2/17/11 Rob the Community Chest and go Directly to Jail? Not a Chance
The headline of a current Rolling Stone article by Matt Taibbi asks the question, "Why isn't Wall Street in Jail?" Here are a couple of snippets:
Their names by now are familiar to even the most casual Middle American news consumer: companies like AIG, Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. Most of these firms were directly involved in elaborate fraud and theft. Lehman Brothers hid billions in loans from its investors. Bank of America lied about billions in bonuses. Goldman Sachs failed to tell clients how it put together the born-to-lose toxic mortgage deals it was selling. What's more, many of these companies had corporate chieftains whose actions cost investors billions — from AIG derivatives chief Joe Cassano, who assured investors they would not lose even "one dollar" just months before his unit imploded, to the $263 million in compensation that former Lehman chief Dick "The Gorilla" Fuld conveniently failed to disclose. Yet not one of them has faced time behind bars....
...the politics are so obvious. You want to win elections, you bang on the jailable class. You build prisons and fill them with people for selling dime bags and stealing CD players. But for stealing a billion dollars? For fraud that puts a million people into foreclosure? Pass. It's not a crime. Prison is too harsh. Get them to say they're sorry, and move on.
Oh, wait — let's not even make them say they're sorry. That's too mean; let's just give them a piece of paper with a government stamp on it, officially clearing them of the need to apologize, and make them pay a fine instead. But don't make them pay it out of their own pockets, and don't ask them to give back the money they stole. In fact, let them profit from their collective crimes, to the tune of a record $135 billion in pay and benefits last year.
Which brings to mind something Joseph Stalin is purported to have said about the state's mass executions,
"One death is a tragedy. A million deaths is a statistic."
To paraphrase Uncle Joe Steel as it applies to the treatment of Wall Street crimes versus the treatment of everyone else,
"Stealing $100 is a crime. Stealing a billion dollars is a statistic."
Normally I don't get into current affairs and steer clear of controversies. This is supposed to be a fun site highlighting my illustrations. But Matt Taibbi's article is too good to ignore. The only caveat is it does contain some raw language.
"When the facts change I change my mind."
—John Maynard Keynes
If you believe in rationality you might subscribe to that idea. But do folks really act that way? Do people change their opinions when new information comes to light disproving or contradicting what they previously believed? Not as much as you might think. To go along with the confirmation bias there's a little thing called backfire. Which is explained in this snippet from a Boston Globe article by Joe Keohane:
...Facts don't necessarily have the power to change our minds. In fact, quite the opposite. In a series of studies in 2005 and 2006, researchers at the University of Michigan found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds. In fact, they often became even more strongly set in their beliefs...
...[People] already have beliefs, and a set of facts lodged in their minds. The problem is that sometimes the things they think they know are objectively, provably false. And in the presence of the correct information, such people react very, very differently than the merely uninformed. Instead of changing their minds to reflect the correct information, they can entrench themselves even deeper.
"The general idea is that it's absolutely threatening to admit you're wrong", says political scientist Brendan Nyhan, the lead researcher on the Michigan study. The phenomenon — known as "backfire" — is "a natural defense mechanism to avoid that cognitive dissonance."
I guess another saying, or joke, is more likely to be true and why there's just no point in arguing with some people...
"Don't confuse me with the facts, my mind's made up."
1/1/11 Happy New Year!
2010 is now a thing of the past. Gone but not forgotten, unlike many a child actor from long gone sit-coms who are forgotten but not gone. I could go for a year in review, but I won't. Mainly because I wasn't paying attention.
What does 2011 have in store? Well, it starts on 1/1/11 which is pretty meaningless, really. As for the rest, stay tuned. It could get interesting. Though as goes the old Chinese curse...
"May you live in interesting times."
12/10/10 Select Either Or
They say there's a right way and a wrong way to do things, yet there's more than one way to skin a cat. Which pithy bit of folksy wisdom do we go with? I guess all we can do when we find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma is follow the advice of Yogi Berra, "When you come to a fork in the road, take it."
11/11/10 Miss Auntie Christie
"The young people think the old people are fools—but the old people know the young people are fools."
The above is dialog spoken by Miss Jane Marple from The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie. How do we attribute the quote? One might be inclined to attribute Agatha Christie as she wrote it. Yet that would imply she agreed with the sentiment of the quote, even though she might not. Authors put words in the mouths of their own creations they'd never agree to themselves. I mean, if some character said "I love killing people" you wouldn't quote the author as saying "I love killing people", would you?
Which means we'd need to attribute the quote to the fictional Miss Marple. Though in the story Miss Marple was herself quoting her Great Aunt Fanny. So then, which fictional character gets the credit? How many degrees of separation need we include? What if Miss Marple's aunt were repeating a quote from someone else or just some old saw?
On the other hand, what if Miss Marple were quoting someone, but didn't agree with the sentiment of the quote herself. Attributing the quote to her would be wrong in that case. Though one wonders, can you libel or slander a fictional character? I guess the correct attribution would be...
—Jane Marple quoting her Great Aunt Fanny in The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie.
All that aside, is the sentiment in the quote accurate? Well, old people should have a better perspective on the young, what with having once been young themselves. On the other hand, the young have never been old.
10/16/10 Grumpy on Dopey
“Democracy is just a fancy word for pooling a country's ignorance and unleashing it wholesale on its citizens.”
—Norton I, Emperor of the United States (AKA Joshua Abraham Norton)
How much stock we should put in the ideas of a "lovable old humbug", as Mark Twain called him, is hard to say. Still, the sentiments are not all that different from those of famous curmudgeon, or joyous libertarian if you'd rather, H.L. Mencken.
“Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance. No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.”
Does any of that sound familiar, the second sentence in particular? Let's rephrase it as you may have heard one time or another,
“Nobody ever went broke overestimating the vulgarity of the American people.”
Or perhaps you've heard it as,
“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the general public.”
Whether these are misquotes or paraphrases of Mencken or just other things the man wrote I couldn't say. People sometimes repeat themselves with variations on a theme. I know I have.
9/14/10 News From the Front Yard
The fescue and rye forces have suffered almost total collapse in the battle of the grasses in the southern theater of operations (STO) of the ongoing lawn wars. From curb to stoop the crabgrass army and its allies have routed the turf grasses at every turn. The turf grass leadership blamed the defeat on a hot dry, summer, though lack of logistical support in watering or fertilizer fairly doomed any hope of fescue and rye forces holding their ground.
Said Commander Colon, "We admit fatigue and budgetary concerns have hampered our efforts this year." Critics quickly seized on the statement to mean the leadership was just plain lazy and cheap. Colon countered that there was no reduction in mowing from years prior. But such efforts only amount to a delaying action which in the end hasn't rescued the situation.
Then came the Commander's bombshell. "In light of the ongoing situation, we are announcing a change of strategy. Instead of a full frontal grass advance on all fronts, we are counterattacking with patches of bushes, wildflowers and ground cover." Which wags interpreted as bushy weeds, tall weeds, and mowed weeds.
Critics further accused the leadership of sinking to using the weedy tactics of the enemy and that the so-called 'change of strategy' is nothing more than code for surrender. Replied the Commander, "While some might say that, I say it's time we had a winning strategy. Let's face it, the other side was winning."
Or as the old saying goes, If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.
Or as W.C. Fields said, “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. Then quit. No use in being a damned fool about it.”
8/9/10 Pig Sty
"Beauty is only skin deep, but ugly goes right to the bone." —Dorothy Parker
OK. Rather amusing. But is it true? If we take our cue from the real estate game it would be. That's because a house that can't be made to look good by slapping on a coat of paint, a house that's just plain ugly with awkward architecture, ungainly features, oddly done additions, slap-dash improvements is said to have "bad bones." That's not good for the old "curb appeal" as they say.
To make such a structure attractive would require more than a simple make-over, more like cosmetic surgery. This brings up another saying entirely, "Like putting lipstick on a pig." Which is a lot like the old saw about making silk purses out of sows' ears. But let's not get carried away with pig stories.
So then, what can you do with a house with bad bones? My solution, trees. Or really big bushes. Plant these everywhere. Any kind will do, but evergreens work best. Just be sure you can't see the house for the trees. Like the poet said, there's nothing lovelier. No lipstick required.
I have lot's of other gardening and home selling advice, but that will have to wait for another entry another time.
7/8/10 A Pig Walks Into a Bar...
Do these old expressions make sense?
Make a beeline.
A beeline is supposed to be straight and fast. Have you ever watched bees? They don't go all that straight and fast as far as I've observed. More like a zig-zag meander. Though if you them upset them and they swarm maybe it's a different story. In which case you make a beeline out of there lickety-split.
Next, pigs don't sweat. Or so they say. That's why they wallow in the mud, to cool off. To be honest, I don't know what animals sweat like people. Dogs pant and horses lather. Is that sweat? I dunno. I also don't know the difference between a pig a hog and a boar. Though I guess none of them sweat.
In my experience, outside of tall tales and jokes dogs don't talk. So how could they lie? Besides, dogs don't have a reputation for dishonesty. A dog is man's best friend, right? That's why we name some Fido. That's from the Latin fidelis, "faithful". All the same, I'll conclude this entry with a talking dog joke.
A guy sees a sign in front of a house, "Talking Dog For Sale". He rings the bell, and the owner tells him the dog is in the backyard. The guy goes around the house and into the backyard and sees a chihuahua sitting there.
"You talk?" he asks.
"Yep," the dog replies.
"So, what's your story?"
The chihuahua looks up and says, "Well, I discovered that I could talk when I was pretty young, and I wanted to help fight crime. I contacted the FBI, and in no time at all, they had me jetting around the country, sitting in rooms with Mobsters and assorted criminal types, because no one figured a dog would be eavesdropping. I was one of their most valuable assests for eight years running. But the travel really tired me out, and I wanted to settle down. I was transferred to the shipping docks to do some undercover security work, mostly wandering near suspicious characters and listening in. I uncovered a number of smuggling rings and was awarded a batch of medals. I got married, had a mess of puppies, and now I'm just retired."
The guy is amazed. He goes back in and asks the owner what he wants for the dog.
"Ten dollars," replies the owner.
The guy says, "This dog is amazing! Why on earth are you selling him so cheap?"
"Because he's a liar. He didn't do any of that stuff."
6/3/10 Sorry, I Misquoted Myself
Folks who speak a good deal in public are bound to make the occasional gaff. Politicians are no exception to the outspoken sometimes tying their tongues and logic in knots. Still, you have to wonder about the thinking behind the following statements:
"Things are more like they are now than they have ever been." —Gerald Ford
"The streets are safe in Philadelphia — it's only the people who make them unsafe." —Frank Rizzo, mayor of Philadelphia.
"There are two kinds of truth. There are real truths, and there are made up truths." —Marion Barry, mayor of Washington
"We've got to act wisely and otherwisely." —Allan Lampart, mayor of Toronto
One imagines mayor Rizzo could make the streets of every city safe, just keep people indoors. But then things wouldn't be more like they are now than they have ever been otherwisely. A truly made up truth if ever there were one. Still, even if what I'm saying doesn't make sense, I can always use one politician's out:
"I stand by my misstatements." —Dan Quayle
5/14/10 Clever Fool
"The only way to rid yourself of temptation is to yield to it." —Ocsar Wilde
An epigram, a paradox, irony? Whatever it is, it's the kind of thing Wilde was wild for. He used them a lot. As in "I love talking about nothing, father. It's the only thing I know anything about."
Many wits like to play at this game, and half-wits, too. Being one or the other I'll give it a go with the following. I'll start with my own line, or epigram, or whatever. That's followed by a snippet from Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest which forms a sort-of reply.
"Imitation is the sincerest form of plagiarism."
Jack: Is that clever?
Algernon: It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any observation in civilized life should be.
Jack: I am sick to death of cleverness. Everybody is clever now-a-days. You can't go anywhere without meeting clever people. The thing has become an absolute public nuisance. I wish to goodness we had a few fools left.
Algernon: We have.
Jack: I should extremely like to meet them. What do they talk about?
Algernon: The fools? Oh! about the clever people, of course.
Jack: What fools!