Super PACs: Gamble on America

The future of American elections

The future of American elections (Photo credit: Cory M. Grenier)

The U.S. budget deficit at the end of Fiscal Year 2012 is 1.089 trillion, less than last year when it was 1.297 trillion.  Super PACs have spent 530,816,785 to date.  The President has proposed a 350 billion jobs bill and a 476 billion infrastructure bill for Fiscal Year 2013.  So, if this election is all about jobs as both candidates suggest, than why don’t the Super PACs all get together and raise money to pay for these bills?  And then, because Super PACs can raise unlimited amounts of funds, and there is no limit to what corporations and billionaires can and will spend, why don’t they endeavor to raise the trillion and change needed to erase the deficit? The Super PACs could become Superheroes.

This is the least the PACs could do for the U.S., after all, many of their interests were bailed out with TARP and ARRA (Stimulus) funds, so why don’t they now return the favor and bail out the U.S.?  As it is, billionaires are just throwing around money as if playing in a high stakes poker game or betting on horses at the track.  Come on billionaires, if you don’t want to pay higher taxes, then at least gamble a little on America.  Becoming a Superhero is a pretty good return on your investment!

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Gallup Poll and the famous Mr. Ed

The Gallup poll is the one that’s been around a long time dating back to the days of horses and bayonets.  It’s a bit of a maverick poll that seems to be out of synch with other polls on most days.  It is one along with the Rasmussen poll (that I refer to as the Rapscallion poll) that folks who live in the conservative bubble point to to prove Romney still has momentum.  I’ve heard from not so reliable sources, but from sources nonetheless, that Gallup still conducts its polling on horseback, in the parking lots of suburban malls asking “who you voting for?”  They sometimes interrupt large crowds with megaphones asking questions like “are we on the right track?” eliciting responses of “yes” and “no” and the occasional wise crack like, “no you are on the wrong track – the cow path is that way”, and “go eat some oats”.  One group chanted, “Mr. Ed, Mr. Ed, Mr. Ed.”

Gallup has had some problems using horses.  Some rapscallions in large crowds have resorted to feeding the equine messengers dollops of peanut butter which produce a reaction that make them look to be talking very much as Mr. Ed appeared to be talking, prompting young children to ask their soccer moms, “can horses speak, like Horton from Horton Hears a Who?” Some of the brighter kids ask if Horton is a republican and ask where the donkeys are.  My sources, who wish to remain anonymous, tell me  that Gallup used to use donkeys but they kept heading straight for trash barrels and would throw temper tantrums braying and kicking up a storm, being real asses when they couldn’t get their way.

Disclaimer:  none of what you’ve just read is true.  I made it up.  And sometimes it feels like pollsters just make stuff up too, but I have no proof so I’ll stick to comedy.

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Marshmallow Experiment More Nuanced

English: Marshmallows

English: Marshmallows (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

NPR aired a piece on delayed gratification in children.  Researchers presented 4 year olds with a marshmallow and gave them two choices 1) eat it now or 2) wait 15 minutes and get two.   The results were mixed: some kids couldn’t help themselves and gobbled it down; others waited patiently.  The difference in the responses were thought to be genetic and had to do with brain chemistry.  Recent thinking on this, however, has changed and it appears kids can be taught patience and strategic planning – to look at the big picture.  Kids don’t have to live in the moment.   Now back to the marshmallow experiment.  I don’t think all kids would just snatch the marshmallow like a sugar addicted junkie.  Most kids would be curious and likely ask a series of questions before making a decision.  Here’s how it might go with a typical kid:

Researcher:  You can eat one now or have two in 15 minutes.

Kid: Where did you get it?

Researcher: From the store.

Kid: Where?  What store?

Researcher: It doesn’t matter.

Kid: Where’s the bag? You can’t buy them out of the bag.  How do I know it’s safe?  I got one trick or treating but my mom wouldn’t let me eat it.

Researcher: Why not?

Kid: Poison needle in it.

Researcher:  This one is safe.

Kid: Do you have a campfire, because if you do, I’ll wait for two.

Researcher:  No, I don’t have a campfire.

Kid: My brother once drank some soda and it came out his nose.

Researcher: One or two.

Kid: Just one soda, no not even like one sip.  I can burp, you want to hear?

Researcher:  Do you want one or two.

Kid: That depends.  Can I hold it first?

Researcher:  No.  Either eat it or wait.

Kid: I don’t like marshmallows.  Do you have anything else?

Researcher:  No.

Kid:  Then I’ll take two.

Researcher:  Then you will have to wait.

Kid:  Can I go now?

The Election is all about the letter O

According to Nate Silver of the Five Thirty Eight blog, President Obama’s likelihood of winning these battleground states are as follows:

Ohio – 73.4%

Colorado – 52.2%

Iowa – 66.5%

North Carolina – 16.1%

Mike Allen of Politco argues that the President only needs to win a couple of the toss up states to win the election, whereas Mitt Romney needs to win practically all of them. And the math looks good for the President in some key swing states.  And do you know why?  I’ll tell you why – the letter O.  Check it out.  The most significant states where Obama has an edge all have one or more 0’s in them except North Carolina which also has two Romney r’s in it.

If I were advising the President, I would tell him and his team to double down on states that contain multiple instances of the letter o and that would be Ohio and Colorado.  No need to mess with any of the others.  Nevada, who cares – Florida has 1 r and 1 o, so it’s not worth the trouble, plus Paul Ryan’s mother lives down there which means team Romney has a built in advantage in the retirement state.

And what should the President focus on in his campaign in Ohio? I would say the AutO bailOut and OldsmObile (do they still make those?) and POntiac (they still make those, right?).  And even though I think clean coal is a joke, clean cOal features the letter o, so why not?  In Colorado, the President should talk about restoring the BuffalO population, and federal subsidies for snOw resOrts and shovel ready jobs for digging up gOld.  This would be a patriotic pitch – Uncle Sam wants you to dig for gOld to help the country dig its way out of debt.  And the President could announce a new program to bottle clean rarified Colorado air to sell abroad to countries like MexicO, HOnduras, COsta Rica, MOrOccO and Oman.

The election is going to come down to the letter O.  You watch.

New Names for MA Hospitals

Massachusetts has a lot of well-known and respected hospitals.  One of them is called Mass Eye and Ear.  Funny name for a hospital if you ask me.  Boston once had a maternity hospital back in the early 1800’s named the Boston Lying-In Hospital.  They sure don’t name them like they used to.  And I like the Floating Hospital for Children; now that’s a fun name for a very serious need.  But back to the Eye and Ear – I like it because it is so specific.  You got problems with your eyes – glaucoma, cataracts, a stye; need a wax irrigation –  head on over to Mass Eye and Ear.   Probably not the place to be for a knee replacement.  Which brings me to some new names for hospitals that would assist consumers in selecting the proper care.

  • Mass Heart and Lungs (motto:  keep on pumping)
  • Mass Shoulder and Back
  • Mass Knee and Elbow
  • Mass Nose, Earlobe and Bellybutton (specializing in the treatment of infected piercings)
  • Mass Frozen Shoulder
  • Mass Cardiac Arrest
  • Mass Wrist and Calf
  • Mass Bicep and Pectorals (featuring steroid detox program for athletes)
  • Mass Head and Brain (specializing in lobotomies and migraine therapy )
  • Mass Broken Bones
  • Mass Muscles and Tendons
  • Mass Breadbasket (ulcer unit for victims of diet sodas and energy drinks)
  • Mass Internal Organs
  • Mass Blood and Guts

Argo Review

You couldn’t make up this stuff.  Well, maybe Kurt Vonnegut could, but seriously folks, a low budget science fiction movie as cover for a CIA rescue plan in revolutionary Iran? No way.  Way!  It happened and Ben Affleck tells the story as actor and director brilliantly in his latest film, Argo!  And what a story.

Just to set it up, and don’t worry, I won’t tell you everything, Islamic militants storm the U.S. embassy (sound familiar) in Tehran in 1979.   Many Americans are held hostage, while 6 American staff workers manage to escape to the Canadian ambassador’s residence. Argo is the story of their rescue attempt.

So just how does one rescue 6 Americans who are in hiding from revolutionaries in Iran whose capture would mean certain torture and possible execution? Easy.  Send in a CIA agent posing as a Canadian filmmaker to smuggle them out as his production crew.  But does it work?  You’ll have to see the flick to find out.

Ben Affleck assembled an excellent cast for the film.  Alan Arkin deserves serious Oscar attention for his portrayal of a cranky, semi-retired movie producer. John Goodman plays the role of a likeable, and obscure B film make up artist.  Ben Affleck cast himself in the starring role as Tony Mendez, the CIA agent who cooked up the improbably ridiculous and brilliant rescue plan.  Bryan Cranston (Hal, from Malcolm in the Middle) plays Affleck’s CIA colleague.  The 6 embassy staff workers are all played by lesser known actors who certainly looked the part, and you’ll know what I mean at the end of the movie.  And do stay for all the credits; you will be rewarded for doing so.

For a suspenseful action thriller that had me holding my breath with a cupped hand over my mouth, the characters were surprisingly well-developed.  Each actor played his or her part as if playing the main character, as Affleck believes they should, adding depth and personality to their roles, something much easier to do in print than on film.

On the random observation front:

  • The extra large size of the eyeglasses the embassy workers wore annoyed me.  What was with that late 70’s to early 80’s style where the rims practically covered the entire face? I felt Affleck mocked the style just a little, or at least I hope he did.
  • Folks sure smoked up a storm in 1979, in offices and even on airliners.   How did any of us survive?
  • Argo was a science fiction script that was never actually made into a movie.  We get bits and pieces of the plot and it is so outrageously fantastical that it might have actually worked better as a comedy.  And you know what it reminded me of?  This:  Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout.  And if you know Kurt Vonnegut, you know Kilgore Trout.

Go see Argo.  It might not win an Oscar, but it should.  And I’ll say this – it may the best film I see all year; maybe the best you see too.  Cheers!

After Harvest

After Harvest.  What comes to mind?  Ponder for a moment how one might artistically explore the theme. How might it sound, move, or come to life through poetry or on canvas.  As Thomas Mann wrote, “art is the funnel through which spirit is poured into life”.  The event, After Harvest, organized by Pampi  & Lore of alpoarrentao Productions, brought together a diverse range of talented artists and musicians to celebrate the autumnal spirit with a crowd of arts patrons.  And all for a suggested donation of $25, U.S., perhaps the most satisfying and least expensive night of quality entertainment to be found anywhere!

After Harvest took place at a studio on Fort Point 18 feet and seven floors above sea level between Chinatown and South Boston.  The studio had a cozy feel and warm vibe due in part to its design with wrap around windows and After Harvest adornments including atmospheric stringed lighting, dyed textiles hanging from the ceiling like open parachutes and a welcoming Persian rug.  A  violin/flute duet of after harvest faeries escorted guests into the studio as the artists warmed up.  Volunteers served hearty and delicately spiced food.  The gracious folks at Likelii supplied wines perfectly suited to the food and the occasion.  My personal favorite, and one that my wife particularly enjoyed, was a fragrant Pinot Noir with a flavor profile of crushed, lightly spiced cherries, with a long finish; highly quaffable.  And when I finished my glass, I immediately went back for seconds.  I sampled the other wines and found them all appealing.  The Cabernet Sauvignon Reserva was one to buy by the case and reserve for festive occasions like After Harvest. 

The opening act was a cellist by the name of Paulo Cesar Pereira.  If you don’t know his name, you should.  He’s a captivating performer and someone you don’t want to miss live. He played with passion and great technical skill and was a popular guest player with some of the other bands on the main bill.  He encored with requests, including a Jobim tune – Garota de Impanema during which a vocalist joined in along with the house bass player, Jo.  Paulo even played some Led Zeppelin, the opening of Kashmir to be exact, for the patron who yelled, “Metallica”.

The bands performed brilliantly.  So Sol defies description, like a complex wine that surprises and delights after every sip; a real crowd pleaser!  In their music, I heard a little rockabilly, Brazilian, and folk with hints of calypso, zydeco and a dash of polka.  Pure fun, nearly turning After Harvest into a Hootenanny.  After Harvest Hootenanny…I like that.

Lee Loo and Jason, two members of Incus, gave a stunningly gorgeous performance during the open mic program.  This amazingly talented duo reminded me a bit of Damien Rice and Lisa Hannigan, who covered a Billie Holiday tune on Herbie Hancock’s Possibilities.  Absolute magic together.  I’ll be looking to attend a local Incus gig soon.

Detour . Wow.  This duet floored me.  Their music had an ambient quality to it, calming and meditative, and yet beautifully melodic and precise.  I could listen to them all night.  One of my favorites acts from the open mic segment.

Four Elements.  Certainly a fitting name for an After Harvest performance.  They played last and they too floored me.  I was impressed with the players’ technical mastery of their instruments. Chris Baum on violin and Paul Erlich on guitar played with focused intensity.  I was watching their hands and wondering how they could play so fast with such precision.  The percussionist was so absorbed in the music that he appeared to be in a trance like state.  And I should add that Jo the bassist was spot on and performed yeoman like work the whole night.  What a great band! I heard many influences in their sound including that of guitarist Fareed Haque and the great John McLaughlin’s legendary band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

The Leaves Broken In Poem Dance.  Brilliant!  The improvised movement to cello, flute and spoken word mesmerized the audience.  Pampi and Natalie moved with grace and fluidity to Aura’s spontaneous narration based on Pampi’s original “Leaves Broken In Poem” creating an evocative, dramatic work of beauty; a masterpiece that captured the essence of After Harvest.

My Debate Scorecard: 8-2-1

President Obama won the second debate with ease.  I believe Governor Romney forgot to take his protein pills before he hit the stage.  He seemed listless and in need of routine maintenance.  There was a glitch in the computer software.  The Iron Giant had a screw loose.  He didn’t hydrate – did you see him take a sip of water at all?  He had a bad case of cotton mouth – you could hear it in his parched voice.  His words stuck together like peanut brittle to teeth.   The President on the other hand got his game back in a big way and he was taking shots of water with confidence, and I think the microphone caught him crunching ice a few times as if to say, “don’t mess with me tonight”.   Ok, maybe I’m getting a little carried away with the dramatic intro, so here’s how I scored the debate.

  1. On the first question from student Jeremy who wondered how he’d ever find a job. Mitt said he’d help the kid find a job when he graduated.  If a billionaire offers to help, how can you go wrong? I hope the kid doesn’t mind being an apprentice to Romney’s head butler and operating that car elevator. Point: Romney
  2. On the role of government in lowering gas prices, they both beat their chests with the “drill baby drill” thing and got into the weeds with drilling permits.  As I’ve written before, when you get tangled up in the weeds, bad things happen.  I think Mitt rubbed up against some poisonous ivy and the President was nearly stung by a praying mantis (do they sting? I don’t even know, but the things are a little creepy).  And I’m sorry, how clean can clean coal be?  Neither talked about our insane addiction to fossil fuels and how we might wean ourselves off them.  Point: Draw.
  3. On the question asking for the specifics of Romney’s tax plan.  Romney talked about “filling a bucket” of deductions up to “I’ll pick a number, 25,000”.  Pick a number?  Some plan.  He’s truly making it up as he goes along.  Point: Obama
  4. On inequality of women in the workplace.  Mitt talked about the use of “whole binders full of women” from which to pick his administration as governor of MA.  I’m not sure how that played with suburban women who have suddenly emerged as prized voters in swing states, but it sure got a lot of play on social media.  It may be the most memorable phrase of the debate.  Point: Obama
  5. On the question of the difference between Mitt and W Bush, Mitt trashed Bush the Younger.  And the President actually made W’s social policies look sane compared to Romney’s extreme views on immigration, medicare and women’s issues.  For a fleeting moment, W seemed liked a good president – now if it weren’t for two wars and all those tax cuts…Point: Obama
  6. On the question of inflation and the general state of the economy, I hate to say it, but just based on the answers, Romney’s was more coherent, though somewhat lacking in the truth department.  The gist of it was that the economy sucks and you can count on 4 more years of the same.  Now I don’t happen to believe that, but…Point: Romney
  7. On Immigration:  Romney couldn’t even get the questioner’s name right.  He called her Glorraine or something wacky – her name was Lorraine for the record.  He showed no compassion – insisted that “illegals” would make “legals” wait in line longer to become citizens.  He’d not grant any form of amnesty, and suggested  that the “dreamers” path to citizenship would be military service.  With that answer, Romney lost the last 5 or so Latinos who might have voted for him.  Point: Obama
  8. On Libya:  Romney thought he had the President in a gotcha moment, but instead the truth won out.  Mitt accused the President of standing in the Rose Garden and saying that the attack was precipitated by a spontaneous demonstration.  However, as both President Obama and the moderator Candy Crowley pointed out, the President actually did say that it was “an act of terror”.  Plus, the President called Romney out for calling a press conference in the middle of the conflict for political gain.  Point: Obama
  9. Assault Weapons:  Romney says that he doesn’t want any new gun laws and that assault weapons are already banned.  Ok, that’s not true.  Point: Obama
  10. Outsourcing:  Romney’s middle name.  And Romney called the questioner, who was and still is I presume, a woman, a boy.  “Boy, that’s a good question…” Point: Obama
  11. Biggest misperception of the candidate as a man and candidate.  Well, Romney blew this one and said that he’d be the president of 100% of Americans.  Obama pounced with the reference to the 47% video.  Point, Game, Match: Obama

Obama won the debate decisively:  8-2-1.

In The Weeds

Not a good place to be.  I was in them once and got bitten by a grasshopper, or maybe just pinched.  Scared the daylights out of me.  We hear this expression a lot in politics today.  Political analysts say, “we’ll be getting in the weeds” on this topic or that, meaning to explore in depth.  Paul Ryan sometimes gets into them with wonky doublespeak on medicare or tax policy.  The President may have gotten a little lost in the thicket the other night in the first debate.  He’s sure to steer clear of them in the second and third.  If Romney gets rattled by a question he’s not prepared to answer, he may too find himself deep in the weeds and there’s no telling what else will be in there with him, why it could be varmints, or a covey of quail.

Both candidates need to stay out of the weeds heading down the stretch.  I’d recommend that each arm himself with an industrial strength weed wacker.  My guess is that Team Romney will go for the gas powered one – if they run out of juice so to speak, they could just drill right on the spot or spray a banned herbicide. Team Obama would probably opt for the electric weed eater with a rechargeable batter pack.  It’s not quite as good for the toughest weeds – like hogweed and such, where alligators hide for a little down time – but it’ll do and won’t leave a trail of smoke and unregulated pollution that might make a gator sneeze or a snake slime, slither and sleeze.

Word of advice to the candidates:  to win the election, stay focused, stay clear, stay real, and stay out of the weeds where bad things lurk and gotcha moments happen –  Betcha By Golly, Wow

Gas Prices High But Cheap Stuff Down South

Prices at the pump are high but are they at historic highs?  Maybe, but did you know that adjusted for inflation the average price of a gallon of gasoline since 1918 is $2.49?  In 1981, the adjusted price was $3.37.  If you look at this chart , you will see that prices have fluctuated yearly and that beginning in 2000 under Bush the Younger gas prices rose sharply.  The GOP argues that the Obama administration is to blame for not allowing more drilling permits but it appears that there is no correlation between drilling permits and the price of gasoline.  In fact, what appears to be the cause more than anything of wildly fluctuating gas prices is our massive addiction to fossil fuels, unrest (to put it mildly) in the Middle East and our utter failure to get serious about alternative clean energy sources like wind, solar and the use of biofuels.  The President at least moved in that direction with loan guarantees to some start up companies as part of the Stimulus.

What caught my attention and the reason for this post was an article on the cheapest gas in the country.  Interestingly, and I suppose not surprisingly, gas prices are lowest in the South.  There are several factors said to account for this including lower taxes and proximity to refineries.  But I think there are other reasons at play.  Here is the list of the top 10 states with the cheapest gas along with some of my explanations by state below as to why the prices are so low, comparatively speaking:

  • South Carolina:  The Palmetto State must be diluting their petroleum supplies with palm oil.  If you’ve ever been to SC, with its beaches and palm trees, this makes perfect sense.  And with wages so low in this “right to work state”, folks need cheaper gas.
  • Missouri:  The Show Me State must be adding Mississippi mud to the mix that and bat guano.  I’ve been spelunking in Missouri and I can tell you first hand that along with stalagmites, there is a lot of crap in those caves.
  • Tennessee and Arkansas.  Both states produce a lot of moonshine and there are stills a plenty producing pure grain alcohol that not only can quench your thirst and make you blind, but can run a tractor and a car too.
  • Georgia.  Rumor has it that Georgia adds peanut oil to its 87 grade gasoline, which makes for a deliciously nutty ride and the best part is that you can recycle the oil to fry your turkey at Thanksgiving.