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Thursday, September 29, 2005
For some time now, a reference to a proposed gasoline tax has been as likely a sight in liberal media outlets like the Times op-ed page (oh, those pre "Select" days...) as Paris Hilton was on Access Hollywood when her sidekick was hacked. Most include a $1 tax on each gallon of gasoline sold commercially, the revenue to be distributed to everything from military spending, to health care, to, perhaps, Katrina relief.
A nominally simple idea, the notion of paying gas prices comparable to those in
Of course, for a politician, coping with this furious response from the wealthiest general public on earth is nothing compared to what Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is going through right now. His government's recent decision to cut fuel subsidies will cause gas prices to rise 50 percent when the policy takes effect Saturday. The cultural shift is so drastic, the government is handing out cash grants to ensure that poor families (and there are a lot of them in Indonesia, the world's 4th most populous country, and victim of numerous manmade and natural disasters, including the Dec. '04 tsunami) can afford to buy kerosene in the colder months. It's no surprise that the former general's political future is already being threatened by rival parties, eager to amass votes, and, in a heavily militarized nation, perhaps arms.
If a relatively poor country with hardly any social safety net for its poorest citizens can make such a harsh, necessary decision, surely Americans can as well. (
Tired of paying almost $4 per gallon? I agree; you should pay $5.
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
But it's funny these same wrongs helped me write this song.
Kanye West provides this lyrical insight on his new single Touch the Sky.
Kanye's shortcomings and idiosyncrasies (read idiot) have been well documented here on Billiken. But, he has redeemed himself with this lyrical gem. It is self-conscious in the best of meanings. It is not political/social self-consciousness, i.e., Talib Kweli's:
Soldiers fighting in the Petroleum Wars, think they dying for the holiest cause.
or Kanye West's off-the-cuff telethon outburst:
George Bush doesn't care about black people.
A better term for this line is self-aware. It is true. It is something any writer who chooses to explore a subject other than morning dew on a grassy meadow, draws off of.
The struggle with one's conscience. The struggle to remain faithful to one’s partner. The struggle with insecurities, addictions, hate, anger, desire. This is the stuff that makes great music, fiction, non-fiction, movies, art. Once the struggle is over you have nothing to draw on for inspiration. To regain that that inspiration you have to speak about the past.
it's funny these same wrongs helped me write this song
The Bible. The conversion narrative. Saul's story is compelling because he persecuted Christian and then he converted. I have sinned and now I see the light. Saul committed many wrongs before converting. This is why I remember him. This is why I am referencing Saul/Paul's life now, 2,000 years later, while posting on my blog.
Rappers are always referring to the past. Referring to the days before stadium concerts, when they were in the wrong. That is the material that has some vitality to it. It is the material that makes good music.
Or good writing...
Hemmingway wrote about his alcoholism. Henry Miller wrote about cheating on his wife again and again and again. Kerouac, Burroughs, Ginsberg wrote about drugs they took, the laws they broke. Bret Easton Ellis writes about cocaine, uncertainty with his sexual identity, and slicing women open with chain saws and various forms of cutlery.
The wrongs are what you write about. Once you right those wrongs you reminisce about those wrongs.
A reverend with a television ministry like TD Jakes stands on stage, in front of his congregation and tells them about those days when he was sinning, before he felt the presence of the Lord Jesus.
Jakes focuses on these uncertain days when he was a wayward sheep, lost without a Shepard. He tells this story repeatedly. Every Sunday. I'm making this up but I feel it's probably true. If it’s not true, it should be. What else would a reverend talk about? You need a compelling story. You need a basis for comparison. Right and Wrong.
But like Kanye's label-brethren, Jay-Z says, "Let's not stray from what I came to say, today."
This lyric is good.
I'm trying to right my wrongs,
But it's funny these same wrongs helped me write this song.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Today Preseident Bush will be flying to the Gulf Region for the 7th time in the past month. He will be going to survey damage done by Hurricaine Rita and connect with victims of the storm. Bush will fly to Louisiana on Airforce One. He will be greeted by a motorcade of SUVs, police cruisers, and motorcycles. He will then fly in a helicopter over the coastline.
Scott McClellan, White House Press Secretary, says this 7th trip in 4 weeks is essential travel -- so the president can get a first-hand look (for the 7th time) at the relief efforts.
I say this leader shows some true leadership for once in his presidency. Lead by example. Conserve that fuel. Fly Delta Song. Get picked up at the airport in a Honda Civic Hybrid. Take a rowboat around the Gulf region.
The 27 year sentence fell short of prosecutors' goals. It actually fell 73,973 years short. Prosecutor's were seeking a sentence of more than 74,000 years for Mr. Yarkas, based on an estimated death toll of nearly 3,000 when hijacked jetliners were crashed into the World Trade Center towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington on Sept. 11, 2001.
Think what kind of message that would have sent to terrorists. We won't execute you, we'll imprison you for 74 millennia!!!
Monday, September 26, 2005
I got so old just wondering how
$200 billion seems completely wrong. [Katrina Reconstruction] can be done cheaper. The government is completely inefficient. Run the rebuilding effort more like a business and less like a bureaucracy.
Saint Nick responded:
i don't think that over spending in this case is necessarily a detriment, so long as it's done in an honest manner beneficial only to the refugees, or internally displaced citizens as i've heard them officially referred to as, and not to bush's damaged political standing.
I, in turn, commented:
How much of that $500 million naval reconstruction contract to KBR is necessary? How much of it is the vig (as they say in gambling or construction). I can't say for sure, but I would imagine some of it is, based on KBR/Haliburton's unsavory history in dealing with the US Government in Iraq Reconstruction.
A well-run business wouldn't allow itself to be grossly over-charged like the government was overcharged by KBR in Iraq.
If the US government was a business and did allow this to happen they would soon be OUT of BUSINESS.
Today the NY Times, in typical MSM belated fashion, explored the same topic:
*More than 80 percent of the $1.5 billion in contracts signed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency alone were awarded without bidding or with limited competition, government records show, provoking concerns among auditors and government officials about the potential for favoritism or abuse. Already, questions have been raised about the political connections of two major contractors - the Shaw Group and Kellogg, Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton - that have been represented by the lobbyist Joe M. Allbaugh, President Bush's former campaign manager and a former leader of FEMA.
*An examination of the contracts granted to date and interviews with state and federal officials raised concerns about some of the awards. Some industry and government officials questioned the costs of the debris-removal contracts, saying the Army Corps of Engineers had allowed a rate that was too high. And Congressional investigators are looking into the $568 million awarded to AshBritt, a Pompano Beach, Fla., company that was a client of the former lobbying firm of Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi.
*The contracts also show considerable price disparities: travel trailers costing $15,000 to $23,000, housing inspection services that documents suggest could cost $15 to $81 per home, and ferries and ships being used for temporary housing that cost $13 million to $70 million for six months.
*The Bechtel Corporation, awarded a contract that could be worth $100 million, is under scrutiny for its oversight of the "Big Dig" construction project in Boston. And Kellogg, Brown & Root, which was given $60 million in contracts, was rebuked by federal auditors for unsubstantiated billing from the Iraq reconstruction and criticized for bills like $100-per-bag laundry service. All of the companies have publicly defended their performance.
*The two most expensive services the government has signed contracts for so far are manufactured housing and debris removal, which alone have totaled $2 billion, according to contracting records. The debris contracts have attracted the scrutiny of investigators from the House Homeland Security Committee, in part because of the price agreed to by the Army Corps of Engineers. AshBritt, which has won the biggest share of those contracts, is being paid about $15 per cubic yard to collect and process debris, federal officials said. It is also being reimbursed for costs if it has to dispose of material in landfills.
*But three communities in Mississippi, which found their own contractors rather than accept the terms offered by AshBritt, have negotiated contracts of $10.64 a cubic yard to $18.25 a cubic yard, including collection, processing and disposal.
And other experts have questioned AshBritt's fees. "Let me put it to you this way: If $15 was my best price, I would rebid it," said Mike Carroll, a municipal official in Orlando, Fla., with experience in hurricane cleanup. AshBritt has cleaned up debris for FEMA and other government agencies after other hurricanes. Besides possessing a huge roster of subcontractors and the logistics expertise to route hundreds of trucks, the company is also politically well connected. According to Senate filings, AshBritt paid about $40,000 in the first half of 2005 to Barbour Griffith & Rogers, the Washington lobbying firm co-founded by Governor Barbour of Mississippi, who is also a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.
AshBritt officials declined to comment on the Hurricane Katrina contracts.
The US Government is a very poorly run (and seemingly very corrupt) organization.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Folks, I've been in Galveston for Hurricaines before, and if a category 5 storm hits there, YOU WILL DIE. YOU WILL DROWN IN YOUR ATTIC if you choose not to leave the city.
It's your choice, you make the call!
You make the call? Like what? Heads or Tails?
And the residents of Galveston and Houston and any other low-lying areas in Rita's path should evacuate because they are in danger, but...
Scarborough could be giving me the best advice in the world. He could say, “Gotim, I will give you the winning numbers for tonight's NY State Lottery all you have to do is listen to me talk for 5 minutes.” And I still wouldn't listen to him and take his advice.
I don't often curse here on Billiken, but Scarborough is the biggest fucking prick on TV. No matter what he says he comes off as self-righteous, opportunistic, and venomous. I wish him nothing but the worst.
I want him reporting live from one of the Galveston attics mentioned above.
Monday, September 19, 2005
it's certainly a valid position, got- almost unassailable in fact. still, such a stance gives me pause. most importantly, government is not just a business. some of what i think it's fair to say are considered the most effective governments on earth (Canada, the UK, France, Germany, Japan [current economic slides not withstanding]) are first and foremost in the business of providing for individual citizens and their daily lives through universal health care, affordable day care, or longer parenting leaves, for example. what may seem like trivial or frivolous expenses to the average CFO are actually what instill confidence in the government. in turn, the governed are willing to forgo a greater percentage of their income to pay for these "socialist" benefits. the goal then, is not stark efficiency (as if such a thing were even possible in such a large organization) but a balance between that and the image of the doting politician handing out loaves of bread or other corrupt favors outside of Tammany hall, or outside of Bush's college dorm room, as the case may be.
now i can't say if the $200 billion price tag is bloated, though i tend to agree, if only because, logically, one would assume that it would be cheaper to rebuild an area housing roughly 1 million in a developed country than it would be to rebuild a sprawling war-town nation of more than 20 million. in any event, i don't think that over spending in this case is necessarily a detriment, so long as it's done in an honest manner beneficial only to the refugees, or internally displaced citizens as i've heard them officially referred to as, and not to bush's damaged political standing. after all, i'd rather see the little money remaining after bush's tax cuts go to this than to the trust fund kids who would have benefited from the repeal of the estate tax.
which brings me back to my original point: the reason you're so unhappy with our current fiscal status is, quite specifically, w's economic policy. taxes were slightly higher under clinton, yes, but i don't recall a national outcry. in fact, as far as i could tell, politically ignorant as i was then, people were pretty darn pleased that the most powerful country on earth (modern china was still just a glimmer in the communist party's eye, at least as far as mass media was concerned) was actually operating efficiently, and producing a budgetary surplus. such surplus isn't just used for programs we couldn't otherwise afford or as a buffer against egregious cuts in education or medicare, but also, as it turns out, to keep us from being dependant on nations, such as china, whom, as the republicans took over, managed to subvert our own economy by buying all our bonds. as far as i can understand, we've taken the international equivalent of a loan from tony soprano- we've forever indebted, at the interest rate sucks. it's an insurgency that would have given ol' joe McCarthy an aneurysm.
so yes- i do think higher taxes are in order. correcting this budget deficit (perhaps the single most important fixable problem in america today) and putting long standing measures in place, would actually solidify bush's legacy- and it would even be in line with his decree (and your request) to make government more fiscally responsible and less wasteful. if this most recent $200 billion bender requires him to finally emerge from the warm, soundproof womb that is Karl Rove and the other members of his inner circle, and enact some such policies, it might actually turn out to be a bargain.
I don't know about you, but I certainly don't have $1,000 to rebuild anything.
I know Bush has pledged not to raise taxes because of this. Instead he will run the deficit much much higher.
But someone has to pay eventually. The money comes from somewhere, someone will foot this bill in some form. I don't know a lot about global economics but somehow Beijing will end up benefiting from this deficit spending.
$200 billion seems completely wrong. This can be done cheaper. The government is completely inefficient. Run the rebuilding effort more like a business and less like a bureaucracy.
Speaking of fiscal irresponsibility and questionable expenditures...
Kellogg, Brown & Root Services Inc. a subsidiary of the infamous Haliburton, has been awarded $500 million to repair naval bases damaged by Katrina. Back in 2003 Haliburton was at the center of a scandal for allegedly overcharging the US Government for the delivery of fuel and supplies to troops following the 'end' of the Iraqi conflict.
Vice President Dick Cheney headed Haliburton from 1995-2000.
I'm not saying that the naval bases should not be rebuilt. I am suggesting that it can be done for less than $500 million. I'm also suggesting KBR should not be awarded any government contracts after already overcharging the US Government for their services. Remember the wisdom of Bush Jr.:
Fool me once shame on you, fool me twic... You’ll never fool me again.
I would really like to see what constitutes winning a competitive bid contract. Something tells me the bidding process wasn't all that competitive. Without doing any research at all I can say with near certainty that someone can rebuild these naval bases for much less than $500 million.
Write like you are running down the street on fire.
A piece of writing advice to myself. No revisions. Don't look back. Go forward, get on with it, and quick!
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Friday, September 16, 2005
This is the last book that I thoroughly enjoyed. I wish I had written it. I'm thinking about re-reading it. For now I'll post some passages that are relevant (to me, to current events, just relevant in general):
"I heard a story not long ago," he said. "They did a bomb test in the nineteen-fifties in which a hundred pigs were dressed in custom-made GI field jackets and positioned at well-spaced intervals from the blast site. One hundred and eleven, to be exact, pigs, as the story was told to me. Then they exploded the device. Then they examined the uniforms on the barbecued pigs to evaluate the thermal qualities of the material. Because this was the point of the test."
Janet didn't respond because whatever the point of the test, and whatever the point of the story, it was only making her mad.
"Picture it. Chester whites. A breed of large fat pig with drooping ears. Wearing khaki uniforms with zippers, seams, everything, and with drawstrings drawn because that's how the regulation reads. And a voice on the loudspeaker's going, Ten, nine, eight, seven."
She told him to get his arm inside the jeep.
"Is this when history turned to fiction?" he said.
She looked at him briefly.
"That's not the question you're asking," she said.
"What am I asking?"
"I don't think you're asking that question. That's a large question, and I think you are asking a smaller question and it has nothing to do with pigs in uniform. You're talking about something else completely."
I want to make small observations and use them as proof that larger questions need to be asked. I want to take history and re-write it as fiction. Or rather just transcribe it because as I watch the news it appears that much of it has already turned into fiction. Don't forget The Terminator, The Kindergarten Cop is governor of California. We laugh. This is funny, hilarious actually. We shrug it off though. Try not to think about it much. But Arnold Schwarzenegger is actually the governor of California. The 5th largest economy in the world is run by this man:
It's really more improbable than any of Arnold's movies. Movies like True Lies and Collateral Damage are more realistic, have plots that are more feasible than this:
Let's open some dialogue along these lines…
What other news stories/current events that are straddling this line between reality and fiction?
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
What type of experience do you have?
Don't worry it'll at least be good experience.
Yesterday. Imus in the Morning. Imus tells the listener that Sid Rosenburg, the loud-mouthed WFAN sports radio personality, has 'resigned', i.e., he has relapsed and has finally been fired. Sid has battled addiction to crack cocaine, alcohol, and gambling. Sid has been on hiatus before. This time it looks permanent. Don Imus has experienced jail, drug rehab, addiction he speaks from a place of knowledge. He understands what Sid is going through. Imus let Sid back on his show after his last stint in rehab in March. The others on the morning show defer to Imus in this instance. It is outside their range to comment on addiction as strong as Sid’s.
Nick Shay, the main character in Don DeLillo's Underworld shot and killed a man at the age of 17. He is sent to a Jesuit reform school. Strangely, the Jesuit headmaster, sees value in Nick's life experience:
Jesuit: "Rage and violence can be elements of productive tension in a soul. They can serve the fullness of one's identity. One way a man untrivializes himself is to punch another man in the mouth."
"You can't doubt this, can you? I don't like violence, it scares the hell out of me. But I think I see it as an expanding force in a personality. And I think a man's ability to act in opposition to his tendencies in this direction can be a source of virtue, a statement of his character or forbearance."
Nick: "So what do you do? Punch a guy in the mouth or resist the urge?"
Jesuit: "Point well taken. I don't have the answer. You have the answer," he said. "But how serious can a man be if he doesn't experience a full measure of appetites and passions of his race, even if only to contain them or direct them, somehow, usefully?"
I wouldn't say I'm adamantly anti-gun, but I am adamant that everyone in the NRA is dumb. Dumb to care so much about owning a gun that they form an association (and pay dues and carry membership cards) to protect their right to hunt small woodland creatures with rifles and 12-gauge shot guns and whatnot. So I'm anti-pro-gun. I would not own a gun myself; I would not want one in my house.
But, I was in Cambodia and would have liked to fire a gun at one of their ranges. Just to have the experience. To know that I fired a gun, to know what it felt like. To have more of a frame of reference to speak from when someone asked me - Are you for gun control? Like the Jesuit from Underworld asked, how are you really going to know your boundaries if you've never pushed yourself close to them?
I would be able to draw on that memory of having fired a gun. Part of this desire for experience is selfish - I want to exclude others by having experience that others don't. I want to separate myself. Distinguish myself. Me and them. The experienced and the inexperienced.
This idea was explored on Idle @ Work. Speaking about THE events of the past 4 years - September 11th, Iraq, and Hurricaine Katrina:
Unless you were there, and saw the shit with your own eyes, like we did, how could you possibly know? Everyone I know had a connection to someone who died that day. I, personally, knew nine people who were killed and had some connection to dozens more. If you live in Albuquerque, sure, it's an affront to you as an American, and it's impossible for someone of good conscience not to sympathize with such a degree of human suffering, but unless you've been to war, you've got nothing to tell me about 9/11 if you weren't there that day. Nothing at all.
My experience with the attacks is why I have nothing to say about Hurricane Katrina. I'm detached. I've never been to New Orleans, and I sure as hell have no idea what people are going through there right now.
This quote generated 21 comments. People feel passionately about first hand experience, or lack thereof, and if it determines whether or not you were qualified to speak on a particular topic.
Mike Brown head of FEMA was relieved of his duties because he did not have enough disaster management experience to respond to Hurricane Katrina. David Paulison replaced him. Paulison was a fire fighter with over 30 years experience handling disasters.
Monday, September 12, 2005
Of particular interest is Section III where Danner gives a brief summary of US involvement in the Middle East over the past 60 years. I was reminded/learned that:
-The US armed and bankrolled Iraq's war against Iran in the 80s. An Islamist Revolution had taken place in Iran and the US did not want the revolution to spread to Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria.
-The US wanted to draw the USSR into their own version of the Vietnam War. So the US armed and bankrolled the mujahideens in Afghanistan in their battle against the Soviets in the late 70s, early 80s. One of those freedom fighting mujahideens was none other than Osama Bin Laden.
-Iraq emerged victorious, but bankrupt from their war with Iran. Iraq asked all Middle Eastern countries who had lent them money to forgive their debts. In particular Iraq asked Kuwait to forgive debts that it had incurred fighting Iran. Iraq's reasoning was that it was doing a service to its neighbors by preventing a popular uprising from spreading beyond Iran's borders into the greater Middle East. Kuwait balked at this demand. Iraq invaded Kuwait, setting off the First Gulf War.
-Osama Bin Laden, who had recently finished fighting the Soviets, returned to his native Saudi Arabia and offered to defend the Kingdom against Iraq should they invade. King Fahd said he did not want Bin Laden's help, thanks! Instead of aligning with Bin Laden, King Fahd allowed the US to base their military operations out of Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War.
This infuriated Bin Laden. He cut off ties with Saudi Arabia, and decided to punish the US, who had armed him in the late 70s.
The rest is history. September 11th, the Afghanistan Operation, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Abu Ghraib, March 11th Madrid, Sharm Al-Shiekh, the London Tube Bombings...
I think I knew all of this, or at least some of this.
Monday, September 05, 2005
If I had to answer critics (and by critics as related to me, I probably mean the doubts in my own head) who are always saying...
Why are you sitting in that cubicle 10, 11, 12 hours a day?
Why are you watching television instead of reading?
Why are you filling out spreadsheets and writing emails rather than taking photographs and writing a novel?
Why are you wasting whatever tiny bit of talent you might have?
Well, I would like to answer these critics like this:
The music business hate me
Cause the industry ain't make me
Hustlers and boosters embrace me
And the music i be makin
I dumbed down for my audience
And doubled my dollars
They criticize me for it
Yet they all yell "Holla"
If skills sold
Truth be told
I'd probably be
I wanna rhyme like Common Sense
(But I did five Mil)
I ain't been rhymin like Common sinceWhen your sense got that much in common
And you been hustlin since
Go with what makes sense
I know what i'm up against
We as rappers must decide what's most impor-tant
And i can't help the poor if i'm one of them
So i got rich and gave back
To me that's the win, win
The next time you see the homie and his rims spin
Just know my mind is workin just like them
(The rims that is)
[Moment of Clarity]
Well maybe it doesn't translate that well to my own life. But, this has to be one of the cleverest retorts I've ever come across. Lincoln or Douglas couldn't have done much better. It's like a giant wink that Jay Z gave to his fans that were in the know. He acknowledged that he knew what we always knew - that he purposely dumbed down his lyrics to appeal to the masses. And while selling-out is certianly not an admirable quality, you have to respect the level of self-awareness displayed in the verse above.
To all those fans that were impressed with the intelligence, the talent exhibited on his debut album Reasonable Doubt... To all those fans who were subsequently disappointed when they bought commericial filler like Hard Knock Life Volume 1 and La Familia... To that type of fan Jay Z smiles and says, sorry but it was just business, man. This is just a job, and I'd rather be paid well by appealing to millions than paid poorly and appeal to a few who appreciate clever turns of phrase like: I rock the heavens, well, even if they don't let me in heaven I'll raise hell til it's heaven.
I feel like this is the approach many people, most of my friends, take to their jobs. It's just a pay check.
I know this album came out over 18 months ago, but I was listening to the Danger Mouse remix of this song over the weekend and I was really impressed.
Sunday, September 04, 2005
Not unlike that other famously whacky chipmunk Alvin, this weekend our pal Kanye West got a little out of control at the mic during a live concert for Hurricane victims. Through comments that were markedly less than "self-concious," Kanye demonstrated that, like other rappers that like to "pop off at the mouth with s**t they shouldn't a said," his ego has gone a little bit - well, nuts.
Thursday, September 01, 2005
I feel like suddenly I can see macroeconomics happening. The big picture. World-wide demand for fuel increases as nations like China and India use more petroleum for industrial and consumer consumption. Couple this with a natural disaster in the Gulf of Mexico that closes oil refineries in the USA. This causes gasoline prices to increase dramatically, (over 25% in two days!). Motorists use their car less. Some people who rely on their cars/trucks for business, still have to drive. Vendors like these pass along their increase in production/travel costs to companies like mine. We, in turn, raise the prices on our product to compensate, to maintain our margin of profit. The consumer has to pay more for our product. They purchase less. Spending decreases. The economy slows. A recession.
Or something like that.
All I know is that 5 years ago gas was $1.15 per gallon. I would hand a gas station attendant (it was full-service back then, no need to save a few cents and self-serve) a $20, ask him to fill up my car and he would hand me back change ($5 in change).
6 weeks ago gas was $2.50 a gallon and it cost me $38 to fill up my car. I thought this was outrageous and went on a Billiken rant about gas prices and hybrid cars and the Jetsons.
Five days ago gas was $2.64 per gallon and I decided to only fill up my tank two-thirds of the way.
And today gas reached $3.59 a gallon for regular unleaded in Flushing, Queens.
That shit is nervous.