Saturday, March 14, 2009

Comedian's comedian 

Speaking of comedians, I couldn't sleep last night and watched the uncut Jim Bob Saget Roast on Comedy Central. It was your usual buffet of offensive insults. The comics took turns saying how Saget is talentless and unfunny, and they took turns insulting the other comics on the dais as being either fat, old, ugly or unfunny. There were the gay sex jokes, the genitalia jokes, the gender jokes, celebrity jokes, a few ethnic jokes... etc. Basically, all-around, it was your standard "roast-style" extreme offensiveness-- and fairly funny, as those things go.

But then it was Norm McDonald's turn. He decided to go the other way with it, making benign, cornball jokes that an old man would tell his five year old grand-daughter.

Bob, your face looks like a flower... a cauliflower!

These jokes bombed, of course. The audience politely chuckled, and didn't know what to do. Only a few comics like Gilbert Gottfried realized immediately what Norm was up to. So, after a unenthusastic response, Norm would repeat and explain these cornball jokes, totally deadpan: "See... your face... looks like... a cauliflower." I nearly fell off the couch laughing. This was the performance of a comedian's comedian. If Norm McDonald had been the first to speak, his act would've been just awkward and weird. But after following five straight comics who did similar variations on Saget's penchant for gay ass sex and pedophilia, it was crushingly hilarious to see McDonald cut back against the grain and joke about Saget's "cauliflower face". (He even made a "Rin tin tin" reference.)

I hesitate to post the performance because it totally relies on context. It's sort of a meta-joke on the whole process, so you need the set up. But since Comedy Central has much of Norm's bit available, I'll embed it here because it slays me. If you didn't see the show, here's a little primer to give you an idea of the sort of thing that proceeded it. (Update: unfortunately these vids aren't embedding right in some browsers, like firefox. You may have to scan down below the sidebar to see them.)











After Norm, insult-merchant Jim Norton got up and said McDonald's bit was "like watching Henry Fonda pick blueberries". But McDonald, after a pause, said "I don't think there's a person in this room who wouldn't like to see Henry Fonda pick blueberries." Norton had no comeback to McDonald's wholesome quip. It was like watching comedian akido.

Very entertaining.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Comedian Ray Nagin performing stand up act at Harvard 

Not sure, but I believe he's doing a one man show at the Hasty Pudding Club called

The Fierce Urgency of Now: Effecting Change at Home and Across the Globe


As my dad would say, that should be a real rip-snorter. The title itself, with the MLK quote, the "effecting change" one liner, and the hysterical "across the globe" finisher... will surely kill.

Nagin plans to fly home and twitter about the show, but those plans may have to be adjusted.

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This Dick on my neck is killing me 

A few days ago I was listening to the news on my car radio and a report began "Vice President..." and the muscles in my neck and shoulders immediately tightened. Then the news voice said "Joe Biden" instead of "Dick Cheney" and my tensed muscles relaxed. The funny thing was, I didn't notice the tightening, but I noticed the relaxing. It was something new. I wondered, how long have I been living with this auto-reflex? Probably years, but I never noticed it until now. I had been conditioned to tense up when hearing a news story about Dick Cheney-- almost like an instinctive defense mechanism-- because, for eight years, no story with Dick Cheney in it was ever good.

And of course, the news reports about Cheney that we heard over the past eight years were only a small part of the whole story.

For example. At a recent forum, reporter Seymour Hersh said:

"Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command -- JSOC it’s called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. ...

"Congress has no oversight of it. It’s an executive assassination ring essentially, and it’s been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths."


That's what I want: a secret assassination squad reporting directly to Cheney's office. Apparently things got too messy, and now Admiral McRaven ordered it to stop.
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For contrast, let's quote from a couple recent columns. Tuesday, Bob Hebert wrote:

As Jared Bernstein, now the chief economic adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden, wrote in the preface to his book, “Crunch: Why Do I Feel So Squeezed? (And Other Unsolved Economic Mysteries)”:

“Economics has been hijacked by the rich and powerful, and it has been forged into a tool that is being used against the rest of us.”
I wouldn't mind all that much if Vice President Biden used that quote without proper attribution.

Wednesday, Thomas Frank wrote:

In a little-noted passage of a mostly ignored speech, President Barack Obama said last week that the government faced "a real choice between investments that are designed to keep the American people safe and those that are designed to make a defense contractor rich."
...

To judge by his rhetoric, the president was declaring the end of the era of government-by-contractor. "Far too often, [government] spending is plagued by massive cost overruns, outright fraud, and the absence of oversight and accountability," he said. "In some cases, contracts are awarded without competition. In others, contractors actually oversee other contractors."

In an accompanying memorandum, Mr. Obama called for new rules specifying exactly when contracting is appropriate -- since "always" is no longer an acceptable answer -- and also for a "review" of "existing contracts," by which we can only hope he means a thorough and public examination of the most outrageous contractor misconduct of the last eight years.

If so, it's easy to get an idea of where to start. The Senate's Democratic Policy Committee, which has been investigating contractor misbehavior in Iraq since 2003, has unearthed important details about the failure of Parsons Corp. to complete more than 20 of the 150 medical clinics it was hired to build in Iraq. The same committee heard from Bunnatine Greenhouse, a whistleblower who charged the Army Corps of Engineers with an unseemly affection for KBR, the company that manages military logistics in Iraq; and it also furnished a platform for Charles Smith who once oversaw one of KBR's big contracts and who asserted that, after KBR had turned in a billion dollars worth of "unsupported charges," the Pentagon blew by his objections and paid up.

This last fellow eventually concluded from his experience that "The interest of a corporation, KBR, not the interests of American soldiers or American taxpayers, seemed to be paramount." It could be the epitaph for an era.

I hope so, because after eight years, my tense neck could use a break.

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Update: Post has been edited slightly for readability, and title has been changed for enhanced offensiveness. More on Bunnatine Greenhouse here.

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"We are capitalizing your adventure." 

That's Jon Stewart from pt 2 of his much-discussed interview with Jim Cramer. See the whole thing here, if you haven't done so, or if you want to see it again.

Now, as someone who has watched Cramer for about a decade, and who has read his books, I'm something of a Cramer apologist. To me, Confessions of a Street Addict reads like an extended love letter from Cramer to his wife and You Got Screwed! is full of decent financial advice, plus plenty of justified criticism of Wall St. (though not enough is self-directed). I'm not a fan of Cramer's tv "shtick", which is all that most viewers see. I'm always trying to look past it to see if there is something telling behind the showmanship. But in general I think Cramer's stock-picking show is dull, and you should pretty much ignore Cramer when he's bullish about something (which is most of the time). But his books and his strategy for novice investors aren't that bad.

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I guess all that I'm saying here is that Cramer's books are surprisingly useful, unlike his tv shtick.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

transparent as garbage 

T-P:

In a break with longstanding city policy, [activist lawyer Tracie] Washington got the council e-mails from [Sanitation Director Veronica] White, an appointee of Mayor Ray Nagin. The handoff from White to Washington took place without the City Council's knowledge and without involvement by the city Law Department.
...
[Washington] sought e-mails dating to July 1, 2006, from City Council members Jackie Clarkson, Arnie Fielkow, Stacy Head and Shelley Midura, plus their staff members. Washington did not request the e-mails of council members James Carter, Cynthia Hedge-Morrell or Cynthia Willard-Lewis.
...
And in another departure from policy, ... the city attorney has acknowledged White did not keep a copy of the compact disks that contained the messages. Normally, the Law Department keeps a record of all documents it hands out.

It's also very unusual that Washington got the information request for 30,000+ emails ON COMPUTER DISK, rather than on hard copies at a cost of 25 cents/page, like every other citizen. WIST 690am Radio host Kaare Johnson was the first to note this departure from longstanding policy, and the obvious monetary savings involved.

Today, the T-P profiled lawyer/activist Tracie Washington. She says it's all about transparency. Sure. The T-P reports that

In 2007, [Washington] led a group seeking to raise money and sympathy for then-U.S. Rep. William Jefferson after his indictment.

An excellent use of time and money. Weeks ago, after this e-mail scandal broke, Tracie Washington "talked back" on WBOK 1230am radio. She claimed that [her fellow Trinity Episcopal Church member] Stacy Head used government email to support or campaign for a candidate running for Congress. Omigod! (She got all those unredacted emails and that's the best she could come up with?)

Washington also went out of her way to disparage Clancy Dubos, whose political analysis had aired on WWL tv the night before. She called him a "so called lawyer" and dismissed his suggestion that a judge could stop her from publicly releasing the unedited emails. Washington claimed that those horses were already "out of the gate" and that her group, the Louisiana Justice Institute, had provided copies of those emails "to anyone who had asked" for them.

But who knew to ask for such a thing? Who knew that LJI had them?

Here's an interesting nugget from Washington's profile:

Where the money for Washington's advocacy comes from is something of a mystery.

Her nonprofit group, which rents space in an office building on Elysian Fields Avenue owned by politically active lawyer Ike Spears, has a staff of six people, including two attorneys. Its federal tax form for 2007 indicates that all of the group's revenue for the year -- $134,682 -- came from "government contributions (grants)."

But Washington said that's incorrect; in fact, all the group's money comes from private, nonprofit agencies, she said. Washington noted there is no line on the tax form specifically dedicated to such contributions. She declined to name the groups that have donated.

If memory serves, Ike Spears has represented both Betty Jefferson and Mose Jefferson, siblings of disgraced former Congressman "Dollar" Bill Jefferson. He was a big opponent of the "IQ" assessor reform movement. State Rep. Cedric Richmond cites Spears as his "mentor", and when he ran for Congress, he had a campaign office by Ike Spears' law firm on Elysian Fields.

As BayouStJohnDavid stated in a comment, Richmond lobbied the city on behalf of trash hauler Jimmie Woods:

[Richmond] urged the council of a broke city to approve a ridiculously expensive sanitation budget, then he lobbied on behalf of the companies involved when the contracts came under fire.

Again, in the name of transparency, select unredacted, uncopied, unauthorized City Council emails were delivered on disk to Tracie Washington by City Sanitation Director Veronica White.

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Explosive local news 

In response to Jeffrey's fine "Lifeboats" post, Dambala comments:

"[The] FBI already conducted a forensic audit on every computer in [the Nagin] administration. They have all the missing emails and much, much more."


The forensic audit occurred last year.

"Much, much more..."

Recently, Dambala was curious about something:

Incidentally, did I mention that Muppet's [Greg Meffert's] 1st CTO replacement and Imagine crony, Mark Curt, now works for Ciber? Did I mention that Ciber was a security contractor for Diebold? Did I mention I'm curious what kind of voting machines were used in the satellite locations during the last mayoral election and if those votes have been audited per precinct?

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I really do like this guy 

"Zero."

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Please Note: When I say I really do like this guy, I'm referring to Representative Anh "Joseph" Cao, not to E of We Could Be Famous. Although I really do like E as well (as does Big Red)... but not in a gay way. Not saying there's anything wrong with that, either, but I'm just happy Cao beat Jefferson, and this is one of the reasons why. That's all.

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Classic Vitty-cent 

At Dulles Airport, Sen. Vitter reportedly goes "ballistic" on an airline worker

According to [a "Heard on the Hill"] tipster who witnessed the scene, the Louisiana Republican arrived Thursday evening at his United Airlines gate 20 minutes before the plane was scheduled to depart, only to find the gate had already been closed. Undeterred, Vitter opened the door, setting off a security alarm and prompting an airline worker to warn him that entering the gate was forbidden.

Vitter, our spy said, gave the airline worker an earful, employing the timeworn “do-you-know-who-I-am” tirade that apparently grew quite heated.

That led to some back and forth, and the worker announced to the irritable Vitter that he was going to summon security.

Vitter, according to the witness, remained defiant, yelling that the employee could call the police if he wanted to and their supervisors, who, presumably, might be more impressed with his Senator’s pin.

But after talking a huffy big game, Vitter apparently thought better of pushing the confrontation any further. When the gate attendant left to find a security guard, Vitter turned tail and simply fled the scene.

Kind of reminiscent of the time when Vitter was campaigning at Lakeside Mall and his former long-time call-girl Wendy Cortez saw him and said "hi".

Vitter responded "How dare you talk to me at this point! You know you're never supposed to see me in public."

Then Vitter turned and ran away. Literally!

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Early in my youth, when I was young, just a little kid, wanting to have fun...

During our high school years in Florida, my friends and I would often play late-night basketball and then drive ten miles to the Steak 'n Shake to refuel and relax. One night, while we were waiting for our steakburgers at the S & S, my friend "Latch" decided he wanted to nibble on some oyster crackers. So he barked his request to an employee (not our server) who was in the kitchen area. The employee, a young lady of considerable heft, ignored him. Latch repeated his request for crackers, but she refused to give him any. That set off a volcanic tirade. Latch stood up, and started shrieking at the top of his voice "Do you know who I am! Do you know who I am!?" (Apparently Latch's father was an investor or something in that particular S & S franchise.) It was a very loud, very embarrassing scene. Latch wouldn't back down and neither would the server. He thought he deserved a complimentary packet of oyster crackers, but the hell if this server would give it to him. Most customers were confused. Some were aghast. The shouting intensified and became face-to-face. Finally the argument was resolved by a manager who calmed Latch down and presented him with a packet of his precious crackers. At that point, I suggested that we just leave and TakHomaSak®, but instead we stayed and rehashed the scene for the rest of the night and laughed our tails off.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

People in Glassman's house should throw stones, jump out the window and run away as fast as they can. 

Pardon the long quote, but Somerby gets busy on one of my favorite whipping posts (his highlights):

[C]onsider the “Conversation With James K. Glassman” which appeared in the Outlook section of Sunday’s Post.

As you may recall, Glassman co-authored the 1999 best-seller, Dow 36,000. In it, he and fellow seer Kevin Hassett predicted the Dow would hit 36,000 within three to five years.

Nothing like that happened, of course. And omigod! At the start of Sunday’s “conversation,” Carlos Lozada actually asked the former Post columnist about his bungled prediction. This sort of thing just isn’t done—but when Glassman dissembled a bit in response, Lozada even called him on that! For readability, we insert the names of the two discussants:

LOZADA (3/8/09): So, 10 years ago you predicted that the Dow would reach 36,000. Now it has fallen to its lowest level since 1997, and 6,000 seems more likely than 36,000. On behalf of investors and readers everywhere: What happened?

GLASSMAN: I think that people who read my columns would consider me a level-headed person who doesn't get upset, either way, doesn't have tremendous enthusiasms. But it's true that in 1999 Kevin Hassett and I wrote "Dow 36,000," which really made two points: The more important was that for investors who could put their money away for the long term, stocks were a much better investment than bonds. A lot of other people have said that, but we really made the case for stocks.

The second point was that based on our calculations, we believed that stocks would rise to roughly 36,000. We said in the book that it is impossible to predict how long it will take for the market to recognize that Dow 36,000 is perfectly reasonable, but then, of course, we did take a guess.

LOZADA: You said three to five years.

GLASSMAN: Obviously that hasn't happened...

“We said it is impossible to predict how long,” Glassman said, although he and Hassett had made a prediction. And omigod! Lozada corrected Glassman’s statement, recalling what the pair really said! And things only got more spicy from there. Lozada continued asking awkward questions—and Glassman continued bobbing and weaving. Before long, Lozada asked, two separate times, if Glassman had any regrets about his ginormous mistake:

LOZADA: Do you ever regret having written the book, or regret the title? Do people come up to you at cocktail parties and say “Oh, yeah, Dow 36,000—how's that working out for you”

GLASSMAN: Yeah, people do say that. There is no doubt that people—especially people who haven't read the book—think this is some sort of wild-eyed book that was part of the high-tech boom and so forth. Kevin and I usually joke that we really wish we'd called the book “A Treatise on the Declining Equity Risk Premium.” I have to say, I don't really regret it. I think if people read the book, its examination of the nature of investing is right on. I think it's exactly right.

LOZADA: Just not the number.

GLASSMAN: I think the fact that the book title is a number—as things have turned out, maybe a calmer title might have been better.

LOZADA: But you don't feel the need to apologize to someone who read your book, went in and got creamed?

GLASSMAN: Absolutely not.

Why would Glassman have any regrets? The book was “exactly right,” he explained. Except what it said in the title!

For the record, that failed prediction (“three to five years”) wasn’t just a throw-away line in a book. For example, Glassman described his book in September 1999—in his syndicated Washington Post column. “We say in the book that the Dow should be at 36,000 today, but that realistically the process should take about five years,” he wrote. “That's a growth rate of roughly 25 percent annually, not so outlandish considering the record since 1982.”


As I never tire of reminding everyone, Glassman said more than that. While promoting his book in the fourth quarter of 1999, at the apex of the mania, he prudently advised:

What is dangerous is for Americans not to be in the market. We're going to reach a point where stocks are correctly priced, and we think that's 36,000... It's not a bubble. Far from it. The stock market is undervalued.

Glassman believes people should take him seriously. He co-wrote a book with former McCain advisor Kevin Hassett called Dow 36000: The New Strategy for Profiting from the Coming Rise in the Stock Market. Not only was their math wrong, Glassman and Hassett's "new strategy" boiled down to this: jump in or you'll miss the biggest bull move in your lifetime! (Btw, Hassett just penned a thoughtful column discussing why Obama is conducting a "War on Business" like a "Manchurian Candidate". It's almost as good as Modo's latest.)

Yet Glassman-- often wrong, never in doubt-- will "absolutely not" apologize to the unfortunate Americans who took his advice in 1999, and who dove into the stock market (it's "not a bubble", it's not "dangerous") and got "creamed".

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You are correct, sir! 

Clancy Dubos' excellent summary of Judge Ledet's ruling against the Nagin administration is categorized under "conspiracy theories" (among other labels). Please go read it.

Today's T-P reminds us of this factoid:

During a Feb. 17 court hearing on the [Nagin e-mails] records dispute, Deputy City Attorney Ed Washington told [Judge] Ledet that due to storage problems, officials in the city's information technology unit had deleted nearly all of Nagin's 2008 e-mail and all calendar information prior to June 30.

Washington said the deleted information cannot be retrieved.

Which "officials" performed the deletions? Or was the job sub-contracted? Why is Washington sure that the "deleted information cannot be retrieved"? Is he an expert, or is that just what the "officials" told him? If so, can we interview these officials and have an independent team of forensic computer techs review their work and audit the system, just to make sure? (Update: Schroeder has more.)

Because, you know, "you've got to make sure the public has access to those documents".

Here's more Clancy, this time from his column in The Gambit:

Nagin's initial excuse for erasing his calendar and emails from the city's computer server was that the server had become overloaded and had to be purged. Less than two weeks later, we learned that two-and-a-half years' worth of City Council emails had been retrieved — in just a week's time — in response to a public records request by Tracie Washington, a lawyer who emailed her request to city Sanitation Director Veronica White, who in turn took the request directly to the city's IT office.

When asked about the flap over the Council's emails, Nagin, apparently oblivious to the irony (read: hypocrisy) of his statement, told The Times-Picayune, "You know, it's public record, so you've got to make sure the public has access to those documents."

Last Thursday, Nagin said his records and the council's are on separate servers, and that only his was overloaded.

Darn the luck! In the interest of transparency, though, let's make sure the e-mails were deleted in an unrecoverable fashion, and let's make sure Nagin's "separate servers and one overloaded" story checks out.



Mayor, go smug yourself.

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Update: Unreal.

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Uggh 

Greg properly categorizes a news story.

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Update: Regarding such a case, would Gov. Jindal argue for the execution of the stepfather/molester, while insisting that the 9-year old should be forced to deliver twins?

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Entergy: FYYFF 

Entergy is one of the top ten corporate citizens? What an interesting belief that is!

I've been doing quarterly reports on Entergy's progress in replacing the historic sidewalk street tiles they destroyed near the late great Ashley Morris' house.

You may recall that Entergy had a rather snippy response to the tile issue, after Chris Rose mentioned it in a column celebrating Ashley. Here's what they said:

Those [street name] tiles will be replaced, and were in the process of being replaced before the article was written by Mr. Rose.
...
The discovery and restoration of the tiles was spurred by our employees doing their job well -- inspecting the work of subcontractors -- and would have been completed regardless of who "reported" the story.

At the corner of Pine and Birch the destroyed "BIRCH" street tiles HAVE NOT been replaced. The job HAS NOT been completed nearly a year after Ashley Morris reported the story. As Dr. Morris said

Make it right. It's all important.


Damn straight! It should look like this.



Fix it, you corporate mooks.
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As for my own street issues, N.O. Public "Works" unplugged one of two drains outside my door, so there is less standing water. I've kept calling on a monthly basis about the drain that is still plugged. Usually they just tell me some B.S., or apologize for the wait because they are "really busy" in that department. But the last time I called they said they had fixed it. I told them that they hadn't, and they said I needed to submit a new request and should wait 1 to 2 more months before complaining again... etc.

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Saints cut FB Mike Karney the day before he is married 

This is a double whammy for Lovely. Friday, when she learned the news about her favorite Saint, she took a sick day and spent it on the couch, sobbing, wearing her beloved "Ooh, Me so Karney" nightshirt.

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