Thursday, April 22, 2010

Today's Menu of Indigestibles

Well, the ObamaCare tsunami has washed over the land, and the warring parties have already moved on to more current, no-less-urgent issues... like who's going to replace Justice Stevens? (I understand there's an overripe rutabaga looking for work... ) And of course, there's a great flurry of activity centered around the need to “clamp down” on Wall Street. I'll have more to say about this in a later post, but right now it looks like nothing so much as a butterfly who is already pinned to a cork board talking about clamping down on butterfly collecting.

And, after a brief respite, the waters of absurdity are rising again, threatening to engulf all sane living and rational discourse. And, as usual, I choose, as an act of defiance, to point out the most obvious examples, as a remedy against complacency and the mistaken notion – that even overtakes me at times, when I'm not yet fully awake – that everything might be OK after all.

O The Bureau of Engraving and Printing today trotted out the new, high-tech $100 bill, designed to thwart counterfeiting. Ironically, the presentation was witnessed by Timothy Geithner and Ben Bernanke, who some might say are the two worst enemies of the sound dollar – in any denomination. Which, in fact, raises the question – why bother to make the $100 bill counterfeit-proof, since the policies of the Treasury and of the Fed are such that, before long, it won't be worth counterfeiting?

O On the local scene, “Big Ben” Roethlisberger has been slapped with a 6-game sideline penalty – that's 38% of the entire season, for those of you in Rio Linda. And whaddaya know, the Steelers have just bolstered their quarterback roster. And there are rumors flying around that Big Ben might even be traded. Lo, how the mighty have fallen! But frankly, I'm not sure I understand why people keep getting surprised by things like this. Football, while not unique in this respect among team sports, seems to be unusually high on the testosterone scale – it thrives on guys who are barely under control, and in fact reinforces the fact. Guys who qualify as hotheads off the field are called “aggressive (i.e., good) players” on the field. Constantly flirting with disaster off the field? That's “determination” on the field. Frequent brushes with the law? That's “worth taking the penalty” on the field. A guy leaves the stadium when the game is over, but he takes the game with him wherever he goes and no matter who he's with. That's just the way things are. No one questions it when soldiers develop “post-traumatic stress disorder” months or years after they finish combat duty – but an athlete who has comparable issues? “Giving the game (team, city, whatever) a bad name.” Either there's a lot of hypocrisy floating around out there... or a lot of naivete... or both.

O How soon are on-line dictionaries going to add, to the definition of “Nazi”, “someone who doesn't agree with liberals”? This has become standard usage, so I expect the word experts to get caught up as soon as possible.

O A funny thing happened on the way to that filibuster-proof Democratic majority. Now a cause near and dear to the hearts of Democrats – for decades! -- has received another setback... namely full voting rights in Congress for the District of Columbia. The fly in the ointment? A threat to weaken D.C.'s gun control laws, which now limit gun ownership to criminals only. But who was making the threat? Republicans? But that should not have mattered . (Filibuster-proof majority, remember?) Gee, I'll bet there are days when the Democrats wish they were still in the minority... at least back then they didn't have to take any responsibility.

O The Securities and Exchange Commission gets tough! Yeah, this time it's for real. According to an article in Wednesday's paper, “the agency has sent letters to 19 banks seeking information about whether they are using accounting tricks that a bankruptcy examiner said masked (Lehman Brothers') precarious financial condition.” Now, class, what do suppose these 19 banks are going to say in reply? “No tricks here, ma'am, nosiree... we just be honest folks, yep. No precarious financial conditions around here.” And this, mind you, is what the SEC calls “more vigorous oversight”. Makes you wonder what they were doing before. (Well, we already know – nothing.) But really, perhaps I'm being too harsh. The perennial problem with regulatory agencies – especially when it comes to matters of high finance – is that the smartest person at the SEC, for example, is still dumber than the dumbest person at Goldman Sachs. So it really doesn't matter that they are charged with oversight, and with enforcing a vast array of laws and regulations – the private sector folks will be way ahead of them no matter what. This has a lot to do with how the “Great Recession” got started, in fact – these firms were either dealing in non-regulated securities or they were staying one step ahead of the sheriff the whole time. The people in charge made their pile and headed for the tall grass, and the taxpayers were left holding the bag – as planned. And now a gaggle of government bureaucrats think they're going to change this? Lots of luck. As long as the bailout model is in force, the financial sector is going to respond accordingly – by doing exactly what it has already done. In this case, the definition of “sanity” is “doing the same thing over and over, and expecting the same results”.

O Now, on this next item... I have to say, I'm not making it up, and I can prove it. Believe it or not, a guy on death row in Ohio objected to the drug intended for use in his execution on the grounds that “he might be violently allergic” to it. I mean... what?? Was he afraid he might sneeze to death? Well, to give credit to the great state of Ohio, they weren't having any of it, and this character was dealt with as intended on Tuesday – with, as it turned out, absolutely no sign of needing a dose of “the nighttime, sniffling, sneezing, coughing, aching, stuffy-head, fever, so you can rest medicine.”

O Meantime, a strike by New York City doormen was narrowly averted. Did you even know that doormen had a union? I sure didn't. But this is New York City, after all. I suspect that even the homeless have a union in the Big Apple.

O And now the military has added a phrase to its recruiting message: “No fatties, please.” It turns out that 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24 are too fat to join the military. (Funny, it sure wasn't that way during Vietnam – or we'd have all made pigs of ourselves.) And the culprit, if you please? School lunches! You know, those sugar, salt, starch, and trans-fat-laden piles of refined dreck that have been prescribed, and overseen – for decades now – by... the federal government! So yep, it has happened again – two government programs have come into direct conflict... the one promising to feed America's youth at all costs (but never mind with what) and the other promising to defend America, with the help of those same youth – also at all costs. So something's gonna have to give -- but what? Either the public schools start serving the same stuff as the Whole Foods cafe... or the Army turns itself into a fat farm. Stay tuned.

O And finally... it seems that a woman in England (and again, I'm not making this up) started speaking with a Chinese accent after suffering a severe migraine “that reportedly left her with a form of brain damage.” Well, for one thing, isn't this an insult to the Chinese? “Brain damage” indeed! But sure enough, in our Age of Illness, this sort of thing even has a name. It's called Foreign Accent Syndrome. Wow – that explains a lot, doesn't it? The same way all the other ailments called “Something Something Syndrome” are explained by their name. But what they don't mention is that she also developed an uncontrollable urge to do laundry, take carry-out orders, and buy U.S. Treasury securities. (OK, I made that last part up. But who could resist?)

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