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Saturday, March 26, 2005

Govern Your Way to Happiness

One of the pillars of neo-con ideology that has helped bring them into power is their insistence that government is a negative force in society and should be replaced, whenever possible, by private enterprise. According to the neo-con doctrine, government is inefficient and unresponsive to the needs of society. The free market utopia they are hoping to create seems to be modeled on the early days of the industrial age, an era free of labor and environmental regulations, a time without income taxation, an age of the “haves” and “have nots.” This was not, and will not be a utopia without government; it will simply be an era in which the government is solely for the purpose of serving the interests of the wealthiest citizens.

Since I try to write as often as I can about city planning, I will use this example to refute the assertions of the American conservative movement with regards to government. My assertion is this: The best American cities in which to live are a direct result of heavy-handed local governments that forced businesses to conform to the needs of the people. The lack of strong local governments is a factor that leads to mindless sprawl. Sprawl is mostly the result of private enterprise unbridled by any input from the citizenry. Strip malls and endless shopping plazas are the city model put forth by private businesses acting solely in their own interest with no regard for the needs of the community. I can't imagine that any community of voters would knowingly sign off on a city plan of strip malls.

Over the course of six years I have seen with my own eyes the planned growth of the downtown area of Seattle. This growth has been carefully dictated by a strong local government under the watchful scrutiny of voters. My neighborhood is a great place to live. I don’t think many people would argue against that claim. My neighborhood became a great place to live because of the actions of city government.

Not everyone is lucky enough to live in downtown Seattle but the recent housing boom here indicates that a lot more people would like to live here. Why do people want to live here? There isn’t a Wal-mart within 20 miles. There is no Chili’s. Even the MacDonald’s went out of business from lack of interest. Parking is a nightmare. What we do have are movie theaters, playhouses, scores of great restaurants and bars, bakeries, banks, post offices, sporting arenas, in other words, everything you need to live. And you can do it all without getting in your car.

Less than ten years ago Seattle was facing the same crisis as countless other American cities. Suburban sprawl was choking the life out of the downtown area. An aggressive change in zoning laws—the work of government—reversed the downtown area’s decline. Building codes now require downtown buildings to have the first floor dedicated to retail business. Apartments share the same building as restaurants and clothing stores. People can shop and eat in the same area in which they live. This is a fairly simple concept but one that seems to have been ignored for the past fifty years of American city planning.

I hold up downtown Seattle as a model of the effectiveness and efficiency of government; democracy in action. Suburban sprawl can serve as the neo-con model of what happens when the forces of private enterprise are allowed to implement their idea of city planning. Take your pick.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

In The News

Due to the extremely offensive nature of the following essay I have installed a special filter on this web site that blocks entry to any reader who may be offended. If you’re here, congratulations, you heartless shits. If you weren’t meant to get past the filter, please leave now. This essay is definitely not for children under the age of three unless they know something about html programming and want to help me fix some broke stuff here at Leftbanker.

I made the rounds today of some political blogs that I have almost totally ignored since the election. My, people do have their little opinions on everything these days. I got so bored so quickly that I almost fainted. The big news is that the courts want to stop feeding drooling. brain-dead vegetables. If they do that what are all the people who work at Applebee’s® going to do for a living?

Choose life! Any simple-minded half-wit who goes around spewing slogans like “choose life” deserves to have their fucking feeding tube yanked. To all of the fetus lovers out there: Go picket your local government building and insist that they provide better health care for every citizen so as to lower infant mortality in this country to a non third world level. Maybe we should worry more about the fetus’ we want to live.

Here is my living will: If I am ever in a vegetative state with no hope of recovery, you can yank my tubes as soon as I need a haircut. I have fucking beautiful hair and I don’t want it messed up by lying around in a hospital bed.

Do you think Michael Jackson is going to get off? Do you? Look, he’s on TV right now. I’m not gay but he looks pretty damn good. One of his tits is about to fall out, I swear. Wait, that’s Janet Jackson. I guess I’m not gay after all, did you hear that, mom? What a relief! What? Michael’s sister, Janet, used to be his brother, Tito? So am I gay or what? Fucking plastic surgeons!

The president says he wants to privatize social security. He says he wants to create a culture of ownership. He’s such a visionary. I don’t want the government taking all my money for my retirement fund; I can do it myself. Shit, I forgot to pay the electricity again and they turned it off. I’d put it on one of my credit cards but they’re all maxed out. I wonder if I could use part of my private social security account to pay for a new George Foreman grill?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

There Is No Such Thing As Free Parking

A new book published by the American Planning Association, “The High Cost of Free Parking,” outlines how free parking contributes to our total dependence on the automobile. The study written by UCLA professor Donald Shoup points out that 99 percent of all parking is free. The fact that people know when they get in their cars that they will have access to free parking makes it highly unlikely that they will consider any other transportation options.

I have written often about the lack of parking in the area of Seattle where I live. I rarely choose to drive for trips around the downtown area. I know that free parking will probably not be available so I use other means to get around. My issues with parking are not shared by most drivers so most Americans rely almost exclusively on the automobile for transportation.

In 2002, $374 billion was spent nationally to subsidize off-street parking. Parking is not free. This comes in an era when municipalities are screaming that they cannot afford to construct mass transit systems. There has been strong opposition in Seattle to the $1.4 billion monorail project passed by voters which is set to begin construction next year. The anti-monorail contingent claims that the city cannot afford the system, yet they don’t object to city street construction projects that dwarf the $1.4 billion for the monorail. Construction for the new 520 bridge has been estimated at upwards of $11 billion—that’s a lot of monorails.

I wonder if it is even remotely possible to calculate how much we spend in this country on automobiles. How much do we spend on roads, parking, cars, insurance hospitalization for the over 1.9 million injured in traffic accidents, and don’t forget to factor in the cost of over 40,000 killed each year by cars? I haven’t even mentioned gasoline which is at record prices across the nation. Does anyone still want to tell me that we can’t afford to build mass transit?

Americans insistence on free parking has all but destroyed the retail businesses in countless cities across the nation. Instead of shopping in downtown areas people choose the convenience of malls with their acres and acres of free parking. It would be easy enough for municipalities to force people to pay for parking no matter where they choose to do their shopping. If motorists were forced to pay the true costs of driving whenever they got behind the wheel of their cars they would quickly begin to think of other transportation solutions.

In an essay in the April issue of Car and Driver, Brock Yates puts forth some ridiculous ideas about traffic problems, but what do you expect from someone on the payroll of the auto industry. One the one hand Yates points out that although New York City is the country’s biggest metropolis, it doesn’t yank in the top ten cities for congestion. He blames this in part to the city’s “thievishly expensive” parking and its mass transit system. He then goes on to say that mass transit systems won’t work in other areas because many cities are too spread out. His childish solution for those cities is for everyone to work at home. This is what you would expect from a writer who calls everyone in NYC “blue-state elites.” At the top of the essay there is a picture of the author standing in front of a 5 mph speed limit sign. If we follow Yates’ advice, 5 mph will be the top speed of automobiles stuck in endless sprawl.

The answer to our transportation problems is to make citizens realize the cost of their actions. Free parking is an expensive subsidy that blinds people to the real costs of driving. If you were forced to pay for parking every trip you took in a car then suddenly other ideas would occur to you.

More comments

Dude, I am working on a project in South Bend, Indiana and the traffic here is terrible for such a small city. There is literally no downtown any more of any substance, but of course there are hundreds of square miles of formerly arable land given up to build endless strip malls--and to accommodate the free parking concept of which you mention in your essay.

The people here long ago abandoned the idea of a centrally-located center city in favor of remote "shopping zones" way out in the country and only accessible by car. Apparently having plenty of Wal-Marts, Best Buys, Home Depots, Chili's, and Outback Steakhouses out in the country was more important than having a downtown.

It's a weird, disjointed, impersonal, automobile-dominated, and quite unfriendly (road rage in our generation is at epidemic levels) way to live. But this is apparently what people want.


I’m afraid that the man-made landscape of most of America has already been lost to the sort of mindless sprawl that Mat is talking about in South Bend, Indiana. Why should I give a fuck? Where I live in Seattle, Washington life has just been getting better and better thanks to forward-thinking zoning laws. In the six years that I have lived in downtown Seattle, my neighborhood has seen a rapid increase in population density with a corresponding growth in services. Parking sucks where I live and I wish that it would get worse. I wish that the city could eliminate parking on city streets which would breathe more life into every block. I am sick of looking at semi-desolate canyons of parked SUV’s. Your dormant Escalade blocks my view of a beautiful street. Fuck you, take the bus into town, or at least drive something less obtrusive that I can see around.

Any time you get rid of cars people flood in to fill the vacuum. When you think of any cool urban area you realize that what makes it cool isn’t lots of free parking and easy access by automobile. It is cool because of the lack of cars and easy access for pedestrians.


Monday, March 14, 2005

On Dirty Dishes and Clogged Arteries

I have lived on my own since I was 17 years old. I can take care of myself and I’ve done a pretty good job of doing it all these years. I am fairly neat but I think that anyone who has ever seen my apartment would vouch for the fact that I’m not some sort of obsessive neat freak. My apartment vacillates between stages that most people would term ‘fairly clean’ to other stages some might call ‘not entirely disgusting.’ Right now I would say that my place rates on the clean end of the scale.

After having said that let me now say that I just cleaned out the tray that holds my silverware. Yikes. I don’t want to gross you out by telling you how dirty it was but if you have eaten at my place in the past two years or so I don’t think that a tetanus shot would be a bad idea, either that or get your stomach pumped.

I’m just kidding around; it wasn’t that dirty. OK, so it was pretty dirty. I found something in my silverware tray that could have been either a plant or an animal, or maybe a little of both. It’s not like I waited around for the results to get back from the lab or anything. I didn’t make a pet out of it either. I chopped it up into three pieces with a meat cleaver and tossed it out my second story kitchen window. It’s not down there anymore. It may have mated with one of the stray cats in the alley.

I know what a lot of you are saying. You are saying, “Why don’t you hire a cleaning person? Instead you insist on living at the very edge of squalor. Is it because you are filthy and cheap?” I know I’m not exactly the clean guy from The Odd Couple, but name-calling isn’t going to make my place any more livable. I have thought about getting a maid, or a cleaning lady, or a cleaning person, or whatever you call it in this age of hyper political correctness. I have even thought of side-stepping the whole politically-charged man/woman thing by buying a cleaning robot. I have even come up with a great idea for a robot that automatically cleans your toilet. It’s called The Toilet Shark® or The Dump Shark®, but that is the subject for another essay.

The biggest reason why I don’t hire a man, or a woman, or a robot to help me clean my apartment is because I’m too embarrassed to have someone come into my apartment when it’s dirty. If I had a cleaning helper I’d feel compelled to clean my place before they came over. This is the same reason that I ride a bicycle so compulsively: I’d be ashamed to have a heart surgeon look inside me with the diet I follow. I don’t want a complete stranger rooting in my blood stream and have them see all of the pork and fried food floating around. I kid myself into thinking that cycling is like cleaning for my filthy cardio-vascular system. It’s either that or I go on some sort of diet. Either that or I die. If you’ll allow me to mix metaphors, or blend themes, I’d rather wash dishes than go on a diet, if you know what I mean. I don’t know what I mean so don’t worry if you’re confused.

I think what I am trying to accomplish with this essay is to justify the fact that I am a lazy slob when it comes to housekeeping and a human grease trap as far as my diet is concerned. I suffer an occasional paroxysm of cleanliness amidst my squalor and I clean out my silverware tray. After I have chased the vermin out of my kitchen I celebrate with Italian sausages with peppers and a brick of French cheese. I tell myself that this is healthy because I then ride my bike to the store for a bottle of wine. I’d invite you over but my apartment isn’t clean enough for company. I’ll have to straighten up a bit just in case the emergency medical technicians have to come in to restart my heart.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

The Lost Continental: A Look at Bill Bryson

The Lost Continental: A Look at Bill Bryson

I should preface this essay by saying that if everyone didn’t like this Bill Bryson book as much as I didn’t, he would be about the wealthiest author on the planet. At least I bought it. I have several of his books and have read all of them. Bill Bryson can be assured that with detractors like me, he doesn’t need fans.

A dyspeptic man in his middle thirties, whose constant bad mood seems more like someone in their mid seventies, drives around the U.S. and complains about absolutely everything he sees, smells, hears, and eats. If this sounds like your idea of a good time, read Bill Bryson’s The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America (Abacus, 1990).

He constantly mocks small towns in America by referring to them by such names as Dog Water, Dunceville, Urinal, Spigot, and Hooterville—and this is in the first five pages. Don’t worry about him running out of clever names for hick towns; Bryson has a million of them and he uses every single one.

Because Bryson had lived in England for ten years before he wrote this book he feels infinitely superior to everyone that he left behind in Iowa and elsewhere in rural America. His new status as a European allows him to use such British words as windscreen, kerb, tyre, and phone kiosk without the slightest bit of self-consciousness. You wonder if he also talks with a phony English accent.

The only things about which Bryon has a favorable view are natural wonders and the homes of rich people. He marvels at the obscenely-posh residences of ultra-wealthy, early 20th century industrialists on Mackinac Island which were built before income taxes and most labor laws. He would probably be thrilled with pre-revolutionary France or Czarist Russia. One of his very few favorable reviews of American cities was of the ski town of Stowe, Vermont which caters almost exclusively to the rich.

In Holcomb, Kansas he turns his ire to Truman Capote’s book, In Cold Blood. He discounts it by saying that it isn’t seminal. A page later he complains about how dumb a group of kids are who live there because they haven’t read it. Which way is it going to be, Bill? Adults have been complaining about the stupidity of children since some people have been older than other people. Even if kids today are 100 times dumber than those of a generation previous, it’s a pretty tired subject for a travel writer.

If he ever had a decent meal in any of the restaurants he visited he forgot to tell his readers about it. He did chronicle all of the bad food to which he was subjected. He describes bad food and then goes on to tell that he ate so much of it his pants no longer fit. I thought that you are supposed to suppress the bad memories? I tend to remember only the good meals I have experienced and I surely don’t bother to write about the awful ones.

It just doesn’t seem that he had a bit of fun on his trip. Why bother to travel if it’s such a burden? There is plenty of bad food back in England. Travel is also a great opportunity to meet new people. If Bryson ever actually had a conversation with anyone he also kept that a secret from his readers as well.

When he is traveling through the southwest he complains about the Mexican music on the radio. He seems more content to resort to chauvinism than to come to some sort of understanding about the culture he is visiting. In my opinion, it’s always more interesting to praise something that you understand than to mock something that you don’t. I would have taken the time to translate a few of the songs and tell readers what they are about. In fact, I have done this and Mexican ranchera music is all about stories of love, heartbreak, and often violence which describe the cowboy culture of Mexico’s northern territories. Bryson implies that the people who listen to this music are just too stupid to realize that it is only one tune played over and over.

He gripes about a weatherman on TV who seems rather gleeful at the prospect of a coming snow storm yet Bryson seems to relish in the idea of not liking anything that he experiences in his journey. His entire trip is like a storm he passes through. Just once I wanted him to roll into some town that he liked and get into an interesting conversation with one of its residents.

Here is an example the cheeriness with which Bryson opens a few of his chapters:

“I drove on and on across South Dakota. God, what a flat and empty state.”

“What is the difference between Nevada and a toilet? You can flush a toilet.”

“I was headed for Nebraska. Now there’s a sentence you don’t want to have to say too often if you can possibly help it.”

“In 1958, my grandmother got cancer of the colon and came to our house to die.”
This last event must have brought untold joy to the young writer.

Tell us more, Bill. His narrative is more tiresome than any Kansas wheat filed he may have passed on his road trip through hell. Most Americans seem to be either fat, or stupid, or both in the eyes of Bryson. I can only assume that Bryson himself is some sort or genius body builder. Just one time I wanted him to talk to a local resident over a beer or a cup of coffee. I wanted him to describe his partner in conversation as other than fat or stupid. Not even one time do we hear about a place from somebody who lives there. We could just as easily have read the guidebooks as Bryson did and he could have stayed home and saved himself thousands of miles of misery.

Bryson finishes by saying that at least he didn’t get shot or mugged, the car didn’t break down, he didn’t get approached by a Jehovah’s Witness, and he still had a clean pair of underpants. “Trips don’t come much better than that.” Maybe this is true for you, Bill, but my trips come a hell of a lot better than that. I’m out to have fun, learn something, and meet people. I’ll wash my underwear when I get back home.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

TV Snack Food Nation

In Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies he tracks the progress of a number of human civilizations around the world in their quest for food production. Many technological advancements follow in the wake of food production, as a portion of the population is then free to develop talents other than trying to club a rodent with a stick. All human societies begin as hunter-gatherers. Some cultures were able to domesticate varying plants and animals and thus were able to establish stable communities. From the advantage of being able to produce food instead of the time-consuming methods of hunter-gatherers, food producing societies went on to invent better tools, homes, writing systems, and eventually television sets.

The domestication of the horse brought with it huge advances in agriculture and transportation for ancient civilizations. The invention of the TV is likewise ushering in a vast amount of innovations that will also greatly influence the trajectory of human evolution. Ancillary products associated with the television are obviously too numerous to even list, so I will discuss only the most important byproduct: Snack food.

Snacks were invented to accompany watching TV. There was no need for snacks in the pre-TV era because there was nothing good on, and even more importantly, there was no TV to be on. In those days people would just sit on the couch and read the TV Guide waiting for Thomas Edison to invent the television. Bob Barker was already doing The Price is Right in front of a studio audience—they just didn’t know what a studio was back then. Thank God the TV came along or people would have thought that the young Barker was absolutely nuts.

The earliest attested date of the domestication of wheat was 8,500 B.C. in the Fertile Crescent area of the Middle East. This discovery brought about the birth of civilization. Over 10,000 years later scientists would discover nacho cheese flavoring and single-serving ready-made strawberry short cakes. It took thousands of years for man to go from mining metals to making steel but it only took three weeks after the invention of the television for man to use metal alloys to manufacture affordable TV dinner trays.

The same brain power that went into the space race was unleashed so that humans could obtain tasty and completely nourishment-free food. By the time televisions were commonplace in American homes, a veritable Manhattan Project for snack foods was underway. America’s leading scientists worked furiously to develop foods high in essential nutrients like salt and sugar that could be prepared during the commercial breaks of The Honeymooners.

It wasn’t all Good Times during the snack food revolution. For those of you old enough to remember, there was the chicken pot pie massacre. The chicken pot pie was a fantastic idea on paper but its execution was nearly that--an execution—for millions of American children during the 1960’s. The chicken pot pie was an individual serving of chicken-related matter (mostly ears, feet, and toe nails) that was wrapped in a pie crust and housed in an aluminum alloy pie pan.

The pies came frozen from the super market and took approximately one school term to defrost. To serve you simply placed the chicken pot pie in the oven at 1,900 degrees at the beginning of the Tom & Jerry cartoons around 3 in the afternoon and the pie would be done later that evening during Green Acres. Chicken pot pies were delicious, so I have been told. The problem was that they took so long to cook that you would be practically fainting from hunger by the time they were ready. I’m sure I’m not the only kid who completely scorched his entire digestive track eating a pot pie while it was bubbling hot. It was like eating chicken-flavored lava.

I can only speculate as to what did more harm to me: watching countless hours of bad TV as a kid, or eating a ton of shitty food while I watched. All I can say is that after all these years I can still sing the theme song from Green Acres, and my lower intestines probably still has blisters from eating chicken pot pies.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Tough Guy Chic and Evolution

I show up for the weekly Harley Davidson biker night at a local bar wearing a thrift store t-shirt with a picture of a teddy bear and the words “World’s Greatest Grandmother” emblazoned across the front. I look like the only person who didn’t get the e-mail about proper attire. Everyone else is dressed like one of the Village People--if the Village People had a gay biker character. Everyone is trying hard to look tough wearing leather jackets, leather pants, leather hats, leather gloves, and leather underwear (I can only imagine). It would seem that for Harley enthusiasts, Halloween comes every time they leave the house. I think it would be less trouble, with a lot less accessorizing, to dress up in drag.

At a local rap club I am sporting a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” t-shirt. Every other guy wears the uniform of the hip hop dude: crooked ball cap, sports jersey, and baggy pants. This tired, decades-old fashion emulates inmates at federal penitentiaries. Once again, everyone is trying hard to look hard.

At a NASCAR event in a southern city I walk to my seat wearing a New Kids on the Block t-shirt. The dress code at NASCAR events seems to be that you wear the clothes you used to wear before you put on those extra 30 pounds. Everyone wears clothes that are so tight that I’m sure people have been killed by buttons flying off of shirts and pants at speeds greater than a car coming off the third turn. Once again, the overall tone of NASCAR fans is vaguely threatening. If I know one thing about hicks it’s that they can be violent if provoked in any way.

I have to interrupt this essay with a news flash. I just saw a crow fly by the window carrying a Chinese to-go box in its mouth or beak or whatever the fuck bird geeks call it. That’s something you won’t see outside of the city. Another crow flew by carrying little packets of soy sauce (That part isn’t true but the first part is).

It seems odd to me that in a culture where there is little need for physical strength, we all try so hard to be tough guys. As we move farther and farther away from a society in which physical strength is necessary, we seem to be embracing the concept that males need to be tough and threatening. At least in our street culture it appears that the only way to gain respect is through some sort of physical intimidation.

In our tough guy culture it’s a wonder that guys don’t dress up like professional wrestlers or super heroes when they go out for drinks. Even Michael Jackson went through his “Bad” phase, although I think it would take more than a leather jacket to make you tough if your idea of fun is having sleep-overs with 10 year old boys. Where will all of this tough guy posturing lead us?

I am reading Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies which attempts to answer a few questions on why some societies flourish and go on to conquer other societies. Through evolutionary biology—among a host of other disciplines—Diamond tries to explain why some cultures develop highly complex technology while others remain in more primitive agricultural, and hunter-gatherer phases. Reading this seminal treatise on human evolution I can’t help but wonder about the fate of our own society that places such a high priority on the tough guy archetype. How many generations of exalting dumb jocks, bikers, and rap artists will it take to negatively impact the evolutionary trajectory of the U.S. male?

I think that the male of the human species thus far in the 21rst century is already below the standard of men from other eras. If you read The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini it would be difficult to find a man of our era to compare with this paragon of the Italian Renaissance. Granted, Cellini is somewhat of a braggart in his memoirs and undoubtedly embellished his accomplishments. According to his autobiography he either beat up or fucked every person on the Italian peninsula in his first 40 years, but he was a great artist, a valiant soldier, and a fine writer--among other talents. Our idea of a well-rounded man today is a video game designer who dresses up like a gay Hell's Angel on weekends and whose idea of literature is a graphic novel. It seems that we are in a reverse evolutionary spiral that will lead us—if we aren’t careful—back into an era of hunting and gathering. It will be difficult for all of us not to look tough when humans are reduced to eating raw elk carcasses.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

My Computer Can Kick Your Computer's Ass

Here is my thought for the day about computers: Never have I paid so much for something that is worth so little so quickly. What was a state-of-the-art machine two years ago is today’s Frisbee that you fling at the local landfill. What was the best thing two years ago is today’s quaint relic, an object of mockery for punk kids, a technological embarrassment. You buy a nice computer and two years later you find yourself in a digital, dead-end cul de sac and all of your neighbors have moved on to a better town with more features. You can either tough it out in your sorry little shack or suck it up and pay the price to move with them.

It was time for me to move on, computorily* speaking (*Yes, my spell-check just about choked to death on that bit of word coinage). I sent out my laptop for repairs and then bought a new model while the old one was under the knife. I feel like how Newt Gingrich must have felt when he divorced his wife while she was in the hospital battling cancer. I feel like a deadbeat dad who skips town to avoid paying child support. I shouldn’t feel the slightest bit of guilt, I am the abused one in this human-computer relationship. I’m the one who should be calling the police, or a good lawyer, or a hit man.

But I don’t call the cops; I just keep forking over money for new computers. I have to say that even with the startling advances in technology; I get less and less excited about my new purchases. That new computer smell just isn’t doing it for me these days. I really don’t even give a shit about the money any more; I just want the damn thing to work the way it’s supposed to work. I don’t want to learn one more thing about computers.

I want to learn more about music, writing, languages, history, evolution, and a bunch of other things, but I don’t care about computers. Computers are just tools. People who dig ditches don’t have to spend a Saturday trying to figure out how their shovels work and then all day Sunday cleaning them up. Of course, you can’t download bootleg mp3’s with a shovel, but I think everyone knows what I’m trying to say.

Now that I am done bad-mouthing computers let me just say that my new laptop totally kicks ass. When I look back on my life now I shudder to think of the miserable existence I must have lead before I had a DVD burner. I’m just glad that we tend to repress our bad memories, because it must have been awful to be me before I could make a perfect copy of any DVD I put in my computer. I was living like an animal back then. Not anymore. I have clawed my way back to the top of the human dung heap and from these dizzying heights I look down on all of you folks without DVD burners with absolute contempt. Have some pride, people. What would it do to your parents if they knew that their children--who they gave every advantage in the world--were now willingly living without a DVD burner? I’ll be honest with you, it would probably kill them.

Now do you want to know the beautiful part of this whole story? Do you want to know what I am doing to exploit this marvelous new technology; a technology that would have been beyond the wildest imagination of the most brilliant scientists only a few short years ago? I took this new bit of technology that is the crowning achievement of millions of years of human development and I made copies of the movie Super Troopers for all of the women in my life who think that film is too “stupid” to bother to rent themselves. This is better than when we were little kids and we got our first tape recorder and used it to record our burps (Although that was enormously entertaining for the young Leftbanker). I’m sure my new computer can do other wonderful things besides burn copies of Super Troopers but I don’t really give a shit about those other things because I CAN BURN COPIES OF SUPER TROOPERS! What a glorious new era!

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Save Us, Homeland Security

The Department of Homeland Security released a disturbing report yesterday concerning the safety of Americans. Created in the wake of 9-11, the job of the Department of Homeland Security is to guarantee the absolute safety of every single American—except Americans driving automobiles. 50,000 traffic deaths a year and over 1.9 million injuries should not be a concern to Americans, we should only worry about terrorists.

“’Homeland’ is not a term we borrowed from the Third Reich, it’s just a nice word for nation or national,” reported Homeland Security Überswantzfürer Judge Michael Chertoff at a press conference. “And this? Don’t worry about this. It’s just a little mustache. Do you like my new storm trooper boots? Pretty shiny, ain’t they?”

In spite of the new department, and the billions of dollars that have been allocated for security, the nation seems to be at greater risk than ever. The report listed the following threats to American citizens:

--More Americans than ever before are running while carrying scissors.
--Little kids rarely wait at least 20 minutes after eating to go swimming.
--Diving in the shallow end is up 75%.
--Few people close the cover before striking a match.
--Mattress tags are being illegally removed in record numbers.
--In spite of the repeated warnings that “beer and whiskey, mighty risky,” the sale of boilermakers has been skyrocketing in taverns across the ‘homeland.’

Along with these appalling violations of homeland security the department also noted that horseplay is up 55% over the past 3 years. According to a departmental rumor, a child of a friend of one of the department employees’ sister lost an eye in a flagrant violation of playground security regulations. It’s not so funny anymore, is it? “Keep fucking around like this and we’ll have to take some drastic measures,” warned Überstankmeïster Chertoff. “This little thing? Don’t worry about this. It’s just a little armband I picked up at a gun show. Cool, huh?” When asked about what sort of drastic measures the department was considering, Chertoff mentioned that he hadn’t ruled out the possibility of canceling recess entirely.

Chertoff also suggested that much of the schoolyard “monkeying around” was undoubtedly the work of foreign insurgents. “American children know better than to go down a slide head-first. These are obviously al Qaeda operatives inciting our kids to perform illegal and unsafe acts.” While cross-referencing elementary school after-school detention lists, Chertoff mentioned that he found such names as Omar and Ali. “I’ll let you jump to your own conclusions.”

The Department of Homeland Security issued a warning that bubble baths are a privilege--not a right—of American children, and if foreign mercenaries continue to splash water out of the tub, creating potentially-fatal slippery floors, Mister Bubble will go the way of toenail clippers on airline flights. “Pardon the pun but a few bad apples may compel me to “pull the plug” on bubble baths. While I’m at it I have decided to declare martial law and impose a 5 p.m. curfew across the homeland. I’m doing this for your own good, people. Just last week Homeland Security agents had to shoot a kid who didn’t have a light on his bike. Upon further investigation it turned out he did have a light but our SWAT team sniper couldn't tell if the light was on because the bright afternoon sun was in his eyes.” Chertoff then threw what appeared to be a ‘high five’ to no one in particular and then walked jerkily away from the podium.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

The Sporting Life

If you want to see how the liberal media in this country are not serving our interests, I suggest that you take a look at how they practically ignore sports reporting. There are sports news broadcasts on every television station several times each day, there are at least two 24 hour sports networks, countless magazines dedicated to sports in general or to a particular athletic endeavor, sports talk radio, and don’t forget about the sports section of your daily newspaper. When you consider this paltry coverage given to sports news in this country, it’s pretty clear that the panty-waist liberal media people hate athletics.

In that last paragraph I employed a very classy writing technique called ‘sarcasm’ which, although it was about as subtle as a sledge hammer hitting a hamster, was probably lost on knuckle-head dudes who are completely obsessed with sports. There probably aren’t any literary techniques that aren’t lost on guys whose idea of an intellectual discussion is sitting on the couch listening to a couple of mildly-retarded ex-jocks argue over an insignificant sporting event that happened two weeks ago. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to the American male of the 21rst century.

Don’t get me wrong. I think it is perfectly acceptable to watch an entire 165 game season of baseball, the subsequent marathon of playoff games, and then the World Series (and you pray that it goes to seven games). And only evil-doer terrorists would miss even a single minute of coverage of the Tour de France. I think that pretty much goes without saying, but guys who watch any sports other than those two life-essential events are just being excessive. These guys might have a problem with sports. They may even be what psychologists call “sport-a-holics.” When you couple this extreme sports addiction with the inherent drinking that goes hand-in-hand with spectator sports, you have a recipe for disaster. Remember: Disaster is NASCAR spelled backwards.

I’m not talking about the drinking that is involved with watching baseball, because baseball isn’t really a sport; it’s our national pastime. Everyone in America knows that you are supposed to drink at least one $8 beer each inning until they stop serving beer at the end of the 7th inning. Then you are expected to degrade yourself by concocting some lame story--like how you had to use your last beer to cauterize the wound of someone hit by a foul ball--to try to get the vendor to sell you one more beer after last call. This is completely appropriate behavior because it is a part of baseball’s long and beer-drenched history. All that I am trying to say is that, between you and me, fans of sports other than baseball may have a bit of a drinking problem.

How can you tell if someone you love has a sports problem? OK, so ‘love’ may be kind of a strong word to describe your relationship with the complete slob lying on your couch in a filthy t-shirt watching Australian rules football at 2 a.m., but he is your husband. We will just assume that he has a problem. Can he be cured of his addiction? Not a chance. All that you can do is lessen the damage he is doing to himself. During an intense weekend of televised golf, be sure to roll him over several times to prevent bed sores, and remember to squeeze a bit of lemon juice on his chili nachos to ward off scurvy.

In all honesty, there is really nothing wrong with your husband’s sports addiction. There are far worse things that he could be doing than watching games on TV all weekend. So what if he invites some of his friends over and they build a fort out of couch cushions while they watch college football match-ups involving schools they have never even heard of until now. At least he’s not using drugs, and even if he is using drugs at least he’s doing it in the privacy of his own home.