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Saturday, January 31, 2004

Brother, Can You Spare a Vote?

It was an unseasonably warm day about a week ago and I was sitting outside at some coffee place in downtown Seattle. Across from me was a woman wearing a Howard Dean t-shirt. A vagabond or homeless-looking guy came by and told the woman that he was a Republican and that he was voting for Bush. The woman commented that her son was working for Dean. The exchange was friendly and casual. To the untrained eye this was a thoroughly meaningless event but to an astute observer of politics, like me, it is easy to see a metaphor. Either a metaphor or a parable. Either a metaphor or a parable or something. Then again maybe it was nothing.

To me the homeless guy represents everyone who makes under $500,000 a year who is foolish enough to think the Republicans give two shits about anyone in their lousy little income bracket. Ronald Reagan said before he was president that he still believed America was a place where a guy could become a millionaire. What a stupid vision! That homeless guy probably spends his imaginary millions in his mind every time he scratches off a lotto ticket.

If just because you graduated from college, and you wear a tie to work, you think you are in the Republican inner circle, you are a fool and you need to turn off the TV and start getting some news. A lot of lower-middle class people vote for Republicans because they want to outlaw abortion for poor people (rich people have always had access to abortion, always will), this makes Republicans more moral. You can bask in the morality of the right as you look for a job after the Republicans sent yours packing to China.

The Oshkosh plant in Tennessee shut down leaving 1,500 people without jobs. The average income in the town dropped to $13,000 a year yet I’m sure a good percentage of those miserable wretches will vote Republican because they’re afraid the Democrats will take away their guns. You can keep your guns because the only decent jobs your kids will be able to find will be in the U.S. Army which seems to be accepting only economic conscripts.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

Heart Attack

One of the main indicators that a person is no longer among the living is the absence of a heart beat. Heart disease is one of the biggest killers among adult males. A healthy heart is not going to let you live forever. I’m not interested in living forever, or even for any longer than what is in the cards. I just want to live on my terms as long as my heart is beating and my terms are pretty demanding on the heart.

Studies indicate that leg strength is a factor in cardio-vascular fitness. The heart doesn’t drive the legs; the legs drive the heart. Cyclists have a jump on a lot of athletes in the area of heart fitness because cycling demands a lot of leg strength and it stresses the heart at a high level for a longer period of time than, say, running

I have been using my heart rate monitor in my semi-annual neurotic quest to do something different and demanding in my work-out regimen. A valuable tool in cardio-vascular training is measuring your maximum heart rate. This is the maximum beats per minute that your heart is capable of performing. The standard formula of calculating your maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age, so someone twenty years old would have a maximum heart rate of 200 beats per minute. This formula is fairly flawed so the best way to calculate your maximum heart rate is to rev up your heart as high as it can go.

Often when I am bike riding I am riding at a speed that is completely taxing my heart but I don’t wear my heart rate monitor very often. I did interval training yesterday at my gym on an exercise bike. Interval training entails maintaining a level of almost complete intensity for a brief period, resting briefly, and then repeating this for several sets. This isn’t the best way to hit your maximum heart rate (MHR) because fatigue sets in quickly and your heart will not be able to rise to its maximum level if it has been under a lot of stress. To ideally calculate MHR you begin slowly, build higher resistance over about ten minutes and then pour it on for about two minutes.

On my third interval yesterday I got my heart up to 188 bpm, which, although high, I don’t feel is my maximum. Even so, this rate is ridiculously above the 220 minus age formula. Supposedly, MHR is not a function of your fitness level but simply one of age and your genetic make-up. I’m out to do my own personal research into this matter and this is the beginning of my inquiry.

Another fitness tool is assessing your resting heart rate (RHR). To do this you simply check your pulse the first thing when you wake up, before you get out of bed. A lower RHR is generally a good indication of your level of fitness—the lower your RHR the better. I haven’t done this calculation recently because I keep forgetting or I haven’t slept well enough or long enough the night before to get an accurate reading.

Monday, January 26, 2004

Inefficiency: Myths, Lies, and the Right

We have been holding on to so many myths about economics. The greatest fallacy in the pseudo-science of economics is the widely-held misconception (especially widely-held by those on the right) that private industry is more efficient than the public sector. I had this point pounded so far in to my skull as an economics undergraduate that it practically took surgery to make me see otherwise. What made me see otherwise was history and the truth.

The misconception that all government is horribly inefficient and that all of the private sector is a paragon of economic virtue has been the driving force behind a lot of destructive anti-tax legislation in the past 25 years. The “government is bad and wasteful” commandment brought to us by the Moses of the Chicago School of Economics is the biggest reason America’s health care system is a complete mess and excludes some 40 million of its citizens. How can a private system be efficient if it doesn’t reach 40 million people? Under the current health care system we spend billions of dollars annually on insurance. No one has ever recovered from any illness because of an insurance company. Insurance is a waste of money and an inefficient middle-man.

There is talk of privatizing sector after sector of our economy: social security, public education, and more and more elements of our military. Those proposing these changes argue that private industry is more efficient. The problem is that the private sector is, by the definition of free market capitalism, subject to the risk of failure. I realize that failure has been a pretty successful business model over the past 25 years for the private sector--just ask the fat cats who made out like bandits on the savings and loan bailout of the 80’s, just ask the CEO’s of most of the failed dotcom’s, just look at how Enron’s stock went into the toilet yet its managers made a killing--but failure has no business in a lot of the busniess of government.

I defy anyone to point to a government agency in this country that comes anywhere near the incompetence of Enron, Tyco, WorldCom, et al. I challenge anyone to point to a U.S. government official who has stolen as much cash as the pirates masquerading as CEO’sof failed corporations.

There are still people who propose we privatize our social security system and put the money in the stock market. Are you people fucking kidding? Why don’t we just go to Las Vegas and put it all down on black at the roulette table? There are certain sectors of the economy, like health care, police, fire protection, social security, and education where failure is not an option in the business plan. Why should we leave such issues at the capricious disposal of the private sector?

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Why We so Stupid?

If you look at TV for more than about five minutes it becomes apparent that its primary function is to sell stuff. That’s no big revelation; I think we can all agree. How does it sell stuff? One of TV’s most relentless sales techniques is making us all feel incredibly insecure about how we look and about how we live. The job of advertising is to make someone feel inadequate because they don’t have the product they are selling. We aren’t skinny enough, we aren’t tall enough, our hair is all wrong, our boobs are too small, our thing-a-ma-bobs are too dinky, and our car doesn’t have four wheel drive. We need to go shopping.

As much effort as the media people put into making us feel insecure and inadequate about everything else, they never chide us for not being smart enough. In fact, TV does a pretty good job of reassuring us that it’s OK to be illiterate. They don’t want to encourage things like reading which might interfere with your valuable TV viewing time.

I always ask people to name a single protagonist in a movie who is intellectual. The examples don’t come easily. On the flip side, it is easy to name movie heroes who are simple-mined, mentally retarded, or flat out anti-intellectual (every Adam Sandler movie comes to mind as an example of all three of those adjectives). Any actor who takes on the role of a mentally retarded person is almost a shoe-in for an Academy Award nomination. I think it would be more of an acting challenge, more of a stretch, for the current crop of Hollywood movie stars to portray intellectuals.

There isn’t much calling for actors who can play smart folks. We like our heroes nice and dumb and intellectually unthreatening—at least that is what Hollywood has been telling us. The one insecurity that TV and movies don’t prey upon is our lack of education. Could you imagine the sort of world we would be living in if people were as concerned for their intellect as they are about their thighs? Goodbye Joe Millionaire hello America’s Favorite Calculus Problems. I would think that watching a math professor scribble out an equation on a blackboard is at least as entertaining as what we now call reality TV.

We are only interested in the surface. It would take too much time getting to know something about a person before we would be able to judge them on their intelligence and erudition. It is so much easier to dismiss someone because they have the wrong kind of cell phone or because their jacket doesn’t say North Face®. It would be too hard for us all to monitor those people who have slacked-off on translating Homer from the original Greek. Instead of the current easy system of making a snap judgment about your fellow man simply by looking at the car he drives we would be mired in a quagmire of having to pay attention to things that actually matter. There also isn’t any money to be made in intellectual pursuits unless you are a cello instructor, or a playwright, or a mathematician, or a novelist, or a scientist, or an artist…OK, so there is a shitload of money to be made but it would be too hard to market.

TOO GOOD FOR THE COMMENTS BOX

#1 Jan 20 2004, 06:42 pm

Aye, some good points.
Y'know I was just thinking about how that Hollywood sign says a lot about the character of what it stands for.
It's cheap-looking, there's nothing behind it (just a surface), it's crooked and makeshift.
yak sox

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#2 Jan 20 2004, 06:59 pm

My girlfriend, Sarah, has a degree in communications, and has spent her post-university time employed in advertising and marketing. Specifically, she has worked and a media buyer, and product marketing manager. So I have heard a lot of the ‘marketing speak’ and ‘ad lingo.’ Not unlike other professions, advertisers and marketers have developed their own vernacular to make the profession sound scientific. {Just so you know, I studied political science and work in IS/IT. Thus, I am well aware of language vagaries in these fields too}. While I have been critical of television (and advertising) much like Leftbanker here, I regularly critique the stupidity of TV and inanity of advertising—in front of Sarah. For both of us, it has become sport, not unlike MST3000 was to B-movies. Sarah takes most of my biting criticism with good humor, but sometimes it bothers her, especially as her profession is being ridiculed. Recently while decorating our living room she said, “We need a red accent chair in here.” Leaving the want verses need argument aside I said, “Red accent chair? Why red?” After some more discussion, where she attempted to defend her statement, I picked up one of several magazines lying on the coffee table and began to leaf through it. I found 3-4 pictures (advertisements) of living rooms displayed with red accent chairs. I then said, “Now please explain to me again—why do you think you need a red chair? Is it because it has been suggested to you over and over again!” For weeks after that, I pointed out every red accent chair I saw—on TV, in magazines, in restaurants and in stores. Finally she yelled, “Enough!” and I stopped. This is the power of TV (and of advertising) that I detest. That some of us—all of us—at one time or another cannot even discern the genesis of our own thoughts in the midst of the incessant noise.
Farmer Ned

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#3 Jan 21 2004, 07:54 am

...
cannot even discern the genesis of our own thoughts in the midst of the incessant noise.

Well said, Farmer Ned!
kevin m.
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#4 Jan 21 2004, 08:37 am

I dunno why, but I, a perfectly potent male who does not have "size problems,", find myself wanting a fistful of viagra and a penis enlarger. A curious and strange feeling...

That goddamn SPAM--how insidious. Since I don't watch tv except for sporting events, the dark lords of marketing have found other avenues and pathways to infect my mind.

Next thing you know I'll be driving an Escalade, wearing Dockers, drinking Bud Lite, and playing golf at the country club with my other SUV-driving, Dockers-clad, shitty-beer-drinking "buddies."

If that happens, please, please, please shoot me. I mean it.
Mat

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Studying Up for a Vacation

I made my first Spanish tortilla the other night, a dish that is hearty and simple, a peasant dish that is probably one of the most defining dishes of Spanish cuisine. Potatoes, eggs, and olive oil are all you need to make this potato omelet. I have been studying up on Iberia in anticipation of my trip there in less than three weeks. Although I have been to Spain twice before, it has been a while. How time flies! I barely even remember my travels on the peninsula but my Spanish is much, much better than the last time I was there. Memories fade but language skills sharpen with continued use.

One thing that I do remember about Spain is the nightly frenzy of the tapas hour. In the pre-dinner hours (Spaniards eat very late, like 10pm) people practically run from bar to bar, drinking beer or wine, and eating small appetizers. People say that the way to judge a good tapas bar is by the quantity of garbage on the floor—the more the better. The tapas hour ends as abruptly as it begins when people move on to a very leisurely dinner. I think I can remember how to do that.

I have also been given a great little guide and glossary of Madrid tapas-speak. Ir a tapas or salir de tapear is how you would say you are going to go out and have a glass of wine and a little something to eat to hold you over until your late dinner. The guide recommends that you ir a tapas with between three and four people, that you have no more than two items before moving to another bar, and that all tapas activity should be done standing up. It provides the correct etiquette for paying (each person pays a round), and descriptions of Madrid’s favorite appetizers.

My mother bought me a wonderful cookbook when she traveled to Spain a few years ago, Cooking in Spain by Janet Mendel. I didn’t pay the book much attention at the time. It was just one of the many books in my kitchen, always behind my French and Mexican cookbooks. I have recently opened it up and I now see what a great resource it is, not only on Spanish cooking but on the Spanish vocabulary for food.

Spain is not exactly renowned for its cuisine but I remember the simple dishes I had there being the best: beans, bread, country sausages, hams, and olives. Along with a local wine, olives are the perfect appetizer. My cookbook even has instructions on how to cure olives two different ways. As anyone from the Mediterranean region knows, olives must first be cured in a solution of water and soda-lye before they can be eaten.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Changing Stripes

Dennis Miller commenting on how he is not a traditional conservative in the January 15, 2004 New York Times:

“I’ve always been a pragmatist,” Miller said. “If two gay guys want to get married, it’s none of my business. But if some idiot foreign terrorist wants to blow up their wedding party to make a political statement, I would rather kill him before he can do it, or have my country kill him before he can do it, instead of having him do it and punishing him after the fact. If that makes me a right-wing fanatic, I will bask in that assignation.”

No, it doesn’t make you a right-wing fanatic; it makes you puerile and smug. I think the truth is that Miller’s new-found conservativism is a career move (He is airing a talk show on CNBC). Not many people are going broke these days spewing out right-wing bile. It is one of the few growth industries left in America.

Miller tells about how he went from being a liberal to a conservative after 9/11. He’s big on America protecting itself from terrorists although he himself didn’t serve in any capacity in the defense of this country. He sure does like to talk tough. Can you say “chicken hawk?” To me, anyone who has a radical change of heart concerning their political beliefs for any reason tells me that their intellectual foundations weren’t very solid to begin with. I have been a left-wing jackass as far back as I can ever remember. I can’t imagine anything happening to me or around me that would make me alter the basic tenets I hold on equality, equitable distribution of income, democracy, and community. Miller certainly isn’t alone in his post-9/11 metamorphosis; he can hold hands with a lot of the warbloggers on the internet.

People like Miller, and warbloggers who jumped into the right-wing deep-end after 9/11, remind me of people who turn to Jesus after hitting rock bottom. Someone once asked Stephen Jay Gould if his battle with cancer had changed the way he thought in any way. He said no, not in the least. He was too preoccupied fighting cancer. This is what I expect from a brilliant mind. How could anything as insignificant as a personal battle to overcome cancer alter the thinking of a truly great mind? You wonder how easily Miller could be convinced to abandon his conservative stance to become a communist or a Muslim fundamentalist.

“People say I’ve slid to the right. Well, can you blame me? One of the biggest malfeasances of the Left right now is the mislabeling of Hitler.” In this childish utterance Miller is referring to a couple of entries (out of 1,500) in the Moveon.org competition for anti-Bush television advertisements. The ads comparing Bush to Hitler didn’t make it anywhere in the competition and in no way reflect any credible liberal constituency but that hasn’t kept the Republicans from trying to taint the entire competition of this citizen-based political action group. The Republican attacks against MoveOn.org are embarrassingly pious. You don’t have to look too hard to find examples of the right comparing liberals to Hitler. Just ask any gun nut about what they think of any sort of gun control and they will say that the first thing Hitler did when he gained power was restrict guns thus anyone who works for gun control is like Hitler (The first thing Hitler did was exterminate anyone with liberal views but I never argue history with a guy who wears a camouflaged hat with earmuffs and whose other major fashion accessory is a deer rifle.).

Once again I say that anyone who changes political allegiances for such a half-assed reason must have not felt very deeply about his beliefs to begin with. I defy anyone to name a single progressive liberal thinker who would compare Bush to that Austrian guy with the dumb moustache. Most people on the left simply consider Bush to be an amazingly untalented and unintelligent mouthpiece for the economic aristocracy, someone who achieved his position through nepotism and cronyism—truly undemocratic methods.

Now the new disciple of Rush Limbaugh is airing a new talk show on CNBC which is fine by me. I don’t even know what CNBC is and I never once thought that Miller was funny.

Drizzle: The Movie

RANDOM THOUGHTS DURING A WET WINTER IN SEATTLE

There have been movies about tornados, hurricanes, severe snow storms, and many other weather related disaster scenarios. Without a doubt the most underrated and overlooked natural disaster is drizzle. As a Seattleite I feel that this oversight has kept this city from achieving its due share of fame and fortune. Sure, no one has ever died from light rain but what about the accompanying mildew? What about the wet spots on slick tile floors left by children too careless to wipe their feet? What do you get when you add kids’ wet shoes to a tile floor? I’ll tell you what you get; you get something that is as slippery as snot—the substance with the highest viscosity rate known to man (In diagnostic testing performed at Comedy Central snot was proven to be 110 times more slippery than banana peels). Write those things into a movie script and Arnold Schwarzenegger would pause before signing onto a project with that sort of body count.

Next to drizzle, a plague that wipes out 99% of the world’s population seems like pretty tame subject matter for a horror film. Have you ever just missed your bus in Seattle and then had to wait a really long time for the next one without a raincoat in DRIZZLE? If you have you can bet your sorry ass you spent your wait praying desperately for a humanity-ravaging plague to take you away from your misery. Film makers tried to frighten us with a movie about a really big storm at sea. Big fucking deal. You grab a hold of a piece of the boat’s wreckage and you kick back to shore. You think being washed overboard in the middle of the ocean is hopeless? Try living in Seattle where you don’t see the sun for months on end. Floating around in that big scary ocean will suddenly seem as cozy as sitting in front of a blazing fire, sipping hot chocolate.

Wake up America! What if global warming turned other areas of the planet into a drizzly hellhole like Seattle? Worse yet, what if you got transferred to Microsoft’s home office and actually had to live here like the rest of us miserable wretches? Hollywood has done a wonderful job of educating the masses when it comes to other weather disasters: Don’t live in a trailer in Oklahoma, don’t go fishing during a storm, button up your coat and wear gloves if you are going to climb Mount Everest. Although the problem of drizzle doesn’t lend itself to such easy solutions, simple awareness could prevent senseless tragedy.

And what about humidity? How many action movies have you seen that deal with this, the most deadly of all meteorological phenomena? Just ask any Florida retiree and they’ll tell you (even if you’re not asking) “It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity. Ooooyyyy!” Another common quote heard on any Miami Beach park bench is “It’s like a sauna out here.” Although technically saunas are dry heat you know what old Ray is saying. He’s saying that the humidity is “murder.” How many other weather terms are referred to as “murder?” Humidity stands alone above all the rest of the weather villains yet Hollywood, in its ‘wisdom,’ has decided to give humidity a pass.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Class Warfare

The ratio of the pay of corporate CEO’s to the hourly wages of production workers soared from 93 times that of workers in 1988 to 419 in 1999. While wages of ordinary workers barely kept up with inflation, the average compensation among top executives of the largest corporations vaulted 481 percent between 1990 and 1998 to an average of $10.6 million. Corporate profits rose only 108 percent.
(p.153) Wealth and Democracy Kevin Phillips

I put up this factoid from Wealth and Democracy just to illustrate that rich people are the ones fucking up this country, not welfare cheats or poor people in general. In response to President Bush’s immigration initiative some tool for National Review said that he was in favor of easing immigration if we dismantled our welfare state because too many newer immigrants are sponging off of it, not like our forefathers who all came here and worked hard to get ahead.

What? He had no facts citing the number of illegal immigrants on our welfare roles or how much it was costing the American taxpayer. I don’t think he had any actual facts; he just wanted to take a pot shot at welfare in general. He vented his bile on National Public Radio and went completely unopposed. Good old liberal NPR.

I went to National Review online and read his piece on immigration. I won’t even dignify him by giving his name. Just let me say that I can’t believe NPR would regularly allow anyone from such an extreme right-wing asshole factory to air their opinions. I can’t even imagine anyone on the Left that is as far left as National Review is to the right. NPR should give Fidel Castro a regular spot to give his two cents.

I can say that I know plenty of illegal aliens and all of them work about three jobs or one job 70 hours a week. Most of them are too afraid of immigration officials to go to a fucking doctor let alone try to get public assistance.

I’m sure that a lot of people on the Right would love to ease our immigration laws to insure a steady source of cheap labor. If we ever really wanted to stop the flow of illegal workers into this country all we’d have to do is throw a couple of big shots from Wal-Mart in prison for hiring illegal cleaning crews and the practice would stop immediately. Arrest the employers of illegals and that would be that. The fact is that the right loves high unemployment and low wages.

The Right has done a great job of demonizing the poor and of pitting the middle class against those beneath them while the rich run off with everything (see Kevin Phillips' example above). What this jackass from NR is saying is that he wants to lower wages across the country while we eliminate the safety net we set up after the last great depression just in time for the next great depression.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Another Anti-SUV Essay

I have picked on SUV’s for some time now. I think they are an ecological disaster for many reasons: they are too big, the are too heavy, and they get lousy gas mileage. Malcolm Gladwell in the January 12, 2004 New Yorker now puts forth the claim that SUV’s are more dangerous to drive than passenger vehicles. In a nutshell he says that SUV’s have few of the safety features of passenger cars and they are too unwieldy to avoid many driving hazards. Strapping your kid into the car seat of your Escalade is about as safe as pushing them down a steep hill in a shopping cart.

People buy SUV’s for the perception of safety even though the facts speak otherwise. You are also more likely to kill someone else when you eventually do lose control of your 4X4 leviathan. If you want to take out innocent bystanders when you wreck your vehicle I suggest that you tool around town in a gasoline tanker. They come in an attractive array of colors these days.

This is a tough issue because the SUV craze has jump-started the entire American auto manufacturing industry. In 1998 the Michigan Truck Plant in Wayne, Michigan—where Ford Expeditions are made—grossed eleven billion dollars. Any shift in American attitudes about SUV’s is going to have to be accompanied by some pretty forward thinking by U.S. auto manufacturers—something they have not exhibited much over their history.

The streets of Europe are populated by ridiculously small automobiles. The Smart Car makes the new Mini Cooper look like an SUV. Most SUV’s are wider than the length of the Smart Car. I personally feel that automobiles, even if they were powered by air, are a stupid idea. Some where around 45,000 Americans die every year in traffic accidents. I think it is time we as a nation look well into the future and decide if we want to continue supporting automobiles almost exclusively as our means of personal transportation. It doesn’t take some sort of a genius to come up with a better idea than cars. In Amsterdam they ride bikes, really crappy bikes. It’s not exactly The Jetsons but it seems to be a technology they can live with.

More comments fun:

#1 Jan 11 2004, 08:12 pm


Well they came up with those faggy little scooters that cost $10,000.

I gave the finger to an SUV the other day. See, I'm doing my part to save the environment.
Catch-23

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#2 Jan 12 2004, 12:19 pm


I saw a meter maid riding one of those scooters and I thought, "Wow, I guess you can make that job more of a joke."
The Management

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#3 Jan 13 2004, 08:20 am


I can't wait until the used price of a Ford Expedition gets low enough for teenagers to afford them. A double-dose of imagined invinciblity coupled with 3 tons of V-10 power should make for lots of sobbing carnage on the late local news.
kevin m.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

The Best Things in Life Are Free (if you steal them)

This cup of coffee I am drinking is pretty damn good but it wasn’t free ($1.64 including tax). The first sip tastes a little bitter and it is too hot. Perhaps what I love about that first cup of coffee in the morning is primarily based on expectation. Perhaps I don’t really enjoy it as much as I think I do.

But then I take the second sip and it isn’t as bitter or as hot. My reading vision begins to sharpen without the reading glasses I have left at home. By the third sip I’m completely in love again. As it cools I can take bigger and bigger sips; each one more satisfying than the last. This love will last for about 10-12 ounces until the coffee starts to get luke warm and enough caffeine has reached my system to properly jolt it into action for whatever the day may require.

The effect of this drug is much more subtle than the high I receive from booze or from smoking a cigar. Coffee isn’t a euphoria-creating drug like the other two I mentioned. Coffee is about instilling awareness in its early-morning users. I haven’t really become fully awaken from the past night’s sleep until I am half-way through this morning coffee ritual.

I sometimes drink coffee at other times of the day but the effect on me is nowhere near as pronounced as the first cup in the morning. I don’t really need coffee later in the day; I drink it for recreational and not medicinal purposes. This is when I will order something wimpy like a cappuccino. I suspect that people who drink prodigious amounts of coffee throughout the day are like people who drink too much alcohol on a regular basis: They don’t really enjoy it so much as need it.

One of the joys of moderation is that you truly enjoy your vices instead of being ruled by them. Do I always practice what I preach? Are you fucking kidding? Do I look Mormon? Even though cigars are horribly taxed here in Washington I won’t buy them on-line. If I have a whole box of La Gloria Cubana* cigars lying around I simply cannot show a shred of self-control and I will practically chain-smoke them.

Only once, very briefly, did I consider dropping my coffee habit. Why would I want to exclude something from my life that gives me so much pleasure, costs little, and makes me smarter? I couldn’t answer that either so here I am, coming down to the last bit of coffee in my cup, ready to walk out and face the world.


*In my opinion the world’s best cigars. I prefer them to Cuban cigars. I may be prejudiced because I used to love going to the factory on Calle Ocho in Miami. You could buy these wonderful cigars direct and watch them being hand-rolled. The only ones I can get here are made in the Dominican Republic. They are still the best nicotine delivery system yet concocted. The La Gloria Cubana Corona Gorda’s provide about one hour of pure bliss.

Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Snow Day: Part II

How I know that I am old: I thought about taking my mountain bike out in the snow yesterday but I didn’t because I thought it might be dangerous. What a fucking wimp I’ve become. If you passed by Queen Anne yesterday you would have seen hundreds of people sliding down Counterbalance Hill* on anything and everything. Do you think the guys who slid underneath a parked car in an inflatable kayak were worried about it being dangerous? I don’t think so.

I actually met some girls who bought a cookie sheet just so they could use it as a sled. Other items used for recreation: a mattress, two skis with a tire on top, a kayak, skis, snowboards, a plastic garbage can, cardboard boxes, and various household appliances. The real fun comes when you get to the bottom and you have to dodge the cars. What the scene needed was someone with a video camera to inspire truly epic levels of stupidity.

Counterbalance Hill looked like the opening day of the grunge Winter Olympics. There were hundreds and hundreds of people skipping work to fuck-off by sliding down a very big hill on everyday household items. Every single dog in the city of Seattle was out running around in the snow; they all had a blast. A lot of people went to work but I’ll bet overall productivity was for shit. Everyone just wanted to walk around and enjoy something we only see in Seattle every five years or so.

Today is like the hangover for yesterday’s fun. The snow is still here but it is pure slush. The roads are pretty crappy and you’d better wear boots if you are walking. You can still make snowballs but if you try to sled down a hill it will be more like wake boarding. Yesterday was cool but today makes you realize that snow is pretty much a nuisance. You can always drive up to the mountains and get all the winter fun you could ever want. We get yards and yards of snow in the nearby Cascades but every so often in Seattle the winter playground comes to the street where you live. Go out and get silly.


*Counterbalance Hill got its name from the street cars that ran up and down it years ago. As one car went down it pulled the other car up to the top.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Snow Day

I love to sleep on my couch. My summer-weight sleeping bag is laid out on the couch like a house guest who won’t leave. Slipping inside my sleeping bag on the couch is about as cozy as it gets. It’s like slipping back into the womb. It is especially nice on these cold winter days we’ve had here in Seattle over the past week or so. My apartment is as warm as a toaster but I like to open a window that faces out to the Puget Sound to feel the salt air and to hear the yawing of gulls.

This may sound silly but I think the sea air improves the quality of my dreams. Falling asleep one evening while reading a Patrick O’Brian novel I dreamt I was sailing on a big square rigged ship. I swear that I was able to smell the sea in my dream. My couch, sleeping bag, and Puget Sound-facing window combine to give me a Proustian comfort and Disneyland ride.

The weather predictors predicted snow for Seattle. The storm was to begin late last night. I went to bed at a very late hour and not a single flake had fallen on the city. I decided to sleep on the couch with the window open. I wanted to be able to check the storm’s progress if I woke up in the middle of the night.

I didn’t wake up until early this morning. It wasn’t completely light yet and the first thing I noticed was the quiet. I couldn’t hear a single automobile. Usually when day is breaking the seagulls make a terrific racket but today they were silent. Nobody in Seattle gets much done when there is snow on the ground—even the gulls take the day off. We only get snow every couple of years (This is only the second time I’ve seen snow in my five years of residence) so you’ll have to excuse my enthusiasm.

There probably won’t be much open in Seattle for the short time the snow sticks. I’m going to go out and take a walk and look for coffee. I’ll probably spend the day in my sleeping bag on the couch, looking out the window and reading my new book Castles in Spain: A Traveler’s Guide Featuring the National Parador Inns.


In my relentless effort to keep this website on the cutting edge of the lowest common denominator I have decided to print all of the comments for this entry in the block of the text.

#1
Jan 07 2004, 08:16 am

You sound like a real slacker. Lying on the couch listening to classical music? Please! You'll be a happier person when you admit to yourself that there are things you want out of life, then go out and get them. Fame, pussy, money. It's all good, and you know you want it.
Type-A Hippie

#2

I am a real slacker. Please tell me how to acquire the three sacred objects of which you speak.
The Management


#3
By your writing you seem to be a decent guy, and you say you strive to live your life accordingly. Yet your writing also reveals an untapped vein of megalomania. Every human being is trying to 'win' this game of life, but you allow yourself to believe that you are an exception. You are not. Go out there. Adapt. Survive. Make yourself a positive, creative force in this world and you will find support where you imagined none exists. We're all counting on you.
Type-A Hippie

#4
Dear Hippie Person,

Your advice (words of wisdom?) makes absolutely no sense. First of all, I hate hippies, so you're already suspicious to me just from your stupid signature tag. Secondly, what exactly are humans trying to "win" in this "game of life" of which you speak? More Cheetos? A new SUV? Free passes to Vegas? A larger penis? Bigger boobs? The Lotto?

Also, please cite concrete examples of this so-called "untapped vein of megalomania" you say runs through Leftie's writing. Megalomania is defined as "a delusional mental disorder that is marked by infantile feelings of personal omnipotence and grandeur." If anything, Leftbanker is more critical—and rather harshly, I might add—of himself and his life than he is critical of the world around him. As far as I know, no one suffering from megalomania is in the least bit self-critical. In fact, the complete lack of self-criticism is one major reason megalomaniacs are megalomaniacs.

Lastly, why should anyone care what you think? More to the point: why should anyone want to take your advice, which makes no sense?

To quote Hippie Person:

Go out there. Adapt. Survive. Make yourself a positive, creative force in this world and you will find support where you imagined none exists. We're all counting on you.

You've just brought coals to Newcastle, since Leftbanker writes almost exclusively about how hard he tries to improve himself every day. I don't know anyone who writes more openly and honestly about his or her struggles to make life more interesting and better than Leftbanker; it's why I am his biggest fan.

Here's some free advice for you, Hippie Person:

1) Start making sense and others will listen. The ability to communicate begins by having a REAL point, and then being able to communicate that point clearly, concisely, and coherently. You have done none of the above. You think you are much more clever than you really are.

2) Get your own weblog—since you have left no URL here pointing to your own bastion of wisdom, we’ll assume you don’t have one, or are too cowardly to point in it its direction.
Mat

#5
Although I appreciate you coming to my defense, Mat, I have to agree with the Hippie on this one. I am a big pile. I'm going to go read a book on how to get ahead in business.
The Management

#6

There's a new breed of websurfers who go around leaving pejorative, unjustifiably critical comments on other people's sites, without leaving links to their own blogs, either (a) because they don't have blogs and therefore feel the need to voice their opinions through comment boards, or (b) because they do have blogs which they know suck ass.

Their first and most obvious mistake is judging a person entirely from what's written on his/her web site. Um, hi -- if I had a quarter for every fuckwit to do no more than skim 1/2 a paragraph of my writing and promptly lash out at me for being a horrible person based on an out-of-context mention of, like, Brooks Brothers, I'd be one rich mo' fo'.

Hippiecakes, go peddle your advice to people you actually KNOW. Or, if you insist on continuing to grace this web site with your presence, how about first enrolling in a remedial reading tutorial or something, as clearly your comprehension could use a bit of work.
Bess

#7

I think Type-A Hippie is a great moniker even though you gleaned it from the contents of my essay. I wish I would have come up with it first. I accidentally banned your address so I hope you didn't think I was being a nerd (it was quickly unbanned). As I've said many times, I'm the first person to admit that I'm a big left-wing jackass but I think my heart has always been in the right place. Look at the top of my comments box. If you can't say something nice, say it here. Insult me all you want, just keep reading. I would give Type-A Hippie a big hug except you can get Salmonella from touching hippies.
The Management

#8

What you all don't realize is that Type-a -hippie is actually Leftbanker's alter ego and he is essentially having conversations with himself on his own comment page. Very twisted.
Catch-23

#9

...Megalomania in the colloquial - not the clinical - sense. When someone says 'that chick is psycho' no one imagines the speaker to be making a medical diagnosis.

Leftbanker is an often funny and always spirited writer. That's why I drop in. It's clear to me, though, that the scale of his hopes and ambitions might be better realized outside the limiting confines of a weblog. If you want to hunt big game, why stop at the petting zoo?
Type-A Hippie

#10

See, Hippie, if you try hard and bypass the corporate productivity seminar clich├ęs, you too can articulate your thoughts. Thank you.

And I agree with you: Leftie needs to get off his lazy ass and do something with his obvious talent for articulating his thoughts. There are far too many writers (or vapid celebrities with their ghost writers) out there getting published who don't say a damn thing. I am sick of walking in bookstores and seeing the smiling mugs of dipshits like Dr. Phil and Deepak Chopra peddling their knee-jerk, drooling buttwipe philosophies to the starving masses. Or ghostwritten celebrity tell-alls that don’t tell diddley-squat except rehash the boring life story of some silly, illiterate, inarticulate actor, athlete, or musician. If Pete Rose, Madonna, and Tom Cruise really have something to say, they’d fucking write the book themselves, the morons.

So a foot upside the ass of Mr. Procrastinating Leftbanker ain’t such a bad idea.
Mat


#11

I'm taking a Tony Robins seminar this weekend so I promise to be completely self-actualized by Monday. Then can I hang out with you guys?

P.S. Have you ever hunted at a petting zoo? It's so fucking easy that I don't even bother going out in the woods anymore. The down side is that sometimes parents get a bit hostile when you shoot a rabbit out of their kid's hands.

P.P.S. I've decided to ditch my dumbass blog and just jerk-off full-time in the comments box.
The Management

#12
A friend of mine, his name is "Steve," married a woman nameb "Barbara." Steve and Barbara (or Babs, as she calls herself), traveled to Cincinnati, her home town, over Christmas 2003. There, Steve shot game with Babs' father, at his hunting club. There, they raise pheasants in cages, release them for "the hunt" in a large field, and then blast away at them. Some of the birds actually get away. I guess this "hunting club practice" is quite common in that part of the US, among elites and notables. The first time I heard this story, I thought Steve was joking--and laughed in Babs' face. When I realized that it was no joke, I was simultaneously embarrased and incredulous. Having grown up on an Iowa farm, hunting and fishing in the creeks and fields where I lived, I never would have guess that this is the way the noblemen live. I'd call that "hunting in a petting zoo." But what the hell do I know; I'm from Iowa, right?
Farmer Ned

Hey You!

Hey you! Yes, you, asshole. Why are you honking your goddamn horn? I don’t care that you are late for your sales call or where ever you are headed. I’ll bet no one else on the road cares either so just sit in traffic stoically like the rest of us. I have a suggestion for you: If you are in a hurry then try leaving ten minutes earlier.

The other day I was on my bicycle and some jerk-off leaned on his horn. I stopped right in his path forcing him to come to a complete stop in the middle of the street. I asked him why he was honking his horn at me. He said I had cut him off. “How in the hell can 200 pounds of bike and boy cut off a car?” He answered me by rolling up his window, locking his door, and honking his horn again. I answered by smashing into the side of his car with the very sturdy bar ends of my bike. You can see the video on the new hit TV show When Bicycles Attack.

I can’t believe how driving turns normal people into aggressive assholes. The guy in the incident I just related was some middle-aged hippie. I’m sure he is the type that wouldn’t look me in the eye if I passed him walking down the street but get him behind the wheel of his Toyota Corolla and he suddenly turns into one of his heroes from Wrestlemania. My advice to Mister Aggro-Hippie: If you are going to blare your horn at a cyclist, in the future pick on little girls or the aged and infirmed. Don’t get shitty with an adult male who might be in the wrong mood one day, pull you from your shiny metal box, and beat the tar out of you.

I don’t expect everyone to have my own Zen-like calm in traffic. I gained my driving composure from living and driving in Greece whose motorists are certainly the worst in Europe. Greeks were in a hurry to get everywhere. They would literally drive on the sidewalk to get around you. When they got to where they were going Greeks weren’t in much of a hurry to do anything but don’t get in their way while they are driving.

If you were stopped at a traffic light in Greece and there was a driver behind you, no matter how quickly you pulled ahead when the light turned that person behind you would honk. I just started honking sort of peremptorily when I was the first car at the light just to amuse myself. I used to joke that all Greek drivers were delivering transplant organs which would explain their huge hurry. I swore that I would never again be in a hurry while behind the wheel of a car.

So just remember, Mister Type A Personality, Mister Salesperson of the Month, Miss Wall Street, just remember that none of us gives a big fuck that you are late so leave earlier or take the bus next time. Honk your horn at me at your peril.

Saturday, January 03, 2004

It's Groundhog Day All Over Again

I could write an entire post just blathering on and on about why Groundhog Day is one of the best movies ever filmed but I won’t. Not today. I’ll just say that I watched it again and I was once again inspired. New Year’s Day, and our insistence on resolutions, always reminds me of the message of this wonderful movie: We can all become better people if we try—and we must try, every day.

In one of my latest attempts to become a better person I am learning the piano piece Bill Murray played in Groundhog Day, Rachmaninoff’s 18th variation on a theme by Paganini. Rachmaninoff originally scored this piece for two pianos and orchestra. I’ve never been a big fan of all things Russian, just too damn big for me. What I am plowing through is a solo piano arrangement of this piece—kind of like the musical equivalent of cliff notes to War and Peace.

I haven’t had a piano teacher in a couple of years. I think it’s time to start with lessons again. What I miss most about having a teacher is that I can have them play what I am learning so that I can hear what it is supposed to sound like which rarely happens in my imperfect world of musicianship.

There isn’t an awful lot to this piece although it is quite charming. I prefer the jazz improvisation Bill Murray concocts out of this little tune in Groundhog Day but for now I’m happy plinking away at the simple arrangement on my music stand. I’ll probably never be good enough to sit on a stage, bang out a cool riff, and get the girl like in the movie fantasy. You never know, maybe I’ll practice more this year than I did last year.

I have also been studying REA’s Handbook of Spanish, an all inclusive guide to grammar, writing, and style in Spanish. I already try to Speak Spanish every single day. I hang out with a gal from South America and our interaction is entirely in Spanish. I’m close to putting my Spanish over the top and to further that goal I just today booked a two week trip to Spain. I haven’t been to Spain in so long that it will be entirely new for me. I will probably just spend time in Madrid, Salamanca, and Toledo.

To further insinuate myself into the Latin world I watched Y Tu Mama Tambien again. Although the movie is in Spanish the characters use so much Mexican slang that I have a hell of a time understanding a lot of it without subtitles. Understanding the ultra-slangy dialogue in this movie would be the linguistic equivalent of playing the jazz improvisation in Groundhog Day. My Spanish is a hell of a lot better than my piano so I have a lot more hope in this area.

I’ve never made a New Year’s resolution before. I don’t believe in them but I do believe in evolution. I’d like to evolve into more of a musical person, more of a Latin person, a better person.