lundi, février 26, 2007

If Our Biggest, Glitziest Events become Drab and Dull, What Does that Say about Us?

The Superbowl and the Academy Awards were both boring.

It had to be said.

The high points of the Superbowl were:

The rain
Prince’s performance at the halftime show
And um…

Similarly, the Academy Awards…

No controversial acceptance speech
No one-armed pushups.
No winner running over chair tops or kissing Sophia Loren
No impressive dresses (except for Helen Mirren who, natch, is not American)

Yes, it was great to see Scorcese finally get his Oscar, but it was also anti-climatic. As soon as Lucas, Speilberg and Coppola came out, I knew he won.

And yes, Ellen was great, she struck the proper tone: funny, but dignified.

Anyway, both events make me wonder if we’re all a bit deflated and fatigued. Also consider that American Idol is lusterless and blah. We're not psyched about Survivor like we used to be. Brittney and Anna Nicole somehow just symbolize how down we are.

And yes, the war against Iraq (or as Borat calls it, our "war of terror") would not make for a boring Superbowl game, but I could see it softening our commercials to the point where they stink the reeky, stinky stink of boringness.

And I could see it making a nominee who might wear a swan dress opt for something less fun - something understated and non-controversial.

And what would a winner, with a thought on the war and a bully pulpit of 1 billion people have to say that hasn’t already been said?

Have we reached the point where we are convinced that no one is listening, and so we’re done talking?

Have we, succumbed to a collective ennui or depression?

I think we have.

jeudi, février 22, 2007

The Tale of Two Taxes

Two taxes are getting attention in Minnesota these days.

The first is a cosmetic surgery tax.

On the surface I like this tax. It’s crafted so that only voluntary or elective cosmetic surgery is taxed. The logic behind it is – if you have money to get botox, you can slide a little sales tax revenue over to the Governor.

But the tax fails for me for one big reason. As I understand it, the majority of elective cosmetic surgery patients are women (the article indicates 90%, but I’ve also heard 78%). As well, the average cosmetic surgery patient apparently has an average income of $60,000. So, it seems this tax would have a disproportionate impact on women and, within that, middle class women.

Count me out.

The second is a mileage tax.

Within the world of taxes, I love, love, love this tax.

First, it’s fair. It has a voluntary component. You are taxed to the extent that you want to be taxed. People can choose to drive fewer miles than they do.

Second, it has a punitive component that holds the potential to shape behavior. If folks want to commute and super-commute, they are free to do so, but their impact on the earth and on the infrastructure is reflected in the taxes they pay. Some folks will be encouraged to drive fewer miles.

Third, it is a necessary change. Gas tax revenues are declining. That model has become antiquated, and does not seem to support infrastructure maintenance and other transportation costs. We need a new model.

However, I would change the proposal in a few ways.

Rather than going the technical route and following cars as they travel about (something that will make adoption almost impossible), I would just set up stations where folks would, once a year, pull in and report their mileage. We did it for emissions checks, we can do it again.

Second, I would create more than two tiers. I would exempt hybrids from the tax completely. I would create tiers for diesel, bio-diesel, highly efficient cars, efficient cars, inefficient cars and highly inefficient cars. Those in the highest category would be slammed. Pay up, earth killers!

The last thing that must be considered is how we tax those who must be taxed. Our current laws are replete with exceptions for small “businesses.” Those exceptions effectively create a loophole which allows citizens who are inclined to save a buck (even at the expense of what is right or fair) to create sham businesses so that their Hummer isn’t taxed as it should be. Those loopholes must be closed.

mardi, février 20, 2007

ILIM Guarantees that Hillary Clinton will Make a Different Kind of President in 2008

I’ve been fascinated by articles I’ve read recently suggesting that the Republicans (and within that conservative Republicans) are torn when it comes to the 2008 Presidential election.

If the articles have it right, then their primary goal is to find someone who can beat Hillary.

I’m tickled by that for a couple of reasons.

First, they assume Hillary Clinton will be the nominee. I’m actually leaning toward Edwards. Not because I want Edwards necessarily* (and not because I don’t want him necessarily) but because I think Hillary is going to blow it on Iraq (to date she has completed messed that up), and the more folks learn about Obama, sadly, the more I think they will not see him as the first African-American to win the White House. Not a reflection on Obama, so much as it is a reflection on the electorate and its "sensibilities."

Second, in their efforts, conservatives are effectively ruling out the candidates who they like the most (it sounds down right liberal/progressive/Democrat, circa 2004. We all agreed that Bush had to go, many of us wanted Dean, but hoo-haw, we couldn’t see him winning, it so we sold Dean low and bought Kerry high, and we held his stock even as analysts advised us not to, holding on to it until he dropped off the big board completely. Well at least we weren't hit by a capital gains tax, but I digress…)

Of the five Republican candidates running or poised to run, conservatives love, love, love Mike Huckabee and Sam Brownback. But even conservatives know both are too far right to have any appeal at all where it matters most: Michigan, Ohio and Florida (everything else is pretty much decided already).

So they’re left with three options that have to leave them feeling like they’re choosing between the lesser of three evils.

John McCain has too much history. Sure, he’s cozying over to the right millimeters at a time, but no one thinks that’s anything other than an effort to broaden his appeal in the primaries. If he is nominated, everyone expects him to center-up for the general election, which means the real McCain is the one who voted against the federal ban on same sex marriage, didn’t line up behind torture, and help knock down the nuclear option during the judicial nominee kurfuffle in 2004.

Then there’s Mitt Romney. Why oh why, conservatives ask, why, oh why can’t he be a regular Christian? He’s anti-choice, he’s against same sex marriage, but he’s Mormon (gasp!). Also, there's one pesky problem. He's anti-choice and anti-same sex marriage today. Yesterday, when he wanted to be governor of Massachusetts, he was pro-choice and supported gay rights. Not the safest bet to put all your chips on if you want 8 more years of extreme social conservatism (these folks hate science people! They hate science!).

Last, but not least, is America’s Mayor (but not my Mayor), Rudy Giuliani. Ann Coulter likes to accuse 9/11 widows and widowers of profiting from tragedy, but no one, no one has profited more from 9/11 than Giuliani – no one, not even flag makers. Trust me on this, the guy is an egomaniac with an anger management problem, and, on top of it all, he’s pro-choice and supports gay rights. I hope he gets the nomination – it will guarantee us an exciting election. We can all watch while his temper boils over, he hogs up credit for things he had nothing to do with, and contemplates his fourth marriage (not that I'm judging).

And it all adds up to Democrat heaven. We can’t lose. Huckabee and Brownback are coo-coo for cocoa puffs and will not get the nod. If they do, go ahead and plug in the donkey. Democrats will win big. The other three are practically conservative Democrats – especially considered against the stubborn wacko in the White House right now.

So, no matter how it all turns out, one has to give Hilary credit for bringing change to the White House.

*I'm a Kucinich man right now. Yes, I know he will not, cannot win, but he lines up with me on the issues, and I have to support that right now. I need that right now, okay?

I Don't Mean to Brag, I Don't Mean to Boast...

TinyE's teacher sent the following email to us:

I just wanted to let you know that TinyE had a great day. She was focused, did her best work, and was a great helper. I told her I would contact you and let you know about her day, and she seemed extremely excited about it.

Have a great weekend :)

Mr. T

samedi, février 17, 2007

The Conversations We Had; The Conversations I Want Us to Have

Most parents of toddlers wrestle with this same question. Should I always be candid with my child even if they may not be ready to hear a candid response?

For me, the answer is no. And I don't like it, but TinyE is five, and I'm not sure she needs to know that the world can be a very cruel, very dark, very cynical place (at least she doesn't need to know it just yet). I'll also admit that some concepts are too difficult to explain, and, motivated by laziness, I just take a more expedient path.

We had two recent conversations which illustrate my tendency.

The First Conversation (the conversation we had)

TinyE: You should never run from the police, right?
Duf: No, you shouldn't.
TinyE: Because if you run, they'll shoot you, right?
Duf: No, honey, I don't think the police would shoot you.

My answer is accurate - I really don't think the police would shoot TinyE - but incomplete.

The First Conversation (the conversation I wish we had)

TinyE: You should never run from the police, right?
Duf: No, you shouldn't.
TinyE: Because if you run, they'll shoot you, right?
Duf: Well, honey, police officers are just like everyone else. There are some police officers who are nice and protect us. There are other police officers who are cruel and who harm people. You want to be as careful with the police as you are with anyone else.

I think this is too dark a vision for a five year old (who, by the way has been told at school the police officers are friendly and here to protect and serve), to contemplate. As well, if she every need to seek assistance from a police officer, I want that effort to be uncluttered by complex considerations.

The Second Conversation (the conversation we had)

TinyE: The news is not fiction, right?
Duf: Yes, honey, the news is non-fiction; it's the best effort to report what happened.

My answer here is contrary to my belief.

The Second Conversation (the conversation I wish we had)

TinyE: The news is not fiction, right?
Duf: Fox News is fiction! Just kidding. Well, sweetie, I think most news reporters make a sincere effort to report what happened. But reporters, like all people, are biased and come to every scene with their own perspective. So, you should take in news with skepticism, and you should challenge what you're given. Take news from multiple sources, and read news accounts of events you've attended to see if it matches with your own thoughts on what happened.

Someday we'll have those conversations, but for now, I'll let TinyE be five.

mercredi, février 14, 2007

Support Big Box Retail? Not Required, but Acceptable

Happy Valentine’s Day.

I have two friends who will remain nameless. These friends are super duper turbo-charged intellectuals. From time to time they send me articles they hope to publish on some hyper-specialized area of importance only to academics, and I barely understand them. These folks are smart.

They shun all corporate holidays as money-making devises. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentine’s Day, they ignore all that. It’s their way of sticking it to the man.

And yes, a lot of money is made off Valentine’s Day.

But permit me to offer the case in favor of Valentine’s Day.

You can never tell someone that you love them too often.
Trinkets and flowers and dinners and poems; they’re all good.
Cards and letters…ditto.
Stopping once a year to go all out for romance? Well it can be really cool, especially…



[wait for it]

…especially if there are little or no expectations to do so.

If one is expected to buy dozens of roses and does so, then it’s undermined a bit, no?
If one is expected to come strong with diamonds, and does so – it means less to me.
If nothing but the light blue box will do, when you present the Paloma Picasso necklace in the light blue box, was it from your heart?

But if one is expected to do nothing or very little, then they are free to infuse the day with all the meaning they desire.

Mrs. Duf received two comic books (Stephen King’s Dark Tower is being redone as a graphic novel of sorts, and Mrs. Duf loves Stephen King) a poem in the newspaper*, and new sunglasses. I’ll leave work early today and go home to make lasagna and mac and cheese. Any one of those things, alone, would have been more than she wanted. If I made her a card, she would have been perfectly happy.

Which frees me up to do as much as I want, secure in the knowledge that it’s only because I want to do so; not because I’m expected to do so. I’m very lucky in that way.


I hope the demands on you were few, and I hope you exceeded them. Tell those you love that you love them. Hug your friends and family. Embrace the romantic potential of the day (even if you line a corporate pocket or two).

Happy Valentine’s Day.

*Our finest local paper (the Star Tribune) has a Valentine’s Day tradition of posting classified ads from sweetie to sweetie. I usually write a silly little trifle and publish it for Mrs. Duf to find. Unlike my other poems, these works usually rhyme and they don’t have darkness, cynicism or a hyper-devotion to reality as core components. If my other works are overcast or partly cloudy, these are sunshine and light.

mardi, février 13, 2007

ILIM Invites You to Share a Dark Vision

Okay, so are you ready for some political cynicism?

The other day, I had a hygienic epiphany*.

I wondered if, at heart, most politicians are moderates who take less-centrist positions in order to get elected.

All you need is ambition.

Let’s say that you grow up in Southern Utah, and you want to be a member of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Secretly, you’re pro-choice, anti-death penalty, against prayer in schools, and you support gay marriage.
You could move, but Utah is your home. You like the National Parks, the low population, and all the repression and sexual tension.

So you adopt the prevailing viewpoints of your district as your own, and you make a run for Capitol Hill.

You make an entire career adding your vote to measures that would easily pass whether you support them or not. For example, you add your vote to a tax cut for the wealthy because it will pass anyway.

You vote in favor of things that, ultimately, will make very little difference. You vote in favor of 24 hour waiting periods because they don’t deny women the right to choose, but they allow you to maintain your pro-life credibility. You talk tough about how, little by little, abortion will be outlawed, but in 35 years, it never happens.

You fail to fund mandates. So, you vote in favor of that piece of legislation that purports to increase police officers in major metropolitan areas by 15% over the next biennium, but you gut it (or fails to give it legs) during the budget cycle when no one is watching. You say you're tough on crime, and you cite your voting record as proof of same.

All the sudden there, covered in Lever 2000, I just had this sense that empty votes are cast all the time. That symbolic legislation is favored over meaningful steps, and that bills never get the funding they need to really make an impact.

But individuals get to hold elected office. Could this be one explanation for why very little gets done in Washington? Is the whole thing fake, with moments of reality in between – like NASCAR or Pro Wrestling?

Last, might this cynical notion explain liberal democrats who, all the sudden late in life become conservative Republicans? I cite this idiot, and chief presidential stoolie, as an example. Might it explain Dinos like Lieberman and Rinos too**?

Is the whole thing just a well-orchestrated farce? Is it possible that Washington, D.C. is the greatest hoax ever perpetrated against a people in the history of the world?

Or should I change my brand of soap to something less provocative?

*A hygienic epiphany is my term for those moments of clarity that come to us whilst showering or bathing.

**Dino – Democrat in name only; Rino is Republican in name only.

vendredi, février 09, 2007

I'm NOT Arguing that We Should Eat Cats!

This dustup points out the hypocrisies inherent in our relationships with animals.

For too many humans, it is acceptable to wear a fur coat, even though wearing them is a heinous practice that was rendered totally unnecessary decades and decades ago.

Concern directed now toward dogs, and especially dogs over raccoons (it’s okay to wear a raccoon coat (or sable, or mink, or fox, etc.) but it’s not okay to wear a dog coat or a cat coat or a gorilla coat), is ridiculous. And we make judgments of that sort all the time.

For too many, it’s okay to eat veal, but not okay to eat cats.

We appreciate some animals and see their value, so we don’t eat them. All other animals are fair game (pun intended). We make fun of cultures which eat animals we don't.

I could go on and on, but I’ll keep it simple. If it’s wrong to wear a dog coat, then it’s wrong to wear a raccoon coat too.

If it’s wrong/disgusting to eat monkeys, well then how can it be right to eat cows?

For those who cite the bible as establishing our dominion over the creatures of the earth, I would say only this. We’re not required to use it in ways that are cruel, and let’s at least use our free will and intellect to make decisions that are arbitrary, capricious and unnecessary. Dominion does not require indifference or cruelty.

mardi, février 06, 2007

Whoa, Whoa, Whoa; or: Erratum

In my the post below, I mention that the new Modest Mouse CD is the most anticipated release of the year.

While it is true that the new MM disc is greatly anticipated, I must amend my previous statement from:

"When the most anticipated album of the year comes out, I’ll probably buy the CD too."


"When the second most anticipated album of the year comes out..."

As long-time reader (yaaaaaaay!), and rare commenter (booo!) JR notes -

These guys plan to release the most anticipated album of the year, and this goddess has plans as well (the goddess is third).

That is all.

Six Weird Things

This was tagged in Jesus was not a Republican

Six weird things about me:

1. My sock drawer is ridiculously organized. I roll my socks up in a ball, and then place them, by color, in the drawer. I would not describe my underwear drawer or my closet as chaotic. They’re kinda hyper-organized too. It’s just that my sock drawer really epitomizes my condition.

2. I love music, and I buy a fair number of compact discs each year. I just downloaded my first album from iTunes (there was a prepay special that allowed you to download the single early). When the most anticipated album of the year comes out, I’ll probably buy the CD too. I like linear notes, and I like tangibility, and I worry that my computer will crash, leaving me music-less*

3. I’m not really superstitious, but when I drive over railroad tracks, I always lift my feet off the floor of the car I’m in (even if I’m driving). Also, if I go through a yellow light a little late, I run my hand across the ceiling of my car. Last, during NCAA tournament time, I try to watch all KU basketball games in the same place, for fear that if I watch them somewhere else, our winning streak will end.

4. If I’m really tired, or if my stomach hurts, or if I’m anxious/nervous, then I move my legs in and out (like one would if one were exercising with a Thigh Master) in a quick manner.

5. Through TinyE, I have learned to admire the peanut butter sandwich, hold the jelly. I eat my oatmeal plain. I cook it with soymilk and add nothing else.

6. If I’m at a concert, or on a plane, or in a restaurant, or in any setting where people pay for a particular event or service, I sometime try to calculate the number of people there, how much they paid, and how that translates into revenue for the service-provider.

So, if I’m on a plane and 73 people are on the plane (I might count them; okay, I’ll usually count them), then I might assume that each person paid $400 to fly and that the airline’s revenue for the flight is $29,200. I’ll come up with this by the following (in my head calculation):

80 x 400 = 32000
7 x 400 = 2800
32000 – 200 = 30000
30000-800= 29200

I can’t do 73 X 400 in my head any other way. And yes, I might also use 70 instead of 80 and then add 1200 instead of subtracting 2800.

*Yes, I know that there is software that allows you to transfer files from your MP3 player back to your computer, but remember this is a listing of six things that are weird about me.