19 August 2010

Send in the Clowns

The recent debate over the proposed mosque/cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City has made me even more pessimistic about the future of this country- if that's possible. My anger over the issue has nothing to do with the proposed plans but rather with the political circus that we have been subjected to.

After seeing President Obama, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich babbling all weekend on television I'm seriously confused how a country of over 250 million people can claim that our best and brightest are our leaders. Seriously, we are not talking about the varsity here. Americans are some of the brightest, hardest working, inventive people on this planet yet our elected leadership would be hard pressed to run the midnight shift at a Waffle House if they actually had to work for a living.

The arguments for and against the proposed building are not easily defined by party lines. Rather, like most things in politics they are based upon political survival and opportunism. President Obama did his usual routine of coming out with a statement (in support) and then back-pedaling in follow up statements to further define what he thought the public actually wants to hear. Harry Reid, who as a Mormon should know a little bit about religious bigotry, came out against the plan because he is in a dogfight for his job in the upcoming elections. Nancy Pelosi, never missing the opportunity to get her mug on television, is of course calling for investigations. On the right wing, like two vampires that just won't go away, we are treated to Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich jabbering away with their usual jingoistic garbage.

Newt Gingrich ? Is this the best that the Republicans can dredge up ? Sorry, but the guy turns my stomach. The same guy that had an affair while married to his first wife, dumped her and married the mistress, then had another affair, dumped the ex-mistress turned wife and married the mistress (I think I have that right, either way its giving me a headache.) At the same time he was running around with his pants around his ankles he was leading the impeachment charge against fellow reprobate Bill Clinton. Like the masochist that I am I often listen to Sean Hannity on the way home from work. Gingrich is a frequent target of Hannity's ass smooching as he refers to him as "Mr. Speaker" and hangs on his every word as he discusses his latest worthless book. Now that he is on satellite radio, I wouldn't be surprised if actual on air fellatio is in the offing.

The November elections are not going to change the course of this country. The expected landslide will only replace a bunch of worthless Democrats with a bunch of worthless Republicans. Real change would involve frog marching both houses of congress to Lafayette Square, pelting them with rotten garbage and then running them out of town with bayonets. Next, randomly replace every member of Congress with citizens chosen by lottery. Silly you say ? Many attorneys I know marvel at the conscientious service given by juries comprised of every facet of our society which are chosen in exactly the same manner. I seriously doubt they could do any worse.

18 August 2010

First Visit- Consol Energy Arena

During an open house for season ticket holders, my son and I visited Pittsburgh's brand new arena over the weekend.

Our view from section 116 is at the left. Stop by and I'll buy you a beer. The odd bend in the glass is actually one of the new side entrances for the Zamboni and would be closed during a game. I hope.

The place is impressive to say the least. I'm no architect but I appreciated the way they nestled the massive structure into a relatively small parcel of land in downtown Pittsburgh- part of one side is curved to make way for the grand old structure of Epiphany Catholic Church and the arena uses the elevation change from front to back with a system of glass walls and escalators to highlight the view of the city.

Once inside, I was struck by the "new arena smell"- sort of like buying a new car. No old Igloo funk of stale beer and popcorn here, at least not yet. I made a point of trying out the new bathrooms and was amazed to see actual urinals instead of the old troughs that consumed millions of gallons of processed brew during hockey season. On a safety note, I was glad to see the wide open concourses, stairs and escalators that should make exiting a game a whole lot less exciting with 15,000 of your closest friends. While coming and going, the Penguins preserved the neat touch of hanging local high school hockey team's jerseys on the wall and added local amateur teams as well. There is also lots of interactive displays for the kids and touch screen displays that highlight Penguin players of the past- if they are still working in a year, I'll be amazed.

The ice surface looked great, as would be expected, and I marvelled at the completely clear Plexiglas and unmarred dasher boards. As usual, the Penguins organization went out of their way to make everyone feel appreciated and had all of the concession stands open. My son and I spent an hour in our new seats eating hot dogs and marvelling at the place. He even managed some time on the new jumbo tron (or whatever they call them these days) as the camera man happily obliged him hamming it up for the relatively sparse crowd (the open house lasted 8 hours- we, of course, were waiting in line when it opened.) Thankfully, he agreed after much protesting that morning that he wouldn't wear his Montreal jersey.

Let's see what can I say negative about the place...

Well, I have to admit I'm a bit peeved at the "yuppie creep" that seems to have infected the NHL, and other sports. I realize that the Penguins are a business that needs to earn money and therefore catering to the yuppie crowd makes economic sense. Still, the special club seating and gourmet food offerings kind of make me shake my head. I also firmly believe that the yuppie fan, the highly paid young executive sitting in the stands with his shirt and tie still on for work (and Penguins jersey over top, which by the way looks completely gay) is not the kind of fan base you want. They are the first ones to abandon ship when the team hits an invariable downturn and starts to lose. Once the "coolness" wears off for the new arena, and the Penguins hit a slump, he will be off to find a better place to be seen.

"A-ha !" You exclaim, "you must be a rich bastard to be sitting so close to the ice." Actually, I'm not. My budget priorities are a bit difficult to understand, but in the midst of my business failing and a mortgage foreclosure a few years back, I made sure that my season ticket payment went in first. Thankfully, my otherwise sane and well grounded wife grew up with a family that had season tickets since the early 70's so she understands the immense hole we put ourselves into on an annual basis in order to afford this luxury. Call it bread and circuses if you must, but I never get tired of going to a game, drinking a beer (or three) and watching some hockey.

As an Anarchist I should rail against the use of tax revenues to build this barn but my view is that it is money well spent. Unlike most tax revenues which are wasted on worthless projects (and worthless bureaucrats) the new arena will be an asset to the city that millions of people will use over the next 50 to 75 years- hockey fans, concerts and shows, conventions etc. The money that built the arena was paid to local workers and craftsmen who built it, and the arena will help to keep Pittsburgh from sliding to even great irrelevance on the national and international scene.

17 August 2010

Welcome Back my Friends to the Blog that Never Ends

After some time off enjoying the summer, travelling with family and immersing myself in the Digha Nikaya (The Long Discourses of the Buddha,) I decided it was time to get back to blogging. I read an article about the millions of blogs that came out charging at the outset and slowly petered out over time and will forever inhabit cyberspace in sort of a suspended animation. I didn't want my blog to end like that.

I have to admit that when I posted my last story in June about my friends in the state revenue office calling to visit, I was feeling very burned out and discouraged. How do you fight the state when nobody really cares ? Well, some of you did care and I appreciate the comments and emails that I have received in support. As long as one person will stand by me, I will continue to try to expose the fascist bully boys (and girls) for what they are- intellectually lazy and morally shiftless cogs of the state.

Also, I'm going to take a whack at actually being a journalist. I have a couple of articles in mind about current events that will incorporate interviews from experts in their fields. Imagine that, a blog with original content ! Hopefully you will continue to stop by and tell your friends about our discussions here. In the meantime, on with the show.

Building the Prisons to House Ourselves

After reading a recent article in The Economist about the high rate of imprisonment in the U.S., I looked up an essay written by a Federal judge that was referenced in the article. In the essay entitled "You're (Probably) a Federal Criminal," Judge Alex Kozinski confirmed something that I have suspected for many years- an unholy alliance of out of control politicians, judges and a populace screaming of justice has created a vast labyrinth of Federal regulations that many of us probably break on a regular basis without even realizing it. The maze of Federal regulations is so dense and vast that a team of researchers from the Congressional Research Service gave up trying to count the number of separate offences currently on the books.

Federal regulations permeate everything we do in the modern world- the materials in our homes and cars, the paints, soaps and solvents we use, the food we eat, our ATM cards and bank accounts, our jobs and businesses etc. Like an immense fishing net, it is a fair bet that at some point you broke a Federal statute that could have landed you in the big house. While it is unlikely that you would ever be prosecuted for these transgressions, the real danger is when they effectively pile on one of our fellow citizens. In one of his examples from his essay, Kozinski notes how businessmen bringing lobsters into the U.S. using the incorrect type of shipping containers, soon found themselves in deeper trouble as money laundering charges were tacked on (they put the money in the bank, thus triggering Federal banking laws.)Any minor Federal violation, coupled with banking or mail fraud, can quickly escalate into serious prison time.

Who do we blame for this mess ? I'm afraid its every one's fault- left and right, Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal. I suppose Anarchists can't be blamed since we have been calling the system rubbish for many years, but I digress. Right wing politicians and judges who want to appear tough on crime have caved into their constituencies by increasing penalties, adopting three strikes regulations and calling for ever greater regulation. On the left, the environmental movement (among others) realized some time ago that they could make their policies much more effective by adding the threat of the Federal stick to their carrot. The net result is a massive Federal bureaucracy built to support Leviathan- clerks, agents, judges and staff, field investigators etc. that are wholly dependent upon the system staying just the way it is.

Next time you hear a politician ranting about how they are going to make you safer by stiffening penalties, or environmentalists calling for oil company executives to be thrown in the slammer, ask yourself how punishing others effectively chips away at your own freedoms. I fear that it will be too late when we realize that building more prisons to house "them" was effectively done to house "us."