Friday, July 30, 2010

Heard on the Street

Michelle: "Everybody is stoked for Shark Week. Nerds, business men, celebrities, and models are all anticipating this week."
Colin: "Models are sharing a cornflake for breakfast, not watching sharks."

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Cooler Talk - Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Looking to impress that hot guy or girl at your office with the tremendous gerth of your brain. Drop these little nuggets of pop culture on them at the water cooler and watch the panties/boxer briefs melt away. The object of your attention doesn't wear underwear you say. Well then muchacho, you're rounding 3rd and headed home.

From the bureau of awkward Russian television station co-worker relations...

From the bureau of Holy Don't Ask, Don't Tell Lady Gaga loving military guy!

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Best Leak Ever
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTea Party

From the bureau of dogs are taking all the jobs from the Mexicans!

From the bureau of Bill, you are not the father!

Six Ways Your Office Is Literally Killing You (Click Here)

From the bureau of Rolling Back to the 80's

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

An Objectivist View of Civil Liberties

Rather than writing a treatise on why I am vehemently opposed to the the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which to some people is tantamount to being a Holocaust denier or a lapsed Catholic), I decided to post some of my favorite quotes from the author and philosopher Ayn Rand.

Rand is the progenitor of the Objectivist philosophy, which holds that:

"...reality exists independent of consciousness, that man has direct contact with reality through sense perception, that one can attain objective knowledge from perception through the process of concept formation and inductive and deductive logic, that the proper moral purpose of one's life is the pursuit of one's own happiness or rational self-interest, that the only social system consistent with this morality is full respect for individual rights, embodied in pure laissez faire capitalism, and that the role of art in human life is to transform man's widest metaphysical ideas, by selective reproduction of reality, into a physical form—a work of art—that he can comprehend and to which he can respond emotionally."

In Rand's words and the philosophy that underpins them, there is present what I believe to be human kinds best chance at redeeming our divine inheritance and saving what is left of our world from those who use cries for altruism and social need as means to their end of exercising complete control over every facet of human existence.

Rand's words are concise yet rich with meaning. Although they were written over 60 years ago, the basic truths regarding human nature and the danger associated with unbridled populism ring truer today more than at any other time in history.

Looking at historic pieces of legislation (Federal Reserve Act of 1913, The New Deal, Civil Rights Act of 1964, Americans with Disabilities Act, etc.) as well as recent events (bank bailouts, auto industry bailouts, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, high levels of unemployment, record deficits and debt controlled by foreign entities)through the lens of Rand's Objectivist philosophy, one must strongly consider whether we have sacrificed our most precious gift, our inalienable individual rights, for the sake of a better, more perfect union.

Individual rights (the right to vote, attend school where you please, work where your ability allows you to for a wage that the market dictates, eat and shop where you want, marry whomever you want, own land,etc.) are not subject to public referendum. As George Carlin said in his last stand-up performance, "Rights are rights. You either have them or you don't."

I feel strongly, and Rand would agree, that if you empower people with the knowledge of their individual rights, collective rights (civil rights) will follow in due form. The rational person realizes that the greatest protection to one's own individual rights comes through the indefatigueable support of the other's individual rights. However, collective rights can not create, supplement, nor sustain individual rights.

Rights are rights. You either have them or you don't.

"A desire presupposes the possibility of action to achieve it; action presupposes a goal which is worth achieving."

"Achievement of your happiness is the only moral purpose of your life, and that happiness, not pain or mindless self-indulgence, is the proof of your moral integrity, since it is the proof and the result of your loyalty to the achievement of your values."

"Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage's whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men."

"Contradictions do not exist. Whenever you think you are facing a contradiction, check your premises. You will find that one of them is wrong."

"Individual rights are not subject to a public vote; a majority has no right to vote away the rights of a minority; the political function of rights is precisely to protect minorities from oppression by majorities (and the smallest minority on earth is the individual)."

"Individual rights are the means of subordinating society to moral law."

"The smallest minority on earth is the individual. Those who deny individual rights cannot claim to be defenders of minorities."

"It only stands to reason that where there's sacrifice, there's someone collecting the sacrificial offerings. Where there's service, there is someone being served. The man who speaks to you of sacrifice is speaking of slaves and masters, and intends to be the master."

"Just as man can't exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one's rights into reality, to think, to work and keep the results, which means: the right of property."

"Government "help" to business is just as disastrous as government persecution... the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off."

"Love is the expression of one's values, the greatest reward you can earn for the moral qualities you have achieved in your character and person, the emotional price paid by one man for the joy he receives from the virtues of another."

"We are fast approaching the stage of the ultimate inversion: the stage where the government is free to do anything it pleases, while the citizens may act only by permission; which is the stage of the darkest periods of human history, the stage of rule by brute force."

"I swear, by my life and my love of it, that I will never live for the sake of another man, nor ask another man to live for mine."

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nursery University: Planning Your Child's Educational Road Map Before They're Born

Last night, as I was switching back and forth between the Cubs (dare I say miraculous) comeback against the Astros, the Sox thumping of the Mariners, and the Rangers demolition of the Tigers I inadvertently (let me repeat, inadvertently) happened across Showtime's channel dedicated to women's issues (you know, menstruation, cooking, vagina size, things that women talk about) and a little documentary entitled Nursery University.

From director and writer Marc Simon and co-director and producer Matthew Maker, Nursery University delves into the highly competitive, breakneck culture of the pre-school selection process for affluent families on the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan. From the very moment these children are born, favors are being called in, stock prices are being manipulated (yes, that actually happened), and the child is being groomed so that they can attend the "right" (meaning prestigious and expensive) pre-school.

The documentary follows 5 families, all from (relatively) different socio-economic backgrounds, as they embark on the uphill journey that is the pre-school application process. The process begins the day after Labor Day when thousands of parents speed dial pre-schools just to request an application. Those who aren't fortunate enough to get past the school's busy signals are automatically excluded from the process. Those lucky few that get through to a live voice and have the chance to obtain an application face long odds at their kid(s) actually being accepted due to the limited number of applications distributed for each classroom slot. Like many other prestigious schools for the filthy rich, children of legacies and those with siblings already enrolled in the school have priority over other applicants. That means that for every single slot in a pre-school classroom there will be between 15-20 applicants.

If you have the luck of the Irish (or any other lucky group of your choosing) on your side then go buy a lottery ticket because you'll need the extra scratch. The post 9/11 baby boom (I guess people like to fuck when they're scared shitless) has made the pre-school application process more competitive than that of most Ivy League universities. This demand has driven the price of tuition for the most prestigious pre-schools to upwards of $20,000 annually. No price is too high to pay for these parents. The rationale behind their irrationally manic frenzy is that if they can get their little bundle of poop and vomit into the best pre-school, then those "feeder" schools send their "graduates" to the best kindergartens, and then the best elementary schools, high schools and, finally, colleges and universities.

I found this film to be extremely amusing in a disturbing, "this actually goes on", kind of way. The melodramatic humdrum of the parents, many of whom curled up into the fetal position and cried more than their children, was classic. One of the parents talks about how, on the day his daughter was born, one of his close friends asked him if he had begun the pre-school application process yet. At first he thought the guy had lost his mind but then he thought about the competitive nature of the application process and panic ensues.

There is also the business of consultants who specialize in "guiding" the parents through the rigorous application process. One consultant has a informational session where she lays out the steps parents should take to ensure their success at gaining one of the coveted classroom slots. One of the parents, after listening to the consultant's spiel, astutely asks if this was something that she wouldn't be better off doing herself. As the consultant skims her mind for readily available excuses, the woman grabs her coat and, with a botox-infused smile, excuses herself from the class. After the parent leaves the consultant explains to the remaining applicants that her services will last 10 weeks (1 session per week) and cost $2,000 per session. Even the women with paralyzed facial muscles managed to raise their eyebrows.

One of the many interesting statements about the psychology of these parents came from another prominent Manhattan pre-school application process consultant. She spoke about how it's not the end of the world if the parents don't get their toddlers into the "right" pre-schools but that, if they don't, the parents will be riddled with guilt for the rest of their lives because they didn't give their children the best education possible and the best circumstances possible on which to build success. I guess if you can't sell 'em, guilt 'em.

The consultant makes a good point (although it's riddled with little guilt land mines for customers to step on). For some of these parents making sure that their kids have the best possible education and the best possible shot at success in life is their number 1 concern. However, I get the feeling that for the vast majority of these parents, many of whom are alumni of prestigious pre-schools, kindergartens, high schools and colleges themselves, enrolling their children in a top-tier finger painting and nap time factory is a way of expanding upon their own social prestige and personal self-worth. They are in a consistent rat race to keep up with the Joneses (pun intended) where the name on your child's kindergarten diploma is more feces to fling at other Upper East Side parents at wine and cheese parties and rubber chicken galas. The admissions process for the various schools, where legacies and siblings are given priority (they have every right to establish the terms of admission for their schools so I'm not flogging them for that) also helps to maintain the status quo in our country, establishing a permanent aristocracy in the halls of our nation's most distinguished educational institutions and upwards into politics and business.

The good news is that the Upper East Side of Manhattan school admission process has migrated from its nest at the upper echelon of society and has been disseminated to charter schools in urban and rural areas that serve a population devoid of the wealth and social standing of those who were documented in Nursery University. These schools, which serve a predominantly black and Latino population, operated with a combination of generous private donations and public funding, have a competitive admissions process (usually a lottery), rigorous admissions testing, and an educational curriculum that challenges the students and provides them with the skills they need to apply and gain entry to our nation's best institutions of higher learning. In addition, these charter schools provide much needed development in social skills and acculturation as the students prepare for, what is to many, their first taste of life outside of the bubble that is their neighborhood. Good examples of urban charter schools that are doing amazing work are The Harlem Children's Zone and The SEED School.

The drive to succeed and the ability to plan for that success is what separates human beings from the rest of the animal kingdom. The greatest desire for any parent is to set their kids up for a life devoid of all the bumps and barriers that they had to overcome themselves to get to where they are. For the affluent parents on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, that drive towards success starts when their children are barely out of the womb, placenta and mucus still in their eyes and nostrils. The competitive application process for New York's most prestigious pre-schools would appear to outsiders to be straight out of a fiction novel but it is real and it is happening. Parents spend 10's of thousands of dollars each year to send their children to the "right" schools and, according to their rationale, guarantee a smooth ride to the upper levels of America's elite circles. The nerve racking nature of the admissions process along with the industries that have popped up around this annual event is but one example of the "succeed at all costs" culture that permeates Western society.

While a stable family, good education, and plenty of money is no guarantee that the beneficiary will be successful (I've done okay without 2 of the 3), it can't hurt. As an aspiring psychologist, watching Nursery University did assure me that there will be no shortage of tightly wound kids that have been given everything since birth and their clinically depressed parents with frayed nerves to fill the leather sofa in my office. I just hope that after all of this elite schooling they have enough money left over to pay my consultation fee.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Is the American Dream A Lucid One?

Jim is the quintessential Midwestern guy. He grew up in a small town in Iowa, one like so many across our nation where you can walk from one end to the other and never meet a stranger along the way. In Jim's town, made up of people whose livelihood comes from the land, the virtue of hard work is etched into the consciousness of the people at an early age. Folks in Jim's home town understand that hard work is the key to unlocking the promise embodied in that timeless refrain from our American Declaration of Independence - the right to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.

Many people, from small towns like Jim's to vast urban expanses like Chicago, feel as if the promise made by our Founding Fathers is slipping further and further away from them and their posterity. America has become a debtor nation that imports nearly 3 times as much as it exports. Foreign investment from former Soviet Russia, Communist China, and Islamic republics such as Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE)is at an all time high. The richest, most prosperous 1% of Americans enjoy unprecedented tax breaks while the bottom 99% are on the edge of financial disaster daily. Couple this with the perpetual fear of terrorist attacks from unseen enemies, the infiltration of the U.S. by illegal immigrants, and the continued role that our nation's history of racial intolerance plays in relations between and amongst its citizenry, it is no surprise that there is a well-spring of fear and distrust brewing in middle America towards our elected officials and, sadly, towards each other.

The inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation's first black President was hailed by many as the ushering in of a new order in Washington. As Obama iterated many times in hypnotic prose during his campaign to throngs of supporters, change had finally come to America. To the complete and utter surprise of many of his followers, the change that candidate Obama promised to bring with him from the Windy City to our nation's capitol was not permanent, lasting reform but simply a change in the subject. President Obama has not only continued to fund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he has expanded America's presence and financial obligation in those regions. When the fat cats on Wall Street were finally caught holding the ball on years of shady deals and bad investments and our nation's car manufacturers were faced with the impending consequences of years devoid of innovation, Obama and his heavily corporate funded administration put together a tax payer funded $700 billion bailout package to alleviate their culpability. All of this comes as nearly 10% of American workers are unemployed with little to no prospects for future employment, many more are underemployed and can barely meet their daily necessities, and Democrats and Republicans in the House of Representatives and Senate bicker about whether it is fiscally responsible to extend Emergency Unemployment Benefits to laid off workers whose initial benefits have run dry. This comes after nearly a decade of government expansion and spending under the George W. Bush and Barack H. Obama regimes.

It was no wonder that Jim was worried about the state of his country for his two teenage children when I spoke with him after Friday's Cubs/Phillies game at the new Sport's Corner in Wrigleyville."I don't hate him because he's black. There's not that many black people in my town for me to reference. My next door neighbor is black and we get along just fine. I strongly dislike his politics." Jim is active in the Tea (which stands for "Taxed Enough Already") Party movement, a political offshoot of the Libertarian wing of the Republican Party that came about partially in response to the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, and the recent series of health reform bills.

Like many Libertarians, Jim is a social liberal and fiscal conservative. He is an ardent supporter of protecting individual rights - "I could care less what two men, two women, or a combination of the four do in the privacy of their bedroom. That's something that our elected officials and these nut job evangelicals that support them shouldn't be putting their hands into" - and maintaining tight purse strings when it comes to spending the public's money. Jim's fore parents were immigrants from Ireland. He knows that the hopes and dreams of millions upon millions of people are made manifest by a mere glimpse at Liberty Enlightening the World from her perch at Ellis Island. He in enamored by the perceived unwillingness of immigrants to do things "the right way". "I don't have a problem with people wanting to come to America looking for greater freedom and greater opportunity but for them to come here illegally, continue to have babies, and expect me and other hardworking taxpayers to subsidize their stay is completely irrational and that's the current state of immigration policy in our country."

When our discussion turned to the Wall Street bailout and the government takeover of the automotive industry, it became evident that there was conflict between Jim's politics and his profession. Jim told me that he's worked for Morgan Stanley for over 20 years as a financial analyst and feels that blame should not fall solely on the shoulders of the financial warehouses. "Did greed on the part of a few bad apples help to create the economic collapse? Yes. Tell me this though. What about the people who were making $40,000-$50,000 a year but decided that they deserved a $200,000 house and a new car without having the equity? They deserve some of the blame too, right?" I told Jim that there is definitely culpability on all fronts but, as the experts on complex financial tactics such as stock swaps and as the gate keeper for loans and mortgages, the financial institutions should bear the brunt of the responsibility. I asked Jim if he thought the bailout of the banks was in line with his political views. "No, but what were we supposed to do. Let the entire system crash?"

Jim was really interested in my political views and to say that he was shocked by my responses would be a huge understatement. I explained to him that I was a Libertarian that has been heavily influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand, which expouse the divinity of the individual man and hold productive work above all else. I believe that we all have the right to pursue the American Dream but are not guaranteed the tools to achieve it. That is where our intelligence, ability, and will to succeed must necessarily come in. The biggest minority in America and throughout the world is not a particular racial, religious, or socio-economic group. The most endangered species is the individual human being and his/her individual identity. This is evidenced by the collectivist modus operandi (individuals are subservient to the homogeneous mass known as "the state" or "society") that is currently the dominant socio-political philosophy of Western-style democracies and developing nations around the globe.

I explained to Jim that I believe the shift from the sovereignty of the individual to the primacy of the state or society has its genesis in a substantial shift in our nation's monetary policy by virtue of the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, which ceded the U.S. Treasury's and Congress' constitutional right to coin money and set its value to 10 private banks with absolutely no connection or obligation to the federal government. The second blow was dealt by the 32nd POTUS Franklin D. Roosevelt in the form of the First (1933) and Second (1934-36) New Deal. These programs were implemented in the wake of the Great Depression under the guise of providing a social safety net to the most vulnerable elements of society during economic downturns. Both incarnations of the New Deal focused on the 3 R's: relief, recovery, and reform. The benevolent intentions of FDR and his administration aside, the New Deal was the single greatest expansion of government power since the Civil War that saw the creation of dozens of alphabet agencies, the largest amongst those still in existence being the Social Security Administration (SSA), Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

I also voiced my displeasure with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the landmark piece of legislation that outlawed unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public ("public accommodations"). While the intentions of the legislation cannot be doubted, the social and political repercussions are immense. In my opinion, forced desegregation caused bitterness on the part of white citizens who were not prepared for mixing in public spaces. It also enfeebled black citizens who, during Jim Crow segregation, were forced by necessity to develop their own doctors, lawyers, teachers, artists, skilled laborers, etc. The greatest blow was not dealt to one racial group or another but to the free market economy. Rather than allowing those businesses that refused to serve a segment of the population eventually succumb to decreased revenues and the sweeping tide of change, our elected officials chose to manufacture progress. As former Arizona Republican Senator and Presidential candidate Barry Goldwater once famously stated, "You can't legislate morality."

So, now, here we are in an age where there are as many lobbyist on Capitol Hill as there are elected officials. Every special interest group, from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to the National Rifle Association (NRA) has a mouth to the ear and a hand in the pocket of a congresswoman and Senator looking for their slice of the entitlement pie. Elected officials are judged more for how much pork from the budget they can carry back to their communities as they are on their personal philosophy and moral base. The word sacrifice has been stricken from the nation's vocabulary. Need more money to buiid a highway in Alaska? Don't worry about how to pay for it. We'll just borrow it from our children's and grand children's Social Security fund. Need to expand Unemployment benefits? No need for tax increases. We'll just fudge the numbers and add them to next year's budget.

It's extremely unpopular and unpatriotic in contemporary political parlance to say that it is not the government's responsibility to put food in every mouth, clothes on every back, and provide a job that pays a livable wage to everyone regardless of ability. It's taboo to admit that America's immigration policy is schizophrenic - on the one hand allowing workers from India, China, South America and Europe with skills that our government finds desirable to come here and, often times, over stay their welcome but don't allow those dirty Mexicans and Central Americans to cross our borders as they flee inhumane working conditions at sweatshops set up by multi-national corporations from America and political regimes propped up by American money. The so-called conservatives will scream bloody murder if you suggest for one second that a woman has an unalienable right to choose what to do with the product of her body.

Our elected officials - Democrats and Republicans alike - are not in the business of maintaining our safety and sovereignty, keeping our moral compass calibrated, and thus preventing the whole of civilized society from falling in on itself in a drunken, gay, interracial orgy. They are about grabbing, consolidating, and holding on to power and control indefinitely. The looters of this world found out a longtime ago that it was easier to wait for the mature minds of the world to create and innovate before they swooped in to steal the profits and glory than it is to work, toil, bleed, sweat, lose sleep and, possibly, die for the fruits of our labor. The looters in our country are like vultures and hyenas feeding in perpetuity at the carcass of the American taxpayer. They need not do more than create an ever present enemy or a natural disaster before the terrorized, scared citizenry opens up the coffers and gives their representatives carte blanche to do whatever needs to be done to make the uncomfortable feeling go away.

"You should really think about running for office," Jim exclaimed after I had finished delivering my Libertarian treatise. "An articulate black guy with conservative values would go over well in my town. Hell, I'd throw in the first $50,000 for your campaign." I asked Jim if that was the case then why didn't more people support J.C. Watts, the former republican Senator from Oklahoma, who is also black. "Everybody was drunk off of the tech money flooding in from Silicon Valley. Now that everyone is broke they'd vote for your shit in a paper sack if it talked as good as you."

A black guy's shit getting elected to public office. If that's not the American Dream then I don't know what is.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

George Steinbrenner, Yankees Owner, Has Died

George Steinbrenner, famed owner of the 27 time World Series Champion New York Yankees, died early this morning of a massive heart attack at the age of 80 at a Tampa area hospital.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Beer of the Week- Mothership Organic Witbier

As the summer begins to wind down it becomes increasingly important that every great activity is paired with an equally delicious and well crafted beer. Enter the fine folks at New Belgium Brewing Co. and their first venture into organically produced beer in the form of Mothership Organic Witbier.

As the name infers, Mothership organic wit is a white beer brewed in the Belgium ale tradition. The taste and color of a traditional wit has been elevated by the craftsmen at New Belgium (affectionately known as the Mothership by its employees) with organically grown wheat and barley as well as coriander and orange peel spicing resulting in a balance of citrus and sour notes suspended in a bright burst of carbonation.

Upon pouring a Mothership, the cloudy light amber-honey hue of the body will embrace the glass. Mothership is an unfiltered beer(there is a little yeast bottled with the product) so make sure to pour 3/4 of the contents of the beer into your class, swirl the remaining liquid in the bottle, and pour into the glass to create a cloudy body and a light, aromatic head to this beer.

The first sip of the beer opens with a burst of orange peel tempered by the slight bitterness of the organic barley. This organic wit finishes with the smooth notes of the coriander spicing and a slight sweetness reminiscent of bubble gum.

Chef Todd Davies Off Tap House Grill suggests pairing New Belgium's summer offering with jumbo lump crap cakes with braked leeks and saffron while Derek Kennedy of Cheese Afficiando likes to pair Swiss and Asiago cheeses with this Witbier.

At $8.39 for a six-pack, Mothership Organic Witbier by New Belgium brewery is a nice, light option on a 85 degree day in the Second City. In a summer beer market composed of the likes of Summer Shandy, Honey Weiss, and Bells Oberon, Mothership organic wit is a beer for snobs such as myself as well as for wine drinkers looking for a change of pace.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

From the maker of Super Size Me. Morgan goes on a personal journey to find the most wanted man in the world. Turns out that we Americans aren't the only ones that want to see bin Laden brought to justice and certainly aren't the only ones that doubt whether it will have any impact on America's global war on terror.

Twilight On the Northside of Chicago

A northbound Redline train snakes around the bend on the elevated tracks at Wilson.