10/24/2014

TLC's Boo Boo: not getting rid of other programs

I never watched the Honey Boo Boo show, but given that TLC canceled the show, I'm glad the network chose common sense over profits and publicity.

I don't watch reality TV shows if they exploit people through drama and conflict.  Reality shows have become conduits for this kind of sleazy exploitation of the fringes of society: the poor, the uneducated, the socially inept and awkward, and the ignorant. Producers regularly egg on these types of people to do outrageous things for ratings and buzz - "what are they going to do next" is a great hook for an easy profit.

However, when a show introduces people who have criminal records, especially those in which they're required to register as offenders, it is no longer funny.  Someone in TLC's upper management discovered that having an offender who regularly violated children as Honey Boo Boo's mother's boyfriend would cause enormous outrage.  That person, seeing their future profits would be sullied and child protection groups would be demanding their heads, wisely ordered the show to shut down.

TLC should review all of its reality TV shows thoroughly.  Then it should decide whether to dump all of them and revert to its old intentions as The Learning Channel.  An appropriate first show?  How to Stop Exploiting Children For Profit.

10/17/2014

Avoiding the panic machine

The Very Bad Disease That Shall Not Be Named is getting too much hype and not enough unbiased education.

Hype kills.  If the press were a responsible organ and source of advice, it would stop the TMZ-style reporting and hype in a USMC second (i.e. right freaking now), lest they become irrelevant boys and girls crying wolf.

You know how you stop a panic?

First, recognizing that right now, at this very second, you are not in any danger, and that you're safe.

Second, recognizing that you should get necessary information from the appropriate, unbiased sources will help much more than running around and screaming like a chicken with their head cut off.

Third, recognizing that self-prevention, i.e. proactive measures, and preparation greatly reduce the fear that you'll be affected

In other words: the quicker you walk away from the hype, the better off you will be.

With that in mind...let's have Shepard Smith give you some advice...

And for a little light entertainment...and and some more from Maj. Sidney Friedman...

10/02/2014

Cranks and knit-wits

II don't know what's worse: a person thinking they're smarter than everyone else and are offended at the drop of a hat, or people who counter concerns with an explicit and frustrated "get lost!"

So it goes with the great anti-math sock battle, to which a math teacher states she is offended by a sock saying, expecting the company to see the error of their ways.  Instead, the company first berates her for attempting to control manners, then sends her an inadvertent followup, calling her a "crazy b***h," then when the offended comes back with an even stronger retort, she receives the final "get a life!" (in a much stronger, nastier form).

From my viewpoint, both sides are wrong.

The math teacher is being insufferably rigid in defending her career and is rent-seeking in the most obnoxious of manners.  She sounded totally shrill and unyielding in her letters, all but demanding the company kowtow to her grievances. 

People like that have a special name: crank.

When the company pushed back, hard, because of her viciousness, she sent back an even more inflammatory letter, in which she continued to be insufferable.   The company delivered the final shock - a crass reference to getting fresh air to a private part - to end the conversation.

For the company, that shock was harsh, crude, and unnecessary.  It is tempting to purge frustrations by telling people they should get a sense of humor, but once it crosses into private parts, that's a oath you can't recall.  If the author persisted on railing on, the best path of action would have been to send a firm, yet polite letter, ending with "We consider this matter closed" and any further communications forwarded to legal counsel.  (They didn't help matters when a letter intentioned to placate the math teacher had the words "crazy b***h" attached to it.  Best to keep those opinions to yourself, lest you end up being part of a lawsuit.)

I didn't treat math as a religion when I took it as a major.  There are plenty more corny jokes about math (don't drink and derive, integral e^x = f(un)) and equally sharp derisions about math.  The arguments need not devolve into mudslinging and crass remarks - each party could have stepped back and been a lot more civil towards each other, with one understanding that the joke might be offensive and sexist to her, but true and a little funny to others, and the other understanding that empathy goes further than telling a customer to go find Elvis.

9/18/2014

Suffolk Downs 1935-2014

Suffolk Downs was the first horse track in the nation to have its public transit authority build a trolley station in record time - three days, so that the trolleys from Maverick Square (signed Gladstone at first, then Suffolk Downs) could take bettors to place their bets before the race.

In its heyday, well before the Internet, state lotteries, and casinos took away its luster, horse racing has always been called the Queen of Sports (with boxing as the King).  Suffolk Downs was no different.  It had its share of colorful personalities, bettors with a "sure thing," bettors with their own accounts, and the occasional bettor who could never seem to win because their favorite got beaten by a nose.

I went there occasionally.  I could never figure out Daily Racing Form, so most of the time I went on hunches.  I didn't spend that much - maybe on a good day I spent $20 over two or three races - but the horses running like mad to the finish line offered plenty of excitement (and copious amounts of obscenities if the horse you selected didn't win).  I didn't win that much either, but here or there a win over $50 was considered a good day.

Six years ago, voters went to the polls to ban greyhound racing.   In a vote in 2012, the residents of East Boston voted no on their side of Suffolk Downs; the Revere side voted yes.  This week, only three people were deemed necessary and sufficient to approve a casino in Everett.  The voters already said no; the three on the gambling panel assured its demise.

Suffolk Downs will end its live racing for good on September 29; it will end simulcasting on December 31.  Thousands of people - not just the jockeys, but horse groomers, bet takers, and stable owners - will be out of jobs.  When I passed Wonderland Greyhound Track this summer on the Commuter Rail train, the once-grand track was rusting and choked with weeds.  Suffolk may suffer the same fate, but only if developers are discouraged from building there.

Imagine people walking out of the new Suffolk Downs Mall, anchored by a SuperWalmart on the Revere side and a Market Basket on the East Boston side, doing a bigger and better business than Suffolk Downs the racetrack ever could.  A developer could put up true low-cost apartments that everyone can live in, not just those who can afford $3,000 a month or more.  Even putting up a new MBTA bus garage with a transit museum that would rival that of Seashore in Kennebunkport, ME would improve the area.

All of those are possibilities for the old Suffolk Downs grounds, and whoever purchases the Suffolk Downs land will convert it into something the NIMBYs despise even more than a casino, but can do nothing about because the concept is so successful.  That they cannot complain because doing so would make them sour, rent-seeking do-nothings would be delicious irony.

Suffolk Downs may have its best races and handles yet thanks to well-wishers and bettors trying to get in one last bet and one last hurrah.  That's what happened when the Hilltop Steak House closed last year; people who never stepped foot into the restaurant were there just to feel the aura of a more genteel era gone by.  

I may yet hear my last "You [expletive deleted] nag, you cost me a $900 trifecta" from a frustrated bettor before I leave.  That phrase won't be from me, though.

9/14/2014

The Scottish conundrum - with epilogue

In this article from the Post, a Scotsman outlines his reasons why Scotland should be independent from Britain.

The way I see it, Scotland's yearning for independence parallels ours: they wish to leave Britain because they want to control their own destiny.  The way it will be done is through the ballot box, not the bullet.  The US wanted to cast off the yoke of an oppressive England, who micromanaged colonists to madness, to battle, and to a new nation.

That is where the two paths diverge.  If Scotland wishes to secede because they're against Britain's conservative policies, and wish to implement center-left policies, that's fine.  They'll be independent to choose whatever policies they feel fit, so long as they don't impinge on the rights and freedoms of other Scots.  That is, if they want to have Communists as part of their Parliament, what's to stop them?  If they wish to adopt the Euro or a new currency unit, there's nothing wrong with doing so.

The only problem is when some of the Scots who see inequality in everything including their neeps, tatties, haggis and oatmeal, and will become bureaucrats obsessed with control.  Then that independence will be an oxymoron ("Independent Socialist Scotland" being the most glaring of them).  Scots who vote Yes, then discover that it was a ruse to bring in people who have no business making rules for board games, never mind a burgeoning nation.
It is the reason why some Scots wish to stay with the Crown, and would rather swallow their pride and privately be displeased with England's policies instead of having to reset to a new nation.  They see America's imperfect 238 year history away from the crown and say, "No thank you; we may dislike the queen and dislike wars with other nations, but the idea of changing everything to please a few is worse."

Epilogue: Scotland voted to stay with the United Kingdom, and its leader, Alex Salmond, quit, vowing not to give up on Scottish independence. 

For the Scots voting No, it was more a "devil you know than devil you don't" decision.  Having to start a new nation from scratch is tough; if something went wrong, or more radical factions took over, there would be many regrets in voting.  For the Scots voting Yes, it should not be seen as bad to have at least some support for future secession - but political power of that scale and the ability to upend rights and freedoms that the Crown provided seemed too risky.

9/09/2014

From living wage to the unemployment line

Thomas Sowell describes the real reason  workers demand to be paid $15 an hour: through hard-line union agitation, they hope to receive a "living wage."

What they may receive instead are a boatload of unintended consequences, and the endgame of unemployment.  For example...

1. The "Jimmy Conway" effect.  Militant unions who relentlessly agitated for this new wage are not going to quietly into the good night - they want tribute the second the first paycheck is printed out.  The phrase "[bleep] you, pay me," made famous by Robert DeNiro's character in GoodFellas, will be in two phases: first, everyone in that restaurant will be required to join their union, and that a quarter to half that living wage will be earmarked for union dues.  On a $600 per week check, $150-300 of that will go to "union representation," funneled to the union's upper echelons, who will spend it on themselves or other radical hard-left causes.  Those who do not (or refuse to pay) dues will find themselves harassed until they pony up the money or quit.  Many will have no choice but to have their money - and rights - co-opted by unions.

2. Restaurants will introduce automation to cut out any form of labor completely.  Restaurants will invest in machines that allow customers to order and pay - at a cost of $2,500.  A skeleton of servers just taking food to the customers, rather than being paid wage and tips, will save restaurants millions in labor costs.  Add to it "you make it" items and you will replace cooks.  Thus going into a restaurant will be more.of a self-serve affair and save restaurants much more than they would be forced to pay in higher wages.

3. Rather than pay the wages, restaurants will lay off those who are lowest (and cheapest) in the ladder.  For example: if 20 McDonald's employees earning $9 an hour receive a raise to $15 an hour, for a restaurant to maintain a $374,400 budget for the ones earning $15 an hour, McDonalds would be forced to lay off 8 employees earning $9 an hour.  If the other 12 employees can't pick up the slack, or are burnt out, they will also quit.  Otherwise, the store that must maintain a $624,000 budget must raise prices substantially on items in order to pay the employees; that too can result in angry customers who see a 75% increase on their food prices.  If a restaurant is bold enough, the day the $15 wage comes into effect, management will bolt shut the restaurant doors and lock out the employees.  The agitating for living wages will be for naught.

4. With large swaths of employees being dropped from employment due to the higher minimum wage, unemployment rolls will skyrocket, as will the welfare rolls, which will require more taxation.

This movement is not just a scam - it's militant unions extorting corporations through their lower-paid employees.  The lower-paid employees will be pawns and not see a red cent of their "living wage," because either the union will siphon off most of it (after some corporations "pay the vig"), while others will shut their doors rather than be extorted.  The employees will lose out - an ultimate "[Bleep] you, pay me."

9/04/2014

Money, legacy, and friends

If you're wondering why the only actions President Obama is taking against ISIS are minimal, the reasons are money, legacy, and friends.

First, the money.  If you're a President who's watching the midterm elections and you decide to take decisive action against terrorists, wealthy, antiwar donors will slam shut their checkbooks if they see presidential capital used for military action, not against the Republicans.  Loss of the Senate means loss of power, especially to their sworn enemies, and taking the fight to a topic near and dear to conservatives tips the scales in their favor.

Second, the legacy.  Do you want your political legacy to include fiddling while the world burns? Do you want to be known as an indecisive leader who let things get too bad before taking action?  At some point, the rock star/celebrity/golfing president must set aside his childish, self-indulgent things, stop catering to his friends, and do more than flap his gums, or his only legacy that will define him is that he was all talk, no action (unless it was bashing his enemies or tossing people under the bus).

Third, his friends.  By friends, I mean sycophants, czars, fellow travelers, campaign bundlers, crony capitalists, shady lobbies, entrenched political incumbents, shallow celebrities, and radical professors.  If he loses them through decisive military action, he loses them for good.  They are intolerant of breaking from collective action, which is to either wring their cowardly hands or foam at the mouth, fueled by their own ignorance.  One attack on America means a whole string of fatuous verbal effluvia that "America deserved it;" one attack to display American might generates shrill calls for the President to be dragged to the Hague for purported "war crimes."  (Attacks on their ridiculous smugness yield a quivering cowardly lip and moans that "dissent is patriotic", shorthand for "You caught me in a lie.")

Maybe I'm wrong.  Perhaps to avoid the drama and alienation, Obama is doing this surreptitiously, planning a bold attack out of prying eyes and when no one expects it, gives information about activities rival the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden.  Obama wants the big win for his legacy, because in 2016, he will no longer have to be hewn to his friends or money.  But if not for his legacy, perhaps for his own ego.

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