Bill Bradley speaks

Today, the New York Times published a terrific editorial in which Bill Bradley examines the difference between the Republican and Democratic infrastructure. It’s a great piece, and it lays out explicitly many of the connections on the Republican side that you normally only see in left-wing blogs. I was particularly heartened that he analyzed the role of the media.

Anyone who thinks the media is impartial is fooling themselves. Jabley has a great list of keys to democratic victory, but I think there is only one. Get the media to report on facts and do real journalism. I firmly believe the Democrats have a vastly superior message, one that will easily win elections. On virtually every topic, those who are familiar with the facts of the topic side with the Democratic position. It is those who are not familiar with the topic, or have swallowed the lies that have been fed, that tend towards the GOP. Call the lies out, and you have an ex-Republican. I am convinced this is the absolute truth for the center of the political spectrum. If I can ever get around to digging up the links, I’ll post my 2004 election analysis, which is really only two paragraphs long.

Grand Ole Opry

We just got back from a weekend in Nashville, TN. We were staying at Opryland. It’s fuller name is (unfortunately) Gaylord Opryland. I don’t know who Gaylord was, and don’t really want to find out. I certainly hope there was a Gaylord, I’d hate to think that someone come up with that name as a marketing tactic. (Actually, I lied. I just googled to see who Gaylord was. I didn’t get the answer, but I did find a particularly Dilbert-esque homepage that proclaims that they are “Defined By Our Finely-Honed Growth Strategy”.)

Opryland is like Vegas, but without the casino. It’s incredible just to walk around the grounds. We ended up taking a boat ride through the hotel. Yes, a boat ride through the hotel. Enormous gardens, inhouse river, fountains and fish, amazing food. It’s all connected at the hip to the actual Grand Ole’ Opry, as well as a mega-mall. We went to see the Gibson guitar factory. My guitar was made there in 1984. There are no tours on weekends though, so it was just like any other guitar store, except a lot more banjos and dobros, what with being in the south and all.

It was a good stay, except for being constantly nickel and dimed by the hotel. We were paying roughly $200/night. That’s more than we usually spend, but we were willing to do it once, just for the experience. But the big hits did not stop there. Muffins that cost $2.75, breakfast buffet for $20, the aforementioned boat ride for $8/head, with your option to buy a picture of the experience for another $10. These were annoying, but par for the course. We’ve become accustomed to those prices, it’s like living in an airport. No, the two charges that really got to me were:

  • Parking: It was $8.72 a day to park your car. Parking your car is extra!? What!? Mind you, this is not valet parking (that’s $16/day plus tips). No, this is parking your car 1/2 mile away from the hotel in the pouring rain, and being forced to park on the grass and your car makes some awful sounds as it goes over the curb and you walk back to the hotel in the rain after having driven for 5 hours straight with a screaming toddler — that is the experience for which we were paying $8.72 a day. The specificity was irritating also. Yes, I get it, it’s $8.00 with a 9% tax. You couldn’t just call it $8 or $9 even?
  • Resort fee: $5.00 a day, for internet access (we didn’t use), newspapers (we didn’t get), use of the fitness center (we didn’t use), and I don’t even know what else.

Neither of these were optional of course. So why don’t they just make it part of the overall room charge? Nothing else gets broken out. When was the last time you saw a hotel bill like this?

  • Bed: $55/night
  • Sheets: $15/night
  • Room Service: $25/night
  • TV: $10/night
  • Doorkey: $15/night
  • Toiletries: $10/night

I hope never. That’s the point of having one charge, to roll up the whole experience into one number. This is good for the hotel and the consumer. The consumer knows what they are getting. The consumer does not spend their whole trip thinking about money, wondering how saracastic to make their blog entry, and vowing never to go back again.

Terry Schiavo

Here’s a little rule of thumb. When two branches of the government pass a bill that only applies to two citizens, that’s not a good bill. I don’t know how many bills meet that description, but I feel confident the rule holds. I didn’t even think it was possible to target a bill so specifically (and probably it’s not, this one is bound to fail any constitutional review).

Now that I know that, it does changes my own priorities. Instead of working for the man, I’m going to get me an office on K Street and start lobbying for the Muttrox Family and American Way Preservation Act (MFAWPA).

This Act will:

  • Appoint Muttrox (me) the Traffic Czar for life. More details in a later post on what that entails.
  • Guarantee Muttrox (me) 10% of any savings garnered through Social Security Privatization (I don’t expect to see a dime of that)
  • Award Muttrox (me) the first American Knighthood. Sir Muttrox has a nice ring.

Rumsfeld, doin’ good

Rusmfeld is fighting Congress. No, not about torture. It’s about budgets, and bringing just a hair of rationality to the procurement process.

It’s easy to forget how important this battle is to Rumsfeld. When he was brought on as Secretary fo Defense, his stated goal was to transform the military. He was probably as surprised as everyone else when he had actually had to, you know, run a war and stuff. He has been outspoken for many years about the need for the military branches to have a funding and procurement process that gets them what is needed to accomplish their military mission, not the mission of the arms manufacturers and congressmen. Today’s military is only slowing preparing itself for the post-cold landscape. Considering the amount of our GDP that goes to military expenditures, it is welcome to see Rumsfeld going to war on this front also. Will he be able to buck the “Iron Triangle”? I don’t know, but I give him better odds than anyone else would get. Go Rummy go!

McCain again

This comment from Jabley on on my first McCain post deserves a full reply:

To his credit, it sounds as if much of the talk centers around “negotiating,” not cramming the Bush plan down the country’s throat. It’s pretty much accepted that support for Bush’s plan as initially-conceived is insufficient to win approval; I perceive this effort to be more of an attempt to keep Social Security alive as a political issue rather than an attempt to win Bush’s precise plan. Clearly McCain understands that there will have to be a meaningful middle ground on this issue and I think the “come to the table with us” talk demonstrates as much.

Here’s why I disagree with this line of reasoning.

1) There is no Bush plan. To speak of negotiating is absurd when Bush won’t commit to anything. Any criticism against the Democrats for not having a plan of their own is easily answered with that classic, “You first!”.

2) The elements that we know are in the Bush “plan” are non-negotiable. Bush and his allies may refer to “saving social security” or “just making sure it’s solvent” or “giving people more control”, but these are not what their plan is. Their plan is privatizing the system, plain and simple. Note that Bush and Cheney and others have all recently stated that their ideas will do nothing to address solvency. If that is true (and it certainly is), why exactly do you think they want things to change?

3) Their is no meaningful middle ground. There are either add-on accounts or not, there are either carved out accounts or not, you either address the solvency issue or not, you either leave Social Security as an insurance system or transform into a fancy 401(k), etc.

4) It is not that Bush’s plan as initially conceived has failed to win support. It is that the very elements that are central to his “plan” are unpopular. In every setting, the more people are exposed to his plan, the more they dislike it. The more the true costs are known, the more they dislike it. And it is not the “negotiable” parts of his plan that people dislike, it is the central concepts themseleves. That isn’t going to change, because Bush’s “plan” isn’t going to change in any meaningful way.

Bush and McCain hugging.

“Just let me president. Please, please let me be president.”

John McCain, one too many

John McCain is now stumping for Bush’s Social Security “plan”. What the hell happened to him?

I have always liked McCain. His story is amazing, his independent streak welcome, but his appeal to me has always been his priorities. If there is one single thing that can improve the political structure of the USA, it is campaign finance reform. The influence of money is ubiquitous and pernicious. Witness the travesty of the recent bankruptcy bill, which blatantly screws everyone unlucky enough to be neither a corporation nor a millionaire. There has been no defense given to this bill because there is none. It is a blatant payoff to the credit card industry. This happens to be a particularly egregious example, but the effects go throughout the entire system. As long as that influence is there, it is next to impossible to get representatives who are there to serve the public.

At any rate, McCain has always been a proponent and a warrior for campaign finance reform. For this reason alone, I have always been in his corner. But. But. But I feel like he may have scored one too many negatives on my accounting sheet. His embrace of Bush’s worst ideas defies his public image. No one who is intellectually honest can stump for Bush’s “plan”. The “plan” such as it is, is riddled without distortions, inconsistencies, and outright lying. I still like to think McCain is basically honorable, but this can simply not be an honest presentation of McCain’s personal views.

I see a quid-pro-quo. Despite all the bad things that Bush did to McCain during the 2000 election primaries, McCain has agreed to play ball – and in return Bush will throw his support behind McCain in 2008. No other rationale adds up to me.

McCain in 2008, with the full support of the mainstream GOP and Bush administration. You read it here first.

Corporate Vocabulary

The evolution of words and phrasing is fun. Consider:

  • Crisis
  • Problem
  • Issue
  • Situation
  • Challenge
  • Opportunity

I see this in the corporate world. What used to be a problem is now a challenge. What was once an issue is now an opportunity. The idea is that we prove ourselves, and grow ourselves (yes, grow is used as a verb where I work without a hint of self-awareness) in situations where there are challenges. A problem gives you an opportunity to test yourself. And that’s true as far as it goes.

A neighbor was telling me how after many years, they finally had their house the way they liked it. I said we hadn’t lifted a finger since moving in. “Oh,” she gushed, “you have so many opportunities ahead of you!” What can you say to that? Gee, I just feel sorry for those poor people with their perfect mansions and perfect lives, having so little opportunity t0 make things better. It keeps me up at night thinking of their plight. If only there was something we could do for them, some kind of equal opportunity program. Yes, that’s it, equal opportunity for millionaires-with-nothing-better-to-do-than-subtly-brag-how-amazing-their-house-is. This is a constituency group that has been neglected.

5 Movies I used to love

1. Monty Python (all of them)
2. The Terminator
3. Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
4. Highlander
5. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

I saw all of these at least 10 times when I was younger. Now they just don’t do it for me. It’s depressing how much effort I put into memorizing every frame of these, and now I couldn’t care less.

Although Spamalot (the broadway Monty Python) sounds like might be good…

Superglue

Superglue should be easy. Today I realized I have never been able to use a tube of SuperGlue a second time. No matter what, the tube is always clogged and unusable.

I can’t even really claim I can use it a first time. 9 out of 10 times, the two pieces fall apart again with the slightest pressure.

This is a serious self-esteem issue.

Movie Review: Bend it Like Beckham

So, what’s the big deal? A nice enough little movie, but poorly acted, poorly written, and far too long. Didn’t I see this already in My Big Fat Greek Wedding? (Which was well acted, well written, and the right length)

Now that I think about it, this wasn’t even a nice enough little movie.

The soccer was terrible. The few times that the soccer playing wasn’t being edited in, it was atrocious. I suppose that would have been okay if the whole point of the movie wasn’t how these two girls had a shot to get out of their ordinary lives and do something special because they were supposed to be so good at soccer. The only way they could be percieved as talented was because of the teams they played. Even on the climactic shot (‘pon whence the Beckhaminsian bending transpired), the goalie on the opposing team must have suffered a stroke, as she started on the completely wrong side of the goal, took two ponderous steps before a considered diving move which got her nowhere near the ball. Perhaps this team (which was in the final mind you) went by the “put the fat kid in goal” theory.

The acting was terrible. The lead was tolerable. The mother of her friend was tolerable. Hard to find anyone else who was any good. But to be fair, they didn’t have much to work with. Were any characters 3-dimensional? The leads were at least 2-dimensional, anyone else was likely to break 1.

I truly felt sorry for the other players on the soccer team. 9 girls who were not allowed to have personalities of their own, any life events of their own, even any reaction to the two star players in their midst. Whoops, that’s not totally true — one of them was allowed to shake her big breasts for no apparent reason. Normally I like that in a movie, but it just seemed weird in this one.

The sad part was how this movie took many of the worst parts of independent English movie making, and managed to throw in some of the worst parts of American cinema to complete it. To wit, the musical soundtrack. Martin Scorsese is allowed to use whatever music he wants. The man understands rock music, and understands how to use it correctly to enhance a scene. Cameron Crowe is allowed to use whatever music he wants. Wes Anderson is allowed to use whatever music he wants. Gurinder Chadha is not. Every 6 minutes without fail, new music would come blasting out. Not good music, not fitting music, not geared towards the movie, just music.

Maybe you have to be a 14-year old English female soccer player of Indian descent to be inspired. It must be me.

On Tipping

I hate tipping. Like Mr. Pink, I think the whole system is ridiculous. Like Mr. Pink, I bow to societal pressures and do it anyhow.

Growing up, the standard tip was 10%. Nowadays, it is between 15 and 20%. Has service gotten that much better? I think is has. But not that much. There is no connection between the tipping amount and service rendered. In many cases, I’ve seen the exact opposite phenomona. Servers who are so incompetent that they mess everything up, but seem so harried that they get big tips for “having such a tough night”.

One of my frustrations is an ability to use tips to reward or punish. Many meals I think the server does a great job, but the food was terrible. Or the food was great, but the server was terrible. Or both were good people, but the corporate systems they were obviously constrained by ruined the whole experience. There’s no way to designate where your tip money goes.

It is also not connected with how much work the server performs. Last night I ate at a fancy steak house, and the bill was $120. A standard percentage-based tip would be about $20. I have lunch often at a local pizza joint, the bill is just under $5. A standard percentage-based tip would be about $0.80. I do not think the server at the steak joint worked 25 times as hard as the waitress as the pizza joint. In fact, servers at fancy places often do less — they have separate employees to bus tables, get bread, refill drinks, bring your food.
Because of this, I use a sliding scale for tipping. I just don’t see how working at a fancy place entitles you to so much more money. So I give more at the cheap place, less at the expensive one. In fact, I usually give $1.25 at the pizza place (a 26% tip), and I tipped $13 last night (11%). The worker at the steak place still got over 10 times as much as the pizza waitress, mostly for wearing a nice looking suit. (Well, he did have one of those little scrapers to clean the tablecloth at the end of the meal. That’s always worth a couple o’ bucks from me.)

And the eternal question, what situations do you tip in? I remember when Howard Stern was informed you were supposed to tip gas station attendants who filled your tank. “Really? Seriously? Geez, who knew that?” was his take. It turned out everyone did know that except him. Hilarity ensued. In New Jersey, the law is that you can’t pump your own gas. (A truly weird law. How many problems are there with pumping your own gas? Most states seem to get along just fine.) So why would I tip this person, I didn’t even have a choice!
The same kind of incident happened to me recently at a carwash. The last stage involves a bunch of obviously illegal underpaid ethnics hand rubbing the car down. I got a dirty look when I got in my car and drove off. I was later informed that I was supposed to tip them. Why would I tip them, isn’t that what I paid for at the front desk? Why did I tip my moving people, isn’t that what I paid them for in the first place? What is the rule here — if there is any manual labor involved, they get tipped? I should be tipping my Desktop Support people at work, they are the ones who really have to do customer service.

I wish I could just opt-out. But sadly, the tables are rigged. Most of these people count on their tips for much of their wages. To strike a blow against the system is to strike a blow against the very people who are victimized by the system on an hourly basis. Sigh. And of course if anyone at your table has ever worked in the food industry themselves, you’d better tip. You had just better tip, fella! The whole system stinks. But it’s The Social Contract, there’s no way out. Did Rousseau get mad about tipping?

Who is Muttrox?

This blog is designed to be pseudo-anonymous. That means that I don’t post anything with my real name, or use the real names of personal acquaintices. However, anyone can figure out who I am in about 2 minutes with a little searching.

Aside from that, all you need to know is that I don’t use spellcheck. Spellcheck is for wusses. So you’ll see words misspelled, words like “acquaintance”. Deal with it.