Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Problem With Lawyers...

…is that 98% of them ruin it for everyone.

From today’s Washington Post:
An appeals court affirmed Timothy McVeigh's lawyer cannot claim a charitable tax deduction for donating prosecution materials from the Oklahoma City bombing case.

The three-judge panel of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday upheld a tax court ruling that threw out the deduction claimed by Stephen Jones for material he collected as lead defense counsel in McVeigh's trial for the 1995 bombing that killed 168 people.

Easter is Just Around the Corner

The death of a child is never a laughing matter. The circumstances of those involved may lead to some head shaking, though.

From today’s Washington Post:

Accepting a plea bargain that her attorney described as unprecedented in American jurisprudence, a 22-year-old Maryland woman yesterday agreed to cooperate in the prosecution of other defendants in the death of her son under the condition that charges against her be dropped if the child rises from the dead.

Maryland State’s Attorneys are taking no chances they’ll be duped:

"This would need to be a Jesus-like resurrection," Margaret Burns, the spokeswoman, said after the hearing. "It cannot be a reincarnation in another object or animal."

You really ought to read the entire article for a more complete grasp of the lunacy involved.

A Matter of Character

Buried among the basketball jargon at every NCAA tournament is a word that, while it may apply to an individual player, is rarely displayed how the announcers describe it: character.

Making free throws late in a close game is not a sign of character. Grabbing a key rebound is not an indicator of character, nor is making the game winning jumper as time runs out. Any of the above may be indicative of exceptional eye-hand coordination, physical strength, vertical leap, timing, concentration, or just wanting to win more than the next guy. None of these skills relates to character.

I don’t watch sports as much as I used to, but I’m still a fan. I follow several sports closely, and consider myself a knowledgeable layman. My abortive career as a musician taught me to respect talent and accomplishment, so I admire the skills and physical gifts of many athletes. Still, one of my pet peeves is the frequency with which Americans confuse physical talents with inner character.

Roger Clemens won a lot of critical games and struck out a lot of men with the bases loaded. Roger Clemens is an asshole. Barry Bonds won a lot of games with home runs, and almost single-handedly carried the Giants to the seventh game of the World Series in 2002. There is no bigger asshole in the world than Barry Bonds. Manny Ramirez has been among the best clutch hitters in baseball for much of his career. Man-Ram quits on his teams about once a season. For years, the only thing that kept Gary Sheffield from being the biggest asshole in baseball was Barry Bonds.

Character can be revealed on the playing field, but not in the ways most announcers describe. Making the last shot isn’t a sign of character; a willingness to take the last shot, and to accept the consequences if it doesn’t go in, is. Getting the last three outs in the ninth inning isn’t a sign of character; wanting the ball, knowing the goat’s horns are one bad pitch away, is. Anyone can handle the interview where you’re asked to describe your game-winning act over the replay. It takes character to stand up and describe how you missed that shot, threw a wild pitch, or committed a crucial error.

A lot of athletes have, and show, great character. I would be pleased to shake the hands of Cal Ripken, Greg Maddux, Hines Ward, Martin Brodeur, and others. True, they are in my field of vision because of their athletic accomplishments, but it’s the little morsels of what I know about their characters that would make them worth meeting as people to talk to, instead of just autographs to possess or sell.

Friday, March 27, 2009

God Hates Me

The Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, KS is notorious for picketing military and police funerals to protest the acceptance of homosexuals and other blasphemous behavior in America. In their own words, they protest at funerals “To warn the people who are still living that unless they repent, they will likewise perish….[A funeral is] the perfect time to warn them of things to come. Is it mean, hateful, uncompassionate, etc.? I'm sure it is, according to your standards. However, according to my standards, it would be infinitely more mean, hateful, uncompassionate, etc., to keep my mouth shut and not warn you that you, too, will soon have to face God.” (From the FAQ page at www.godhatesfags.com.)

Next month they’ll picket Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, MD because Whitman was a homosexual. Honest to God. Later that day they’ll head up the road to the Federal Courthouse in Baltimore to protest President Obama, who they call the Anti-Christ. (I used some strong language when describing his predecessor, but “Anti-Christ” is a bit much, even for me.)

A couple of us are considering taking half a day off for a field trip. The Orioles play Texas that night, so we could make it a double header in Baltimore. If we really felt ambitious, we could hit all three.

I have no desire to be overly confrontational. There is one question I’d like to ask while they’re standing there, self-admittedly preaching hate. Is this is what Jesus would do?

Then I’ll go back across the street and wave my “Veterans for the Anti-Christ” sign. What the hell. As a fag enabler (their term), I’m doomed already.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Church of Baseball

Apparently Michigan’s economic crisis has ended, because folks there now have time to argue about the starting time of the Tigers’ home opener. Detroit’s first home game is April 10, which is Good Friday. All thirty teams play that day, but only the Tigers have a game that starts during Holy Hours. (1:05 pm)

Time is our most finite and egalitarian resource; everyone gets exactly the same amount every day. Tough decisions have to be made. If personally attending the first of eighty-one Tigers home games is more important to you than observing an arbitrarily decided upon religious observance, dress warm. That’s why it’s a day game. Early April evenings in Detroit can get goddamned cold. (Pun intended.)

If the religious observance is more important in your pantheon of values, don’t go to the game. Either way, don’t expect the world to change its rotation because there’s something about the current format you don’t like.

Fortunately, modern technology has provided a reasonable solution: DVR the game, and watch it after Holy Hours have ended. (Would that make them Unholy Hours?) It’s just for such elegant compromises that God has allowed man to evolve to the point where such things can be invented.

Me? I’d go to the game, with nuclear-powered underwear. As the lovely Annie Savoy pointed out in the classic movie Bull Durham, there ere 108 beads on a rosary, and 108 stitches on a baseball. Coincidence?

I don’t think so.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Stupid Question

GM, Ford, and Chrysler owe a combined $43.1 billion to their retiree health plan funds. I wonder how far behind they are in their executive compensation payments.

See? I told you it was a stupid question.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Question of Priorities

Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Ronney has been named the United States' new ambassador to Ireland. As a life-long Steelers fan, I'm troubled. Pittsburgh has not won two of the last three Super Bowls. Rooney shouldn't be deviding his attention like this.

Friday, March 13, 2009


It’s hard to know how worked up to get about Congressional earmarks. Forget what Republicans say about fruit flies and bullet trains; much earmarked spending is beneficial and necessary. It’s also true it makes up a small proportion of federal spending, less than two percent in the recently passed omnibus spending bill.

Still, these are tough times; if they’re such an insignificant percentage of the total bill, we can probably get along without them. A symbolic gesture in the direction of fiscal responsibility would be appreciated, since we don’t have the money to pay for any of this stuff right now. Even in good times, worthwhile spending should be able to pass the muster of public scrutiny; After all, it’s our money.

While Republicans get most of the headlines for their constant railing against tax-and-spend Democrats, they are hardly blameless, as six of the top ten Senate earmarkers are Republicans. (David Vitter is on the list. I couldn’t tell how much of his $249 million is for Bourbon Street hooker.) In the interests of fairness, it should be pointed out that Democratic senators have their names on earmarks costing 20% more. (Comparisons are easy, since this is last year’s bill, when both parties had 49 senators. The two independents—Lieberman and Jeffers—were relative misers, spending on average only 28% as much as their peers.)

So it can be stipulated that both parties are at fault here. Democrats earmark more per capita; Republicans have a much higher hypocrisy quotient, because they constantly bitch about earmarks while still bringing home the bacon, to mix metaphors. (Since I’m establishing a precedent and trying to be fair, seven senators attached their names to no earmarks at all: Republicans Coburn, DeMint, McCain, and Stevens; Democrats Feingold, McCaskill, and Obama. Remember, this bill came from last year’s Congress.)

In a perfect world (one run by me), there would be no earmarks. Every dollar spent would be subject to scrutiny, to be defended by its proponents. This might mean Congress would have to work four days a week, but this is a perfect world we’re talking about here. We all know neither of these are going to happen. I propose a compromise: cap the dollar amounts for every member of Congress. The average cost per senator in this bill is $200 million; the median is about $75 million. In the spirit of saving money, let’s say that senators can put their names on earmarks totaling no more than $50 million. Representatives would be capped at about $12 million each, because of their greater numbers and generally smaller districts.

This won’t solve the problem, but it would be a start.

Monday, March 09, 2009

The Lights Are On, But Nobody's Home

I normally have far more regard for Midwestern sensibility than I do for the ADD-addled decision-making processes used on the coasts. I’m going to have to reevaluate that, if Jay Emler gets his way.

Mr. Emler is the chairman of the Kansas Ways and Means Committee. The article I read doesn’t say if he’s a Republican or a Democrat, which is fine by me; I can’t be accused of bias by either side. His plan for Kansas’ share of the economic stimulus money is to bank it for a rainy day. Honest to God.

"When [the stimulus] runs out, we're going to be in a world of hurt . . . so I'd rather see this go into a fund that we would not be able to access except for emergencies," Emler said. "While this is a 'stimulus' package, that's not how I run my personal life. I don't know a whole lot of people who go out and spend if they realize that in two years they're not going to have money."

It doesn’t say what Mr. Emler considers to be an emergency. I guess if he was in debt and his roof blew off he’d just sit in the rain until times got better. The money helps no one if Kansas sits on it. It’s a stimulus, and it only stimulates if it’s in use. Saving it for a rainier day is the surest way to ensure you’ll need it later.

The almost willful inability of some presumably intelligent people to grasp the simplest concepts is astounding, if those concepts run counter to their pre-conceived notions. Forget conservative and liberal. There is no more dangerous philosophy than believing you already know everything you need to know to successfully confront a previously unseen situation.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Not as Sub-Prime as You Think

Republicans like to say the Community Reinvestment Act caused all the trouble in the sub-prime mortgage market, as “those people” had to be given mortgages they were never going to be able to pay off. That’s bullshit, but it’s still the kind of thing they like to repeat ad nauseum under their current sole political philosophy, which can be summed up as, “Tell big enough lies often enough and maybe people will believe you.”

I hate to pile on in their hour of darkness—and it doesn’t get much darker than your party chairman feeling he has to apologize to Rush Limbaugh—but it occurred to me over the weekend that I have a sub-prime mortgage. It’s true. Me, Mister Middle-Aged White Guy, didn’t have 20% down when I bought my house three years ago. I was able to come up with 10%, and my credit score was over 700; a fifteen-year second trust loan had to be taken out, at a considerably higher interest rate.

Well, the fifteen-year loan was paid off last week, in almost exactly three years. You are not bailing anyone out on my account, including me. I suspect I am not alone here. There are as many reasons for people to need sub-prime loans as there are sub-prime loans. Some of them should never have been made; that’s on the lenders. The government never told them they had to lend money to people who couldn’t pay it back.

Sub-prime mortgages became a crisis because banks were lined up to issue non-documented loans to people who never should have been considered. Pitching a $400,000 mortgage to a chambermaid making $14,000 a year hardly qualifies as sound business practice. Nor does buying securities consisting of bundles of such loans without performing the due diligence necessary to make sure those were performing loans.

I’m old enough to remember when the lenders kept loan defaults from becoming a problem by not lending unless they were damn sure you could pay it back. Lenders stopped doing that, and started believing in their own Ponzi scheme. That’s where the problem was. Not with the overwhelming majority of borrowers.

And sure as hell not with me. So let’s be careful who we tar with the sub-prime brush.