Friday, December 24, 2010

Scrooge Reconsidered

When scrunching up your face at Ebenezer Scrooge this Christmas (I'll assume you're saving yourself for the George C. Scott version), have a second thought about ES's position. Consider that he is the major revenue source (TAXES) for what social services do exist in his gloomy, fog laden town. The charity collectors who solicit donations from Scrooge famously reference these institutions in horror:

Collector: At this festive time of year, Mr. Scrooge, it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the poor and destitute.
Ebenezer: Are there no prisons?
Collector: Plenty of prisons.
Ebenezer: And the union workhouses - are they still in operation?
Collector: They are. I wish I could say they were not.
Ebenezer: Oh, from what you said at first I was afraid that something had happened to stop them in their useful course. I'm very glad to hear it.
Collector: I don't think you quite understand us, sir. A few of us are endeavoring to buy the poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth.
Ebenezer: Why?
Collector: Because it is at Christmastime that want is most keenly felt, and abundance rejoices. Now what can I put you down for?
Ebenezer: Huh! Nothing!
Collector: You wish to be anonymous?
Ebenezer: I wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish sir, that is my answer. I help to support the establishments I have named; those who are badly off must go there.

Though his contributions are involuntary, thanks to taxes Scrooge has contributed far more to the poor than his cadre of naysayers. Does anyone acknowledge this, much less thank him? No. They deride him for not being a bigger cash cow. No wonder Marley's better half is so grumpy.

Where do his critics think the money for public services comes from? It comes from workaholics like Ebenezer, not cheery well-wishers. But of course!

If men like Scrooge didn't chase every shilling, there would be even less taxable lucre for the already blighted social services from which the charity collectors recoil. Good thing ES's raison d'être is creating wealth!

Scrooge's real miscue is his brusque demeanor. Picture how much differently he'd be viewed if instead of "Bah humbug" he said "Teach a man to fish." His image would replace Reagan on the bibs of Republican lobotomees everywhere.

Worth noting too that in spite of the taxation of moneyhounds like Scrooge, the public provisions for the poor remain terrible. As the charity collectors seem to indicate, private donations are the only way to truly provide comfort and assistance to those in need. Goes to show that even then, the welfare state didn't work.

As Bob Cratchit might say, "To Mr. Scrooge!"

Saturday, December 18, 2010

A Pro-Bono Defense of Michael Vick

The notion of a crimewave led by athletes who always "get away with it" has been present since I was young. To hear some tell it, your average police lineup could be assembled into a Pro-Bowl offensive line.

This "athlete crimewave" script is more padded than Rocky Balboa's record. Wide receivers are not weapons of mass destruction. Their crimes are often victimless acts like drug possession, which shouldn't be illegal in the first place.

What most outrages the "athlete crimewave" faithful is the belief that courts treat athletes differently. I'm outraged this surprises anyone. Rich people always have the upper hand in court; doubly so for rich people who also represent major investments made by even richer people (team owners, the leagues themselves). And if the tables were turned, the "crimewave" soapboxers would surely use every resource at their disposal to conjure the words: "Not guilty." Even Dr. Phil could deduce that given a choice between prison and freedom, most folks prefer freedom.

Michael Vick is a screaming exception to the "getting away with it" rule. The man did time. Our society purports to believe that those who have done time have "paid their debt." So Vick's debt is settled. His credit is restored. He doesn't belong in sweeping rants about athletes "getting away with it."

It's the sports fans themselves--the same guys who can't discuss athletes without using the word "thug"--who have become so unhinged that some NFL stadiums now have on-site jails. Eagles fans were such hellions that Veterans Stadium had its own courtroom. If these sport fans--often middle-aged 9-to-5ers--can't be trusted to behave after a few beers at a ball game, just imagine how they'd act if they were 23-year-old millionaires with the world on a string.

Today's sports fan is a greater threat to the public's perception of sports than the athletes who play them. When debating whether to buy tickets to a game, who is more likely to keep you from pulling the trigger: The quarterback who sins off the field, or the drunken inbred who would sit behind you barking "YOU SUCK!!!" until your eardrums were mousse?

Remember superfans, when you point one of those giant WE'RE NUMBER ONE fingers at someone, there are three puffy fingers pointing back at you.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

An Incurable Case of Consumption

Any prole who has worked retail will swear on the King James that customers enter stores with a one-two punch of entitlement and victim's indignation. On the one hand, they believe they are entitled to anything, ANYTHING they request. On the other, they believe that if this hypothetical ANYTHING cannot be procured, they have been sentenced to suffer in ways that would have the Dalai Lama dressing like a goth. Despite living in a land with more consumer choice than any in history, an oinking slab of Americans act like they had no role in choosing the store in which to buy their new can opener, and no alternatives should that store not meet their piggish demands.

Upset that Target's can openers don't come with Immortal Secrets of the East? Try your luck at Wal-Mart. Or Sam's Club. Or Costco. Or Amazon.com. Or Craigslist.

Or you could brush up on an Immortal Secret of the West: can openers open cans, not Immortal Secrets of the East.



Conspicuously consume my tweets: http://twitter.com/#!/greatMikePayne

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Overrated Songs by Otherwise Reliable Bands

D'yer Mak'er by Led Zeppelin

You probably don't know it by its title, but rather as the "OH...oh, oh, oh, oh, ohhh, you don't have to go" song.

When I hear "D'yer Mak'er" I can't help but think it's one of those sugary tunes they threw together FOR THE LADIES. As if Zeppelin needed such a song. When you're so deep in dames you're using them as aquariums, you probably don't need help on the wooing front.

Black Hole Sun by Soundgarden

Anyone who thinks they want their music to be nihilism with a beat...here ya go. You wanted nothingness? You got nothingness. Nothingness ain't so appetizing when it's resting on your dinner plate, is it?

I can't see what function "Black Hole Sun" serves. It isn't soothing when you're down. It brings no crescendo when you're up. Like a stillborn bug in a cocoon, "Black Hole Sun" just sits there waiting to become something it will never be.

If you like Soundgarden but prefer slower tracks, stick to the classics: "Like Suicide," "Boot Camp," or "Fell on Black Days."

Nothing Else Matters by Metallica

I love Metallica so much I feel dirty nit-picking them. But no one ever said the pursuit of truth was a clean business.

To me, "Nothing Else Matters" just isn't that special. Not terrible, but like a woman who thinks her stories are funny, it gets old quickly. I understand that Mr. Hetfield was feeling lonely while touring, and composed this after a phone call with his ladyfriend.

Had clearer heads prevailed, he could have instead called a radio station and dedicated someone else's song to his amore; perhaps a little Al Green.

Or he could have used an alias and requested Barry Manilow. He wouldn't have been the first. No one in Manilow circles uses his real name. Ticket tracking agencies have repeatedly found that 8 out of every 10 Manilow tickets are purchased with stolen credit cards. Better to risk larceny than be outed as a BM fan.

Rapture by Blondie

I get that it's historic. I get that it was the first #1 song with a rap verse. But just because "Rapture" is historic doesn't mean it is great. It may have broken the mold and helped usher in what followed, but that doesn't make it shine as a standalone.

"Rapture" was a germinal work, a precursor to greater things. And that's what it feels like; a scrimmage. Scrimmages are important forerunners to the Super Bowl, but there's a reason no one scalps tickets to them. I have yet to see an episode of "NFL Films" called "Great Snaps of the Pre-Season."

Everybody Hurts by REM

Apparently this song helps people. Glad to hear it. But even if "Everybody Hurts" kept the sawblade off your wrist, you must admit the lyrics have issues:

When you're sure you've had enough of this life, well hang on

Don't let yourself go
'cause everybody cries
and everybody hurts
sometimes

Sometimes everything is wrong. Now it's time to sing along...

'Cause everybody hurts. Take comfort in your friends...


Either this song is a high budget gag or REM applied the cut-up method to a bunch of Hallmark Cards.

Is anything smellier than earnestness without subtlety? Isn't the whole point of song to contextualize moods through symbolism and metaphor? If all a song offers is a sappy check list of your problems, what the hell good is it? If I stub my toe, I want a song that provides a poetic framework for my pain. I don't want lyrics that say, "Oww, I stubbed my toe."

'Cause everybody stubs their toe. Sometimes. So hold on.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Bullying on the Big Screen

You didn't ask, but I recently saw the film Never Let Me Go, and being the Pauline Kael of blogs that go unread, I thought I'd share a review.

***MILD SPOILERS (can't be too careful)***


Like The Road, Never Let Me Go has an ambiguous, science fiction backdrop that is referenced but never mapped out.

The film centers around an English boarding school deemed "special." We follow a small group of children as they tackle the travails of pre-teen, adolescent, and young adult angst; jealously, loneliness, crises of identity. It is as young adults that the characters watch these travails accelerate in messy directions.

What is refreshing is how these travails are depicted. Unlike those much loved 1980s teen flicks, Never Let Me Go showcases real adolescent jealousy and real pre-teen insolence. It is an adult look at the road to adulthood.

I suppose you could say those cartoonish 80s films are adolescent movies intended for adolescents, but then why on God's red Mars do so many adults lap them up? And not merely for nostalgia's sake. Unintoxicated grown-ups have told me that Trapper Keeper pathos was "the way it was." Really? I was a runt in a high school that wasn't a utopia, yet I never witnessed or experienced anything like the POW-style trauma those movies present as endemic to every high school in the country.

Never Let Me Go reminded me of an even better film that gets adolescence right: Let the Right One In. Let the Right One In showcases teenage bullying without the tired and contradictory motifs normally ascribed to silver screen bullies. Cinema bullies are usually thickheaded, soft-brained, and more vicious than a torturer with a hearing problem ("No really, I CAN'T HEAR YOU!!!"). Yet despite being so, so, so very stupid (which is why they're soooo jealous of those big-hearted nerds who brim with inner-beauty!), these bullies are nearly omniscient in the way they always know exactly when to strike and precisely what everyone's innermost weaknesses are.

In reality, a good bully has to be fairly clever, or else he won't manage to keep his bullying from being detected. And bullies don't always play football. They don't all come from the wrong side of the tracks or the biggest mansion in town. Let the Right One In recreates the terror bullies inflict without portraying them as idiot gods.

While we're on the subject, if so many adults remember high school as being Lord of the Flies, why all the disbelief each time there is a school shooting? If 9th grade homeroom taught Alcatraz everything it knows, then bloody, unfocused retaliation should not continually catch the nation off guard.

Anyway, go see Never Let Me Go and Let The Right One In. And keep things in perspective. What you experienced in high school was a bad year of gym class, not the Rape of Nanking.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Still Ugly Duckling

Recently went on another Internet-begotten blind date, and must say I have never been on a date where it was so clear so quickly the woman didn't want to be there.

We met for a movie (first time I've tried a movie blind date. I'm sure there are warehouses of books advising against this), so we didn't have much time to feel each other out. Judging from her greeting, it wouldn't have helped if we'd had a lifetime.

Got off the train and strolled to the theater. The two of us arrived and recognized each other simultaneously. When she saw me, she didn't ask, "Are you Mike?" She asked, "Are you Mike?!"

This wasn't an inquiry. It was a confession of instant disgratification.

I don't know what she was expecting. As I've discussed before, my dating profile has an unimpeachably accurate photo, and fully discloses my unsightly stature. Who knows, maybe she was hoping I'd made a typo. What I'm saying here is my conscience is clean. This wasn't a bait and switch. I am not the Bernie Madoff of Internet dating.

Like I said, it was a movie date, so we had about ten minutes to chat before it started. Don't know about you, but I find it hard to get romantic traction going at a concession stand. It's a safe bet that the discussion of Twix vs. M&Ms has lead to no more than zero unplanned pregnancies.

The movie, a weighty number about preparing for premature death, also wound up being a poor choice. Never plan a date without doing plenty of research, gentlemen. Haste makes chaste.

After we'd hit the sidewalk and clumsily shared our thoughts on becoming maggot-chow, I said, "So, you want to grab a beer?"

Her response: "Welllllllll, oooo-kay."

Sure sounds like chemistry to me.

At that point I really should have intervened and said, "Look, it's okay if you go home. I won't cut myself."

But I didn't. My instinct is to always try and push through.

She lead us to an extremely happening bar. We ordered a round, and miraculously, started having a decent conversation. She had a wide range of interests and interesting things to say about them. The date seemed to be turning around. The Titanic was going to miss the icebergs after all.

The bartender queried about a second round:

Me: "Yes-"

Her: "NOOO, just this!"

Never have I seen a second beer so firmly rejected. If nothing else, she probably discovered she could launch a second career as an AA sponsor.

We left the bar and plodded to the nearby train station. We talked over each others' awkward goodbyes and insincere pledges to do it again sometime.

I remain confounded as to what this woman thought she was getting into. My dating profile contains no fine print, and she was old enough to know that frogs don't turn into princes. Maybe it's time I uploaded an audio file of me saying, "Ribbit, ribbit."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Thinking Inside the Big Box

The dismal consensus among the dismal scientists is that we have nothing to deflate but deflation itself; deflation being the great evil that must be avoided at all costs!

Riddle me this: In this deflation hypothetical, the input costs of manufacturers would continually drop (thanks to forces like plunging commodity prices...a force we aren't seeing), allowing volume-driven juggernauts like Wal-Mart--the same juggernauts heralded by many of these anti-deflation hawks--to increase volume/potentially improve profits. So if the big box, "make it up on volume" approach is indeed the wisest business discovery of the last 30 years, why wouldn't an environment favorable to this approach be just what the doctor ordered?

For all the deflationist panic about falling prices sparking a "globalized Japan," where no one shops because constantly falling prices induce them to await the next price drop, we might consider that as of 2010, the world's most expensive city is Tokyo.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Unheralded Songs by Heralded Bands

"Hyacinth House" by The Doors

Not only is this song catchy and then some, it contains rock's only reference to vacant lavatories. That's right, the Lizard King actually sings "I feel the bathroom is clear." Spoken like a true late stage alcoholic.

"Across the Universe" by The Beatles

Even many Beatles aficionados seem to overlook this one. Can't imagine why. More haunting than "In My Life." More chilling than "Golden Slumbers." Yeah, I said it. You wanna make something of it, little doggie?! Well I don't, so pour yourself an absinthe martini and give peace a chance.

"(Nothing But) Flowers" by Talking Heads

Not just an underrated TH song; one of the most underrated tunes in rock history. It was pushed as a single, but probably suffered from its association with Naked, their breakup album. Kind of like getting a threesome from your wife the night before she files the divorce papers.

"Not Now John" by Pink Floyd

The one highlight on their last album with Waters; the anti-Thatcher clunker The Final Cut. Should you ever find yourself stuck in a band you need to get fired from, you can't go wrong writing an album like TFC. Works better than a two week notice. Oh well, I still say "Not Now John" is a diamond in the rough. But not a blood diamond, mind you. Mr. Waters wouldn't stand for such a thing.

"2000 Man" by The Rolling Stones

Used memorably in the classic film Bottle Rocket, yet it has failed to incite the passions of rock fans. I don't have anything witty to say about this, so if you need a laugh, just picture Keith Richards trying to speak Chinese.

"A Quick One, While He's Away" by The Who

Talk about a song succeeding in spite of itself; wacky lyrics, hasty tempo shifts...all the makings of a prog rock Hindenburg. Yet I don't know of another tune in The Who's catalogue where each member shines so equally. The version I've linked is so thrilling you'll even forgive Daltrey for dressing like Pocahontas: The Burlesque Years.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Dishing on DOG DAY AFTERNOON

If you haven't seen Dog Day Afternoon, quit procrastinating. I won't unleash any spoilers, but before you read further, understand it is a film about a bank robbery.

Watching it, I was struck by changes we've seen since 1975, the year of its release (the events depicted went down in '72).

Mr. Pacino and Fredo try holding up a small Brooklyn bank. Although the bank is mom-and-pop-sized, it is stacked with employees. Nowadays, thanks to innovations like ATMs and online banking, even major Manhattan banks don't carry such top-heavy staffs.

Yet when the camera shows the street in front of the bank, you notice the parking meters they had then are like the ones you see now; nearly four decades later. There has been no inventiveness on the parking meter front. Steve Jobs stubbornly refuses to release an iPark.

The reason for this stagnation? Banks compete, parking meters are government enterprises. Government enterprises mean no price mechanism, no market feedback, no competition. The closest thing to a parking innovation a municipality seems capable of is making parking harder and less legal with barnacles like school zones. Hence, parking remains a constant migraine, while banking keeps getting simpler. Thankfully, parking in front of a bank is far less necessary, thanks to improvements like online banking.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Keep Louisville Boring

Louisville, KY is a hard town to pronounce, and an even harder town to visit. Appropriately, it brings to mind another hard to pronounce word; ennui.

Louisville is a desperate, colorless misuse of pavement. It's a gas station that doesn't know it. A place that just kinda happened.

An unhealthy mist hangs over the city. I suspect it's a fog created by the nitrate-heavy sweat the locals produce after feasting on the local grub. Before visiting Louisville, I'd never heard of a major sandwich shop running out of wheat. I have now. I guess in some cities, there is a last call for wheat bread. In a place where the grass is all blue, not even the horses can eat green.

And should you want to escape across the Ohio River, you're escaping to...Indiana. I hear Phillip K. Dick was going to work this into one of his novels, but was afraid no one would believe it.

One night I was directed to an area called FOURTH STREET LIVE. Basically, it's a dismal food court made super dismal by the blare of droning peasant music. You might say it's a meat market where both the food and women are rancid.

Although Halloween was still a ways off, a number of ladies were dressed as trampy devils. This failed to improve FOURTH STREET LIVE. How can a college town herd half-drunk, half-dressed college chicks into a central locale and still manage to be boring? Louisville makes it possible.

Of course, there is no accounting for taste. I'm sure some guys enjoy spending their Saturdays being sized-up for a brawl outside a Taipei Express.

After the disorienting brush with FOURTH STREET LIVE, I browsed the city's hipster section. Like all hipsters, the ones in Louisville come off as apathetic; only there, they really mean it. Not much use for irony in a town where the joke is on you. So I guess if you're looking for something different, Louisville's hipster sincerity is a rare attribute, though I don't see that as a fetching chapter in a tourism guide.

On the flipside, at least you can be sure that what happens in Louisville stays in...oh wait, nothing happens in Louisville.



The real promised land is my Twitter feed: http://twitter.com/#!/greatMikePayne

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The New Karaoke?

Ever since Napster, those embracing the Internet music revolution have always said musicians should just worry about concerts. Forget albums; share your music, because the new business model for music is about selling concert tickets.

This recent article gives us a taste of how the Internet music revolution may be eating some of its children:

In the audience at a recent Natalie Merchant concert at an 880-seat theater in Los Angeles, Adam Miles couldn't focus. The man to his left was holding up his cell phone, shooting video. "Please," Mr. Miles asked his neighbor, "turn it off." A few songs later, the phone lit up again, and the San Diego harbor police officer got more commanding: "Hey, dude. You're going to have to put that away. You're ruining the show for me."


A generation raised on instant, effortless access to all kinds of "live" performance (MP3, Napster, YouTube, iPod) is probably less likely to appreciate and TAKE IN a live performance, as they've never really had to wait for one. Today's young concertgoer hasn't had the same experience of marking the calendar for a new single or album, and I believe part of what makes people salivate and focus is anticipation; anticipation partly spurred by limited access to that which you are anticipating. Distance makes the eardrum grow fond...

More importantly, because every new tool--Facebook, Blackberries, iTelepathy--quickly becomes another enabler of today's cult of self-expression, recording a concert (formerly known as bootlegging) is now more of a: "Look at what I LIKE, look at what I'M EXPERIENCING" maneuver, rather than an attempt to create a collective, Grateful Dead-type vibe.

Maybe we're discovering you can't be a gearhead and a Deadhead.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sometimes a Buffet is Just a Buffet

It is in the news again: Americans are enormously fat. The grapevine is telling us a recent pro-veggie marketing campaign didn't take, and that our "national obesity goals" (?) aren't likely to be met.

In between shovelfuls of bacon, various pundits are asking WHY? Some of the usual explanations:

We gorge because we're spiritually empty.

We expand because we're hooked on high-fructose corn syrup.

Our bellies runneth over our belts because we no longer eat local.

E-T-C. (NOW SERVING BREAKFAST ALL DAY)

Instead of turning the obesity "debate" into a Rorschach for his respective cause, for once I'd like to see one of these worriers take a deep breath, tie-up his hobby horse, and say: "Maybe Americans are fat because we're lazy and like eating. A country where every day is Thanksgiving ain't likely to be svelte."

You know, Occam's Scale...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

IS THERE INTELLIGENT LIFE ON EARTH?

According to AOLNEWS:


UFOs have monitored and possibly tampered with American nuclear weapons, according to a group of former Air Force officers who will make their claims public next week at a Washington, D.C., news conference.

Ignore the headlines. Unidentified doesn't automatically mean extraterrestrial. It means exactly what it says; a flying object yet to be identified. Could be a meteor shard. Could be a weather balloon. Could be an unidentified aircraft from a foreign--yet still earth-based--land. Popular usage has confused the term UFO so much the conversation can't help but veer into paranormal territory.

Think of it this way: John Does aren't automatically identified either. Doesn't mean they're from the 5th dimension.

I'm guessing many of these UFOs were foreign spy planes, and yes, it would make perfect sense for foreign spy planes to monitor US nuclear facilities, considering such activities are the very reason spy planes are built in the first place.

As for the US military not going public with the information...not the biggest surprise I've heard today. OF COURSE the government wouldn't go public with real-time info. about their nuclear facilities being compromised. And NATURALLY they'd be even less likely to do so if they couldn't readily identify the crafts in question (particularly if said UFOs were suspected of being Soviet), as it would be a public admission of the vulnerability and perhaps inferiority of US anti-spy technology.

Back then, the US had a credible superpower to scare the rubes with. They didn't need to justify the defense budget using pulp fiction motifs about machete-wielding Bedouins half a globe away.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Uncertain? You Bet!

Eavesdrop on an interview with a CEO or business commentator nowadays, and the buzzword you'll hear most often is uncertainty. Can't get away from it (not even in the hot new Chevy Volt). Doesn't matter if the person is selling real estate, maternity clothing, or moose lips, whenever they're pressed to give a bird's-eye view of today's challenging business climate, they file everything in a generic folder marked "uncertainty."

The exchanges go something like this:

Talking Head: "So what's the biggest challenge facing your industry today?

CEO: "Uncertainty."

Talking Head: "We all know that small business does most of the hiring in this country. What would you say is the biggest challenge facing small businesses today?"

Small Business Owner: "Uncertainty."

Talking Head: "Having successfully managed not to foresee a single aspect of the recent credit crisis, what do you think is driving the market today?

Business Commentator: "Uncertainty."

You get the picture.

Depending on the political persuasion of the talking head interviewing them (hack Republican or hack Democrat), it may get slightly more specific; meaning the hack will editorialize about taxes or regulation (pro or con), then cleverly "hide" the editorial by ending his tirade with a questioning lilt in his voice. Usually, it is only then the CEO/business commentator will reference Washington and its proposals.

For those unfamiliar with the work of economist Robert Higgs, one of his key concepts is regime uncertainty. Abridged version: Extensive government intrusion into the economy creates an atmosphere where businesses become prudish about hiring, purchasing capital equipment, and other important decisions, because they don't know how these decisions might be affected by whatever tax or regulation the government brews next.

So why aren't more businesspeople saying this outright?

Part of this reluctance exists because being a CEO is a lot like being a politician. One "scandalous" comment can singe you (remember Whole Foodsgate?), so canned platitudes and stiff upper lips come with the job.

But also, given how much of the economy has already been ambushed these last few years, it could just be these guys are so uncertain about Washington they've even become uncertain about speaking its name. Washington has become their Candyman; don't say his name and maybe he won't come for you!

Truthfully, things really AREN'T that uncertain. Taxes ARE going up. Obamacare WILL happen in some form. The milquetoast "uncertainty" line is a fuzzy way of admitting the government is handicapping business without offending Obamamaniac customers or running the risk of becoming a certain target of that epicenter of uncertainty; Washington, D.C.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Scenes from a New York Barber Shop

I need a haircut. I need a lot of other things too; complete facial reconstruction or a decent Brad Pitt mask, but there are only so many shopping hours in the day.

On my way home this afternoon I passed a hot Eastern European woman who was distributing flyers for a neighborhood barber shop offering $10.00 haircuts. I asked her if she came with the haircut. She said yes, but only if I multiplied the price of the haircut by 1,000,000. There are only so many zeroes in my bank account.

The barber shop was nearby, and one of the barbers was idling out front, so I assumed they were hungry for business. Maybe I'd even be a miser and talk them down to $9.00.

I asked the guy if the flyer was for his barber shop. He said no. I looked around and didn't notice any other hair-clipping establishments on the street. I looked up at his awning. Indeed, it was the same address as the one on the flyer.

"This coupon isn't for your barber shop?"

"No, that's not here."

"So this isn't for your shop?"

"No, not here."

I appealed to the awning. His reaction told me the appeal isn't a form of jurisprudence that has reached the barber community.

Classic New York. You get an offer for a discount, and the whole thing turns out to be fine print. It's not even a "bait and switch." It's a "bait and deny all knowledge of the bait." And the baiter acts like you're the idiot.

I gave up haggling with the guy. Whether the coupon was "real" or not, it definitely was for his shop. How this "misunderstanding" came about is for the reader to decide. I'm all for conspiracy theories, but I rather doubt one of the barber's enemies from the Old Country took the time to print fake flyers for his shop and then hired a hot chick to hand them out. True, she may not exactly have been "hired." I have heard of Eastern European hotties being used for sex trafficking. What I haven't heard of is them being used for dandruff trafficking.

I still need a haircut.

Friday, September 3, 2010

What Happens When the Quicksand Isn't Quick?

I have recently become acquainted with a man who is his own genre of stupid. He's smart enough to be executed in Texas, but just barely. This man is also the world's leading Captain Obvious, but I'll refrain from using that insult, as it is so hackneyed it actually insults the plaintiff more than the defendant.

This man is dense in such a way that he wouldn't even make it as a useful idiot. Useful idiots come in handy when you need cannon fodder, sweatshop labor, or someone to test your latest "vaccine." This man's worthlessness is so singular I can't even picture him qualifying as a guinea pig, which is probably why he has survived so long. Not even Sun Tzu had a strategy for defeating the alpha of the betas.

His thickness is difficult to describe, but here goes. Plenty of people are clueless. Plenty of people are clueless AND socially awkward. The reason this man transcends the class of the cognitively downtrodden is that he's clueless, socially awkward, billboard obvious and constantly jumping three steps ahead or three steps behind in the conversation; the conversation he's already made clear he doesn't understand. I'm convinced it is this final trait that protects him from the abuse duds of his caliber typically invite. Taking advantage of him would require too much direct exposure for the abuser to escape unscathed. He's like a porcupine, except I'm not confident he could match the dynamism of your average porcupine. We'll call him a cactus instead.

Perhaps a dramatization is needed. Let's say Cactus Jackass found his way to a shoe store. The salesman would approach:

Shoe Guy: "Hello, sir. Are you looking for anything in particular today?"
Cactus Jackass (eyes bulge, forehead reddens, lips moisten): "I-I gotta have something with laces!"

The Shoe Guy is attempting to at least narrow the conversation to a shoe style: a running shoe, a dress shoe. CJ sabotaged this endeavour by transferring the conversation back in time to one that might occur on the floor of a shoe factory, not a shoe store.

But Shoe Guy wants to make a sale. Things are tough all over. So he spends the three hours it takes to get Cactus Jackass into a new pair of Reeboks (thank God they already come with laces).

Having been together 2 hours and 59 minutes longer than Shoe Guy would have liked, the two men approach the register. Shoe Guy has the pain of a million ruptured appendixes burning in his side. His blood pressure is up. His head is down. But at last they've reached the payment stage. Shoe Guy, Jr., is going to eat this month.

Shoe Guy: "Now how would you like to pay for this?"
Cactus Jackass (ears twitch, nostrils flare, pupils dilate): "I-I want to take out a second mortgage on my house!"

The Reeboks cost 89 bucks. Cactus Jackass has 600 dollars in his wallet (being stupid to the point of invincibility keeps one from being mugged). But instead of taking the reasonable step of paying with cash, Cactus Jackass has fast-forwarded the conversation to a payment method that only applies in a high priced worst case scenario.

At this point, even the most determined shoe-shyster would fold. He has already wasted three hours trying to attain an $89 sale. He has already taken four score and seven years off his life rationalizing the opportunity cost of devoting three hours to the pursuit of a commission that wouldn't even keep him in ham hock, let alone steak. Now he is faced with another 3-4 hours of trying to steer Cactus Jackass through the choppy waters of placing nine ten-dollar bills on the counter. An ubercommittee stacked with Foot Locker Employees of the Month couldn't handle this, so we mustn't fault Shoe Guy for succumbing. As for Shoe Guy, Jr., well, it looks like he'll once again be dining on Shoe Polish Surprise.

A laceless, shoeless, and clueless Cactus Jackass walks out of the store and into the sunset. The sun cries uncle and lets the moon take over for a while.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

SLOW COOKED FOR THE SLOW-WITTED

If someone tells you he knows a great BBQ spot in New York, severe ties with that person. There is no such thing. In a city crawling with scams, the illusion of "quality BBQ" is one of the hardest to tolerate (you thought I was going to say "hardest to swallow" didn't you, you cynical skank).

Most NYC barbecue destinations are wickedly overpriced. Leave it to Manhattanites to pay a premium for blue-collar cuisine. To those not held captive by Zagatspeak, barbecue should be synonymous with bargain. You will see a humble backwoods church scraping together funds for a summer barbecue. You won't see that church holding a Palm Sunday Beluga Bake.

NYC barbecue isn't so much a parody of the South as it is New York self-parody. What could be more New York than overpaying for a third-rate version of po' folks' grub? Instead of blogging, I should open a rib shack called "3-Course Monte."

Before you know it, these conned-mopolitans will be paying top shekel for "gourmet military rations."

Speaking of "down home" food in NYC, I'm seeing sweet potatoes on more and more menus, and I'm not liking what I see. Most restaurants don't realize or don't care that sweet potatoes contain more water and therefore must be prepared differently. Now that SP fries are everywhere, a generation of suckers is being raised to believe that soggy, orangish salt sticks are a cherished delicacy. How will we know when we've lost sweet potatoes for good? When Ronald McDonald has toxic "McSweeties" falling out of his McFro.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

You Lost Me at Hello

So I've been going on a lot of Internet dates lately (yeah, I'm judging me too). What's strange is that my profile has generated a lot more traffic and response than I expected.

I say it's strange because my profile is well, honest. The picture is a full-on face shot (not a pretty picture). My true and typically dealbreaking height is spelled out in plain view. Everything else is honest as well. No allusions to bulging Swiss bank accounts or reference lists of sexually sated ex-conquests.

Yet a goodly number of chicks have come out to meet me. Some from as far away as Brooklyn. Many with decent pedigrees and lots to offer. The fact that my looks, height, and absence of achievements didn't scare them off is almost enough to make me question why I need Internet dating in the first place.

But here's the rub...very few second dates. No urgency for return engagements. One dose of Mike Payne and all further investigation is off. Seems these women can look past the ghostly face, the Hobbitish height, the lack of accomplishment. What they can't look past is my losing personality. They're like: "Yeah, I was all set to give a 5' 5" failure a shot, but after meeting you in person...well, let's just say you give charity a bad name."

Friday, August 13, 2010

All Print is Fine Print

In Wall Street parlance, when someone is pumping a stock mainly because he owns it himself, he is said to be "talking his book." In other words, he isn't objectively analyzing the stock's merits; he is promoting it so its value (and his wealth) will rise. Naturally, all humans "talk their book" in some form, but today we’ll highlight how a certain form of book talking corrupts actual books (i.e., the press).

Those who complain about the press usually gripe that the outlets parrot the views of their sponsors. Not a crazy supposition. But something less talked about--and more insidious--is that in the media, there is no working balance between honesty and profitability. The closer you get to the truth, the farther you get from the black. And the audience is the problem.

Take Cosmo, or as I call it, Hymen Times. That rag is basically Weekly World News without the hard-hitting Elvis coverage. I'm sure Cosmo's staff has some true believers, but I suspect more than a few know they're just accomplices in a campaign of mi$information.

Each issue of Cosmo features cutting edge scholarship like, "Ten Ways to Please Him" or "What your man wants to say but can't." These at least sound informative, if you can escape the "Chocolate Chip Cookies: Are They Making Him Distant?" section. Unfortunately, once you reach "Ten Ways," you're treated to advice bearing no resemblance to any desire held by any hetero, non-institutionalized male since the fall of homo erectus. I can state with categorical certainty that doing Sudoku together using only your toes tickles no man's fancy.

Let me show you a Cosmo advice list for women reflecting men’s actual desires:

Page 1: Be a monogamous, round the clock nympho.
Page 2: See page 1.

What men want is rapt devotion in the bedroom and laissez-faire everywhere else. Basically, Hong Kong compressed into a cute, compact female. But you won't catch Cosmo admitting that, because if they did their readership would dry up faster than a reference at a figure of speech. So to keep readers from collapsing in despair, Cosmo instead caters to the most infantile dreams of its most infantile readers. And because average women have never heard such dreck, many end up mistaking Cosmo’s witchcraft for "inside scoops."

Unfortunately, what ails Cosmo also ails the "higher" forms of media. No media outlet can show us The Wizard and remain solvent.

CNBC, "America's business channel," can't tell its viewers that America's "dynamic" economy is built on borrowed money and reserve currency shenanigans, or that day traders (their core audience) rarely make money, or that literally almost every mutual fund underperforms the market. BORING! CNBC has to keep the witless watchers watching, and that means telling them this market is red, white, and blue hot! Take off your pom-poms and get in the game! BUY BUY BUY!!!

When it comes to cynical, full throttle book talking, Rolling Stone is practically a handbook. Rolling Stone has long postured as contrarian, even though it gives slobbery grandma kisses to every trend that comes along. When hair metal died in the early 90's, they began speaking of it in the kind of somber, unbelieving tones you'd expect from a medical journal discussing the days of leech treatments. Never mind that RS had spent the 80's hyping bands like Cinderella. They now wanted it understood that the days of hair metal were dark and unenlightened. Never forget.

But the second hair metal returned, what did this pillar of integrity have to say about it? "Dust off those mullets, kids! REAL ROCK is back!!!"

Naturally, Rolling Stone was just talking its book, and I don’t blame them. You can't turn a profit reporting that every band since Radiohead has been a disgrace. If they copped to that, no one would buy the issue featuring Taylor Swift’s strategy for exiting Iraq. And I'm sure any day now they'll have an article telling us Fergie Ferg is not a butta face, but rather an example of the new "Marmaduke chic."

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Trench Connection

Like the happy trail on a Greek belly dancer, the numbers can get a little fuzzy, but this year the US Federal government is fixing to discharge almost enough new debt to surpass all the new debt dropped by all other governments combined. Uncle Sam, official babysitter of Earth's reserve currency, is once again far and away its most profligate debtor.

Simultaneously, 2009 US military spending accounted for nearly half of Earth's total military spending. According to the SIPRI, even after combining the bomb budgets of the other power brokers; Russia, China, the UK, and France, with the next 10 "big spenders," the rest of Earth's military tab only totaled 38.8% of earthly defense spending (remind you of anything?), leaving America with a 7.7% edge.

OKAY...so the US is blowing w-a-y more on military expenses than everyone else. Got it. And we're also issuing w-a-y government debt than everyone else. Right, still listening...

Do ya think there might be a link?

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's not the Heat, It's the Commentary

Finding loopholes in anti-torture law is a full-time job. Most people don't have time for two full-time jobs, so in place of lawful genital-tasering, they resort to small talk about the weather. It scratches the torture itch while keeping them out of jail.

Summer is when the serious INQUISITORS come out. You won't read this in your New York City guidebook, but congregating around street vendors this time of year is the surest way to experience the weather-talk version of the rack. Here's the torment you'll encounter each time two strangers meet:

Meathead-eorologist #1: "Phew, another hot one!"

Meathead-eorologist #2: "Yeah, humid too."

Meathead-eorologist #1: "Phew, what's it supposed to be like tomorrow?"

Meathead-eorologist #2: "I hear it's going to be even hotter."

Meathead-eorologist #1: "Will it be humid too?"

Meathead-eorologist #2: (Eyes bulge) "Gee, I don't know! This looks like a job for Weatherman!"

[Meathead-eorologist #2 steadies his trembling hands just long enough to flick on the Weatherman-Signal; flooding the muggy sky with a W-shaped distress sign. Will our hero respond in time?]

Weatherman heroically answers the call.

Weatherman: "YES, IT WILL BE HUMID TOMORROW."

Repeat after me: It's summer. In New York City. It's going to be hot. What's that, you're feeling the heat? So is everyone else. No need to mention it. If it were 95 in January, we'd have something to talk about.

Do you spend every December 23rd telling strangers how Christmasy it is?

Meathead-eorologist #1: "Phew, it's really Christmasy out here!"

Meathead-eorologist #2: "Yeah, tomorrow's gonna be even merrier."



My Twitter feed is partly funny with a chance of haze: http://twitter.com/#!/greatMikePayne

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Coming to a Half-Empty Stadium Near You

Like David Beckham before him, Thierry Henry becomes soccer’s latest star striker to be plucked from Europe in hopes of spurring Americans to care about MLS:

Thierry Henry's move to the New York Red Bulls will help Major League Soccer in its goal to become one of the "world's elite soccer leagues'', according to the organisation's vice-president of marketing and communications.

As it was with Beckham, the Henry experiment will fail.

Beckham had far more fame and visibility ahead of his coming to the LA Galaxy, and that still wasn’t enough to attract anything beyond a short term buzz for the team and league. Henry is much less known in America, so the idea of turning him into a “star” ambassador for the game is fantasy.

Beckham hailed from the UK, a country most Americans are still relatively well-disposed to. Thierry was born near Paris, and is bound to trigger the usual slap-dick antics Americans heap on anything French-related (brace yourself for hacky French accents and deafeningly unfunny surrender jokes).

And like Beckham by the time he reached MLS, Thierry is past his prime, so it is doubtful we are about to be treated to a one-man exhibition of soccer at its finest that will inspire a generation of Americans to ditch LeBron, cast off the Air Jordans of their forefathers, and demand a pair of soccer cleats.

A similar “ambassadorship” was tried with Pelé, who in 1975 was recruited to the New York Cosmos of the now defunct NASL. Pelé was a more accomplished and more US visible player than Henry. Pelé also had some political cache, and was playing in the era of Muhammad Ali; probably the golden age of politicized sport (Henry lacks these advantages). And despite all that, and despite playing in a media-saturated glamour town, Pelé’s presence failed to reap the lasting dividends US soccer believers were banking on.

Can New York soccer lightning fail to strike twice? Yes it can.

Henry will spark some sizzle early on, but that sizzle won’t even reach the levels ignited by Beckham’s arrival. Then we’ll be barraged with the familiar round of tired, soul-searching columns wondering why Americans don’t get soccer. The proposed solutions will be the usual calls for “better coaching” and “better promotion at the youth level.” Maybe the conversation should instead begin with the fact that the rest of Earth calls it football, and we already have a sport called football, thanks very much, whose popularity and stature towers over all other US athletics.

Hilarity aside, maybe it’s as simple as Americans just preferring high scoring sports. Hockey scores are similar to soccer’s, and in terms of visibility, hockey has long been a distant fourth among the four major US team sports. Coincidence?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Miami Vice?

The backlash against LeBron’s announcement-o-thon has gotten a little overdone. Well, lest anyone think this sports fixation is an American phenomenon, bear in mind that David Beckham’s 2003 physical exam aired on 39 channels across the globe, and included a pay-per-view broadcast. Yeah, we do have bread and circuses, but don’t let your reaction to them turn you into a sideshow.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Don't Fret on Me

How times change. When Jimi Hendrix strummed his famous Star-Spangled Banner, it was considered high treason. Straying from tradition on any incarnation of any American symbol was secular blasphemy (fortunately, Jimi's antics predated Gitmo, though he might have enjoyed being waterboarded).

Nowadays, even the curmudgeonly jingoistic Fox News, famous for displaying an American flag on the screen during newscasts, nonchalantly boasts a July 4th American flag bikini slideshow on its homepage.

My, oh my. Old Glory will just have to accept that in 2010, not even Fox is a no-thong zone.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Footloose Officiating

I am pleased Germany and Argentina won their recent World Cup matches. I am displeased by the widely broadcast assumption that the faulty goal gifted to Argentina and the authentic one stolen from England “didn’t matter” because the final scores were lopsided anyway.

So this means the disputed goals weren't relevant? Really?

What we don’t know is how much differently the teams would have performed had the disputed goals been officiated correctly. Would a Mexico still tied at 0-0 pressed as recklessly, allowing Argentina to control the ball and put corresponding pressure on the Mexicans' already stretched defense?

How much differently might England have tackled the second half if not for the burdensome knowledge that they had to score A THIRD GOAL just to be credited for the two needed to even up with Germany? Might this partly explain their deflated, dispirited play? We don’t know.

It's not as though the blown calls came at insignificant times either, like in the 89th minute of a 3-0 blowout. In the case of Argentina, it was the first goal of the match, and with England, it came at 2-1, so stand-up refereeing would have meant a tie game. All the more reason these botched calls shouldn't get the "all's well that ends well" treatment. To excuse them as "mere lessons for the future" even though they occurred with the outcomes still very much in doubt ignores the precious concept of MOMENTUM that sports commentators spend so much time prattling about.

If we're going to pretend each moment of each match happens in a vacuum, why have rules at all? Coming to a field near you: Anarcho-footie! You thought soccer riots resembled Valhalla before...

In the end, this all winds up sounding like bad string theory. No, we can't go back and magically replay the games to see exactly what would have unfolded had the goals been judged properly. Of course, we wouldn’t even be discussing magic replays if FIFA had instant replay.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Red Wine and Long Walks on the Ledge

Enabling hopeless romantics never goes out of style. As we sit here, someone, somewhere is confessing to being a hopeless romantic, and some enabler is gushing: "Aw, it's so nice in this world of cynics to see someone searching for true love."

First of all, any term with the word "hopeless" in it is not a term of endearment. If someone told you, "Oh my uncle Bill, he's a hopeless drunk," you wouldn't say, "Aw, it's so nice in this world of detox to see someone pickling his liver!"

When you admit to being a hopeless romantic, you’re admitting to the world you're an eager victim. You're saying when you enter a relationship, you're like an old coot with Alzheimer's wandering on to a user car lot. You're letting us know that one day, you and your romantic hijacks will be part of a '60 Minutes' exposé. You're making a promise to be as naïve and helpless as you were before the relationship. What you should be saying is: "Hi, I'm Fred. Experience teaches me nothing."

The reason hopeless romantics don't get the public ridicule they deserve is because countless industries feed on their vice; greeting card companies, florists, divorce lawyers, guard dogs, morning-after pill manufacturers…all the essentials.

It is time to dispense with this "true love" superstition. Love, like everything else in the universe, is largely random. If you were born in Afghanistan, you would find "true love" in Afghanistan. If you took a job in Idaho, you'd find someone to complete you in Boise. Love didn't bring you together. The credit crunch did.

In some cultures, the cause and effect relationhip between intercourse and pregnancy is a relatively new discovery. So was all that previous mating based on celestial romance? Was it star-crossed love? Or were folks just f*cking what was available?

Now look at your own romantic past and consider how different it really is.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

IMPERIO DO MAL

Having overheard many fellow countrymen heap generic praise on Brazil’s soccer team, I sense that for Americans who don’t get soccer but feel the need to have “a stake” in the World Cup, Brazil is like the Yankees. In other words, the perfect team for “fans” who want to root for a team liable to make a good run (allowing them to keep “supporting” “their team” late into the tournament and feel like a winner), but who are too lazy to do the homework needed to pick a squad other than the most bleedingly obvious one.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

World Cup Drinking Game

Eager to play John Bonham? Try doing a shot each time a commentator makes reference to one of the currently crumbling EU countries (Portugal, Spain, etc.) “needing this win more than ever" thanks to their dire financial straits. Other heavy-handed phrases to listen for; “right now it’s about more than soccer” and “giving people with little to cheer for something to celebrate.”

By the way, I'm surprised Greece lost, as they have so many strikers...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Crying Over Spilled Oil

Since Obama took office, partisan, faux conservative hacks have complained (justifiably) about his micromanagement of the economy and well, everything else. The script has been simple. The Obama Administration says jump, and the hack opposition shouts: “I’ll let the private sector tell me how high, thank you very much!”

Despite loving Bush's centralizations, under Obama, these zombies have gotten states' rights religion.

But when Obama adopts a more decentralized, private sector-heavy approach to the BP spill, these same hacks scream: “What’s taking him so long?! When's he gonna roll up his sleeves and FIX IT? You call this leadership?!”

You can’t claim everything the government does is DMV-caliber while also demanding it CENTRALIZE and outdo the world’s top oil industry minds in MICROMANAGING a disaster of historic proportion and complexity. Or at least you can’t credibly do it. You can however go on TV and sell books and coffee mugs by shrieking this cognitive dissonance and clutching your chest Fred Sanford-style...which is why there’s no hope for humanity.

Friday, June 4, 2010

For a Few Forints More

Hungary Warns of Greek-Style Crisis

Fears that the sovereign debt crisis could migrate to central Europe were stirred Friday after a senior Hungarian government official said the previous government had manipulated budget figures and lied about the state of the economy, but most financial experts dismissed the remarks as a ham-handed negotiating ploy.

So a spokesman for the Hungarian PM is showing his hand by telling the world his country could be the next Greece. Given the steps other debt-sodden nations have taken to mask their insolvency, the Hungarian's candor seems counterintuitive.

Until you consider that what he is probably doing is pulling a Kim Jong-il; i.e., misbehaving to encourage foreign aid so he doesn't have to expressly beg for it. Like the generously foreheaded North Korean dictator, he knows that just acting naughty is reminder enough of the perceived potentially greater cost (further contagion) of not fronting him the cash.

And it pays to be near the front of the bailout line, because like I've said, at least one of these European sovereigns is going to be the Lehman of this bailout cycle, so Hungary is wise to force the Eurocrats' hands now. Look for others in Emerging Europe to soon start making public mea culpas about their inglorious balance sheets.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

ZzzzzzzZzzzzzzZ

Last night I dreamt of all the failures of my life. Needless to say, it wasn't a catnap.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Blind and Deaf, but Unfortunately, NOT Mute

We all know the neocons despised “Old Europe.” So it’s no surprise they’re toasting the EU's collapse and (rightly) ridiculing the fantasy of getting divergent cultures with long, bloody histories of infighting to gel.

Yet they believe we can piece together Afghanistan…

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Fly the Smarmy Skies

I’m afraid of flying. It’s the worst fear to have, because it’s the one fear no one respects. You make the mistake of telling someone, and you're rewarded with a carnival of crass number crunching (with The Cruncher prattling on like he’s the first one ever to say it): “You know statistically, you’re safer in the air than you are on the ground!”

Everyone is an actuary all of a sudden.

Yessssss, I knowwwwww, plane crashes are improbable. So is encountering a dangerous spider. But an arachnophobe suffers no barbs for going public with his fear. No one says, “’Fraid of spiders?! DU-DE, you’re safer around a spider than you are around your wife! Don’t you read Zoobooks?”

It isn’t the odds of a plane crash that scare me. It’s what happens if the odds go against me. A bell curve-shaped parachute ain’t gonna magically open when I’m spiraling into the ground.

“Let’s see, Gaussian analysis of the flight’s risk profile should mean--SPLAT. Oh right, still dead. Uh, what are the odds on resurrection?”

Saturday, May 15, 2010

The Entropy Over Energy

You've probably heard many of our wise men, particularly those of the neocon/world is flat persuasion, baying from the rooftops about America's need for the unequivocal "free trade" of all goods and services, everywhere and always. Except for oil. Apparently with oil, America requires "energy independence."

Many of these wise men are also climate change skeptics, always saying we need more data before committing to such drastic changes in our energy infrastructure. Fair enough. Yet in the name of "energy independence," these supposedly critical thinkers will recite the most ridiculous proclamations about biofuels, solar, wind, and other potential "energy saviours." It's different with oil. It just is.

Something tells me we'll soon be staring down the barrel of a Huckabee or Palin ticket, complete with a 5-year plan for achieving "algae independence." And these scamps won't be able to resist reminding voters that algae comes in red, white, and blue.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Section 106 Means Section 8

If you enjoy simpleminded discussions of complex transactions, you’re probably digging the recent financial reform scuffle. From The Economist:

The most controversial bit is Section 106, which would prohibit entities with access to the Fed’s discount window—ie, banks—from trading swaps or using them to hedge their own exposures.

The rules could drive derivatives to offshore markets, over which they have less control. The Fed would not be thrilled at the prospect of having to rely more on non-American banks as dollar intermediaries in the foreign-exchange-swap market. Pushing swaps into new entities may simply create a new class of firms that are too big to fail.


Yes, Section 106 would nudge these transactions abroad, creating non-American institutions deemed too big to fail. But worry not; helpless U.S. taxpayers will still be used as “emergency lenders,” because the kind of financial concentration these policies would induce will likely mean “systemically important” behemoths even larger than those Americans have already been forced to rescue. What, you thought American money couldn’t be used for international frivolity? Just think back to the ’94 peso crisis. If Section 106 goes into effect, it won’t be long before Americans become sugar daddies for insolvent foreign financiers. Flat world? I’m lovin’ it!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Aging Tigers Continued...

As I said, Greece was Chapter 1. The PIIG problem has become like an inverse of the Asian Crisis. Part of the “rich” world is collapsing, so investors are fleeing to “safety” in emerging markets. Difference is, unlike the Asian Crisis, this one isn’t contained. Neither was subprime.

Consider the balance sheets of many of these so-called rich countries; impossible social welfare promises and impossible debt levels against a backdrop of malignant demographics and political regimes with little hope of healing these infirmities. Does this sound like true wealth and power to you? Who would make a loan to such enterprises? The “deficits don’t matter” clan stupidly egged many of these developed nations to keep kicking the can down the road. Well those countries have now run out of road, and lack the moolah to do more paving.

What might we see? The more open emerging markets becoming (at least) temporary safe havens, both their bonds and perhaps especially their currencies. Some of these countries will probably move to block these inflows, triggering even more volatility.

Going forward, I think we’ll see more pointed and widespread questioning of all this illusory wealth. Emerging markets may not exactly be the answer, but their youth, relative lack of debt, and room for growth are going to force some serious reassessments. Investors are bound to conclude it’s wiser to invest in a bratty “emerging” nation than risk losing your shirt respecting an elder “developed” one.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Emerging into Bankruptcy

This week Greece cynically tried putting lipstick on a PIIG by pitching itself as an emerging market. Unfortunately for Greece, it is anything but. Greece is a sinking market. It showcases none of the characteristics that have made investors salivate over the previously moribund locales now classified as EMs. Greece has no surging birth rate, no light regulation, no unique, fortuitously timed skill sets, no trough of dearly needed commodities, and with its public sector mafia putting the piano wire to prosperity in plain sight, certainly no opportunity for labor arbitrage. Come to think of it, you could say much the same of all the PIIGS (Ireland aside). Maybe they should drop Ireland and repackage themselves as the Aging Tigers.

To state the obvious: "Emerging market" doesn't just mean dirt poor. Rather, it is supposed to roughly denote a country that is growing quickly on its way OUT OF poverty. If poverty were the only criterion, Jim Rogers would be sporting a Pakistani flag bow-tie. And just because an area is poor doesn't mean it is about to start "emerging." Just ask North Korea. When you see Detroit municipal bonds being touted as red hot "emerging market" munis, you'll know the EM bubble is on your doorstep.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A Sampling of My Worst Bits

When you've influenced as many comics as I have, people want to know about the evolution of your act. "How did you get so brilliant?" they wonder. Well believe it or not, even Mike Payne has a clunker or three in his past. Since I'm nothing if not humble, I thought I'd share some censorship-inspiring jokes from my early days to show the young guys that even visionaries have missteps. I've tried to recreate them word for word, but some remain incomplete. Most are from my first eight or so months in comedy.

WORST SETLIST EVER

So I'm sure you all heard about the Lilith Fair. The all female tour. The celebration of women in music. Actually, it's just like every other tour, but instead of throwing underwear at the performers, the audience threw fetuses on stage.

This was actually my signature bit for most of my first year in comedy. And while there were times when it generated complaints and threats of banishment, it usually got decent laughs. But like a true artist, I was soon scorning my biggest hit by phoning it in the way Nirvana did with "Smells Like Teen Spirit". I'm not a jukebox, man!

There are all kinds of bars now. Internet bars. Sci-fi bars. Oxygen bars. So I've decided to cash in on this trend by starting my own line of chemotherapy bars. That's right. The sign on the front door will say: "No shirt, no shoes, no body hair no required. They'll serve Bloodless Marys. Pale ale will always be on sale. And when it's last call, the Grim Reaper will walk around the bar, and the bartender will say, "You don't have to croak at home, but you can't die here!"

Chicks are walking past the bar, drunk frat boys are like "Show your tit!"


I have absolutely no recollection of where this bit came from, which is unfortunate, because I'd like to make sure that attic of unfunny stays closed forever. Believe it or not, this was a hit or miss joke, with a decent percentage of hits. Either we live in a society with no standards of any kind, or I'm even more magnetic than I realize.

Have you seen these Play-It-Again Sports stores? Where you can buy and sell used sports equipment? Well, I was down South recently where hunting is a big thing, so down there they have a place called Shoot-It-Again Animals.

You go in, you see a deer with a walker. There's a squirrel with a bulletproof vest. And if you can't afford anything, they just hand you a used fly swatter.


I'm nearly positive there was another punchline before the fly swatter crescendo, but cruelly, it has been lost to time. If you look closely, you'll see the punchlines for "Shoot-It-Again Animals" follow roughly the same formula as the ones in the chemo-bar bit. But hey, how many times did Van Gogh paint a cornfield? I rest my case.

Have you heard about this game Tombraider featuring Laura Croft? Well, apparently she's some chick with cleavage who goes around fighting zombies, and now she's become this feminist icon. So now they've got this new game, I don't know if you've heard about it…it's called Wombraider.

The game starts: She walks into a building, and pro-lifers drop from the ceiling. Social workers start coming out of the ground. And when you get to the last level, you wind up fighting a giant coat hanger.


I think there was also a punchline mentioning "Roe" sprinkled in somewhere. When I wrote this, I was working at a Subway restaurant (not as a sandwich artist, but as a sandwich artiste), and I remember jotting this masterful play on words on one of their brown, not so absorbent paper towels. I think the word Wombraider happened to pop in my head and I unwisely tried to force a bit around it. My mental image of the theoretical game was something like Castlevania. And while I’m convinced Wombraider would make a fine Playstation experience, it did not make a fine bit.

I was at this bar the other night, and the second I walked in, a loose woman pointed at me and said "You're next!" I was like, "Hey, thanks for stroking my ego!" They should have a fragrance for that: 'Next, For Mike Payne.'

[Sniff, sniff] "Hey, is that Old Spice you're wearing?" No, it's 'Caboose, For Frat Boys.'


Okay, so a gal who had slept with two of my friends on consecutive weeks really did greet me on the third week with a firm "You're next!" And because I was still in that phase all comics have where I thought anything funny that happened offstage would be equally hilarious onstage, I decided to make it my opener. I'm amazed to report it usually did well.

It's always good when you can work the term "frat boy" into a bit. It lets you evoke images of date rape/assorted groping without the risk of chilling the crowd with an outright date rape/groping reference. Also, the women always laugh to show their disdain for frat boys, even though 99% of them came to the show with one. And the men laugh to show their girlfriend they weren't a frat boy and that it was just a coincidence their dorm room was called the Red Roofie Inn. And the comic gets to show the ladies in the crowd he's not like those perverted frat boys, even though getting chicks is 99% of the reason he got into comedy in the first place.

If you take the time to examine this joke, you'll notice it doesn't make the slightest bit of sense. How the hell do you get from being demoralized about a whore telling you it's your turn to a wacky cologne bearing your name? This joke exists in such a logic vacuum you could pretty much replace the cologne with any other item without altering the essence. Let's give it a try:

I was at this bar the other night, and the second I walked in, a loose woman pointed at me and said "You're next!" I was like, "Hey, thanks for stroking my ego!" They should make a car for that. The Next Roadster, Mike Payne Edition.

[Vroom, vroom] Hey, is that a Corvette you're driving? No, it's the Caboose; a frat boy utility vehicle.


Watch out kids, papa's got a brand new opener!

Early on I also had a horrible zinger about driving through West Virginia, but I can only remember snippets of two of the punchlines. One was something about people in West Virginia being so unevolved that employers have to provide "devolution insurance," and the other involved driving past a "dental pawn shop." Probably in the same strip mall as Shoot-It-Again Animals and the chemotherapy bar.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Allen Dulles Likes Your Status

The Feds are on Facebook. And MySpace, LinkedIn and Twitter, too.

U.S. law enforcement agents are following the rest of the Internet world into popular social-networking services, going undercover with false online profiles to communicate with suspects and gather private information, according to an internal Justice Department document that offers a tantalizing glimpse of issues related to privacy and crime-fighting.

Think you know who's behind that "friend" request? Think again. Your new "friend" just might be the FBI.



Despite the hype about social networking sites enabling “the people” to bypass the authorities, what is becoming clear is that the authorities are simply mining the info. conveniently bundled by social networking sites to keep from being bypassed (Those who see Orwell in all social interaction are asked to show their cards now). Social networking may have achieved nominal gains for dissent, but Twitter ain’t the Molotov cocktail many purported it would be. Rather, Twitter et al offer the greatest warehouse of intelligence data in human history. So if you’re in the intelligence business, you might conceivably have an offhand interest in browsing the greatest warehouse of intelligence data in human history. What, you thought ADD 5th graders would spot the power of social networking but the CIA would decide using it was in bad taste? Perhaps we need a game show called “Are You More Naive Than a 5th Grader?”

Folks galled by the Patriot Act have no excuse for being caught out of position by the privacy encroachment inherent to sites geared to spread info. as quickly, widely, and transparently as possible. The very sales pitch that made these bypass-boosters swoon was that “SOCIAL NETWORKING BEATS THE SYTEM BECAUSE EVERYONE, EVERYWHERE CAN SEE IT!” Right, everyone, everywhere can see it…including the system. The Patriot Act isn't cryptic: your private life is public property; so failing to foresee the perfectly foreseeable privacy losses inflicted by sites tailor-made for spooks shows how useless many V buffs truly are.

What’s more, if you are a privacy hawk, why are you spending hours a day broadcasting every personal detail to the entire wireless world (eschewing only the first digit of your SSN as a nod to Victorian modesty)? Remember, any person, including crooks looking to scam you, can easily access those details. You don’t have to wait for Big Brother. The hoodlum living across the street from you also has broadband.


My Twitter feed has no agents under the bed: https://twitter.com/greatMikePayne

Monday, March 15, 2010

CHOKING THE RUBBER CHICKEN

When I first started stand-up comedy, I lucked into a short lived but bountiful scene in Northern Virginia. Strange as it seems to me now, this remarkable scene came together quite by accident and briefly became a respectable draw at one particular club. Stranger still was that this scene managed to attract some hot female fans…hot females who regularly came to see us perform.

Before I continue let me clear up this misconception that comics gets lots of chicks. They don't. People see Giselle list "sense of humor" as a turn-on, and forget the list was written by a publicist eager to make her seem attainable to the stiffs buying her calendars. And regular women know claiming to love a sense of humor is a good way to sound well-rounded, which is why they pitch that snake oil to any fool who will listen. So thanks to the unending stream of propaganda about women valuing "funny guys," folks assume that when comedians aren't fighting off TV producers, we’re tasering our way through the mob of in-heat cheerleaders gathered at our doorsteps each morning.

Doesn't work that way. 98% of the time, a comic who gets lots of chicks is a guy who could get lots of chicks without wasting his life in a pointless and dying medium. Of course famous comics get lots of chicks, but so do famous midgets. Being a comic doesn’t really help your cause, because the women intrigued by it expect you to be "on" all the time. Once they realize you're not always "on," they act like you have betrayed them in some way. "Wait, you mean you're not going to spend all night balancing beach balls on your nose for my amusement? My friends were right, you weren't that funny anyway!"

I took a fancy to one of our female fans, and being just 19, I hadn't been pockmarked enough by life to realize she was out of my league. So I spent a good three or four months pursuing her. Well, "pursuing'' isn't the right word. If endlessly insulting a girl's friends and bitterly resisting the mercy hugs she throws your way qualifies as "pursuit," then the entire American English Dictionary pretty much goes out the window.

This gal disappeared for a year or so. Then she unexpectedly reappeared one Friday night when my friend Andy Kline and I were doing a weekend at the legendary club I alluded to earlier. I was in lust all over again.

She showed up with her then boyfriend and one of his pals. Her boyfriend seemed normal enough, but his friend was a tad quirky. The guy's name was Zed or Xavier or some other gobbledygook that ensures his résumé always goes straight in the shredder. He had an unfortunate Deep Guy beard, and a strange way of reacting to everything two seconds too late.

I stood by their table and chatted with the three of them until show time. When I departed to prepare my set, they were ordering their first drink. All seemed well, and I resolved to put my act in turbo to show that girl what she'd missed!!!

I was featuring, and the host only did about 10 minutes, so from the time I left the chick, her boyfriend, and Zed/Xavier until the moment I stepped onstage was probably just 12 or 13 minutes.

The crowd was hot and everything was as it should be. About 15 minutes into my set, Zed/Xavier arrested the festivities by barking out a garbled, booze-soaked sentence containing just one fully formed word; gay (always a hilarious go-to). As best I could tell, nothing about the show was particularly gay, making the interruption all the less amusing. More importantly, only about 27 minutes had elapsed from when he’d ordered his first drink. Now, less than half an hour later, Zed/Xavier sounded like he had just bested John Bonham in a drinking contest. Comedy clubs don't serve drinks that fast, so either he had taken something before the show that wasn't mixing well with the booze or he has the alcohol tolerance of an anorexic Mormon. I took some shots at him to ease the awkwardness and resumed knocking 'em dead.

Things chugged along for a few more dynamite minutes before Zed/Xavier felt the need to volunteer another slurred and incoherent comment featuring the word gay. This time I bashed him hard, much to the hetero delight of all in attendance. He tried answering back, but was way too out of it to form complete sentences. What comebacks he did attempt also focused exclusively on things being gay. His pal gave him a shake and Zed/Xavier shut his cumbersome trap. He remained silent the rest of the show.

After the show I hid in the back to avoid the backhanded compliments you always get from exiting patrons ("You had that one joke that was pretty good. Keep working at it!"). My solitude was pleasantly violated by the hot chick I had long dreamed of seducing. She was sans boyfriend, had clearly imbibed some naughty beverages, and for the first time in the three years I'd known her, was behaving… shall we say…amorously toward me. She kept grabbing me and inquiring about my hotel room. The comedy club was in a hotel, so it couldn't have been more convenient. She then handed me her cell number and told me to call her later.

This presented me with a conundrum worthy of the best minds of ancient Greece. Like I said, this woman had been on my wish list for many years, but she had a boyfriend, meaning that in order to close the deal I would have to play the role of backdoor man; hardly the virtuous path a generation of admirers had come to expect from me.

Before I could make up my mind, our forbidden bliss was halted by the approach of Zed/Xavier, who was barely able to stand. Picture Yosemite Sam walking in a strong wind and you have a sense of the guy's movements. However, when Zed/Xavier opened his mouth, he sounded more sober than he had during the show.

"You were funny, but you made fun of me."

He said this about ten times, then walked away.

The chick coyly intimated that I could call her after she was done with her crew. I took this to mean she was going to shoot off with them, ditch them at the corner of Third Wheel and Who Invited The Fun Killer?, and make her way back to my room for some late night hell raising. Seemed like a no-lose proposition.

Still, I was troubled about the chick’s having a boyfriend. So I did what anyone does when faced with an ethical dilemma. I sought counsel from someone completely devoid of ethics. This friend of mine, who was also in attendance, happened to be a drug addict/dealer and a backdoor man. Some people consult Dr. Phil. I went to Dr. Feelgood.

The scoundrel advised me to “live a little.” Who could argue with such bulletproof advice?

Eventually everyone--the chick, her boyfriend, my druggie pal, Andy Kline, and I--found ourselves chatting by the exit. I was doing a lot of nodding to keep the exchanges short in hopes the femme fatale and her boyfriend wouldn't dawdle long. The sooner they left, the sooner she'd be back with me. That is, if I could bring myself to pull the trigger…

The girl's boyfriend asked where Zed/Xavier was, then started to apologize profusely for him. Right at that moment, Zed/Xavier entered stage left. Had this been a bad 80's sitcom, we would have thrown our heads back in laughter, the screen would have frozen, and "Executive Producer Shlomo Goldenfink" would have appeared in block letters.

A teetering Zed/Xavier foamed his way through another rendition of: "You were funny, but you made fun of me."

The four of us stared back at Zed/Xavier, who now seemed convinced he was the Frankenstein monster. His arms were sticking out, his face was scrunched up, and his legs were moving forward in a half marching band, half speedskating motion. A bystander remarked, "Your friend's about to fall on his face."

We all shared a life affirming batch of ha-has and turned our attention away from Zed/Xavier.

"You made fun of me…"

Fearing I'd miss Zed/Xavier's glorious collapse, I started to turn my head. My head never made it. It was stopped by two big hands clutching my neck.

"YOU MADE FUN OF ME!"

Zed/Xavier was choking me. Not horseplay choking. Attempted murder choking. In a matter of seconds, the situation had gone from hilarious to hellacious. It is hard to explain, but the turnaround was so surreal I felt like a spectator. I could feel myself being choked, but it seemed to be happening to someone else.

Just as I was starting to process the danger, the chick's boyfriend seized Zed/Xavier and slammed him against the wall. This is when the dude really lost it.

"AHHHH!!! YOU MADE FUN OF ME!!!"

Though beet-faced and bellowing like an Iron Maiden tribute band, Zed/Xavier was too inebriated to sync his legs with his torso. The chick's boyfriend rather easily hauled him off to the men's room for a much needed heart-to-heart.

We all stood around giving nervous half-laughs. I'm used to getting two thumbs up after shows, but not two thumbs up around my Adam's apple.

A few minutes came and went before we heard the ominous approach of Zed/Xavier. The girl's boyfriend had him safely headlocked and was dragging him to the exit. All the while, Zed/Xavier was roaring and reminding everyone I'd made fun of him. The chick's boyfriend shoved him through the door and motioned for his lady to follow.

As though nothing had happened, she told me to call her. I apparently looked so scrumptious that even with hand marks around my neck I was irresistible. This lady was known to use ecstasy, which may have had a little something to do with her persistence.

So the $64,000 question is, did I end up closing the deal? I did not. I didn't even talk to her again that night.

Talk about tragic. To recap: I had shown up with no expectations, and was given a sliver of hope by the unannounced appearance of an old flame-that-never-was. But of course, she has a boyfriend. Oh well, not like I had a shot anyway. Then--what's this?--she comes on to me for the first time ever. A stunning turn of events! But can I seize the moment? Probably not. After all, she has a boyfriend. What kind of creep do you think I am? But wait, says my shady amigo…you only live once! You know something, he's right! I'll never have this opportunity again. By golly, I'm going to slay this senorita! Because I'm worth it. I'll just see her and her boyfriend off, perform the necessary pleasantries, and wait in my hotel room for the prize I so richly deserve. But instead of a carefree round of pleasantries, I end up under attack from a bitter heckler! Maybe I can fight him off and look even more heroic. Nope. Instead, the boyfriend I was considering stabbing in the back risks his own neck to save mine, throwing cold water on my plans for defiling his girl.

I shouldn't have been surprised by the way things turned out. I have always felt there was an invisible bouncer keeping me from participating in life's rare moments of joy. The difference here was that the bouncer wasn't invisible.

I have only seen this girl once since, and she was back to her standoffish self. She likely has no memory of what happened.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Leveraged Bailout

Despite all the huffing and puffing about German fiscal austerity, I still say Greece is poised for a bailout. I don’t see why so many doubt this outcome. For this is the age of bailouts, and unlike the Asian Crisis, Greece’s fissures are transpiring at a time when the entire globe is sweating its checkbook. And while there is never a good time for a rupture in the world’s largest economy, now would be an especially perilous moment for a full EU crisis. Let’s just say it would be more than a local snafu.

The Greeks are also lucky they’re the first ones to the trough. The PIIGS are about to play musical bailouts, and I cannot help but think one is going to wind up being the EU’s Lehman.

Wasn’t the EU supposed to strengthen all participants and provide a bulwark against U.S. unilateralism? One might now retort that it has actually weakened the stronger nations like Germany (especially) and France by shackling them to the mawing moneypits of the Mediterranean. If we believe a team is only as strong as its weakest member, what did Germany (until recently the world’s largest exporter) gain by adopting a litter of subprime dependents? Deutschland didn't need Greece any more than the U.S. needed its ungainly timeshare in Iraq.

The birth of the EU appropriately coincided with the “bigger is better” zeitgeist that ruled our financial system for the last decade. Tell me some of this doesn’t sound familiar: Don’t worry about the balance sheets of the parties involved. Don’t read all the fine print about handling those who break the rules. Packaging everyone together disperses everyone’s risk. Just e-x-p-a-n-d. If any problems arise, we’ll just grow our way out of this. The EU aimed to enhance European security. Funny how much that sounds like securitization.

Thanks to its captivity in this unholy union, Germany is now partly beholden to Greece for its own stability, as Greece’s fortunes greatly impact the euro. And so it shall be with Portugal and the rest of Cellblock EU. Lest anyone fancy America exempt from similarly hazardous pacts, take a look at how our borrowing has increased our dependence on states like Japan and China. For years, neocon doctrine insisted “deficits don’t matter,” and that we needed “energy independence.” The neocons also declared that it mattered not what the rest of the world thought of America’s Middle East adventures. After all, we had to preserve our “national security” at all costs. Well, the deficits incurred under those termites have left America with treasonous debts, which of course have made us far less secure and much less able to act without considering our creditors. Instead of chasing fever dreams like “energy independence,” perhaps we should have focused on things found in the waking world…such as CREDIT INDEPENDENCE.

Monday, March 8, 2010

You'll Get My Gun When You Pry it from My Warm, Jittery Hands

In 'open carry' states, guns and Starbucks mix uneasily

Starbucks has become something of an unwilling pawn in a growing dispute over gun rights.

Advocates of so-called “open carry” laws, which give citizens the right to wear unconcealed weapons without a permit, are hailing it for not kicking gun-toting customers out of their stores


When it comes to the gun issue, Starbucks said it will abide by state laws. If a locale in which one of its shops is located allows open carry, it’s not about to tell anyone wearing a revolver to get their latte elsewhere.


Starbucks’ clientele? Typically not gun friendly, so by adopting a passive, "just following orders" tone, the company risks offending their main constituency. Regardless of your take on open carry, this illustrates the rampant myopia epidemiologists so often uncover in studies of corporate executive populations. Company boards constantly make these kinds of short-sighted moves for fear of maybe, possibly losing a handful of occasional customers (what is seen)...all the while ignoring the teeming hordes of steady patrons their short-sighted moves are guaranteed to alienate (what is unseen). The guy who won't leave his Glock in the coup to make a coffee stop probably isn't one who daydreams of frappucinos. Likewise, the effete 3-a-day frap-addict probably isn’t jonesing to share the cinnamon with Charles Bronson. I guess it’s appropriate then that Starbucks is casting its lot with the star of Death Wish.

Perhaps in honor their new gun friendly environment, Starbucks should change the name of its drink size to the Walking Tall.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

SeaWorld staff has the bends, but refuses to break

ORLANDO — Despite the raucous approval of over 2,000 paying customers, SeaWorld’s trainers and killer whales said after the recent death of trainer Dawn Brancheu, they had just one thing on their minds: redemption.

“We want to make Dawn’s death the start of a new dawn” one whale reported through a translator.

The shocking nature of Wednesday’s lethal incident drew equally philosophic responses from the deceased’s fellow trainers.

“We have a sign in the locker room that says, ‘Pain is temporary. Pride is forever.’ What we sometimes forget is that pain usually means death, which actually is forever.”

Orcas, popularly known as killer whales, are actually dolphins; a word that hardly conjures up images of ferocity. Some killer whale advocates fear this week’s tragedy may prove a setback for the public’s perception of the orca.

According to A. Judith Cringeman, professor of Mammalian Discrimination History at UC Berkeley and author of When They were Called Blackfish: Killer Whale Images in the Media, orca on human violence is “quite rare,” and their image as underwater menaces merely “the ugly remnant of 19th century whaling stereotypes.”

In response to the fatality at Wednesday’s show, California Congresswoman and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi vowed to assemble a Killer Whale Task Force to investigate allegations of negligence on the part of SeaWorld officials. On Friday the Speaker’s office released a statement saying, “This is the legacy of killer whale deregulation.”

But as Saturday’s undaunted spectators piled into the stands, SeaWorld’s team of killer whale trainers vowed to drown out the noise and get back to the business of aquatic stunt work. A handful said they planned to wear black goggles in honor of their fallen peer, leaving some to wonder if swimming blind in a pool full of killer whales might not lead to more deaths.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

You Bet the Farm You Buy the Farm

When Warren Buffet referred to a recent investment as a “bet on America,” the blurb made headlines and swelled bosoms from sea to shining sea. But this week his Vice-Chairman Charlie Munger writes about the U.S. and declares "It's over," and the blurb gets treated like an industry secret. Colonel Sanders’ forbidden 12th spice is an easier find.

Perhaps Munger’s dour assessment of U.S. prospects has something to do with just how negatively that “bet on America” has been viewed of late.


Elsewhere, I wrote in Nov. about the unfolding commercial real estate collapse and the government’s likely (and destined to be catastrophic) response. With the publication of this report, it appears that response may soon be at hand.