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Archive for February, 2011

Incarcerated swindler Bernie Madoff proved once again he just can’t shut up on Monday as he railed from prison that Oscar host James Franco offered a lackluster and uninspired performance Sunday night at the Academy Awards, and that Anne Hathaway was trying too hard.

“I know I’m no saint,” said the fraudster, now serving a 150-year prison sentence for bilking investors out of tens of billions of dollars. “But I really thought James Franco should have brought it. He thinks he’s all James Dean–that he’s above it all somehow. That doesn’t give the audience confidence. It just makes them hate you. He’s been doing that shtick since ‘Freaks and Geeks.’ and we’re not buying it anymore.”

Madoff also called the SEC a joke, said the entire U.S. government was a Ponzi scheme, and insisted that Anne Hathaway used too many costume changes to make up for her lack of charisma.

“She’s no comedienne,” said Madoff, whose hedge fund was a giant black box promising 10% returns with no underlying securities in it. “I don’t see why they can’t get Billy Crystal back to do the whole thing, not just some lame bit. He knows what comedy is. It means being willing to try anything for a laugh, being willing to fall on your face or use wit barbed with irony. Comedy doesn’t mean glamming it up for a lot of dead-behind-the-eyes teenagers and hoping your C-cups pass for personality.”

Madoff, who has ruined hundreds of families, wiped out billions in wealth and shamed his family, then turned his sights on Melissa Leo, who in an unguarded moment used the “F” word during her Oscar acceptance speech for “The Fighter.”

“This was your moment to shine, and instead you came off like a trailer-park mama with a jug head, bow legs and Vitamin D deficiency. You ought to give that gold statuette back to the artisan gold miner in Nicaragua who dug it out for you.”

Madoff also attacked the rules begun last year that allow 10 nominees into the best picture category.

“If you know the first thing about stock dilution, you know that it cheapens everybody’s share,” said Madoff. “Not that my fund was invested in any stocks, of course. I take full responsibility for my actions, unlike the Academy.”

The ceremony was watched by millions of viewers, including, allegedly, prisoner number 61727-054. It could not be ascertained by press time, however, if Madoff, who looked into the faces and televisions cameras and the eyes of regulators for years and convinced them he had a real business behind the Imperial granite and steel facade of the Lipstick Building, had actually watched the Oscars.

Madoff says he understands that Franco is a polymath currently getting advanced degrees while pursuing his acting career.

“That doesn’t impress me. It seems like he’s hyperactive and taking on more than he can chew. Why not do just one thing well, like acting, rather than jerking me off with your horrible Ryan Seacrest imitation and then pretending like you don’t care.”

Madoff also argued that the Twittering about the Oscars from the backstage and Colin Firth’s early anointment as winner further cheapened the awards.

“The magic is just not there,” said Madoff, who will spend the rest of his life eating jail food. “I don’t know if I’ll watch again next year. But I always like talking to reporters. It’s really lonely in here.”

Oscar Image: Francesco Marino / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Los Angeles (API)–After watching him spin out of control in a bitter, drunken, profanity-laced tirade, America tried to put Charlie Sheen to bed on Thursday night, spending some 90 minutes attempting to pull him upstairs and take his boots off, reported TMZ.

Sheen started the night on a high note with mocking self-deprecation and a couple of Brandy Alexanders: “The picture of his old charming self,” said America, but suddenly the quixotic “Two and a Half Men” star began hurling abuses at America as well as the producer of his hit CBS television show.

“I have family-comedy magic spewing out of my cock,” yelled Sheen at America. “I’m a big titted hit and nobody can stop me ever.”

America, used to the abuse and bad behavior from Sheen, including his rampage in several New York and Los Angeles hotel rooms, tried to justify it, explaining that his alcoholism and tete-a-tetes with prostitutes and porn stars stemmed mostly from his great sensitivity as an actor and artist.

“Nobody understands Charlie,” said America. “He’s just a big kid. He’s really a good man and we just can’t stand to see him ache.”

Sheen had been doing OK until 8 p.m., when he told America to stop nagging him about his fourth drink, a mojito that America had garnished with fresh sugar cane, just the way Charlie likes it.

“You just can’t cope with the rate at which I’m rehabilitating,” he told America. “And by the way, [“Two and a Half Men” producer] Chuck Lorre is a maggot who has to barf on his own food to eat it. My shit is his gold, and he can come scoop comedy gold out of my asshole if he’s got the guts.”

Sheen then knocked into a lamp and America said it was just an accident and that Sheen was having an adverse reaction to Sudafed. Sheen then asked a visiting reporter if he realized that thousands of Libyans were protesting to have “Two and Half Men” put back on air.

“This whole Middle East business is about me,” said Sheen, exhibiting classic signs of substance abuse, narcissistic personality disorder and likely the DTs.

“What America doesn’t understand,” said Dr. Thaddeus Evans, a Riverside, Calif. therapist, “Is that every time she laughs at one of Charlie’s jokes or tells him he’s great, she’s really just building up his resistance to treatment and intervention. His delusions of grandeur are a way of protecting a fragile ego that he hasn’t built up from within, and America is doing him no favors by protecting that false self image, telling him how great he is, or giving him back his 9 p.m. slot.”

“You all will milk comedy gold from my man tits!” yelled Sheen. “Chuck Lorre, if that’s his real Jewish name, will be knocked down by the big dick that I swing over all of Holly wood and the world. I call all of my fans to arms! We must get “Two and a Half Men” back on the air before America is further punished!”

America then asked a couple of TMZ reporters to grab Sheen’s feet after he passed out into a baby sapling ficus tree given to him by a porn star who sometimes lives on the premises and is known for her hit film “Eerie Canals.”

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A Less Perfect Union

Here’s an interesting story: Union members at private companies in Wisconsin share sentiments with the governor there that employees with state unions get too many benefits and something has to be done. It’s not fair, say private company employees, that they are suffering when public union members aren’t.

In other words, everybody ought to be equally harmed in a free market. Thank you for volunteering us to all go down together, guys!

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Washington, D.C.–Some 80% of Americans said on Tuesday that they “can’t do this anymore,” and made a dramatic exit from some marriage, situation, job, argument or film screening.

Americans everywhere have found refuge to this careworn phrase, one stemming from perhaps every movie on the planet from “Sex and the City” to “Traffic” to “Fight Club,” to express common frustrations of their everyday life and bring closure to some chapter of their lives. In many cases, they are ending a job or a relationship.

“I can’t do this anymore,” said Brayden Horowitz to his girlfriend Sadie Asher. “Haven’t we done too much damage to each other to continue this game?”

“I can’t do this anymore,” said Peter Wilhelm, a vice president at J.P. Morgan Chase Bank to his boss, Stanley Wheel. “The financial services industry is just too wrecked for us to go on.”

“I can’t do this anymore,” said Linda Splevin, on the verge of sending her 8-year-old son Tyler to military academy.

All across the country, experts admit, Americans just can’t do it anymore. The U.S. Happiness Index suggests that a steady dose of geopolitical turmoil, economic uncertainty, rampant unemployment and sexual frustration have led Americans to a dramatic need to take a stand like the one they see made practically every day on television.

“When Miranda on ‘Sex and the City,’ said to Steve ‘I can’t do this anymore,’ she was really speaking for all of us,” said Lacey Weiss, a psychologist at Northwestern University. “People tend to view both their world and their own lives in a dramatic story arc. They love beginnings. The struggle through the middles. They enjoy the high points for as long as they last. But what we love most of all when we’re being dramatic is bringing everything to a sweeping conclusion, likely with music ringing in their ears and the crashing denouement, ‘No, really, I can’t do this anymore.’ It is not just a trite phrase. It is part of our self-mythologizing.”

Weiss said that she planned to give up on her doctorate degree later that month and go get a job learning Chinese.

“I loved being a psychologist, but how long do I have to wait around for an interview like this one to make it all worth while? I just can’t do this anymore.”

The new trend is seen most perceptibly on the MTV hit “The Jersey Shore,” where approximately 67% of the dialogue is “I can’t do this anymore.” (The other 33% being “She’s DTF!” and “Snookie in the house, bitch.”)

“I just can’t do this anymore,” said Hosni Mubarak to the people of Egypt in mid-February. Meanwhile, other people who haven’t been able to do this anymore are Ashlee Simpson, Sandra Bullock and Kate Winslet. Comedy superstar Steve Carrell will meanwhile be leaving his hit series “The Office,” also because he can’t do this anymore.

However, pundits have noticed a discouraging number of people who as of this posting can indeed still do this anymore–among them are Muammar Gaddafi, Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Kim Kardashian.

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[Update, September 30, 2011: I recently updated this piece with some rigorous copy editing. I apologize to my readers. I have rarely been so proud of a piece I’ve written, only to see that pride eroded by copy errors that sometimes hid or sank my points.]

Have you ever thought of how great it would be if we could just get rid of unions altogether? Why, without collective bargaining rights, the real work of capitalism could be done–a mechanism for unlocking wealth that would make that wealth work far more efficiently, especially by paying workers what they’re really worth: at best, $3.50 an hour.  Such unlocked greatness would make America strong and proud in the way it was back when we had kids working 12 hour days and our food was full of extra human thumbs, earlobes and gizzards.

I’m sorry, does this sound stupid to you? Then I’m not sure why it’s even a debate in the state of Wisconsin, where a new Republican governor completely in the back pocket of a couple of anti-union billionaire industrialists, is working to curtail collective bargaining rights. As long as we’re throwing union people out the window, we ought to at least remember a time when the defenestration was much more literal: The 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is coming up in March. In 1911, 146 employees of the Greenwich Village company were killed in a fire when their bosses had locked them inside to keep them from leaving early. Many had to jump to their deaths from the eighth, ninth and tenth stories. The fire galvanized the union movement and helped usher in modern building codes, labor practices and even the New Deal, depending on whom you ask.

This is when a lot of red staters start to nod that this was just one more in a long line of progressive mistakes going all the way back to our nation’s founding. I can’t think of a more appropriate way to mark the anniversary than by going back with a red marker and erasing all of the “progressive” nonsense that has come about since then.

A lot of people’s antipathy toward unions comes from a complete misunderstanding of their function. If you’re a conservative, you likely buy the argument that stronger unions have given Americans a sense of entitlement, pushed us toward decreased productivity, made our labor too expensive, and thus made American industry less nimble and less able to respond to crises. That’s an awful lot of big words, red staters! And yet, it’s a compelling and simple argument if you only look at one side of the ledger–and trust me conservatives are awfully good at both simple narratives and reading only one side of the ledger. What you won’t find when you blame unions for hobbling business is the increasing sham that corporate governance has become–how executive pay is far out of control compared with those of the lowest-paying salaries, and that executives often game the system. How? By withholding dividends–an increasingly popular corporate gambit since Reagan’s times; by creating excessive stock options, which dilute shares and funnel money away from shareholders; and by simply overpaying CEOs. (Does anybody remember Dick Grasso?) Meanwhile, it’s only the cruel market that decides what you’re worth if you’re a laborer. Unless you’ve got collective bargaining.

Here’s an argument for you conservatives, since you hate Hollywood: Imagine an Eddie Murphy movie that costs $50 million to make. As part of his deal, Eddie gets $40 million gross. The movie makes $90 million. How much did this movie make? Zero. After everyone grosses out (both financially and literally) on two hours of fart jokes, the studio can actually say they have a money loser. The people with net points in the movie get nothing. It was in this way that another film, the phenomenally popular Forrest Gump, was actually a money loser because Tom Hanks and the director got so much gross.

So now imagine, America, that you are getting net points and the richest 1% are getting the gross points. Meanwhile, the price of your labor, with your union bulwark weakening nearby, has been pushed down by the flood of flat earth labor into the market–the freed hordes of Chinese, Indian, Eastern European and South American labor.

And so now we come back to the standard conservative argument about Laffer curves and the idea fixe of Reaganism–which is that Reagan cut taxes and the economy took off for 30 years and that’s all there was to it. Listening to this bullshit after a while is a bit like hearing a schizophrenic compulsively repeat single lines of “Old Mother Leary.” Fire is a wonderful thing, conservatives, but it doesn’t mean you throw it on your roof. Likewise, tax breaks are nice quick incentives for a monetary system but keeping taxes low forever does not make your society or even your economy better. But most people who are insecure about their economics knowledge hold up the Laffer curve as if it’s the college degree they never had, and as if Glenn Beck were the Civics 101 course they slept through.

Speaking of Beck, onto the “Egypt” part of my story–which is exhibit 587 in an exhaustive case, “Glenn Beck Vs. Linear Thinking.”

If you can stomach this video, you’ll see Beck squaring off not only against Bill O’Reilly (Beck is perhaps the only person in the world who can make O’Reilly look like a genius) but against a purely democratic uprising in Egypt. The first thing I thought when the dominoes started to fall in the Arab world was that conservatives might claim a victory of sorts–and make a specious argument that the Iraq War fomented these pro-Democracy movements. So you can imagine my utter horror when a bunch of self-described individual liberties champions like Beck began knocking the Egyptian revolution. Beck’s argument is that it’s not a democracy movement since it could end up in the hands of Islamic extremists. What’s most galling about this video is two American conservatives arguing whether democracy is something America ought to confer on the Egyptians rather than something the Egyptians’ have a natural right to. In other words, Glenn, Egyptian liberty is not yours to give, and the fact that you would say so proves you’re no libertarian but another paleo-con American imperialist. It would be hard to explain to Beck or his spongie followers how even a revolution that was thoroughly Muslim in character is none of his fucking business, but instead the natural inclination of a people who ought to make their own decisions about when to be liberated (unlike the Iraqis whose liberation was forced on them, and so can only be called “liberated” by a morally bankrupt few). In a bizarre turn perhaps lost on everybody but the legions of hard-of-hearing people who listen to Beck, Glenn actually says (around minute 2:23) that American progressives (I would suppose that’s the people responsible for securing fire exits for the Triangle Shirtwaist Co.) are somehow responsible for both Hosni Mubarak and the Shah of Iran. Yes, friends liberal imperialism has built up Hosni Mubarak. Our support of him has nothing to do with conservatives and capitulation to the needs of Israel for a regional friend.

Even worse is the utterly loathsome former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, who here makes the disgusting suggestion that Hosni Mubarak was an ally (read: Israeli ally) and therefore was owed our allegiance no matter what. His argument: we didn’t support an Iranian revolution with force, so we shouldn’t support an Egyptian one even with words–even if the two movements are based in the same democratic ideals. Again, of those of you conservatives unable to read between the lines: We cannot support even a Democratic movement that was anti-Israel. (I shudder to think that there’s a person left on this planet to listens to this homophobic, science-bashing, war fan, hate monger–a man who said that poor New Orleans Hurricane Katrina victims should simply have gotten out of town and who seems to be the only person on the planet to have found weapons of mass destruction in Iraq).

This was a lot of stray comments, but I impress upon you, long-suffering Beauty is Imperfection reader, that they are motivated by the same idea–the democratic impulse rises naturally in nature, whether it be against union busters in Wisconsin or strongmen in Libya. But just as easily as it is created, it is confused, used, abused, assimilated and exploited by medicine salesmen, tiny generals, wee-brained Fox News employees and even by would-be rapists (my heart goes out to CBS news reporter Lara Logan, a woman so brave she makes me ashamed to call myself a journalist). Democracy is harder than it looks, and it is vulnerable not only money like the Koches’ and brute power like George W. Bush’s but most often simply to lots of lies, lies, lies.

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Gaga Over Eggs

Lady Gaga arrived at the Grammy Awards on Sunday in a giant egg. What do you think she was wearing inside the egg?

–*A velour sweater and soccer pants

–*A Hello Kitty t-shirt

–*Nothing, why should she?

–*Greasy overalls she’s been sporting since finishing up her day job changing oil in automobile crank cases

–*A Darth Vader outfit

–*A natural sac of life-giving placenta

–*A Hanes t-shirt and Toughskins

–*A stiffened crinoline petticoat

–*It’s not her, it’s three children who think it’s a treehouse

–*An Oscar de la Renta collage dress

–*An Oscar de la Hoya collage dress

–*She’s revived her meat dress from last year, a much more effective gambit since it is now much less likely to make you puke

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I think we all forget how caginess is one of the most important resources of a leader, even or especially the ones who seem to be invincible. Hosni Mubarak, we are now told, has been orchestrating his own demise for the past few days, and yet Thursday night, he gathered all of Egypt close to their televisions to tell them at the last minute, “FU.” He was staying and that everybody should go home.

That was either the most desperate act on television since the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour or an inspired bluff. Can you imagine what might have happened if everybody believed him? I recall the immortal words of Cool Hand Luke, who got his name because nothing is, in fact, a real cool hand, and sometimes you win just by pretending you have everything when in fact you have nothing. Could a last-minute head fake have similarly saved Mubarak and his oppressive, 30-year regime? Hardly, yet he certainly thought it was worth trying. Had everybody believed him, he might still have been president this afternoon.

I’m not trying to be flip or cute about somebody so loathsome, but people tend to think of autocracies as monolithic things, and it’s that veneer of invulnerability that helps give them their power. This sort of monolithic view not only aids the oppressors. It also conveniently removes the possibility of human free will, and that’s where this becomes something of interest for non-Arab Westerners glib about their freedom and liberal tradition. My personal feeling is that dictators are secretly pleasing to people like Noam Chomsky, whose narratives about power require the impregnable man behind the curtain to work, who assumes every action of a nation or state happens in secret for an advantaged few working in cahoots, even, I would suppose, a welfare system like the U.S. had in the New Deal era. Chomsky believes we all live in dictatorships everywhere and that we will continue to until the day the government is destroyed and we’re all living in anarcho-syndicalist trade unions.

The fact is that systems of power bubble up from much more complicated underlying factors and internecine rivalries, some of them from movements that were organic or based in an idea that was originally populist. These inevitably turn on themselves because nature abhors a vacuum and the system self-organizes into a new power structure (something Chomsky and his fawning, uncritical acolytes can’t or won’t acknowledge because evidently anarchism is as cool to them now as it was high school).

Truth is, dictatorships are much more mundane and complex than the man behind the curtain–they involve the difficult mechanics of a party process, political patronage and the cover of a happy business communities willing to trade freedom or class estrangement for stability. They may have started with some sort of non-violent political legitimacy (we all seriously err when we forget that Hitler was democratically elected). Dictators are famous for their brutality, but not quite as famous for the gifts they hand out or the bread and circuses they lavish on the common people to strengthen their personality cults. You will find dictatorships throughout history that are much more benign in character than Hitler’s–even ones liberals don’t mind defending occasionally.

Many people have been wondering whether it was the actual price of bread that brought Mubarak down (since the Russian tightening of wheat exports has threatened to make penny loaves more expensive, and Mubarak’s efforts to subsidize cheap bread after the food riots in 2008–literal bread, if not circuses–had only bought him time.

Was it bread or Facebook or the revolutions next door? It’s probably not that clear cut. In Nicaragua, the dictatorship of 45 years fell in 1979 because the dictator spent the previous decade squeezing private enterprise out of their cut of GDP, until finally the middle class were so fed up they decided they’d rather cast their lot with a scruffy lot of communists then deal with a thief in a business suit. It’s a chain reaction, not an outburst of anger, usually, and that seems to be the case in Egypt as well.

I’d like to think that everybody all at once just stood up in a moment of clarity and decided they were oppressed and that they wouldn’t be anymore. What Egyptians have bought, however, on Friday was a new government with the military in charge of it and an awful religious/political group, the Muslim Brotherhood, waiting in the wings to re-assert itself after years of oppression. In other words, a mess. In their natural desire for self-determination, Egyptians have won the admiration of the world and a reason to joyously celebrate in the streets, because they did it with courage and  without quite as much violence as there could have been. Peaceful protesters miraculously stared down and parried thugs hoping to come beat them and stand as an example of (mostly) non-violent democratic change. But now that the Egyptians have earned it, they’ve got to earn it again just by keeping it. My optimism tells me they can.

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