Sunday, July 28, 2013

Backtime Re-Air: Well That Was Anti-Climactic

Today is the 2013 Hall Of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown NY. And in 2013, no contemporary Major League players will be inducted, so it's really a nothing weekend in a distant upstate New York town.

It's a shame that Jack Morris was left out they year the committee decided to conspire in a protest vote against the "Steroid era." Next year will be Morris's last opportunity. Unfortunately he'll be going against first-time eligible no-brainers like Greg Maddux, Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine. Not to mention the second go-around for guys like Bonds, Clemens and Piazza.

Jack Morris doesn't relate to the steroid era, and he doesn't belong on the first ballot like a Maddux. Where he belongs is Cooperstown, and he should have had this weekend to himself.

January 9, 2013

The 2013 Baseball Hall Of Fame inductees: much ado about nothing.

I get the premise here, it's a protest vote against the crop of "Steroid Era" players who defined a generation of baseball on the field, but tainted the game in doing so.

How do you differentiate a Barry Bonds from Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa, and Mike Piazza? You keep them all out? - For now? But what about Craig Biggio, who isn't linked in these circles? The Hall Of Fame ballot seems just as subjective and biased as its always been.

But I will continue to make the case for at least one more year for the most deserving name on the ballot that doesn't fall into this "generation" of players.

See, they didn't even have color photography when Jack Morris dominated a decade for the Detroit Tigers.

I don't understand how the BBWAA could bypass Morris 14 straight years. I'm not going to make the full Buster Olney/Nate Silver mathematical case, though I've done plenty of research and gathered plenty of evidence, but I am still compiling.

Baseball is a dichotomy. It's a stat-driven game, it's how we measure players against one another and history. Yet it's also a game where a lot of the contributions don't show up in the box score: moving runners, eating innings, great defense.

I believe a catcher's first job is to manage a pitching staff, then to keep baserunners from running wild, and then to hit. Mike Piazza's numbers as an offensive player at his position are unprecedented, but how did he fare in his more primary responsibilities?

Without getting into numbers (and like I said those are ready to go), Jack Morris was a horse.

First and foremost, he was the ace starter on three World Series champions. Second, he pitched 10 shutout innings in Game 7 of the '91 World Series with no margin for error. Third, he was arguably the most durable pitcher and one of the most reliable for 14 years from 1979-1992.

And he did it all in the Designated Hitter era in the American League, pitching in the bandbox that was Tiger Stadium. The critics point to his moderately high ERA. He was a starter and a finisher, and in today's game with pitch count and inning counts, he is a throwback to a previous era.

Morris is the outlier on the 2013 ballot. The protest vote shouldn't have included him.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Breaking Backtime Season 2: Now You See Them

There is no episode of Breaking Bad that ultimately defines the characters of Walt and Jesse more than Season 2's "Peekaboo." Their motivations have been documented, and we know about their lives on the surface. But it's this episode, the 13th in the series' history, that opens up our eyes to what's in their souls.

If a subtitle says a thousand words, this is the one. After Skinny Pete got robbed by junkies, Walt told Jesse to "handle it," which meant get back the money or the meth. So Jesse, a paper gangster, goes under the pseudonym "Diesel" to play the tough guy and get retribution from Spooge.

At gunpoint, Jesse gets Mr. & Mrs. Spooge to literally pull the drug bags out of their asses, and realizes there isn't nearly enough.

JESSE: So you hold the crystal and she holds the H, huh?

SPOOGE: Division of labor, yo.

While Jesse is doing the heavy lifting at the Spooge residence, Walt's "division of labor" for the day consists of compounding lies to his family and berating Gretchen Schwartz, his former partner/lover/family friend for no good reason. Unless you consider Walt's hate, spite and envy good reasons.

GRETCHEN: Let me just get this straight - Elliott and I offer to pay for your treatment - no strings attached, an offer that still stands by the way. And you turn us down out of pride, whatever? And then you tell your wife that we are in fact paying for your treatment. Without our knowledge, against our will, you involve us in your lie. And you sit here and tell me that is none of my business?

WALT: Yeah. That's pretty much the size of it.

GRETCHEN: What happened to you. Really Walt? What happened. Because this isn't you.

WALT: What would you know about me, Gretchen? What would your presumption be about me, exactly? That I should go begging for your charity? You, waving your checkbook around like some magic wand...

And Walt's bitterness and disdain only gets worse from there culminating with the dropping of an F-bomb on a lady, forcing his former partner/lover/family friend to storm out of the restaurant.

Meanwhile back at the drug den, Jesse loses his focus because of a toddler living there in squalor. He has one eye on the strangers' kid, playing "Peekaboo" when he gets jumped.

But junkies will be junkies. They get high and bicker, and after Spooge calls his woman a "skank" for the umteenth time in a row, she pushes a propped-up ATM on his head, killing him instantly and then resumes getting high.

Jesse works through his shock, wipes down all the traces of his existence, and somehow the ATM unloads for him. He calls 911 as he makes his escape, but remembers...the kid.

Jesse whisks the kid out of the house so he doesn't witness the horrific scene. Then he engages the kid on the front stoop until he hears the emergency sirens making their way.

"You have a good rest of your life, kid."

And there it is in a nutshell. Jesse cared more for a skank whore's dirty kid than Walt did for a pivotal person in his life. And that's what fans of the show love about it.

"Peekaboo" originally aired April 12, 2009.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Happy Hiroki Kuroda Day!

After  nearly two weeks on the road, that's just what I needed on a lazy Thursday afternoon: A Yankee matinee, featuring the league's best starting pitcher.

Some others in New York might disagree. Mets fans will greet each other, "Happy Matt Harvey Day" on the day their All-Star pitcher is scheduled, the way Alabama fans greet each other "Roll Tide." But since Harvey isn't even the best pitcher in his city, I say Happy Hiroki Kuroda Day.

In 100+ degree heat in Texas, Hiroki Kuroda gave us 7 shutout innings (for the 7th time this season) and made the Yankees anemic offense look good enough in a 2-0 win.

While the Yankees plod along at 54-48, averaging under 4 runs a game, alternating Lyle Overbay and Vernon Wells as their cleanup hitters, and ace CC Sabathia (9-8, 4.37) has been unreliable, Kuroda has been the team's MVP.

Nobody will gravitate to Kuroda for Cy Young because of his 10-6 record, despite a 2.51 ERA that's 2nd in the AL. But the less than stellar Won-Loss mark deserves closer examination.

> On April 20 in Toronto, Kuroda gave up just 1 ER in 7.1 IP. David Robertson blew the lead in the 8th before the Yankees won in 11 innings.

> On May 28, Kuroda outdueled Matt Harvey for 7 innings, but Mariano Rivera blew the sane in the 9th and the Mets won 2-1.

> On July 7, Kuroda gave the Yankees 7 shutout innings (again), but Rivera gave up a home run to Adam Jones in the 9th in a loss to Baltimore. Rivera's swansong season has been glorious, he's 33 for 35 in save opportunities, but both fiascos have come at Kuroda's expense.

So Kuroda should really, legitimately, be 13-6. And in the 6 losses, the Yankees have scored a grand total of 10 runs, so maybe a couple of those should be wins as well.

And he carries himself like an ace with presence and swagger, on a staff that boasts prolific types like Sabathia, Rivera, and Andy Pettitte.

It's going to be a tough job for the Yankees the rest of the way with 60 games to go. They're 6 games back in the AL East, and 3 games out of an AL Wild Card Playoff. But it's good to know that once every 5 days the man is on the mound.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

2103 Road Trip Day 13: An Oxford Education

I don't normally text while I'm driving but I felt compelled to take this shot while cruising at about 15 miles an hour off Exit 165. As you can see on the edge of the frame the recommended speed is 20 so I'm OK.

The dinged-up 2013 Pilot went about 3300 miles in 2 weeks. There were no accidents, no speeding violations, not even a parking ticket. We had a handful of traffic delays and a couple of storms but we were never really lost, and the kids didn't get to drive.

Anyway, when we last left our hero he had dropped off the kids and had followed the GPS down the Alabama backroads...

I spent the night alone with my Hilton points last evening in Oxford AL, approx 4 hours and 40 minutes from home. It's a pretty popular stopover between Birmingham and Atlanta, and sometimes I shack up there after a Tuscaloosa gig. It's got a ton of hotels and chain restaurants, but the only bar open as late as midnight is the scariest Applebee's in America.

When I say scary, I don't mean that I feared for my life or anything. I mean scary like a rollercoaster or a horror movie: sickly entertaining. This was my second time at that particular joint at that hour, and the scene was pretty much the same.

The bartender was yapping to the regulars about his trials and tribulations with his multiple babies and baby-mamas. One of the waiters was talking about how he freaked the first time he smoked methamphetamines. A girl at the bar frequently plagiarized Chris Rock quotes, passing them off as her own wisdom. The tough-looking, strangely-attractive tattooed woman next to me had a rough night working at the Anniston County Jail.

On the way out to my car, some dude tried to sell me some weed and I got the impression he was shopping his girlfriend too.

Talk about your Crazy-Ass Crackers! That's a reality show right there. I'm going back the next chance I get!

Maybe I'll circle Oxford, Alabama for the next road trip.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

2013 Road Trip Day 12: Fuel Dump

Only on this road trip would one go from Atlanta to Nashville to Alabama on the way home. But that was actually the plan. That and getting gas every day.

We had marked the Nashville Zoo from our truncated trip there 3 years ago when my son had an upset stomach that day and we had to leave abruptly. It is of course home to the Jungle Gym, the world's largest outdoor playground structure.

So after the kids ran and climbed around for an hour in the 95-degree heat, we walked the grounds and saw the tigers, elephants, giraffes, and other exotics on display.

I was a little disappointed because I was looking forward to seeing the Kangaroo Kickabout, which was scheduled to open this summer but doesn't look anywhere near ready.

When we left Nashville we had essentially completed our own kickabout of the eastern United States. The kids had been drained of their energy before being jettisoned off to their Alabama relatives for a week of more fun.

And having removed a lot of excess cargo, my ride seemed a lot lighter. The drive home will be a lot more peaceful but it won't be the same.

Monday, July 22, 2013

2013 Road Trip Day 11: Take The Long Way Home

We knew this would be the longest day trek on our trip. Today began in Staunton VA, with scheduled stops in Charlottesville VA and Charlotte NC, before ending the day crashing at a friend's pad in Johns Creek GA.

We left the hotel at 8:45 AM and ultimately arrived at our destination at 7:35 PM to get within striking distance of the finish line. If it sounds like a long day, it was. But it was made even longer by unplanned traffic snafus.

Three different times on a 110-mile stretch on I-85 between Spartanburg SC and Commerce GA, we were faced with at least a 15-minute standstill. There were torrential rains which undoubtedly played a leading role in this drama.

First, your run-of-the-mill three-car pileup. Then, there was a scary scene as a tractor-trailer had gone off-road, tore up the cabling in the median, and needed to be towed out of the mud. And on the third one I don't know what happened, but as you can see above a Georgia State Trooper and his vehicle made us all take an impromptu detour off the interstate, where we wouldn't return until about 7 miles down the road.

The kids were troopers themselves and they were rewarded with good food and friends upon our arrival.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

2013 Road Trip Day 10: North And South

As the clan headed back south today, we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line most literally. We took I-81 for a long stretch, but there was a 35-minute sliver that covered four states: Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia. Theoretically in that short stretch we moved from "The North" to "The South."

I can't tell you where the exact line is, and I'm not talking about the big red one on the map. Pennsylvania is a "northern" state, but as the saying goes: between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh it's Alabama.

And in our 23 miles in West Virginia, we experienced a power-shower, the only rain on our trip. Not surprising since West Virginia is thought to be cursed ground, the only tract of land that Native Americans ceded without a fight. Hope Falls, WV is the hometown depicted in Batboy: The Musical.

So while I'm not sure exactly where we crossed over, the irony is clear that our day started at Grant's Tomb on Riverside Drive in Manhattan.

And it ended at The Stonewall Jackson Hotel in Staunton VA.

The North may have won the war, but the South has better weather. So there's that.

And Staunton doesn't seem like a southern redneck town. Maybe it's because it's the birthplace and home of the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library.

Maybe it's because there are four prestigious universities within 45 minutes: UVA (Charlottesville), James Madison (Harrisonburg), Washington & Lee (Lexington), and VMI (Lexington). Looks like a good place to hit a bunch of college visits with one stone...wall.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

2013 Road Trip Day 9: Circle Of Life

I know I've used enough cheap metaphors for one lifetime on this Homeric odyssey already, but the "Circle Of Life" definitely fits. We went to see The Lion King on Broadway today.

My daughter said it was "better than the movie." My son said he didn't like it, but was riveted throughout. As for me, I thought it had great Broadway production value, choreography, and puppetry. But the play was 2 1/2 hours, whereas the movie (I checked IMDB) clocked in at 1:29. That's just too long, fully one-half of a 5-Hour Energy.

But something Simba said late in the show struck me:

"How can I go back? I'm not who I used to be."

There are too many connections for me while having my kids with me in New York City. I lived here from 1996-2002, but it seems like a lifetime ago. The sights of smoke billowing from a manhole, the smells of a pretzel stand, the taste of a slice of pizza, the agony of a stagnant and overheated subway stand - they all tap into whatever part of the brain that links to memory. The kids don't have those memories and will likely never know them. This part is my journey alone.

So I went AWOL for a couple of hours to the old Upper West Side before meeting a friend for dinner. And at 96th & Amsterdam, it was still there.

The Dive Bar was getting a facelift on the exterior but it was pretty much the same on the interior. It's really anything but a "dive" with whiskey and beer selections that can be sampled for weeks.

The Yankees were playing the Red Sox and it brought back a flood of more memories - how many baseball games did I watch there? There was also a legendary high-stakes Super Bowl pool, and I watched several of the big games there. But more than that, it was my spot around the corner. A place to meet friends or kick back after work or just think.

There hasn't been a place like this for me in Omaha or Kalamazoo or Savannah, but of course life is different now with new responsibilities. But every once in a while you can sit on a barstool and relive the past in your thoughts, and come back to the same point in your circle.

Friday, July 19, 2013

2013 Road Trip Day 8: Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates

You never know what you're gonna get - and that applies most to your children's behavior. When things are at their hottest and most chaotic, don't be surprised if they are good listeners and mature beyond their chronological age.

And then you get to a controlled environment and all hell breaks loose. In fact the above picture from Hershey's Chocolate World reminds me of a certain spectrum that will not be named to protect the innocent.

And as a parent you try and catalog what triggers these types of behaviors. Did they get enough sleep or too much? Did they eat enough or consume too much sugar? Did they get enough exercise or are they overtired? Are they bored or overstimulated?

The more and more you test these theorems, the more and more you figure out that you don't have the answers and maybe - just maybe - you need to stop looking for them. All these instances bring you is more experience and better instincts; see Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers and 10,000 hours rule.

And sometimes your instincts work in complete harmony with the situation like a virtuoso symphony of parenting. And then sometimes your instincts fail you. It doesn't mean that you're wrong, just that you aren't always right. Maybe you just need 20,000 hours, or maybe 30,000, or maybe 100,000. There's always more chocolates to sample.

Today we left Hershey PA and arrived in New York City. The drive was exceptionally smooth as most of the traffic was heading out of The City, where it was naturally the hottest day New York has ever seen. It seems to follow us around. Except back home in Savannah where I understand it's been quite rainy. Maybe my plants will still be alive when I get home, that would be the metaphorical gift-wrapped chocolate surprise.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Road Trip 2013 Day 7: Amusement Only

I know my family was suffering through withdrawal because we hadn't been to Hershey Park in 379 days, but to spend 7+ hours in an amusement park while heat indices approached 110, that's going above and beyond my parental contract.

Except...I had fun too. The heat was oppressive but splashing around in "The Boardwalk" section of the park was a good antidote. And it was great to see the kids unified and focused. They were high-maintenance in wanting to go on as many rides as possible, but they were extremely low-maintenance as far as wanting shit (snacks, souvenirs, etc). And while the kids were busy being buddies chasing common goals, there were several hours of detente.

Hershey PA is only about 3 hours from NYC (I don't want to think how far from Savannah), so this could become an annual family tradition. But if we do this in 2014 I'm going to have to consult the Farmer's Almanac and look for the day most likely to be 82 degrees.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Road Trip 2013 Day 6: Leaving The Past Behind

After two days educating the offspring about the history and civics of our nation, we put the informative portion of the trip in the rearview. The history lesson is now history, but it was a productive couple of days in Washington and Philadelphia.

Unfortunately our timing was atrocious for the weather, as we picked the two hottest days of the year to hit the National Mall and Independence Hall. Fortunately the layout in Philly is way more compressed than DC and you can hit just about everything within a couple of blocks.

Naturally one of the more colorful of the founding fathers, Ben Franklin, was commemorated everywhere. He's renowned for a lot of things both real and mythical, and the quotes are endless. But I found my favorite BF quote and bought the t-shirt.

"Beer is the proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy."

A few cold ones sound good after a couple of days like this, so this has to be one of the wiser proclamations Franklin made.

We took our act to the countryside by the end of the day, trading in the concrete jungle for greener pastures. And my daughter took the prize for the most memorable moment of the trip (to date) when she heroically jumped from the car and shooed away a pack of ducks that were blocking our entryway to the hotel parking lot.

On the more mundane side of things I would be up well past midnight trudging through three loads of laundry. Hershey Park the Redux, is tomorrow.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Road Trip 2013 Day 5: A View To The Hill

The last time I saw 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue from this angle, it was in flames in the very underrated action flick White House Down. Nothing so dramatic today though it felt like we were on fire touring DC at triple digits Fahrenheit.

We weren't completely outdoors today as we got a tour of the Capitol (White House tours are still sequestered). After reporting to the Hart Senate Office Building, the first body we saw was Senator Ed Markey, looking a little disheveled in the lobby of his new digs - he was just sworn in this morning.

After all those years in Congress, maybe he still needs to check out the Senate library.

Our semi-private tour was pretty cool. The kids even enjoyed making the rounds. The Capitol is exceptionally preserved, and of course highly secured. My Dad was briefly detoured by Capitol Police for the choice of bug spray in his bag. The only dreadfully boring part was being in the actual senate gallery while there was procedural nothingness going on.

And the above paragraph is a metaphor for Congress itself. But as we take potshots at congressional disfunction, we still are awestruck tourists when we get there up close.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Road Trip 2013 Day 4: Life Is A Roller Coaster

At times, parenthood is a second childhood. I probably went a good fifteen years between amusement park trips, but now I find myself at times on water rides and roller coasters, eating funnel cakes, and paying for bottled water with my credit card since I'm out of cash.

Today was Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia. My son is finally tall enough to ride the roller coasters by himself, but he drags me along anyway. I pretend to put up a fight, but I really enjoy them just as much as he does. What I don't like is the waiting on line, or having to choose one child over the other since the little princess, despite her enthusiasm and daring-do, isn't quite big enough yet.

The water rides were great, especially since it's easy to knock out 5 hours in the heat. We avoided a major snafu when a backpack containing my wallet was temporarily misplaced. But most others at an expensive funpark are essentially like us, family people who aren't interested in grifting off unfortunate and unlucky souls.

This portion of the trip was supposed to contain some Colonial Williamsburg educational-type stuff, but our accommodations on Kingsmill turned out to be too nice. The outdoor pool had a tunnel to an indoor pool, and our patio door was literally just steps from from a tennis court and a basketball court.

So the action never stopped today. Washington and Philly are coming up, so I'll be doing my parental civic duty there. For now, at least the hotel bar has Ranger on tap.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Road Trip 2013 Day 3: Walking The Earth

Life was so much simpler when our earlier incarnations simply roamed the earth. There was survival, foraging, protecting our offspring, and...that was essentially it. There was no debt, no politics, no reality TV, no Autism Spectrum Disorder. The only real worries would be the death of a loved one, which sadly actually happened to the gorilla family at the Carolina Zoo earlier this week.

I sometimes wish those more natural values would be vogue once again, that primate would be the new black. But at least on some days the dream feels more real. Such was the case for about 4 hours in Asheboro NC today where we roamed the grounds, and were thankful that it could have been much hotter on a July afternoon.

The kids especially liked the animatronic dinosaur section, reminding us again of earth's past.

But in today's world we have an SUV, a GPS, and DVDs to get us from one place to the next without stumbling over trees and rocks to get from Point A to Point B, so at least there's that.

And we needed all of that today. After 4 hours on our feet was 4 hours on the road. And who wants to be a leaf-eater when you can have quality dining? As our journey neared its end, we pulled into Julio's in Quinton VA for a pretty solid Mexican dinner. And I can say the only green thing on my plate were the Enchiladas Verdes. Living off the land probably isn't for me after all.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Road Trip 2013 Day 2: Stick Figures

The trip up the east coast went through Charlotte for the one event that belonged to Daddy instead of the kids. Saturday at Lake Norman State Park was Philippine Combatives training, open to the public, featuring the stick guru Master Julius Melegrito.

There was some cloud cover so it wasn't nearly as hot as it could've been but it was ridiculously humid and the bugs were crazy. I found a new purpose for my sticks, swatting mosquitos on my legs, back and neck.

The three-hour session was constant. Master Melegrito engaged his 50 or so students and the experience was fun, informative, sometimes painful, and very humbling. When it was over it was hard to transition to owning regular hands and arms, though they were a lot lighter. Until I had to collect the kids, then my arms became occupied again.

It was a pretty low maintenance rest of the day after an hour-plus drive northeast we had swimming, dinner and a movie. Sagebrush Steakhouse was substantial, economical, and surprisingly delicious. Despicable Me 2 was hilarious.

Shacking up in Asheboro NC. Next stop Virginia. The tour of the sticks continues.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Road Trip 2013 Day 1: The Leaving Is The Hardest Part

Our last epic family caravan was in 2010, and there's a reason you don't do this type of thing every year.

It's not that the driving is all that bad, what with the built-in entertainment systems, video games and such - it's not your father's road trip.

And the planning is fun. Especially if you're a TV producer type, you love connecting dots and putting a plan on paper and (hopefully) watching it unfold. I've found this type of skill even runs in the family.

The problem is the anxiety: Do I have everything? You have the list and cross-check it multiple times. It's actually three lists: 1) The Kids 2) Me 3) The House.

But like anything else you read too often, the words just run together. So you think about what's most important: medications, power chargers, your daughter's ponytails, and making sure the trash is thrown out.

Then you have to worry about certain family members that are (ahem) detail-oriented, and whether they got to do everything they had planned before you take the exit ramp onto the interstate.

The 4-hour drive to the hotel in North Charlotte was the easy part. It was far less eventful than my recent attempts to get from Abercorn to the Truman on Anderson Street. But then again, this was only Day 1.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Paper Backtime: Bank-Rolling Stone Cold

The premise in Matt Taibbi's Griftopia is that the financial manipulation in America goes far beyond the political distractions of Right and Left. In fact, no news organization can tell this story because of the corporate tentacles that claw at them. So leave it to a renegade writer from Rolling Stone magazine to not only dissect every facet of the financial crisis, but brazenly firebomb the villains - in a literary sense of course.

Taibbi's style has scared off many of the cable news networks, and has even proven to be too off-color for Real Time with Bill Maher, where he used to be a semi-regular. But after referring to Michelle Malkin in ungentlemanly (putting it mildly) terms, he has scared away some of the most fearless shows. Malkin may be an idiot, but she's not a dartboard for misogynistic imagery.

Anyway, Taibbi has more than earned his stripes as a journalist, a war correspondent, a campaign reporter, and someone who has brought the complexities of America's 30-year financial implosion to Joe Sixpack.

I'm that guy. I don't have an MBA. I didn't work on Wall Street (except that one summer on a trading desk when I was 18). And while I try to be well-read and have my finger on current events, I really don't know much about high finance. But thanks to Mr. Taibbi and this fascinating, excoriating, and sadly funny book, I think I can hold my own next time I'm sipping my chardonnay at the country club.

Taibbi had me at Chapter 2, titled The Biggest Asshole In The Universe. It's all about Alan Greenspan, a direct disciple of Ayn Rand's objectivism, how he ushered in the deregulation of everything over the course of four presidencies, and presided over every bubble to insure the hyperbolic disparity of wealth that exists in America today.

Greenspan's latest and greatest act was encouraging homeowners to tap into the equity in their homes, as if their mortgage was an ATM. The surge in debt, coupled with unchecked predatory lending was a key in the 2008 financial disaster.

Why is Greenspan still so revered? Republicans know his ties to Rand, as well as his history as a champion of the free market, making regulations disappear. Democrats? To put it simply, he's married to MSNBC icon Andrea Mitchell. So he's untouchable at the most liberal (lowercase l) of the news networks. And Taibbi goes to great lengths in describing how Greenspan has historically positioned himself that way with the elite intelligentsia.

And while many immediately label Taibbi, thanks to his anti-establishment street cred, and Rolling Stone business card as a (capital L) Liberal, he spends at least one chapter in this book destroying The Trillion-Dollar Band-Aid, aka Obamacare.

What Obamacare does (Taibbi argues) is rather than reform a corrupt health insurance industry, it emboldens it. And while it does in fact cover more Americans, it lines the pockets of the filthy rich insurance companies for decades to come. It's the ultimate long-con.

Only in America can this plan, which was originally hatched by The Heritage Foundation and later implemented by a severely conservative Governor who would go on to run for President, be viewed as a socialistic policy. The mission of House Republicans to repeal the bill is a Presidential politics sideshow, like throwing bread to the cheap seats at a Roman Coliseum.

The financial mess we're in is a classic situation of the rich getting richer. And the rich buy the best lawyers and the legal system. Sure Bernie Madoff got caught, but what about the biggest fish from the big banks? Nothing.

A lot of the tricks are too complicated to explain to the American public, aka me. How can you explain a monster like Goldman Sachs carving up a bunch of high-risk mortgages into AAA-rated securities, and selling them off to pension funds just so they can get bailed out when they go under. That's not a soundbite, it's a calculated scheme.

And it's not a Left or Right thing, there are plenty of bad guys on both sides. Every administration is saturated with Wall Street cronies. While we argue about abortion or guns or immigration, a few thousand Americans laugh and count their money.

In addition to Taibbi deconstructing the whole fiasco, he does an exceptional job in the epilogue tying the whole thing up.

"The Democrats' response to Wall Street excess was similar to their attitude toward the Iraq war - they were against it in theory, but in practice, they weren't going to do much about it."

Notice how he used "Democrats" and "their" in the same sentence. Wonder if he thinks of Elizabeth Warren as one of "them" or "us" - I have a pretty good idea.

The book ends perfectly, on the heels of the mortgage crisis, an addendum from Taibbi's Rolling Stone article in November 2010 Invasion of the Home Snatchers:

"When you meet people who are losing their homes in this foreclosure crisis, they almost all have the same look of deep shame and anguish. Nowhere else on this planet is it such a crime to be down on your luck, even if you were put there by some of the world's richest banks, which continue to rake in record profits purely because they got a big fat handout from the government...

That's why one banker CEO after another keeps going on TV to explain that despite their own deceptive loans and fraudulent paperwork, the real problem is these deadbeat homeowners who won't pay their fucking bills. And that's why most people in this country are so ready to buy that explanation. Because in America, it's far more shameful to owe money than it is to steal it." 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Breaking Backtime Season 1: Pillow Talk

It's the summer television hiatus. The Americans, Game Of Thrones, and Mad Men are done for the season. There is nothing to watch now except for the often frustrating New York Yankees. But there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Breaking Bad returns in 37 days and AMC is re-running every episode in order.

So it gives die-hard viewers a chance to re-live the situation from the beginning, and watch in amazement as the story and characters develop so drastically.

In the show's fifth-ever episode "Gray Matter," we realize why we love the show so much - it's the writing. There is a scene that is dramatic as (almost) any in the series, where an intervention is staged with five people in the White family living room.

There's no meth, no death, and the roles of Saul, Mike, and Gus haven't been introduced. It's one episode before Tuco and the unveiling of "Heisenberg." Walt even has hair. The scene is 11 minutes of talk only, and it starts with Skyler White clenching "the talking pillow."

The intervention is for Walt to undergo a debilitating and expensive chemotherapy treatment for his terminal lung cancer, which he is trying desperately to evade. Everyone takes their turn with the pillow and the words are raw and real. Skyler is indignant that Walt fight for his life for the sake of his family, and she gets into a shouting match with her sister, who insists that Walter has the right to make his own choice.

Walt sits quietly while those around him bicker, which is a metaphor for the whole process. Until he is forced to seize the pillow and speak for himself.

"These doctors, taking about surviving - one year, two years - like it's the only thing that matters. Well what good is it to just survive if I am too sick to work? To enjoy a meal? To make love? For what time I have left I want to live in my own house. I want to sleep in my own bed. I'm not going to choke down 30, 40 pills and lose my hair and lie around too tired to get up, so nauseated I can't even move my head..."

Walt made his stand and made his choice. I choose not to do it. At this point in Walt's mind he had left the meth business behind, having just pocketed a mere few thousand bucks with only a couple of bodies in his wake.

But the next morning he wakes up, hugs his wife and reconsiders. And if you know anything about Walt's character, even just 5 episodes in, he isn't going to take any handouts. He is going to make sure that he is responsible for his treatment and that his family is taken care of.

In the closing scene he appears back in Jesse Pinkman's driveway, "Wanna cook?" That's the moment that Walter White really breaks bad...for good.

"Gray Matter" originally aired February 24, 2008.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I Thought Lightning Never Strikes The Same Place Twice

Yet there I was exactly 20 weeks later, driving East on Anderson approx 9:50 AM on a rainy Tuesday morning on my way to Black Belt class.

Out of the blue, a young man not used to the treacherous one-ways of "city" driving made a left turn from the right land and sideswiped my front end.

Not only was this move incredibly puzzling on the surface, but he tried to make his left onto Price - which is a one-way the other way. It was just a whole crazy big bag of driving for dummies.

So the family roadster 2.0, not even four months old, got its front right bumper disengaged just days before an ambitious east coast road trip.

No persons were harmed in this mishap, and the damage to the vehicle is somewhere between minimal and moderate. But the timing sucks, and the circumstances are going to make me gunshy about driving a certain road at a certain time in certain conditions.