Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Castro’s Retirement:

Now, granted, I’m on a cruise ship in Mexico right now and I’ve been working my ass off trying to get shows to work right, attending meetings, and presenting a polished image for Stiletto all week. That said, has anyone else noticed that the news media is finally telling stories of displaced Cubans and putting Fidel Castro’s political legacy into a proper frame? The man entered his “presidency” (are you a president if you can’t be fired by the people you’re supposed to be serving, your word is law and you rule until you die… or are you a king?) through a military coup. He’s exiled thousands of people, killed thousands of people – many of which personally. And for my entire life, major media outlets in the US have treated him as somehow misunderstood and a benevolent leader. The man is a thug and a murderer people! He always has been. His grand vision of socialism has turned into what ALL visions of socialism lead to – utter decay, famine, disease, stagnant development, and abject poverty (real poverty… children being required to work so that a family can split one loaf of moldy bread a day… unlike what the poor in America experience) for the vast majority.

Castro, meanwhile, is doing fine! He’s got access to all the food and all the wealth produced by his people. He’s also got rich asshole supporters around the world because he continues to be a communist when all other communist nations have crumbled (USSR) or moved towards a free-er market approach (China). He has the best doctors, the best nurses, and the ability to leave the country. He even has people who step in the line of fire for him time and time again apologizing for his murderous, tyrannical government, lobbing him softball, puff-questions in interviews and even touting his hospitals! This is the portrait of a man who has never had to be truly accountable for his actions… Life has been good to Fidel.

His people, on the other hand, have this:

Now, before I get the blatherings on of my more leftist friends (who tend to always find a way to bring any issue around to being Bush’s fault), let me just point out that Bush actually has had to be accountable for his decisions for the most part. More importantly, there is a systemized way for us as Americans to hold him accountable. A number of ways in fact. We can (and do) speak out regularly against his policies – and for some of the more vitriolic of us, him personally. We can write articles and produce movies. We can move if we wish. We can vote him out of office. We can vote for people in the other branches of government who will move the opposite direction philosophically… We can do all these things without fear of being tortured, killed or exiled. We can do all these things without fearing that our family will be tortured or killed. The fact that we haven’t really held our government accountable on the whole for protecting our freedoms is another issue entirely.

The point is, people living under the rule of dictators like Castro don’t have those luxuries.

So suddenly, the news has decided to be more critical of a man responsible for great evil in the world… Great. Where were they the past 60 years!? The media always does such a fabulous job of dropping the ball on giving people real information that I don’t hold out much hope for a massive cultural re-education in the 2 weeks that Castro’s retirement will be a news-worthy issue, but perhaps we can all stop for a minute and at least do our best to think about this ourselves.

…and the next time you see Michael Moore – please kick him square in the nuuutz for me.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Why Nebraskans... WHY?!? Initiative 423 was awesome...

To all my idiotic friends from Nebraska (you will know who you are…):

Why in all holy hell would you have voted AGAINST a proposed state constitutional amendment like Initiative 423?

The initiative sought to change the Nebraska state constitution so that instead of allowing politicians to simply decide how much money they’d spend regardless of all those inconvenient economic factors like revenue, they would move to a specific, rule-based budget procedure where the spending couldn’t exceed a percentage of the GDP – thus also tying the state spending habits to the natural rate of economic inflation.

You (certain) Nebraskans rejected this… I can only assume because you simply do not firmly grasp the nature of government nor do you grasp basic economics (the two seem to always go hand in hand).

Do you not get it? Government is funded by tax dollars. These come from your own pockets. As it stands now, and apparently will continue to stand, your government can spend as much as they want (i.e. “discretionary spending”) and they will “afford” this one of two ways, A. give you a higher tax bill or B. borrow money. You might have noticed our Federal government doing both regularly.

Now… You had a chance to build in at least some type of guarantee that the state of Nebraska couldn’t spend entirely recklessly and maybe, just maybe, you could have curbed your state’s government from getting as out of control as many of the other states I’ve lived (New York, California, Oregon…)

What is so damn hard about this people? You PAY for the government. This means if the government pays for something to give to you, it’s taking from you first to get it. Since people need to get paid for their work, government does everything at a loss. If you give the government 100 dollars a paycheck to save for your retirement, even if the system worked perfectly (which it doesn’t at all, as we know) then you’d only see a fraction of what you put in because they need to pay for administrators and accountants and everything else. If you just put 100 dollars a paycheck into a mattress, you’d come out much better.

As an added bonus, government paying for things that they shouldn’t be paying for creates false inequalities in the market place that skew the concept of risk. For example, college is now most often paid for through government loans… this has had two negative, but never discussed, consequences: First, it’s made the demand for college artificially high – thus resulting in the devaluation of college degrees. Where once a bachelors was a remarkable accomplishment it is now commonplace and a masters degree is even losing its luster – also resulting in grade inflation, but that’s another topic. And second, it’s partly caused the rise in tuition costs. Since government pays for it, the demand has increased faster than colleges can necessarily keep up, so they’ve had to deal with increasing costs not only in teachers and classrooms/materials budgets, but also in recruiting – but also, since government pays for it, they don’t really have to be truly competitive. Your tuition doesn’t really pay professor salaries in a lot of cases… the taxpayers already do that… But apparently you’re not looking at the larger picture… so getting back to the topic at hand:

A lid on state spending that was tied to GDP and inflation could have been the best possible thing to keep your state functioning and your budgets balanced for years into the future. Instead, you’ve acted with only your short term interests in mind and think that capping spending will mean less “free” money to you and your friends. Less free money for college, less to your schools, less to whatever else you think government should be giving you. You’re also wrong about that. The budget is already set for your precious social programs and everything else you’ve come to expect given to you through forcing others to pay for it… if the budget is tied to inflation, then it means that those things will grow as you do rather than stagnate or skyrocket as they do now.

I am frankly kind of embarrassed that so many of you weren’t smart enough to see the benefits of what you rejected. Did you even read the wording of the legislation? If it was an important issue, like natural disaster relief, you could have allowed the legislature to authorize over-limit spending via a special vote. This would have kept more power in your own hands… but congratulations – you’ve both given up your decision making authority as citizens and given the state legislature carte blanch to waste whatever of your money they feel like now – obviously, you’re not even going to try and stop them).


Thursday, February 7, 2008

After a Long Hiatus...

Well…it’s been a reasonably long time since I’ve posted a new blog… not that I have any readers clamoring for my words, but a lot has happened to me in the last month.

For starters, I got a “real” job with Stiletto Entertainment as a music manager in the cruise ship department. I am now responsible for all of the musicians on Holland America’s R-Class line of ships. I’ve already been to Hawaii and back, and I’m on my way to Costa Rica as I type this (on the airplane somewhere over Mexico). Good thing my passport was current, eh? I anticipate being out of the continental United States about 150-175 days this year… I’m planning to go to New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Denmark, Russia, England, Aruba, Costa Rica, Fiji, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and the Ukraine – as well as visiting Hawaii and Alaska numerous times.

All told, I’m pretty excited about the whole thing.

The job has meant other things for me as well… First, it meant moving to Los Angeles – which I did in the second week of January. It also means that I now have an income that – while ridiculously low for what I’m actually doing and responsible for – will allow me a bit more financial security than I’ve had for the past 6 months. That said… I am in what I believe to be a relatively severe situation financially. My level of consumer and credit card debt is absurd and borderline un-manageable. I’m trying to get the consumer accounts paid off within a couple months, then deal with credit cards. I never planned on living in Portland or job-hunting for as long as I did.

Fortunately I now have the coolest job anyone could possibly have I think. I get to fly around the world, all-expenses-paid, go on cruise ships and listen to music for a living! Of course there’s paperwork and some loss of sleep… and there are surely going to be problems with the bands and individual musicians I encounter in the next couple years. For many, playing in a show-band on a cruise ship is a great way to get some experience and see the world while young. For some others, it’s the (dead) end of a mediocre music career. This means that (some of) the older guys are often pretty hard to motivate and aren’t very receptive to change – which is what my position is bringing to the system. As much as I can, I am trying to act as an advocate for the band… As it stands, I’m the expert consultant that Holland America has hired to make sure that the music on board their ships is as high-quality as possible.

On the ms Zaandam, which I visited last week, what I discovered was that the band itself was very good. All of the musicians on board were excellent – in fact, they had a Romanian piano trio with Violin & Bass which was phenomenal. However… they were in desperate need of equipment repairs and from what I could tell had been more or less ignored by Holland America whenever they requested them themselves. They have 4 drum kits on board, the cheapest Yamaha makes in fact and not at all what I would expect to see at a professional gig, every one of the drum heads was beaten up and nearly dead. They also have an upright bass on board which is to be provided for the Ocean Bar (jazz) standards/dance band… it had no bridge. And no strings. They were in need of stand lights, monitors, enough microphones for the singer, saxophonist and for background vocals or announcements.

The list goes on…

The good news is, I put in a request for drumheads, stand lights and bass-repair and all were approved within a day and I was told that the heads at least would be meeting up with the ship in about a week. Damn I’m good.

The people by the way, were great. I had a blast. My only complaint of any kind really was that I’m surrounded by Hollywood-style leftists (socialists, wannabe communists, etc.) who are so vacuous in their conversations I wanted to take a power drill to my temple at dinner. This won’t be a big problem though since the vast majority of my travel will be done alone. Yay!

In other news, on the Zaandam, I hung out with the lead female singer in the stage shows… Anne. Assuredly nothing will come of our chats, but she gave me butterflies and made me smile and that hasn’t happened with anyone since I dated Jenny. Jenny still won’t talk to me… *sigh*. The point about Anne though – I must actually be ready to connect with a woman again! This is terribly good news to me. Now – if I can just meet an intelligent, worldly, interesting, multi-dimensional girl with an MFA, a great voice and beautiful eyes who is actually interested in me enough to email me back… *cough cough*.

I’m also keeping a hand-written journal when I travel. Partly because I like the old-skool nature of it all, partly because it’s a lot more fun to sit out on a deck overlooking a Hawaiian or South American vista (or I’d have to imagine Fjords in Alaska or Denmark), partly because it also allows me to draw things like I did when I was in Spain in my teenage years and partly because when I was running the New York Film Collaborative and we did a shoot in a nice boutique store on the Upper East-side I bought an $80 dollar leather covered, Celtic embossed book which I have been saving for a special purpose – and this is it! Speaking of which, my laptop battery is wearing down, so it’s time to bid this Blog adieu and move over to some of my more low-tech means of keeping myself entertained.