish we could say that these things are about to happen, but I doubt that they will.

But there is one thing we can proclaim today, without question: that the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States of America means that “The Ultimate Color Line,” as the subtitle of Javits’ Esquire essay put it, has at long last been crossed. It has been crossed by our very first postmodern Race Man, a man who embraces his African cultural and genetic heritage so securely that he can transcend it, becoming the candidate of choice to tens of millions of Americans who do not look like him.

How does that make me feel? Like I’ve always imagined my father and his friends felt back in 1938, on the day that Joe Louis knocked out Max Schmeling. But ten thousand times better than that. All I can say is “Amazing Grace! How sweet the sound.”

Sweet, indeed. I can only pray that Obama's victory gives much-deserved succor for a peoples whose enslavement provided the foundation for this great experiment, America. We wish the Obamas safety and good health, and Barack, in particular, the wisdom and courage to continue the healing which began on our historic evening.