2017

On the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution.

Today was the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution, i.e., when the commies took over in Russia. In commemoration of such, I’d like to comment on the fundamental problems with communism, of which, if you think about it, there are really only two:

First, communism centralizes ownership of all resources and the power to decide how to use those resources to meet society’s needs.* That’s bad because, long story short, it limits how much brainpower can go into using those resources efficiently to meet those needs. Instead of taking advantage of the collective brainpower of bazillions of private decision-makers using privately owned resources in a market economy, communism relies heavily on the economic judgements of maybe a few dozen or a few hundred so-called experts.

Second, communists needed to murder 100 million people last century in order to get anybody else to go along with their bright idea.

Aside from that, it works really well on paper.

* Note: This is where people usually interject with something along the lines of “Centralization isn’t what Marx predicted or intended! A classless society with no private property blah blah blah” and then I pat them on the head and tell them how adorable it is when they try to think.

“with lifted head singing so proud”

Happy 241st birthday to the United States of America! This one’s special; turns out that the most common isotope of the universe’s greatest element– Americium– is none other than Americium-241. It’s used in spectrometers and certain types of smoke detectors. True story.

Also, happy 145th birthday to Calvin Coolidge.

I started writing some stuff and then it occurred to me that the general sentiment of my post had been far better put by Carl Sandburg a century ago in his poem “Chicago.” I don’t think we’d have seen eye-to-eye on matters of politics and economics, and the poor schlep died before I could straighten him out, but his poem defended a then-young metropolis against critiques from the East Coast and the Old World. The sins and the hardships are different today, but take a gander at Sandburg’s Chicago and maybe you’ll see our America:

      Hog Butcher for the World,
      Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat,
      Player with Railroads and the Nation’s Freight Handler;
      Stormy, husky, brawling,
      City of the Big Shoulders:

They tell me you are wicked and I believe them, for I have seen your painted women under the gas lamps luring the farm boys.
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to kill again.
And they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the faces of women and children I have seen the marks of wanton hunger.
And having answered so I turn once more to those who sneer at this my city, and I give them back the sneer and say to them:
Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.
Flinging magnetic curses amid the toil of piling job on job, here is a tall bold slugger set vivid against the little soft cities;
Fierce as a dog with tongue lapping for action, cunning as a savage pitted against the wilderness,
      Bareheaded,
      Shoveling,
      Wrecking,
      Planning,
      Building, breaking, rebuilding,
Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with white teeth,
Under the terrible burden of destiny laughing as a young man laughs,
Laughing even as an ignorant fighter laughs who has never lost a battle,
Bragging and laughing that under his wrist is the pulse, and under his ribs the heart of the people,
                        Laughing!
Laughing the stormy, husky, brawling laughter of Youth, half-naked, sweating, proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads and Freight Handler to the Nation.

God bless our country.

R.I.P. Roger Moore.

Here he is, hang gliding in a suit while smoking a cigar, because how else is a secret agent supposed to enjoy a cigar?

007 hang gliding in a suit

I was tempted to title this one “Names is for tombstones, baby,” which I’m sure Sir Roger would have liked, but… nah. Anyhow, next chance you get, gin up a vodka martini and pour one out for the man.

That show you like is going to come back in style.

Two long-ago posts come to mind upon the triumphant return of Twin Peaks to TV-land. First, from “I’ll see you again in 25 years.”:

“One of the key elements of the show was a dream/vision in which Agent Cooper saw himself 25 years in the future. Well… 25 years later works out to either 2014 or 2015. Some of the actors behind big roles (Pete, BOB, Major Briggs) have passed on to one of the two Lodges, but it would be ridiculously awesome of Lynch to gather everyone else up and direct another coupla hours of Twin Peaks. Since that’s unlikely to happen, I’ll have to settle for a hopefully-enjoyable mini-reunion on Psych.”

And second, from “Questionnaire 9.”:

“14. YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO CREATE THE HALF-HOUR TV SHOW OF YOUR OWN DESIGN. WHAT IS IT CALLED AND WHAT’S THE PREMISE? I’d bring back Twin Peaks, throw it on HBO, and let Lynch go nuts.”

2017 and Showtime. Close enough. I can take no credit, because I’m sure bazillions of Peaks fans had the same two thoughts. This may truly be the golden age of television.

You know what the best part of this is? The return of Twin Peaks is guaranteed not to be disappointing because the second season back in 1991 or whenever was such a disaster. Few shows have fallen so far so quickly from Season 1 to Season 2 (Heroes comes to mind, though). Ben Horne thinking he’s General Robert E. Lee? James Hurley’s stupid road trip? The other crap I fast-forward past on every re-watch? Season 3 can’t be worse than that.

The cherry pie is ready to be served. I don’t drink coffee but I hope anyone who does finds it damn fine this eve. It is happening again. I’m geeking out. Let’s rock.

Happy 107th!

My grandmother would’ve turned 107 today. Here she is on a beach I will hopefully be able to identify soon, in her finest heels and a pretty nifty hat:

img765_01

Would that she whispered her recipe for meatball tortellini soup to the tide and the winds, that it might return to us.

Happy 117th!

Today is my grandfather’s birthday. Here he is, sitting for a photograph in commemoration of his graduation:

img297.jpg

Grampa held two degrees in architecture: one from Armour (now Illinois) Institute of Technology and one from MIT. In today’s eye, the pose might look a bit corny, but the more I look at it the more I like the concept. A graduate in academic regalia, upon the occasion of his commencement, poses with the tools and fruits of his trade. Or in this case, a tool and a fruit of his trade.

I’m not sure what I would have posed with upon my college graduation (my God– that was twenty years ago this Sunday). A supply and demand graph? A great big square L with a marked-up X in it?

The older I get the more I think of to ask him and my other grandparents. Alas.

Grampa would’ve turned 117 today if he hadn’t died preventing a false vacuum collapse.

This post was brought to you today by the number zero.

Let me begin with the sort of disclaimer that would likely stave off ad hominem attacks if used in familiar company, but would provide no such protection in larger forums such as social media:

Sesame Street was an integral part of my childhood. I still have my stuffed Ernie and Berts packed away, and we had a stuffed Cookie Monster and Snuffy and Big Bird, and the Fisher-Price figurines of both the muppets and the humans, and various puppets and toys, all of which my progeny shall play with one day. I remember Prairie Dawn and Sherlock Hemlock and Roosevelt Franklin. I remember the ice-skating special. I remember when Mr. Hooper himself ran his eponymous store, and I remember his passing. I remember when Snuffleupagus had only ever been seen by Big Bird, and wandered off whenever any other character approached, leaving us all to wonder whether he was a figment of Bird’s imagination. I remember when they decided to reveal Snuffy to the other characters on the show. And I remember a time before Elmo, who I say is the moral equivalent of Cousin Oliver and Ted McGinley combined.

I loved Sesame Street, as did and do generations of kids. So by extension, I suppose I loved PBS for giving me Sesame Street. And Electric Company. And 3-2-1 Contact.

But Congress probably shouldn’t give PBS a dime.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which governs and partially funds PBS and NPR, gets a bit less than $500 million of the over $3.5 trillion the feds spend in a year. That’s less than 0.014% of the federal budget, about a buck and a half per American. Seems like a small price to pay for Oscar the Grouch and Grover and Mr. Rogers and Bob Ross and All Things Considered, right?

Well, if it’s a small price to pay, and plenty of private businesses are already doing similar work without federal funding, why not let PBS and NPR raise their own funds? They already solicit donations; I’m sure plenty of Americans would be willing to voluntarily donate enough to make up for the shortfall. Otherwise, they can commercialize. They can sell ad time, or do product placement, or they can become a for-profit business like a subscription service, or they can sell their properties to other companies. They have options aside from digging into your pocket– let them exercise them.

Back in 1967, when the CPB was founded, there was no internet, there was no cable, there were only a handful of national media networks, and your city or town probably had just a few TV stations. Maybe federal funding of the CPB made sense back then, because you could argue that without it there might be no educational programming available at all.

But it’s not 1967. There’s more media out there than we know what to do with. We have dozens of “free” channels and stations available via broadcast TV and AM/FM radio. If you pay for TV or radio services, you can access hundreds or thousands more channels and stations. If you have internet access, your media options increase exponentially beyond that. News sites. Educational sites. Podcasts. YouTubes. Blogs. If you can’t find educational programming out there, you either [A] don’t have a TV or radio or internet access to begin with, which means you have a problem that the CPB doesn’t address anyway, or [B] you’re not looking hard enough.

True, some of your favorite PBS and NPR shows might get cancelled if the feds cut off the CPB’s appropriation, but I think some other station or channel or website would pick the more popular ones up and give them a shot. Sesame Street would definitely get snapped up– it’s arguably the most famous children’s show ever. And even if doesn’t, you can find plenty of old episodes and clips online. Same goes for plenty of other shows– search YouTube for This Old House or Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me!, and you’ll get thousands of hits, if not a dedicated channel.

We don’t need the Corporation for Public Broadcasting so badly that it warrants Congress taxing you to pay for it. If Congress stops giving the CPB money, educational TV and radio won’t disappear; we’ll just have to resort to the bazillions of other options that are available today in 2017.

Or we could read books.

And as long as we’re trimming the budgetary fat, I’d like to see Congress legislate some caps on taxpayer-funded Presidential travel and protection of multiple residences. I think there’s an opportunity for some real savings there.

… …

Just thought of different post title: “That’s zero, zero dollars, ah, ah, ah!”

On the end of the Bears’ season (’16-’17).

Last summer, I bought a new Bears t-shirt. I figured it was time to replace the old one because [A] I’d lost weight and it didn’t fit well anymore, and [B] wearing it during every game three seasons in a row clearly hadn’t helped. Those were three of the Bears’ worst defensive seasons ever; they gave up 478, 442, and 397 points. New laundry, I thought, would bring new karma.

Nope. They had their worst season in my lifetime.

Just three wins. Three. The last time the Bears won only three games was in the strike-shortened 1982 season that was only nine games long. Before that it was 1973.

I write a post every year about the Bears’ season. Remarkable how last year’s downside paragraph applies almost perfectly this year:

The downside: lots of injuries (including a season-ender for the first-round pick), several winnable games were allowed to slip away, and the defense was the fourth-worst in team history.

Blown leads left and right, including against the pathetic Jaguars? Check. Fourth-worst defensive season in their history? At 399 points, that’s a check, though there was some improvement in yards surrendered. The only difference is that this year’s first-rounder didn’t go down for the season. But last year’s first rounder, Kevin White, spent the last twelve weeks on injured reserve alongside half of the other starters.

And worst of all, the two losses to the Packers mean the all-time head-to-head record between them is now tied for the first time in decades. Appalling.

The upside: the rookies looked decent. The Bears got the third pick in the draft. And my sister gave me a small charcoal grill… just about the right size for a useless t-shirt.